After a pretty long trip, we arrived at the airport. We stood in an extremely long line to check in, then went through a set a doors where they only checked our boarding passes (no ID or anything). There was lots of duty free shopping so we browsed a bit and decided that perhaps we still had another line to go through. Yep, we sure did! We lined up with the rest of the non-EU passport holders. After what seemed like an eternity and several groups of people just jumping in front of the line we made it to the front. Our passports were stamped and we were sent along. Still no security checkpoint - hmm, perhaps they don't make you scan your bags in Europe? We walked to our gate only to find out what we had been missing. You go through security at your gate! But you can't go through until the flight before leaves - uh it was crazy. We were unlucky to be on the flight with a large group of high-school kids. After battling people who again don't know what a line means, we boarded our flight (which lacked assigned seats, hence the cattle herd attempting to board) and settled in. Of course, every pocket of turbulence hit elicited squeals and screams from several high school girls. We finally landed and made our way through Gatwick. Getting into the city was another story, but I think you get the idea of how long our day had been thus far.
We arrived to our flat to find it was the best place we had stayed so far. It was a 1st floor apartment with a large bed, couch, table, separate full kitchen and rather large bathroom as far as European bathrooms seem to go.
After a very early morning and a long day of traveling, we decided to get settled, stock our kitchen with food and relax. The sightseeing could wait til the next day.
We decided on doing a double-decker bus tour to see as much of the sights as possible, given our relatively short amount of time in London. Of course, after beautiful weather throughout our trip, it was cold, gloomy and drizzly that day. We sat atop the bus for awhile taking in the sights like Trafalgar square, Big Ben & Parliament, Piccadilly Circus, London Bridge, Tower Bridge, Tower of London, London Eye, and so much more. It was nice because we could see some things and get history/commentary on these places.
|The Texas Embassy - a restaurant where the actual embassy once stood|
|Freezing but having fun atop our bus!|
With our tour bus tickets we got tickets for a sight-seeing river cruise as well. We decided to do that the next day and shortly after setting off from the dock, we were frozen. It was even more blustery than the day before. We met a very nice gentleman from Australia and spoke in detail with him about this travels. After only 1/2 of the tour, we disembarked and found a Starbucks to warm our cold bones. We did some walking, including walking over the Tower Bridge and saw some of the city on our own. For lunch that day we ate at the Sherlock Holmes Pub Restaurant. Yes, I know, its so touristy and kitschy but I grew up listening to the old Sherlock Holmes radio shows on tape, so I was uber excited! And, wouldn't you know, we met a couple from Coppell (one of the places we're looking to buy a house). We ate lunch with them and had some great conversation. I made sure to look at all the memorabilia much to Corey's chagrin.
|Our Thames River boat|
|Tower Bridge - much prettier than the London Bridge|
That afternoon we were lucky to meet up with another college friend, Christian. He took us to Buckingham Palace and we walked several places including ritzy neighborhoods and Sloane Street - a big shopping area with Harrods as the centerpiece. We decided on Chinatown for dinner and it was a great choice! After wandering the streets with lanterns strewn above we decided on one of the many restaurants. As part of the meal we got crispy aromatic duck - all I can say is yummmm. And yummm again! It was so good! While in Chinatown, Christian introduced us to Gerald, the gnome - its a little gnome he carries around with him and takes pictures of - its pretty cute. We did a little more walking after dinner, including seeing Piccadilly Circus at night (its considered the Times Square of Europe).
|Rainy night in Chinatown|
|The boys at dinner|
The next day was definitely what I was looking forward to the most. We had reservations for afternoon tea! That morning we did some walking including seeing St. Paul's cathedral and Westminster Abbey. Unfortunately we didn't go into either because it would have been more than $15 per person, per church - just too much money if you ask me. After our morning jaunt, we headed back to the flat to prepare for tea. We arrived to our cozy hotel near Hyde Park and sat in a sofa and armchair for our champagne tea service. Highly recommended! It was fantastic - started off with a glass of champagne followed by lots of great pastries, sandwiches and delicious tea. Corey had a latte (sacrilegious, I'm sure) and loved the scones with clotted cream.
|Our scrumptious tea setup|
After tea we decided to do some shopping in Harrods. Okay, so it wasn't really shopping, it was more like browsing, because we couldn't afford anything except for the souvenirs. This store is amazing! I could have spent multiple days wandering around, no joke. They were even selling puppies on the 5th floor! Aah, it makes me smile just thinking back on it. Anyhow, we were pretty limited on our time there because we had other big plans for the night. Christian, Corey and I were headed off to a show! We were able to snag 1/2 price tickets that morning for We Will Rock You, a musical based on the songs by Queen. I wasn't too sure how much I'd like it, but it was great! Definitely not your Phantom of the Opera, but great nonetheless. I mean, seeing Bohemian Rhapsody and We are the Champions performed live by people with fantastic voices - how could it not be great?
|GIANT Freddie Mercury statue outside the theater|
|Gerald, Corey and I anxiously awaiting the start of the show|
Unfortunately, after the show we said goodbye to Christian and headed back to our flat. We had an early train to the airport the next morning in order to catch our flight back to Zurich where we could get our flight back to Toronto and then home.
We both absolutely LOVED London. I'd consider it a cleaner, older and prettier NYC. Corey loved that he could understand what everyone was saying. There was just so much to see and do that you could never get bored there. We also loved the place we stayed and will definitely stay there again.
I can honestly say this is the first vacation I've ever taken where I was not ready to come home. Yes, I missed by pup and sleeping in my own bed, but I loved every minute we spent in Europe, even the times spent trying to get un-lost. It was just so great being immersed in a culture, country and language totally different than ours. The history, food, architecture and weather were all great as well. We will be back to Europe as soon as we can reasonably afford it.