“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” - Jawaharal Nehru

Saturday, June 2, 2012

London 2012

Our trip to London was a HUGE success. We had an amazing time and created some wonderful memories ! Here is a round up of the week we spent across the pond.

We left the city on Friday night. It was quite stressful getting to the airport. Reminder: never book a Friday night flight at JFK. First, we didn't have a problem getting out of the city but once we emerged from the midtown tunnel it was bumper to bumper traffic. And it didn't let up until we pulled into the airport. Second, I seriously think it was the first time our cab driver drove to JFK. He almost missed the exit.... he slammed on the breaks and backed up right on the highway. It was okay though because if he hadn't we would have been in the "Hamptons" traffic. Third, our cab driver dropped us off at the wrong terminal so we had to take the Sky-bridge to the complete other side. As we are making our way down the stairs I miss a step and fall... quite ungracefully I might add. Now my ankle hurt. Fourth, JFK has to be the most unorganized airport ever! It took forever to get our bags checked and clear security. By the time we made it through security our flight was scheduled to take off in ten minutes. The real kicker of this story is we left 3 hours before our flight so we could grab some dinner and relax. We were both incredibly happy when the plane took off.

We arrived Saturday morning at 8am and made our way through customs. Luckily Heathrow is a lot more organized than JFK and it didn't take long. We hopped in the famous black cab and made our way to our hotel. The hotel was lovely. It had clean rooms, great shower, and breakfast included every morning. We dropped our bags off in the room and started the trip!

We headed to Notting Hill because of the world famous Portobello Market that is held there every weekend. It's the one made famous by Hugh Grant in Notting Hill (he walks along the market as the seasons change). It has great antiques, shops, and food. We had to buy subway cards since London is pretty spread out. We didn't want to do the whole cab thing - I mean just hailing a cab already cost you 10 pounds! The subway was packed... I mean packed. I don't know if the station we were at was a main hub but there were tons of people. I can only imagine what it's going to be like in a month with the Olympics.

We made it to the market and grabbed some lunch since we were starving. The market was great. Lots of different people and just real lively. It covers quite a bit of streets so we just enjoyed walking along and stopping at anything that peaked our interest. The weather was pretty nice. It was somewhat overcast and in the mid 60's. We couldn't complain. We had heard how finicky London weather could be and we were happy with anything as long as there was no rain in sight!

Bookstore made famous by the movie, Notting Hill

After the Portebello Market we headed to tour the Kensington Palace. This is the palace that had the thousands of flowers, cards, candles in front of the gates when Princess Diana died. It will also be the new permanent home of Prince William and the Princess Catherine. Now, this is one of two things Nick and I did not like. The inside of the palace was unauthentic. It felt very fake... there were paper dolls, odd displays, etc. It didn't feel like anything we were looking at was actually history of the palace. It was weird. Oh, well... we can't like everything!

Kensington Palace and Gardens

We were exhausted after that. We had been up close to 24hours at that point and needed a good nights rest.

Today was a lot cooler. Overcast and in the mid 50's. Luckily no rain though! In the morning we headed to the Victoria and Albert Museum. This had been one of the museums that I wanted to see and it didn't disappoint. There were some really amazing artifacts and great history in the museum. One thing I love about London is most of the museums are free. You just walk in and get started. There is a fee for any special exhibitions taking place but to be able to experience any museum without paying a hefty entrance fee is amazing. The US should really consider this. I did pay to see the British Fashion: 1800's to present exhibit (Nick sat that one out).

Love this picture!

After the museum walked up to Harrods. Yes, I don't think a visit to London is complete unless you visit Harrods. It was an incredible store. I mean... that place has some money. Designer all the way. And their food hall was quite impressive. You could sit down on a stool and order $200 caviar to eat if you wanted to. We opted for pizza instead of caviar. The Italian Pizzeria was really good and we were even treated to a chef who sang opera. I couldn't quite figure out why he was making pizzas when he had a voice like that!

After lunch we made our way up to the Piccadilly Circle and did some window shopping. There was a couple of areas that Nick was interested in visiting... you know, places that make high end shoes, suits, etc. Only window shopping though. While we were walking we came across some barricades in front of a hotel. Lots of people with cameras were around. We asked who everyone was waiting and were told Kim Kardashian and Kayne West were inside. Apparently Kayne and Jay Z had a concert in London that night and Kim was tagging along. And wouldn't you know we actually got a pretty good picture. Nick didn't believe it was her... he thought she was a lot smaller and had a lot less curves in person. Ha!

Later that night we grabbed dinner at Il Barretto. Nick did not like this place one bit. He thought it was too overpriced for the food. I didn't think it was quite that bad but it wasn't our favorite. It turned out to be a real "uppity" place. Oh well!

This day was an exciting day! Why you ask? Well, it just happened to be the day we were visiting Warner Brother's Studio for the Harry Potter series. Yes, I know. Some might not find this exciting or might even find it stupid but I however am a true fan of the books and movies and it had just opened up in March. It was a no-brainier. The studio was 30 minutes north of London. It was amazing. Incredible. It was so interesting to see the exact sets up close and learn how they were created. I mean we saw so much! I loved every minute of it (and so did Nick even though he wasn't as excited as me).

The Great Hall

Gyrfindor Common Room

 Triple Decker Bus!

After an amazing morning with Harry Potter we made our way back into the city and headed to the British Museum. This museum was huge! There is no way you could see everything in one day. So Nick and I picked up a map and hit the more well known artifacts. There was some really cool items like the Rosetta Stone and a really old chess set. I mean really old.

This night we had one of our best food nights. We started at a restaurant called The Old Dutch. It is known for pancakes... but not the kind of pancakes you are thinking of. Think of it as more as crepes. Of course you can get traditional pancakes. But this restaurant actually makes all kinds. I ordered the Italian which had basil, tomatoes, and mozzerlla and Nick ordered the one with ham, bacon, and cheese. It was absolutely delicious and not something we could have gotten back home.

Next we headed to Newman Arms which is known for their meat pies. Now, I wasn't crazy about this. It just didn't sound all that great to me. But, it's a traditional British dish and it was something Nick wanted to try. We ordered the beef meat pie and split it (I knew I wouldn't be eating that much). Surprisingly it wasn't all that bad. Nick loved it... it was probably his favorite meal.

After stuffing our faces with food we made our way to The Green Man for alcoholic cider. Yep. Awesome! The cider was so tasty and I loved it. No beer for me... bring on the cider. We really need a place like this in the city. By the time we finished our cider it was late and we were ready for bed! 

Today was a busy day of sightseeing. The sun was out and it London had a high of 72 degrees! We walked from the hotel to Buckingham Palace. We made our way through St. James Park which was just beautiful. It is amazing how many green spaces London has. The parks are so well maintained and so relaxing. They had parts of Buckingham Palace blocked off because the city is preparing for the Queen's Jubilee. We made our way to a spot and waited for the Changing of the Guard. We couldn't quite see everything from where we were standing but it was quite impressive. Especially since this big production is done everyday!

Next we headed to the famous Westminster Abbey. It was pretty neat to walk down the aisle that Kate Middelton did. The abbey was impressive. It had some really important royals buried there. The churches are just so elaborate. There is a lot of money in there.

We grabbed some lunch and had a picnic in the park since the day was so nice. It seemed like everyone was taking advantage of the weather. When the sun comes out and the weather is warm you will see all the Londoners outside. Next, we visited the Churchill War Rooms. This was really interesting. It was kept the same as it was during World War II. I've always been fascinated with history and especially World War II so this museum offered both Nick and I a lot.

We were close to the Thames so we walked along that for a while and saw Big Ben and Parliament and the London Eye. Nick and I had no real desire to go up in the London eye. It was quite expensive, lines are long, and it just didn't look all that fun. So we snapped a few pictures of it in the background.

Today was our day out of the city. We took a train to Salisbury where we caught a bus to Stonehenge. I wasn't too excited about Stonehenge... I mean it's just stones. But once we arrived we were both blown away. It's just something about seeing it in person. Pictures really do not do it justice. And you stand there looking at the stones wondering how in the world this was created. It's just so impressive.

After Stonehenge we grabbed another train to Bath. It was a picture perfect Roman town. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site - we can check that off! It had a real modern feel to it in one area and then you turn a corner and you feel like you are in ancient Rome. We visited the Roman Bath's and the town square where the huge Jane Austen event is held in September. It was really nice.

Now, to the not so nice event. Or I guess I should say - not what we planned. I had seen an episode of Samantha Brown's London. In that episode she took a day trip to Bath and visited the Prior Park Gardens. She had this really nice picnic on one of the most picturesque bridges I have seen. So of course I wanted to go there. It wasn't on the main Bath map but we were able to find it. It ended up being more of a hike than we anticipated - all up hill! The whole time we kept saying this better be worth it. We felt like there was no end in sight when we came up to the top of the hill at the entrance. And what happened? They were closed.... well, not technically. They closed in ten minutes but last entrance is 45 minutes before closing. We walked all that way and we couldn't get in. Stupid park who closes way too early and stupid Samantha Brown for making it look so easy. I'm pretty sure she didn't walk but had a car drive her right up to the bridge! Oh well, now we have a funny story to tell.

Not sure what made me hug a tree? I think it probably had something to do with Nick suggesting it...

Today was another busy day of sightseeing. We visited the Tower of London in the morning. This was one of our favorite attractions. We took really took our time here and ended up spending the entire morning there. We saw the Crown Jewels (unfortunately no pictures allowed) and those crowns were impressive. I don't think I've ever seen so many diamonds and jewels. I told Nick I expected one for Christmas! Nick loved the armory - you know all the swords, guns, etc. (man stuff)!

Tower Bridge in the background

We walked across the Tower Bridge and made our way to Borough Market. It's this hugely popular food market that has a variety of different stands. We stopped at the chorizo stand and had an amazing sandwich. Add some more cider to the mix and it was delicious. We made our way to another meat stand and I ordered the chicken baguette and Nick had the lamb. This stop wasn't my favorite but it wasn't awful. No meal is complete without dessert so we stopped at the most colorful dessert stand and ordered some cakes! Perfect lunch.

We continued to walk along the Thames and walked past Shakespeare's Globe. We made our way across Millennium Bridge (yes, the one from Harry Potter) and made our way up to St. Paul's Cathedral. This cathedral was impressive... it was huge. The dome was huge... Nick and I talked and we think it might be the biggest. I should probably Google that. You could walk up the 527 stairs to the stop to see incredible views of London. After Europe and all the stairs we did we were a pro at this. We had beautiful blue skies and the view was quite impressive. Nick and I didn't get too close to the edge but we did snap a few pictures.

This night we had our one "nice" meal. Now, London is expensive. There is no way around it. You just have to accept it. I mean two cokes and one large pizza can set up back $50. That's just how it is. So when I say a "nice" dinner... I mean our one fancy meal. We had reservations at Galvin at Window's on the 28th floor of the Hilton overlooking Hyde Park. It was breathtaking. And the food was mouth watering. Everything about that meal we enjoyed.

Our last day in London. We had done so much prior to today that we left it open. We slept in and decided to get breakfast outside of the hotel. We had watched an episode of Anthony Bourdain and he had stopped at the green looking hut called the Cabman's Shelter. You can order bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches. These shelters have been around since the 1800's and it's where the cabs go to get their "on the go" breakfast. There are 13 in the city today. The sandwiches were really good... heavy but good.

We made our way to Hyde Park and grabbed some bikes and just biked around the park. It was a great way to see all of Hyde Park and really relaxing. We spent most of the day just walking around where ever we wanted to go and the ended back at Hyde Park for a nice nap under the trees.

Neal's Yard - a small colorful, quiet part of London 

Our last dinner was at a place called Byron which apparently has some of the best burgers in the city. It did not disappoint. It wasn't the best burger we have ever had (Bareburger wins that) but it was tasty. We followed it up with a sundae and our meal was complete.

We walked back to the hotel a little solemn. Our trip was at an end. We had an amazing time. It was the perfect amount of time and the perfect amount of sightseeing. Tomorrow it was back to the real world... and that statement especially applies to Nick since he will be starting work in a week!

London lived up to everything we expected and we loved every minute of out trip!

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