Welcome to Part Two of my European travel recap! Part One featured the London portion of our trip. If you read that one, then you know our friends Niall and Loren came to spend the last day in London with us. The next part of our journey was to go back to Wales with them to Niall’s house, and then from there we took a train to Salisbury, England, which was where we were staying for the main event: the wedding at Stonehenge! I’ll take you through each part separately from here, so keep scrolling for specific details about each place.
We only had a day and a half in Wales, so it was fast and furious. We stayed with Niall and Loren at his mom’s house in Llandudno (<< please don’t ask me how to pronounce that). Since I was with three conceptual photographers and we were in the most GORGEOUS landscape, we went on a photo shoot. I was happy to tag along, and even took some more traditional photos of my own. I also modeled for some other photos for people (here’s one that I modeled in for Loren).
We ended the photo shoot portion of the day by climbing a mountain filled with purple wildflowers. Robert convinced me to put on a pink dress Loren had brought with her so I could model for him there. If you know Robert, you’ll recognize that this is probably the most important thing I ever could have done for him. Because I love him and because it was a once in a lifetime opportunity (just LOOK at these pictures), I changed into a dress on top of a mountain and then posed barefoot for 45 minutes in the cold and extreme wind. I literally almost blew away at one point when the wind caught my skirt between my legs and Robert had to steady me so I wouldn’t fly away. The pictures turned out super well, so it was a success. (Loren took some too, which you can see here and here.) I felt like I was fulfilling a Pride and Prejudice fantasy. AND – Robert also has a blog post out today featuring a couple of the photos he took of me.
In addition to the photo shoot, we also had a proper afternoon tea with Niall’s dad at a castle/mansion kind of place. Later we went to dinner with Niall’s extended family, which was so much fun. His family reminded me of my own in the way they tell stories and joke with each other. (Except his brother and sister-in-law live in a fairytale cottage in Wales – You should see these little back roads; the streets have walls made of enormous hedges.) Niall also took us to an awesome hipster coffee shop (twice) where I had the best porridge of my life. You know I’m mostly anywhere for the food. (Although I was definitely also there for the landscapes in Wales. OMG.)
Below you’ll find the details about our food stops in Wales:
What we ate: barbecue pulled pork with “barbecue pit beans,” fries, coleslaw, mac n cheese
This place was hilarious so I had to include it. We arrived in Wales around 9pm, so there weren’t a whole lot of places open for dinner. Niall felt bad for bringing us here but I’m so glad he did. I love that the tagline for this restaurant was “The Southern Tastes of America” – but it was pretty spot-on. The food was good and it did feel weirdly like being in America, except for the accent of our waitress. And I’m always happy to eat pulled pork with coleslaw and mac n cheese.
What I ate: smashed avocado on toast with poached egg, bacon bits, goat cheese, pine nuts, cherry tomatoes, balsamic drizzle
This was a cute little cafe where we ate breakfast. It reminded me of the kind of place where my parents would eat breakfast every weekend if it was in our town. Very welcoming and bright with a local vibe, and right near the ocean, so that was a plus.
What I ate the first time: a cortado + a slice of dark cherry and marzipan sponge cake
What I ate the second time: a chai latte + “pimped up porridge” (soaked oats, brown sugar, omega seed mix, chopped mixed nuts, fruit of the day, yogurt, honey) + salted caramel bubbles (a Twix-like treat with milk chocolate, shortbread and caramel)
This is Niall’s favorite coffee shop and it became our favorite place as well. All of the baked goods were amazing (and so was my cortado), their chai lattes actually made me like chai lattes and probably ruined me forever because it was the best one in the world, and same goes for the porridge – it helped me realize what a bowl of oatmeal could actually be and now I need to try to recreate it at home. If you’re in the area, get yourself to this coffee shop asap.
What we ate: English Breakfast tea + tea sandwiches, scones, clotted cream, jam, desserts, etc.
Niall’s dad treated us to this lovely afternoon tea spread at this mansion place … On their website they refer to it as a “country house.” We had the library to ourselves for our tea, and we drank our fill of English Breakfast while gorging on all of the treats they prepared for us. It was like something out of a movie. And then afterwards we walked the gorgeous grounds and took some photos. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.
What I ate: spaghetti carbonara
This was the Italian restaurant where we ate dinner with Niall’s family. It was a small, quiet place with a retro vibe where we felt free to hang out and enjoy some good food while we spent time together. The staff was extremely friendly and even boxed up most of my huge portion of carbonara, which was very sweet. (A lot of European places don’t give doggy bags, but they were excited to tell me that they “do take away!”) It seemed like the kind of place that likes to take care of its regular customers.
Salisbury is the small, very old town where we stayed during the duration of the wedding stuff. From there it’s only a 15-20 minute taxi ride to Stonehenge. During our three-night stay we were in two different Airbnbs. One was right off of the town square and the other one was about 1/4 mile from the square. They were both “private rooms” in beautiful old homes and both hosts were so incredibly nice and helpful. The people in England are seriously the friendliest. Our one host even called and arranged for all of our taxis related to the wedding. If you need recommendations, please email me and I’ll hook you up with our hosts because they were amazing and definitely earned their 5 stars. They both offered tea and light breakfast in the morning as well as great restaurant recommendations and whatnot. It was definitely our best Airbnb experience to date.
As much as I love bigger cities like London or Paris, I REALLY LOVE visiting smaller towns like Salisbury where you can get very familiar with it in a short amount of time. It reminded me of St. Malo from our honeymoon. (Actually, Bruges was even more like St. Malo – recap of that coming later.) Salisbury has a cute town square with super old pubs (like from the 1300-1500s), and the town is known for its cathedral from the 1200s, which was absolutely mind-blowing. There is a cute “town path” that led out of the city a little bit, where you could walk along a little stream past fields of sheep. It was another Pride and Prejudice moment for me – I felt like Lizzie walking to visit Jane when she’s sick at Netherfield. With the grass and sheep everywhere plus the cathedral in the distance … I loved it so much.
Out of every country I’ve ever visited (and I felt it especially on this trip since we technically visited four different countries), I’ve never felt a kinship to anywhere like I felt to England. I could feel it in my BONES that my family comes from there, and I felt it the most when we walked along the Salisbury town path. The trees, the grass, the architecture, the climate … It was a very strange feeling, but so pronounced: a sense of belonging. If you look at my family tree, I’m a mixture of Irish, English, Scottish, German and Swedish. Of all the countries I’ve visited so far in my life (Italy, France, England, Wales, The Netherlands and Belgium), England is the only place I’ve been so far where I have heritage, and it’s the only place I felt that sensation of kinship. It was not at all something I was expecting to experience, and it kind of washed over me without warning. Now I’m especially dying to visit Ireland, but we’re visiting Germany in March so I’m interested to see if I feel something similar there. Have any of you ever felt that way when visiting a country of your heritage? I think it’s so fascinating!
I think it’s partly for that reason that I especially loved Salisbury (in addition to London). Below you can find all of our foodie stops from that cute town:
What we drank: William Elegant (gin) with apple and Fevertree elderflower tonic, Beachcomber zesty golden ale
What we ate: Bertinet breads, balsamic, olive oil, salted butter, the Chalcedon Farm Burger (HSB Gouda, Mrs. Owton’s bacon, gem lettuce, tomato, red onion, gherkin, challah bun, fries), olive oil gnocchi (Laverstoke mozzarella, peas, shallots, broccoli, pine nut pesto)
A recommendation from our Airbnb host, Ox Row Inn is one of the older pubs in town (from the 16th century) and is situated right on the market square. They had a whole menu of gin and tonic pairings, so I figured I would go that route even though I’m not always the biggest fan of gin and tonics. The one I had here, however, was AMAZING. It turns out in England they know how to do their gin and tonics. I’ve been meaning to order myself some of that Fevertree elderflower tonic ever since we got home. The food was also great (and we were SO hungry that night) – we were a little skeptical of ordering gnocchi there, but it was what we were in the mood for at the time so we went for it. It was probably the best gnocchi I’ve ever had. I highly recommend this place!
BREAKFAST: mocha, vegetarian breakfast (grilled tomato, field mushroom, falafel, wood-roasted peppers, fried potatoes, baked beans, eggs with toast), Rather Elegant Brunch (bacon and avocado with herbed spring onion and chive rosti, baby kale, fire-roasted tomatoes, sundried tomato dressing on the side, topped with a poached egg and pumpkin seeds)
TEATIME TIPPLE: crispy macaroni cheese balls with BBQ mayo, pigs in blankets in a sticky cider & honey mustard glaze, beef and pork meatballs in a rich tomato and red wine sauce, burnt orange and vanilla sour (Evan Williams bourbon with Solerno blood orange liqueur, marmalade, orange bitters and lemon juice, candied orange wedge and mint), English Garden (Hendrick’s gin, pressed apple juice and elderflower over ice, finished with cucumber), passion fruit mojito, Pimm’s Cup (Gosling’s rum, made with a banana and ginger ale twist)
POST-WEDDING: maple and pecan old fashioned (Bulleit bourbon infused with chocolate bitters, toasted pecans and maple syrup), Pina Colada, crayfish pappardelle (with fire roasted and cherry tomatoes, basil and parmesan in a lobster and prosecco sauce), roasted beetroot and goat cheese salad (with butternut squash, baby kale, edamame, and a balsamic and honey dressing)
We loved this place so much we went three times! We ended up there our first morning because it was one of the only places serving breakfast/brunch at the time. (I think it was a Sunday morning so a lot of places were closed.) While eating breakfast we saw they had a fun “teatime tipple” special (like a happy hour), so we made plans to come back later. That was one of our favorite moments in Salisbury – drinking good cocktails, snacking and playing Scrabble together. After the wedding, no one had really made plans for dinner so Robert’s cousin asked us to recommend somewhere in town. We knew the Cosy Club had great food, a varied menu and lots of space, so it worked out perfectly for a post-wedding meal. Everyone loved it and they were able to accommodate our group of about 17 people. I was a BIG fan of the cocktails here.
What we ate: spring rolls, apple and elderflower sponge (cupcake) made with gin, chai latte, flat white, salted caramel slice (some pastry thing), “The Sozzled Pig” (pork slowly braised in westcountry cider with fresh crisp salad and topped with apple and caramelized onion chutney)
We have a knack for stumbling on food festivals and markets on our trips. It just so happens they were having a food festival in the market square on one of our days in Salisbury. We love opportunities like that for trying lots of different things, so we did just that. We took our time wandering around and I think even came back to it once or twice throughout the day.
What we ate: Pad Khing (shredded ginger, spring onion and black mushroom stir fry), coconut rice, chicken pad thai
There are a handful of really good Thai restaurants in Salisbury, and to be honest we kind of ended up at this one because we couldn’t get into other ones. While everything we had was good, it wasn’t fantastic so I would suggest hitting up some other ones in town before settling for this one.
What I drank: a piccolo (a small flat white, like a cortado)
What I ate: toasted cinnamon bun
As you probably know from my London post, I love to get a coffee bev and a pastry around mid-morning when Robert and I are traveling. It’s one of my favorite parts of our day: trying a fun new coffee shop while getting my caffeine and sugar buzz for the day. This one was great and we sat at seats by the window looking out onto the square. It was lovely. I’ve also decided that piccolos/cortados are my perfect espresso-based beverage: not too milky, not too bitter, and they’re the perfect size.
What we ate: butternut squash and fennel salad with citrus dressing; duck pate with chutney and bread; local venison sausages with mash, roots and onion gravy
This is the oldest restaurant in Salisbury, established in 1320. Rumor has it that it’s where a bunch of the men who were working on building the cathedral spire used to live and eat at the time. There’s soooo much history in this place: a mummified hand in an old bread oven (from a man who cheated at a card game), marble floor tiles originally from the cathedral, and ceiling beams older than the building itself which came from an old ship, just to name a few interesting tidbits. You could also tell how old it was by how crooked the floors were. We loved it here and had a great lunch. We obviously had to get venison, and it was fantastic. We also ended up here after the wedding with a few people to get drinks at the bar.
What we ate: apple strudel slice, raspberry dodger
We stopped at this bakery on the square one day for my afternoon pastry fix. It was hard to pick from all of the options, but both of ours were good choices. Man, I miss having access to European pastry shops in the afternoon.
Now for the main event! The whole reason this trip came about for us is that Robert’s cousin, James, was getting married to his lovely partner of several years, Kara, at Stonehenge. Somehow they learned you could get married there – IN the actual circle (a lot of the locals apparently didn’t even know this was a thing), and they knew right away it was a perfect fit for them to tie the knot. (And it truly is perfect for the two of them.) They asked Robert to come along and photograph it for them. Obviously I was going to come along, so I offered to bring my camera as well and act as Robert’s second shooter for the wedding.
When you get married there, you’re only allowed a certain number of people as guests (about 15), so we were extremely lucky to be among the few who were able to witness the event. They’re very strict about it – James and Kara had to jump through quite a few hoops to make this happen – and you only have an hour in the circle (that includes the ceremony + photo time). There’s actually a chance you may not be able to do this anymore; apparently they’ve had some issues in the past, so we may have been at one of the last weddings to ever be held there.
Needless to say, it was an incredible experience. It was super windy, but we lucked out because we didn’t have to deal with any rain. Robert and I were so focused on getting the photos that it was kind of hard to take it all in when we were there. Thankfully in one slower moment I was able to grab one of the other guests to take our picture. It didn’t really hit us until afterwards what we had just done. We are so grateful to James and Kara for inviting us to their special day, and it provided the perfect impetus for us to plan this amazing two-week trip we took together. As you can see from the wedding photos, it was pretty wild.
So that’s part two of my recap … coming soon will be the final installment featuring Amsterdam and Bruges! (And don’t forget to check out Robert’s cool blog post featuring some photos from our mountain adventure in Wales.)
Illustration at top created with Photoshop.
Prints of my illustrations (plus other products with my work on them) are available in my Society6 shop.