European Adventure IV: Day Three

Today was amazing!!! It was almost completely spent outside of Edinburgh, but that meant that we got to spend time in the countryside – exactly what I pictured when I think of Scotland! 


We decide to head to Stirling, a small town located about an hour’s train ride away from Edinburgh. It is called the Gateway to the Highlands. This was also the original capital of Scotland, and has its own smaller castle built on top of a huge rock. The ride to Stirling was lovely. Once again God blessed us with lovely sunshine.

Upon arriving at Stirling, we got off and decided to head to the visitors center (I needed a map, naturally). Taking a random detour, we walked through Stirling Arcade, a sort of indoor shopping center with all different kinds of shops. On a whim, Nick decided to stop and look at some art in this little store called #hashtag. After taking forever to decide on some painted glass art, we went to the front to cash out.

There we met Pebbles. Pebbles was the lovely woman at the front who started by telling us a little about Stirling, especially about the castle. She was so open and friendly, that I decided to ask her what her thoughts were on the referendum.

As  I wrote briefly yesterday, on September 18, Scots will vote to decide whether or not to end their union with the United Kingdom (England, Wales, and Northern Ireland). As you can imagine there are many implications that go along with this either way the vote swings. Our tour guide from yesterday, Colin, was very undecided. We found that Pebbles was the same, but she was able to give us a very concise and solid prospective, and I have a feeling that her prospective would ring true amongst many of the undecideds in the country.

During our conversation, another Scottish couple came and heard our discussion. They decidedly would be voting “no” come September, saying that they did not want to end unification. It was fun to be standing in the middle of this shop having such a conversation with three strangers.

Being an American, this is such an interesting concept to me, and I’ve spent the last couple of days trying to wrap my head around it. The closest way that I can compare is with Virginia wanting to leave the Union. Obviously, we all know what happened last time they did, but imagine the Federal Government saying that we could leave so long as the majority of Virginians said yes. To finally have something that so many people and fought for in the past. There seems to be so much propaganda out there in the market, and the majority of it, as we discovered from Pebbles, is around the mounds of money that will come Scots way if they vote “yes.”

Pebbles was lovely, and gave us such a warm welcome to Stirling in particular, and Scotland in general. We spent about an hour in her shop talking about a wide range of things from Obama to hillbilly Australians who drink horrible beer. I made her and Nick take a picture so that you all would be able to meet her as well.

Nick with Pebbles, our new Scottish friend

Nick with Pebbles, our new Scottish friend


Next we walked up a very steep hill to Stirling Castle. The view was amazing!! Standing there on the top of the Lady’s Walk, surrounded by such unspoilt beauty, I spent a prayer of thanksgiving to God. First that He got us here safe and sound, second that He allowed us to travel at all, and third that He took His time to make such an amazingly beautiful world for us to live in. He did not have to do that, but He did for our benefit. I was in awe.

Nick and Jess on the Lady's Walk

Nick and Jess on the Lady’s Walk

We walked around Stirling Castle, but I mainly came back to the views. This was where Mary Queen of Scots used to live, and Stirling itself is near two key battles of the wars of Scottish Independence. One featuring William Wallace (Mel Gibson in Braveheart), and the second Robert the Bruce.


After walking back down the hill, two things were happening. I was getting really hungry – it was somehow 3:00pm already and we’d seriously missed lunch – and my feet were starting to really hurt. It’s not a good sign when my feet hurt two days into a European Adventure…

Nick and I grabbed some lunch at the Pizza Express, I went and got a mani in the mall next door while he looked at nerd stuff, and then we found ourselves speeding back to Edinburgh so content with the day.

On our way to dinner we stopped by the Waterstone’s. I think Waterstone’s is my favorite bookstore in the WORLD. The atmosphere is lovely, and they’re really good at curating different books throughout store as recommendations to read.

After spending way too much money there, we headed to dinner at this delicious Thai restaurant that had an amazing view of Edinburgh Castle on the fourth floor. It was nice way to soak up our last night in Scotland.

Another lovely day in Europe. Definitely my favorite day on the trip so far!

UP NEXT: Prague! A new city, a new language, a new currency. 

European Adventure IV: Day Two

I’m officially in love with Scotland! Though we had a bit of a rough start to the trip, we felt fully redeemed wandering around the city today. The sun was shining! This, apparently, is not normal. Our tour guide asked us what the odd glowing orb in the sky was.


Usually the first morning on a trip I sleep until about 2:00pm local time. Then I’m irritated that I’ve lost so much time in the city. I decided to try things differently this time. I made the decision to commit to getting 12 hours of sleep the first night, and trying to start the day by mid-morning on the first full day in Scotland. This majorly paid off because we were up and running around the city by 10:00am, having already breakfasted.

Our adventure today was going to take us to Leith. Leith is a very small town about a 30 minute bus ride from the Edinburgh city centre seated on the North Sea. I didn’t know what I expected, but I found a lovely seaside town. It didn’t at all have the hustle and bustle of Edinburgh, and the views of the water were so nice.

Nick and I were both a bit startled by the pedestrians in Edinburgh. There would be a huge double-decker barreling towards them and they wouldn’t even flinch! We spent half of the bus trip cringing and thinking that if any of those people tried to cross the street like that in the US, they’d be hit!

View of the water in Leith

View of the water in Leith


Last year in Budapest, I seriously enjoyed the free walking tour and was able to find one in Edinburgh as well. After making our way back to the city centre and walking up a seriously big hill, we found ourselves on a walking tour with our awesome guide Colin. His accent was amazing. I loved every time he said “Edinburrragh.”

The tour took us on a loop through Old Town. Edinburgh is split into two sections, Old Town and New Town. New Town isn’t that incredibly new, but it’s so much newer than Old Town. I like Old Town much better, it’s got some good character, and is built on an extinct volcano. I don’t think it gets much cooler than that!

One of the cool things we learned was that JK Rowling wrote the first two Harry Potter books in Edinburgh. We went to the cafe where the penniless writer wrote the blockbuster novels, and even walked around what was her inspiration. Behind the cafe, there’s this old Kirk (Scots for church), that has the most peaceful cemetery that I’ve ever been to. Several of the residents have names that Rowling took and included her in books including McGonagall and Thomas Riddle. There’s also this amazing view of Edinburgh Castle sitting in this mountain of a hill in the background that could easily have been the influence for Hogwarts. I could have sat there and journaled all day.

Jess in Greyfrariers Cemetery

Jess in Greyfrariers Cemetery


After the tour was over, we made our way to New Town to make sure that we explored that part of the city a bit. It was a waste of time! Don’t get me wrong, it’s lovely, but kind of a downer after spending a day and half in Old Town. All of the buildings are in a lovely Georgian style, but was so was Bath, England, and I liked it much better there.

After walking around in New Town, we made our way across the street from our hotel to the Red Squirrel. I had a lamb burger that was amazing! It was the perfect size meal and hit the spot in such a lovely way.

Now we’re sitting in the lounge, soaking up the mood music and looking over our pictures for the day. I find that I like Edinburgh a little better than London. The city is at such a different pace, and the Scottish just seem to be less arrogant then the English. The mood in the city is at an interesting place because on September 18, the entire country will vote on whether or not to separate from the United Kingdom. There doesn’t seem to be an overwhelming decision either way, and the uncertainty gives the city a certain feel. I love that I got to be here before this decision, which will surely change this country either way.

Overall quite a lovely day.

UP NEXT: Well, I don’t know! We have a few options. We can go on a day tour of the Borderlands, or we can hike up Arthur’s Seat and do a small day trip somewhere outside the city. Decisions, decisions! 

London Mini-break: Day 1

I know what you’re thinking: she’s in London again? Well, yes, yes I am. I happen to love traveling and London is my second favorite place in the entire world (the first is home, naturally). I’ve got a vacation time and I’m a good saver so I decided to do it. And drag my brother, Nicholas with me as well.

The theme around this mini-break (a very British word on its own) is to just enjoy London. It’s not my usual exploration expedition or cram-as-many-things-into-the-day as possible trips. I want to spend time in the city, go back to some of my favorite places, and finally take some time to see things that Londoners do, just tourists to London.

The first great step in this was to not stay in West London. It’s a super posh (read: expensive), super popular side of town. Kind of like the Upper East Side of New York. While we’ll be spending one night there due to cheap hotelness we’re spending the first two nights in East London which is a lot more trendy, and has a bit more grudge to it. Kind of like Brooklyn without a lot of the distance. It’s also the major financial part of the city.

Okay, here we go.


If there’s anything I learned in the European Adventure early this year, it’s that to maximize your time on the first day in the city, you have to knock yourself out on the flight. Earlier this week on December 3-4 I had been in Detroit for work, Greenbuild was less than two weeks ago, and I was traveling over the ocean to London on December 5. It was knock out time. Our flight was delayed (which pushed EVERTHING back) but we were still able to get on the plane much faster than we were expecting.

Once one the Boeing 777 – British Airways, of course – I made sure we were in the air and popped Advil PM for Nick and I. That stuff is magic!


I don’t know what British border control has for judging me while I’m trying to get through the process. Last time it was the woman who was absolutely shocked that I was in London holiday by myself, this time the man was appalled that we had travel so long for a mere four day mini-break. I explained that there was a reason why I called it a mini-break. I did make an effort to remove as much attitude from my voice as possible.

Nick also had trouble. They almost didn’t let him through because they were convinced he wasn’t old enough. All I saw was him point at me, say “that’s my sister,” and “no, I’m actually 22.” That baby face is usually good for some stories.


The major downside of being in East London is that it made the Tube ride much longer than it’s been in the past. We had to go all the way across Central London to get to our hotel. I just enjoyed being back on the Tube again.

Our hotel is located right by the tube stop which was nice. It’s also so pretty! Nick and I have a lovely room on the second floor of this 5 star hotel.

After resting for a few minutes, we then started exploring East London. I couldn’t go through the whole trip without exploring something – we just explored less than usual.


The exploration started with me thinking I’d forgot the battery to my new lovely camera at home. By God’s amazing grace, I was able to find it in another bag. Whew! We had lunch at Canteen which is a totally British restaurant. It was a nice welcome back London. I had bacon, eggs, and bubble and squeeze (known in America as hash browns.) I also had a lovely cup of tea!

After lunch, we explored the Gherkin which is a famous building in London due to the architecture, went to the Petticoat Lane Market where I found this fabulous dress, walked pass the Tower of London, and the Tower Bridge.

Jess at the Tower Bridge

Jess at the Tower Bridge

After taking our million pictures, we then walked along the river and looked at the South Bank. There’s a new building called the Shard the tallest building in London that is completely finally. We walked around the London bridge then and explored the Borough Market. This is a lovely food market, kind of like an outdoor version of Reading Terminal market in Philadelphia for those who have been. While we didn’t get any food, we did get some mulled wine which was warm and delicious!

Borough Market

Borough Market


We then walked past the New Globe theatre. The original one the housed Shakespeare had burned down. To warm up, we went inside to the Tate Modern, mostly to explore the gift shops! After that we walked across the Millennium Bridge and tubed to West London to Earls Court to eat dinner at the delicious Italian restaurant with the horrible service that we enjoyed last year. While the food was still amazing, the service had much improved.

We didn’t make it back to the hotel until 10:30pm. The Tube was packed with London out enjoying their Friday.

Up Next: Hatfield House! I naturally have to go see an old house before we leave the country. Also, it’s time to do some Christmas shopping.

American Adventure: Florida Keys – Day 4

Last day in Florida! While the last day on a vacation usually makes me sad, I have to admit that I was glad to get back to civilization. The hotel was much more busy with families on weekend leisure travel, but it was still pretty lifeless.

Nick and I got up the earliest that we’d gotten up the entire trip and walked around the resort taking pictures. The sun had just risen and it was a lovely day!

sunrise at the resort

sunrise at the resort

After leaving the resort, we spent the next few hours getting closer and closer to civilization. We saw our first Starbucks in Homestead, Florida on the other side of the Everglades. We grabbed brunch at Cracker Barrel. It was so delicious!

After a mandatory stop at a Barnes & Noble in a suburb of Miami, we made our way back to South Beach. We stopped by the Apple store for Nick and we sat on the beach for awhile for me! We then drove back to the airport for home.

jess at the beach

jess at the beach

When we landed back in DC, it was 40 degrees.

Afternoon at Oatlands Plantation

| Oatlands Plantation |

On a lovely Saturday afternoon in September, Kimberly and I continued our tours of the grand old mansions of the Washington, DC area. This trip took us to Oatlands Planation, just outside Leesburg, Virginia. Having exhausted all of the homes in the city, the time had come for us to branch out.

The nice thing about having to move outside of the city is that you get to see the amazing pieces of land that these homes were placed on. I thoroughly enjoyed the house because it was a lovely yellow color, and it was unique looking house considering the time period that it was built in. Also, I may have a black thumb, but I’m a sucker for a good garden, and this one was lovely.

The house also had some pretty good history, but I’ll be honest and say that it changed hands so many times that I lost track per early during the tour. If you have the time, and would like the drive, you should definitely go out there. Old Town Leesburg is only about ten minutes away and is a great place for some food and shopping post tour. Make sure to go on a day when the whether is nice so that you can enjoy the gardens.

I Love: Montreal

Sorry, I don’t have the skillz for that accent that should go over that e. My keyboard is already acting up. Grrr!

ANYWAY! Montreal is a lovely city. Full of oldness, newness, and Frenchness. I’ll admit to being an obnxious American and making fun of Cananda, but after this trip I don’t know that I can do tha anymore. Maybe I’ll feel definitely after visiting Toronto. ; )

I spent a lot of time in Old Montreal and near the seaport. Old Montreal seems to be so authenic, and while I agree that it’s old, I feel like it’s a tourist trap. Why do I say that? Well, because all of the shops there are little tourist gift shops. Various amounts of merchandise with the word Montreal written all over them while they’re made in China. It was irritating, yet quaint. I think I’d go back. Maybe to be able to explore more, maybe not.


Want to see pictures?

I Love: Turner Classic Movies

TCM does Summer Under the Stars every August, highlighting a different star every day. It’s a great way to see some movies that you’ve maybe never seen from some of your favorite classic actors. Sorry, you already missed Cary Grant on August 9 ; )
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