Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Summer in Saskatchewan

Who goes to Saskatchewan you may ask?  Well, in this case, me.  My brother and sister-in-law moved to Regina last year and I was due to a trip over the Memorial Day long weekend.

After a layover in Minneapolis, the flight landed at the Regina airport Friday afternoon.  A ride around the city left me surprisingly impressed.  In my head, I assumed the middle of nowhere Canada meant a small town with nothing around.  Turns out, Regina is a city with lots of buildings, restaurants, shopping centers, etc.  It reminded me of a typical mid-west city in the US.  Sprawled out and absolutely mandatory that you have a car. 

Outside the Royal Saskatchewan Museum 
My top priority for this trip was visiting with my family, my second top priority was shopping at Roots.  After that, food and culture.  I ended up visiting Roots twice that weekend and definitely ate some poutine.  Saturday we visited the Royal Saskatchewan Museum.  The building was beautiful, but the inside did not blow me away.  At the time we were visiting, the special exhibit was called "Snakes Alive.  It featured several snakes of Saskatchewan and was an interesting, albeit small exhibit.  The rest of the building was mostly dioramas highlighting the landscape and animals in Canada.  To be honest, it was underwhelming.  

The next day we had brunch at Willow on the Wascana. It was delicious and the view over the lake was nice on the slightly-chilly day.  After brunch, we went to the RCMP Heritage Centre.  Shortly after we arrived, a driving tour was ready to leave, so we jumped on the trolly and went along for the ride.  We drove around the Depot and learned about the academy and steps involved in training.  We made a pit-stop at the chapel to admire the stained glass.  I definitely recommend the driving tour since it put everything into perspective and there were plenty of opportunities to ask questions.  After the tour, we spent some time in the museum going through each exhibit.  The virtual reality experience was pretty neat and I also really enjoyed the training movie.  The whole place was very nicely organized. 

The Chapel at the RCMP Heritage Centre

Our last night in Regina was spent getting food and drinks nearby and enjoying the good company of family.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Easter Weekend in Dallas

Me at the Arboretum
Google Flights has become my go-to online tool to determine where to spend some of my long weekends this year.   A few weeks back, I started searching for the cheapest direct flight out of Boston.  A couple clicks later, I was planning an itinerary for Easter weekend in Dallas.  After socializing my plans, my Mom spoke with her friend who lives in Dallas, and we turned a group of two into four!

We arrived at the DFW airport Friday morning around 10:00 AM.  The place was really quiet and it took a while for us to find where to go to get the rental car.  Once we picked up our car, we headed directly to the Dallas World Aquarium.  There was a bit of a line, but it was mostly congested on the inside.  I was blown away by the number of exotic birds and monkeys they have!  It should really be renamed to a zoo or aviary in addition to aquarium.  Looking back on it, the animals may have outnumbered the fish!  After we got through the initial part where the crowd was congregated, it was much easier to move through the place and see the different exhibits.  The penguins outside were cute (but we have many more Penguins at the NEAQ, yea!) and it made me smile to see a sloth since I just came back from Costa Rica.  They even have an art gallery.  After a few hours there, we walked back outside to see the GIANT line waiting to get inside.  I am so glad we got there relatively early.  I would not have waited in that line.

After the aquarium, we went for lunch at a "Modern Texas" restaurant called Stampede 66.  I loved the decorations and we had great service.  I ordered a Passion-Chile Margarita and the Hell's Eggs appetizer to start.  My frozen margarita was good... the only problem was that it was served with a metal straw and every time I tried to drink from it, my lips would stick to the metal.  I'm not sure how anyone else could do it! After a good laugh, I eventually gave in and asked for a plastic one.   The appetizer was a delicious take on deviled eggs and my entree, the chicken verde tacos, were served with a plate of toppings that I could pile on top.  All in all, it was a delicious, but slightly pricey, lunch.  I don't normally blog about the food when I go visit places, so you can tell I was impressed.

After lunch we went to the 6th Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza to learn about JFK's assassination.   We had to buy timed entry tickets for an hour after we arrived, so we sat around outside and soaked in the sun until we could go in.  I've been to a couple of exhibits like this in the past; a few that stand out to me are the MLK Jr one in Memphis and the Norman Rockwell museum in the Berkshires.  I like to learn about history, but I can't seem to get into looking at photos on a wall and listening to an audio guide the whole time.  After about 45 minutes, I lose interest.  A lot of other people seemed very intrigued however, so don't let my opinion sway you.

That evening we met up with the rest of the group and socialized for the remainder of the evening.  After a late breakfast Saturday afternoon at a nearby diner, we went to the Arboretum for the Dallas Blooms exhibit.  There were so many people there, we were taken to a nearby parking garage to park.  The Arboretum was beautiful!  The gardens were full of blooming flowers and people were having picnics on the grass while listening to live music.  It was hard to decide which gardens to take pictures of because they were all so nice.  After walking around for a bit, we enjoyed a glass of Champagne at the terrace restaurant and just soaked it all in.  I'm very glad we got to see this.

Saturday night we drove up to Oklahoma to go to the Winstar Casino.  I learned some interesting things about gambling laws in that state, including that they can't have dice or roulette balls and that I had to pay an ante for each round of each game I played (the second one might just be specific to that casino, not sure).  I didn't enjoy those laws and after a few hours of spending money, we went back to Dallas.  Sunday was pretty casual since we had to fly out that afternoon.  We spent an hour or so at a local park to see some Easter festivities before going back to the airport.

Dallas was an interesting city.  It was a lot more spread out than I expected and I didn't get too much of a charm factor (like how San Antonio was very cute and charming).  The people were very nice and welcoming, but I'm not sure that I would go out of my way to go back anytime soon.

Such pretty gardens!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

4 Chicas in Costa Rica

First night at Xandari
I'd been looking forward to this trip all winter and now that it is over, I don't even want to write about it, I just want to go back!  It is very difficult to go from 90 degrees to 40 and be happy about it.   On the plus side, I no longer have to bathe in deet.  After 10 days of re-applying, it's bound to be well integrated into my blood stream by now.

I typically like to split out my posts for long trips different ways; for this one I thought it would be good to break it out by location since each place was so unique and memorable.

Day 1: San Jose

I flew into the SJO airport on the first day around 2 pm and met up with the three other girls (Bianca, Kellie, and Cynthia) coming in on a separate flight from Pittsburgh. Fortunately, everyone got their bags and we managed to find our shuttle to the Holiday Inn Express.  There may have been one "Taken" close call, but we quickly halted the situation.  Our hotel was only a few minutes down the road.  Since we weren't sure about potential delays, we didn't plan any activities for the day we arrived.  

Windy photo shoot at the lookout point
Unfortunately staying so close to the airport meant we’d be in a fairly long cab ride no matter where we went.  For lunch, we decided to walk next door to the Rosti Pollo.  This reminded me a lot of a TGIFridays.  We all order our first traditional-style meals of the trip and feasted on chicken fajitas with rice, beans, plantains and guac as sides.  Everything went down pretty easily, especially when paired with a local Imperial beer.  After lunch we all laid in the sun for a while by the hotel pool and organized our bags for the next few days.  That evening we took a 25 minute cab ride to the Xandari hotel for drinks and tres leches cake on their deck overlooking the San Jose lights.  Everything was delicious and with only a minor hiccup trying to get home (it took forever to find a cab and when we did it was quite the adventurous drive), we ended our first day with all our limbs intact.

Day 2 – 3:  Monteverde

Hummingbird garden
The next morning, a mini-van came to pick us up for our private transportation to Monteverde.  It was a bit of a drive, but our driver was very nice and we stopped along the way at a beautiful lookout point where the wind was whipping around us making a very memorable photo op.  We climbed some serious altitude along the many windy and unpaved roads.  When we arrived at the Monteverde Villa Lodge, the host checked us in and showed up to a very cute room with 3 beds and a big table that was perfect for drinking wine and playing games.  He asked us all to come down for a welcome coffee before we walked into town to explore the shops and grab some snacks at the grocery store. One of the first things we noticed about Monteverde was how rainy and windy it was.  We were later told that a cold front was moving in, but it was drastically different from San Jose!  Each night we were convinced a hurricane was coming because of the noise outside our windows.  The upside to the weather was that we didn't have to worry about sunburn or bugs on this leg of our journey!

After we got settled in, our transportation arrived right on time to take us to the Don Juan coffee tour.  The tour was advertised as a coffee, chocolate, and sugar cane tour, but it was definitely more coffee.  We arrived at a small farm-like location and we taught all about how and where coffee grows.  We even had a chance to pick some fresh coffee berries off of the trees and suck on them.  From there, we were given a small demonstration on how they used to manually separate the shells from the seeds and leave them out of dry.  This is a demonstration only, we didn't actually tour a coffee plant.  At the end we were able to try some coffee from different roasts and look over the property with our cups in hand.  The sugar cane part was about 15 minutes as the guide showed us how to squeeze the cane into liquid.  He did make us a delicious lemonade to try with the juice.  Lastly, the chocolate part was about 20 minutes or so since the cacao doesn't grow in that part of Monteverde.  He grinded up some cacao and made us a little chocolate cup to try.  That was very good!  Because the put the chocolate and sugar cane parts in between learning about the coffee, it seemed to flow together nicely.  All in all, it was a cute little tour, but nothing over the top.  That night we ate in town at one of the many delicious restaurants.

Ziplining in Selvatura Park
The next morning we were picked up and taken for a nature walk in the cloud forest reserve.  The bad weather had scared away a lot of the mammals, so we mostly saw birds.  Some of the cool ones included a turkey vulture and a Resplendent quetzal. We also spent a little time at the end of the walk in a cute hummingbird garden to see some of the small birds up close.  After our time in the reserve, it was time to go ziplining at Selvatura Adventure Park.  I've been ziplining before and didn't think it would be a big deal, but the rain added an interesting element to it.  You couldn't even see to the end of some of our longer lines because of the cloud coverage.  We really were in the cloud forest!  We all picked the superman option at the last zipline, which meant that we carried a little extra weight in our backpack the whole time, but it was worth it. I was also really impressed with their safety measures there.  We were always hooked to a wire, even when we were on the high platforms, and all of the lines had stoppers to prevent you from barreling into the end.  The night we went to dinner at a restaurant built into the side of a tree and drank wine / played games while the wind howled around our room.  It was a good way to end our time in Monteverde.

Day 4 – 6: Arenal

Eyelash Pit Viper
The transport from Monteverde to Arenal including a bus ride, a boat ride, and another van ride to the next hotel.  It didn’t seem very long though because the boat ride broke up the trip and added a little bit a tour-like feel to what would otherwise be pretty boring.  The hotel, La Pradera, looked very nice from the outside.  They had a pool, a fleet of ATVs on the front lawn, and a beautiful open air restaurant.  Unfortunately, all that niceness stopped outside our little cabin.  Inside were a lot of dark shaded corners (barely any light, natural or artificial), lots of bugs, and random animals scampering on our roof in the middle of the night.  Fortunately, we had dreams of Tulemar (the last resort we were going to stay at) to pull us through those two long nights.

After we all soaked ourselves in 98% DEET, we were picked up for a Arenal Volcano National Park Nature Walk.  The lingering rain made us think that it would be another low-light of the trip, but it mostly cleared up and we were able to hike to a nice vantage point to see both the volcano and the lake.  We also saw an eyelash pit viper that made me think twice about looking up in the trees when walking through the forest.  We were then transported to the Baldi Hot Springs for the second half of the evening.  It was pretty quiet there and while the place was huge, it did not have the “natural hot spring” feel.  It was mostly built up with different pools and bars.  I think because we were think mid-week, some of the bars were not attended.  We also had a dinner buffet which was somewhat average in comparison to some of the other good food we had on the trip.  I had a good time here, but I'm not sure that I would go out of my way to go back.

Baldi Hot Springs / dance club atmosphere
The next morning, we had breakfast at the restaurant before our pickup for the Lost Canyon Adventures Canyoneering.  In my opinion, this was the highlight of our trip and an absolute must-do!  Over the next few hours we walked through a river, repelled down waterfalls, did some free-falling, and laughed over and over again.  We ended with a yummy buffet lunch, a round of Imperials, and memorable pictures.

That evening we explored La Fortuna a bit then packed up again for our last transport.   As part of our transfer on the last day in Arenal, we opted to do some white water rafting on the Rio Balsa before driving to Manuel Antonio that evening.  Because we were the only ones not going back to La Fortuna, we had our own bus and driver who stayed with our bags.  We were picked up at 9 AM and drove approximately 40 minutes to the launch site.  We ended up having to wait a little for the dam to release because the water wasn’t high enough for the rafts.  After about 20 minutes, we were all suited about and given a brief, but thorough, instruction on how to man our raft.  The four of us were in a single raft with a guide.

Me rappelling down a waterfall... no big deal

Days 7 – 10: Manuel Antonio

Rafting on the Rio Balsa
The last leg of our trip was in Manuel Antonio.  We arrived at Tulemar using another private transport from Arenal.  Along our way we stopped at the Tarcoles River to see a very large family of crocodiles hanging out by the side of a river, just under the overpass built for traffic.  Some research done after our trip lead me to this wonderful article about how a man fell over the railing on this bridge and was eaten by the crocodiles.  At least it wasn’t an American Tourist, they (we?) are notoriously dumb sometimes…  The resort was tucked away on the cliffs overlooking the ocean.  Our bungalow could not have been more perfect, but since we arrived late at night, we didn’t really know it yet.  Our concierge, Chris, met us to check in and gave us a quick tour.  He helped us make a dinner reservation for later that night at the restaurant on site and set us up with a Sloth Walk the next morning.

One of the many sloths we saw on our walk
Taking Chris’s recommendation for breakfast the next day, we walked down the street to Café Milagro for some amazing lattes (Vanilla Chilla was my fav) and a very filling breakfast.  The café became a morning staple for the rest of the trip but the downtown area was not within walking distance, so we ended up spending most of the time at the pool or beach.  After breakfast, we met our tour guides (more like ecologists) at the reception area for our Sloth Walk.  Two other resort guests also joined us.  As we walked through the property, we learned how to find the sloths hiding in the trees as well as monkeys and several birds.  The guides told us all about the Sloth Institute –Costa Rica and how Tulemar is partnering with them.  After a few hours, we ended down by the beach.  It was a great way to see and learn about sloths, but not our best sloth encounter of the trip (stay tuned…).  We returned to our rooms to change into our swim gear and spent the rest of the day out in the sun.  That evening we had dinner at Kapi Kapi.  The Asian fusion restaurant was recommended on Trip Advisor.  The décor was cute, and while it wasn’t bad food, it definitely wasn’t the best.  It was very muggy inside and It was also very expensive, even for me coming from Boston.

Our awesome balcony overlooking the water!
The next morning we had a scheduled kayak tour of Damas Island with Rancho Los Tucanes.   Two of the four girls stayed behind, but Kellie and I powered on for another morning of adventure!  Our drive through the city included a few other hotel pickups and a little bit of education about Quepos.  We also drove by a grove of trees used to supply palm oil.  Once we got to the dock, we all boarded our kayaks and started our path down the river.  Our guides told us about the mangroves we were rowing through and took us down a few water passages that come and go as the tide changes.  We passed a cashew tree, several different color herons, some bats doing a little dance on the underside of a tree, and a whole swarm of monkeys (like 50 of them!).  As we floated under the capuchins, we were warned that they sometimes jump onto the kayaks because they are curious.  Fortunately, none were that interested in us!  I would not have wanted to topple over and swim in that silt infused water… ugh.

Kayaking trip
The trip ended with a delicious lunch buffet.  It was a nice relaxing way to see some of the fauna.  After we returned, we went back to the pool and then later to the private beach to watch the sunset. While we were relaxing on the lounge chairs, we overheard a bunch of people excitedly screaming about a sloth.  Since we went on the sloth walk the day before, we were all a bit slow to get our cameras and walk over, but when we did we saw a sloth crawling down a tree on the beach!  He was coming down to poop! One of the more interesting facts we learned on our walk was how once a week the sloth comes down the tree to go to the bathroom – what a rare sighting!

We started our last full day at Tulemar with an in-room spa service of mud wraps and massages followed by more time in the sun.  That evening we packed up and went to Z Gastro Bar in Quepos for a final dinner.  The food was delicious there and we took advantage of their free shuttle service to and from our resort.  The next morning we were picked up bright and early and taken back to San Jose to the airport.  Our driver was very sweet and took us to this giant souvenir shop so we could pick up some last minute items outside of the city.  The rest of the trip ran smoothly.

I had a wonderful time in CR and would definitely go back.  I probably would pick a different hotel in Arenal, but other than that, I highly recommend every activity as well as Desafio as a tour company. The transportation was always spot-on and we were never uncomfortable with our driver or in our buses/vans.

Pura Vida!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016


I'm sitting here counting down the days, no hours, until I board the plane for Costa Rica!  I always feel like I really need to get away in February because of our cold New England weather and the after-holiday depression.  A little bit of sunshine and adrenaline will go a long way until my next adventure.

Speaking of adventures, I have a few more already lined up for this year.  In March, I will be headed down to Dallas to visit with some family and see the Dallas Blooms festival at the Arboretum.  That will only be a long weekend away, but only a few weeks later I will be going Down Under!  12 days in Australia (and possibly New Zealand).  I need to start planning this itinerary ASAP!  If anyone has any tips, please let me know.  

After that, I will be spending two weekends away for weddings: one in Orlando and one is Long Island.  I'll probably also make another family trip at some point.

I am definitely looking forward to this year! 

Friday, February 5, 2016

A Ski Day in NH

The Mountain View Grand Resort
There are so many options for skiing in New England that it is hard to choose where to stay.  You may remember from old posts that I am not so good at downhill skiing, and only recently took up cross country skiing instead.  Last year, my ski trip up to the White Mountains was cancelled because of a massive storm and rescheduled for May.  This year we barely got snow in January, so it was an easy drip up to Whitefield, NH to stay at the Mountain View Grand Resort.

We arrived around noon on Sunday afternoon.  There were not a lot of signs a long the way, but it wasn't difficult to find the hotel.  It is a large beautiful yellow resort sitting atop a hill with a windmill looming in the sky overhead.  The parking lot had plenty of space, but unfortunately our room was not ready yet.  We pulled on our ski pants and walked out to the pro shop to pickup our rental gear and hit the trails.  The rental was $16/adult and we were out on our skis in no time.  Unfortunately, there wasn't too much snow, but we still were able to enjoy ourselves as we navigated through the woods.  The trails were well marked and by the time we were done for the day, our room was ready.

The lobby was nice, but not as grand at the Omni Mt. Washington.  On the other hand, our room here was beautiful and much nicer than the Omni.  We had a beautiful corner room with awesome views of the mountains.  We walked around the property a bit before ending up in the 1865 Wine Cellar for a wine tasting.  Our selections were a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and a Chianti Classico.  The wine cellar was very romantic; we came back later that night for dinner.

The next morning, we woke up early and went out to the farm for a "Meet the Farmer" talk.  The farmers took us through the barn and let the kids pick some eggs and pet the goats.  I also pet some goats because I couldn't resist.  After the talk, we had a delicious buffet breakfast before heading back home. It was a nice little day up in the White Mountains, but I'm still undecided on which resort I like more!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

2015 in Summary

It’s that time again to reflect on my travels from the last year and re-live some of my fondest memories.  This is my favorite post to write each year because I go back and re-read about all of my trips with a big smile of my face.  The first quarter of the year was pretty quiet.  I was supposed to go for a weekend in the White Mountains in February, but due to the massive amount of snow we got in New England, I postponed my trip.

I finally got out of Boston at the end of March when I headed to China for 9 days.  With time spent between Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai, I got a good mix of traditional and modern life.   Some of the highlights from that trip were walking on The Great Wall, eating Peking Duck, seeing the Terracotta Warriors, and having a tea tasting in a beautiful tea house.

Several people came to visit me this year instead of me going to see them, but I did manage to sneak away for a weekend at the Omni Mt. Washington in New Hampshire in May and ride the Cog!  I loved the scenery so much up there last year, I’m planning to go up again for a weekend this winter.

I went home for a weekend in June to celebrate my birthday with my family, but did not blog about the trip.  The following July, I went out to Indianapolis to visit my brother and sister-in-law and see the city when it wasn’t freezing out!  We spent one day touring the Indy Wine Trail and the next riding NASCAR stock cars at the Speedway.  It was such a fun trip!

At the end of July, I went on a Caribbean cruise with a large group of family members.  I didn’t blog about this trip either, but it was a lot of fun and an easy way to transport so many people to a couple different locations.  My favorite part of that trip was taking my nieces to climb Dunns River Falls in Jamaica.

September I drove my car onto the Cross Sound Ferry headed from Connecticut to Long Island for a weekend of wine tasting.  Between all the vino, great weather, and fresh produce, I definitely packed on some pounds.  I will be headed back to Long Island again this year for a wedding and even more wine tasting!

One trip I had been planning since the beginning of last year finally came about in October.  A group of my girlfriends and myself all flew out to Napa for wine, food, and an awesome hot air balloon ride!  We managed to spend a day in San Francisco as well and take a go cart around the city.

I’ve travelled a lot in November in past years.  The flights are cheap and you can usually find good deals at hotels and short lines at attractions.  This year I went to London.  Sadly, I didn’t see the queen.

As usual, I spent a few weeks with family back in Pennsylvania in December.  It’s always nice to be home during the holiday season.

I’m looking forward to see how 2016 will compare!!  Safe Travels, everyone!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Thanksgiving in London

It has become a bit of a tradition for me to travel overseas during American Thanksgiving.  This year was no different.  Hopping off a plane early Thursday morning, my traveling companion and I were at the Park Lane hotel in Mayfair before noon.  It was a bit confusing getting to our hotel since part of it is under construction, but we managed to arrive fairly quickly and it a cheaper manner than if we caught a black cab or took a train. 

Hogwarts decorated for Christmas!
We didn’t have time to sit around and let the jet lag sink in because when I was buying tickets a few weeks prior to the trip, a lot of dates/times were sold out for certain activities.  One of those activities was touring the Warner Brothers Studio where all of the Harry Potter movie sets and props were stored.  Fortunately, I managed to get tickets for the 2:30 time slot on the day we arrived.  Unfortunately, that meant we had about an hour to grab a sandwich from the local Pret and get some money exchanged at the nearby bank before trying our luck on the subway system.

I did my research and knew which trains we needed to take, but it still managed to take longer than I planned for (about 1.5 hours total from London).  The over ground train we caught from Euston to Watford Junction stopped at every stop along the way and we ended up being about 15 minutes late (they still let us in any way!).  The studio tour was huge and had a lot of very cool stuff.  They had an entire section dedicated to green screen technology and showed how the Quidditch scenes were filmed.  I had two favorite parts of the tour: the first was walking into the Hogwarts dining hall at the very beginning because it was decorated for a Christmas feast!  The flaming pudding was awesome.  The second, and probably my most favorite, part was the giant model of Hogwarts at the end of the tour.  It was so intricate and used to film the outdoor scenes during the movies.  I felt like if I could have shrunk to doll sized, I could have curled up in one of the beds in the Gryffindor dorms.

Traditional Afternoon Tea at the Conrad Hotel
We eventually made our way back to hotel that evening to shower and freshen up before walking to Kensington and going to Harrods’s.  The walk was nice, but pretty long from where we were staying in Mayfair.  Harrods’s was completed overwhelming and not the type of place to go visit after 6 hours of traveling and a full day of sight-seeing.  Eventually we gave up after getting lost several times somewhere between perfume and the gourmet meats and just popped into a pub nearby for dinner before calling it a night.

The next morning we slept in a bit to fight the time difference and then made our way to the Covent Garden area via Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square with a quit pit stop in Leicester square to grab some “The Illusionists” show tickets for the next night.  At 11 am, we met up with a local walking tour guide affiliated with the Sandemanns New Europe walking tours.  I did a tour with the same company a few years ago in Dublin and really enjoyed it. The tour is free and lasts about 2.5 hours.  It is a great way to get your bearings on a new city and learn a bit of history.  Lucky for us, we did the tour on a day where they had the changing of the guard ceremony and we were able to get some great pictures!  The tour ended near Westminster Abbey and from there we did some shopping before making our way to the Conrad hotel for a traditional afternoon tea.

Changing of the Guard Ceremony
One of the things I was most looking to was having a traditional afternoon tea.  I tried to get into the Ritz, but when I emailed the reservation desk they politely told me they book up a year in advance (woops!).  Fortunately, the Conrad St. James Park was lovely and they had a very visually impressive spread.  The tea was delicious and the sweet tray really was incredible.  After tea, we walked over to the London Eye for our Cocktail experience.  From what I read online, I thought we would be drinking the cocktail while inside the Ferris Wheel.  It had just started to rain when we arrived, so there was no line.  I asked around before being directed to the ticket desk inside where I would trade my voucher for a ticket and drink coupon.  That is where I found out we would be having our drinks in the bar upstairs.  The bar was empty and looked like just an empty space where they through a counter and called a “bar”.  I ended up having a good cocktail with Champagne (I also bought a very cute baby bottle of champagne with a British flag label to take home).  After we finished our drinks in the isolated room, we went back outside to line up for the Ferris Wheel.  I really enjoyed the ride, and since it wasn’t busy, there were only a handful of people in our car.  I’m glad I did this at night because the lights were fun, but I wouldn’t do the cocktail experience again.  It was a waste of money in my opinion.

A charming restaurant
We had a late start to our Saturday (due to somebody staying up late for Black Friday shopping online) and ended up not touring the inside of Westminster Abbey per the itinerary.  After stopping at Pret for some coffee and a pastry, we made our way to the Tower of London.  The ticket line was not bad, and even though we bought discounted tickets through Sandemanns, we still had to exchange our vouchers for real tickets.  For the next few hours we explored the dungeon, aviary, various rooms, and stopped to listen to a guide speak about the purpose of the structure and its proximity to the river.  This was a very cool experience and a good way to spend the early afternoon.  When we were ready to leave, we walked up toward the Tower Bridge for a few pictures.

As we walked back to the hotel, we stopped in various shops to look for souvenirs to bring back home.  Around 3pm, we searched for a place to have a quick tea.  By some form of luck or fate, we wandered into The Delaunay, a Viennese restaurant that offered a traditional afternoon tea for about 24 pounds.  The Austrian cakes, Poppy Seed Gugelhupf, and savory bites were all so delicious.  I would come back here in a heartbeat.  This restaurant actually makes me want to go visit Austria now.

We also stopped in the Twinings tea store so I could sample some hot tea (and buy some tea, of course).   After dropping off our goods, we walked back toward Piccadilly Circus to see the Illusionists show.   The show was interesting, but not really worth a lot of money to see.  Each of the magicians did 1-2 tricks.  The best part was the commentary and watching some of the recorded tricks that occurred in the lobby to unsuspecting visitors on the way in.

Photo with the guard at the Tower of London
Sunday morning we woke up early for a 7 am pickup at the hotel with the tour company taking us out to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge & Bath, Evan Evans Tours.  I booked the tour through Viator, but it is always good to know the name of the actual company taking you out for the day.  After missing our pickup time and catching a cab out to the Victoria coach station, we were able to meet back up with the group and get onboard.  Our guide gave us an overview of what we were going to see that day as well as drive times.  She also informed us that some of the guests actually signed up for a Japanese tour.  At first I didn’t think twice about that, but several hours in, I really didn’t want to listen to Japanese anymore.  I wish they would have told me about that in advance. 

Traditional meat pies and chips
Our guide passed out little mp3 looking devices that were all tuned to the same frequency so she could talk to us without screaming.  They actually worked really well and let us spread out a little whenever we were off the bus.  The entire group was pretty big, I’d say around 40-50 people.  If you want a more intimate experience, pick a different company.  The plus side to this tour was that we got all of the information in advance and then explored each site on our own at our own pace.  For some stops, like Bath, that was especially nice because I split my time between the Roman Bath exhibit and the Christmas market out front.

After a full previous day, Monday morning was dedicated to packing.  We jumped into a cab around noon and made our way back to the airport.  I’m very glad I was able to go to London, but it was a lot bigger than I expected.  I’m not sure that I would go out of my way to go again, but I certainly wouldn’t discourage anyone else from going.  The experience was wonderful and I’d spend another day or two there en route to another location (like Scotland!).