May 3rd – May 7th 2013
As you’d likely expect, it was chilly, overcast and a bit wet when we arrived, but I quickly realized that London has it’s own vibrant personality despite the stereotypically dreary weather. Besides, the sun did come out and warm things up a bit for a day or so and it was (in my best British voice) ‘quite lovely’ if I do say so.
A very practical kind of metropolis, I could almost see myself living here were it not for the dull weather lasting so much of the year. There’s easily always something to see or do and it is very easy to get around, whether by walking or taking public transport. I certainly minded the gap getting onto the famous ‘tube’, which was a breeze to master and was clean enough that I willingly held the rails without feeling like I would instantly contract some disease.
It was hard to miss that every other person was speaking a different language and there were notably far more Eastern Europeans chatting around me than I could have imagined would be. It seemed truly the definition of a diverse, multi-cultural, melting pot which made it easier to understand why I’ve heard London referred to as one of, if not the, capital of the world. We got many recommendations to try Indian food here and after some homework we settled on a restaurant in Covent Garden, Punjab, which was probably the best meal I had in my four days there. Chicken Tika Masala with garlic naan put me right to sleep that night after the waiters had to gently coax us out so they could lock up.
One of the days, we window shopped at Harrod’s (since looking at things is all we could afford in the ginormous store $_$ ) and then stopped for a quick bite at Paul, a charming little patisserie/café which I’ve come to find out is an international chain with a location here on Lincoln Road (win!). Our walking after that took us around all the major sights that tourists should see – Big Ben, Red telephone boxes (albeit they’re mostly stands for porno ads and offers now), Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, the Tower Bridge, London Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral (528 stairs to the Golden Gallery, i.e. the top, check! 🙂 ).
Another day was a trip out to Stonehenge, which was amazing to see with my own eyes. It was unfortunate, though, that we couldn’t go all the way up to the stones since it was a little difficult to see the pieces in the center. I was not expecting to see the paddocks around the historical site that held grazing sheep, while off on the other side of the hill there were sheepdog trials going on. I had to remind myself it was a dog’s sport not a pig’s, though all I could repeat in my head was, “That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.” (this time with my best James Cromwell accent, of course).
We also took a trip out to the city of Bath, where some of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens’ novels are set.
There is no more perfect word to describe this place other than quaint. Well manicured gardens, old bridges, thermal baths, terraced houses, sprawling parks all add to the charm of this welcome detour from the hustle and bustle of busy London. I didn’t try Sally Lunn’s famous buns, but I did sit and try the cornish pasties as I watched a street performer juggle flaming batons on a unicycle surrounded by a crowd. It was inferred that the ‘Best Pasty in the World’ was the original, a D-shaped pastry filled with beef, potatoes, swede (turnip) and onions. But I personally think the bacon, leek and cheese was the clear winner.
Our last night was spent at a West End show, Mamma Mia!, which was better than I thought it would be, especially considering I’m not an avid Abba fan. By the time we had to leave I could hardly believe how quickly the days went by. London is off my to-do-list and on my places-to-come-back-to list. We took the ferry across the English Channel from Dover to Calais, passing the White Cliffs of Dover on the way out. A quick bag search to satisfy security and a passport stamp with a little ship (instead of a plane) later we were on our way.
Up next… Paris.