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.
me & a bunch of other tourists
another photo of Victoria Tower
We had a very enjoyable walk along the river, and saw, among other buildings, the Globe Theatre.
enjoying the Thames
Tower Bridge in background
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.
Cider at the George
The George Inn
a man & his map
On London Bridge, a bit windy
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.
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.
enjoying our tea
cool sculpture in the garden
tea & scones!
the hall at Burgh House
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.)
Samuel Johnson with a bird on his head
the parrot that lives in Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
see? VERY old
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.
the Leaky Cauldron is now a blue optician’s shop
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.
Tower Bridge ❤
on Tower Bridge
wow so high up!
watching the drawbridge on Tower Bridge open for a TINY boat
on our way out. getting glared at by fancy hostess for our dorky selfies.
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! 🙂
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.
David ordering our meal
I had Steak & Ale pie and David had Steak & Kidney pie. We ended up swapping plates as I wanted mash more and he wanted chips.
Finally eating a meal after a long day!
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.
our sleeping arrangement
with the bed back together, having tea in the morning
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.
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.
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.”
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.
back on the bus!
a cool lion & the London Eye
FIRE outside a former-bank-turned-pub that David would like us to visit
our intrepid tour guide
Big B — ahem, Victoria Tower
St.Bride’s Church — supposedly a father who needed inspiration for his daughter’s wedding cake woke up hungover on the street, looked up to see this, and invented the tiered wedding cake
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!
Houses of Parliament, I think
we drank so much water
The Tower of London & Traitors Gate
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.
at the West door, where one enters for church
in the queue for church
modern Saints at the West Door : Martin Luther King, Jr., & others
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!