After one month in Montenegro, we were ready for the big city! We were thrilled to arrive in London for one week before continuing our month-long journey through the UK, stopping in the Cotswolds for some country time, a week in Wales, and then driving north to Edinburgh, Scotland for Christmas week before ending the year on the Isle of Skye. We had a lot ahead of us!
So, of course, our UK adventure began with a delayed connection through Zagreb, Croatia that had us sprinting through the Frankfurt airport from one terminal to the next, huffing and puffing as we flagged down the bus to get us to our connection, barely making it to our plane, and then finally arriving in London in the dark...we'd made it!
But our checked luggage did not. Once again, we were glad we have Apple AirTags on all of our luggage because as soon as we landed, we could see that three of our bags were still about 400 miles away, so we went right to the lost luggage counter, filled out the paperwork, and headed to our apartment with the bags we carried with us.
We were staying in Notting Hill for the week, a favorite part of the city because it feels like a little town in the middle of the big city and is so easy to get around from the Notting Hill Gate Underground station.
Of course, that doesn't mean we didn't have our transportation challenges, but thanks to the lovely assistance of our local caped and flowered Underground helper, Alexis, we not only saved money on our fares by buying smart, but we also always got where we were going! It was like having a Mary Poppins of the Underground looking out for us - and her very British "I can help, me-loves!" always made us smile. We don't usually use a ton of public transportation when traveling, but in London it was fast, easy, and convenient, and we were quick converts.
Before leaving our Notting Hill neighborhood on Saturday morning, we enjoyed our first scones with jam and clotted cream at Cheeky Scone, they were just out of the oven - warm and delicious! Joe became a big fan, earning himself the nickname Joey Scones from then on. Then we followed the people walking on the sidewalk to discover a bunch of little kids playing violin in a Christmas concert - right on the street leading to the Portobello Road Market. We listened to some squeaky but adorable carols before heading toward the market's tables and stalls of antiques, vintage cameras, record albums, and other secondhand stuff. We went away empty handed, but it was so much fun to browse this storied Notting Hill market.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a city that does the holidays like London. It was all sparkly lights and decorations, Christmas markets and festivity everywhere we went. From Covent Garden shopping to Somerset House ice skating to the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland, and just about every street in between, we were filled with Christmas spirit. We even found a pop-up bar with indoor curling being played right in the middle of the Southbank Centre Winter Festival. So cool!
In addition to the holiday vibe, we made sure to spend time doing typically London things, like visiting the Tate Modern, exploring St. Paul's Cathedral, walking through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, and checking out the newly refurbished Big Ben. There was so much to do, we'd set out every morning and not return until evening, discovering lots of unexpected things going on everywhere we went (like a children's chorus singing carols in Trafalgar Square). While the weather may be dreary, December is a great month to visit London because in addition to the year round must-see and do activities, there are so many fun seasonal things going on.
We were celebrating Joe's birthday in London, so we did a surprise crawl around some of London's speakeasies, including Evans & Peele Detective Agency, BYOC Camden, and Purl. Our incredible cocktail creators treated us to drinks with sorbet, smoke, fire, even a conch shell with an anchovy inside and a balloon that floated above a drink before popping and diffusing rose water into the glass.
We enjoyed them all but mostly Purl for its creativity and BYOC Camden for its BYO bottle concept - we brought a bottle of gin with us, and the bartender made us five different types of drinks and they were all delicious! Definitely give them a try, but reservations are required. Clarette, where we had his birthday dinner, is right near Purl, so it makes for a great night of cocktails and fabulous food. Finally, no visit to London would be complete without enjoying a show, so we headed to the theater to see Mama Mia! and sing along to Abba. Whew! We had a bunch more things we wanted to do (visit the National Gallery, stroll through Regent's Park, to name a few) but we ran out of time, so we are planning to go back!
London was a packed week, so we headed to the Cotswolds for some R&R. A two hour drive from London, the Cotswolds region in central-southwest England is the epitome of every picture-perfect, idyllic small town you can imagine. Our hotel, The Rectory in Crudwell (population just over 1,000), was an actual church rectory designed to house the rector's 14 children. With its fireplaces and cozy sofas, it was the perfect antidote to London. And that The Potting Shed Pub was a short walk to down the street was also a nice little plus!
We spent the next five days driving around rolling green hills and little villages with stone homes and rivers that wound around them. While the area is stunning, there isn't much to do but take in the beautiful landscape and stroll the towns, but that was fine with us...because after the Cotswolds we were headed to Cardiff, Wales.
Just a two-hour drive from the Cotswolds, Cardiff is the capital and largest city in Wales (a country with fewer than 500,000 people). We always got the same reaction from people in Cardiff - what are you doing here? Apparently, not that many people visit Cardiff or Wales, but we found it to be beautiful, if small and quiet. Wales actually has more castles per square mile than any other European country, which shouldn't have surprised us considering Cardiff Castle (and its 2000 years of history) is right in the middle of the city!
We drove outside of Cardiff to see the 700-year old Castle Coch and Caerphilly Castle (the second largest castle in Britain, Windsor is the largest) and saw beautiful fields dotted with sheep, sheep and more sheep! It was exactly what we wanted from Wales!
We also hiked in Brecon Beacons National Park after stopping for lunch at a food truck parked in the middle of nowhere. Brilliant and lucky! We were in Wales during some cold weather, so we got to see both the green fields and the snow-covered hills, which made for a great contrast and beautiful views.
December in Wales meant that we experienced all sorts of weather in a single day - rain, snow, sun, clouds, clear blue skies and cold winds. We bundled up and explored the shoreline along Cardiff Bay and small towns where we sat at outside cafes to enjoy hot chocolate and a brownie or two. We also discovered our favorite take-away from our time in Wales - traditional Welsh cakes. These sweet cakes reminded us of part pancake, part scone, dotted with currants and sprinkled with sugar. Amazing!!!! If we ever stay long enough in one place to bake, we will be making some of these! They're incredible!
After our time in Wales, we drove back into England and stopped in Manchester for a few nights, a great place to watch the FIFA World Cup matches and the thrilling final between Argentina and France, which was lots of fun and filled with super enthusiastic fans, but other than that we found it to be pretty much a typical city (sorry, Manchester!). We were ready to say goodbye to England and continue driving north to our next UK destination, Scotland. We enjoyed our time in England and Wales and looked forward to discovering how different (or similar) we'd find Scotland, from the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh to the highlands and isles.
On the M6 motorway to Glasgow we discovered one final British gem...a roadside service stop in Orton operated by a Cumbrian farming family. This was no ordinary highway gas-food-rest stop, it was a full-on farm shop and kitchen with a butchery, local cheeses, bakery, homemade roasts...all from local purveyors and right on the motorway. We spent way too much time browsing and ogling the selection of food before selecting our lunch and getting back in the car and on our way.
While December may be an odd month to travel across England and Wales, it was quiet and beautiful and festive, and the people were so happy to have visitors. Now on to Scotland!
Enjoy a taste of our travels with drink recipes on Instagram - Worldwide.Cocktails.
Interested in perfecting your travel photography...while you travel? Our wonderful and talented Italian friend, photographer Linda Scuizzato, is offering a 4 night/3 day travel and photography excursion that includes Vicenza, Venice and Verona. Join Linda and London-based photographer Chiara Luxardo to perfect your photography, enjoy stunning Italy, and have fun! We love Linda and are sure you will, too (and we wish we could attend but we'll be traveling in Türkiye)! Veneto's Gems: An authentic travel and photography experience is taking place 17th to 20th April 2023. Learn more here.
A few of Linda's photos to get you excited!