Day Trips – to go or not to go?

Caribbean, Cruising, europe, France, Ireland, italy, mexico, Scotland, Throwback Thursday, Travel, United Kingdom, United States

There are times in life where preconceived notions have to be put to the test and nothing has challenged me more than the subject of day trips (in regards to travel anyway). Well before I started venturing into the world on my own I had in my head that the best way to travel was to travel with no rules, no script, and no one telling you where and when to do things. I thought of all the school trips and family vacations I had been dragged around on and knew that there was no way I wanted to travel in a massive bus with less than knowledgeable guides trying to sell people on things. No, I wanted to explore on my own and find the best things without rules. I wanted to wander and forge my own path and take the path less taken and be amazing! All without any knowledge or experience!

In 2010 I obsessively made my own plans and scheduled in times to pee and blow my nose and shove an apple in my mouth. Read more here. Which in reality all went to shit within one week, because of nature, thank you Icelandic Volcano. The truth was that I had no idea how to plan or manage two months, let alone a week, or a day traveling because I didn’t have a clue. My trip went okay, I saw plenty of things, but I also learned where to worry and what to forget, and how to get help when I needed it.

Fast forward to 2013 and a study abroad trip opened my eyes to the value of guides in foreign countries, especially when you don’t speak the language. What I realized is that no matter how many signs or guide books or snippets I read, I was missing valuable information whenever I looked around at the world, the castle, the street, the odd carving in a wall. I missed the stories, myths, and legends that made different corners of the world remarkable. It was then that I realized that, in fact, guides are invaluable and important people when visiting a city for the first time.

Even in a day of endless information and content, guides offer insight, and an intimacy that no amount of paper and signs can ever give to an experience. Having a guide walk you around Florence will allow you to truly experience the details of the experience, versus aimlessly wandering trying to make sense of everything that is around you. Having a guide takes you to the best gelato, or the tastiest lunch in a town, and it lets you better understand the people that are hosting you in their home. Since 2013 I make sure every trip has at least one tour, but I am very selective on how and where I take these tours. Here are some of my fast tips on selecting the best tour for you and your travel companions!

  1. Start with researching and finding as many tour providers as you can that will cover what you need. This includes group and private tours, and companies like Viator, or independent companies that you find.
  2. Review all of the itineraries and inclusions, then figure out what seems like a reasonable price for the tour either for a large, small, or private tour and then decide what is friendliest for your budget.
    1. For private tours you will likely need to email guides, and explain what you want. However, they will be able to fully customize your adventure from the locations seen, the time spent in each place, and the routing taken. This is definitely worth paying extra for, if you can afford it.
  3. Read up on the vehicles being offered. This seems silly, but sometimes something will be listed that won’t actually work with your family of six, and two car seats. Read up, email with questions, and call if you have any concerns.
    1. My husband can attest to the discomfort of small Mexican vans for 5 hours of driving to Chichen Itza, I majorly failed on researching that one. My short self is now much more mindful that 6’4” doesn’t fit in cars as well as 5’2”.
  4. Read as many reviews as you can, either through TripAdvisor, Facebook, viator, etc. this will give you a better idea of what to expect and what to watch out for. Remember, most people will complain before they complement, but it’s important to check all the resources for consistency and safety.
  5. Ask your travel companions about their preferences. Sometimes they won’t care, but brain storming may mean they think of unforeseen issues, or other ideas to make the trip better.
  6. Ask an expert for advice! This is especially important if you are working with a travel agent for your trip. They will likely have direct connections to some of the best guides and experts in an area, and if they don’t they will know who to ask for help.However, experts can be other people like friends that know the region, a hotel concierge, or your credit card concierge and travel departments!
  7. Make a choice – yes you have to pick. It’s far better to pick SOMETHING and not have the best tour, but get to SEE something versus never going at all. I say this because so many people hesitate to take a tour and then they don’t ever get the experience they should have tried for. It’s scary to put trust in another company or guide, but I promise that it’s worthwhile more than staying behind.

Memento Mori

Throwback Thursday, Travel, United Kingdom

I have a habit of seeking out odd things. By odd I mean things like mummified cats (not the Ancient Egyptian kind), Surgeon’s museums, and Operating theaters.

I like searching out the oddities in the world, the weird places that get missed by the tourist trail. Some of it’s a love for seeking out gems that no one else knows, and then it’s the dark little goth girl from high school.

Since I began exploring the world on my own I have made an effort to see the odd spots that delight my heart.

No doubt just about every castle has its own horror stories. It’s easy to forget that castles were often involved in wars, jailings, beheadings, affairs, murders… you get the idea. Needless to say, the fairytales and kid’s history lessons play down these facts.

Yet, beyond the subtly macabre I have visited some outright dark museums.

Edinburgh Surgeons’ Hall Museum

I visited the halls and spaces of this museum in 2010. I missed it in 2015 due to its renovation but from all accounts it’s still as glorious as ever and reopening this year. For more information, click here.

The museum is attached to the historic and vital University of Edinburgh’s Medical School. Not only does it celebrate almost three centuries of work and education, but also medical marvels and a collection of items for educational purposes.

My personal favorite pieces were the vast selection of body parts in formaldehyde and wax preserved pieces with vein and other details.

(C) Surgeons’ Hall Museum

Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret

This fantastic museum is hidden in the attic of St Thomas’ Church in Southwark. The location is home to years of medical institutes and knowledge such as the original site of St Thomas Hospital, which was found around 1100.

In the 19th century the attic was made into the Herd Garrett and Theatre that has been preserved until today. The theatre was in fact used for students to learn from. All of those that were operated on were women and no form of anesthesia was used due to the lack of its invention.

While the history is dark, and no doubt people suffered, it was this work and the study of medicine, that helped us get to a much better today. For that alone, it’s worth a visit. For the fact it’s one of only a few operating theatres left in the world, entices further.

The Garrett itself is a magnificent display of what prescriptions, lotions, and potions looked like in centuries past. Some of the gems I most particularly love were are their collection of “tools of the trade” and old prints on how they were used.

What are your favorite macabre locations?

platform 9 3/4

Hidden London, the city that you need to see

Travel, United Kingdom

London, as many great cities are, is full of your typical tourist spots, and one can spend plenty of time hitting museum after museum, and visiting royal sights.

Yet, there is a lot more to see in London, such as unique and vibrant culture in the pubs and waterways that are away from the tourist trail.

Such as the Dickens Inn at St. Katherine Docks. That is an old haunt of, you guessed it, Charles Dickens and in the area that so often found itself in his stories. 

Or haunt around Kings Cross and check out Platform 9 3/4! Along with the Harry Potter shop.

Even at the big tourist spots there are magical places that sometimes get missed. Such as the 13th century reconstructed palace at the Tower of London.

The reality of London is that wandering gets you to some neat places. Some cool shops, some exciting places, interesting people and unique sights. If you can, make a connection with a local, because they will always know a place or two worth exploring.

Happy Travels!

~Rebecca Lee Robinson

Little Fish, Big Pond- from country girl to world traveler

musings, Travel, United Kingdom, United States

I grew up in the Pikes Peak region, very rural. Where the closest neighbor we had for many years was about half a mile away. Where the roads were dirt for three miles back to my childhood home. Where you could hear traffic from a mile away if you listened hard enough. Where big horned sheep hung out in their back yard and mountain lions were a real threat.

When going to school as a kid we literally lived at the LAST stop on the school bus route, for either school we went to either in Cripple Creek or Woodland Park. Both of which were a 30 minute drive in either direction.

When I was 19 (in 2010) I decided, while taking a gap year and a half, to take a trip. By myself I would go to Europe. I started in Germany and France with some dear friends that lived in Stuttgart. By the time I got to traveling alone I was in the UK and that meant a wakeup call on public transportation and how much of the world lives.

In London, I rode on my first subway, real subway- not one at an airport.

Out of London I rode on my first public train, not just a touristy trip through the Royal Gorge, to Diss in East Anglia.

In Edinburgh, I rode in my first cab, EVER….I kid you not.

Out of Stirling, Scotland I took my first public bus to Dirleton, Scotland, which quickly turned into a mess because I didn’t understand bus schedules…anyway.

Out of Holyhead, Wales I would take my first ferry and land in Dun Laoghaire, Ireland.

As a trip of firsts in public transportation and seeing the world it was a wonderful experience and preparation for moving to the city for college.

In January of this year I took a third trip to the UK with my aunt, from Kansas, who had:

  • Never been in a cab
  • Never been on a commuter train
  • Never been on a subway
  • Never been on a public bus.

It was strange to think that someone in their 60s could just be experiencing these things for the first time. Yet, when I think about how strange the mid-west and western United States could be for people, it’s kind of a weirdness that is unique to that part of the world. Growing up in rural environments means that we have some experiences with raising farm animals, or hiking hidden trails. Yet we miss out on more urban pursuits. Which, when traveling have an interesting way of sneaking in. All part of the experience.