Of all the trips we have (or have had) on our schedule, London was the one I'd least paid attention to. I mean, when I've got a 10-day trip in Italy still requiring reservations for planes, trains and automobiles, a weekend visit to a UK city I'd already been to once before just didn't seem high on the priority list.
So even though I may have been "bad" to London, it sure was good to us. In our typical make-as-few-plans-as-possible-so-we-have-time-to-relax-and-take-it-all-in fashion, we arrived sans any volcano ash and a few minutes early to Heathrow. Three trains later we were basking in the rays of some bright afternoon sun and actual spring temperatures while towing our suitcase down the sidewalk. (Our bags are starting to get a bit battered with all this travel, they came out of the baggage carousel one zipper and two ID tags short.)
Our hotel, the City Inn at Westminster, was great. Modern, clean, roomy and decent location. It wasn't a long walk to get to some of the main streets, like Victoria, which were laden with shops and pubs. The first item on our agenda was, you guessed it, food! (Seriously people, if you don't this about me by know, you'll never learn. I love food. Like, love it. I am always thinking about eating.)
Since London is absolutely loaded with pubs, real authentic pubs, there's never any shortage of places to eat or drink. We found a street corner establishment that looked like it was having a jolly good time during a Friday happy hour and popped in for a pint and some fish and chips. We bought the pint but the kitchen was out of commission so we slugged back our beers then meandered over to another pub just a few blocks away. This time we lucked out with some haddock and a burger and two big ole glasses of Staropramen, a lager we enjoyed in Prague.
We stopped by Odd Bins on our way back to the hotel for two bottles of cab (one of which made it back to Scotland with us... yummy) and got fixed up for the highlight of our entire weekend: Love Never Dies. If you've been reading my blog at all within the past week, you'll know that I've been beside myself with the anticipation of seeing this show. Reliving memories of seeing the original Phantom of the Opera with my mom in London 2006 (read more here) got me all ajitter and I couldn't wait till I was in my seat for the brand new sequel, which had only just debuted in February.
When we arrived at the Adelphi Theatre on the Strand, people were already milling around in reception so we made a beeline for the goodies kiosk and I bought the soundtrack and program. I hadn't heard any of the music yet, but I didn't need to... I knew it would be good! Our seats were in the Upper Class, which was on the second level and about half way back but still good enough to see all the action on the stage and worth the £36 price tag. Two whisky and cokes later, we were carrying our plastic cups of Staropramen (seeing a trend here?) to our seats just as the lights dimmed and the show was on.
After lunch, we took a trip to Harrods. Just as I remembered, it's a busy circus-like hub of a department store. The famous luxury retail wonderland is 4.5 acres and more than 330 departments of fun, with a glitzy exterior lit by 11,500 bulbs at night. We wandered through the majority of the place, including the vast beauty counters—I bought my very first Mac makeup foundation, go me! And we browsed the pet section, amazed at how easy it would be for someone to drop a couple thousand pounds on their animal. I mean, a fluffy pink princess dog bed or a genuine leather pet sofa?!? Talk about "lapping" up luxury.
Normally we'd take the rail to and from our destinations, but on this particular trip it seemed easiest to just hop in a cab. It ended up not being very expensive (nothing was more than a 10-15 min drive apart) and it saved us a boatload of time and kept our feet from screaming in pain. So from Harrods we headed to Buckingham Palace, since I was eager for Mike to see the official home of the Queen in all its glory. Our cab driver was somewhat entertaining. The conversation went something like this:
Cab driver: Where you visiting from then?
Us: We actually came over from Aberdeen.
Cab driver: Blimey! So where are yous from then?
Us: Well, we're actually from Texas.
Cab driver: Oh blimey!
Us: Yeah, we get that sometimes.
Sun still shining high and bright, we were able to get some good snapshots of the palace. We didn't see the changing of the guard and they don't allow visitors inside the palace until sometime in July we were told. Probably about the time that the Queen heads over to Scotland for her annual summer stay at Balmoral Castle. Guess we'll have to drop in for tea sometime, since she's just up the road from Aberdeen.
After we'd gawked enough at Buckingham, we ended up in the nearby Green Park (yep, that's really it's name... creative huh?). This was one of my favorite parts of the trip. Everyone was in shorts or short-sleeved t-shirts or flip flops, totally soaking in the good weather and sunshine. It was picnics galore on the velvet grassy slopes so we decided to plop down for some lounging of our own—people watching, eavesdropping on English conversations and munching on shortbread cookies. A bloody good time.
Next it was off to the St. George's Festival (the patron saint), which just happened to be going on that day at Trafalgar Square. It was mainly just a concert, but people had brought their own beer or wine and packed into the middle of the square, which borders the impressive National Gallery art building. Attracting an estimated 15 million visitors per year, the square is the world's fourth most popular tourist attraction! Rightly so, since we got some great pictures of the area with the sculptures, the concert, crowds of people, a London city backdrop and the London Eye rising above it all. Very English, I daresay.
It was so relaxing to literally stroll through the streets with no agenda in mine and no appointments to keep. I think that's what I loved most about the trip. We did accidentally end up in a gay area of town, not realizing it until we walked into what looked like a typical vintage London pub to find it absolutely packed with guys. And some were very questionable looking. We hightailed it outta there, plastic brews in hand, and downed our beers out on the sidewalk before evacuating the area to find a more suitable hangout.
We ate dinner (Jack Daniel's glazed ribs) on a patio which involved more people watching then ended up back at the same pub we'd started out for lunch. Luckily we found a dart board and three darts, which supplied us with a dart tournament for the next several hours, interrupted only for a couple Jager bombs or more pints. You can tell that sometimes we truly love the simple things in life. (Happy sigh.)
Sunday involved our final hours in London, which we used to visit Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abby. It's just as beautiful every time I see it. And I love Big Ben's beautiful gold-gilded architecture. So stately and ornate. They just don't make 'em like that anymore! (Per Wikipedia, it's the largest four-faced chiming clock and the third-tallest free-standing clock tower in the world.) The sun had finally relinquished to the clouds so it was gray and a bit overcast, but I actually didn't mind for once. Seeing Big Ben against the foggy sky made it look exactly the same as it had when my mom and I stood below it in 2006. And that's just the way I wanted to leave it.
"Forget six counties overhung with smoke,
Forget the snorting steam and piston stroke,
Forget the spreading of the hideous town;
Think rather of the pack-horse on the down,
And dream of London, small and white and clean,
The clear Thames bordered by its gardens green."
~William Morris from 'The Earthly Paradise'