The Story of My First Trip to Europe: Part One

Preface: for the story about booking this trip and all the meaning behind it, see here. 

*A note about booking our trip: I have a friend that is now a travel agent, and I'm sure she would do a fantastic job that a website can't quite do -- but nonetheless, we were so impressed with our booking experience through Costco. We got a crazy good deal, everything was arranged and went smoothly, from 4 star hotels to first class train tickets, down to extra perks like free dinners and tours, and car service to and from airports. Check it out. 


Our trip began in London. We started our journey there by flying to New York, and then boarded our first trip on Virgin Airlines. The flight itself was great-- super smooth, no turbulence, great service. I really liked the vibe of this airline. They played fun music and were super friendly, and that helps put a nervous flier like me at ease a bit.

The flight left JFK at 8 p.m. Eastern and was due to arrive at 8 a.m. London time. We planned to sleep on the plane and start our first day ready to go, but unfortunately, even with taking Tylenol PM, we couldn't sleep and arrived exhausted. We checked into our hotel, which was lovely and so English in decor. It was adorable. They had a room ready for us right away, and we were able to take a nap before heading out for the day. We stayed at Rubens at the Palace, which had helpful and friendly staff, a great restaurant, and was conveniently located a short walk from Buckingham Palace, which we walked to several times.

Our first outing was to a pub around the corner for fish and chips, called the Phoenix. The bar accidentally charged our card twice, but they didn't realize it till we were already outside debating our next stop. The manager, who we'd chatted with about exchanging currency, knew we needed cash so she refunded us with actual cash instead of reversing the charge to help us out! She talked with us for a while and started our London experience in a super welcoming way. Then, while chatting with her outside, a group of women came over and asked us to take their photo. They realized we were Americans and they were so excited, like we were celebrities or something! They asked about our plans for London, and even though their Uber arrived to pick them up, one gal insisted on putting some notes in my phone for our must-see cool places while we were in town before leaving us. Our first outing in London was so over the top friendly that we couldn't believe it!

We'd decided while at the pub to see if there were any river cruises, and booked one on our phones for that evening at sunset. We walked past the palace, and through St. James Park, then past Westminster Abbey and Big Ben to the River Thames.

The cruise was such a perfect experience. Beautiful weather, clear skies with a lovely sunset, live music, and champagne. We took in the sites, and afterward, walked back toward home. We stopped at another pub for a bite to eat and tasted our first meat pie, an English staple.

On our second full day, we'd booked a tour with a free tour credit that came with our package. We met a great couple from Florida who we chatted with throughout the day. First stop was a photo op in front of the palace, then on to St. Paul's Cathedral, built in the 1700s. It has a beautiful chapel in it, rebuilt after World War II, that is dedicated to the American soldiers who served in England. It was beautiful and moving.

Next stop was the changing of the horse guard, which is different than the changing of the guard at the palace. It was kind of anticlimactic. Then, we went on to the Tower of London. It's a castle and fortress, the first part was build in 1078! After all these old stuff and tour groups, we were ready to do our own thing, so we tipped the tour guide and walked to St. Katharine's Docks, an area the friendly ladies told us about the night before. We found a pub, ate some food, drank a few beers, and just enjoyed people watching.

We took the "tube" aka subway for the first time that trip to head back toward our hotel, and after some rest in our room, went to the pub across the street for dinner. More meat pies. They are seriously so good. Basically what we had was like a chicken pot pie, but with beef stew inside, served with mashed potatoes and a pot of gravy to top it all with. Heaven.

 We slept a bit late, and decided to do brunch somewhere nearby, and walked to this awesome place right by our hotel. It was cool and beautiful outside, we so brunched on the patio on comfy cushioned couches. While eating, we decided to book a tour of the state rooms at Buckingham Palace.

The experience there was wonderful. It's remarkable to see, and it is only open for a couple of months in summer so we were lucky to get to take a tour! Afterward, we had tea and dessert on the patio at the palace gardens. We did a little souvenir shopping and went back to our hotel to freshen up for dinner. We had a free dinner credit at our hotel restaurant, so we dined there, and it was phenomenal. Matt says it's the best meal he ever had. Impeccable service, and delicious food. We took wine up to our room and relaxed the rest of the evening.

It's Paris day! We packed our bags, had a full English breakfast at the hotel restaurant, and  headed to the tube to the train station to catch the Eurostar to France.
It was relatively easy to navigate our way, and the customs to enter France via the train station was fast and easy. We found a mailbox to drop our postcards, and boarded our first class cabin to Paris! 

I was a bit nervous about the train, because I'm always scared of everything, but it was awesome! The tunnel under the English Channel (TRAIN UNDER THE OCEAN GUYS) was brief (like 20 minutes) and you didn't really notice it, because of the several other tunnels you travel through first. And, the ride was really smooth, considering you are going 180 MPH! They served us lunch, which was delicious, and came with free wine, which was a trend in Europe ( I LOVE IT THERE). We got to see a bit of the French countryside as we made our way to Paris. It was so fun. 

OVERALL: I loved London! Matt had been before and loved it then too. I felt totally at home there. We were lucky to have sunny, warm weather, and encountered nothing but friendly people the whole time.

Next post - Paris!


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