Monthly Archives: March 2018

London Day 4: Christmas

Christmas Day began with a lazy roll out of bed. After a phone call home,  we decided to walk around to explore parts of the city we had yet to see. Because of the holiday, the Underground wasn’t running, so our options were to walk or take a cab. Because of our poor experience with our cabbie on Day 1, we decided to walk to the London Bridge.

Our walk took us through Pimlico and Victoria, across the Thames, and through some neighborhoods that were designed around the color gray. Gray homes on gray streets with gray sidewalks, and I’m not entirely convinced it was the overcast weather creating the dark aura. We walked for an hour before needing food and searching for an open restaurant. We were limited in our options and settled on some kind of unreputable chicken hut where Kenny ordered a chicken sandwich and received a quarter pounder.

We made it to the Bridge and saw where the people we hadn’t seen on our walk had been hiding. The crowd was refreshing and helped return some life to the city on a holiday  relies on community. We walked the length of the Bridge, then explored the side streets along the Thames. We saw The Globe Theater and St. Paul’s Cathedral before walking an hour and a half back to the hotel.

There’s an eeriness to being in a foreign city away from family on a major holiday. An unspoken sullenness hung in the air between us: we both missed our families and the meals we could be sharing with them that night. When dinnertime rolled around and we could roll ourselves out of our room, we couldn’t decide on what to eat for dinner. As we would come to find out in an hour, that wasn’t a decision that was necessarily ours to make. I don’t know if this is standard in all cities, but in London’s Pimlico neighborhood, restaurants compete for business with their Christmas Ever Prix Fix menus. We walked up and down the street, which was as far as our legs could carry us, comparing menus in windows, before we arrived back at The Windermere Brasserie, embarrassingly close to closing time, for a delicious Christmas dinner. We laughed with the Windermere staff as they toasted the holiday and closed up the restaurant.


London Day 3: Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve has arrived. Kenny and I celebrated Christmas Eve between Harrods and Hyde Park.

We set off in the morning to find an oft-advertised “Winter Wonderland.” We couldn’t find the Winter Wonderland on any map online but had heard it was near Harrods. I was eager to show Kenny Harrods. From my memory, Harrods was a place with delicious spicy ginger beer and a sundae bar. You read that right– a bar with endless sundae toppings.  We pushed past people on the sidewalk– mentally willing them to walk on the proper side of the street– a classic case of Americans being in a country that drives on the reverse sides of the road.

When we finally arrived at Harrods, we walked into the women’s accessories section and were bathed in $100 perfume and instant regret. The traffic in Harrods was just as dense as it was on the sidewalks outside and I was working off of a six-year-old memory to find the ginger beer. We aimlessly pushed through crowds in the purses, bracelets, cheeses, meats, chocolates, and coffee sections until we found the roomful of cafes. The lines for service were unlike anything we ever saw, so we made our way to the jewelry section of the store.

There comes a time for every woman when she realizes she is not, and never will be, a princess. In that moment she realizes that yellow diamonds and deep blue sapphires in ornate settings are not designed for her and will never grace her neck. That moment came for me, shockingly, in front of the Harry Winston store in the jewelry department of Harrods on Christmas Eve. I don’t know if you could conceptualize a more inappropriate time to feel as greedy as I did, but there was the feeling putting weights in my shoes. In a somber mood, I trudged up and through the rest of the department store. We perused the Rolexes, fur coats, and landed where we were happiest: in the candy and stuffed animals section. Kenny found a stuffed panda that was easily his size.



Kenny with the panda bear in Harrods.


I followed a vague memory from my earlier London trip to that aforementioned sundae bar. And for me, you may recall, ice cream remains a food group despite my lactose intolerance. So Kenny and I navigated our way through $20,000 home decor items and the tchotchke shop to find the ice cream. Once we arrived, I was very confident that I hadn’t been to this ice cream bar, and I must have misremembered, because there is no world in which my mom would have let us have a 5-scoop sundae at thirty British pounds. There was no world in which we were going to pay 45 U.S. dollars for ice cream. Our commitment to the mission was weak.

Hungry and getting hungrier, we forewent the ice cream and ventured out to a neighboring street to find any place that would be open for lunch. This is the first time but not the last I’ll say: Google Maps failed us. Our first choice for lunch was closed, and our second had been converted into a waxing salon, despite Google Maps encouraging us that it was a pub. We wandered around until we found an Italian restaurant and could rest up. We ordered “The American”– a pepperoni pizza– and regrouped.

When we finally set off again with garlic knots and pepperoni in our bellies, we decided to finally find the Winter Wonderland we had set out to find earlier in the morning.

The actual carnival at Hyde Park was fabulous. Spanning several acres across the park, the roller coasters and pretzel stands were staples to the park for two months out of each year. Luckily for us, the park was open on the holiday (and FREE) and we waited patiently to enter the park. We made a B-line for the Bavarian-themed portion of the festivities, where Kenny got a rum and Coke and I got a warm cinnamon pretzel the size of my face. We meandered around the park some more until dark when we walked all the way back to the Windermere. We collapsed back at the hotel, with only an hour before dinner began.


We hung out at the hotel, switching between Judge Judy and Gogglebox (a fine British tv program that should definitely be picked up in the States.) We got a late dinner at a local pub that was surprisingly open on the holiday. We got late desserts and Nespresso at the Windermere in an attempt to stay awake for church and chatted with the hotel staff who served as our pseudo-guides for what to do and avoid in London.


My relationship with church can best be described as frigid, which is warmer than Ken’s relationship with it. But in my home growing up, church on Christmas Eve was tradition, so I found an Anglican church in Pimlico. And dragged Kenny to it at 11 pm. We’d never been to an Anglican service before, and the research I put into finding out if we could even attend as non-members was extensive. The church was very kind to welcome us, though it wasn’t long before we realized we were actually aliens visiting a different planet instead of foreigners visiting a different denomination. First of all, the ninety-minute service was an exercise in not burning our hands in Christmas candle wax. There are a lot of call and response portions of an Anglican service, and thank goodness they were written down. But I got lost in the chants and incantations many times and murmured “hippopotamus” under my breath until I found where we were in the service. When the service ended, we couldn’t get out of there fast enough, and raced back to the Windermere to change into pajamas.

We collapsed (yet again) at the end of a marathon day that didn’t conclude until 1 am, ready as ever to sleep in on Christmas morning.

London Day 2

After a long night’s sleep that could have been longer, we stumbled down to the Windermere Brasserie. We ordered hot breakfast and as much coffee as the coffee pot could hold. After a slow morning getting ready in front of the TV (on which we found Judge Judy which would become our primary source of entertainment after 10 pm) we set off to see the sights.


Our first sight was Buckingham Palace, and I think I set the tone for the day when I kept making the hashtag motion with my fingers, and shouting “BUCK PAL!” Which is short for Buckingham Palace, of course. I had seen #BuckPal as a kid, but it was neat to see the impressive structure through the lens of an avid watcher of The Crown. 

We walked through Green Park and stumbled across a series of Eastern European men playing the “spot the ball under the three cups” game. It’s a game I didn’t know anyone was still playing in this century because I thought we collectively agreed as a society that it was a scam. Yet there were three men who were determined to keep the scam alive. Here were my two theories about the game, and they could be true or wildly far-fetched.

  • The men used magnets to suck the ball up to the top of the metal cups so the ball would disappear.
  • The guys had friends in the crowd who were bad at the game, making others in the audience feel like they could make some easy money at the game.

Whether or not my guesses are true, here’s what we know about this age-old scam. In order to qualify to guess where the ball was under the cups, you had to give money. If you guessed correctly, you got the money. But if you got the money, you had to give some portion of it back in order to guess again. The only way you can make money from this game as an audience member is if you guess correctly, take the money, strap on your best pair of Nikes, then do your best Usain Bolt impression down Green Park with your two twenty pound notes in hand. At one point, one of the men called on Kenny to guess, and I pulled us both back into the mud on the park while trying to explain to him that to guess, he’d have to give some pounds, and at our current spending rate, we were going to have to get very comfortable with eating McDonald’s for the rest of vacation.

We continued on to Picadilly Circus, which was much tamer than I remember from my last trip there. We walked up to the theater district to pick up our tickets for that IMG_1082evening’s performance of Les Miserables, a Christmas gift from family. We then continued on to the LEGO store, Trafalgar Square, and the Thames River.

By the Thames, we finally rested before walking around Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Palace of Westminster, and the London Eye. With time to kill before the performance of Les Miz, we purchased tickets to the London Eye and got some lunch at a stir fry place. The most appetizing thing about this stir fry place was the free Wi-Fi, which gave us the opportunity to check in with our families.

Then we went on our London Eye tour.

One of the key things that came up by the end of just Day 2 was the importance of expectation setting. I can’t emphasize to you enough how important it is to appropriately set expectations with your travel buddy before embarking on a new journey. I’m the walk till you drop type of vacationer, and averaging 25,000 steps on the Fitbit each day seemed about right for the trip. Kenny is more of the kick-back and relax type of vacationer, better suited for a sandy sunny beach. This difference would remain a constant undercurrent throughout our trip. But more on this later.

We got dinner at a local pub before walking again to the theater district to finally see Les Miz. Dinner was good, once we finally got it. The pub atmosphere was authentic to my memory of the London pub scene, but it was still new to us. We sat at our table for about 15 minutes before Kenny realized we had to order from the bar. 40 minutes later we were at the theater. Les Miz was probably the best and most professional and incredible performance I’ve ever seen and it left us feeling whole. Or maybe that feeling of wholeness was due to the ice creams we bought at intermission. It’s incredible: they bring Haagen Dazs for purchase to your seat at intermissions; every venue should take a cue from The Queen’s Theater on this. We finally walked back to Windermere and collapsed for the night watching Judge Judy.



The beautiful chandelier at The Queen’s Theater.


London Day 1

Once again, I found myself drawn to the U.K. Maybe it was the terrific trip I had there six years ago, or maybe it was the fact that my travel buddy had never been abroad before, and an English-speaking country was a good initiation trip. Before you begin reading, let me apologize for the delay in posting my travel musings two months after the trip’s completion. I will say that the delay allowed me to write, edit, and rewrite these entries, and I’ll argue they are all the better for it. So as not to do an information dump, I’ll post these weekly. Enjoy!


Our first day was beyond difficult. We both worked full days on Thursday, December 21 before dropping Teddy at the dog sitter’s, and heading to Dulles for our 9 pm flight to Heathrow. We were seated in the middle two seats of the four seats in the middle of the plane– we were in the sucker seats. I had previously ridden in the very tiny Lufthansa seats so I was used to the grueling challenge of endurance. But Kenny was not. Being the height of the beanstalk talked about in the children’s tale Jack and the Giant Beanstalk, Kenny didn’t get to sleep for any of the journey, and his knees were flattened by the time we landed seven hours later.

Exhausted but excited, we went to immigration at 9 am where we split up for our interviews. (We didn’t know that because we were traveling together, we should have gone for the same interview, thinking only that because we weren’t married, we should have separate interviews.) After a slap on the wrist and a roll of the eyes from a very irritated immigration officer, we got our bags and a taxi to our hotel.

I don’t know if I’ve ever had a more frazzled tourist moment than when our taxi driver asked “Where to?” in his thick Cockney accent. I could feel this Leave Voter staring at me as I searched in my phone for the hotel address. I was unfamiliar with the city’s quadrants when the driver asked me if the hotel was in “Southwest Victoria One.” Perhaps that’s why we ended up paying 70 pounds for that first cab ride– because I was too exhausted to pay attention to the route, and too scared at the 50 pound milestone to say something to the driver. It was highway robbery, or M4 robbery if you like, but I was just focused on getting to the hotel at that point.

We had been up for 24 hours by the time we reached The Windermere, and it was not welcome news to learn we would have to wait a few hours for the room to be ready. We dropped our bags with the front desk and wandered around the Pimlico neighborhood looking for breakfast. We collapsed in Le Pain Quotidien because it was familiar, and rested for a while. It came as a delight over brunch to discover that my work phone had cell service, so we could make emergency calls and navigate the city with Apple Maps and CityMapper. CityMapper told us that if we were insistent on taking a stand against cabs in London, we’d have to use the London Underground to make the 30 minute trek to Wembley Stadium for the Andre Rieu concert that evening. So we walked to Victoria Station to get Oyster cards.

When it was finally time to check in to the hotel at 1 pm, we crawled back to the hotel, and collapsed in our king bed for three hours. It would be the only three hours of sleep we would have in a day that lasted 36 hours.

At 4 pm, we woke up to get dressed and eat dinner in the hotel restaurant before attending a performance of Andre Rieu’s Johann Strauss Orchestra. This concert was the purpose for our whole trip. I’ve followed the Orchestra since I started playing their arrangement of The Emperor’s Waltz in my college orchestra. It was helpful timing that the Orchestra was playing in London at a time that Kenny and I could take off work.

The performance was terrific and we definitely enjoyed it. But nature dictated that we had to sleep. So we used the Underground to navigate back to Victoria station, then to the Windermere for some much-deserved sleep. All-in-all, a less-than-enthusiastic first day in London, but our exhaustion was tempered by our excitement of being in a foreign country.