Travel Journal: London Calling
Oh London, I'm not sure how I can begin to talk about my love for this city. The english style buildings, town squares, the gardens, the black taxi cabs, the window boxes, iron railings and colorful doors. It's basically a city filled with history, architecture and museums. And houses some of the nicest people that we have met. Four days was not enough in this lovely city.
I recently read an interview in WhiteSpace Magazine with Rowan made and she said something that has stuck with me and is probably one of the main reasons I love Europe so much. "I realized in Europe, for example, at all hours of the day there are people out and about. It's community-driven, everything is close, walkable....I really like that people there make sure that their work/life balance is in check. They aren't just work, work, working - they are working, but also taking an hour or two for lunch. Or working, but also staying out late and enjoying good company."
We arrived on a Thursday after the grueling overnight flight from Tulsa. That flight will always be the worst, but it will also always be worth it! (If you've flown on a long overnight flight, you know what I'm talking about.)
We also arrived to the expected London fall. Cloudy, brisk and rainy. Coming from 90 degree weather in Oklahoma, we had no idea how to pack for the 60's, and didn't do the best job of it. We made our clothes work for the first two days, but after a day of rain, we caved and made our first of many stops into H&M for warmer clothes and rain-proof jackets. So if you are planning a September trip, do not pack tank tops and short sleeves. ( ;
When we arrived and got through customs, you can probably guess that we headed straight for an english breakfast and coffee....all the coffee. We stopped into a very modern glass-covered shopping center right off of Victoria Station and walked into Brown's Restaurant.
Our first experience with London was this restaurant and our friendly waiter who gave us all the tips and tricks for spending time in London: like not crossing over London Bridge and staying away from the dice players. Also that the 5 pound bill had been updated and the old version was useless, but some shop owners would give them as change to unsuspecting tourists.
Our airbnb, although it ended up being an extremely stressful and frustrating situation, was nestled in the cutest neighborhood between Victoria and Pimlico station. And we enjoyed walking through the neighborhood each morning and evening to our next adventure and back to our London "home".
Since our airbnb was so close to Westminster and Parliament square, we got settled in and went out for a day of getting acquainted with the city. We took off on foot along the river Thames all the way to Parliament, Big Ben, and Westminster. We stopped into an quaint little pub called St Stephen's Tavern, right across the street from Big Ben to rest our feet and take it all in.
I had heard a lot about a neighborhood called "Shoreditch" through blog posts and restaurant reviews while I was researching for our trip, so the first evening we tried to get into a restaurant called Dishoom, which had amazing reviews, but after arriving and seeing a line two hours long to even get to the bar to wait on a table, we decided to try something else.
If you are planning a trip to London, spend some time in Shoreditch. It is a cool, quirky, artsy neighborhood. There's grunge, there's luxury, there's new innovations, and tons of art. It was so fun to explore and walk through. There was a full block dedicated to a shipping container shopping center, which was filled with the coolest boutiques and well-designed and curated shopping.
We ended up eating dinner at a Peruvian tapas place called Andina, which was fantastic. If you go, ask to be sat at the community tables in the back room. There is an entire wall covered with old records and you get to mingle with other vistors. We were befriended by two locals who were so friendly, and ended up hanging out with them for the rest of the night.
Our second morning, we looked for traditional breakfast joints nearby and found one called the Regency Cafe. We arrived to a line out the door, and since we had time, we decided to wait it out for the sure-to-be delicious food that had caused the line. And we are so glad we stayed. The food was delicious and the atmosphere was bustling and lively.
This day was a museum day. We started with our tour of Westminster Abbey, which is just fabulous. It's such an impressive cathedral and basically also a burial ground. Every wall and nook and cranny is covered in plaques, tombs, and memorials to the royal, wealthy, aristocrats, and national figures from England.
We spent time in the Churchill War Rooms, which were so well-done and fascinating. If you get a chance, spend some time in the war rooms. It's such an important piece of history and Churchill himself is such a prominent figure. And even better, if you're a designer, the war rooms are amazingly well done and thought out.
Next, we went through the National Gallery after stopping into St James Park and the Clarence Pub for some fish and chips. The National Gallery hosts the greatest collection of paintings in the world, and a few of my very favorites. Suerat, Monet, Picasso, Leonardo Da Vinci, Botticelle, and Raphael.
And for our last stop, the British Museum. You could live in this museum and not see everything. It is filled with ruins, antiquities and sculptures. You basically pick the culture you would like to learn about, from Ancient Egypt to Greek and Roman, to the Middle East and head in that direction. This museum houses the Rosetta Stone, an impressive collection of mummies from ancient Egypt, sculptures from the Parthenon, and easter island statues. It also has the most beautiful glass ceiling in the center of the museum that casts natural light on all of the exhausted visitors who have walked their legs off trying to soak up all the knowledge and beauty in the museum.
Needing some food and rest, we hailed our first ever Uber (I know, we're behind the times) to Churchill Arms, the prettiest pub you'll find in London for some thai food - yeah, I said that right! lol
Our third day, we decided to take advantage of the London Pass that we purchased and jumped on a tour bus to rest our legs and explore the eastern section of the city.
If you're wondering if the London Pass is worth it, we were able to get into The Churchill War Rooms, St Paul's Cathedral, Westminster Abbey and do a day on the hop on/hop off bus tour. So it was definitely worth it to us personally.
Our day began with St Paul's Cathedral - my very favorite cathedral of our entire travels. St Paul's in contrast to Westminster is light, curved, and welcoming. The floors are marble, the ceilings are colorful mosaic and painted in bright colors, and the dome allows natural light to pour into the church. We climbed the hundreds of steps to the whispering dome (inner dome). You can whisper along the wall and a person on the other side can hear word for word. Then we climbed even more steps to the outter dome to get a good view of the city. Eight years ago, either the very top dome was under construction or two busy to climb, but this time we decided to give it a try. If you're caustrophobic at all, I wouldn't recommend it, but if you're not, it's totally worth it! The view is spectacular. It makes you feel so small in such a massive city.
We then hopped back on the bus and got off at Covent Gardens and grabbed some lunch at none other than Shake Shack! Haha! We sat in the open air and people watched and listened to a hilarious stringed quartet that entertained everything within earshot for almost an hour.
We then did some gift shopping for friends and family and happened upon a tea shop called Twinings that is 300 years old! We did some sampling and some shopping! If you're into tea, definitely stop by!
Then our last stop of the day was theTower of London. We went late in the day, which was a great decision, because we basically had the place to ourselves. Eight years ago, in the heat of June, we were jam packed in each of the museums that are located inside the walls. We were able to see the crown jewels, and the armory. Unfortunately for Caleb, the torture museum was under construction while we were there.
For dinner, we decided to follow a tip that I had read on a foodie blog before we left on our trip. It was about a secret restaurant and bar located inside a old SMEG refrigerator.
If you're up for an adventure one night, head to The Breakfast Club on Artillery Lane and ask for the Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town, they'll know what you mean. While you wait to be taken down, you'll enjoy your favorite 90's music, with complimentary cocktails and breakfast food. Once you're in, their fried pickles and chicken wings are delicious!!
Kings Cross Station
We had our last english breakfast and jumped on our high speed train to Paris! Goodbye London and Bonjour Paris!
When we do London again...we will stay at least two more days. Five days is a better amount of time than three days, but we were able to do London and see the major sights in three full days.
Things I would have loved to see/would see next time:
Spend an afternoon in Nottinghill
Go back to shoreditch during the day. We were just there during the evening
Tour Chelsea stadium and watch a game
London is a very bikeable city and has a bike share program
Do a Harry Potter Tour
See a play or musical
Sources from Post:
Brown's Restaurant at Victoria Station
Dishoom (didn't make it to, but if there isn't a line, go!)
Andina in Shoreditch - Peruvian Tapas
Regency Cafe - Breakfast
Clarence Pub - fish and chips
Churchill Arms - Thai food
The Breakfast Club & Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town - Artillery Lane
Sights/Things we would Recommend:
Hop On/Hop Off Bus Tours with London Pass
St Paul's Cathedral - climb the steps to the whispering dome and outer domes
Stroll through Shoreditch
St James Park
Churchill War Rooms
The National Gallery
The British Museum
Tower of London