Featuring: Newcastle, Edinburgh, London & Cardiff
(via Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates)
I have no idea how this ultimate Trash TV Fan Girl (me), convinced her lad to start our holiday with a weekend in Newcastle, home of the MTV series Geordie Shore. BUT to my hearts content we arrived at our hotel, Hampton by Hilton, at 8am, check in being at 2pm, so we had some time to explore the city rather than the clubbing culture – that came later!
Gateshed Millenium Bridge, a tilt bridge, with a view of the iconic Tyne Bridge in the distance. Featuring Jet Lag Face:
Newcastle Castle, smack bang in the city centre. This is one of my favorite things about the UK, you have a bunch of history, sitting where it was originally made and the modern slowly starts to plonk around it. There are some lovely views of the city at the top, so make sure you take the time to wander up. After the exploring, as you get back to the ground, you are allowed to take some photos in the armour before you go…
But what we were really here for, was the party. The places on my “list” and also walking distance from our place were: Floritas (cocktails), Bijoux (pre drinks 3 Tremble for £5) , Madame Koo (affordable clubbing); all of which, I have of course seen on telly 😉
My ultimate bucket list tick, was ending the night with dirty 2am kebabs. I remember watching Geordie Shore and wondering why they didn’t like the kebabs in Greece (which are like ours, sort of like a wrap), but what I found out was kebabs in Newcastle are basically meat slapped on top of hot chips with garlic sauce! Apparently, this place (below) is where you find the best kebabs – cant say I recall much about them, other than the lingering taste of garlic and the happy trek of two drunken Lasses, smiling all the way home, because they have deep fried food.
You can drive from Newcastle into Scotland via the highway which takes around an hour, but we decided to take the back roads, which took double the time, but well worth the drive – Geordie Hangover or no! We stopped at Jedesburgh Abbey along the way, plenty of castles to see, but my favorite was driving through the quaint little villages. We are quite spoilt with scenery in New Zealand, so a lot of the UK country roads looked like home to me, until you come through a little village. I saw thatched roofs, cobble stone pathways, medieval churches, beautiful buildings and cottages – they are just so charming!
Once you hit the Scottish Border by car, you have a great photo opportunity atop a hill with stunning views – views that we didn’t stick around too long for as the wind chill was at a high!
A lot of people don’t know this, but in our family, Jordan, my partner is referred to as King Jordan (no need to guess why!); so naturally our first stop in Scotland was a night in Melville Castle around a twenty to thirty minute drive out of Edinburgh. Because my King got his castle, my treat was of course a four poster bed, fit for a Queen! I did have a cute silk nightie for the night in the castle, but flannel cow pajamas were much more practical!
First stop was the bar for whisky and for dinner… haggis! Haggis bon bons pictured below.
The Castle is said to be where Mary Queen of Scotts had a few of her romantic rendezvous with her Italian secretary and close companion Seigneur David Rizzio. Rizzo (who was later murdered for his affection towards Mary) planted a tree for her at this castle which still stands to this day; as do the Oak trees she planted for him in return. You can walk the grounds and find these trees, which we did the next morning. I didn’t get much sleep, because of the last paragraph on the history of the castle:
“During renovation, an apparition, shrouded and featureless but unmistakably female in form and deportment, was seen to move from the fireplace of the Library bar towards and through the wall opposite. As work progressed, when the old plaster was stripped from the wall, a built up doorway was revealed. It was re-opened and now serves as the entrance to the Arniston room from the Library. The spirit has also been seen hovering at the foot of the bed in a first floor bedroom and most recently as a shadowy figure at the window. These visitations persist and invariably occur at dusk or during the hours of darkness! Speculation suggests that it could be the distraught spirit of Mary Stuart searching for her close companion David Rizzio and their times of happiness at Melville Castle.”
I woke in my four poster Queen bed the next morning at 5am (afraid of the ghosts) and headed to the former cellar, made restaurant for our full Scottish breakfast followed by a walk of the grounds. Being Autumn, nearly winter there were crisp leaves all over the paths and the air was fresh. I still felt a little uneasy, but it was lovely to walk the exact grounds where Mary and her lover had walked hundreds of years before. But not to worry! there were no jumps in the night and Mary Queen of Scotts did not seem to take a liking to my King and wake him either.
We took advantage of still having the car and drove 50 minutes east, out to Glasgow where we walked through the Necropolis (yes, Lazz had another cemetery on her list!) & St Mungo’s Cathedral. The Necropolis is an old Victorian cemetery with around 3500 monuments here. It is situated on a hill top over looking the city and the Cathedral next door.
From Glasgow we drove a further 30 minutes north to Sterling and visited the castle there for £15 per person & did a guided tour which was really good. Stirling Castle is one of the largest castles in Scotland and its importance is both historical and architectural – not to mention, where our dear friend, Mary, Queen of Scotts grew up. It is also one of the many first stops if you were to head further north to visit the Scottish Highlands (we did not have time for this, be we will certainly be back to do so).
From Sterling, it took around an hour to get back to Edinburgh where we checked in to the Double tree by Hilton, with a view of the castle outside our room, no complaints here!
Naturally, we decided to walk back to the hotel after dropping the car off at the depot and got lost. However, if I could choose to be lost anywhere, it would be in the lovely Edinburgh. You really feel like you have taken a step back in time when you walk around the city. The cobble stone streets, the sound of bag pipes coming from a nearby corner and the old castle on the hill. Everything is so old, beautiful and well kept – I would up and move to Edinburgh if I could!
We walked up the royal mile to Edinburgh Castle the next morning, nice and early to beat the crowds – entrance was £17.
We saw the royal crown, the sandstone that nearly all the monarchs have sat on while they have been crowned (it will be loaned to Westminster Abbey in London when the next King is crowned) and stuck our heads inside Mons Meg, the world’s most famous medieval gun/cannon. I cannot explain with words how beautiful this city is, if it isn’t on your bucket list, please, add it and you will see for yourself.
Our love affair with Scotland was now over and we took the train down to London. It is around a four hour journey and it was lovely to take a step back from the wheel and watch the scenery (from first class – yolo!)
Ticketing was super easy, we literally went to the desk and the man printed our tickets.
We got some cash out at an atm and found out there are Scottish pounds as well as English pounds, which look different (smaller places in England, like corner stores wont accept Scottish Pound, but major companies like taxis etc do).
What’s the first thing you should do when you get to London? head straight down to The Chippie of course! and make sure you order get extra curry sauce and chips with salt AND vinegar on top! (wine optional). In London, we stayed with a friend who lives in Shoreditch, so all of our travel was based from/in this part of town.
You will very easily find out, that in London 1) it is very easy to get around via the Tube and 2) you can do as much and as little as you want. I find the London’ers a different breed, as you would any busy city folk; everyone seems to be very hustle hustle, work work and also stay out after work, so the night life is pretty on, most nights of the week.
First things first, either pre buy an Oyster Card before you go (same price as if you buy new over there – at my work anyway) and chuck 30 pounds on there. This lasted us around four days of non stop tubing, but it will depend where you want to go. Do not be scared of the tube system, it sounds scary, but once you have gone to your first destination and realise how easy it is – you are away!
One other tip, download an app called City Mapper before you go. You can put in your A & B and it will not only let you know when the next tube is, it will advise you if you need to change lines and to which one.
Let me share a couple of my London day trips/itineraries with you, remembering that we started all our trips from Old Street Station in Shoreditch.
Day 1) Views sights and more views
- Take the Northern Line to London Bridge station
- Walk to Shakespeare’s Globe
- Walk across Millennium Bridge
- Visit St Paul’s cathedral £20 pp. Make sure you head up ALL the stairs to the Whispering Gallery, where apparently, if you stand directly opposite each other all the way across the other side of the dome and whisper, you will be able to hear it clear as day! Imagine all the conspiracy and secrets that building has heard!
- Visit Madison for views of London, it is actually a restaurant/tapas place, but if you head right to the top and sneak around the corner, you have some great photo opportunities. We didn’t eat here as it was still pre lunch time.
- Free entry to Tate Modern, an art museum (if you are into this). Jordan & I realized after about five minutes, that we are really not that cultured and that modern art is really hmmm how would you say, “not our thing”?
- Borough markets for lunch. I had paella and Jordy got a curry from the same stall, followed by ice cream from a French stall nearby.
- Walk across Tower Bridge
- Visit The Tower of London £24 pp, where Anne Boleyn was imprisoned and beheaded.
- End the day up The Shard to the bar called Oblix (you do have to go through a security machine before you go FYI) for a drink and an exceptional view of London city. If you want to, you can stay for dinner, but seeing as we were dressed in sneakers and puffer jackets, we felt a little under dressed up there.
We have friends who live out in Peckahm, so we took the overground to Peckham Rye station and went to Chinese joint called Silk Road for dinner. After paying “London prices” for food, this dinner not only was the tastiest Chinese I have ever had, it cost the same amount as a burger and beer (for one), that we paid the following night back in Hoxton. Also, as we were waiting outside, a couple walked past and said to the other “that place is the BEST place to eat”, which is always a good sign right?
Day 2) Shopping Day
- Start off with Salted Beef Beigel for lunch from Brick Lane. There are debates as to whether the yellow sign or the white signed store is the best, but we went for yellow and it was GOOD!
- Wander down Brick Lane. Here you will find quirky shops, street art murals and lots of great places to eat – here apparently you will find the best curry too!
- Head back to the Station, jump on the Northern Line to Euston and change lines onto Charring Cross. Get off at Leicester square, where you will find places for the West End theatre tickets, china town, M&M world and Piccadilly Circus
- Keep going to Tottenham court road and Oxford street for shopping! (and PRIMAAAAAARK)
Day 3) Soho and Food
- Take the underground out to Westminster & visit Westminster Abbey. This is where monarchs are crowned, famous monarchs/artists are buried and a beautiful Gothic building over a thousand years old.
- Grab a hot dogs en route to Buckingham Palace and if you’re up for it wait for the Changing of the Guards.
- Take a walk through Green Park
- Have a beer at an awesome bar called Waxy O’Connors, if you have the time, even have a meal here – you will not be disapointed!
- Lunch at Bone Daddies in Soho, a recommended ramen place
- Visit Carnaby Street for some more shopping (or window shopping) – Ladies beware!
Nearby Shoreditch you can also walk through Shoreditch Park to Regents Canal, where the walk along canal is nice and stop off at pubs along the way. All over the UK you will see many a “Greggs”, it is imperative that you eat a Steak Bake from here!
One thing we did not get the chance to do was a tour near Brick Lane. Dennis Sever’s house is a preserved portrait of a silk weaver’s family in the 1700’s. It reads that even the smells and sounds of the house are as if they were back then. From the outside, the windows are boarded up and you wouldn’t have a clue it were there, if it weren’t for the lines of people in the late afternoon.
Our next stop was Iceland, but will post this portion of the trip separately. When we got back, we hired another car and took a three hour drive from London to Wales, one hour of this, was getting out of London alone. You DO NOT need a car in London, I repeat DO NOT need a car! Traffic is HIDEOUS!
Again, we were staying with a relative here so when we arrived in Cardiff, had a couple of hours to kill while she finished work; so we took a wander through Cardiff Market. Being November, the markets were Christmas themed with hot chocolates, lovely lights and of course, beers!
A 15 minute drive out of Cardiff is Caerphilly Castle, built in the 13th century and entirely by hand – only £8 entry! our cheapest castle yet. Throughout the castle you will find little dragons in archways and windows, keeping an eye on things. We got told off for sitting on the big dragons out front, but Jordy got the money shot before we were told “can you get off the dragons… like now?”
Then back over to England for Jordy’s bucket list tick, Cheltenham Racecourse, one of the most famous Racecourses in England (alongside Royal Ascot). There was actually a festival over three days so we managed to get to the last 2 races of day 1!
Back in Wales, I also wanted to get to Chippie lane in Cardiff, for chips, cheese and gravy. This is where you stop in on your way home after a night on the drink, as you can imagine! DANGER: coming from London, drinking prices are much more affordable in Wales!
We ended our three week trip with a drive back to London via Stonehenge, a massive must see for me. We actually took a back road which meant we didn’t have to pay to see it. Though I would have liked to do an audio tour (like I could see the people on the tour doing), we were only a small fence away from the stones! It was a lovely day.
For the final few days of our trip, we visited the British Museum, near Shoreditch and took the tube back of Piccadilly Circus, where we bought tickets to a West End show. Before the show, we visited Hyde Park Winter Wonderland, where Hyde Park had turned into a giant theme park full of lights, rides, and sweets. The show we saw was Aladdin, which was absolutely fantastic! Even Jordy was sceptical and ended up enjoying it more than I did. If you can get to at least one show out there, please do it – you will not be disappointed.
The UK has so much to offer and this trip was such a good taste test. It is easy because everyone speaks English and driving is made simple by on the left hand side of the road, like us in New Zealand (especially hungover).
The main tips I would suggest, are always take the back roads where possible, listen to all food recommendations and embrace everything. Coming from lil ol’ New Zealand, seeing such old architecture is so inspiring; you will never get “castled out” because each Castle has a piece of history that the other does not. I cannot wait to get back over there and dive into more of the UK’s historical past… and whisky 😉
Thanks for reading all the way to the bottom!