EF Ultimate Break
I am FINALLY getting around to writing this post about my trip all over Europe. I guess when you take well over 1,000 photos and are gone 17 days it makes it hard to get them all in one post! I’m gonna try my best. This post is gonna be like my diary of my trip. So I can come back to it and remember this wonderful trip with fondness.
To begin, I used EF Ultimate Break for this trip. I had seen this group on ads on Facebook for forever, and I have always wanted to go to Europe and travel in general. Since I was graduating with my masters I decided to celebrate with a trip to Europe! I spent the last two semesters (of five) looking forward to my trip, and it sure made the time fly (I mean, it probably would’ve flown by regardless — I was very busy with school, internship, and work). I looked at many of the trips (and lets be real, I still have a lot of them saved), but chose the European Road Trip because of the fact I would be able to go to many of the big cities in Europe I’ve always wanted to go to (London, Paris, Rome, etc.). The incredibly nice thing about EF Ultimate Break is the fact that they can book your flight (you can choose to book it), get the accommodations and transportation to the cities, guided tours, and so much more based on the actual trip you go on.
On EF Ultimate Break’s Itinerary for the European Road Trip, Travel Day is Day 1. I really didn’t count the travel days in my WHAT I WORE: EUROPE IN MAY blog post, so this post will reflect those days.
I was able to fly out of my local airport in Grand Rapids, MI and had a connecting flight in Washington DC before I headed to London! I only slept for about an hour on my 7 hour plane ride from DC to London, and that was probably pushing it. Since it was an overnight flight, we got into London around 7am, but that was about 1am in Michigan. Well, I was in Europe, so super energized. Even on that hour of sleep.
Big Ben was under renovations so is covered in scaffolding. I did not know about this before my trip, but it is under construction and will be for a few more years.
EF Ultimate Break set up a driver to pick us up from the airport and to bring us to our hotel. We stayed in Canning Town at an Ibis hotel. We were not able to check in until later in the day, but the hotel was able to lock up our belongings in a room so we could adventure off into the city.
The room was so cute and adorable!
There was a small group of us that had gotten to the hotel by 9am so we got Metro cards from our tour director and headed out to explore the city via the London Underground, or the Tube.
First we headed to Westminster district. We walked along the outskirts of Westminster Abbey (where Prince William and Kate Middleton, aka the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, got married; Queen Elizabeth II had her wedding to Prince Philip there, in addition to her coronation). Parliament Square is also within Westminster, in addition to Palace of Westminster. Big Ben (which is actually called Elizabeth Tower) is a part of the Palace of Westminster, in addition to the House of Parliament.
Parliament Square, and Palace of Westminster
We were hungry at this point so looked for places around the area of Westminster to eat. We stopped at Giraffe in South Bank, near the London Eye.
Walk to South Bank near the London Eye
South Bank near the London Eye
After lunch we decided to walk to Trafalgar Square and then Piccadilly Circus. The square was named after the Battle of Trafalgar, that was during Napoleonic Wars with France and Spain. The National Gallery is in the Trafalgar Square, as well. Piccadilly Circus has more shopping opportunities, and illuminated signs.
Walk to Trafalgar Square
The Horses of Helios sculpture in Piccadilly Circus
We did some tourist shopping in Piccadilly Circus, and then headed back to the hotel via the Tube where we were able to settle in, change (I still had my travel clothes on at this point), and get ready for a Welcome Dinner where we got to know some people (there was 40+ of us, so hard to get to know every single person), introduce ourselves, and kick off the trip. After dinner we toured a lot of the spots that we had done earlier in the day with just the small group of us that had arrived early.
I called it a night after that, as I was still running on 1 hour of sleep (and no nap, which ultimately I think saved me for Europe — no jet lag here).
Day 2 in London started with a guided tour from a local tour guide. It was a mix of bus/walking, so we were able to get to multiple places AND have some photo shoots (actually looked presentable — no longer in my travel clothes). One of the first stops was Tower Bridge (not to be confused with London Bridge, because it is not London Bridge) that is both a suspension and drawbridge.
After our photo shoot at the Tower Bridge we hopped on the bus and headed toward St. Paul’s Cathedral. St. Paul’s is the Anglican church where Prince Charles and Princess Diana were married in 1981. We did not go inside, but the church is beautiful from the outside! There is a statue of Queen Anne in front.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
St. Paul’s Cathedral and St. Anne statue
St. Paul’s Cathedral was rebuilt after the Great Fire of London in 1966, as statue commemorating the fire is located toward the side of St. Paul’s Cathedral, close to the Millennium Bridge.
Great Fire of London statue and Millennium Bridge in the distance
We hopped back on the bus and headed toward Green Park, so we could walk to Buckingham Palace. Along the way we passed the House of Parliament, the London Eye, and a Tavern used in the film Mary Poppins Returns.
Guided tour pictures on our way to Green Park and St. James’s Park to Buckingham Palace.
One of the spots I was looking forward to seeing, in London, was Buckingham Palace. We were able to see the end of the Changing of the Guard, that is normally 45 minutes. I might have a slight obsession with the British royal family, so it was awesome to see Buckingham Palace in person. We didn’t walk up to the gates since we had to get to our afternoon excursion, but we were able to take some more photos, and pretend to be 15 year old Meghan Markle. I re-watched The Crown, a Netflix original, throughout my trip, so if that can tell you anything it is that I really do love the royals. We didn’t know it had the time, but the Duchess of Sussex had a royal baby, Archie Mountbatten Windsor, a few hours before our tour. It was announced later in the day! Back in October, when the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced they were pregnant and expecting in the Spring, I made a comment to my mom, coworkers, and probably a few others, that it would be so cool for Meghan to have the baby when I was in London (I had booked my trip in September).
In front of Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace and the Changing of the Guard
Changing of the Guard
After Buckingham Palace a portion of the EF group went on the first excursion, the London Eye and a River Cruise. On the cruise I tried decaf coffee, and I would say I am okay without it, and they provided some gluten free options for me to eat.
Our River Cruise was by the Tower of London, which was built by William the Conqueror and was used as a prison for hundreds of years.
Tower of London
As I write this, and am not even done with day 2 activities, it is amazing how much we fit into a day! After the Tower of London we headed to King’s Cross Station, to get to Platform 9 3/4! To be at the same place Harry Potter goes to Hogwarts (it is perfectly okay to talk about a fantasy world, right?!) was crazy, or I should really say Daniel Radcliffe filmed a scene at King’s Cross Station (there, back to reality). We might have connect briefly to the Hogwarts Express!
Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station.
Our last adventure of the day, Abbey Road! I have loved The Beatles since high school, buying all of their CD’s with some Christmas money one year. The instrumental version of “Here Comes the Sun” has been my ringtone for at least eight years, and they inspired some drawings for my high school art class. I wish I knew where I put them! I had one of Abbey Road. I would 100% hate to live near Abbey Road, because HAVE to stop for people crossing. Luckily I wasn’t driving!
Walking Abbey Road
Walking Abbey Road
Dinner was the last stop before the hotel, and we went to a spot near Abbey Road. I tired lamb for the first time, and it was delicious! Both places put all the meals on one receipt, which was a very common theme throughout the trip.
Lamb and chicken kebab with french fries
On Day 3, a small group of us took a train to Windsor and toured a portion of Windsor Castle. I knew Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were married at St. George’s Chapel, and from watching The Crown, knew Queen Elizabeth II enjoyed spending her time in Windsor. We were able to tour the State Apartments (couldn’t take photos inside — The Duke and Duchess of Sussex introduced Archie in one of the rooms we toured, St. George’s Hall, just a day after we walked through it).
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex – Windsor Castle – St. George’s Hall
Queen Elizabeth II with her great-grandchildren – Portrait inside entrance of Windsor Castle
Group inside Windsor Castle
The South Wing of the Upper Ward; the Official Entrance to the State Apartments is on the left
Throughout Windsor Castle
Changing of the Guards at Windsor Castle
Second run in of the Changing of the Guards
The entire grounds are BEAUTIFUL! We walked inside St. George’s Chapel (again no photos inside), and I got to walk where Meghan walked, and stood where she stood. St. George’s Chapel was a lot smaller than I expected, especially after waking up bright and early and watching the Duke and Duchess of Sussex get married a year ago.
St. George’s Chapel
St. George’s Chapel
St. George’s Chapel
St. George’s Chapel
Outside of Windsor Castle in Windsor
At the train station in Windsor, there was a picture of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex made out of LEGO’s.
Windsor train station
Obligatory telephone booth photos
Once we made it back into London, we went to Convent Gardens where there was shopping nearby. Found a convenient store to pick up snacks and had an early night after days of adventure.
Free souvenir — newspaper the day after Archie was born