London, UK: The Last Hurrah

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Happy New Year! I’ve been a bit of a slacker; the holiday season makes it easy to lose track. ¬†I’ve been sitting on writing my final London musings, so here they are. ūüôā

We started our day by strolling through Hyde Park. It was a grey (gray!), drizzly day, the type you always hear about when someone talks about England, with the added bonus of the occasional thunderstorms and¬†wind. Many people proclaimed throughout the day that we were¬†in the midst of a hurricane! Regardless of the official rainy day nomenclature (I’m not sure if an English hurricane is the same as a U.S. hurricane), we set off to make the most of our time in the city.

The stroll through Hyde Park was nice, with its perfect fall foliage. The leaves covered the ground and the park foot traffic was light, as people were likely avoiding the rain. It’s definitely hard to believe that that much open space is right in the heart of¬†a huge metropolis. We walked by the Princess Diana memorial, using the park as a shortcut to make our way to Harrods.

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Hyde Park

See, I’ve wanted to go to Harrods for a long time – probably after seeing it on some Travel Channel special. I had heard about the glorious food market, which is the primary reason I wanted to go. The food market did not disappoint. I loved strolling past the glass displays of macarons, chocolates, and other house made chocolates. I grabbed some elderflower ¬†loose leaf tea – a flavor I don’t typically see a home. We spent a few minutes admiring the shops, mostly because the room fixtures and ceilings were adorned with fancy decorations, not because I dare buy something from a couture shop. My wallet thanks me!

We walked by Buckingham Palace, which wasn’t as grand as I had imagined. I don’t know – maybe I had never really paid attention on television or in movies when it showed the palace and the changing of the guards? I guess I was expecting an imposing palace, with large grounds and gardens in the front. Don’t get me wrong – if someone offered me the place to live rent-free, I wouldn’t refuse. ūüėČ But I guess I was expecting something… more¬†magnificent? To me, Buckingham looked like it could be another government building, rather than what my mind conjures up when I think of a royal palace.

We also checked out Westminster Abbey. Initially, the line in front made us worry that the wait would be long, but it moved pretty quickly! The Abbey was a bit pricey (something I noticed about London in general). It was really nice inside, and I enjoyed seeing the numerous interior rooms, and watching the history unfold by seeing the different era styles evolving as we walked through. It was hard to believe that some of the shrines, flooring, and marble there was from the 13th century! There were a lot of different historic periods represented and a lot of recognizable individuals from history buried there – Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots are in chapels opposite to one another; Elizabeth had the grander setup, from what I remember.

Our last stop in London was visiting the Tower of London. We got there with about an hour to explore before the doors closed. It was cool walking along the walls, and enjoying the night time view of¬†the Tower Bridge. We saw the Armory building and some of the weapons/cannons/knights armor (armour ;)) displayed. Our last stop on the grounds was seeing the opulent crown jewels. They were a sight to see, and the building even had a moving sidewalk in one portion to make sure the crowds didn’t monopolize the standing room in front of the displays. It was crazy to think of how valuable those jewels are. It kind of makes me wish that I had somewhere to wear a crown.

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Tower Bridge from the Tower of London

London, UK: The British Museum, Gordon Ramsay, and a Little Cruise on the Thames

The next day, we popped over to Trafalgar Square before checking out the British Museum. Luckily for us, the British Museum was free! We only had approximately and hour and a half before¬†our lunch reservations, so we explored the globe¬†by checking¬†out Chinese ceramics, the Japan and South Korea Gallery, the Americas, and the¬†Ancient Greece and Rome exhibits. I also got to see the famous Rosetta Stone,¬†after fighting through a large group crowding¬†the glass display.¬†I couldn’t help doing some light¬†reading afterward¬†on British Museum treasures – heaps of praise online of how well-displayed and cared for artifacts are in the British Museum (and other Western museums); however, I definitely overheard commentary that the British Museum treasures should be returned to their respective countries (in more colorful language, of course).

For one of the trip highlights, we enjoyed lunch at Gordon Ramsay’s Maze; it was not a disappointment! I realize Ramsay might be a controversial figure, but one thing is certain- that man knows food. The restaurant menu consists of numerous sharing-sized plates; we ended up ordering the burrata, sushi, potatoes and spice aubergine, and button mushroom risotto for lunch from the vegetarian menu. For me, the highlight was the risotto and its perfect, creamy consistency. Seriously, the best risotto of my life. For dessert, we had yuzu curd and whey (with miso shortbread, basil, and pear). Seriously, if you get the opportunity – go! The restaurant was a lot more laid back and casual than I had imagined and the service was more attentive than any other place I’ve ever been. I love Gordon Ramsay even more now!

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After enjoying our time at Maze, we headed back toward the London Eye to take a¬†boat cruise (because I’m obsessed with boat cruises!). It was the perfect way to see more of London on such a drizzly day. We took the 3:45pm tour, and while we didn’t get to see the sunset (I’m not sure if one normally could see it, but with the thick overcast my hopes were dashed early in the day), we did get to slowly watch the sky darken and the city start to light up. Our tour guide, Joshua, was hilarious, telling stories of various buildings and bridges along the river banks, while continuously keeping us on our toes with his humor. He also tested us on our knowledge of London Bridge,¬†joked¬†about stolen British treasures, showed us the “invisible” bridge that just wouldn’t be destroyed, and relayed to us that the only bridge completed on time and under budget was done with the first all-woman construction team. ūüôā He also humored me at the end of the trip by saying “boxer shorts!” in his dreamy English accent.

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Tower Bridge and the HMS Belfast

 

London, UK: The BBMak Inspired Eye

While I’ve wanted to visit England for a long time, it has never been at the very tip-top of my list. Rightly (or wrongly), I¬†have wanted to spend my vacation time traveling to¬†countries much¬†more culturally different from my own. UK culture, with its music, television shows, ¬†movies, stores, and traditions (and celebrity chefs!), are very similar or the same as the U.S. But hey, there are some things I cannot complain about, like the fact that¬†Gordon Ramsay can infiltrate my television any day of the week!

Regardless of my greater love for the other half of Europe, I could not pass up an opportunity to¬†check out London. ūüôā We arrived in the late afternoon, quickly checking into our Hyde Park hotel and immediately heading over to the London Eye. The London Eye has been on my “must see” list for London since I can remember; I’m not sure what exactly sparked my interest. Was it hearing rave reviews from friends who had visited? Seeing photos of the famous Eye in skyline shots of London? Early 2000s era BBMak music videos? (Don’t judge!)

The Eye was pretty cool and much like most things in London, very¬†expensive. We didn’t book online, but the ticket lines moved quickly enough that I didn’t mind the wait. We opted to get the package with the Eye and the river cruise (which we took the next day). The capsules were comfortable and clean, and luckily they didn’t cram us all into them like sardines, which is always a fear with popular tourist sights anywhere.

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The London Eye capsule ahead

We were fairly lucky while on the Eye, because it had to temporarily stop, allowing us to spend an extra 15 minutes checking out the views over the Thames River. We visited on a foggy, drizzly day, but luckily the night sky gave us a lot to admire.

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The view of the River Thames from the London Eye

While heading back to the metro station, by happenstance we ran into an amazing night food market. Fresh burgers, piping hot waffles topped with ice cream, Indian curry puffed rice, and fresh squeezed juices! There were dozens of stalls serving international fare. We opted to get some freshly-made Portuguese pastel de nata (custard tarts) and dessert waffles.

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Not a bad welcome, London!