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Trip report: Family Vacation 7/17 to London, Cotswolds, Edinburgh

After months of planning and posting here -- thanks to all those who responded and helped me through various questions/dilemmas in planning-- we took our two-week family trip to England and Scotland in mid to late July. It was our family's first visit anywhere in Europe. We had a lovely and memorable time -- and still get little fits of sadness whenever we run into a bit of Britain that's made its way home with us... an English location still cached on our laptop weather website... an Oyster card stashed in someone's wallet... a Marks & Spencer hand sanitizer... a London location we've now actually been to when watching "Sherlock"... anything really... sniff, sniff...

I thought I would report here in case any of our experiences might be entertaining and/or helpful. Keep in mind we are an active family of five-- with kids 7, 12 and 14. (This would have been a different trip, no doubt, had my husband and I been on our own).

I won't bore you with how we got to London from Pittsburgh, but let's just say it involved a good amount of stress and flying our whole family of five on standby, not once, but twice, due to factors outside our control!

Wednesday, July 12: We arrived in Heathrow around 11:30 am for the first part of our journey -- a week in London. We got through customs, and found a SIM card machine to purchase cards for my husband's phone and mine. We found our way easily onto the Heathrow Express (we'd purchased 30-day advance tickets pretty cheaply, but 90-day advance would have been dirt-cheap, had I been on top of things!) after filing a claim for three missing bags (!) which we’d checked. We took the Heathrow Express to Paddington (fast—about 15 minutes and not crowded), where we wandered to the tube station. A helpful employee got us set up with our Oyster cards— two seven day travel cards for hubby and I and two kids’ pay as you go cards for the girls (our 7 yr. old son rode for free and the girls got a half-price discount). We got the tube from Paddington to Kensington High St., got off, got our key from a nearby lock box, and found the flat we'd rented through Airbnb. We loved "our" London neighborhood. We were .2 mile walk from the Kensington High St. tube station and shops, but as soon as you rounded the corner, the street got quiet and residential. We had our choice of a very fancy Whole Foods for groceries or a very inexpensive but basic Sainsbury's in the other direction. There were loads of shops (including a Boots and various clothing shops like H&M-- helpful for that lost luggage stuff we had to replace). We got some basic provisions and settled into the flat. Around 5ish, which felt like noon to us Americans, we wandered out for an early pub dinner. We were a little unsure how that would go with three kids with us and had a false start at one pub that didn't feel very kid-friendly and was rather crowded with adults. We found another place very near our flat called Elephant and Castle and asked if kids were welcome. They were and we sat in a corner booth and happily occupied ourselves with pints of ale and cider (mom and dad) and some very tasty sparkling juice drinks for the kids. We ordered a traditional pub meal and found the food tasty (despite what some say about pub food), and had a real, jolly, pinch-me-I'm-eating-at-a-pub-in-London! moment.

After dinner, we walked several blocks to Holland Park and explored. The kids found the Adventure Playground, and it was really cool to be with the locals-- not a tourist in sight that we could tell! (Our family really enjoys getting the real flavor of a place, for at least part of our stay, though we definitely do the tourist-y things too...)

Posted by
714 posts

Oh, you can't keep us hanging like that - please continue ASAP! Incidentally, which airline lost your luggage? We have booked to travel to Alaska next year and are flying with Delta and frankly, I'm a touch concerned about our luggage going walkabout between Heathrow and Anchorage. Is packing a change of clothes in your carry on a sensible idea or am I doing Delta a mis-service? (I have read some unfortunate reports about Delta and luggage, mainly on these pages!)

Anyway, Holland Park......

Glad you seem - so far - to have had a good trip!

Ian

Posted by
1939 posts

Yes, please....more, pleased; you have our attention! Hopefully, your luggage caught up with you? Eventually......?

Posted by
71 posts

Ian, we did fly Delta. In all fairness, we had a crazy, last-minute, mad-dash switch to a different flight (due to having been diverted and landed in Knoxville, Tennessee, for two hours because of severe thunderstorms in Atlanta before flying BACK to Atlanta, where we squeaked onto the last connecting flight to Heathrow of the night on stand-by... )

So, Delta did have some extenuating circumstances ... Still definitely pack that change of clothes! It was a lifesaver for three of us whose bags were delayed. Yes, we did have travel insurance (HIGHLY recommend AIG's plan) which covered something like $200 per person per (?day?) but who wants to clothes shop when you just arrived in an amazing location-- you want to get to your sightseeing....

Delta found our luggage the next day but because they used a courier service that couldn't communicate with our US phone number (before we got those SIM cards up and running) and because we were out sightseeing and no-one was at our flat to receive the luggage, it took a total of three days to arrive!

Okay, back to our trip:

Day two we booked a double-decker bus tour (Original) as Rick often advises to get a feel for London. Get a live guide if you can. HUGE difference! We went one stop with the recorded audio, but because traffic was so bad, it was totally out of sync. We hopped off at Buckingham about a half hour before the changing of the guard. DON'T do this. Crowds were horrible and we couldn't see anything. If I had to do it over, I'd do one of three things: 1. Get there early enough to stake out a good spot so you can see, 2. Do the whole St. James thing Rick recommends instead https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/england/st-james-changing-of-the-guard or 3. simply walk around Buckingham Palace during some off time so you can actually appreciate it.

When we hopped back on we had a funny and informative live guide. Traffic was horrific, but he entertained us quite well and ascertained that the reason the traffic was so bad was because, when we were by Buckingham, the Queen had left ... then, when we drove by Westminster Abbey, the guide spotted the royal Rolls Royce -- the Queen was there, no doubt, with the current visiting (Spanish, I believe?) royalty. That was another great London moment.

We went through The City and hopped off around St. Paul and had a great lunch at a French bistro. We wandered into St. Paul's and headed straight to the stairs to mount the dome because there was no queue. I am afraid of heights and there were a few moments where I had to take some deep yoga breaths (hello, open spiral staircases!) but the view was worth it. Our 7-year-old was a trooper too. The kids didn't let us fully take in the majesty of the church afterward, so we only did a quick walk-through ... Later that night -- after seeing more sights on the bus tour and then heading back to the flat to get spruced up-- my girls and I headed back out to see Les Mis. (Hubby and son visited Princess Diana park-- which became a quick favorite!-- as Kensington Palace was in easy walking distance from the flat.) I had a panicked moment when the tube announced delays and I was afraid we wouldn't make it in time to see our show (which had neatly relieved my pockets of several hundred GBP). We ended up easily hailing a black taxi and arriving in style. I was uneasy about traveling back to the flat by myself with two young girls at 11 pm at night and you all reassured me on here London would be hopping at that hour and I would be ever so fine. You were right! We walked a bit and found the Piccadilly tube station and off we went, back home with no troubles! And, thus ended our second day...

Now, off to drive to Ohio for a weekend visit to the family farm... more later. I promise I'll condense more. I know I'm posting too much detail!

Posted by
714 posts

Hi Elizabeth -

Thanks for the info even if it confirms worst suspicions slightly! They do seem to have had extenuating circumstances though. I know the misconception is that it rains in England all the time, but we flew to the USA last year passing through Atlanta and it was hammering down when we were there too! Maybe we can be forgiven for believing that it constantly pours in Atlanta!

Forewarned is forearmed though, so will pack a change of skivvies and trousers etc., in hand luggage, will be wearing hiking boots as always and will check what the BMC, or whoever we end up insuring with, says about missing kit!

Meanwhile back in London......

Ian

Posted by
25746 posts

I promise I'll condense more

Why? No need, as far as I'm concerned..... could even be more detail .... I love it

Posted by
1352 posts

I agree with Nigel! This is one of the most entertaining trip reports I've read in quite a while! Good to know that advice you were given here paid off:)

Posted by
71 posts

Ok, so details you shall have!

The next day (Friday) us girls took the Harry Potter Warner Brothers tour -- unapologetic Potter nerds here -- and the boys messed about London and rode the Eye. That took up most of our day, and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Saturday was a massive sightseeing day-- we were at Westminster Abbey for opening and there was an immense line that we stood in for 45 minutes. I'm still mad I didn't go up to someone working and ask if we could go ahead in since we had already bought tickets online (which the guidebook recommends as a way to bypass crowds). I'm not sure if it would have helped, (maybe someone on here knows?) but when I began telling staff at other sights throughout our trip that we pre-bought tix, it was like we got the VIP treatment and went straight to the front of the line. At any rate, I digress. The Abbey was packed, but I felt they did a good job of managing the crowds and the excellent audio tour gave us the full experience. We even lit a candle and said a prayer before leaving -- to experience a moment of worship in such a grand and storied church was something quite special.

Next, we walked to the Churchill War Rooms and toured there (the kids were bored but we parents liked it). But, they were revived by a lovely little unplanned interlude in St. James Park afterward -- chasing/stalking various fowl (we have bird-obsessed children) and having ice creams. We strolled along Horse Guards Rd. and saw the Prime Minister's residence at 10 Downing St. and found ourselves going through the Admiralty Arch and just happened upon Trafalgar Square. You might laugh at us, but we were heading next to the British Museum (can anyone say over-ambitious sightseeing day?) and our GPS was taking us to the nearest Tube station to get there, so we really just happened to walk through the arch and there we were. Yes, London, was charming us at every turn.

The British Museum was hot, incredibly crowded and near closing. We drug our exhausted bodies around to some of the must-see sights. The immensity of the place simply overwhelmed us. You could spend weeks there. Definitely NOT the thing to do at the tail end of a super-busy sightseeing day. Lesson learned.

Sunday we hopped on a train to Windsor. The train was jam-packed; we stood the whole way, but otherwise couldn't complain. For our first European train journey, it was easy-peasy. We found Windsor so charming, from the very moment we stepped off the platform. We headed to the Duchess of Cambridge pub directly across from the castle to fuel up for our visit, and enjoyed our first Sunday roast-- thanks to a fellow train passenger who tipped us off about this traditional English meal. (By the way, we Americans make a version of Yorkshire Pudding-- we call it a popover!) We enjoyed our castle visit, though our 7-year-old was cranky and drug his feet. We found it advisable to purchase him one of the royal Corgis -- a stuffed version, mind you -- which did wonders for his attitude. We waited in the long line for the dollhouse --do skip if you don't care and go straight to the state apartments -- because I love miniatures and still have my childhood dollhouse. I have to say it was hard in the dim lighting and from the distance we were at to really appreciate the dollhouse. For once, the pricey guidebook was fully worth it. The close-up photos and description truly showcased how amazing this creation -- featuring the very best artists, writers, and craftsmen of its era -- was. We wrapped up our Windsor day by walking down to the Thames, feeding the swans, and having yet another ice cream before training it "home."

Posted by
919 posts

Elizabeth, I join my voice to the others who are pleading with you not to condense your descriptions. I'm enjoying reading about your adventures. Keep it up!

Posted by
679 posts

WOW impressed with how much you guys did with 3 children. Great planning and it sounds wonderful.

Posted by
1395 posts

This is a wonderful trip report! Brings back memories of my first trip there many years ago.

Posted by
98 posts

I'm loving your trip report too! Can't wait to read more.

Posted by
71 posts

{I am having some trouble with my posts showing up, but I am in a rural area with poor internet service... I will try to add on another installment here, which I already attempted twice... hopefully, double or triple posts aren't showing up for anyone.}

Back to the trip: Monday we scrapped our initial plan of taking a train out to Beachy Head and/or the Seven Sisters. Spending 2.5 hrs. one-way, on a train for a day trip suddenly seemed unrealistic. So we gave the kids choices of doing more London stuff-- city, museums or botanic gardens. Though Kew wasn't on list for this trip, it turned out to be a lovely and relaxing day and a great break for all of us from touring museums/churches/castles/etc. The tube ride was easy. The walk from the station through quaint Richmond to the gardens took less than five minutes. Again, we saw nary an American tourist, but, rather, locals out to enjoy the sunny weekday afternoon. We leisurely made our way through the gardens, but had to hustle a bit at the end to get into the glass houses before they closed at five. When we walked through the palm house and I saw the old, twisty, wrought-iron spiral staircase, I immediately said to my family: "Of course we can't go up there." (Because in the U.S., of course you couldn't, but here, of course you could.) So we mounted the steep steps and viewed the steamy tops of the palms ... and I was a little bit more in love with Europe than ever...

Tuesday was our last full day in London. We arrived at the Tower of London right before it opened, with a pre-purchased online voucher (but you still had to wait in line to have actual tix issued). We followed Rick's advice and made a beeline for the Crown Jewels. We bypassed the Disney World-style you'll-be-waiting-for-hours corral out front and zoomed practically all the way to the jewels themselves with no line at all whatsoever. There were indeed "muffin-sized" diamonds, as my one friend had told me. My husband and I had just watched the coronation episodes of "The Crown" mini-series days before we left for the trip, so seeing Queen Elizabeth's crown in person was really amazing. We next headed straight back to the meeting spot for the live Beefeater tour. Again, a must. Our tour guide was the perfect combination of funny and knowledgeable. His spiel on our tour was the absolutely best tour experience we had during our entire trip. I laughed out loud for a large part of the tour; I seriously would have paid money to see this guy do stand-up comedy -- he was that good. After finishing up at the Tower, we wandered over to the Tower Bridge and walked across. Three of our family members wanted to go up inside (and pay the fee for the little museum there) and so they did, while my daughter and I lounged on the bridge and enjoyed the views and waited for them.

We headed back out to our flat to freshen up for our late afternoon high tea reservations at the Orangery at Kensington Palace. We walked to the Palace and around the gardens to our tea. The setting was quite lovely, but our high tea was the most expensive meal of our vacation! Our daughter eats largely gluten-free due to a health condition and they provided an excellent gluten-free tea; she said everything was really delicious. Afterward, we walked all the way through Kensington Gardens (with more Princess Diana Park playtime) to Hyde Park and ended up at the Italian Gardens and Fountains. We got "home" in the early evening and packed up for the next leg of our trip--

Posted by
1352 posts

Elizabeth 99,

You are so descriptive it's really fun seeing London through your eyes! I'm SO enjoying your fantastic trip report! Can't wait to read about the rest of your trip!

Posted by
71 posts

Thanks, everyone! You are all too kind...

Next installment:
On Wednesday, we drove to the Cotswolds. We learned that boots are indeed small in England compared to the U.S. -- we literally shoehorned ourselves and our luggage into the car, which was even supposed to be one of the larger sedans. (Had we been driving farther or used the car longer, we'd have needed something roomier for sure.) Our drive to the countryside was uneventful, though stressful for my husband who was adapting to a totally unfamiliar area, plus driving on the left side. We got a crash course in roundabouts (not literally, thank goodness!) and got rather lost wandering about the countryside trying to find the farm where we were staying.

Once we found our rental, we were enchanted! We lodged exclusively at Airbnb properties on this trip and absolutely loved it... Here in the Cotswolds, my husband and I stayed in a converted carriage house, while the kids had their own gazebo with a full bathroom and a sleeping loft just across the garden. Once we arrived, we stretched our legs and wandered about the grounds. We were up on a hillside above the village of Naunton and enjoyed seeing the countryside spread out around us, finding wild red poppies, and meeting the owner's ponies and dogs. The owner herself came over to welcome us, and we so enjoyed talking to her and her friends-- they'd all gotten back from a long lunch at a pub and were feeling pretty "happy," so lots of laughs and friendly chatting ensued. We even found out that one of the Brits' ex was a Pittsburgher and he had visited our hometown on several occasions. We finished off our first night in the Cotswolds by taking our hostess' suggestion and driving seven minutes down into tiny Kineton to a pub called the Halfway House. We had a delicious meal there (their menu says they can do 99% of their dishes gluten-free, so that was an added bonus for us) and a nice conversation with the friendly bartender/server and the manager who came out to meet us.

The next day was our Cotswolds' driving blitz. We began at Bourton-on-the-Water, which was a smart move. We got there around 10 am -- the car park was deserted and the town was just waking up. We took the kids to the cute model village and were there with only a handful of other visitors. We window-shopped, walked about town, and snapped pix. The kids chased ducks by the canals and we got into a cafe for lunch right before all heck broke loose around noon. When we left, the place was mobbed by tour buses, so if you go, do go early! Next, we drove through Stow-on-the-Wold on our way to Chipping Campden, where we stopped and spent a good couple of hours exploring the town. It was quiet and totally unassuming --yet utterly charming. We found a wonderful church and old graveyard to explore; I picked up two large black iron Victorian keys at an antiques store; we found that all houses had names instead of numbers (the Dragon House was my son's favorite); and we had our first sticky toffee pudding (tasty!) at a pub where we stopped for some afternoon refreshment. We drove through Snowshill, Stanton, and Stanway and stopped at Broadway Tower to hike around, taking in the spectacular views and getting up close and personal with the region's most famous animal occupants (the trail led us right through a sheep pasture). We stopped off for groceries so we could make dinner in and relax that evening. Sadly, the next morning, after a big breakfast, we had to pack up and say goodbye to the countryside-- we could've used one or two more days!

Posted by
68 posts

Elizabeth, I'm really enjoying your trip report as I'm planning a week in London for our family of five with kids ages 9, 14 and 16 next summer. Do you mind sharing the link to the flat you rented from AirBnB? We're waffling between a downtown hotel and a flat in the suburbs - yours sounds like a great compromise!

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71 posts

Dani:

I would be happy to share the link. It's a 2 bedroom, 1.5 bath just off High St. Kensington. Two kids will have to share one bed, and the other would use a foldout couch in the living room. We really loved staying in a flat instead of hotel. We almost felt like locals that way, and it was quiet and relaxing to come "home" in the evenings. It was also so very accessible to all the main sights.... we would get to Victoria or Westminster via tube in no time at all!

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/14299413

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71 posts

Next, we headed to Edinburgh, Scotland, to finish off our two-week trip. (When we were trip planning, we found out that we could readily fly home out of Edinburgh -- and it was actually even a bit cheaper to do so, than fly London round-trip, for some reason.) Our challenge in planning was figuring out the best way to get to Scotland from the Cotswolds. My husband had decided ahead of time that while he would manage two days of left-side driving in the Cotswolds, he wasn't up for a one-day, six-hour drive to Scotland. So, we found a nice direct train from Birmingham Airport (where we could also turn in our rental car), and of course we booked way in advance which gave us HUGE savings. A big thank you to whomever on here suggested the Birmingham option, because it never would have occurred to me!

Let me just say a few things about trains --- keep in mind, especially if traveling with a group of kids and a decent amount of luggage -- they do not give you much time at all to get on the train! Yikes! It was rather stressful. There is no way that a family of five is going to get on, get their bags stowed and find their seats in that amount of time. You will likely be lurching in the aisles and cramming things wily-nily.

Another aside: I had read Rick and done my research and determined that we all should have one small rolling carryon and backpack each-- that's it. My husband truly thought I was crazy-- here we were, taking the longest vacation yet and packing lighter than ever... But it really paid off. We did make it a point to ensure each of our rentals had a washer, so we always knew we could wash things up. Because we used public transport to get to and from our flat in London it was also nice to have less luggage to deal with there... and, on the train, there really is very little space to stow bags. The luggage racks at the ends of the cars filled immediately, and we were stuck trying to jam our bags in these narrow overhead racks (really not meant for cases, but what can you do?) and stuffing them under our seats. It was -- um-- cozy!

At any rate, I digress. We enjoyed the scenery through the countryside and arrived in Edinburgh around 6:30 pm. Because our flat was nearly a mile from the train station and we were all exhausted, my husband got us an Uber. Our flat was located at the bottom of the steps directly down from Edinburgh Castle, so we really couldn't be much closer to the Royal Mile. We were a little put off by the grittier feel about the area. There was some graffiti on the flat door, trash in the window wells and partying folks wandering about. For a moment or so, we wondered what on earth we had gotten ourselves into. Once we got through the main door, it wasn't much better. The stairs and passageways were cold, dark, dirty and barely lit. My family was looking at me, like, "what did you do?" (I had done ALL the trip planning on my own...) Once we got into the flat, it was clean, light and bright with great castle views. We breathed a sigh of relief and unpacked and freshened up. We were close to Victoria Street, so we walked up that winding street with all the brightly colored shop fronts (some say it was JK Rowling's inspiration for Diagon Alley) and found ourselves an excellent dinner at a bistro specializing in Scottish cuisine.

Posted by
3 posts

Elizabeth - This is so awesome. We are doing almost a similar trip (2 weeks) and your trip report is like a blessing...but want it in its’ entirety! So eagerly looking to your remaining updates. Please do share the Airbnb links to farm and other stays.

Posted by
2627 posts

I am enjoying your trip report! Wow, you're a good writer! I am enjoying the details. Looking forward to the next chapter.....Thanks for taking the time to post all of this!

Posted by
71 posts

And a good one, too! :)

That's very kind of you, but it helps when you have excellent subject matter!

Edinburgh, First Full Day:

The day dawned rainy... not a recreational drizzle, but a serious, this-is-my-job kind of rain. (If you can believe it, this was the first rain during our entire UK adventure!) Everyone was glad I had made them buy good waterproof hooded jackets, and we got full use out of them -- ALL day.

It was a miserable day for it, but we hiked all the way down the Royal Mile and back, just to get the feel of it and figure out what we wanted to do. By the time we hit a few places on the way back, they were already booked for the day. Keep in mind this was a Saturday in high season... If I had it to do over I would have planned what sights to see ahead of time and booked them in the morning. So, we scheduled Mary King's Close and Gladstone's Land for the next afternoon. And, we had a respite from the outdoor misery when we ducked into La Locanda and had a delicious Italian lunch. (All lasagna should have red sauce AND bechamel.) We ended up at Camera Obscura on our way back up the Royal Mile. It was apparently the one thing that you didn't have to book in advance because it was packed with soggy tourists like ourselves --and quite pricey (no family discounts here), but the kids LOVED it. They were happy, and we were happy that they were happy after all the foot-dragging through grand churches/castles/etc. I was disappointed that, due to the gloomy weather, we couldn't really see the image from the actual camera obscura (a kind of 1800s camera that projects a live image of the city below). I would love to go back sometime to see it in action...

We noticed on our walk back that there was a cat cafe (Maison de Moggy) literally across the street from our flat. (It, too, was booked and didn't allow kids under 10, much to my son's dismay.) My daughter and I went to some used bookstores nearby and a great antique shop that also specialized in books. I got a dear little tartan plaid book about Edinburgh with gilt-edged pages. Finally, we went "home" to dry out and relax... later we headed out for an inexpensive taco dinner in the Grassmarket area near our flat.

Posted by
11262 posts

Great report - thanks for taking the time to post all these details, as they should be very helpful for others.

"When we were trip planning, we found out that we could readily fly home out of Edinburgh -- and it was actually even a bit cheaper to do so, than fly London round-trip, for some reason"

YES! I wish everyone planning a trip could read this before booking airline tickets. Many people seem to just assume that London (or Paris, or Madrid) is the "best" or even the "only" airport they can use, or else assume that it will cost much more to fly to airports closer to their sightseeing. I'm glad you did the research to find a route that was not only a bit cheaper, but a lot more convenient.

As for the dark hallways in your Edinburgh apartment, perhaps there were light switches you have to activate. This is common in Europe (legacy of expensive electricity - the hallways aren't kept lit all the time). But when I told one Berlin B&B owner that he should explain this to guests (the first day I was walking the hallways in the dark, until I figured out that I needed to turn on the hallway lights myself), he was completely puzzled - doesn't everyone know about this? I tried to explain that in the US it was not typical - he still didn't believe that I wasn't brain damaged or something for not knowing that of course in Berlin you always have to turn on the hallway lights. If, in your future travels, you ever see a dark hallway with a glowing switch, that's what it is. They usually put the switches near your room door, at the top of the stairs, and at the bottom of the stairs.

Posted by
71 posts

As for the dark hallways in your Edinburgh apartment, perhaps there were light switches you have to activate. This is common in Europe

Harold: Thanks for that tip and your experiences! You may well be right... I hope anyone reading feels free to chime in and share their insights or experiences.

It's funny... I was looking up the area where we stayed-- couldn't remember if it was Haymarket or Grassmarket and right on Google Maps it said "pub crawl" right by our flat--- no wonder we got that partying vibe! If I had it to do over I think we would have enjoyed a more family-friendly, quieter area-- though it certainly wouldn't have been so close to the Royal Mile. I think that's part of what made our London stay so nice... the neighborhood!

Posted by
1939 posts

Elizabeth99, this is a wonderful report and I"m enjoying every bit of your very positive energy and excellent writing skills. I am taking notes as I will be in London and Edinburgh next September-October. Getting some great ideas from your experiences-Thank you!

From your description of the location and the cat cafe & antique bookshops, your flat sounds like it was right by Grassmarket. Perhaps one of the flats on West Port near Lady Wynd? Superbly central location but yeah, Grassmarket is party central - and the other end of West Port is known as the Pubic Triangle because there's a bunch of strip clubs. It's all perfectly safe & lovely but can get a bit rowdy after dark...

And those views of the castle from Grassmarket are stunning, aren't they?

Posted by
1838 posts

An alternative to AirBnB is www.homestay.com

The trains sometimes stop for only a minute or 2 - even when they are running on time. They have to reach places many miles away in order for people to make connecting trains. They may only dwell for longer at termini - though some places en-route do have longer dwell times. If you have to catch a train and worry about finding your seat and think it is about to go, get on board and simply walk through the train. The guard will normally be at the back of the train looking down the platform at each stop (or the driver has a camera). The guard will see what is going on and will decide when to close the doors and send a signal to the driver to move off. You can see how long your train is likely to dwell at a station by using the following website and inserting station name in Location box > Search. If you click the minus hour sign back into British daytime, you will be able to find the intended train that you will take in the future. If you click on the code for that train, you will be able to see how reliable it was in running to time.http://www.realtimetrains.co.uk/search/advanced

New express trains will start appearing soon on the Great Western routes out of Paddington and the East Coast Main Line out of Kings Cross. I understand that these will have overhead racks that can take cases that you can put in the racks on planes.

Posted by
71 posts

your flat sounds like it was right by Grassmarket. Perhaps one of the flats on West Port near Lady Wynd? Superbly central location but yeah, Grassmarket is party central - and the other end of West Port is known as the Pubic Triangle

Yes, you seem to know exactly where we stayed! At first I though "pubic" was a typo, and then I saw it wasn't! Glad we didn't wander too far up that part of the street... the kids would have gotten a whole other kind of education... The views of the castle were amazing, though...

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71 posts

The guard will normally be at the back of the train looking down the platform at each stop (or the driver has a camera). The guard will see what is going on and will decide when to close the doors and send a signal to the driver to move off. You can see how long your train is likely to dwell at a station by using the following website and inserting station name in Location box > Search. If you click the minus hour sign back into British daytime, you will be able to find the intended train that you will take in the future. If you click on the code for that train, you will be able to see how reliable it was in running to time.http://www.realtimetrains.co.uk/search/advanced

I love this-- I've been back from Europe for 2 1/2 months and still learning new things for next time! Thank you for this info. It is comforting to know they won't shut the doors and speed off while you are still wrangling children and luggage. And, we did do what you said and simply got on quickly and then walked through to find the seats. The web site is a good tool as well. I had no idea :)

Posted by
4528 posts

Only last week when on the train to Worcester sadly I heard moaning by two Americans in loud voices about how little time there had been to get off the train at Oxford and they hadn't gathered all their stuff together before the doors were locked for departure. It seemed to have been over two minutes since I had got on there, and I can only guess they hadn't done anything to get ready before the train stopped.

They were escorted into the front two coaches to get off at the next station at Hanborough (as it only has a short platform). I could see that they each had two enormous suitcases, plus at least one other bag. I'm not sure how they would be able to carry it all anyway, let alone easily get off the train.

Posted by
71 posts

Only last week when on the train to Worcester sadly I heard moaning by two Americans in loud voices about how little time there had been to get off the train

Ha! We try very hard not to be those "loudly moaning" Americans... one of my very favorite travel stories is about when my husband and I spent our honeymoon on the French side of St. Martin in the Caribbean. There was a loud, obnoxious group of Americans complaining loudly by the pool about the voltage difference and how their blow dryers wouldn't work! (Which simply amazed me -- did they think St. Martin should change their voltage to make things more convenient for Americans? Didn't they do any research? I had a great remedy: I let my hair air dry on the balcony whilst having a rum and Coke...) At any rate, several times we were thought to be French and we felt it was a great compliment! We like to blend in... "when in Rome..." right?

In terms of the train, we always tried our best to be alert and have ourselves and our kids gathered together well in advance. I think train travel like this is simply not at all familiar to us, because this is not a method of transportation we really use here in the U.S. We really don't know what to expect. I can see that these folks' huge bags would be a huge problem. So glad we had small, portable items. Helping the kids out did slow us down a bit, but I'm sure if it were just my husband and I we would have found train travel vastly more manageable...

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I"m enjoying every bit of your very positive energy and excellent writing skills. I am taking notes as I will be in London and Edinburgh next September-October. Getting some great ideas from your experiences

Andi: thank you so very much!! Enjoy your trip planning... it's easy to have positive energy when you are talking about a trip like this. It was a dream come true for us.

Edinburgh, Day 2:

Sunday was still soggy, so we trotted out the damp rain jackets again. I had bought our tickets online the night before and made sure we were all at Edinburgh Castle when it opened. There was a separate self-serve station where we entered our booking number, and tickets were printed out for us. We lucked out and found a live tour starting at 10 am and followed our guide around. It was a short but informative tour and ended by the crown jewels, which we got into fairly quickly. (Just be aware it’s only one small room with basically a couple of cases— a mere fraction of what you see at the Tower of London. I only mention it in case the line is long and you may want to head to other spots in the castle.) We enjoyed seeing the prisons especially — the kids liked how they had recreated the prisoners’ accommodations, and I liked seeing the centuries-old graffiti on the doors and some of the detailed handiwork of the prisoners (an amazing model ship, inlaid boxes with quilling, etc.). We headed next to Mary King’s Close. It was a bit cheesy, but the kids liked it, and it was interesting to get a glimpse into these hidden streets and a chance to learn more about life during this time period. It was here, in the gift shop, where we came across our very favorite souvenir -- the Giant Microbes Black Death plush -- does't everyone need a black death stuffty? We thought that was just too funny.

Lastly, we headed to Gladstone’s Land. Ours were the only kids there and we felt a bit out of place, but everyone was kind. I didn’t realize that there were only four rooms on the tour, and the kids got tired. They kept looking at me with doe eyes and whispering: “how much longer?” That said, the rooms were recreated down to the last detail. The chatty guide was good and we learned a lot. The original painted wood ceiling in the bedroom was breathtaking. And our family still talks about feeding kids beer ... and oatmeal in a drawer... and hanging swaddled babes up on hooks to keep them out of trouble! (You just have to go and then you'll know what I mean...)

For lunch, we had tried to go to the Elephant House, with its Harry Potter connections, but the line was long, so we headed a few doors down to the Outsider (a Rick Steves suggestion) and waited for it to open at noon. We had our pick of seats and a nice meal; it was hopping by the time we left. That evening, we ate a pub dinner at the Fiddler’s Arms, right around the corner from our flat. Food was so-so; we know that bacon in the UK is what we Americans would call thick-cut ham, but we really thought for sure when the menu said "crispy bacon" as a jacket potato topping that we were finally going to get-- well -- crispy bacon. You can guess how this turned out. However, the kids all had a nice helping of creamy ice cream with delicious homemade sauces and a flake bar stuck in each!

In terms of food, overall, on our entire trip, we were 100% pleasantly surprised. We found the food to be excellent, gluten-free options to be even more available, and the prices lower than we would pay here in the suburbs for food not nearly as good. We have rebutted everyone we talk to here who clings to the old idea that food in the UK is bad. We enjoyed so many excellent meals. And certain things like British chocolate, flapjack bars, clotted cream, and wonderful fizzy, light fruit drinks have no equal in America.

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Last Day, Edinburgh:

We had hoped to strike out and visit somewhere outside the city (my eldest desperately wanted to get to the ocean), but my husband vetoed it — I think, this being the end of our UK adventure, we were just a bit tired. So, we opted to stay in Edinburgh— by far the easiest choice!

It was a beautiful sunny day. We hiked down the Royal Mile to Holyrood Park and then up to Arthur’s Seat. I had heard that it was a strenuous hike, but we are a family of runners (well, and one dancer ;) so we managed quite well. It was just gorgeous. The 360-degree views were breathtaking -- you could see for miles. We all loved this outing; it was perhaps the favorite thing we did in Edinburgh, if you can believe it.

Then we walked through part of the New Town back into Old Town and tried the Elephant House again. We waited about 15 minutes to get seated and were scrunched into some couches. I really didn’t find the food, service, or ambiance that special. I’m as much of a Harry Potter fan as the rest, but this place didn’t have a good feel to me. It was packed with tourists and any charm it might have had leached away. The graffiti-filled bathroom just seemed tacky not evocative. We had also walked through muddy Greyfriars the day before in the miserable rain to find the few headstones that people say might have inspired JK (there's a William McGonagall and Thomas Riddell) -- and that felt so-so to me. There were several tour groups going through and the "Voldemort" graffiti on the Riddell tombstone made me sad.

At any rate, my daughters seemed to enjoy it...

Lastly, we were able to book three spots in the cat cafe down a few doors down from our flat. The girls were thrilled. I will say (though I have never been to a cat cafe before) that this place was exceptionally well-done. I loved that the cats were all different breeds, so you could see a pure-bred British shorthair or a Sphinx or a Norwegian Forest cat... The decor (all cute catwalks and play areas) was fun and functional, and the food was good (again lots of GF options, and of course, there was a cocoa pawprint on top of the girls' hot chocolate!) It was 7 GBP per person for an hour.

That night we booked a meal at the oldest pub in Edinburgh, the Sheep Heid’s Inn. It was far enough off the beaten path that we had to Uber and was full of locals-- I'm not sure that many tourists make it out there! We headed back afterward to pack up for our trip home.

We had some adventures in JFK airport which involved miserable airport workers yelling at us (how we missed Scotland's friendly airport employees!), huge lines, a tight connection, and sprinting 30 GATES -- no exaggeration. In typical form for air travel for this trip, our trip back was somewhat harrowing, but we made it home, on schedule. (And I would say I will try my best to avoid JFK like the plague for any future trips...)

The next day I began scheming how we could go back to Europe ... and when.... and where...

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714 posts

The memorial plaque to William Topaz McGonagall - his grave is not known exactly as it was unmarked - if we are talking about the same William McGonagall you saw comemmorated in the the churchyard, celebrates a man famous in his own right well before J K Rowling appropriated his name for the Hogwarts mistress. McGonagall was possibly the worst poet in the world, and a man entirely unaware of his lack of talent. In fact the reverse was the case and his apparent lack of a sense of humour of any kind, led to him at one time to declare himself poet laureate. And unlike a fine wine, he did not improve with age. His collected works make hilarious reading, I recommend 'Poetic Gems' as a starting point. One might say that to laugh at this man is unkind, but his poetry is unintentionally hilarious and he does seem to have been something of a prig and believed his works to be poetry of the highest order. Decide for yourself! See the Wikipedia entry!

Glad you had such a great trip! I've thoroughly enjoyed reading your postings.

Ian

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1395 posts

I too really enjoyed your report! For the last 25 years (since we began traveling), I would come home and immediately start planning the next trip. We have been lucky enough to go every year. I hope you have many more trips ahead of you. This is the first time in 25 years that we are not actively planning right now. My husband and I didn't feel good for the entire 15 days of our trip the end of August. Has kind of colored our thinking, but we will not give up - want to continue to travel but maybe skip a year? It's good to do the traveling when you can and not wait.

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289 posts

I have enjoyed your trip report. You have given me some ideas to start planning another trip to Europe. I just started reading because I recently returned from a month in England and France. You have inspired me to write a trip report. Unfortunately, I'm at my daughters house taking care of grandkids (for 2 weeks) and I don't have all my notes with me. I will be posting after I get home. I see that it took you a few months to post your trip, so I will try to get something posted soon. I have visited most of the places that you saw in England, so now I'm trying to decide on whether to visit Scotland or Ireland on my next visit abroad. There are so many places still left on my bucket list!

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71 posts

McGonagall was possibly the worst poet in the world, and a man entirely unaware of his lack of talent. In fact the reverse was the case and his apparent lack of a sense of humour of any kind, led to him at one time to declare himself poet laureate.

Thanks, Ian, for letting me know more about McGonagall... I will certainly have to check him out. He sounds like quite the character!

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71 posts

It's good to do the traveling when you can and not wait.

This is good advice, Sharon! Thank you... I am sorry you did not feel well on your trip. I hope you are on the mend soon and planning another trip -- even if you have to skip a year.

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71 posts

I just started reading because I recently returned from a month in England and France. You have inspired me to write a trip report.

Janet-- Your month-long visit sounds fabulous! I would love to hear about it... and, yes, it did take me some time to get around to posting this trip report, so take your time :) Luckily I had journaled about each day of our trip (a little during the trip, but mostly right after returning home), so everything would be fresh in my mind for future reference.

Enjoy those grandkids.

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911 posts

Yes, you needed to just go and ask the person working at the door of Westminster Abbey to get in with your prepurchased tickets. We bought ours the night before, asked, and walked right in. Live and learn.

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Fantastic report, especially as we are about to head for London for our fourth or fifth trip, but then catching the train up to Edinburgh followed by Glasgow.

We haven't been to Scotland before, so your tips were excellent. Don't worry about being late with the report, I have just today finished by blog of our last trip in January!!

Start planning straight away, it is the only way to remove the post trip depression.

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88 posts

I can totally relate to the sentiment in the first paragraph. Our trip was a little over a year ago and I'm still dying to go back. Hopefully we'll make it next September.

Isn't it so cool to be watching a program shot in a location you've been to? You get a little leap in your heart accompanied by a little pang that wants to return.

What a nightmare though about your flights and luggage. I'm glad you don't appear to have let it ruin your experience.

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6507 posts

Elizabeth, what a superb and supremely enjoyable report you've written and shared with us!! It sounds like you all had an absolutely fantastic trip thanks to your planning!! The airports sound like a nightmare, but glad you eventually made your way there and back. And I think your attitude was brilliantly evoked by your comments about your honeymoon and how you solved the no-hairdryer dilemma -- sitting on the balcony with a rum and coke in the sunshine to let your hair dry! You sound like a wonderful traveling companion -- although I'd be hard put to stay up with you!