You cannot leave the UK without visiting the historical city of York. The city is only 2 hours by train from London and is largely traffic free so if you are driving be sure to use a park and ride. You can walk around the medieval walls of the city and through its beautifully preserved cobbled stone streets, while peeking in through old shop windows. We enjoyed walking through ‘The Shambles‘, an ancient butchers’ street mentioned in the Domesday Book of William the Conqueror in 1086. This is the oldest shopping street in Europe and leads right to York Minster.
York Minster is an outstanding preserved building with the largest and most diverse collection of medieval stained glass in Britain. The great east window took three years to complete starting in 1405 and depicts the beginning and the end, from Genesis to Revelation. We had great weather when we visited and could climb up the winding staircase of the central tower. We got up close and personal with the gargoyles and overlooked the city from the top before heading over to the National Railway Museum, the largest railway museum in the world.
We could have easily spent the day at the National Railway Museum. Trains are just one of those things that are always going to be fun to go see. The museum features some of the Royal carriages including one that was used by Queen Victoria in 1869. Queen Adelaide’s saloon is the world’s oldest surviving railway carriage and is in the station hall. Station hall was built in the 1870s and today is used to provide visitors with an experience of being in a station from the past. You can even climb into one of the carriages. The museum is also the home to the famous locomotive, the Flying Scotsman.
We definitely could have used more time in York, however we only had the afternoon to explore. Some other highlights worth checking out in the city are JORVIK viking center and Clifford’s Tower.
Today we set out on our final road trip around the UK before heading back to Canada. Our first stop along the way was Oxford, the world’s most famous university town. You can park just outside the city for free and a local bus will take you into the city center for only £2.25 return. Plenty of cities in the UK have these, taking away the stress of parking downtown and eliminating some of the congestion.
The oldest college in Oxford was established in 1249! Many famous authors studied at Oxford including Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland), C.S. Lewis (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), and JRR Tolkien (The Lord of the Rings). Lewis Carroll was actually enrolled as Charles Dodgson in 1851 at Christ Church College for mathematics. During his time he wrote a story for Alice Liddell, the daughter of the Dean and her many adventures around the college grounds and Oxford. The shop in ‘Through the Looking Glass’ was modeled off of a small grocery shop in Oxford (only with details reversed) and today is known as Alice’s Shop. This is the only tangible link to the stories in Oxford however it becomes easy to imagine the many places in the tales after walking around the town.
The Bodleian Library, also known as the bod, is part of the University of Oxford and is worth checking out. The library was opened in 1602 and today carries 9 million items on 176km of shelving. Two sections are open to the public including The Divinity School that was built in 1427. Close to Bodleian Library is Hertford Bridge, completed in 1914 connecting two parts of Hertford College. The bridge is photographed by many visitors as it resembles the Rialto Bridge in Venice. I personally think there should be no comparison after seeing both.
The University Church of St Mary the Virgin can not be missed when visiting Oxford and if you have time, climb up the tower. Back in medieval times when Oxford was a walled city, the church stood in the center. During this time scholars lived in the same house as their teachers meaning there was no need for university buildings, however they used St. Mary’s as their hub. As centuries passed universities started to expand and all business was removed from the church by the middle of the 17th century.
Oh to be out in the country again! The small towns on the Isle of Wight make for the perfect weekend getaway and the best part is, you don’t need a car to get there. We jumped on a bus from London to Clarence Pier and much to our surprise crossed over to Ryde in just 10 minutes via hovercraft. The Hovercraft travel is the quickest form of transportation over to the island but make sure you book your ticket in advance if you plan on traveling at peak hours. Ryde was our base for the trip as it provided direct buses to most points of the island as well as access to all the open bus tours when you buy a 24h or 48h travel pass.
Our first journey was on the Downs Breezer, an open top bus ride. It was a great way to take in the countryside without having a vehicle. The bus stopped at all the major sights along the way with a brief description of their historical significance, we even passed by the most haunted place on the island. The main attraction I was looking forward to was The Garlic Farm, UK’s renowned garlic specialists. We took part in the ‘garlic experience’, trying all of their products and were taught about the many different kinds of garlic, how to grow your own and its medical benefits. We picked up some to bring back with us as well as a tasty roasted garlic mayonnaise. The island has a garlic festival in August every year, my type of place! We took the the bus to Sandsdown beach in the evening for a calming meal overlooking the water.
The following morning we had an action packed day as we crossed to the other side of the island to Needles Park. Unfortunately it had rained, so it was foggy on the water. We took the chair lift down to the beach overlooking the famous multi-coloured sands in the cliffs. From the chairs you get an incredible view! A trip to island is not complete without visiting East Cowes and the Osborne House. This is where Queen Victoria and Prince Albert lived peacefully enjoying their private life. The property contains their own private beach, Swiss cottage and walled garden. Beautiful detailing is found throughout the building from the ceilings to the floor and customized with their initials. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert would often give artwork to each other as gifts and the house is filled with original artifacts. If we had more time on the island we probably would have gone for a picnic on her private beach to soak up some extra sun! Perhaps next time…
This weekend my husband and I explored Budapest, Hungary. Only a few minutes after landing, we quickly found out that the Hungarian language is extremely complicated to try and understand, even the basics. Hungarian is said to be the 5th most difficult language to learn and unlike its neighbouring countries, Hungarian language relates more to Mansi and Khanty, spoken in western Siberia. The unusual speech pattern of subject-object-verb of Hungarian was actually an inspiration for the speech of Yoda from Star Wars . George Lucas had a Hungarian technician translate his English lines into Hungarian and then back again resulting in this grammatical order!
Our first task was buying transit tickets in this crazy language. Fortunately for us, most Europeans are amazing and can communicate fairly well in English. If you plan on travelling in Budapest from the airport you will need to purchase two bus tickets, one used on the bus and another used on the subway. There are little orange boxes to validate the ticket, and failure to do so can result in a fine. Once you get to the subway just purchase a 24h or 72h ticket if you are staying a bit away from the main part of the city. You can also purchase transfer tickets, or a pack of 10 tickets in order to save money instead of purchasing each one individually.
We kicked our trip off with walking tours. This is a great way to hear from locals what it’s like living in their country, the best places to shop/eat, and to check out all the main sites within the city. We toured with Free Walking Tours, Budapest and it was great! You tip what you can and learn plenty about the city, for example any word with an ‘s’ in it is pronounced ‘sh’, so really Budapest is pronounced Buda-pesht. We took the general walking tour first where you walk through the city to many of the main attractions, get a historical background on the country and a general orientation about Budapest. This orientation included topics such as avoiding tourist traps, the best places to exchange money, and where the locals go out to eat and drink. After this tour, we did another walk, this time through the Jewish Quarter. This went into the history of Jewish people living in Hungary, and discussed some of the various aspects of Jewish life in the city. This is also one of the main areas for locals to go out and grab a drink, in one of the many bars in the area.