Explore: Bruges

Explore: Bruges

Explore: Bruges

By far my favorite place on our travels this summer was Bruges. I’ve been wanting to go there ever since I watched the dark comedy In Bruges. If you haven’t seen it yet, make sure you do. Don’t get offended. Just laugh. And then check out the setting because it’s gorgeous.

Explore: Bruges

Bruges is every bit as magical as the film makes it seem. It’s so adorably historic it almost felt unreal. Even the walk into the center of town from our cheap hotel near the train station was full of fascinating little details and intriguing alleyways. I wanted to stay forever.

Explore: Bruges

Because it’s so iconic in the film, we had to climb to the top of the bell tower. It’s quite steep and windy, and while going up was a definite cardio challenge, it was going back down that was actually pretty scary. If you’re nervous at all about heights, you’ll definitely need to practice your deep breathing here. I recommend going there first thing in the morning before it gets busy. The spiral stairs aren’t really wide enough for two-way traffic, so you don’t won’t to fight the crowds trying to get back down without falling. There are some cool displays of the bells on the way up, and the views from the top are really cool.

Explore: Bruges

We also went on a canal boat ride which was a great way to see some sites a bit further out from the center of town without having to walk miles and miles. (We still walked miles and miles, but we’re just weird.) 

Explore: Bruges

There are some extravagant old churches to explore, each with varying levels of what you can see without paying. There are also quite a few museums, but they’re all paid admission. We like to keep it cheap, so we chose the bell tower and canal boat as our paid attractions for the day. I definitely want to go back and check out some different stuff, though.

Basically, the whole place is like a living museum. The architecture was completely different from anything I had ever experienced. As always, I loved just wandering around and looking up and all the buildings and houses and signs and skyline that make Bruges so unique.

Explore: Bruges

We did go wandering and found a giant windmill which was pretty awesome. 

Explore: Bruges

The major drawback to Bruges is that the restaurants and cafes are all a bit pricey. Seeing as how their economy mainly relies on tourism, it’s not that easy to find a cheap place to eat, unless you want to go all the way to Belgium just to end up at McDonald’s. I’m not at all above eating frites or waffles and ice cream from street vendors. It’s the way to go in my opinion.

Explore: Bruges

Bruges has my heart. I would go back there in a minute. I could just walk up and down every street for hours on end just getting lost in my own imagination. Get there and fall in love.

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Explore: Inverness & Loch Ness

Explore: Inverness & Loch Ness

Explore: Inverness & Loch Ness

A few years ago, Emily had a slight obsession with the Loch Ness Monster, so when we were deciding what we wanted to do this summer, Inverness and Loch Ness seemed like an obvious choice. Of course, the weather was very Scottish, so I didn’t get to take many photos, but we endured the rain to have some adventures nonetheless. 

Explore: Inverness & Loch Ness

Geoff got to tick an item off his bucket list by seeing a wild dolphin. He booked us a a dolphin-watching cruise with Dolphin Spirit. We spotted the same dolphin twice, and it was super cool. The guide on the boat was also fun and informative. We also spotted some seals, otters, and sea birds. Apart from being soaking wet, it was a great experience.

Explore: Inverness & Loch Ness

We also did a combo coach and boat tour with Jacobite Tours. We hopped on a bus to Loch Ness, boarded a boat to cruise the Loch, and got dropped off to explore Urquhart Castle. On the way back, we got to stop off at the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition to learn more about Nessie, and of course, a chance to shop for souvenirs. 

Explore: Inverness & Loch Ness

In addition to all this organised fun, we explored the local museum and enjoyed a beautiful river walk.

Explore: Inverness & Loch Ness

Inverness was a beautiful town and a great base from which to explore some beautiful and historic bits of Scotland. We didn’t make it out to Culloden this time, but I’m sure we’ll get another chance. I’d definitely recommend a visit. Just don’t expect a wealth of sunshine.

Explore: London

Explore: London & The Harry Potter Studio Tour

 

It occurred to me the other day that I never shared with you anything about our quick trip in March down to London. It rained the entire time, so my camera stayed in my bag for a lot of the trip. I wish I had more photos to share, but at least you’ll get a flavor of our adventure.

Explore: London

We arrived on a Monday afternoon and set off immediately for the Marx Memorial Library. My socialist child’s heart was all aflutter standing in Lenin’s office and eating an early dinner in the pub where Marx and Lenin hatched the ideas that are still inspiring young people to question the way the world operates to this day. 

We still had some daylight left, so we wandered around Clerkenwell and popped into the St. John’s museum, strolled past Smithfield Market, and came upon the gorgeous church above, St. Bartholomew’s. My favorite thing about London is the way you can just stumble upon history without even trying. Even if you don’t get to go inside, you should always slip down those side alleys when you think you see something cool. Chances are, you were right, and you’ll be rewarded.

Explore: London

The main reason we went down to London was to visit the Harry Potter Studio Tour. If you love Harry Potter, and you’re in or near London, it will be worth every penny to take the detour to Watford Junction for this experience. These stories are so close to my heart, so to witness the loving detail with which these films were created was unforgettable. And naturally, they do a great job of making the experience emotional and cinematic without it feeling cheap or overcommercialised. 

I got chills looking at these stone knights (well, they’re probably styrofoam or something) and remembering McGonogall bringing them to life and sending them forth to defend the castle. It’s almost embarrassing how many times I got tears in my eyes on this day.

Explore: London

Speaking of McGonogall, look at how gorgeous her costume is. There are hundreds of costumes on display, and knowledgeable staff to share fun stories about wigs, shoes, makeup, prosthetics and other great behind the scenes anecdotes that make the experience more real for visitors. 

As a baker, I had to get a photo of the chocolate sculptures that were on the table at the welcome feast in Goblet of Fire. Can I get one of those chocolate phoenixes, please?

Explore: London

The Gryffindor common room looked so cozy. I wanted to plop myself on the sofa in front of the fire with my copy of Hogwarts a History. They also have that book on display, along with copies of the Quibbler, the Daily Prophet, and just about every book ever mentioned in the series.

Explore: London

There’s some fun interactive stuff as well. At the Burrow, you can practice your household spells and help Mrs. Weasley with the washing up and more. Also, I think I want that dish drainer for my own kitchen. Think I could get her to make me a chicken and ham pie?

Explore: London

You can also learn some dueling choreography, and of course, ride a broom. You’re not allowed to take photos in the broom area, but we definitely bought some photos of Emily flying to Hogwarts. She’s also wanted by Voldemort’s puppet ministry for being a political dissident. Dumbledore’s Army forever!

Explore: London

One of my favorite things was a hallway displaying some of the concept art created for the films. Obviously, this scene never made it into the film. If I had been by myself, I probably would have spent a few minutes mourning at Dumbledore’s funeral. This painting is just so heartbreakingly beautiful.

Explore: London

The grand finale, before the massive gift shop, of course, is the miniature scale model of Hogwarts. You can walk all the way around it and take in every angle of the castle. I loved standing here and remembering Hermione punching Draco Malfoy in the face. I’m practically a pacifist, but that kid had it coming.

There is so much more than what I’ve showed you in these photos. If you’ve been, I’d love to know your favorite bits. Also, pro-tip, the cafe is not outrageously priced, so you don’t have to panic about eating lunch there. You’ll need it. The food is placed perfectly at the a halfway point in the exhibit when you’re starting to get hungry and tired. Unless you love really really really sweet drinks, I recommend getting one butterbeer to share just to say you’ve had the experience.

The British Library was between the train station and our hotel, so I got to continue my perfect bookish day in London by gaping at the King’s library and ogling some ancient manuscripts that are on display there. It doesn’t take too long to visit the free exhibits there, so if you’re in the neighborhood, definitely pop in.

Explore: London

Our third and final day was Geoff’s turn to pick, so we hoofed it through London over to the Natural History Museum. This museum is huge and packed with exhibits, so if you really want to see everything, I’d give yourself at least half a day. Luckily, it’s free, so if you don’t get to see all you want, you can always go back. Our favorites were the animals. Of course, the dinosaur exhibit was awesome. The building itself is also spectacular.

There’s so much to do in London that I doubt I’ll ever get to see everything on my list, but that won’t stop me trying. What should we do in London next time?

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