Our time in London went by in a flash! With only 5 days dedicated to one of the biggest cities in the world, we had to make every day worth while…which meant, walk as many places as possible, drink as many pints as our wallets allowed us, eat as many steak and ale pies as our jeans could squeeze in and see as many Royals as we could (ok, maybe that last one didn’t work out for us, but we tried!)
After taking a 10-hour bus ride from Paris, and through the Eurotunnel…which was the weirdest, experience ever -- imagine “2001 Space Odyssey” and that is the Eurotunnel. I wish we could explain exactly what happened in there, but if I told you…I’d have to kill you. Just kidding! We actually have no idea what happened in there because 1 minute, we were just on a bus. And then the next minute, we were on a bus…but in a shipping container type of thing. And then the bus turned off, and we rattled and shook for about an hour. And then the doors opened, and we were in the UK. Did we just float underwater? Were we on a train? Were we attached to another vehicle that was on a road…underwater? I HAVE NO IDEA BUT IT WAS WEIRD. But it was also the cheapest way to travel from point A to point B, which might explain why it was so odd.
Anyways, like I was saying. After taking a 10-hour bus ride from Paris, reality slapped us in the face when we walked over to the local pub and shared a burger and a pint for a whopping £27…that is $40! For 1 burger and 2 pints. People told us that the UK was expensive, but we were so naïve in thinking…”alright, now how expensive can it REALLY be?” Well, after coming from Western Europe when dinner and drinks cost us as little as €15 for the whole 9-yards, it ‘twas a bit of a shock. But regardless, we had shared enough meals and stayed within our budget enough times to take on the challenge!
The next day was day #1 of exploration. We got off at the Waterloo train station, which is right smack dab in the middle of everything. And when I say everything, I also mean everyone. Holy moly…I am surprised Sean and I did not get separated and I didn’t mistake another handsome man, taking a photo of Big Ben as my husband! Ya know when you’re a little kid at Costco and you walk up to someone’s leg, thinking it is your mom’s leg and you give it a hug only to look up and see that it isn’t your mom, but a complete stranger? No…? Just me? Well, that’s what I thought would happen in this extreme mass of people. But, we are missing the point here…we got off the train, and immediately saw many of the most famous London sites: The London Eye, Big Ben, The Tower Bridge, The London Bridge, and Parliament. Snap a few photos, listen to Big Bens iconic Bell, take a photo by Parliament and BOOM…we could check those off the list! But the highlight of that morning was…I actually can’t believe I am admitting this…. Chipotle. WE GOT CHIPOTLE! Ok, I said it! Once we walked by, we could not resist the simple reminder of home and the smell of a fresh burrito bowl (to share…of course because, ya know…££££££££)
I know I have talked about this before, but we LOVE free walking tours. We found a fantastic company called Free London Walking Tours (really creative name, huh?) that offered free tours for almost anything you could think of. And of course, we did most of them! I mean, why not? They are free, they give you a great view of the city, they throw in loads and loads of history and you get the opportunity to chat with locals and find out where their favorite hidden gems are! I shall give you a run down of the awesome ones that we did…
Harry Potter Tour! We got to visit so many of the filming locations and our tour guide was actually in Goblet of Fire! Who better to give a Harry Potter tour than someone who actually has first hand experience? I think my favorite part of the tour was walking down the small alleyway that inspired Diagon Alley and seeing the resemblance between the real thing, and the fictional one. And also, we got a behind the scenes look at some of the filming locations, some tricks that the producers used and some background on J.K. Rowling and her inspiration for the film.
Ghostly Haunts Tour! I have to admit, I was a little skeptical about going on this tour because I did not want to be too spooked as we roamed the streets of London, but our guide assured us that it was more of a fun and informative tour than a spooky one. And he was right! We learned about haunted pubs (one that we had eaten at just an hour before! Eek!), haunted theaters, and ghostly sightings throughout the city! Apparently, London is the most haunted city in the world and based on the amount of ghosts that supposably roam the streets, I would have to agree!
Fire, Plague and Pestilence Tour! So I hope I am not the only one who did not know this, but I had no idea there was a giant…and I mean HUGE fire in London in 1666: The Great London Fire. Well being married to a firefighter, needless to say he was very interested in this tour. We stood in the exact spot where the fire began (a little tiny innocent bakery is what started it all!), and visit places where the plague overcame the city and its people, and also saw some very grim sites where public executions took place. Sounds lovely, right?
Jack the Ripper Tour! Ah, I get chills just thinking about this one. As we walked the streets in the evening, our tour guide gave more details than I could have ever wanted to know about the infamous Jack the Ripper and his very unlucky victims. He explained the victims in such a way that you felt like you knew them…like they could have been your neighbor. And then he went into the gruesome way each one was murdered AS WE STOOD ON THE MURDER SITE and there was a moment where I thought I was going to PTFO (‘pass the f*** out’ for those geezers reading this…mama…papa…). Was it interesting? Yes. Is it something I don’t want to think about because it gives me nightmares? Absolutely.
And finally…Royal London & The Changing of the Guards Tour! This one was so awesome. London (and the UK in general) feels like a fairy tale sometimes. They are so old fashioned and regal that sometimes it’s hard to believe that it is all real. Seeing Buckingham Palace and learning all about the kings, queens, princes, princess’, lords, dukes, etc.…it all sounds a bit fake! But it’s definitely not. Actually, England takes it ALL very seriously. One of our favorite moments of our time in London was witnessing the Changing of the Guards in front of Buckingham Palace. It was amazing and I felt like we were apart of something spectacular. And this was the moment we were hoping to catch a glimpse of Princess Kate, or maybe Queen Elizabeth or even just Prince Charles…heck, Prince Harry even! But nope, they are all still left up to our imagination.
When we weren’t on tours (which it seems like that’s all we did) we were freezing our tooshies off! It was abnormally cold and no, not just for us California kids…but also for everyone! We found warm shelter in the pubs where one local told us “No matter if its spring, summer or fall…a pub is always a winter pub.” So with those wise words, we spent as much time in a warm ‘winter pub’ as we could where we played cards, watched the world go by and enjoyed cider by the fire. One of our favorite pub experiences took place at a pub recommended to us by a friend (hi Natalie!) called “Ye Olde Chesire Cheese.” I mean, with a name like that, how could you pass it up? This pub has been serving up pints since 1538 and was frequented by literary figures such as Mark Twain, Oliver Goldsmith and Charles Dickens. I like to imagine that I was sitting in the same chair where Charles Dickens came up with the concept of “The Christmas Carol” while sipping on mulled cider. We perused the many rooms and the different floors of the pub while envisioning all the amazing people who shared a pint or 2 there.
Something we were told that we had to experience while in England was a proper Sunday Roast. After doing loads and loads of research of this so-called “Sunday Roast,” we settled on going to a restaurant called “The Jugged Hare” on a Sunday evening (go figure.) Not really knowing what to expect, we asked our server for advice and she steered us in the direction of ordering one beef roast and one chicken roast. We did as she recommended, but we still did not know what greatness we were about to experience. In one fell swoop, she dropped off a huge ½ chicken, a beef roast that was cooked perfectly, and bowls and bowls of side dishes that ranged from crispy roasted potatoes, cheesy cauliflower, steamed cabbage, roasted carrots, gravy and Yorkshire pudding. My mind was a little overwhelmed…“where the heck do I begin?!?!” but my stomach was like “Oh yes, come to mama.” So we ate. And ate. And ate some more. Until we didn’t even know it was Sunday anymore. It was one of the best meals we have had on our trip thus far! For all the naysayers that told us English food is crap, you are wrong!
There was one afternoon where we wanted to escape the craziness of the city and get some fresh air. How do you do that in a big city, you ask? Well, you make your way to Hyde Park where you will be transported to a far far away place full of geese that are freakishly large, dogs that chase tennis balls, children that laugh and play on the Peter Pan inspired playground, and fresh air that makes you forget your are in the middle of a huge metropolis. After a nice stroll through the quaint neighborhood of Notting Hill, a cup of coffee in a little café, and a sidewalk that lead us to the entrance of Hyde Park, we felt rejuvenated and refreshed!
Our last night in London was spent doing a VERY English thing. PUB QUIZ! We met up with some friends from Australia, and my cousin from Italy plus a few of her close friends for a night of testing our knowledge. So, lets break this down…we’ve got knowledge from Australia, the United States, Italy, England and Latvia…not a bad combo for a pub quiz right? We are covering a lot of bases with our wide range of knowledge. Well, at least we THOUGHT we were! That is, until they started asking the questions and we did bad, real bad. But! Not bad enough because we got 2ND to last place which awarded us with a free bottle of wine! I’d say that is winning after all, am I right?
Once again, we feel as if we did not have enough time in a wonderful city. There are so many other things we wanted to see, do, experience, eat, explore…but I guess we just need to save that for the next time we decide to venture to London! Plus, it's fun to leave some things to the imagination