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Sunday Strolls

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As our UK vacation came to a close, we wanted a little time to rest and enjoy our last moments. So, for our last day in London, Landon and I decided to wander around and just do whatever came to us...which is not too hard to do in a city as busy as London. We ended up going back to central London, and spending time in the Leicester Square/ Covent Garden area, just shopping and picking up last minute souvenirs. 

Brunch at Covent Gardens

While shopping in Leicester Square, we came upon the European premiere of Happy Feet Two, so we stood in line to see the celebs come in.

Someone's coming--everyone get ready!

It's Elijah Wood, I swear!

Check out all of our loot!


Pretty Antiques and Theatre Shrieks: Portobello Road Market and the West End

Portobello Road Market and West End Theatre | CosmosMariners.com

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Saturday mornings in London definitely require a trip to the Portobello Road Market in Notting Hill (like the movie!). It's pretty much the coolest farmers market ever--there are blocks after blocks of food, antiques, clothes and souvenirs.

Portobello Road Market and West End Theatre | CosmosMariners.com
the view of the beginning of the market from the start of Portobello Road

Portobello Road Market and West End Theatre | CosmosMariners.com
with one of the delicious, freshly made doughnuts we got from one of the street stalls. It was as big as my face, and I ate the WHOLE thing.
After we had eaten our fill of doughnuts and after we'd bought some gorgeous sandstone owl bookends and a new wool cape for me, Landon and I tried to make the Jack the Ripper walking tour. However, the Circle Line on the Tube had other plans for us (Transport for London kept shutting down different lines for refurbishment so they'll be ready for the Olympics next summer) and we couldn't get to the meeting area for the tour. 

So! We rallied and decided to head to my old home-away-from-home in Chelsea. I was so excited to see my old residence hall from my study abroad program back in 2005 (it's the big, tall building on the middle/ right side of the picture below):

Portobello Road Market and West End Theatre | CosmosMariners.com

We cruised King's Road and ducked into the Waterstone's there for a few books by my favorite British authors, then walked to Knightsbridge (it's quite a trek, but we had our trekking boots on). 

Next stop: Harrod's!

Daniel Radcliffe's Hogwarts uniforms from Harry Potter (part of the Harry Potter store inside Harrod's)

To finish off our crazy-busy, but super awesome day, we got all gussied up (as my grandmother said) and headed out to see The Woman in Black in the West End.
Check out my new cape!

Dinner was at Wagamama's in Leicester Square (another must-eat in London!), and then we hurried to the Fortune Theatre for the show. 

The Woman in Black is about a retired lawyer who feels the need to recount what happened to him in his youth. As a new lawyer, he is sent by his firm to deal with the estate of a reclusive old woman. On his trip, he finds that the townspeople don't like to talk about Eel Marsh House and what happened there. The lawyer dismisses the stories as just that, but ultimately, he discovers the truth about the woman in black. The play is based on a book, and now, a movie based on the play (starring Daniel Radcliffe) is coming to theatres soon. I will definitely go see the movie...though I'll be peeping through my fingers in several spots!

Portobello Road Market and West End Theatre | CosmosMariners.com

I knew the play was supposed to be scary, but I don't know how a play could actually pull that off. I was so wrong! I jumped, screamed and generally had the BEST time. And to top it all off, only two actors carried the entire play. It was one of those plays where everything--the stage lights, the acting, the mood, the dialogue--to create this one awesome experience. I love when that happens! Check it out if you're in London--it's the second longest running play on the West End, so it should be there for a while.

What's your favorite thing to do in London? What West End plays have you seen?

London Calling

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I was personally very excited about the last leg of our trip, which included a few days in London. I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad in London several years ago, and this was the first chance I'd had to return to my favorite city in the entire world!

On our first day in London, we headed to two of London's most popular attractions: the Tower of London and the British Museum.

The Tower of London:

The British Museum:

High tea? Yes, please! 

There are few things in life that I love more than a pot of English Breakfast tea, some warm scones, strawberry jam and clotted cream. And if you're ever in London, you should definitely take in the afternoon tea at the British Museum--it's about half the cost of the Ritz, but has just as much ambiance (and it helps that the food is also crazy delicious!). 

My study abroad school, in the heart of Bloomsbury. I loved being able to wander around the British Museum in between classes! It was so weird to go back there--so much has happened in my life since 2005, but everything looked exactly the same.

Will and Kate's Old Stomping Grounds

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Goodbye, Dunblane!
in front of our hotel in Dunblane
Hello, St. Andrews! 
Walking along the Scores in St. Andrews

For our fifth day in Scotland, we ventured cross-country to the eastern coast. Years ago, I had this lovely dream of leaving South Carolina and finishing my degree at the University of St. Andrews. While I am ultimately very happy that I stayed in SC (at least in part because I met my husband at college!), I've always wanted to visit St. Andrews. Plus, that's where Will and Kate met...and I won't lie, it only enhanced the appeal! :)

A few of my favorite pics from the day:
Landon at the Old Course 

West Sands, where the opening shots of "Chariots of Fire" were filmed

Old Course

St. Andrews Castle

Landon in the countermines underneath St. Andrews Castle

Just down the street at St. Andrews Cathedral

Landon's first encounter with fish and chips. Yum!

Driving back to Edinburgh via East Neuk

That night, we took the sleeper train from Edinburgh to London. It was big on fun, but tiny on space!

Go Boil Your Silly English Bottoms, You Silly English Pig Dogs

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Day 4 on our UK Extravaganza took us to Stirling, Scotland, just a few minutes from our hotel in Dunblane. We had four stops: Stirling Castle, the William Wallace Monument, Doune Castle and the Dunblane Cathedral.

First off, Stirling Castle, which was an important stronghold in the Scottish Wars for Independence. At one time or another, both William Wallace and Robert the Bruce had possession of Stirling Castle, though James V probably had the biggest hand in designing the property. James VI of Scotland (also James I of England) was its last royal inhabitant.
Nothing says, "Top o' the mornin' to ye" like a little interpretive dance.

In front of James V's Royal Apartments

In the Great Hall

The Great Hall

We played dress-up in the children's section of the castle!

Next up was the William Wallace Monument, built during the Victorian period by the Scots who felt that it was horrible that one of their national heroes didn't have a permanent monument in Scotland. There are over 280 stairs to the very top (and no elevator!) and three exhibition halls on the way up: William Wallace's biography room, the Hall of Heroes (focusing on the contributions of the Scots people to the world) and a history of the monument. 

the view from the top of the monument

from the outside of the monument. See the little spiral-y thing on the left hand side? That's the staircase. The LOOOONG staircase.

William Wallace's sword. It's pretty much as tall as I am.

Clemson spirit abounds even at the top of the Wallace Monument!

the view from the top of the monument

Third stop of the day: the on-site film location for "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," also known as Doune Castle in Doune, Scotland (thus, the post title). 

That silly Arthur King and his silly kanigets don't have anything on me!

It was very quiet at Doune Castle, too, so (again) we had the place to ourselves. We had a great time wandering around that drafty, quiet castle!

The final stop of the day was Dunblane Cathedral, which had an incredible back story. A tower was originally built on the site in the 1100s, and the cathedral was built around the tower about 100 years later. During the Scottish Wars for Independence, Edward I took the lead roof off of the cathedral to use for bullets. As the nave of the cathedral was now roofless, the congregation turned the nave into the graveyard, and walled off the choir area to use as the new, smaller church. It set up stayed this way until the Victorian period when the congregation put a new roof on the nave and opened up the entire cathedral again. They didn't move the graveyard though, so there are graves still under the nave!

An' I'll Be in Scotland Before Ye

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On our third day of sightseeing (catch up with our earlier adventures in Edinburgh, Roslin and Melrose), we went into the Trossachs, an area of woodlands east of Ben Lomond and Loch Lomond. On our original itinerary, we were going pony trekking and clay pigeon shooting on an estate about 2.5 hours from our hotel in Dunblane.

However, Landon went down to check his email in the business center and started talking to one of the hotel's employees, this super nice man named Ian. After hearing about the five-hour roundtrip we had planned, Ian suggested that we take a drive around the nearby Trossachs. I'd done a little research on our genealogy before the trip, and it turns out that my family is from the southern tip of Loch Lomond, which is  in the Trossachs. I knew my grandparents would be happy to hear that we were switching up our plans to include a visit to the "home place" (which, let's face it, was only true about 400 years ago since we sort of jumped on that immigration-to-America thing as soon as it became a viable option).

And boy, I, for one, was really happy that Landon had that chance encounter with Ian because the Trossachs were GORGEOUS.

We first stopped in the tiny speck of a town called Kilamahog (yes, seriously):
There, we met Hamish, Heather and Honey, Highland cows (which are called "shaggy coos" by the locals). 

Then, we passed the first of several beautiful lochs: 

On the way to our next stop, we happened upon Rob Roy's grave in the town of Balquhidder.

We stopped for lunch at Killan, near the Falls of Dochart.
Landon and his traditional Scottish Breakfast

It was indeed wee.

After lunch, we headed to Tyndrum, and stopped for a quick photo shoot at Loch Dochart.
Traveler Natalie: Conquering rocks is all in a day's work

Then, we had a quick sing-a-long on the way to Loch Lomond. Our car was obviously the cool one to ride in. 

Loch Lomond was huge!

I was super glad we agreed to switch from pony trekking to our Trossachs trek--it was probably one of my favorite days on the trip!

Fact: Scotland has some WEIRD street signs. Our favorites included the following:
WHAT?? Why are the cars not in their lane??

Because old people are obviously walking around in the forest.