Europe 2012: London
Next up on the European adventure was, in the words of Joey from Friends — “London, baby!!!”
And better than that, after traveling solo for the past 11 days, I was SO excited that arriving in London meant finally being reunited with my friends!!!
For anyone who missed my original Europe post, this entire trip originated as a group of friends and I were invited to attend our friend Sara’s wedding in England over the holidays. But as you will see, all 8 of us had completely different itineraries! Thanks to snowstorm delays, holidays with families, and early flights back to the States, someone was arriving or leaving nearly each day that we were together in England. It made things a little complicated, but thanks to our fancy spreadsheets and planning meetings, we made it work. And it ended up being a wonderful adventure!
Of all the cities on my European trip, I was in London the longest — 5 days initially, and then 1 day before flying out. But since all of us had been to London before, we decided to take things easy and try to make this somewhat of a relaxing vacation. So we took time to visit our favorite places instead of trying to cram a zillion things in. We also lucked out with some seriously great food while we were there, and pub-crawled our way through more fish and chips and mulled ciders than I’ve had in years! So much fun.
Here are some of the highlights!
After some flight troubles, I finally arrived in London and found my way to our flat in Maida Vale where Kerry, Nathan and Michelle were waiting. I was so excited to see them. And I was, um, amused to see our flat!
It turns out that the owner had a very distinct style of decorating. Each room definitely had a theme. (Notice the red heart curtain swatches also strung around the lamps — nice touch.)
Our first order of business upon arrival in London was to find some good fish and chips. So we made our way to Micky’s Fish & Chips, recommended by our flat owner. Amazing fish. Mediocre chips. But we were all so hungry from traveling that I’m pretty sure we ate every bite.
Then we hopped nextdoor for our first of many English pub experiences. And our first of many map sessions.
Afterwards, everyone was jetlagged and tired, but it was strangely only 6pm! (Although the sun literally set there around 4pm each day — very disorienting.) So we decided to hop on the train and go visit Trafalgar Square.
It was beautiful at night!
There was a Christmas choir singing out in front of the National Gallery. Very festive.
When we went up to take a picture in front of the National Gallery, we discovered that it was actually open that evening. So we spent about an hour walking through, and then enjoyed a concert inside with a quartet of viols — these antique stringed instruments from the cello family. Beautiful.
The next day Michelle and I struck out on our own and found our way to the Tate Modern. The open lobby was enormous. Fascinating to see that much open space in such a crowded city.
I thought often of my sister the art teacher as we refreshed our memories on the timeline of modern art.
One of my favorite rooms.
Also loved these trees, carved out of…trees.
I could easily include about 20 more Tate pictures, but I’ll spare you. Needless to say, we spent a few hours here and completely loved the museum. If you go, be sure to grab the audio tours (on fancy little iPod players). They completely made the tour! So much great background info, and some great supplementary videos too!
That evening we all met back up and shared stories at a neighborhood restaurant called Red Pepper. They initially said they didn’t have room, but apologetically said that they had one table available only for an hour. Apparently we’re Americans, because we immediately assured them that was no problem!
We had a fabulous meal of pizzas, yummy rocket salads, and “the best Mozzarella in Italy”. And yes, we made it out in an hour.
The next morning, we discovered another neighborhood favorite — Toast.
Afterwards, we made our way to the British Museum. But as we exited the subway, we passed by a theater whose marquee read Hillsong London! After having been a worship leader for 7 years who followed Hillsong churches closely, and also after not having been to church for two weeks, I decided to take a detour and pop in for 30 minutes for worship. The usher immediately led me right to the front row, which made for a wonderfully awkward exit when I had to run. But it was cool to see the church, and to get a few moments to recenter on a Sunday morning.
Afterwards, I went down the street to meet back up with the group at the British Museum.
Beautiful combination of old and modern architecture.
Wish I could have spent more time here. So much to see!
Afterwards, we randomly popped into a restaurant that looked promising — Cote. The food was incredible and we promptly declared it our new local favorite! We later found out that it’s a chain all over England. :) But still — really great food!
Then we backtracked across the street to a restaurant we had passed with a-ma-zing desserts in the window.
Michelle and I split this magical chocolate delight.
Loved all of the Tolkien touches around. :)
A little busier than our quaint little Maida Vale neighborhood.
So lovely to see our American influence.
Afterwards, we spent the evening at the V&A Museum. I wish I had taken more pictures! This museum might have been my favorite of the city. Totally eclectic collections, but I really loved them all! If you’re there anytime soon, they had a modern Middle Eastern photography exhibit that was incredible.
When we walked outside, the lights everywhere were breathtaking! (This photo totally doesn’t do it justice.)
Ice skating! Made me miss Crown Center and Christmas in Kansas City just a bit. :)
After a bit of walking, we came upon Harrods. We decided to pop in 5 minutes before closing on December 23rd. Suffice it to say, it was insane. But we were in the gourmet food area, and it was a dream!
Afterwards, we came home and toasted with our syrah from the wine shop nextdoor. They got to know us well over our 5 days.
We also developed an evening tradition of playing cards. Yes, cards. Michelle taught us her family’s favorite game — Thunder — which became all the merrier we decided that English accents and hand motions were an essential part of the game each night. Who knew playing cards could be such a jolly good time?
Believe it or not, this was a very serious moment of the game. We mean business with our cards, people.
The next day, Michelle and I went on a mission to find hats for Sarah’s wedding. These ones were a little crazy expensive. But crazy fabulous!
Here were the hats we ended up with. I am trying to figure out an excuse to wear mine again soon. :)
That afternoon, we welcomed one more friend — Beth from Gimme Some Reads! We went to the Elgin, a new restaurant nextdoor to our flat, to celebrate her arrival.
So happy to have Beth there! (That’s our London address written on her hand!)
We made our way to St Paul’s for a caroling service. But apparently hundreds of others had the same idea, and the line was already all the way around the church and beyond. So we had to pass, and decided to just hum some carols of our own. :)
We did get to hear the beautiful church bells though!
Afterwards, we went for an evening walk along the Thames.
We were planning to walk to Big Ben, but it was freeeeeezing. So we hopped on the tube, and emerged out of the train station to this view. Breathtaking.
Then we wandered around to Westminster.
We had hoped to attend the 11pm Christmas Eve service here, but the trains all stopped at midnight, so we settled for just walking around and admiring the view.
Stunning even at night.
We just wanted to look up.
Saw this across the street. Made this girl who was raised Methodist happy. What up, Wesley!
More map time with other tourists.
One more view of Big Ben!
Our resident eskimo.
Comfy shoes and boots all around.
In Barcelona, I took a sangria tour of the city. In England, we had mulled cider or wine nearly every day, I think mostly because we were SO COLD! Still, it was wonderfully good.
Things you don’t see in the US: random strangers asking if you would watch their babies at the pub while they pop in the loo. The woman was so kind, though, and we loved entertaining her sweet son!
As they say in England, we had a Happy Christmas! Sarah (from Gimme Some Film) arrived at 6am, after her flight had sadly been delayed 3 days due to a snowstorm in Kansas City. We were so happy to see her!
After she got settled, we all walked to a Christmas morning service at an Anglican church down the street from our flat.
I counted it a very special gift to spend Christmas worshiping with friends from church at a church halfway around the world.
Feels almost like Jacob’s Well. (Photo courtesy of Kerry.)
The church was even eco-friendly, and recycled their bulletins from the previous year. :)
After church, we cooked an amazing Christmas dinner in our tiny flat kitchen! What’s more, we made tons of wonderful dishes with just salt and pepper and one little jar of Italian seasonings. I was so pleased!!
The meal included Nathan’s cider peppered pear pork portions, my garlicky roasted vegetables, “rocket” (arugula) salad with apples and Michelle’s amazing vinaigrette, bread and butter, olives, hummus, digestives, and our neighborhood wine. :)
Then after lunch, we watched the queen’s Christmas address. We were all amazed by how much of her speech was so unapologetically religious. Very different from the States.
After Christmas dinner, we strolled a few blocks over to Abbey Road Studios. Because that’s what you do on a normal Christmas.
The walls outside were covered in lyrics and more.
Every tourist (including us) had to take the classic Beatles photo. (I will post ours soon!)
Afterwards we went for another walk around the neighborhood. Here are the girls – Sarah, me, Bet, Michelle and Kerry.
And our sweet couple, Nathan and Kerry!
On our way home, we decided to duck out of the rain and into a pub we passed called The Prince Alfred. All of us ordered the Double Chocolate Stout – YUM.
The crazy thing about this pub was that you literally had to duck to move from booth to booth. Apparently the section where we landed was the section once reserved for the “poor”. Each class of society had their own sectioned off area, including a special area just for the women so that they didn’t have to see the men drinking. Here is Nathan showing how low you had to go.
The next morning, Sarah led us to a beautiful breakfast place in the neighborhood. We all thought that these sugar cubes were marshmallows at first glance.
We all tried their amazing pastries.
And traded cameras and smiles over photos.
Europe = bikes.
That afternoon, we made our way over near Kensington.
Always photos. :)
One of our group’s favorites was the Princess Diana fountain. So creative and beautiful.
We also swung by Buckingham. A little underwhelming, but we bid hello to the queen!
We had the double decker bus all to ourselves on the way home.
Finally we bid farewell to rainy, foggy Londontown. Next up, Shrewsbury!