BrandonoBrien.com

Brandon O'Brien

Travel and Adventure Journal

I wanted a place to journal all my travels and adventures around the world. I always enjoy going back and reflecting on my past travels and getting to relive them through my words and photos.

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30
Windsor and Stonehenge - Day 6 - London 2011

Windsor and Stonehenge - Day 6 - London 2011

Thursday, June 9, 2011 @ 11:45 PM in 2011 London

Today was our first full day tour. We had to get up at 7 this morning to get ready and eat before we got picked up at 7:55 in the lobby. We got on the bus and ended up driving around our area for another hour before they finally took us to the station where we'd get on the real bus to take the tour. We also learned that we needed to pre-print our boarding passes, they didn't just accept our name and confirmation number. So we had to go to the ticket booth and get them to print our passes before we could get on our actual tour bus.

Once we got on the bus, we headed out for Windsor which is just west of London. Windsor is where the Queen lives and her family has lived for many many years. It's the oldest inhabited castle in the world. The initial rush was a little crazy, as we got a late start due to some people not being on time. We had to run to get into line before the entrance filled up too much. We walked through some of the castle (all that was allowed to the public), went through some of the other buildings on site and saw some of the changing of the guard. We had about 2 hours to spend there and got to see pretty much everything inside the castle walls. There was still a lot outside the castle to see, but we weren't able to. It seemed like it was mostly just a lot of shopping and tourist places.

After Windsor we went to Bath. It took about 2 hours to get there from Windsor, so we had some time to see the english countryside. This is the site where the oldest roman bath house is in Europe. We had about an hour and a half to spend here, so we did the tour of the bath house then walked around the city of Bath a bit. Bath is a beautiful area and you could easily spend an entire day walking around and relaxing. There were several old roman bridges and awesome scenery everywhere. While in Bath we also ran to an O2 store so Eric could fill up his cell phone data plan so he could use it again.

We made it back to the bus and headed out toward Stonehenge. While on our way it started to rain pretty hard. By the time we got to Stonehenge it was still raining. We got out and ran up to it and did a lap around taking photos. After the first lap around it started to let up and finally the rain stopped. We were able to enjoy it rain-free for a little while before heading back to the bus. In all, we had about 45 minutes there which is more than enough to see Stonehenge. The ride back to London was about an hour and a half.

For dinner, we went back to Covent Garden and ended up eating at Pizza Hut because it was quick and easy and we were both craving some pizza. It ended up tasting nothing like what I remember of Pizza Hut in the past and we had a beer with dinner. After that, we went to the grocery store by our hotel and got some snacks and Wagners hard apple cider.

Teaser photos:

Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle
Bath, England
Bath, England
Stonehenge
Stonehenge

View Entire Photo Gallery

Tags: london, england

Posted from: England

Museums and Galleries - Day 5 - London 2011

Museums and Galleries - Day 5 - London 2011

Wednesday, June 8, 2011 @ 11:45 PM in 2011 London

We started off the day by heading to the British Museum. The museum had a so many rooms it would take several days to walk through them all and see all the various artifacts. Some highlights were seeing the Rosetta stone, one of the Easter Island statues and the sculptures that surrounded the Parthenon in Greece. We walked around there for a few hours and then decided to get some lunch and go to the National Gallery. We had lunch at some place called Eat where I got another ham and cheese (jarlesburg) baguette.

After lunch, it started to rain really hard on our way to the National Gallery. We got in and walked around and got to see some Monet, Van Gough and Manet paintings. There were quite a few religious themed paintings and paintings spanning many eras. We finished walking through the gallery and took some photos of Trafalgar Square. By this time, our feet were hurting pretty bad from all the walking we've done over the last few days.

The plan was to meet up with Eric's cousin's friend Jackie and her fiance (Ryan) who live in London and have drinks, dinner and a movie with them. We went to Westfield mall by Shepherd's Bush station and got there a little early, so we walked around the mall. We met up with them and had some drinks, then went to a burger joint and had some food. During dinner we found out that Ryan and I share the same birthday, only a year apart. After that, we saw Pirates of the Caribbean 4 in 3D. The movie was alright, but wasn't nearly as good as the first or second movie. After the movie, we went out for a few more drinks with Jackie and Ryan and then headed home so we could get to bed. We've got to get up early tomorrow for our tour of Bath, Windsor Castle and Stonehenge.

Teaser photos:

Rosetta Stone
Rosetta Stone

View Entire Photo Gallery

Tags: london, england

Posted from: England

Old London - Day 4 - London 2011

Old London - Day 4 - London 2011

Tuesday, June 7, 2011 @ 11:15 PM in 2011 London

The weather today was perfect. We started off by eating breakfast and then heading to the Tower of London to take a tour and see the crown jewels. We got there expecting huge crowds but ended up relieved when we didn't have to wait in line for tickets and as soon as we got through the gates there was a tour starting. The tour was conducted by a Beefeater that showed us the highlights of the tower and gave us some history about the place. After the tour we walked through the Crown Jewels exhibit where we got to see may of the old crowns and items used in coronations and high profile events. Next, we walked around the wall along the top and got to go into several of the towers. In the center of the Tower of London was the White Tower that housed the armory originally, but now had several museum type exhibits, some hands on. We decided to get some lunch and head to the London Eye.

For lunch, we ended up eating outside the Tower of London where they had some mixte sandwiches, which tasted pretty good, but not quite as good as the ones we got in Paris. We had lunch with a perfect view of Tower Bridge. We got back on the tube and headed to the London Eye. I had purchased the tickets online earlier that morning and just had to go up to a kiosk and get our tickets printed out. We got right on and got to see a great view of the city. The ride lasts a half hour and each pod holds about 20 people. After the eye we took the tube to a station so we could walk down the Millennium bridge and then go to the Tate Modern.

The bridge was pretty cool, as you could see St. Paul's Cathedral on one side and the Tate Modern on the other. Next, we went into the Tate Modern and looked through the exhibits. Many of them were very strange, but we got to see some big named artists' paintings, like Picasso and Monet. Some of the stranger exhibits included a video of trash blowing around on the street and another of baby sea horses swimming around. We spent an hour or two in there and then decided we should grab something to eat before going to the Shakespeare Globe to see a performance of Much Ado About Nothing.

For dinner, we went to the Anchor Bar where we had a few drinks and I ordered a steak and ale pie. For drinks I had Bulmer's Original cider, which had more apple flavor than the Strongbow I had been drinking. We headed to the globe where we got our tickets. We had a few minutes before they'd seat us so we went through the gift shop where they had a ton of Shakespeare items for sale. Our seats where on the 3rd level in the first row, so we had a pretty good view of the stage. The performance was really good and kept the crowd engaged the whole time. The seats were just wooden planks but they had little pads for rent, but we opted out. It was a little cold because I was still in shorts, but luckily I had my jacket so it wasn't too bad.

When the performance ended, we walked back across the Millennium Bridge to the tube station, taking pictures along the way. We got off at the Embankment tube station and got some pictures of the London Eye and Parliament/Big Ben at night. At this time, it was already after 11:30pm so we headed back to the hotel to call it a night.

Teaser photos:

View Entire Photo Gallery

Tags: london, england

Posted from: England

Walking around - Day 3 - London 2011

Walking around - Day 3 - London 2011

Monday, June 6, 2011 @ 9:45 PM in 2011 London

Today started out as another rainy day. We ate breakfast and decided we would try to get to the Westminster Abbey early so we could tour it before it got busy. When we got there, it seemed like everyone else had the same idea so we had to stand outside in the rain in a line to purchase tickets. We actually didn't get there early enough to catch a guided tour in a timeslot that sounded good, so we we opted for the audio tour. We got guided through the church and the tour highlighted several spots. No photography was allowed inside.

After that we walked outside and took some photos of Big Ben, then headed down the Mall toward Buckingham Palace. We took some photos at Buckingham Palace and got to see some of the guards walking around. We decided we would grab some lunch and head to St Peter's Cathedral. We had lunch at a place called The Nag's Head. I had a Strongbow cider and some bangers and mash with peas and carrots. Lunch was good and then we headed off to St. Peter's. We had to take a few different tube lines but ended up getting out right in front of the cathedral.

We waited in a small line but got our tickets and found a free guided tour that was starting just as we got in, so we joined up with that. The tour took us through the cathedral where we learned about the construction, history, the crypt and more. Again, no photography was allowed inside the church unfortunately. After the hour and a half tour ended, we took the 500 something steps up to the top of the cathedral where we got a good view of London and surrounding areas. We came back down and got some water, then decided we would see a movie after dinner.

For dinner, we headed back to the Covent Garden area and had some more fish n chips and a beer. We found the movie theater and watched the movie Senna, about the F1 driver from Brazil. From there, we aimlessly walked around and ended up walking through Soho, Piccadilly Circus, and Chinatown. All of those areas were super packed and seemed a little seedy. Piccadilly Circus had a few buildings under construction and a big park around Soho and the circus was all blocked off for updates. We decided we had a full day and came back to the hotel to get ready for bed.

It was a good day with a lot of walking. The rain stopped around noon, but it was still gloomy the rest of the day. Tomorrow is supposed to be a lot nicer.

Teaser photos:

View Entire Photo Gallery

Tags: london, england

Posted from: England

Tours in London - Day 2 - London 2011

Tours in London - Day 2 - London 2011

Sunday, June 5, 2011 @ 10:35 PM in 2011 London

Our first full day in London is over! The day's activities included a bike tour of the River Thames and a Jack the Ripper tour. The weather today was rainy and only 50-60 degrees, much colder than yesterday. I only wore a shirt and shorts on the bike tour and was pretty cold. We stared off by having breakfast in the hotel, then jumped on the tube and headed to Waterloo Station where we were supposed to meet with the bike tour group. We got to Waterloo a little early and walked around the train station.

The bike tour was only me, Eric and another guy named Kevin who also ended up being from Greenwood, Indiana. The bike tour took us down the River Thames and we got to see the London Eye, Millennium bridge, St. Paul's Cathedral, Shakespeare's Globe, London Bridge, Tower of London and the Tower Bridge, a River Thames boat cruise and headed back west on the river. Then we got off and saw Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square (where there was a huge Sikh gathering) and rode by Parliament and Big Ben. For lunch the bike tour stopped at a pub called the River Thamesside Inn where we had a beer and some fish n chips. We also got to ride our bikes across the Tower Bridge when we were heading to the river cruise. We also learned about how Shakespeare created over 600 new words in Hamlet alone.

After the bike tour we headed back to the hotel. Along the way we found a grocery store next to the Gloucester Road station (right by our hotel). I bought some apples and Eric bought some juice. We had about an hour and a half to kill before dinner time at the hotel so I changed into some warmer clothes and Eric took a nap. We then headed down to Covent Garden for dinner and ended up eating at an American style restaurant to get a break from fish n chips. After that, we wandered around until we finally found the Strand Palace hotel where we met up with the Jack the Ripper tour. It took us a while to get there because our phones couldn't accurately pinpoint where we were so we kept missing streets we were supposed to turn on to get there.

The Jack the Ripper tour was interesting. It was still raining and cold while this took place. We started off getting a little tour of the actual city of London and some history surrounding it. We also saw a few notable places, such as areas where Sweeny Todd lived and some old Roman gates to the true city of London. After that, we got off the bus and started the walking tour. We got to see the spots where Jack the Ripper murdered each of his victims and also stopped for a break in a big market area. We got back on the bus and were dropped off near Trafalgar Square and had a pint of beer at the Sherlock Holmes pub. We met a guy on the tour from Kansas City who was traveling to London by himself and had a beer with him as well (he had an orange juice).

After the tour we were going to try to get some pictures of Parliament at night, but the rain was coming down harder so we just jumped on the tube and headed back to the hotel. Weather aside, it was a good day and we got to see a lot of the city and learn quite a few facts. We also learned that they call a pickle a gherkin here.

Teaser photos:

View Entire Photo Gallery

Tags: london, england

Posted from: England

Arrival - Day 1 - London 2011

Arrival - Day 1 - London 2011

Saturday, June 4, 2011 @ 10:00 PM in 2011 London

We just wrapped up our first day in London! Eric arrived around 10:30am and I arrived around 12:30pm. We met up at the airport and exchanged some money and got sim cards for our phones. After that, we jumped on the Underground and headed to our hotel to check in. After heading the wrong direction for a block or two, we turned around and made it to the hotel and checked in just fine.

After we checked into the hotel, we decided to go for a little walk and check out Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. It was amazing the amount of people that were there having picnics, playing soccer, or relaxing in the sun. The entire park was crammed full of people. We went into the Serpent Gallery at the park where we saw some really strange art, mostly videos playing to strange music. After that we headed toward Shepherd Market where we wanted to get some beer and fish n chips.

In Shepherd Market, we first stopped at Ye Grapes and grabbed a pint. I had a Spitfire Kentish Ale. The beers are served between room temperature and what you would normally expect in the USA. The beers are definitely different but still good. After having our pint there, we headed to The Kings Arms for another pint and for dinner. I had a Strongbow hard cider and Eric had a Guinness. We both got fish n chips that came with peas but forgot to take a picture of it.

After eating we headed to Harrods to check out the giant department store. After walking around we finally stumbled on the electronics department and then the sporting goods areas. The store is huge and has just about everything you can imagine, including a "Millionaire Gallery" where they had memorabilia from movies and other events for sale. Pretty much everything there was extremely expensive.

From there, we started heading home and came across another pub called The Bunch of Grapes where I had a Greene King IPA and Eric had a Greene King London Glory. After that we walked roughly toward our hotel just exploring and came across some local eateries and ended up getting some gelato. We also went into a grocery store across from our hotel on the way back so Eric could pick up a few cokes and then we came back to get ready for bed.

All in all we felt pretty good the first day. The jet lag didn't seem to bother us much and the weather was perfect. We got to see a few sights and have a few beers. Tomorrow we start the day with a bike tour along the River Thames.

Teaser photos:

View Entire Photo Gallery

Tags: london, england

Posted from: England

Planning the London Trip

Friday, May 20, 2011 @ 7:50 PM in 2011 London

On May 16th, Eric messaged me saying he wanted to go on a vacation before he started his new job. A few minutes later he mentioned going to London. We had been talking about going back to Europe since a group of us went in August / September 2008 for a friend's wedding. After giving some flights a quick look and seeing the pricing was fairly reasonable for such short notice, I said sure.

Eric still needed to get confirmation that he had the time available before starting his new job to take a full week long vacation. After a day of waiting for confirmation, he finally got it. We really started looking at flights then and finally booked them on May 18th. That night we also did a lot of research and found a hotel that got a lot of good reviews, had free breakfast and was close to a tube station. We made our reservations and then started compiling a list of everything we might want to see.

I created a shared Google Docs document and we started adding things that night and the next day. On the 19th we started putting a rough itinerary together based on the location of the areas of interest, the time we planned on spending there and the hour of operation (if applicable).

Our first iteration had us in London every day except for one that we allocated for getting outside the city. After checking Frommer's, we decided we were grossly over estimating the time we needed to spend at each location. We also cut out a few things that weren't really high on our list.

Our final itinerary, shown at the bottom of this post, is what we ended up with. We thought that doing a bike tour to hit the major sights and get some information about them was the best way to start the trip.

We allocated Monday the 6th to seeing a lot of the Royalty and governmental sight seeing destinations. Tuesday takes us to the Tate Modern and Tower of London to see the crown jewels. We're also planning on seeing a performance at Shakespeare's Globe that night. Wednesday sees some more tourist spots as well as the National Gallery and British Museum. Thursday, Friday and Saturday will be spent touring some areas outside the city, including Dover, Canterbury Cathedral, Windsor, Cotswolds, Bath and more.

All in all we got quite a bit planned and figured out in the matter of a few days. We're hoping that by putting the itinerary together, it'll help us see everything we want and not resort to aimlessly walking around hoping we run into something cool (which happened more than we'd like to admit on our last trip to Europe.) Stay tuned for more updates and information as the trip gets under way!

Trip Itinerary

Everything we're seeing (Google Maps)

Friday, June 3

  • 12.45 - Eric departs from LAX
  • 16.15 - Brandon departs from ABQ

Saturday, June 4

  • 10.35 - Eric arrives in LHR
  • 12.25 - Brandon arrives in LHR
  • 14.00 - Check into our hotel
  • Walk to Hyde park / Kensington Gardens from our hotel
  • Dinner, then sleep

Sunday, June 5

  • Bike tour along River Thames
  • Regents Park
  • Jack the Ripper tour at night

Monday, June 6

  • Buckingham Palace
  • Downing Street
  • Big Ben / Parlament
  • Westminster Abbey tour
  • London Eye
  • Harrod's

Tuesday, June 7

  • Tower of London tour
  • Millennium Bridge
  • Tate modern
  • "Much ado about nothing" at Shakespeare's Globe theatre

Wednesday, June 8

  • Piccadilly Circus
  • National Gallery
  • British Museum

Thursday, June 9

  • Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Bath tour (all day)

Friday, June 10

  • Leeds Castle, Canterbury Cathedral and Dover tour (all day)

Saturday, June 11

  • Blenheim Palace and Cotswolds tour (all day)

Sunday, June 12

  • Check out of hotel
  • Depart back to the US

Tags: london, england

Posted from: United States

2010 Labor Day Motorcycle Ride - Day 4 - Great Sand Dunes and Back Home

2010 Labor Day Motorcycle Ride - Day 4 - Great Sand Dunes and Back Home

Monday, September 6, 2010 @ 7:00 PM in General Travel

On our last day out, we decided we had enough freeze dried backpacking meals for breakfast and I had some poptarts I brought. We headed out after that and started riding to the Great Sand Dunes National Park.

About 20 miles outside Pagosa Springs we had to climb a few thousand feet in elevation (the shots from Day 2 when we were overlooking the big valley). The temps dropped dramatically and we started to freeze. Fortunately it warmed up pretty quick after that.

The ride to the Sand Dunes area was nice and scenic. There are a few towns along the way where it goes from 65mph to 25mph in about a half mile, so you really need to watch out.

We got to the sand dunes at around 11am and walked around there. It was like being in the middle of a huge desert. Sand everywhere and the dunes were probably 1,000 feet high off the ground at some spots. We saw people sledding and sandboarding.

Since we still had a long day ahead of us, we didn't climb all the way to the top, but we did get to walk around on them for a bit.

After leaving there, we got stuck in a long line of cars heading back to the interstate. When we hit Walsenburg we split up and Ryan headed back to Denver and I went south to Albuquerque.

I stopped in a little town called Wagon Mound to fuel up, stretch and get a 5 hour energy when all of a sudden some ambulances flew by and a medi-copter landed on the interstate. Apparently there was some huge accident just before I got off the interstate that I wasn't aware of (it was the direction opposite the way I was going).

They had the interstate blocked both directions about 1 mile out each way. Luckily they hadn't closed the onramp and I was able to get on the interstate just fine. The road was my own for about 20 miles before I started coming across any cars again. It was a very strange feeling.

All in all the trip was a blast. My ass hurt beyond belief the last day from riding so much, but I guess that's all part of the experience.

Total miles today: 487

Teaser photos:

Our bikes in front of the Great Sand Dunes
Our bikes in front of the Great Sand Dunes
Cool textures in the sand
Cool textures in the sand

View Entire Photo Gallery

Tags: motorcycle, labor day 2010

Posted from: United States

2010 Labor Day Motorcycle Ride - Day 3 - Pagosa Springs and Mesa Verde

2010 Labor Day Motorcycle Ride - Day 3 - Pagosa Springs and Mesa Verde

Sunday, September 5, 2010 @ 7:00 PM in General Travel

Today we got up early and had breakfast (more freeze-dried backpacking meals). We then hit the road and headed out to Mesa Verde. It was about 100 miles to get to the National Park, and then we had to ride through it.

On the way there, it started to get overcast and we thought it might rain, which i wasn't too excited about since I had left my saddlebags and rain gear at the campsite. Fortunately the clouds broke and the day turned beautiful.

We got to Mesa Verde and rode through the park looking at all the sites. The way the park's set up is pretty much everything is within a 1/2 mile walk from the road, so you just drive/ride around and pull over at designated areas and walk to see things.

We started by going to the visitor center and learning we got there too late to go on the guided tour through the biggest cliff dwelling there (Long house). They had some later tour spots open but we didn't want to wait around there all day or else we'd be riding back to the campsite at night.

We ended up doing the driving tour and got to see Long House from across a valley and got to see some other dwellings up close.

I'd highly recommend this as a place to go see. Just make sure you fuel up first because there's about 50-60 miles of road back through here to drive around.

We stopped for a late lunch in the park then headed back to the campsite.

When we got back to our campsite, we realized the beer we had leftover from the night before was rather warm. Since our campsite was against a river, we decided to ghetto-cool them and just put them in the river for a half hour and then sat there and drank them as they got colder.

We still had one bundle of firewood left but decided we wanted to get more, so before it got too dark we found a huge log we could burn and proceeded to burn it down the middle so we could have free firewood for several hours (vs. paying $5 per bundle). It worked well then we got tired and went to bed.

Total distance today: 240 miles

Teaser photos:

Mesa Verde, Colorado
Mesa Verde, Colorado
Tradition requires us to cool our beers down in a creek
Tradition requires us to cool our beers down in a creek

View Entire Photo Gallery

Tags: motorcycle, labor day 2010

Posted from: United States

2010 Labor Day Motorcycle Ride - Day 2 - Denver to Pagosa Springs

2010 Labor Day Motorcycle Ride - Day 2 - Denver to Pagosa Springs

Saturday, September 4, 2010 @ 7:00 PM in General Travel

We woke up and ate and then started riding around 9:00am. We took 285 to 112 to 160 which lead us right to our campground (about a mile east of Pagosa Springs).

There was quite a bit of traffic the first half of the ride, but the scenery was amazing. We only almost got lost once (almost started heading east on 24 instead of staying on 285/24W).

We started getting really hungry but couldn't find any places that looked good to eat along the way, so we decided just to wait until we got to Pagosa. When we got into town we stopped at the first place we could find and got some burgers. This was about 2:30 and there must have been 2 waitresses working for the entire restaurant. That would have been fine any other day, but it just so happened there was a huge motorcycle rally about 40 miles away in Durango and there were a ton of people looking to eat here. We finally got our food and ate and went to check into our campsite around 3:45.

We got our campsite set up and then decided to go into town and relax in some of the hot springs after being on the bike all day. The hot springs were nice, but smelled like sulfur. The pools ranged from 89-109 degrees. We stayed in the 100 degree pool the whole time.

After drying off, we decided to hunt down a liquor store and buy some beers for the night. After riding back and forth along the main drag 3-4 times looking for a liquor store the iphone said existed, we finally stumbled upon one and bought some beers.

We got back to the campground and started a fire and ate (we just brought the freeze-dried backpacker meals and had those for breakfast and dinner).

After eating an when the fire died down, we decided to call it a night and went to sleep. It got down into the high 30's that night, but luckily our sleeping bags were good for temps well below that.

Total distance today: 275 miles

Teaser photos:

The campsite in Pagosa Springs
The campsite in Pagosa Springs

View Entire Photo Gallery

Tags: motorcycle, labor day 2010

Posted from: United States

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30