A trip across the pond. A trip that I had been actively mapping out and planning since last Fall. In February 2016, my husband and I bit the bullet and purchased our trip.
London, Paris and Rome in September. Three days in London, two and a half in Paris and four in Rome. A quick ten day European adventure.
Since I am a planner by nature, I had everything figured out. My husband balances me as he is the spontaneous one, so we compromised (oh, marriage!) Each city we would have one full day of nothing planned – no tour, travel, nothing. Just a day to truly immerse ourselves and get lost in each city.
February to September went by quickly and I could not believe our trip was finally days away. Bags packed, out of office messages set, money in order and confirmations made. We were ready to go! Thursday, September 15th in the evening we boarded our flight from Cleveland to JFK New York. After a quick layover we boarded our red-eye to London at 7:15pm landing in London at 7:50am on Friday, September 16. With all the excitement, Brian and I did not sleep so in hopes of not giving into jetlag, we made our way to our Airbnb to freshen up for the day.
Our first appointment was at the historic Dorchester Hotel. Thank you to our wonderful partners through my company, we were gifted with an afternoon tea experience complimentary (talk about a work perk!) The Dorchester Hotel has been ranked one of the top venues to enjoy afternoon tea. This was the perfect way to start our London stay! Our waiter was so attentive and kind as he served us tea and champagne to start. In the middle of the table was a basin of hot water with a ball of tea inside. He explained that it was lotus tea and it takes 10-15 minutes to fully steep and it will “bloom” into a flower shape when ready. While sipping on our tea, finger sandwiches were served. Tuna, salmon, chicken, cucumber and egg were the flavors to choose from. Next were the scones, jam and clotted cream. This was my favorite part as the mixture of freshly baked scones topped with strawberry jam washed down with the best tea I have ever had definitely made me the happiest person in that moment. Lastly was dessert; a tower of handcrafted works of art baked to perfection. It was an experience I will never forget and recommend a thousand times!
Now in a food coma, our happy tummies needed a nice walk so we hailed a taxi and made our way to the Natural History Museum. Museums (most) are free and open to the public in Europe. Our taxi driver was one of the most entertaining people I have ever met. In 15 minutes, we were given a history lesson and laughed so hard my side hurt as he cursed everyone else on the road, weaving in and out of traffic while pointing out historical landmarks along the way. Londoners are animated, passionate and honest. I loved every second of listening to their comments, humor and accents. Our driver took us to the side entrance and gave us the best advice – never go through a main entrance, there is always another (less crowded) way in. We spent about a hour and half exploring the Natural History museum. Dinosaurs, precious gems, the evolution of man, astronomy and many more exhibits were packed into the beautiful building. Starting to feel how tired we were, we knew we had to keep busy and active so we walked to Harrods. If you don’t know, Harrods is the New York Macy’s of London. EVERY designer you can think of has a booth here and I was ready to shop! Realizing we had somewhat of a tight budget, I reluctantly kept my hands in my pocket and browsed. One day I will buy myself a Burberry scarf (and trench coat.) As the sun started to go down, we were ready for dinner. We asked Ivan, our Airbnb host, about some local pubs that served Fish & Chips. A quick 10 minute walk and we arrived a quaint pub with lit brass candlesticks on tables, a wooden bar and Fish & Chips written on the menu. We orders some beers and enjoyed the food. Since it was after 10pm London time (4am EST) we were ready to rest up (after 48 hours awake) and get ready for a busy full next day.
Our alarms went off at 7am (Saturday, September 17) and we were ready to tackle a full day of sightseeing. We walked from our Airbnb to the Thames River, stopping in a local café for some tea and Nutella hot chocolate (yes, Nutella.) The first historic building we saw was Parliament and I will never forget the first time I saw it. A huge gothic Victorian building with the British flag waving in the wind. We walked around to the other side for a view of the iconic Big Ben. This is when it hit me that I was standing in London; hearing the bell ring and gazing at this beautiful feat of architecture.
Next we bought a full day ticket for the Tube, London’s underground rail transportation system. This mode of transportation was affordable, quick and incredibly easy to navigate. After looking at the map, we found our route and made our way to the Tower of London. This landmark is home to the Beefeaters, the protectors and caretakers of the grounds. Centuries ago, this was home to prisoners and traitors, no matter rich or poor as many royal members were executed / beheaded here. London has a bloody past and I had no idea until we took a tour with a Beefeater who explained, bluntly though with humor, the horrors that took place in the very spots we stood. The Tower of London is also home of the Crown Jewels. We walked through the museum as it explained all the Royals that have worn the different Crown Jewels until we reached the end where they are displayed in all their glory. You step on a conveyer belt as it slowly leads you past each display until you reach Queen Elizabeth’s. I went past all the displays several times as my brain and eyes could not comprehend all the jewels, precious metals and fabric that was before me. It was beautiful and sadly, they do not allow photography. We made our way to the White Tower which held hundreds of pieces of armor and weapons. This place was truly amazing even with its dark past. Finishing our time at the Tower, we grab lunch at a local pop-up (fish and chips, it never gets old!)
Only just after noon, we headed to see St. Paul’s Cathedral, Shakespeare’s Globe and Trafalgar Square before our evening river cruise on the Thames. St. Paul’s Cathedral was beautiful and though we didn’t walk through it, the exterior was gorgeous. A short walk across the Millennium Bridge (Harry Potter fans, it’s the cable bridge that get’s destroyed in Deathly Hallows Part 1) we headed to Shakespeare’s Global. It was quaint and beautiful as the twinkle lights slowly began to turn on. We hopped on the tube and arrived at Trafalgar Square; some say this is the heart of London. Fountains, street performers and museums surrounded us. We decided to browse The National Gallery that included original artwork by Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, Monet, Bellini, van Gogh, Michelangelo, Raphael and many more. To be able to stand in front of these iconic paintings by the hand of art legends was a “pinch me” moment. It was now time to make our way to the Thames by the London Eye so we could board our river cruise. I’m so glad we did this because it was a unique vantage point of the city and it gave perspective on the blend of historic London and modern London as the Shard rose up among the other buildings. Lastly, we walked around SoHo, an area known for food and culture, to find dinner. On the way, we saw the theater where they are playing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Too bad we didn’t have more time in the city as that would have been amazing to see! We found a pub and I ordered Bangers and Mash. Taking the tube back to Westminster, we walked back to our Airbnb and checked our Fitbits as we walked over 30,000 steps individually that day. It was time to rest up.
It was our last full day in London (Sunday, September 18) and it happened to be an Open House day. Open House is when certain museums or landmarks open to the public for free. While that sounds great saving money, that also means longer lines. We headed back to Parliament to wait in line to see the inside of my favorite building in London. We went through security and headed inside to the great hall where they had info displays about the building, it’s history and Big Ben (now called Elizabeth’s Tower – Big Ben is just the bell.) One quick fact that I found extremely interesting was the method on how they correct the time of Big Ben (add or subtract seconds) to make sure it is always exactly on time by adding or removing coins that act as weights on the clock. Pretty interesting! Next we walked over to Westminster Abbey to get a 360 view of this iconic church (and yes I was always on Royal watch – sadly never saw Will & Kate.) There was a special event inside the church, especially with it being a Sunday, and the Queen along with dozens of Ambassadors were expected to arrive so it was on lock down from the general public. I was still grateful for even seeing this landmark in person. Since it was a nice day, we walked over to Buckingham Palace and the parks that surround it. Everything is gorgeous and I loved how everyone was active outside and in the parks, just admiring the views around them.
One checkmark we wanted to make on our bucket list was visiting Kings Cross and experiencing Platform 9 and 3/4 for ourselves. As diehard Harry Potter fans, we were not going to let a line (about 45 minutes) stop us of from snapping a photo. Wait we did and it was totally worth it.
The last thing on our agenda for London was a big one and something that we could not pass up, even if it took us out of the city for half of the day – Warner Brothers Studio London. The location where all 8 Harry Potter movies were filmed.
Our tour of WB Studios London was our last stop and we arrived back to London around 11pm. We finished packing up our things and said goodbye to London/England anticipating our arrival to Paris, France (Monday, September 19.)
London, you were beautiful, mysterious, welcoming and magical. Thank you for having us!