Europe Quest – Day Seven, England

Where do I begin… this was a very whirlwind part of our trip – family, rock concert, amazing street food, incredible sights and a terrorist attack…

Glasgow to Wellingborough

Early on a misty Friday morning in Glasgow we trekked from our apartment to Glasgow Central Station where we caught a train to London.

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While we weren’t going to be staying in London as tourists until late Sunday evening, I had found an insane deal on round trip First Class train tickets we couldn’t pass up. First class service on these trains are akin to what the airlines call Premium Economy – not much nicer but a little more spacious with a few extra perks such as free food and drink.

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Joanne’s aunt, uncle and cousin (Carol, Ian and Ruaridh) live in Wellingborough, a small town about 50 minutes north of London. We hopped a train from London St. Pancras at 2:01 on Friday afternoon and arrived at the Wellingborough train station by about 2:40.

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Ian was kind enough to pick us up and take us to our wonderful Airbnb that ended up being only about a 10 minute walk (if that) from the train station – LOL! Ian isn’t your run-of-the-mill uncle, he’s the vocalist in a pretty badass rock band that happened to be playing a show that evening for St. Patrick’s day. While Ian and Ruaridh went off to prep for the show, Carol took us to the most British restaurant in town… Pizza Hut. Now, being from Wichita, home to the original Pizza Hut, we thought this would be a hilarious way to try and get some culture shock going.

Let me start by saying that the Pizza itself was not that much different from any other pizza we have had. It was the little things that made it so different to us; small circular salad bar included for every guest with many kind of odd things on it (like plain tortilla chips), different things on the menu than you would find at home like racks of ribs and the menu referring to the well known Texas BBQ items. While Texas might have decent BBQ most people from the States, when asked to think of BBQ, would say Kansas City or the Carolinas are far more prolific in this subject. So, to us, it seemed strange that we kept finding mention of Texas BBQ everywhere we went.

Alright, pizza finished and we were off to a cricket club just outside of Wellingborough to celebrate St Patrick’s day in style. We arrived during sound check and while Joanne and Taylor (my sister) had some fruity cider drinks I had a Proper Job (this is beer – who knew?). While not too different from IPA’s back home, I would say it was more bitter/sour than what I was used to which held true for most of the beer I had while in England.

After a few drinks the show started and, as you could imagine, being in a tiny room with a hundred people it was crazy loud and super hard to move around. That being said the music more than made up for the close quarters – Ian’s band played through many recognizable songs, recognizable to Joanne at least. As the night wore on and the drinks kept flowing it started to get pretty rowdy – when the old drunk guy dressed as a sailor started dancing with every woman in sight we decided to call it a night.

Carol drove us back to our Airbnb where we put some laundry on and watched some strange British TV until we couldn’t keep our eyes open any longer. Off to bed we went to rest up for the days to come…

 

Europe Quest – Day Six: Glasgow

This post is a continuation from Europe Quest – Day Five: Glasgow, or to read about our Europe Quest from the very beginning, check out this post.

This was our last full day in Glasgow and we felt like there were still so many things we wanted to do. The first stop was the Glasgow City Chambers, an amazing building just off of George Square. They offer free tours, make sure you check out the website for times before you go so you can make the most out of your trip.

The building is very elaborate, huge marble staircases, statues all over, paintings, chandeliers and so much history. The tour guide was very knowledgable and it was facinating hearing about how the building was constructed and how much it cost back then.

Next we went over to the Glasgow Catherdral – we were almost there and the skies opened up and it started pouring with rain. Thankfully we were able to dry off as we toured inside the almost 1,000 year old building. We had a great chat with one of the volunteer guides who told us some amazing stories about the catherdral and even got some tips for traveling in Paris (mainly, skip the Champs-Elysees because it’s a tourist trap!).

Everyone we spoke to in Glasgow was really helpful and had lots of questions for us about the U.S. and Kansas. We were worried that people would just go on and on about Trump, but his name barely came up and we had fun comparing things like vacation time, heath care and house prices!

We went back to Jamie’s Italian for lunch to use the gift card finally – read about our first visit here. This time we ordered off the lunch special menu and it was a great deal!

After lunch we met up with my aunt Shirley and went to the Kellvingrove Art Gallery. This museum was a lot bigger than it seemed on the outside and we ended up only seeing part of it as they were closing.

We ended the evening with our bellies full of yummy mac and cheese at granny and papa’s – much better than Jamie’s but it may be hard for you to get a reservation 🙂

We had an early start the next morning at 8am for our train down to Wellingborough and we had to repack our bags – something we had to do many times and it really made us reconsider our packing strategy for future trips!

Side Quest: Vacation Time

If you’re like my husband and I, you probably don’t get too much time off of work. Vacation time is shockingly bad in the United States, we both started our careers with 5 days off a year, plus around 10 national holidays. I can’t figure out why it’s so low here (the U.K. has a statutory leave entitlement of 5.6 weeks paid holiday per year!).

Perhaps it’s a cultural thing, not many Americans want to travel – that’s the stereotype, but almost everyone I’ve met wants to travel, even if they don’t have the means right now.

Or maybe it’s due to the work mentality in the U.S., not that other countries don’t work hard, but it seems like Americans are typically slaves to their “9 to 5’s” and don’t care about vacation time. I think we will see a culture shift as millennials begin to make up a larger portion of the workforce. You can think what you want about the millennials, technically I am one (just barely) but I have trouble relating to the stereotypes – I hate Facebook and I don’t think I’m entitled to anything!

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Anyway, I think the new generation will shake things up in the workplace, if companies want to compete, they will have to improve their vacation policies, flex time and allow more work from home if they want to retain good employees. But until we see that shift, we’re stuck with sub-par vacation time and a feeling of restlessness until our next trip.

Side note: I am not trying to call out any particular company, especially the ones we work for, they are just doing the norm and that’s fine! I just wish the norm was different 🙂

So how do you get more vacation time now?

Ask for more during your next review.

You could suggest days off instead of a raise, assuming your budget will be ok, always do the math first! Make sure you have a rough idea of what a typical raise is for your company and crunch the numbers:

Assuming you work full time in the U.S. (8 hours a day * 5 days a week = 2080 hours a year). Take your salary divide it by 2080 then multiply it by 8 and that’s your daily pay.

Make the most out of what you have

Learn to live in the moment and try not to think of time between vacations as just days on the countdown clock. Become a local tourist, chances are there’s something fun to do in your town or a day trip you could take – have a stay-cation!

The inspiration for this post came from a list of things to do in Wichita written by a co-worker. As I read through it, I realized I hadn’t done much on the list and that Wichita isn’t as lame as I think!

While you may not have a list like that, try to make your own. Research your home town like you would any vacation destination. Find out what Google has to say about fun things to do in your town, events, museums, festivals, markets, or whatever you’re into (or even some things you’re not, you may end up liking it!). Check out trip adviser, Yelp reviews, your city’s website, the local newspaper and news channel. Plan weekend trips to things nearby, a lot of cities are spread out in the U.S., but explore goggle maps and see how far a tank of gas can take you.

If all else fails, try to learn photography! It can’t hurt to know how to take a better picture so you can capture the moments on your next vacation. You don’t have to go buy a thousand dollar camera, I bet your phone takes great pictures! Download some picture editing apps and see what looks good to you – I recommend Snapseed, it’s free and beginner friendly 🙂

Do you think you live in a boring city? Post a comment and see if we can help you find something to do on the weekends between your travels!

Europe Quest – Day Four: Glasgow

This post is a continuation from Europe Quest – Day Three: An Evening in Glasgow, or to read about our Europe Quest from the very beginning, check out this post.

For our first day in Glasgow, we thought it would be fun to go on a bus tour – a big double decker bus that drives around the city with an audio guide that tells you what you’re looking at and interesting stories about the history of the area. It’s very cost effective and an easy way to get a feel for the layout of a city and see the things you want to see, but not stop at and go in.

First, we had to stop at a phone store to buy sim cards. We have T-Mobile cell service that was supposed to work in Europe with unlimited data and texting… it did not 😦 We think it had to do with the antenna in our phones – we left our Galaxy S7 Edge’s at home and brought our old $50 Amazon BLU phones instead. My sister-in-law was brave enough to bring her iPhone 6S with her and it managed to get a weak signal. John did some research and found that Three had a decent plan with enough data for £20 (about $25 at the time). We walked into the shop, got the sim cards, slipped them in our phones and viola, we had internet! It worked well in Glasgow and London, but not in the rest of Europe (it was supposed to, but again, maybe it was our cheapo phones).

Pro Tip: Call your cell phone provider and find out what’s covered while you’re overseas. Even if you are supposed to have coverage, do some reasearch on a plan B so you can keep in touch with people back home and look up directions and reviews on the go. There is wifi at most places, although you may have to buy something to get the password. Also, check out WhatsApp and get it set up before you go and make sure the people you want to stay in touch with it are set up and know how to use it too! 

Our flat was in Merchany City, just a couple of blocks away from Argyle Street, so we walked over to the Three store, got a sausage roll at Greggs and found our way to the bus tour stop. It was a bit chilly, but we hopped on, grabbed a free pair of headphones (brand new earbuds, nice and clean!), plugged into the audio tour and took in the views… and the weather! It was sunny when we got on the bus, then it rained, hailed and snowed… ten minutes later it was sunny again!

Now for some random sights on the bus:

We took a break in the middle for lunch at Jamie’s Italian (as in Jamie Oliver’s restaurant!). The prices are very reasonable and the food is delicious. We went full on for lunch with appetizers, mains, dessert and drinks because my mom had got us a gift card for Jamie’s at Christmas. The bill came and I reached into my bag to get the gift card and someone had left it back in our flat! I won’t point fingers, but it may have been me… it also might not have been, but it probably was 😡 The only downside was that we had to go back a second time to use the gift card, but let me tell you, no tears were shed because the food was amazing 🙂

I highly recommend you check out Jamie’s at least once… or twice!

We hopped back on the bus and finished the loop, grabbed a coffee to warm up and then we took a city bus to my grandparents’ house for dinner. My granny makes the best mince and tatties and she treated us with baked beans too! There’s a lot of food that I miss from the U.K. (I lived there until I was 8), I’ll probably write a post about it, but the things I miss the most are granny’s mince and papa’s famous mac and cheese!

After a wonderful evening with my grandparents, we went back to our flat. A little bit later we got a sweet tooth and raided the local Tesco for some real chocolate to help fuel us up for the next day of sightseeing!

*Side note: John is currently fussing at me for calling it “real” chocolate, a debate which we will blog about and let you all decide on the winner 🙂

Europe Quest – Day Five: Glasgow

This post is a continuation from Europe Quest – Day Four: Glasgow, or to read about our Europe Quest from the very beginning, check out this post.

After the wonderful bus tour the previous day we had a long list of places we wanted to visit! We knew when we planned this trip that we were visiting too many places – 3 weeks seems like such a long time, but we had a lot of “must-do’s” and knew we would need to readjust our itinerary as we went based on weather and how we were feeling.

       Pro-Tip: It is important to be flexible with your trip – do research ahead of time to get an idea for places you would like to go, when they’re open and how long you think you’ll need to see it. We have found that planning 1 or 2 big things a day is about right for us, it allows for time to explore and find interesting things along the way. Of course it’s possible to do more, but keep in mind your own energy levels and how long your trip is – you don’t want to burn out on day 2 of 21!

We used the bus tour as a scenic taxi service to take us around Glasgow. It only cost a couple pounds more to add a second day and it allowed us to catch the commentary we missed during the crazy rain/hail/sleet/snow storm the day before.

Our first stop was the Riverside Museum (aka Transport Museum) on the River Clyde. The museum is housed inside a funky modern building on the side of the river Clyde.

One things that sets the U.K. apart from the other stops on our trips is that admission is free for most (if not all) of their museums. There are donation boxes all over, but it’s up to you if you donate and how much! We weren’t sure how much we would appreciate the museum, since we aren’t into cars and we don’t have kids (this museum is probably amazing for children)! But since it’s free, we gave it a try and it was completely worth it! There are cool looking old cars, trollys, busses, trains, bikes and more!

My favorite exhibit was the Tall Ship, they have restored an old ship that was originally built in Greenock, Scotland (my home town!). The ship is huge and you can explore all the decks, there’s even a gift shop and cafe inside. The history of the ship is incredible – we took the time to read the display and the ship has been all over the world, in many wars and owned by different countries before returning home to Scotland.

After the museum, we rode the bus around by the University of Glasgow to find somewhere to eat. We ended up at Tennents Bar,and had a delicious steak pie, yum and really cheap!

Next we went to the Botanic Gardens, it was a little cold, but the temperature was just right inside the many huge greenhouses. If you’re a photographer, love flowers or just want somewhere nice to spend the afternoon, I would definately recommend the gardens – which are also free!

Next we went to Cafe Zecchino with Granny, Papa and my aunt Shirley. John finally got his fish and chips and I finally got my black pudding! Unfortunately, John and my sister-in-law weren’t brave enough to it a try – although I can’t blame them, if I hadn’t grown up eating it (and even thinking it was vegetarian at one point) I probably wouldn’t try it either! We spent the evening chatting and planning the next day. Although we were having a blast, the days were going by so quickly – it’s hard to belive we only had one more day in Glasgow…

 

Europe Quest – Day Three: An Evening in Glasgow

This post is a continuation of Europe Quest – Day One, Two and Three: Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Joanne’s grandfather met us at Glasgow Central and led us through the streets to the awesome apartment that her grandparents had booked for us – we were more than grateful to them for making this leg of the trip easier on us! After we settled in and showered we headed out to grab dinner at JD Wetherspoons. To get there from our apartment we walked across George Square where a protest against Brexit was happening.

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The sign is a little hard to see but it said “End London Rule” and the people protesting clearly were very angry that Scotland was being forced into leaving the EU by the English. We heard more than a few times while in Scotland that this was going to spark another vote for Scottish Independence – an incredibly heated issue indeed!

We made our way to dinner and I was incredibly excited to finally get the Fish & Chips Joanne had me dieting for – she made me diet leading up to the trip with the promise of a great Fish Supper upon arrival! I strutted up to the counter to order to be apologetically told that they were out of fish – noooooo! A quick trip back to my menu and I settled on a steak pie which was almost as pleasing as the Fish and Chips would have been. Full disclosure, I did get chips (french fries) as a side and I most definitely opted for a big bowl of curry sauce to dip them in! If you don’t already know, the UK has a crazy love affair with Indian food which is one of many things the country and I have in common. Joanne and I also got an Irn Bru which is kind of what you would expect orange soda + cream soda would taste like – good but strange.

After a great dinner we hoofed it back to our apartment for an early night as we were shattered after all the travel. I think I was asleep about ten seconds after my head hit the pillow which is just as well considering we would need our rest for the insanity to come over the next three weeks…

Europe Quest – Day One, Two & Three: Planes, Trains and Automobiles

The first stop on our Europe Quest was Glasgow but getting there isn’t straightforward – there are no direct flights from Wichita! My parents live close to Dallas Forth Worth Airport, so we drove down the day before our flight.

We have two kittens (Thor and Loki) that my parents looked after during our trip. The drive from Wichita to Dallas is 5.5 hours, so we prepped the kitties by taking them on progressively longer drives in the evenings leading up to the trip. We stopped every couple hours to let them use the litter box and thanks to a towel over their cage, they basically slept the whole time!

Once we arrived at my parents and got the boys settled, we went out to our favorite restaurant – Torchy’s Tacos! They started out as a food truck in Austin, Texas and are slowly opening more brick-and-mortars (if you’re reading this Mr. Torchy, please open a restaurant in Wichita! Or allow franchising – we would be most interested.)

Woke up at 4am in an attempt to reduce jet lag (and we were too excited to sleep). After what seemed like the longest morning on record, we couldn’t stand waiting any longer and headed out to walk around Stonebriar mall around 10:30am. Even though our flight wasn’t until 5:45pm we arrived to the airport promptly at 1:00pm.

We had a direct flight from Dallas to London Heathrow… 8.5 hours long, so we upgraded to Business Class to make sure we got some sleep and could hit the ground running. This meant we had access to the lounge at DFW airport – it was amazing and I felt really spoiled. They had a buffet with posh sandwiches, soup, cheese, fruit, cookies, cakes, wine, beer, soda, hard liquor and an excellent staff that was at your beck and call. The seats were fancy armchairs and there were private bathrooms and showers. Best of all, we got to watch the giant plane we were about to get on land and pull into the gate!

We weren’t able to get seats on the second floor, but business class was amazing! The seats were huge and reclined into a lay flat bed. The meals were over-the-top with multiple courses and the staff came around with booze every few minutes (we stuck to one glass, another way to combat jet lag is to stay hydrated and alcohol will dehydrate you fast!). Unfortunately, John didn’t get much sleep on the flight – he gets quite anxious flying but that doesn’t slow us down any!

Once we touched down in London, we had a mile long trek through immigration, customs and down to the Heathrow Express. The only saving grace was as Business Class customers you get a Fast Track pass through immigration. We then navigated the underground from Paddington to Euston, which was easy thanks to the Citymapper app (iOS & Android) and Oyster Card. We opted for the Visitor Oyster Card because it has a lower daily maximum than the regular oyster card, but it can’t be bought in London – be sure to plan ahead and get one sent to you before you leave!

We hung out in the Virgin Trains first class lounge until our train up to Glasgow was ready to leave. The lounge was nice, more free food and a nice bathroom to change into a fresh set of clothes and feel human again. I honestly don’t remember too much about the train up to Glasgow – it took about 4.5 hours and we slept most of the trip.

2 days and 5 hours after we left Wichita, after planes, trains and automobiles, I was hugging my grandparents in Glasgow!