London, Paris & Greece 2018 Review

We made it! We traveled to London, Paris, Greece and back. It only took 5,000 miles, 7 flights, 1 train and 1 unplanned bus ride later.

{Also it has been over four months since our trip if I am being completely transparent!!}

The funny thing about traveling though is that it makes you feel like the world is so big, yet so small at the exact same time. You know that your work, your friends and your life are all still going on back home, yet you are suddenly mesmerized with the glimpse of other people’s “normal”. It’s a weird feeling.

Traveling opens your heart and soul to possibilities. Every time I think of our trip I think of a F. Scott Fitzgerald quote from The Great Gatsby (one of my all-time favorite books and movies)…

There is this big, giant world out there. How sad it would be to never see it or experience it. There are so many facets of life. Cities, people, careers and paths. I was enchanted and yet repelled (by how lucky I am) about how much variety there is in life. It’s incredible and daunting to think about! You can literally do anything, be anyone or live anywhere.

But enough about soul searching. I think it happens to everyone when you travel for 2+ weeks! (And I image it’s even crazier when you actually live overseas for a period of time.) Here’s a first hand look at our journey to London, Paris, Greece and then back to little ‘ole Cleveland, Ohio…

Tuesday, July 31 — Journey to London 
We flew out from Cleveland on Icelandic Air. It was six hours to Iceland with a 2 hour layover and then another three hours to land at Heathrow in London (the busiest airport in the world). My husband and I flew out with my parents and my brother was meeting us in London. Our flight was basically our “overnight” so we tried to sleep as much as possible because when we landed it would be Wednesday morning in London. Our layover in Iceland was short and uneventful — which is a good type of layover to have!

I thought both of these pictures over Iceland were particularly cool, especially because the first one has the full moon. It blew my mind to think it was the same moon that I had run under during the Burning River Relay just two nights before — and now the same moon was over Iceland where we were about to land. Not long after the moon picture the sun was up. (I guess the sun is up full time in Iceland during that time of year!)

Wednesday, August 1 — London, England
Once we landed in London and met up with my brother we took the “tube” into the city. We rode the subway the majority of time while in London. This saved us a great deal of time because we were only there for about 28 hours. However when we left I kind of felt like we didn’t really “see” a great deal of London just because we weren’t driving around. The tube was probably the most time efficient though. “Mind the Gap” became a typical expression in our little traveling clan.

My brother greeting us in London.

Once we checked into our hotel we quickly showered, changed and were back out the door. We stayed at this little hotel/apartment within a mile or so of Buckingham Palace. The place was questionable, but it fit all five of us and it was close to most of the things we wanted to see. Plus we were there only to sleep so it would do!

This was the street our hotel/apartment was on. Cute and quiet yet super close to most of the big attractions.

We started out toward Buckingham Palace. We walked past a few cute tea shops and saw The Royal Mews, also know as the royal stables where all of the royal horses live. I couldn’t believe we were there! Then suddenly we were in front of Buckingham Palace and it was surreal! I couldn’t believe all of the history and that Harry and Meghan’s wedding had filled these streets only a few months before. I tried to imagine what it was like at the exact same spot during the weddings of Charles and Diana and William and Kate. (I may or may not have been freaking out.)

We continued walking around and strolled through St. James Park. We didn’t really know where we were walking to, but we were a little tired and hungry so our main goal was to find a “pub”. We ended up walking past Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and The London Eye. Almost everything was in full scaffolding though and we laughed at our timing and luck. Of course!

After walking a little off the beaten path we finally found a pub that we liked. By then it was after 5PM and it was cool to see people meeting for happy hour after work. I kept wondering if any of the people were marketing professionals! For dinner everyone (besides me) had the traditional fish and chips while I got a veggie burger. (I just can’t get down with fried fish!) The group was fading a little bit from jet lag but we were determined to tough it out since our time in London was so limited.

We walked around for the next several hours and grabbed drinks on the street (since there aren’t open container laws there!!) It was really neat to leisurely walk along the water and people watch.

We strolled on the true “London Bridge” which isn’t very exciting FYI, plus it wasn’t falling down 🙂 We walked across Tower Bridge and then walked the outside of The Tower of London. (Note: it took me a couple tries to understand the difference between all three of these sites!) Tower Bridge was built in 1066!! We enjoyed reading all the plaques along the outer side and I wish we would have had time to go inside. London has a deep (and kind of dark) history. I couldn’t believe all of the events that had taken place right where we were standing.

Once it was dark out we made our way back to our hotel and as soon as we were there everyone started crashing. I laid down and closed my eyes briefly, only to be woken up by my brother demanding I wake up. We discussed going to Piccadilly Circus, but the jet lag was too much for everyone. I guess Piccadilly Circus is like the Time’s Square of London. I’ve been to Time’s Square before and it was a bit overwhelming, so I wasn’t too upset we missed it in London.

Thursday, August 2 — Rest of London & Traveling to Paris
We woke up on Thursday knowing we had until about 5PM to see the rest of London. We were out the door by 9AM and stopped at a cute little cafe for breakfast. Our Buckingham Palace Tour was at 10:30AM.

Outside of an adorable cafe in London.

After chasing down our tour (that we still somehow managed to be late for), we saw the changing of the guards. That ceremony was long and hot, but still interesting. Then we walked the gardens of Buckingham Palace and heard about the rich history of the Royal Family (who have lived at BP since 1837!!).

Next it was our turn to officially enter the BP. Tours are only held when the Queen is away and she happened to be away on summer holiday when we were there. BP flies a specific flag when she is home so people know. I was like a giddy school girl as we waited in line and walked through security. It was a self guided audio tour, so we just walked around silently with headphones listening to the audio clips.

Last picture I got before I was asked to put my phone away. Royal family pictures in the hall!!

THE TOUR WAS SO COOL!!! But pictures weren’t allowed 😦

I kept reacting to the audio tour only to realize I was screaming I was so excited. My husband kept “shhhh-ing” me. I was pretty excited to say the least. We got to go into 16 rooms. The Palace is immaculate with crown modeling and renaissance paintings and decor. Everything was gold and red and OLD…but beautiful. We exited the tour into more royal gardens and of course had to go to the gift shop. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted a souvenir more than I did at BP. Unfortunately I thought everything was too overpriced or too tacky. I found the royal wedding souvenirs to be super entertaining!

After we were done with Buckingham Palace we walked around some more. I knew Cleveland Clinic London was close by so we swung by and visited the site. Then finally I convinced our group to have lunch at this adorable little tea room. We had tea (even though it was 90 degrees out), prosecco, sandwiches, scones and dessert. It might have been my favorite meal of our entire trip just because it was so very London.

After lunch we headed out towards St. Paul’s Cathedral, where Prince Charles and Princess Diana got married.

Finally we made our way back to the hotel where we stored our bags for the day. After we picked up our bags we got back on the tube and arrived at the train station to take the chunnel (aka Euro Star) to Paris. This train goes 186 miles per hour and is super smooth. It was a two hour ride with stunning views of the french country side as we bolted towards Paris.

When we arrived in Paris is was after midnight and we were very tired. Little did we know we would soon encounter an unfortunate event…

The husband and I told our group we were heading to the bathroom and asked if they could watch our bags. We went to the bathroom (after laughing because you had to pay a euro to use it) and walked back over to where our bags were when we were done. Within seconds we realized that my husband’s book bag was gone!! THANKFULLY his wallet, passport and cell phone were all in his pocket, but that was just a consolation prize in feeling very violated and being taken for granted 😦

It was a miscommunication between our group trying to coordinate additional train tickets to get to our hotel. But it was still very frustrating. It couldn’t have been more than a few seconds for the bag to disappear, which makes us think that someone had been following us or watching us. The scary thing was it was an international train station so anyone could walk in and walk out without security or even having a ticket. It was probably someone looking for the right moment — and we sure gave it to them. Afterwards we tried to report it stolen with the police, but it was very late and the language barrier was tough.

The last picture of my husband’s book bag! This was leaving London.

With heavy hearts we got on another train and made our way deeper into Paris. When we got off that train we walked another few blocks to our hotel. But I couldn’t shake the feeling of being taken advantage of because we were tourists. We went to bed upset that night and hoped to wake up with a lighter attitude.

Friday, August 3 — Paris Day 1
We woke up on Friday morning determined to give Paris another chance. The sun was shining and it was going to be 90 that day. We had our first Parisian breakfast with ALL THE CARBS (baguette, bread, croissant!) After that we made our way over to the bus tours and purchased the hop-on-hop off 2-day pass. We planned to see the Eiffel Tower first. We sat up on top of the double decker bus and I loved cruising the streets of Paris in the warm sun. The first glimpse I saw of the Eiffel Tower made me tear up — I couldn’t believe we were finally there and I felt so lucky!!

We stood in line waiting for tickets for about five minutes — until we realized the tickets for taking the stairs oppose to the elevator was a fraction of the wait time. So up we climbed! 1,710 steps! In 90 degree heat. In the sun. Me in a dress.

But it was a glorious day and the tower was everything I imagined it to be.

After spending several hot hours at the ET, we rode the bus back to where our hotel was, which was super close to Notre Dome. We realized the line to get in was going super fast so we jumped in and were inside in less than five minutes!

Besides being very dark inside, I thought the church looked similar to many of the Italian churches we had visited in Florence. Of course the child in me kept thinking about Disney’s Hunch Back of Notre Dome.

On the walk back to our hotel we stopped in a few cafes and stopped to get wine and snacks. We spent the next few hours sitting out on the hotel balcony relaxing. Later that night my husband, brother and I went out to dinner around 11PM. Because when in Paris why not?? We randomly just walked until we found a place we wanted to stop at. It was so fun being out late in the middle of Paris. We drank wine and tried escargot!

Saturday, August  4 — Second Day in Paris
After another Parisian, carb-filled breakfast we headed off to explore Montmarte. It was another hot sunny day and we were glad to take the bus instead of walking.

The climb up to Montmarte includes 300 steps, so when we made our way to the top, we were sweating just like when we climbed the Eiffel Tower. It was such a cute and neat little place though. We walked through the church at the top (The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris) and then proceeded to walk through the little streets of the town. We stopped to shop and eat. I even tried a true Parisian crepe!

We got back to our hotel in the late afternoon and had time to shower and then get re-ready to go back out. We wanted to go to a nice dinner and see the Eiffel Tower at night. We rode the bus out again and strolled along The Avenue des Champs-Elysees. (One of the most famous and rich streets in the world!) We walked a bit to get away from the super touristy area and settled on a nice little restaurant on a corner street. It happened to be right next to the tunnel where Princess Diana was killed (the Pont de I’Alma.) Afterwards we visited the site of the crash and it was very strange and sad. I love the royal family, especially stories of Princess Diana.

We made our way over to a bridge with a picturesque view of the Eiffel Tower. We bought a bottle of champagne from a street vendor and waited until the ET was lit up. It was a magical and incredible night!

Sunday, August 5 — Final Day in Paris & Traveling to Greece
On our last day in Paris, we knew we had to go to The Louvre. But not before we had more carbs for breakfast!

We were able to walk to the famous museum and it was only in the 80s that day. We checked out of our hotel and left our bags with the front desk.

After a 20-minute wait we were inside the museum, which I didn’t think was overly crowded like I expected it to be — probably because it’s so massive inside!

When we were done at the museum we got our bags from the hotel and took the train to Charles de Gaulle Airport. I was a little sad to be leaving Paris as it had grown on me despite our first night, but I was also excited to explore Greece. After five days of going non-stop it would be nice to relax a little on a beach, but not before we saw Athens.

We boarded our plane in Paris and landed in Athens around 11:30PM. We had to split up taking a taxi so my husband and I went in one car and my parents and brother in another. We learned a valuable lesson that night — to make sure you negotiate the cost of the drive before getting in a cab! Because a $60 ride was suddenly upped to $75 after a shady cab driver explained he charged for bags and that he took the freeway which was extra! (Seriously?!)

We stayed at Hotel Apollo, which seemed to be in a sketchy area in Athens, but the service and people working were excellent and more than made up for it.

Monday, August 6 — Athens Part 1
We woke up early on our first morning in Greece knowing it was going to be a long, hot day of sightseeing. We were able to see the Acropolis, which housed the Parthenon and the temple of Athena. The Acropolis area is HUGE and a pretty vigorous hike. Mix this with 90 degree heat, no shade and lots of crowds and you’re gonna need to take it nice and slow. After the Acropolis our traveling clan found a nice little restaurant and had authentic gyros — which were pretty incredible. The rest of the group wanted to stay and walk around this cute little downtown area, so the husband and I opted to walk another 3 miles and visited Hadrian’s Arch.

After we exhausted ourselves walking around Athens all day, it was time to make our way back to Hotel Apollo where we stored our suitcases for the day. We were concerned with getting ripped off on a cab ride again so we asked the front desk for assistance. They were THE nicest people! They called around and got us a great deal on a van to the airport and negotiated the price for us (without a weird mysterious up charge for bags and freeway driving!!) The hotel may not be in the best area of Athens, but they were incredibly friendly and helpful. I’m happy to support an honest business like that.

From the Athens airport, we took a 40-minute plane ride to Santorini — a beautiful Greek island known for honeymoons. Another van was waiting to pick us up (since the other half of our large group was already there) and it drove us to our AirBnB. We were staying in a traditional Greek hillside vila — which was legit carved out of the rocky hillside. The villa had no glass windows or AC, but was still very cool inside since it was made out of rock. The villa was set off quite a bit from the road and it was very dark out when we arrived. We had to walk a long cobblestone path and even through a wine field (not even kidding), but we finally made it! We were diffidently not in a super touristy area and were surrounded by locals — except for the group of Australians vacationing in the villa next to us!

Entrance to our villa!

A few people from our larger group came over to greet us that night when we got settled, but since it was pretty late no one stayed long and we all quickly turned in for the night.

Tuesday, August 7
We slept in a little this morning, which felt SO nice because we had been going non-stop before we got to Santorini. The AirBnB stocked our fridge so we made coffee and eggs and sat out on our patio for breakfast.

After breakfast we walked a little over a mile to our group’s other AirBnB. Their view was incredible, overlooking the bright blue waters of the Aegean Sea. We had a pretty low key day — day drinking in the sun and jumping in and out of the “cooling” tub on the back patio. Everyone along the coast had these tubs because it was 95 degrees out!

We walked to lunch, took a few naps and ended up going out for drinks in downtown Santorini (also called Oia) later that night. My brother and his partner went out separately for dinner and around 10PM I got a text that they had gotten engaged at dinner! What an awesome proposal! We met up with them and drank champagne as we walked back to the AirBnB. The night was warm and it was an amazing first day in Santorini.

Wednesday, August 8
Another morning of sleeping in felt good and once again we made breakfast at our AirBnB. (This was actually such a fantastic idea and it saved us a lot of money!)

We rented ATVs with the group and spent the day cruising around the island. We stopped for lunch at a random little gyro place, which was delicious. We drove to the beach and got in the water. We stopped at the oldest winery in Santorini and took a tour and did a tasting.

After the ATV tour we showered and went back to our group’s other AirBnB. We then had THE MOST incredible meal I think I’v ever had. Six courses prepared by a private chef on the patio overlooking the sea. It was such a fun dinner. We drank a lot and laughed even more. After dinner we convinced the chef to meet us out in downtown Oia to show us the nightlife of the island. We met him out and had the best time dancing the night away at a tiny (but packed) dance club in Santorini. It was my favorite day/night of the entire trip. We met so many great people and I remember dancing with and hugging an awesome couple from London. What an amazing experience.

Thursday, August 9
I was really looking forward to this day because we had planned a private boat and snorkeling cruise. This was also my husband and I’s last day before we started heading back early to attend a friend’s wedding. (The rest of the group would be continuing on to Mykonos.)

We spent the day sailing, tanning, napping, snorkeling, drinking and having an all around great time! We were also served a traditional Greek dinner while we watched the sunset. It as an amazing last day on our Greek island.

Friday, August 10
My husband and I got picked up around 5AM from our AirBnB in Santorini. Our flight back to Athens was super bright and early. We arrived in Athens around 8AM and took a cab to our hotel. We stayed at the Athens Holiday Inn and the staff was very friendly and accommodating. We were obviously way early for our 3PM check-in, but they worked hard to get us in our room by 10AM! We were very tired and relieved, so we took a two hour nap. When we woke up we were refreshed and ready to explore for a few more hours before making the trek back home. The wonderful front desk staff explained that we could catch the public bus right outside our hotel. We were a little intimidated since this was our first time trying to go somewhere by ourselves in a foreign country, but we laughed our way through it.

We rode the bus to Syntagma Square and spent a few hours walking around, eating and drinking. We stopped and strolled through the national gardens and saw the Panathenaic Stadium, which was built in the 6th century!! (Our minds were blown.) After our day we rode the bus back to our hotel and packed up everything in preparation for another early flight the next morning.

Saturday, August 11
Early that morning we arrived at the Athens airport and everything appeared to be going as planned. We were flying on Turkish Airlines and had a layover in Istanbul. It was only once we were in Turkey, trying to navigate a completely foreign airport, did we realize our flight to Chicago was delayed by over three hours — making us miss our connection from Chicago to Cleveland 😦

Now we had a terrible experience flying back from Italy two summers ago that involved the Chicago O’Hare airport. So this was just not ironic that we’d have issues around that airport again. In fact, we had joked about this happening a few times on our trip, so when it did actually happen we lost it laughing. But our laughter didn’t last long because Turkey Airlines did NOTHING to help us. We sat at the service counter for two hours trying to explain that we would miss our connecting flight and that we needed to get booked on something else. Finally they claimed their printer was broken and they couldn’t print us any boarding passes and we’d have to deal with it in O’Hare. I think they just couldn’t understand our issue, which was so frustrating and honestly kind of scary. We felt like no one really cared about us not being able to get home…

Finally we boarded the plane in Turkey. (After having to pass through the typical airport security and then again in the terminal. It was actually pretty nerve wracking thinking they were doing all this to protect us, but only because the threat was there.)

We needed alcohol ASAP once we finally boarded the plane in Turkey.

Once we landed in Chicago, we had to relive another nightmare of going through customs and running through the airport — only to be told we missed our flight!! The people working customs were ZERO help. We knew there was a plane leaving Chicago for Cleveland in 35 minutes when we landed, yet the airport workers would not move us to the front of the line. Instead we waited almost two hours and missed the last connecting flight to Cleveland for the day!

Fast forward to us trying to sprint to find an open front desk halfway across the airport, only to have to turn around and go back to customs where the only desk open was closing in 20 minutes. We were then told we would have to stay overnight and they could put us on the next flight — at 8PM the next night. Meaning we would have missed the entire wedding that we had left our trip early for. At one point I cried at the front desk (it still didn’t help our case though). The workers were rude, mean and did little to even sympathize with us. I don’t think one person even apologized! We ended up staying the night in Chicago and bought bus tickets to leave the next morning. (So we went from a 40 minute flight to a six hour bus ride that we had to spend extra money on.) We missed our friend’s wedding ceremony, but made it back for the reception, thankfully.

Having a solid and humorous marriage was crucial to those 36 hours we fought to get home! When I was down and crying, my husband would be the positive one saying it was going to be OK and vice versa when he was the one upset. We look back on the whole situation and just laugh at this point!

Who wants to bet us that the next time we travel to Europe, the third time will be the charm and we won’t have issues getting home? 🙂

Still our traveling troubles didn’t spoil the trip! It was an incredible two week adventure. We were lucky to visit three different countries with our family and make awesome memories. We are blessed!

Finally made it home to our friend’s wedding!

Advertisements