Saturday, 30 April 2011

The Royal Wedding!

On April 29th a real life fairy tale came true. A normal, every day girl became royalty. It is something that most little girls dream of. Blame it on the Disney movies, if you will, but lets face it, I think its safe to say that no girl wouldn't want to be whisked off to live a life of actual royalty.... to become a real life princess.

I toyed with the idea of going to London for the wedding for weeks. I knew I wasn't going to go and camp out for days before, so I knew I likely wouldn't get to see much of anything. I knew it was going to be a long, crowded, exhausting day. But, I also knew that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I would kick myself in the ass if I didn't go. So, when my friend Megan asked if I wanted to go, it didn't take much for me to jump all over that!

Bright and early in the morning (6 am to be exact), we boarded a tour bus on the base and headed down to London. I was fully expecting to run into hoards of traffic and be stuck on the bus until 9 or 10. However, we ran into literally NO traffic. We drove into the heart of the city and I swear there was NO ONE out! It was actually kind of creepy. By the time we were in the city, it was about 7:30 or so, so its not like it was super early.... it was scary movie creepy. The bus driver dropped us off at the London eye and we started our day.

Big Ben and Parliament bright and early Friday Morning

Yep, people definitely camped out!

Some of our friends were already there and texted Megan and told her they were right at front around Westminster Abbey. We tried to find them, but never did, so we decided to head on down to Buckingham Palace. We knew the royal family was going to come out on the balcony, so we figured our odds of seeing them were a little higher there. We walked through St. James Park and made our way to Buckingham. We started out on the side, near on the gates (if you're staring head on at the Palace, we were to the left and right behind one of the gate things) and somehow managed to make our way about as close as we could get (the big area in front of the palace wasn't opened up to the crowds yet and the section right past the gates on the side held the crazy people who'd been camping out for a couple of nights.

Buckingham Palace from St. James Park
There were tons of balloons!

By the time we got to the palace, it was about 8:45 or so, so we had quite a while to wait. We got to see the cars leave the palace and head towards Westminster Abbey and could hear the crowds screaming as they drove past them on the Parade route. The royal band came through quite a few times, so we had some entertainment while we waited.

There were massive speakers spread throughout the city and they piped the entire ceremony live to the crowds. It was AWESOME! Everyone cheered when they said "I Do" and when they were pronounced Husband and Wife.

I was a little nervous, I'll admit. About a week before the Daily Mail had written an article about protestors threatening to come to London on the day of the wedding and burn effigies of William and Kate, the Union Jack flag, and replicas of the crown. And lets face it, in a crowd that big, anything can happen, so my nerves were on a little bit of an alert. Luckily, the protestors stayed home and everything was okay (which probably had something to do with the 30 million pounds the British Government spent on security). The crowd was massive, but there was no malicious behavior... no negativity. The energy in the whole of London was amazing. It was incredibly positive and joyous and nothing but celebratory! It feels awesome to have been a part of it.

The snipers on the roof of the palace!

After the ceremony, the Royal family drove back through the parade route and down to Buckingham palace. The crowd swelled when the carriages got to the palace and I ended up not being able to see them (curse me being so short!). Once everyone was accounted for and in the palace, the police opened up the barriers and let the crowds surge forward and into the square directly in front of the palace. Megan and I stayed where we were. We both had good views of the balcony and didn't want to miss it.

MASSIVE crowd!

After a little while, the doors opened and the royal family came out onto the balcony. The crowd went wild!!! They waved and smiled and radiated happiness. They ended up kissing twice which only spurred on the excitement.

There they are!

And I finally got to see the queen!!!! (She's in yellow)

After the first kiss, the Royal Air Force did a couple of fly bys!
They were right over our heads!
The Duke and Dutchess of Cambridge (and future King and Queen)!!!

Afterward we let the crowd thin out a little bit and then headed to a pub to meet up with our friends for lunch. By the time we got there it was about 2 in the afternoon, so we were exhausted, starving, and most definitely more than ready for lunch.

Walking back through St. James Park...the flowers were gorgeous!

After lunch we walked back to Westminster Abbey; we'd heard they were letting people in so you could walk on the red carpet and all that... but that turned out to be just rumor. We got to see them breaking everything down, and this is the best picture of the red carpet I could get.

Westminster Abbey
While they were breaking everything down.
There were Union Jack flags everywhere.

We got back on the bus a little while later and ended up back on base around 6:00 or so. Megan had emailed her husband and told him to hunt down Christopher and plan dinner so that we could watch the wedding on TV.

It was incredibly surreal to sit there, uploading pictures to the computer of the day, and watch the wedding.... to know that I was JUST there! It was awesome!

Monday, 25 April 2011


One of the huge perks about living in England is that we're within pretty easy reach of a lot of other European countries. France is the closest and easiest for us to get to and there's a ferry that goes from Dover to Calais. We've taken it before to get to Paris, but this weekend, we, along with Liz and Tim, decided to go hop the Ferry and drive from Calais to Belgium. It took us about 4 hours or so (including the drive to Dover and the 1 hour ferry ride) to get to the city of Brugge.
Leaving England

When we got there, we stopped into a little cafe to have some lunch and thus began our weekend of amazing food. After we ate, we headed out into the city. It was absolutely gorgeous! The architecture in Belgium is amazing... we had such an amazing time just walking around the city looking at all the different buildings. Also, we didn't think Brugge was going to be that big of a city, but it was huge! We kept walking around and finding what seemed like endless streets.

The best thing about Brugge is the chocolate shops. I swear, every where you look, there's a chocolate shop. It was a chocoholic's dream! I think we walked into probably 20 shops and that wasn't even half of them. All the shops were different, but they all smelled AMAZING! The minute you walked through the door, all you smelled was chocolate.

Blocks of chocolate complete with hammers to break it up!
Leopard print chocolate...awesome!

We did a really bad job of actually learning about the city and what the different buildings and stuff were. It was probably the first trip we've taken where we didn't really learn the history of where we were. We had actually planned on taking a Horse and Carriage tour of the city, but we ran out of time. Honestly though, I'm okay with that... just walking around and enjoying a beautiful city is worth more than knowing tons about it. Brugge definitely fit the picture I always had of European cities.

Oh, and of course, we had Belgian Waffles!!! Incredible!

After a day of walking around Brugge, we drove another hour to the Capital; Brussels to stay the night. Brussels is not only the capital of Belgium, but its also the European capital. The EU headquarters are there, which we thought was pretty cool. We ended up getting to our hotel pretty late in the evening and when we went to check in we found out that they only had 2 rooms left... the Executive Suite and the Presidential Suite! Liz and Tim ended up with the executive suite and Christopher and I somehow ended up in the Presidential Suite! AND we both ended up paying the 95 euro's we originally planned on. That stuff NEVER happens to us! It was awesome!

Our room was incredible! We walked in to an awesome living room with leather furniture, a fireplace, view of the botanical gardens, and a mini-bar complete with a Nespresso Machine (I think this was Christopher's favorite part). After the living room was a huge bedroom with a king sized bed. The bathroom was walled in by glass, so you could see straight through it from the bedroom. The bathroom was incredible... I've pretty much took notes for our dream bathroom. We had a massive bowl shaped bathtub, sauna, rain shower, double sink, and heated floors. After the bathroom, there was a fitness room with a stair stepper and a stationary bike. It was most definitely the nicest hotel room we have ever stayed in! I looked online that night and if we'd decided to stay in that room the next night, it would have been over 500 euros!

Living Room
Amazing bathtub!
Standing in the bathroom looking into the bedroom

On Easter Sunday we woke up, had some breakfast and headed out into the city of Brussels. It was a lot more industrial and dirtier than we all thought it would be. The way the streets were designed was ridiculous. There were one way streets that weren't marked well til after you'd turned down them and it was just nuts. Needless to say, we didn't spend much time in Brussels. We all voted to head back down to Brugge for the rest of the day.

One of the many cathedrals in Brussels
Downtown Brussels
Awesome building we drove by in Brussels

Once we got into Brugge, we stopped and had lunch at a cafe and it was awesome! We had Moules and Frites (Mussels and fries), which is a big thing in Belgium and a crepe with chocolate sauce and fresh strawberries. Both were delicious!

After lunch, we walked around more of Brugge (including walking into more chocolate shops) before heading back to Calais to catch the ferry back to England. It was a really quick trip, but it was really awesome. I really didn't have any sort of expectations for Belgium. It was one of those places I wanted to visit because it was so close and accessible to us, but I really didn't know what to expect. Brugge, especially, was amazing. It might be one of my favorite places that we've been. It was quaint without being small, the food was great, they had more chocolate than people, and I dont know, it was just a great time!

Stamford, England

When Mymom and Grampy were in December, we came across a little town called Stamford. Though it was relatively quiet and a lot of things were closed, Stamford was a really neat little town. The big attraction in the town is the Burghley House. In December, the house was closed for the winter, so we knew we wanted to go back in the Spring and have a look.

One day a couple of weeks ago, we were trying to figure out something to do and we remembered about the Burghley House so we decided to make the trip up there for the afternoon.

We drove through the town again, but ended up just stopping by an antique store before heading on to the Burghley House.

Part of downtown Stamford
Burghley House is a country house built in the 16th Century. It was built for Sir William Cecil, the High Treasurer to Queen Elizabeth 1. It is a huge and gorgeous home where descendants of Cecil still live in today. For that reason, you cant see the entire house, but quite a few rooms were open. Sadly, you cant take pictures inside the house, which is a real shame, because it is GORGEOUS! Each room is different and the fabrics they used were just amazing.

Closer picture of the house

One of the most famous things in the house is the Heaven Room and the Hell Staircase. You walk through the Heaven Room and are immediately taken aback by its beauty. The entire room is painted by Antonio Verrio and it is a gorgeous depiction of classic mythology. The painting looks completely 3 dimensional even though its not... it really was amazing.

Heaven Room (photo by Google Images)

The Hell staircase is directly after the Heaven Room. It is a massive staircase that has a huge fresco on the ceiling and walls depicting hell. It was the last work commissioned by Antonio Verrio and it took him 11 months to finish the ceiling in 1697. The walls were painted a century later by a man named Thomas Stothford who was actually a children's book illustrator.

Hell Staircase (Photo by Google Images)

After walking through the house, we headed outside to "The Garden's of Surprise". The entire garden is sort of walled in and hidden from the outside. There are different parts of the garden including a sculpture garden and then the main part of the garden that is filled with all sorts of things like sun dials, obelisk's, water features, a mirrored maze and so much more. I think it took us longer to go through the garden than the house.

One of the many sculptures...
Inside the sculpture Garden

Christopher and his favorite sculpture

Sculptures on the Water

Neptune's Grotto