the week in London

After our busy weekend, we still had a little time to spend here in the glorious city of London. Tomorrow we leave on a little weekend getaway for David’s birthday (as he proofreads for me and does not yet know where we’re going, you’ll have to wait to find out), so I am taking a little pause to record a bit about the last several days.

On Tuesday we embarked on a walking tour designed by our friend Matt. Matt lived in London for a year while his wife (also our dear friend) Jenny was completing a master’s program here. The walking tour was very enjoyable and mostly along the river. We began the day with time in my favorite part of London — Parliament Square.

We had a very enjoyable walk along the river, and saw, among other buildings, the Globe Theatre.

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We were very ready for lunch by the time we got to Borough Market! We began our meal with some vegetable samosas and juice. This was followed by one order of steak & ale pie and one of fish & chips (we shared everything). It was all very good, especially as we’d been walking all morning.

We continued our walking-tour and ended at The George Inn, a VERY old pub where supposedly William Shakespeare dined (as well as, obviously much later, Charles Dickens). Jenny & Matt sent us £10 before we left on our trip and told us to “get a couple of pints on them” — so of course we did so! I had cider and David had Old Speckled Hen, a favorite of his dad’s. On our way back to our AirBnB we crossed the London Bridge and had good views of Tower Bridge, which I adore.

On Wednesday we went to Paddington Station to pay a visit to Paddington Bear. David has never read these books but I adored them. We are planning to read them together later this year. 🙂 It was a lot of fun to see the painted bench & the statue in the station.

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Next, we went to the British Museum. David has very fond memories of visiting it with his parents and sister, Mary, when their family traveled abroad about ten years ago. We visited the rooms about the British Isles (both pre-Roman & Roman Britain) and saw Lindow Man (entirely by accident) which was pretty crazy. Then we stumbled upon, and followed, the LGBTQ trail in the museum. My favorite part was the cocoa cups owned by a British lesbian couple in the 19th century.

 

 

After this, we went up to Hampstead to visit the Burgh House & Hampstead Museum where our dear friend Jenny completed her internship while getting her Master’s in London. Hampstead is SUCH a lovely, quiet neighborhood. We chatted for a long time with the woman at the front desk at Burgh House and heard from her about how different artifacts of the house survived WWII, and the different people who lived in the house over the years. She also told us that one of the main ways they stay afloat is by renting out the beautiful hall for weddings. After browsing the house & museum displays, we had a lovely tea in the garden café there.

We ended our long day with a quick stop at the Twinings tea shop & museum (I drink at least one cup of Twinings brand tea every day) and dinner at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, another very old pub. (Lots of those in London.)

Thursday was our last day (until August) in London and was a Harry Potter day! (If you know me literally at all, you may have caught on that Harry Potter is my favorite thing in the universe.) We visited a few famous sites, including Leavesden Market (AKA Diagon Alley), the Millenium Bridge (which is featured in the movie Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince), & of course visited Platform 9¾ where we had our pictures taken.

Quick lunch back at the Borough Market so that I could FINALLY get my much-longed-for Prosecco spritzer. We had samosas and artisinal jammie dodgers.

Then, we visited Tower Bridge (my beloved!) and David took me on a fancy date night — first, dinner at an Italian place along the Thames, and then drinks at a bar on the 32nd floor of the Shard (!!!). It was SO fancy. I think the hostess could sense the Velcro on my sandals.

We had such a good time in London, but kind of ran ourselves ragged. That was partly because our accommodations tended to be waaay on the edge of town. So, once we were out for the day, we usually stayed out. Plus, there was just so much to fit in! We’re excited to spend another day or two there in August without the big checklist hanging over our heads. It was definitely a great way to start the summer off with a bang! Until August, London! 🙂

hello, London!

Our journey from the airport to our first AirBnB in London was very long. A bus, 2 trains, and a bit of walking later, we arrived at the first place (we moved to a different one on Monday). After washing up a bit, we went to a local pub and had meat pies and beer (or in my case, cider). Y’all. Random pub on the edge of London and the food was SO GOOD!! Yes, we were super hungry, but I think it was also just really good food.

Our first experience of staying in an AirBnB that we booked has been…underwhelming. It is very inexpensive, and although it takes a while to get into the city it’s very doable. However, it’s also pretty grimy…and the bed is excruciating. We finally figured out that it’s actually broken (the bed) which explains the bizarre and epic dips in the mattress. At about 1 AM, early on Saturday, we figured out a solution. David slept atop the comforter, diagonally on the mattress (which is pretty comfortable actually, it avoids the dips) and I slept on the floor on the mattress topper. David used a towel as a “blanket” and I use a sheet.

You know what…it worked.

Our first full day in London was Saturday. And wow, what a day it was!! We had a slower morning than hoped, but eventually got on a bus to downtown London. Yes, it was a double-decker bus, and yes we rode on the top right up front. It was very fun and we could see where the inspiration for the Knight Bus, squeezing through tight spaces, came. From up top your perspective is wider and it seemed like we were constantly squeezing through tight spaces. At one point a bunch of tree branches smacked into the window right in front of my face, and I couldn’t stop giggling.

you can't just walk in there, you have to Make An Appointment
Where the Queen buys wine. Note the golden “Royal Warrant” above the door.

Once we got downtown, we boarded our hop-on, hop-off bus tour. We saw St.James’ Palace and some of the shops with which the Royal Family does business. The shoe shop where Prince Philip gets his shoes, for example, sells shoes for £2000. The place where the Queen buys her wine has an average bottle go for £24,000 (!!!).

After just a few stops, however, the tour guide mentioned that it was the observance of the Queen’s birthday that day, and that we should get off the bus if we wanted to see the festivities and have a chance at seeing the Royal Family. We got off a couple stops later (after frantically whispering, and being confused as to why no one else got off) and walked across Green Park, following the crowds, to the gate at Buckingham Palace.

And. Y’all. We saw the end of the Trooping of the Color, including seeing THE QUEEN and many other members of the Royal Family. I was most excited to see the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, and her children George and Charlotte. I adore Kate’s sense of style and her personality seems genuine and kind as well. (Fun fact : we are both 5’10”.) We also saw the Royal Air Force fly over the Palace which was really exciting and cool.

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We were so floored by this experience that we walked away saying to each other, “we just saw the Queen of England. THE QUEEN!” There were large crowds streaming out of Green Park along with us. We went to a Marks & Spencer store across the street (thanks Jenny for the recommendation!) and got sandwiches, water, & a Victoria sponge muffin to try. It was all very tasty and our experience was heightened by the group of women (we think it was a bachelorette party — or as they much more cutely call it here, a hen party) sitting nearby, screaming the words along to “Man! I Feel Like A Woman” by Shania Twain while drinking champagne. I was surprised (and pleased) that British women know all the words to that song, too. David commented, “see? This is why drinking in public is a good thing.”

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surprisingly good sandwiches

After lunch, we got back on the tour bus and finished the “circuit.” We saw many exciting sights, including the Victoria Tower (which CONTAINS a bell called Big Ben, but which is NOT Big Ben. okay folks. we got it.), Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and a peek down the long lane into Buckingham Palace.

The tour ended at The Tower of London, where we could board a River Cruise included in our bus tour ticket. Before doing that, we visited the London Wall, built in 200 AD by the Romans. It’s always so bizarre to see structures of that age just…sitting there, in the midst of people eating ice cream and talking on their cell phones.

We also visited All Hallows By The Tower church. It is the oldest church in the City of London (which is not the same thing as London, but a part of London) and I was pleased to see a notice in their entryway that they are an Inclusive Church. It was a peaceful and fascinating place to visit. We even went downstairs into a small “chapel” to St.Clare which was VERY small and a bit spooky — turns out it used to be a tomb.

We then went down to the docks by the Tower of London and went on our river cruise. We weren’t super impressed, but it was fun to be on the water and see many of the sights of London from Father Thames himself. I fell in love with Tower Bridge. What a gorgeous structure!

As we left the river cruise, we happened upon this awesome statue of Boudica. We learned about her in a documentary about the history of London that we watched a couple of months ago. Boudica was a Queen of the Celtic Iceni tribe, and she led an uprising against the Romans in 60 AD and died after it failed. She seems like a complete badass. If anyone knows of a good novelization of her story, let me know.

Sunday was busy, too. We got up early and headed into the city to attend church at Westminster Abbey. It was an amazing experience and I’m SO glad we went. I expected it to be packed, but there really weren’t so many of us there. We were actually in the second row of seats (there were several seating sections, going out from the altar in three directions). Yes, the choir was there and sang. Yes, it was gorgeous. Yes, the boys really do wear those frilly collars. (And yes, they really are little kids. It was very cute to see how, although they were very focused during singing, they scratched their noses and stared at the ceiling during the sermon and prayers like any normal kid.) The sermon was given by Reverend Jane Sinclair, and dealt with how stories tell the truth more than history sometimes can. Receiving communion was, for me, a really wonderful spiritual experience. I always get a lot out of communion, but this was a pretty special one.

Sunday afternoon we went SHOPPING. Not exactly a complement to the morning, but fun nonetheless. I was very excited to go to a store called Long Tall Sally that specializes in clothes for women 5’8″ and up! I bought a lovely dress and tried on pajamas pants that were at least 6″ too long.

Today (Monday) we moved to our new AirBnB, which is SO MUCH NICER. Photos to come I am sure. We have an en suite bathroom, coffee and tea station in the room, and the location is way better. The bed is still not super comfortable (when will the world learn that spring mattresses are stupid and awful?? I will never understand) but given that I already fell asleep on it twice by accident, I think it will be fine.

After dropping off our bags, we went to take a ride on the London Eye! It was super fun.

Afterwards we got lunch by the river (hot dogs and frozen yogurt from fancy food carts) and then came back to the AirBnB, where we have been relaxing (and where I have been finishing this EPIC blog post) all afternoon. In a few minutes, we’re headed to the park across the street with sandwiches, and then we’re planning to go to bed at like literally 8:45 or 9 PM. We’ve been walking well over 10,000 steps per day (I can confirm this due to my FitBit’s enthusiastic buzzing) and getting usually a bit under six hours of sleep. 😀 This is obviously not sustainable!!

If you got through this huge blog post, kudos to you. We’re excited to spending the rest of the week continuing to explore lovely old London town!

nine weeks, one bag

David and I leave tomorrow night (!!!) for our nine-week adventure in the U.K. and Europe. We have a long itinerary involving lots of time in London and in Liguria, Italy, as well as trips to Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, The Netherlands, Ireland, and Cardiff. (Also one mystery location — I have planned a weekend trip for David’s 28th birthday, which is in 9 days — so I can’t tell you where we’re going yet in case he looks at my blog!) I have been planning my bag for this trip since we decided to travel in February. We got super cheap tickets ($100 per person!! to Edinburgh!! from New York!! no I am not joking and yes I am FAIRLY sure we’ll get to sit down!) which means that they are bare bones tickets. We get 22 lbs of hand baggage — nothing more. That includes carry-on and personal item. No checked bags. Etc. And not even just for this reason but just for general ease of travel, I really wanted to do this whole trip with one bag. I mean, I have smaller bags WITHIN my one bag…but on travel days it will be me + backpack. Super simple.

Today I thought I would take photos of my bag and its contents, and explain what all I am bringing! Luckily we’re going to parts of the world where we can easily buy anything we need, but I’m hopeful I won’t need to make many necessities purchases so I can save my pounds, euros, and Swiss francs for souvenirs. 😀

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ta-da!
The bag I purchased for the trip is the eBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible JunioreBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible Junior. I read lots of reviews and chose it for several reasons : the backpack straps are padded, it’s really very small and fits under the seat in front of you on a plane if needed, it has various organizer compartments, fun bright color (which it looks like they no longer make!), and a low price. I really liked the Tom Bihn bags I saw but they were WAY out of my price range. I got this bag for $88 (normal price $110) with a coupon. I took it on a shorter trip and March and really liked it. I also noticed that it fits in the tiny overhead compartment on a very small plane I rode on — it’s good for tight spaces. I love the bright orange lining too, just very cheerful! 🙂

There are three main front compartments — the small slash pocket (currently empty, but where my boarding passes and such will go), the front compartment, and the “brain” (the little pocket that sits on top of the bag — that’s what I was taught to call this when I went to backpacking school!).

In the front pocket, I have my liquids bag, makeup bag, pajamas (capri pants and a soft t-shirt), glasses (sunglasses and regular), SPF-protection cardigan, journal, clutch (with passport, wallet, and phone), and waterproof phone bag. I ended up dumping out some toiletries between the bigger photo and the one of just my toiletries bag. My husband is carrying a razor handle that we’ll share, and packets of blades for each of us (we use Dollar Shave Club and he gets fancier blades because face > legs) In the “brain” compartment I have mostly “comfort items.” (I put them in the “brain” to make them easy to access, but also as a little joke. I have an anxiety disorder and my “brain” requires a lot of “comfort” sometimes.) My mini Hermione doll, eyemask for sleeping, and my little snail pouch that is literally always beside my bed — I’ll put lipbalm and eyedrops back into it once I get through security. It also has a mini flashlight, my headphones, and a calming cross (it’s a little wooden cross that fits perfectly in your hand — I hold onto it when I’m nervous or sad and it’s very comforting in a tactile way).

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the mesh, flat compartment
On one side of the main compartment, I have my Pardon My Trench rainjacket from Columbia Sportswear. I love the cute color and the chic look of the “trench” style. It’s also very lightweight and waterproof. I also have a little zip-top tote bag for longer days of sightseeing — big enough that we can carry sandwiches and water and a layer. Plus, my hairbrush and Kindle (which is loaded with new books).

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main compartment
On the other side of the main compartment is the largest section. I packed three packing cubes of clothes, plus my Teva sandals and little black purse. That little orange pouch comes with the bag and snaps onto the edge, which I love.

I probably tried on at least ten pairs of sandals in the process of choosing ones for this trip. It came down to these Tevas vs. Chacos. I ended up going with the Teva Terra Float Nova for a few reasons : they are super lightweight (helpful for packing and for less fatigue after long days of walking), have a softer footbed, and were less expensive. So far they’ve been good although there’s already a teeny bit of fraying on one strap (I’ve been breaking them in). I hope they prove to be the right choice.

I packed my clothes in three packing cubes : one big green on for “bottoms” and a dress, one half-size pink one for underwear and socks, and one small green cube for tops. I haven’t posted pictures of my underwear because…that felt odd. That said, I have about 5 pairs of underwear plus 2 pairs of little bike shorts to wear under the dress. I’m packing 2 bras (one tan, sports bra — I got a high-neck sports bra that will look cute peeking out from my black dress and v-neck shirt) and wearing one onto the plane. I also have about 5 pairs of socks! My swimsuit is in my husband’s bag because we packed the swimsuits together, figuring they’ll share a ziploc when wet.

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tops
For tops, I have one black tank top (“muscle tee” technically…for showing off…all my muscles?), one lime-yellow (? what is this color) t-shirt, one navy v-neck, and 2 striped tops (black and white and green and white). All are super lightweight and roll up teensy-tiny, plus they dry super fast. The navy one is from Victoria’s Secret and I’ve had it for probably about 3 or 4 years. All the other shirts are from Madewell.

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bottoms
For bottoms, I have UPF-blocking black pants (something between thin sweatpants and leggings), athletic shorts, 2 skorts, and a black maxi dress.

To my fellow one-bag travelers : yes I know that 2 skorts is silly. BUT I LOVE THESE SKORTS. HOLY WOW. SO MUCH. I’ve had the maroon one since February and wore it to work ALL THE TIME. Also to church. Also to the grocery store. Also on a hike. Also on dates. ETC ETC. It is stretchy, comfy material, it has a TON of pockets (including a hidden passport pocket!! and a hidden credit card pocket!! and 3 ZIPPER pockets!!), and built in shorts (with ANOTHER POCKET ON THEM! no joke!). They are fairly high-waisted (comfy and flattering) and are knee-length (hit at the knee on me, probably just past the knee on most women as I’m tall — I do wish they made these in a tall length!) so they’ll be appropriate for going into cathedrals and such. The blue one is new for the trip. They’re kinda pricey ($88) but I got the blue one for $58 with a promotion they’re doing.

I found that maxi dress on a clearance rack at an independent “adventure outfitters” store back in Indiana. It is actually long enough on me (never happens) and has pockets. Thank you, Mountain Hardware!

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little things
This tiny orange pouch has a lot of small, semi-random items that I wanted quick access to and which needed a home. This includes charger cables (iPhone, Kindle, and fitbit), tweezers, a few makeup wipes, a headband, laundry soap papers, floss, and menstrual supplies. I use a menstrual cup which I love and which makes traveling super easy. Obviously you can always buy supplies on a trip, but the convenience of always being prepared is great. I tried the Diva Cup in college and never found it comfortable to insert/remove, but I find the Lily Cup compact to be very comfortable, and it folds into that little pink case and can fit into a pocket (even a women’s jeans pocket).

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my travel outfit
As per usual, I’m wearing my heaviest stuff on the plane. Blue jeans, a pink t-shirt, a greige sweater (late Christmas gift from David — he’d hidden it so I wouldn’t see it before Christmas, which takes a lot of effort since we shared a very small apartment — and he found it again in May), Harry Potter themed scarf that was a going-away gift (I actually got two, from two amazing friends — the other is mostly white and I worried it might get dirty with travel, whereas this one is mostly black and will not show smudges as easily), watch/ring/earrings, compression socks, and my beloved Reebok Skyscape Runaround sneakers. The most comfortable sneakers ever made. Plus, a hankie for my pocket. 🙂

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travel binder!
And fiiiinally, my pride and joy : my travel binder! There’s a secret pocket on the back of the backpack which is meant for a laptop but where I am bringing my binder! I would be remiss to not mention how incredibly helpful I found Angela from the blog blue i style’s post on creating a travel binder! I used her printable itinerary pages, and incorporated many of her suggestions. In my binder, I have an itinerary (still finalizing it — it’s a nine week trip, y’all) as well as maps, flight/train/bus confirmations, walking directions, tickets for activities, AirBnB receipts and information, travel health insurance details, copies of important documents, and even some word search and sudoku pages for when we get bored. 🙂

Just a little more time to plan, load music onto my phone, triple-check that it’s a good pair of earbuds…and off we go!!