London calling

Not that I need an excuse to travel, but it always sweetens the deal if it involves visiting friends or family. Shortly after we moved to Virginia our good friends received orders to England. I knew a trip to England had to happen while they were there. Despite Phil and I having traveled through much of western Europe, neither of us had visited London so it was the perfect excuse to spend a few days there as well on our trip across the pond. A date was picked in November and off we went!

After the overnight flight, Phil quickly oriented himself to driving on the opposite side of the road and we made the short drive towards Red Lodge where our friends live. We took a brief detour in Cambridge to stroll the nearly 800 year old university town and grab lunch. We were hoping to sneak in a punting tour on the River Cam but the cold and misty weather wasn’t ideal. After our lunch stop we continued our drive to Red Lodge where we spent the next day relaxing with our friends and their adorable three girls. Syd made sure to stuff us with lots of yummy traditional fare like scones with clotted cream and Yorkshire pudding.

After two nights in the country we headed back to London to start exploring the city. We dropped our bags at the hotel and grabbed some ramen then continued on foot past Trafalgar Square and St. James Park to the Churchill War Rooms. It always blows my mind that World War II happened somewhat recently but walking around in countries where these battles were fought certainly puts it all in perspective. By the time emerged from Churchill’s underground headquarters, the sun was setting. I always enjoy seeing monuments at night (we snapped some great pictures during our trip to Rome back in 2013) so we continued our walk and strolled past Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster (the parliament building and Big Ben). As Phil had mentioned a time or two, Big Ben was in fact covered in scaffolding and because we had a few other landmarks on our walking tour we didn’t bother crossing the River Thames to check out the view from the other side. Instead we made the short walk to Buckingham Palace (one landmark we forgot to make it back to see in daylight – oops) and then after a coffee stop, headed back to the hotel to refresh for dinner. Our first night in London included a stop for drinks at the Blind Pig and our favorite dinner of the trip at Dishoom. We’ve tried to recreate the black dal, garlic nan and bowl of greens since returning to Virginia. Simple food that was simply delicious!

The next day was Saturday and our first full day in London. In an attempt to squeeze in as much as possible we left the hotel at 8am (we, err I, don’t “vacation” very well in big cities) grabbed a quick breakfast and headed to the Tower of London. Once again, it’s hard to fathom all of the history that took place on the grounds there. We sneaked a look at The Crown Jewels first (they look ridiculously heavy) and then enjoyed a spirited tour with our Yeoman Warder, Stephen, a must if you visit the Tower. We tried to take in as much of the grounds as possible before heading across the Tower Bridge to find lunch. I had read the Borough Market was a bustling food lovers delight and a must visit in London. It did not disappoint, although all of London must have had the same idea that Saturday. Not exactly an easy place to navigate with the crowds but our noses lead us to some yummy mushroom risotto and Phil picked up a salt beef sandwich. We found a pub at the corner of the market and grabbed a pint to enjoy outside with our lunch. After stuffing ourselves we strolled back along the river and crossed again at the Millennium Bridge. Quite different than the architecture of the Tower Bridge but the view of St. Paul’s Cathedral on the other side was pretty spectacular. I had hoped to squeeze in a visit to the Cathedral, or at least to the top, but similar to our appetites, I had bit off more than we could accomplish that day and it was raining pretty heavily by this point. We took a break from the rain to grab some coffee and regroup. By that point Syd and Pete had arrived to spend the evening in London with us so we headed back to Soho to meet our friends. The rain didn’t let up that night but we braved the elements for some fun cocktails and dim sum in Chinatown and then camped out for the evening at a gin bar. It was a uniquely London experience and a fun evening with our friends.

Sunday after breakfast Syd and Pete headed home and Phil and I took the tube to Notting Hill in search of the quintessential colorful row homes the neighborhood is known for. We didn’t have a destination there but the weather was great and it was a nice way to pass the afternoon after all the history we took in the last two days. We walked through Portobello Market somewhat thankful that it was a day after the busy market day and wandered our way through Kensington Gardens. The trees were clinging to their last colorful fall leaves and with the sun shining through it was quite the site. I may have caught Phil taking a picture or two. We finished our afternoon with tea at Kettner’s Townhouse. Charming and delightful! Our feet had seen enough walking and rain the last few days. After visiting a UK microbrewery we stayed close to Soho and had a very un-British dinner of pizza and wine and called it a night.

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t “vacation” well in large cities. On our final morning in London with just three hours of free time I dragged Phil back to Westminster Abbey. Our trip had coincided with the 100th anniversary of Remembrance Day and as a result, the Abbey was closed for tours during our time in London except for the day we left. We were a bit early so I suggested we cross the Westminster Bridge to get a view of the parliament building from the other side. As we crossed the river the misty morning turned into gusts of wind with rain and sleet but the view on the other side made up for it. You could nearly see Big Ben under all the scaffolding! We made our way back to Westminster Abbey and stood in line long enough to see the rain stop just as we got inside. We rushed through trying to see the most notable spots and certainly not spending nearly enough time to do the Abbey justice.

Had you asked me before what big city I want to visit in Europe I probably would have named a half dozen others before London. However, after our quick trip there it quickly went to the top of my list of favorites. Hopefully we’ll make it back again soon and have time to see more of the UK as well.