London was wonderful but I fell absolutely in love with Scotland😊
Note: This blog is extra special because Im sharing my daughters' account of our trip on days 4 to 7.
We just arrived back from our trip to the United Kingdom and I’m sharing our experience before and during the trip. We we’re lucky to have visited England and Scotland, and my sister-from-another-mother HG joined us in this trip and brought us to UK’s countryside which, by the way, is so amazing!
So, to start off, here’s what we did to get UK Visitor Visa from Saudi Arabia.
1. Research, research. We found all the UK Visa- related information thru this LINK
2. Eligibility requirements – Checked! Our passports are valid for the whole duration of our planned visit to the UK.
3. Applied for UK Visa online and paid the applicable fees (2nd Feb 2022). We paid total of 133 USD for each applicant. You may use this LINK to apply for visitor visa.
The application process for a visitor visa to the United Kingdom is fairly simple and straightforward. Since we submitted all the requirements online, we were not asked to submit hard copies at the VFS anymore. We only had to go through fingerprinting protocol. It barely took two weeks from submitting our application online until our C- Type Multiple Entry UK Visa was issued on 22nd Feb 2022 which is valid for 6 months.
Finding the best flight tickets from Riyadh to United Kingdom
My husband and I used free reward miles from Saudi Airlines for this trip, so we only had to book flight tickets for our kids. To search and compare flight tickets, we always search thru the Skyscanner website, otherwise we book thru ACE Travel where one of our close friends work as a travel consultant. There are a lot of flight ticket options from Riyadh to London – the key is to book as early as you can to get the best bargain.
Vacation mode on!
We scheduled our trip during the Eid Al Ftir holiday in Saudi Arabia. Visiting United Kingdom for the first time is electrifying. I have hysterically put together a bucket list in my head and I could hardly wait to start packing. But planning a UK Itinerary can be overwhelming, especially that I had to consider hardly 9 days of travel. I was hoping to visit as many cities as possible and perhaps cover all the four (4) countries in the UK (it would be so nice to add all four to my growing list of 50 countries (goal) before I turn 50 y/o – but that’s for another blog). But looking at the UK map and actually considering how vast the UK is, I knew I just have to pick two (2) countries for now. So, there it is—England and Scotland in this trip.
All the places I’ve been wanting to see plus all the people I wanted to meet with and of course, the many food I wanted to try. I got two months to plan the ultimate UK trip for my family.
We arrived at Heathrow Airport at 6:45am and took the underground tube to King’s Cross. London’s transport system is very massive and convenient. We booked one night at King’s Cross Hotel which is very accessible to the train station. Since it was still early for check in, they kept our luggage for us, while we headed for breakfast in Central London. We got ourselves a Day Trip Ticket which can be used for all modes of transportation in London. More information about London transport system thru this LINK.
In order to cover most of London’s tourist spots and must places to visit, we have booked a historical walking tour at the city center. Our tour guide’s name was Griffin. He was friendly and cheerful and had an American accent which was noticeable but nonetheless he delivered a fantastic tour. We started off from Covent Garden, walking all the way around central London through the homes of the Queen and Prince Charles, Buckingham and St James’s Palaces, the stunning Westminster Abbey which is the site of royal coronations, weddings, and funerals. We learned about Guy Fawkes and his attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament, looked up at the iconic Big Ben, Nelson’s Column on Trafalgar Square, heard about Winston Churchill outside the Churchill War Rooms, and strolled down the famous Horse Guards Parade.
We went back to the hotel to check in then went out again for lunch. We spent the rest of the day exploring around the central London, admiring the Tower of London, Tower and bridge, and the many amazing buildings at the south bank side of the city.
We were thrilled the next day waking up to bright blue skies. We spent the morning walking around King’s Cross district, Camden Town and Russel Square Gardens heading to the British Museum.
At 2pm, we we’re at King’s Cross Train Station for our 4.5H trip to Edinburgh thru LNER’s Azuma Train. The train ride from London to Edinburgh was smooth and enjoyable. Seated facing forward on the right side of the train gave us a very good view of the countryside on our way to Scotland. There were a lot of windmill farms, sheep herds, and rapeseed fields along the way. The ride over a distance of 332 miles (534 km) passed by rather quickly.
It was drizzling when we reached Waverley Train Station at Edinburgh, Scotland. We checked in at Holiday Inn Express Edinburgh City Centre which was located just a few blocks from train station. Since it was raining quite heavily, we just had dinner at a nearby restaurant and we all signed off for the day.
We were up early the next day ready to conquer the capital of Scotland. The buffet breakfast at the Holiday Inn was plentiful. We were blessed with a sunny day (though a bit of clouds here and there) which was rare in Scotland, as we were told. We had a quick breakfast on the way to our meet-up place for the tour. We had 3 hours to go about before the tour.
On our way to the old town, I fell absolutely in love with Scotland. It was early morning and everyone we walk pass by in the street was smiling. From here on, I realized that the vibe was so different in London where most people are just straight (poker?)- faced or serious. In Edinburgh, it was different. Everyone was in friendly mood, ready to answer any question you might have. Then there’s the famed Royal Mile - nestled in between the shops, restaurants, bars, and pubs are closes, wynds and pends leading to hidden, tranquil gardens, striking views over the city and pubs and cafes just waiting to be revealed. Filled with fragments and artefacts of the past mixed with the contemporary, this is Old Edinburgh, blending adorably with the 21st century.
Yet don’t get me started talking out the buildings at the Old Town! It was like someone has cut them from old history books and spread them over the famed Royal Mile. The area has a series of medieval streets, narrow paths and dead ends converging on both sides of it like a whole fishbone. And then there’s Edinburgh castle at the top for which we have booked a separate tour for, and the Camera Obscura at the Castlehill and so many others!
Our hearts were filled, and our minds overwhelmed even before the official tour started. We met our tour guide named Eva at 11:00. She’s a charming, pretty, witty lady who had a lot of funny and quirky stories to share about every little nook and building at the Old Town. We wandered up the Royal Mile (again) and Victoria Street, visiting St Giles Cathedral and some other major landmarks like Telfer Wall – part of the ancient Edinburgh fortification; Surgeons' Hall Museums; Mary Kings Close, the National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street (where my family headed to right after the tour); Greyfriars Bobby's Statue – a tribute to self-sacrificing loyalty; Greyfriars Church – one of the oldest structures in the Old Town (1630); and many more.
We also found out about William Wallace, and Grassmarket stories including that of Margaret (or Maggie) Dickson, and the stone of destiny. To say the least, just thinking about such abundance of attractions in this part of Edinburgh seemed very tiring already even before you start sightseeing.
Ending our tour up at Greyfriars Bobby's Statue, we decided to visit the National Museum of Scotland which is just across the (same) street. Most of the museums in the UK offer free entrance, though they rightly ask for donations. Surprisingly, the museum isn't just about Scottish history but covers different cultures and customs around the world plus natural wonders, art and design, science, and technology – all under one roof. It’s also a sweet little spot for one of Edinburgh’s hidden gems - a terrace with gorgeous views across Edinburgh with a little cafe perfect for afternoon tea or coffee.
After a quick (late) lunch at Civerinos Slice (pizza, obviously), we headed up to the Edinburgh Castle for our next tour. Edinburgh Castle, which has been the subject of decades of conflict among Scots and Englishmen, today stands courageously as an emblem of Scotland and the crowning jewel of Edinburgh. We had lots of fun exploring and it was surprising to see how many different parts there were to it once we got inside. The animated events, immersive projections, and display of old-fashioned artefacts dug up from within the Castle were either intriguing or inspiring, mostly both.
It’s a cluster of buildings rather than just one big building. It is gorgeously kept, inside and out – not like the usual castle ruins. As per our guide, the royal family still use it today, although no longer as a residence.
Being one of the oldest fortified places in Europe with a rich and 900-year long history, it has been as a royal dwelling, military garrison, prison, and fortress. As we were leaving, I somehow felt that we rushed through our 3-hour tour and that there’s still so much to see inside the Edinburgh Castle.
It was almost 7pm but the sky is still well lit.so we decided to walk down to the other end of the Royal Mile. We went inside St GIles Cathedral and checked out the story of Jenny Geddes.
We continued walking towards the Palace of Holyrood house which is Queen Elizabeth's official royal residence in the center of Edinburgh. Unfortunately, it was already closed when we reached the gate. We passed by the new Parliament Building (which, by the way, looks like an oddly placed structure in historical Edinburgh) and sat down along St Margaret's Loch which is a shallow man-made loch home to swans and ducks. It was peaceful looking over Salisbury Crags, admiring the stunning Scottish landscape after such a long, lovely day.
We checked out from Holiday Inn then took the nearby Tram heading to Ingliston, Scotland. We met Ms. HG who promised us an unforgettable trip to UK’s countryside. We packed our stuff onto her car and drove westside of Scotland.
Our first stop was at 1:30pm at the viewpoint in Colintraive-Glendaruel, Tighnabruaich- a quaint little village in Argyll and Bute, Scotland. Next stop was at a small coffee shop at Holy Loch Marina before boarding on a ferry at Dunoon.
We took another break at 1:30pm at the viewpoint in Colintraive-Glendaruel, Tighnabruaich- a quaint little village in Argyll and Bute, Scotland. We reached Portavadie Marina at 2:30pm where we’ve finally met Becca Boo.
Sailing with Becca Boo
BECCA BOO is a Sailing Vessel and is sailing under the flag of United Kingdom. Im not an expert on boats or sailing but I can say she is a medium-sized boat, approximately 10m long and 2 meters wide. First time seeing her at the marina, my first impression is that Becca Boo radiates elegance and sheer beauty.
We had so much fun with Becca Boo. It was such a privilege sailing with Ms. HG from Portavadie to Tarbert and back on such a calm, sunny day. I wondered how our ancestors braved the waters during the ancient times over long journeys.
I admire Ms. HG for being so accommodating and patient with us, teaching my husband and kids to navigate and maneuver Becca Boo enroute our destination.
We reached the southern shore of Tarbert at 4:30pm and parked Becca Boo at the harbor. Tarbert is a small, quiet fishing village in the western side of Scotland. It was a day after UK’s bank holiday, so the village center was extra quiet, and most shops were closed.
We hiked up the hill along the shore of East Loch Tarbert to see the ruins of the Tarbert castle. The view of Scotland's west coast and the Welsh mountains from the top of the hill was spectacular.
We left Tarbert at 6pm and sailed towards Portavadie. We checked in at one of the self-catering accommodations at Loch Fyne. We stayed at Cottage No. 4 which was right in front of the marina. Everything in and about the cottage was perfect. The rooms are big, kitchen and living room are well-equipped. There's even a porch outside to either chill/ drink/ eat by the waterfront or simply enjoy the incredible panoramic views of the Loch.
Day 5 (Accounted by Alia Daniele)
On the fifth day we had an early first-class breakfast at the Loch Fyne Restaurant. We tried their Full Scottish breakfast with traditional Scottish “tattie” potato scones. We also had Smoked Haddocks and poached eggs which were fantastic.
After strolling down by the marina and buying some souvenirs at the Loch Fyne shop, we checked out from the resort, hoping that our road trip would take us to Liverpool by afternoon.
Our first stop was at Largs, Scotland along the west coast a few miles after Glasgow. Located on the Firth of Clyde, Largs is a charming Scottish seaside resort, complete with Victorian promenade and a handful of ice cream parlors and shops. The town is famed by its Vikings heritage having been on a battle in 1263 when the Vikings, attempting to land from a fleet of longboats, were repulsed by the army of Alexander III. We took photos alongside the Viking statues and tried their local ice cream too.
Next stop for a chance to stretch our legs and grab a bite was at Tebay Farmshop Southbound in Orton, Cumbria, England. They offered fresh food from their own farms including cakes and pastries which we enjoyed at our hearts' delight.
Arriving in Liverpool at 8pm we checked in at the Novotel - City Center hotel to be greeted by a very warm and friendly receptionist named Louise. We stayed at the hotel for a few minutes to rest and freshen up a bit. It was drizzling, but we still managed to take a stroll at the nearby waterfront.
There were a lot of attractions in the city center and the walk towards the Liverpool waterfront turned out very entertaining than we expected. It's like a mixture of old and new worlds. There are so many tall and colorful modern glass made buildings and then there's a lot of ancient looking structures as well. As we approached the docks, proceeding to the Pier Head we came across many sculptures, buildings such as 3 Graces - Liver, Cunard, and Port of Liverpool Buildings and of course, the Mersey Ferry which were a feast for the eyes. Such wonderful architecture. There were plenty of other interesting structures, artifacts, and historical displays in the area, it was like walking in an open-air museum. Finally, we didn't miss taking photos with the bronze Beatles quartet statue before we headed back to our hotel for dinner.
Day 6 (Accounted by Alia Daniele)
On our sixth day in UK, we woke up to a rainy day in Liverpool, which was something I was happy and sad about because as a person coming from Saudi you don't get enough of rain, so it was kind of euphoric seeing rain (sometimes). We had a sumptuous buffet breakfast at Novotel, and we were definitely stuffed!
We checked out at the hotel and continue our road trip towards Herefordshire which is a county in the West Midlands of England which is the hometown of Ms. HG.
Our first stop was at the Cotebrook Shire Horse Centre in Tarporley, United Kingdom. According to Ms. HG, she had always wanted to visit the shire center herself but didn't get the chance to before. It was still raining hard, but we knew that we would not be passing along the same road during our trip, we decided to push through our visit to the shires. The friendly receptionist was kind enough to lend us huge umbrellas, so we won't get ourselves wet roaming around the farm.
The Shire is a British breed of draught horse usually black, bay, or grey. It is a tall breed, and Shires have at various times held world records both for the largest horse and for the tallest horse. The shires we saw were rather cute having massive feet (or lower legs). We saw at least ten shires, two of them are studs. There were also other wild and farm animals inside the sanctuary like otters, red foxes (which btw were orange), red squirrels, a mother pig with her piglets, peacocks, deer and of course the cute fluffy white owl. Then there was a black and white cat that came to us and was really friendly; she insisted that we pet her and boy! She was soft and cute. After petting and trying to communicate with the horses (and cat) and while it was still raining, we went back to the shop onto the cafe inside and had a light snack. Coffee with cherry pie was great. We also tried their cheesy baked potato which was also good.
We continued on our road trip and stopped by The Willeymoor Lock Tavern Canalside Tushingham Whitchurch Llangollen Canal. I had to google the name as it is impossible to remember. We had the chance to see how a narrow boat passes through a tiny canal. The (water) gate has to be locked (and opened on the other side) so water could be up to suitable level for the boat to pass by onto the river. Such a seemingly complicated process but definitely an interesting place to learn about canal history. Indeed, it has been a memorable experience having witnessed the very mechanics of how boatmen go through canal to reach the other side of the river. Complicated, yes, but was very cool and smart. We also got to know why some people live in their boats or why they like to sail.
Our next stop was at the Iron Bridge which is a cast iron arch bridge that crosses the River Severn in Shropshire, England. The old bridge has been fully restored and people can easily pass through it for great views up and down the river. Opened in 1781, it was the first major bridge in the world to be made of cast iron and it has been a symbol of the Industrial Revolution in the world. Pretty spectacular for a bridge and it is worth visiting for a little bit of history.
Our ride continued through Telford along the River Severn, passing by Wrekin Hill, and enjoying the sight of yellow rapeseed fields while listening to local stories from Ms. HG. Our next stop was at Bridgnorth, a small historical village sitting high on a sandstone cliff by the Severn Valley. We walked around town appreciating the colorful cherry and apple blossoms and a lot of flowering plants painting the rather quiet town with many different colors. The afternoon was well spent visiting Bridgnorth Castle, Cliff Railway Governor's House, Houses in the East and West Castle Street, Upton Cresset, Bridgnorth Town Hall, and St Leonard's Church (where Ms. HG' s parents wedding took place).
It was getting dark while we drove towards Herefordshire. We had a hefty dinner at a local pub called Salwey Arms in Woofferton, Ludlow. They had wonderful, very delicious food in huge servings. After dinner we headed to Bodenham Forge for the night. Much like a secluded, self-catering accommodation, our apartment was very sophisticatedly decorated, and everything was perfectly clean. Interestingly, the place used to be an old stable and the owner turned it into housing right beside the river and in a farmland with a flock of sheep. The sound of flowing river, chirping birds, and playing squirrels and a lot of beautiful flowers added to a very memorable and relaxing stay.
Day 7 (Accounted by Aisha Naomi)
We had a good rest at Bodenham, and after breakfast at the cabin, we were ready for another lovely day at Hereford. We parked MS HG' s car near Waitrose, and we walked along the old market towards the Hereford Cathedral. There was some sort of carnival (or festival?) for families and quite a lot of people were strolling in the vibrant city center.
We went inside the lovely Hereford Cathedral where we came to know a lot of history about the town and the people who used to inhabit the place. The cathedral grounds and the church itself looked very well maintained, holding all sorts of delights, both ancient and modern. The stained-glass windows are beautiful. It felt very serene inside, almost totally humbling. We lighted some candles and whispered our deepest prayers. It was such a blessing to reach this far part of the world together with my family and Ms. HG.
We found The Yorkshire Wrap around the corner and decided to try their food. They served us tasty pork roast and turkey roast on gigantic Yorkshire pudding plates with cranberry sauce and apple sauce. We also tried their sausages and potato roast and vegetables which were delicious.
We want back to the Bodenham Forge to take our luggage as we need to board the train back to London at 3pm. We passed by Gould Family's residence in Hereford to visit her mom and sister's family. It was heartwarming and fun. We had a quick chat before heading to the Milford Haven train station.
We arrived in London around 7pm and because it was rush hour we decided to go directly to our hotel. We checked in at Belgrove Hotel around 9pm, freshened up a bit and then went out for dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant called The Bamboo Inn. They served tasty dishes like spicy Szechuan chicken, and sweet and sour chicken which we enjoyed. The chicken fried rice was also good, and they provided a big serving - a perfect meal to cap off a long day.
Day 8 (Accounted by Aisha Naomi)
I waited long enough for this day to come. My parents promised us "shopping day" on the second to our last day in the UK. However, my sister probably was overly tired from our trip to the countryside, caught fever and colds, so she had to stay at the hotel to rest.
So, I went with my parents for shopping in London. We went directly to Oxford Street which, according to several vlogs we've seen, is the shopping paradise in London. And boy we were not disappointed! All the brands you could think of has a branch at Oxford Street. We found Gap, River Island, Primark, X, and the UK's iconic department stores, including Selfridges, John Lewis & Partners, House of Fraser, and very massive Marks & Spencer. My parents shopped at Uniqlo, Sports Direct and Asics. I bought a few BTS albums from SOKOLAB. We went to the Theatre District to buy some Harry Potter souvenirs from the House of Spells. We ate Korean corndogs from Bunsik which was really popular among K-pop fans.
My sister was feeling better during the late afternoon, so we picked her up from the hotel. We passed by the Piccadilly Square which was pretty crowded. We watch performers at the Leicester Square, tried Taiyaki ice cream and had a buffet late lunch in Chinatown.
It was almost 6pm when we decided to go back to the hotel. On our way back, we passed by Samsung KX store in London (Coal Drops Yard, King's Cross) to ask for BTS photocards, which, as per our research are given for free. The walk going there from our hotel was really long and tiring but also well worth it. The staff were really nice and friendly, they even gave us extra packs of photocards. It was such a happy experience!
We were up at 6am to catch our flight from London to Riyadh at the Heathrow Airport. We took the direct train (underground tube) from Kings' Cross station to Heathrow through Piccadilly Line. We had a safe and smooth flight, we reached Riyadh, Saudi Arabia at 7pm.
I have always believed that every place is worth visiting, and I wanted to find what it is that made the United Kingdom special. It's the people who are so different in every city, their rich history and culture that is both ancient and modern that makes it so amazing to see and experience. Im just so happy that I did my first UK trip with my family, and Ms. HG who is also family to us. Still, there's more to UK that I want to see, and I definitely would be back - very soon.
What makes me happy?
People. Everyone around me who believes and inspires me.
Life itself is a happy experience. The world is a happy place.
I had my own share of struggles, life was not easy for us back then but my Dad taught me how to believe in myself, work hard , be kind and to be strong. He inspired me to go out of my comfort zone. He used to tell me that the possibilities in life are endless and so I believed him.
l Iost him quite a few years ago but he has left me with so much inspiration to follow my dreams - to visit places I have only dreamt of or have seen in the movies when I was little and to do things I thought were only for the privileged few.
Wherever I go, I always remember my Dad, wishing he could see me from afar and somehow be proud of me as I have always been so proud of him. Life is short and I promised him that I would make the most of mine.
Travelling makes me happy and in all other things, I choose happiness. We all should- always..