London Revisited

We traveled back to London for a long weekend full of fun, friends, and more sightseeing. Two of my good friends M and C, made the journey across the pond to London to meet us before continuing on to Italy.  We were also traveling with our friends M and W.  The original reason for the trip was the NFL game between the Vikings and the Steelers being played at Wembley Stadium.  We ended up getting tickets through Hubby’s cousin (really hubby’s brother in law’s nephew-if you can follow that) who plays for the Vikings.  So we went for the game but ended up getting so much more out of our trip!

Upon arriving in London we met up with M and C at their hotel in Westminster and started over to Buckingham Palace to try to catch the changing of the guard ceremony.  Unfortunately it was so absolutely packed that we couldn’t see a thing.  Travel advice recommends being there at least an hour early to get a spot on the fence to be able to see.  Honestly I’m not sure if it’s worth waiting there so long and fighting the crowds, maybe if it isn’t your first time to London.  But if it was your first time I would skip it and do something else with your time and come back to the palace at a different time when you can get a better look at it.

While we were leaving the palace area and walking down The Mall, the ceremony wrapped up and we caught some of the guards walking down the street to St. James’s Palace.

From the changing of the guard ceremony we headed off to tea!  We scheduled an afternoon tea at a quaint little tea room near the British Museum.  This was the first tea experience for all of us and I think everyone really enjoyed it.  I know I did!  It was a good introduction.  The setting was small, cozy, and relaxed so we didn’t have to feel intimidated by being in a big fancy tea parlor, not knowing what we were doing.  Each couple was given 2 tea selections, 2 sandwiches, scones with different jams and clotted cream, and 2 slices of cakes.  It was plenty of food to make a good lunch and held us all until a later dinner.

Even Little Miss enjoyed her first tea!
I would highly recommend the tea at Tea and Tattle, very affordable, good service, and great food!
Our finger sandwiches: crab/avocado/lemon, and parma ham/rocket/red onion marmalade.

After filling our bellies, it was time for M, W, Hubby, and me to find our flat that we had rented for the weekend.  We stayed in East London in an apartment that was in a very interesting neighborhood.  It was definitely out of our element and not what we were hoping-but we survived.

The lady who checked us in made sure to point out the lovely view of the Shard, London Eye, and Gherkin building.

That evening we set out again, taking a walk along Tower Bridge and the South Bank.  We even got to see the bridge open for a passing boat-Tower Bridge is also a draw bridge.  I honestly think it’s probably the prettiest photo spot in London, especially when it’s lit up.

The next morning we were up bright and early to take our tour of the Houses of Parliament.  The tour was wonderful, we had a really knowledgable and entertaining guide.  It was one of the best tours we’ve had in Europe.  It didn’t hurt that our guide Andrew said that our baby girl was “terribly well behaved” and the best child he’s ever had on a tour.  Proud parents 🙂  I imagine she had a good time looking at all the different ornate ceilings inside as she was wheeled through the building in her stroller.

Outside the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.

Our next stop was Notting Hill and the Portobello Road market.  We must have been too enthralled in the shopping because we didn’t take any pictures!  Notting Hill is a charming neighborhood and on Saturdays Portobello Road is blocked off for street vendors selling clothes, antiques, books, jewelry, food, produce, and anything else you can think of.  I found myself wishing I lived close by because I would’ve loved to buy a number of things as home decor items but there was no way I was getting most of it back in my suitcase.  This was another highlight of the trip and I would gladly go back to that market.  We stopped for lunch at a pub and most of us ordered the traditional fish & chips, which I’m happy to report, was excellent!

When we travel I can’t resist finding a Starbucks because there aren’t any in our local area.  London is littered with the coffee chain, and so while in Notting Hill, I ducked into one to get my fix.  Though it wasn’t advertised on the menu anywhere I decided to just ask if they happened to have pumpkin spice latte.  The barista gave me a quiet nod and asked how I knew they had pumpkin spice, haha!  They were so intrigued that I knew this little secret.  I was so happy I asked!  It was a great taste of home.

That evening we met up with Hubby’s cousin.  He plays for the Vikings and was able to help us out with tickets to the game.  We were so happy he was also able to come out to dinner with us so we could spend a little time together.

Go Vikings!

The next morning before the game, we decided to visit Kensington Palace in west London.  It has been the home to various members of the royal family throughout the years such as Queen Victoria, Princess Margaret (Queen Elizabeth’s sister), Princess Diana, and now to William and Kate.  The palace had an exhibit about Queen Victoria which was very insightful for me because I had never really known much about her and she is (so far) England’s longest reigning monarch.  They also had a small exhibit displaying dresses worn by Queen Elizabeth in the 50’s, Princess Margaret in the 60’s and Princess Diana in the 80’s.  I really loved seeing the dresses up close and seeing how the fashion changed through the years.  There were also insights as to why certain dresses were chosen for certain events and the role royalty played in selecting wardrobe.  The palace itself, in comparison to other palaces we’ve seen, was not all that impressive.  And if you’re expecting to go and see the actual building where Will and Kate live, think again.  They live in the Kensington Palace compound, not the actual building open to tourists :).

Next it was on to Wembley Stadium for the game.  We were running behind schedule so we missed all the pre-game festivities and crowds.  We walked right into the stadium and down to our seats (which were amazing seats)!  We were able to snap a couple pics before the meltdowns ensued.

Shortly after this, Baby Girl had had enough.  It was so loud in there, there was no way she was going to be able to fall asleep and it was her bedtime.  So after several attempts at calming her down in the seat, I spent the rest of the game walking the concourse corridors.  She ended up falling asleep and everything was fine, but each time I would try to go back to the seats, she would wake up. Apparently it was a good game and the Vikings won!

The next day we said goodbye to M and C over more fish and chips at a pub.  Then we wandered around looking for cheesy tourist shops where I could find a Christmas ornament and a trinket for our daughter.  We had time for one last photo op before it was time to hop on the tube and head back to the airport.

She enjoyed her first trip to London and got a little teddy bear to take home 🙂

London is such a wonderful city.  We did some repeat sites, and some new experiences and I would still be happy to go back for more.  It’s one of those cities where you can go 10 times and still find new things to do.  I hope our friends had as much fun as we did, and I hope we are able to get some more friends and family over here soon.  Our time is winding down, we are on the back half of our time in Europe which is crazy!  I can’t believe how fast it’s gone, but we still have roughly one year left, so if you are on the fence about coming-you should!

More Sights From London

Earlier I had posted the first part of our weekend in London. I got a little busy and never posted the rest of our trip! So here it is. From our trip to London at the tail end of 2012:

The next day Hubby and I made our way down to the Tower Bridge and Tower of London.  Our handy 2 for 1 guide (which we got from taking the Stagnated Express) worked for us again at the Tower of London.  Right when we walked in, one of the Beefeaters was starting a tour, so we were able to just join the group and get a free and very entertaining walking tour of the grounds.

I thought the Beefeaters were just guys dressed up in costumes, but turns out they actually have very important jobs and it’s very difficult to become one.  They have to have served in the British military for at least 20 years, and they live at the Tower of London with their families.  They play very official roles in royal ceremonies as well.

My favorite part of seeing the Tower of London was getting to look at the Crown Jewels.  They have all the crowns, important serving dishes, etc. on display here.  These are still pieces used today.  You can watch a film of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation and then see her massive crown that she was wearing right in front of you.  It’s jaw-dropping to see the size of some of the stones and diamonds used on them.  I can’t imagine how heavy they must be, and also how fun it must be to wear something like that!

We spent a good few hours at the Tower before heading over to the Borough Market, an awesome outdoor market filled with all kinds of food goods and hot meals.

London skyline at night

That night we met up with our friend and some other friends of ours that we met in Positano on our boat ride to Capri.  You never know who you’re going to meet when you travel!  It was a lot of fun to see them again and catch up.  We went to a restaurant called Burger and Lobster.  It was delicious!  They have 2 things on the menu, burgers and lobster rolls.  Hubby and I got one of each. Both were very good but I have to say I think the lobster roll was the better of the two :).

The next morning we started out with a trip to where else…Starbucks!  Anytime I’m in a big city now, I make a point to go to Starbucks just so I can have one of their fancy drinks that I can’t get at the local coffee shops where I live.  Our friend walked us around neighborhoods and took us to Primrose Hill and Regency Park.

Then it was back to Borough Market to grab some food.

After a quick lunch at the market we headed out to Emirates Stadium to watch an Arsenal “football” match!  We had a great time watching and getting to go to something that is so popular there.  Unfortunately they lost at the very end, but we had a great experience getting to go to a game!

Our trip was now complete.  We had to get back out to the airport the next morning.  We had a fabulous time in London, there is so much to do!  We felt like we did a ton, but still have plenty of things to go back for…Wicked…afternoon tea, etc.  London was probably one of our favorite places we’ve been so far and we’re definitely hoping to go back again soon!!

London

ONE DAY IN

In December of 2012 we made our first trip to London. We were lucky enough to have our good friend who lives in London put us up for the weekend, and show us around to some of the best parts of the city.

Our first morning got off to a little bit of a rough start.  Our friend had already gone to work and I was fresh out of the shower and looking for his hair dryer.  I couldn’t find it anywhere and neither could Hubby.  In the summer going out with wet hair wouldn’t be the end of the world, but in the winter it spelled out misery.  So my resourceful husband found a handheld vacuum and noticed it was blowing out cold air from one part and suggested this as my best option for drying my hair.  For lack of other options, I did my best to blow dry my hair this way.  It wasn’t fast but eventually I ended up with mostly dry hair and a tired hand.  You do what you gotta do sometimes.

I worked up quite a bit of hunger after that, so first stop was to walk to breakfast at the Belsize Kitchen.  A cute, and delicious cafe not far from where our friend lives.  We ate there every morning-it was that good!  Then we wandered over to the Hampstead neighborhood full of cute shops and lots personality.

Hampstead neighborhood.
I spy a Starbucks!

Then it was onto the tube to make our way to the London Eye.  Side note, I love cities that have easy mass transit, and London’s subway system was awesome. It was a breeze to get around!

When we were making our way from the airport to the train station we were able to pick up a London attractions deals book, which had 2 for 1 coupons for almost all of the major attractions.  This saved us a nice chunk of change, the exchange rate for the British pound is a killer!  Luckily the London Eye was a part of this deal so we decided to go ahead and take a ride around.

View of the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey from the London Eye.
Back on the ground, getting ready to head over for a closer look at Big Ben.

 I know they changed the name, but seriously, it’s always going to be Big Ben.

 Just past Big Ben is Westminster Abbey (where Kate and William got married and where Queen Elizabeth was crowned).

We decided to forego the afternoon tea and headed over to Buckingham Palace.

In front of the massive palace gates.

As we were walking up to Buckingham Palace, Hubby saw a helicopter flying overhead and heard it land.  Soon after we noticed the police stopping traffic on the mall (road leading up to the palace).  So naturally we stopped to see what was going on, and soon a motorcade started to roll through.  And in one of the cars I spotted Prince Charles and Camilla!

Hard to tell, but they are in there!

 Then as we were leaving, the police were blocking off the road again, so we decided something else was up and stuck around to watch.  And sure enough Prince Charles and Camilla rolled out of the gates down the mall again!  We think the helicopter brought them into the palace, then they drove a short way down the road to Clarence House (his official residence) to change or something then head out again.  Crazy!  But I was so excited that our trip to England included a royal sighting!

See Camilla in the front?  Prince Charles was hanging out in the back seat.

 Next we made our way over to the Covent Garden/ Seven Dials neighborhood.  We picked up our theater tickets for the night and then just wandered around while we waited for our friend to get off work.  This was another really cool neighborhood to explore.  It had tons of interesting restaurants and stores.

 OK, so here’s my story about why we saw this show.  When I first started looking at theater tickets I really wanted to see Wicked.  When I was looking to buy tickets another show caught my eye, A Christmas Carol.  I thought it would be fun to see that because it takes place in London, it was Christmas time, and it felt special because it only plays at this time of year.  So after weeks of planning on seeing Wicked, I changed my mind and decided we should see A Christmas Carol.  Well when we picked up the tickets Hubby noticed a line on the poster saying “A One Man Extravaganza”  and we thought, “hmm, that’s strange, do you think it could be a one man show?”  Well folks, it was indeed a one man show.  I was expecting a full production with a large cast, elaborate sets, and cool effects, not one guy playing all the rolls on a set that consisted of curtains and three chairs.  I was so sad when I realized what we were in for.  Not that the show was bad, but it just really wasn’t what I had in mind.  Moral of the story, go with your first instinct, not your last minute whim.

After the show, our friend took us out for some Chinese food in Chinatown.  Definitely a very full and eventful day.  There were ups and downs but all in all it made for a very memorable introduction to London.

More fun in London to come…