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London: Days 1 and 2

Posted Jun 09 2012 6:29pm
Hello - we're alive! And after two days, I think I can officially say that I love this town. If I ever leave Louisville, I'm moving to London! But let's back up...

Friday night my cousin Reid and his girlfriend Keely were Good Samaritans and drove us to the airport for our flight. We crammed our three suitcases and various duffles into the trunk (practice for later on in the trip!) and we were wait two hours. Yes, we were early. And yes, we were ok with that. One smooth flight later, we were in Atlanta's brand-spanking-new international terminal and ready to catch our flight to London!

We hopped on at 11pm (Eastern time) and didn't hop off again until 12pm (London time). Let me just say - trans-Atlantic red-eye flights are unpleasant. Inhumane even. But we made it! WE WERE IN LONDON!! We navigated out to our shuttle, and after a tour of the airport and London, arrived at our hotel.

Here is where the adventure really began - we had to pick up our tube cards and London passes (to get us into several attractions) before 4:30pm. Our bus driver dropped us at our hotel around 3:15. We checked in, threw on a warmer coat, left Mom to unpack, and Dad and I took off racing through the streets of London!

It was windy. It started to rain. We were trying to read bus maps and tube maps and change money and purchase tickets...all in less than an hour. There were numerous missed buses, wrong turns, sprints through the streets of London, but we finally got there - just in time!

After that, we treated ourselves to some tea and a nougat stick (some kind of excellent chocolate-almond pastry) and watched the people bustle by in Leicester Square. Heavenly.

Then it was back to the hotel, where we snagged Mom and ventured out to a local pub that the concierge recommended for dinner - the Larrik Pub. On the way, we spied this strange sign.

No idea. These British people are odd! But I could seriously listen to them talk LOVE their accent! After dinner (chicken and vegetable pie, burger with Stilton, and a fennel salad shared amongst the table), we popped up to the concierge floor for a cup of tea and a brownie - I think my blood is going to turn into tea before I get home! Afternoon tea breaks are definitely going to be instated at the Vanderwerp household.

We crashed last night, and didn't get up until after 8 this morning - that traveling sure takes it out of you! A nice English breakfast (complete with coffee and fresh toast with jam) fueled us up for a big day of sightseeing.

 Marble Arch, right by our hotel Attempting to read the map - we're improving!
First, we headed over to Buckingham Palace to wait for the Changing of the Guard. Unfortunately, they're still cleaning up the remnants of last week's Diamond Jubilee for the Queen, so you can't get right up next to the palace. Instead, we lined the long street called "the mall" and waited...for well over an hour. I thought these Brits were supposed to be prompt!

 Buckingham Palace Waiting for the Changing of the Guard
But boy am I glad we waited - it was spectacular! One thing Britain does right is pomp and circumstance for all things royal. Every day at 11:30am (or 12:15pm today), there is a huge parade down the mall towards Buckingham Palace. There are Beefeaters (the soldiers with the tall black bearskin hats) stationed along the route marching about, which provided us with some entertainment while we waited.

First came some (empty) horse-drawn carriages, which the Beefeaters gave the royal salute to...

then a full marching band - on horseback...

then more horses...

another band, this time on foot...

more carriages...

the new Beefeaters, to replace the ones on duty...

and finally, one last herd of horses.

It was way cool. I cannot believe that they do this every single day! No wonder Britain loves the royal family so much - they know how to put on a good show. We strolled through the park afterward, stopping to admire some of the flowers.

Then it was off to see the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye, the Thames River, and Big Ben! Lots of highlights, all in one place.

We decided to stop for a quick bite of lunch, before crossing the square to Westminster Abbey. By this time, it had warmed up quite a bit - the sun was even out! We had a nice meal on a sidewalk table, even ordering a shepherd's pie - trying to squeeze in as many British specialties as we can!

Then it was off to Westminster Abbey - aka home of William and Kate's wedding last spring, the event that sparked this whole trip. Obviously we had to pay it a visit!

Unfortunately, there were no royal sightings. And there were no pictures allowed inside. But we took the guided audio tour, learned about all of the Kings and Queens (and poets!) buried inside, marveled at the size and grandeur, admired the stained glass and ornate carvings, and had a marvelous few hours. Spending time in something so old (and so beautiful) is wonderful for putting things back into perspective, and gaining a break from the hustle and bustle of ordinary London.

What a beautiful place! We did come outside to find a Rolls Royce, ready to whisk away a happily married couple from a nearby chapel. How cool would it be to get married right next to Westminster Abbey - or inside it for that matter?

On our stroll towards Trafalgar Square, we encountered two things - one very common, one not so common...(grandmothers and small children may need to avert their eyes)

a red phone booth, and a naked bike parade. Yes, you read that correctly. It went on for about 15 minutes. We were stunned. And laughing so hard we were about to cry. After all of that excitement, it was time to stop into a pub (the Lord Moon of the Mall) for a Pimm's cup (for me and Dad) and some cider (for Mom).

We were sufficiently fueled up! After a brief stop in Trafalgar Square...

it was off to the most wonderful place on earth. Aka Harrods. Aka where if/when I move to London, I will spend all of my money and become poor.

It was a great ending to a great day. We browsed about, found the Princess Diana memorial, bought some gifts in the gift shop, perused the food halls (yum! take me back!) and had a quick dim sum dinner at a counter.

Oh, and we may have made a stop for one of my ALL-TIME favorite desserts (I'm looking at you, Kate!) - Laduree macaroons.

They were the perfect reward after getting slightly lost on the way back to our hotel - it isn't our fault that the Tube line closest to us is closed! Ok, it might have been our fault though when we couldn't remember how to get back to the hotel. We're working on that.

On that note, I'm off to bed - got to rest up for some more full days ahead! All is well here in London. Don't be alarmed if I never return...
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