Thursday, November 28, 2013

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Contiki England and Scotland Day 2: From Liverpool to York

Contiki England and Scotland

Day 2 
Liverpool to York

Before heading off to York in the morning, we had a little extra time to explore and check out some extra locations. And so my cousin and I and a few extra tour mates decided to head up and check out the Liverpool Cathedral, Europe's largest Anglican cathedral. It's a somewhat short walk up, around 10-15 minutes from the Ibis hotel, and it's definitely worth it as this place is incredibly massive and has some, shall we say, unique traits. That's right this religious domicile comes complete with a neon sign within, a cafe, where if the need calls you can grab a cold one and don't forget to complete the experience with a drunk dial in the Cathedral's phone booth.


With a bit of time to spare, we eventually made our way back to the Ibis to garner some extra free Wi-Fi time before heading on to the bus to make our way to the historic and apparently most haunted city in Europe, York.

The drive from Liverpool to York isn't terribly far, so naturally just after dozing off, Roxy's cheerful voice greeted the bus with another Wakey Wakey to give us our map, a short history and the lowdown on what to see and do while in York and where to meet up for the ghost walk, if we signed up for it, and the second group dinner.

After pulling in to this beautifully historic city though, Roxy gave us a quick walking tour to show us the must see spots that she told us about on the bus, which helped to orient us as well, then we were on our own until later. Now York is to me definitely one of those cities to just walk around and get lost in, traveling down the little alley ways in between streets, stumbling into little shops and just happily snapping away, there's not a place that will disappoint here. On the check list of British cities to come back to York is definitely it.

York Castle, or what's left over the castle over time serves as the main meeting place before heading out to dinner with the group. You can also, with paid admission, take a tour of this historic castle.

The Shambles

York Minster

The ruins of St. Leonard's Hospital.

The Multangular Tower.

Now since York is known as the most haunted city in Europe, I couldn't leave without a ghost photo. So through some in camera trickery (long exposure and nimble feet) and the help of my cousin, I present the ghost of the ruins of St. Leonard's Hospital in York.

I seriously wish we had more time to walk around and take photos, but alas it was time to meet up with the group back at York castle for dinner. Now, I almost want to laugh when they say that here in the States we have a huge portions for our meals compared to other countries, because every time we had a group meal, the portions were absolutely enormous, I usually couldn't finish them. Don't get me wrong they were delicious, but seriously it was a lot of food, at least we were getting some bang for our buck.

After dinner, it was time to head out for the ghost walk with our tour guide, whose name sadly eludes me. He met us outside the restaurant to give us the basics of the tour before walking out to the first location of the walk, after that it was really hard to hear what he was saying almost the whole time. It probably didn't help that I was towards the back of the group most of the time taking photos of the formally bustling streets, but halfway through I just ended up giving up. If we got to a spot where I could hear, some loud drunken group of passerby's would drown him out. I'm not too disheartened though as I think that only cost about £7 and I caught a small earful of interesting stories a small bits of the history that surrounded them. 

I fell victim to "everyone is taking a photo of it, so it must be important, so I'll take a picture too," and at the time I had no clue of its story or significance, I was tired, forgive me. After a short bit of Internet research the little devil is apparently an old symbol left from the business that used to occupy the adjacent shop, a Printer who in ye olde days had apprentices known as Printers Devils. 

Unfortunately we had to leave the amazingly beautiful and historic city of York for our hotel at the Holiday Inn in Leeds. And when I say unfortunately, I mean that on two different levels, the first being that this would've totally been one of the cities I wouldn't mind staying out and slinging back a few pints, then stumbling out in to the night to take photos. And, well the second reason of not wanting to leave, is that the Holiday Inn in Leeds was the worst hotel we stayed in during our trip, in my opinion. Upon checking in there was some sort of clear liquid pooled on the bathroom floor, which was gross, black mold around the tub, a funky smell and two giant mosquitoes flouncing about and my minor germaphobe self was not to happy. 

Extra Tips:

* Make sure to visit a Tesco and stock up on some drinks (water or beer), snacks and some 
   breakfast items during the trip.

* Fellow Americans, when ordering a glass of lemonade in the United Kingdom, you're not going 
   to get that summertime refreshment we all love, but will instead be getting a glass of Sprite or 

The next blog post will be about my third day on tour from York to the Lake District. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Contiki England and Scotland Day 1: From London to Liverpool

Contiki England and Scotland

Day 1 
London to Liverpool

The first day of a Contiki tour, sets you up for what to expect for majority of your mornings, they're going to be early and you'll be tired. While waiting for the coach bus and our driver Mark to arrive we all had to have our luggage weighed (the only time it's done while on the trip), then before we knew it, it was time to go.

First up we were given a quick drive-by tour by our excellent tour manager Roxy. We sped by some of the most popular London landmarks like the Tower of London, London Bridge, Parliament, Buckingham Palace and so on before we driving on to the first stop on the trip, Liverpool.

Part of the London skyline, which features the Tower of London (lower right) and the Gherkin building (upper right)

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace

Once we left London and began heading into the countryside I ended up falling asleep, essentially almost every time we were on the bus, with the exception of being in the Scottish Highlands, bus time equaled nap time. However the distances from locations were never really terribly long, so before you knew it, we'd all be woken up by The Proclaimer's 500 Miles, followed by Roxy's voice over the PA system with an ever so cheerful "Wakey, wakey wakey!"

The first, shall we say "Wakey Wakey" of the day was for an ice-breaker, aka a get to know each other game, in which the person on the window seat remains and the aisle seat passenger gets up and moves down the aisle trading off short bits of info for roughly 2 minutes. Doing this on a moving bus with narrow aisles was a bit of a challenge, but interesting especially if you missed the meet-up the night before. It was also a quick way to learn that roughly 90% of the people on tour are from Australia (it is an Australian company after all and apparently a right of passage to boot).

After that it, was back to the seat and time for another short lived nap, which was followed by another Wakey Wakey. Arriving in Liverpool, the home of the Beatles, Roxy gave us the lowdown of how the day would unfold, basic information and some quick tips for interesting places to see and check out later.

Before going to the hotel, we were greeted by Jackie a native of Liverpool (otherwise known as a scouser) who gave us a Beatles tour of Liverpool and pointed out some additional Liverpool highlights such as the largest Anglican Cathedral in Europe and shall we say an interesting monument to Queen Victoria (the locals dub it King Victoria - scroll down and see for yourself).

After the tour, we had time to go off and explore the city on our own until our first group dinner at the Ibis hotel, where we were staying.

This would be the statue in question that locals have deemed King Victoria...

The first night out as a group I decided to stay in, as I'm not really a party person. With the early mornings ahead, I pretty much always preferred a good nights sleep over going out and drinking into the wee hours of the morning. The rest of the group went to the ever famous Cavern Club though, home of where The Beatles got their start before becoming an international sensation.

Extra tips:

* If you're like me and not accustomed to being on a bus on long winding roads, prepare  
   yourself for a quasi queasy journey once you leave the main highways.

* There are a few available outlets on the bus, so you can charge your devices while traveling from
   one destination from the next.

* Wi-fi is available on the bus, it's pricey, just wait till you get your hotel (not all hotels have free
   wi-fi or wi-fi at all) or find a Costa Coffee (a UK version of a Starbucks - of which you'll also

The next blog post will be about my second day on tour from Liverpool to York.