Monday, July 24, 2017

Travelogue; London x Scotland x Manchester 2017 (Part 2 - Day 3,4,5) | Things to do in UK

Hola~ If you haven't read the first post on my London trip, do check it out here - Travelogue: London x Scotland x Manchester 2017 (Part 1 - Day 1, 2)

Now, let's continue on with my UK travel journey....

Day 3 28 January
On this day, we did the most touristy tour - Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Bath tour. It is by far the MOST sought after tour, one of the more expensive tours as well. We booked our tour via Viator Tours which in my opinion is slightly more expensive... It cost us £90 per pax (approx S$160) for all 3 places of interest, inclusive of return transfer. 

This is quite a lengthy tour so we had to begin our day early. Our pickup location was at Lancaster London Hotel, which was within walking distance from our accommodation. The mini bus then dropped us at the company's central "bus terminal". There are heaps of tourists there, queuing at their respective tour bus queues. Lots of tour guides trying to familiarize themselves with their guests and trying not to lose them in the crowd. It was quite chaotic to be honest! Anyway, got on board our bus and everyone was handed a pair of earphones. These are used to listen to the tour guide when he speaks through his microphone. You won't be able to hear him speak if you're not plugged into these earphones. It's pretty cool to have these on the bus, good for those who wants to nap on the bus and not be disturbed by the tour guide. *thumbs up for this invention* 

Unfortunately, they only have english menu available. Well, they do have spanish/german option but it wasn't really working. *shurgs*
Our tour guide was quite chirpy, his name was Kingsley. We began our trip to Windsor Castle first. Over there it was quite free & easy, explore wherever you want on your own. Our tour guide didn't bring us around the castle so we were on our own. We took a castle ground map and tried to cover as much as we could. 







Queen's not in at the moment....



 I think the trick to getting a smooth day is to be ahead of everyone; be early! We arrived at Windsor quite early, well ahead of a few tour buses, and we managed to gain entry before a huge group of china tourists swarmed in. The queue thereafter was horrendously long! 
Anyway we finished the first leg of our tour in an hour plus, just in time to hop back onto the bus to head off to the next location. 






The 2nd leg of the tour is to the all famous Stonehenge. We all know that they are just rocks, that you see from a distance. The scenery is beautiful anyway! Took us 1.5hrs to get to Stonehenge from Windsor. The tour bus dropped us off at the entrance and inside the compound, there's a separate little bus that brings guests from the main lobby to the actual structure. Even after dropping us off at the actual structure, you'll have to walk a short distance to reach the front. 






Walking walking and more walking...... But check out the nice and clear weather, sooooooo perfect! 








I think we spent an hour or so over here to admire the Stonehenge and take photos. There isn't much to do over here, except to see Stonehenge and maybe get some souvenirs at the gift shop. Oh, for our lunch, we actually had it provided on the bus. Because half the tour is time spent travelling on the bus from location to location, so the tour package included lunch. Don't expect some fanciful lunch packet, it was only Subway and a small bag of doritos. Annnnnd, the subway they provided was filled with vegetables only. I don't recall seeing any form of ham or meat inside. Booooooooooo

Next and final stop; Bath! 
Honestly, i wasn't paying much attention to the tour guide when he was introducing this attraction. But i recalled that he told us the story behind a Wake, which was quite interesting. 
In ancient times, a Wake (which today we know it as holding a funeral for the dead), is a time where people would wait for the "dead" (assumed) person to wake up before they cremate the body. There was a time before where people heard knocking sounds on the coffin and the dead rising up again. This was because the coroner had accidentally pronounce the person as dead, which resulted in the dead rising up again. So, this is the story behind a Wake. 

Not sure how true this is but it's quite an interesting/freaky story. Imagine hearing banging sounds from inside the coffin, would you open it up?  Hmm, i'm not sure about myself, i'd probably shit my pants..... Oh wells, creepy things aside, this place is nice, and filled with so much history! It really reminded me of Roman times and I could literally imagine them having a bath here. This attraction site has really preserved the essence of a Roman Bath! 







It was more of a historic tour than photo taking session here, lots of things to read, pictures to see. By the time we were done with Bath, the sky was already dark and it was time to head back to city. But, before we board the bus, we had to try Sally Lunn's buns! We read about it online that the kitchen is believed to originally have been the bakery of the younge Huguenot baker (today their namesake patron) who created the first Bath bun: a regional speciality now known the world over. There is no truly useful common English word to describe a Sally Lunn Bun as it is part bun, part bread, part cake. A large but very light bun; a little like brioche.

Photo credit: Sally Lunns

Since it was so widely spoken about in Bath, why not give it a try! Look at the size of a single Sally Lunn's bun! We bought 2 of those buns and brought it back on the bus with us to have it over dinner at home. Each bun cost us £2.40.
p.s. after tasting the bun, we concluded that it wasn't too much to our liking.. But not too bad still.




The drive back to city from bath took almost 2.5hrs! It was super long and everyone was asleep on the bus. At the end of the tour, our guide Kingsley concluded the trip with asking us to rate them on tripadvisor and to leave a small tip if we think they deserved it. hahaha! Gave a small tip and headed back to our apartment. By the time we got back it was nearly 8pm! It was certainly a longgggggg day. Since everyone was tired, we dabao-ed fish n chips (cost us £48 for 6 sets) at a small eatery near our apartment, alongside with some beeeeeer (£2-3 each) and had dinner at the comfort of our own home.
I conclude that ANY beer from London tastes awesssssommeeee! We tried many different kinds of beer, so long as it looked foreign, we'd take it to try. I think my bro and i are alcoholics by birth.

After dinner, everyone had to pack up our luggage and get ready to move out the next day as we're heading to Scotland!!!!!



Day 4 29 January
Today, we're moving out to Scotland, Edinburgh! It was a good 3 nights stay at our Sussex gardens apartment, you've served us well... Woke up early with mum to satisfy her photo taking cravings outside our apartment. 



When everyone was up and ready, we packed up and left. Here comes the slightly torturous part of our journey. Since this was a free & easy trip for the family, we had to plan everything on our own; transportation, accommodation, food, activities etc. The next leg of our trip is to head to Scotland, and we'll have to take a domestic flight for that. We had booked a airport transfer bus that would take us to Stanstead Airport, but the nearest pickup point was at Paddington Rail Station, which was about 11min walk away. Look at the amount of luggage we had, it was at least 1 large suitcase for everyone plus a smaller handcarry for some of us. We walked to the Rail station, dragging these luggage behind us and when we got there, we realized that the busstop which we were to catch the airport transfer from was up on the street level. And that means that we had to carry alllll these luggage up a long flight of stairs. HAHAHA! Within our group, there are 4 older folks (my parents, and xinni's parents), 1 pregnant lady (xinni) and 2 able-bodied siblings left (myself and brother).... Well, it was funny though. We had 1 person stationed at the top of the stairs keeping an eye on the luggage that had been carried up, 1 person at the bottom doing the same, and the rest trying to give a hand, and trying not to miss our bus.



Finally got everything up and spotted our bus approaching in the distance. We had pre-booked this bus via National Express Coach (cost us £6 each for 1 way to Stanstead Airport) so all we had to do was to show our confirmation letter and board. It's better to book it first so you know where exactly to wait for the bus and what time it's gonna arrive. Oh yes, and bear in mind that there are several domestic airports in London, so you should know where you're heading to...

Bus journey took about an hour to get there, and we were just in time for our flight at 12.20pm. We flew to Edinburgh via EasyJet which cost us about £36 each (approx S$64/pax) for one-way ticket. We didn't get return flights as we intended to take a train down from Scotland, passing by Manchester to watch soccer match there.....






Happy faces all checked in and ready to board our plane. It only took 1hr flying time to reach Scotland, kind of like from Singapore - Kuala Lumpur on Air Asia flights. I even managed to get some shopping done at DFS! Got several bodyshop items for a steal at £18 only! It usually cost me S$35 to get my Vitamin C serum, S$15 for Tea Three primer and i managed to get all of these and a shower gel for only £18!!!! Super worth it! Bought some snacks on the plane too, cheap and cute looking popcorn for £1.80 (Joe & Seph Popcorn) ; coincidentally my brother's name. hoho. 


Upon arriving at Edinburgh Airport, we settled down at EAT to get our lunch fix. It was funny to see Eat in UK, because in Singapore, Eat is a popular local food store that sells laksa, bak chor mee, kway tiao etc. For a brief moment, we all thought that we could get some singapore local food here. hahaa, fat hopes! In Edinburgh, Eat sells sandwiches, soups and pies. I gotta say, their soups are super bomb! Bought 3 Hunarian goulash, 2 chicken pot pie soups and 4 croissants for £30. 

Airport transfer
Got our tummy fixed, time to sort out a way to get ourselves to our apartment. The cheapest and most commonly used mode of transport to getting out of Airport and into city centre is by taking the Airport bus. It is called Airlink100 and you can easily get a bus ticket at the ticket kiosk right outside the airport terminal.There is no need to book tickets before hand, just in case your flight gets delayed. We did some research on the bus timings beforehand, and just bought tickets at the kiosk. Alternatively, there are normal airport bus that cost only £1.60 but I have no idea where to find the bus or even get those tickets from. We bought the express service airlink ticket and it cost £4.50/pax.

Airlink100 ticketing kiosk

Once you get on the bus, you'll have to store your luggage onto the luggage rack inside the bus. The bus is double-decked, good idea to sit downstairs so you're able to keep an eye on your luggage to prevent any one from taking your luggage off the bus mistakenly.


If you're travelling from outside airport vicinity, it is best to buy your tickets first, even though you can purchase them on board the bus. Our bus was quite packed and the driver had to turn away passengers who were waiting for bus at the designated busstops. When he had 2 seats left, he chose those who have already bought tickets. Luckily for us, we boarded at the terminal and we could still choose our seats.

Accommodation
The ride took about 30min, our apartment was 13km away from airport. This next Airbnb apartment that we stayed in is by far THE BEST Airbnb I have ever ever stayed in! The house is super big and gorgeous, and it's filled with so many gadgets and amenities. Our host was super generous in stocking up the kitchen with food and drinks, even alcohol!!! I have never encountered such generosity!


Living room, and it's only half the size pictured
Games Room/ TV Room/ Gathering Point



Dining Table - Kitchen

Kitchen
Stocked with Beer, juices and milk!!!!!
Oven, microwave and a basket filled with chips, chocolate, tea, even 2 bottles of wine! All complimentary!!!

Master Bedroom

Ensuite

Master Bedroom 2
Dressing table outside ensuite
Words cannot describe how awesome the house was. There's even a guestbook beside the dining table where past guests wrote down their comments and left behind wonderful feedback for the hosts. It was amazing! We stayed a total of 3 nights in this apartment as well, and it cost us £500 in total, which works out to £24/pax/night (equivalent to S$40/pax/night). How affordable is that!!!! If ever travel to Edinburgh, do give check them out - the link is here Edinburgh Luxury 4 Bedroom Townhouse (Airbnb) I'm not kidding, it is really awesome!!


After getting mesmerized with our house, we headed out to explore the streets a little since we had the remaining of the day free. Took Uber (cost me £4.68) to Victoria Street to try out this supposedly famous roast pork roll buttttttt by the time we got there (about 4pm), they were sold out!!!!! Damnit. We decided to come back on our last day and try our luck again. Went down the street to take a walk (& photos as well. haha)






 Scotland is famous for whiskey, so if you're a big whiskey fan, you're bound to get your whiskey needs fixed here. Every restaurant we came across offers Whiskey Flights, and needless to say, 1 out of 4 shops are whiskey specialists, selling all kinds of whiskeys around Scotland.



We settled at a homely looking restaurant/pub/brewery for dinner. Since we're in Scotland, we should try some of their local food. A local delicacy of Scotland is haggis.  Chicken rice or laksa to us Singaporeans is like an identity. Haggis is the national dish of Scotland. 

What is Haggis made from?
Haggis is made using sheep pluck (the bits nowadays often discarded; lungs, hearts, liver). The cooked minced offal is mixed with suet, oatmeal, seasoning and encased in the sheep stomach. Once stitched up, the stuffed stomach is boiled for up to 3 hours. 

There you go! Haggis. It may not sound very appetizing, but trust me, if you should give it a try. It's not as bad as you think. Being the adventurous family, we of course ordered Haggis to try. (and we had haggis to eat at every other meal. hahaa!) 

The bottom bit... top layers are pumpkin mash



It really ain't that bad, it was quite tasty! Xinni gave it a miss since she was preggy, y'know no raw food for pregnant ladies... least to say inert. hahahaa. We had other nice dishes too, like pot pies, chicken stew and a not so nice soup. I can't quite remember if it's pollack or monkfish soup, not the most tasty soup i've ever had. 



 Total damage for the dinner was £120, including 4 pints of beer. Hohoho! But it was well spent, since everyone left feeling super duper full. Went grocery shopping at Sainsbury local, spent £20 buying breakfast for tomorrow, some dinner ingredients (since we planned to cook dinner at home, fully utilizing our awesome kitchen) and snacks. 


Day 5 - 30 January
Rise and shine, it is tour time! Today, we did the Loch Ness, Glencoe & Highland tour, and it cost us £40/pax (approx S$70/pax). There are plenty of tour companies doing this tour and the Whiskey tour, most of them are about the same price, but I would say do your research well to get the best choice. We booked our tour with Scotline Tours and our tour guide was funny old Scottish chap. Although he was old, and we couldn't quite understand his Scottish accent, he made the trip very enjoyable for us. 

This tour has to begin very early since the Highlands are quite far away. We took an Uber (£5 per car) from our place to Scotline Tour office for our pickup since it was super early in the morning. You'll spend a lot of time on the bus for this tour, but you'll pass by lots of scenic mountains, valleys, roads etc, so make sure you get a good seat with unrestricted window view! 

After driving fr god-knows-how-long, we stopped at Spean Bridge, which is also our lunch stop. Everyone got down to relief themselves, and had lunch here (at your own cost). As it was the only cafe there, naturally it was super crowded. We had some homemade soup set, hard rolls and sandwich set (which totaled up to £25). I have to say, the scenery at the highlands (or anywhere in Edinburgh) is absolutely stunning. It's like everywhere is a picturesque stop!

This was taken at the carpark outside the cafe. How amazing!
After everyone was done with lunch and had their toilet breaks, we continued on the bus ride through the highlands. And more stunning scenery along the way.... (NTS: don't fall asleep during the bus ride, you'll miss out on all these...)









We even chanced upon some deers along the way, and tour tour guide stopped to let us take some photos. hehehe



God, it was really cold outside, with the strong wind and freezing temperatures. The sun didn't make it any better... We passed by Glen Coe, which means valley in Scottish. You don't get to stop for long along the way, your tour guide will briefly tell you about it as we pass by. 




We finally reached our destination ; Loch Ness! Okay, so Loch ness (or else fondly known as Nessie) is a legendary creature that lives inside loch ness, which means River Valley (hence it's name). This Valley can be accessed via Urquhart Castle (pronounced as "ark-cade"). The tour doesn't cover entrance to inside the castle, nor loch ness boat rides, for those who wish to do so, you'll have to top up additional £19/pax for the castle and Loch Ness boat ride. Well, we knew it before hand, and we were prepared to pay extra for it. WHY NOT, since we were there already!













There's quite some exhibits to see inside the castle, mainly on how it was back in the days. And the lookout point overlooking Loch Ness river is really really beautiful!

View from Castle lookout point
 Those who had opted for the Loch Ness boat ride had to queue up to board the boat. There are several timings that the boat departs, so you'll have to ensure that you hop on the right timing so you don't get left behind in the castle whilst your tour group moves on....


As usual, we had to try the beer onboard the boat... #alcoholicsiblings





Loch Ness is actually 34km long, surrounded by mountains and scenery. Everyone was busy taking photos on the boat, enjoying the sunset and breeze on the boat. It had an upper deck, great to feel the cold salty breeze in your face. hahaa. After getting back on land, our bus headed back to its main office, and it was time for a short nap on the trip back.

Got back to town at about 8pm, it was pretty late so we decided to whip up some dinner for the family. Got some ready made pizza, salmon pieces, potato, greens from the supermart, and came home to cook. It was a hearty dinner filled with warmth, delicious food and we even opened a bottle of complimentary wine from our Airbnb host.




Coincidentally, both mums chinese birthday falls on the same day, hence a celebratory birthday cake!

End of Day 5! Will update the rest of my trip in the next blog post! Stay tuned...


xoxo,
Chye