This week’s trip recap covers our time in London.
I arrived in town late on a Monday night, meeting up with GF Boy at the train station before we made our way to the hotel. He’d checked into our hotel earlier that day, where he was greeted with champagne and sweet treats, including a couple amazing macarons.
Oh, and by the way, the hotel room was ridiculously amazing. If you’re ever in London, I cannot recommend this place enough. The Hotel 41 is tucked in right next to the much bigger Rubens Hotel, just around the corner from Buckingham Palace. It’s a boutique-y and charming, with only 30 rooms and a cozy executive lounge where I ended up on many an afternoon, tuckered out after a day of sightseeing.
After a good night’s sleep under the most comfortable comforter I’ve ever met, it was time to see London for the first time. Within a few minutes of leaving the hotel, I stumbled on Buckingham Palace, Green Park, Picadilly Circus, and the Strand. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and tons of tourists were in town for the Olympics. The city was absolutely buzzing with life.
First, I headed to Charing Cross to pick up my London Pass, then walked down the Strand and all around Picadilly Circus. Recognizing the Penhaligon’s name from our hotel’s toiletries, I headed into a perfume shop and ended up walking out with a bottle of Zizonia, an eau de toilet they describe as “an odyssey of burnt spices, patchouli and pepper, leading to a lush oasis of sweet orange, ginger, and vetiver.” It’s as lovely as it sounds. I much preferred all of Penhaligon’s perfumes to the heady Chanel scents that accosted my nostrils everywhere in Paris — British perfumery seems to tend toward more light and refreshing scents.
The first afternoon ended up being a bit of an unplanned retail therapy expedition — in addition to perfume, I ended up buying a blazer at Top Shop, along with some fun souvenirs for family and friends. I figured I’d spend the next few days getting in some culture, and it couldn’t hurt to buy a couple reminders of my time in the UK. I’m so glad I did — one spray of Penhaligon’s perfume takes me right back to that exciting feeling of exploring a city alone for the very first time.
That evening, GF Boy and I met back up at the hotel and walked to Partriges, where we bought picnic fixings for a dinner on the lawn in front of Royal Albert Hall.
Next, we headed over to the hall for one of the highlights of our trip, Proms 13. The BBC Proms are an 8-week classical music extravaganza of daily concerts, mostly at Royal Albert Hall. That evening’s program featured pitch-perfect performances of Beethoven’s 7th and 8th symphonies, along with Michael Barenboim and IRCAM’s incredible performance of Boulez’ Anthèmes 2. IRCAM’s electronic echos created a kind of canon-like effect with the solo violin, and the results were breathtaking. The audience was perfectly silent and sat with rapt attention for the entire performance, which was a refreshing change from the Morton Feldman-inspired cough-fest at Davies Hall a few months ago. I couldn’t help but crack up at every break in the program, when the entirety of Royal Albert Hall got their coughs out and prepared to sit respectfully for the next musical interlude.
After seeing the most flawlessly-executed classical performance of our lives, we ended that first night back at the hotel lounge, enjoying some port with GF Boy’s coworkers before heading to bed.
On Wednesday morning, we had a leisurely breakfast at the hotel lounge, and then GF Boy headed to the office while I got some work of my own done at the hotel. Next, I ventured out for a stroll, walking around Eccleston Gardens. When I say “around,” I really mean it — many gardens in London are private and don’t allow public access. It sure looked nice from the outside, though!
I met up with GF Boy and his coworkers in the afternoon and ended up spending the rest of the day with them, visiting their exhibits at Science Museum and the Tate Modern.
After the museums, we stopped at a pub for drinks, then moved onto dinner and dancing at Guanabara, an enormous Brazillian restaurant/night club next to the University of London. We had more caipirinhas than I care to remember, shared orders of hearts of palm salad, picanha (a.k.a grilled tri tip steak) and moqueca vegetariana, a rich and savory coconut milk-based vegetable stew, then danced a little samba. I can’t believe I actually remembered how to dance a little bit — thanks to my world-travelling older brother for taking me out to a couple samba clubs in Rio de Janiero a few years ago! Once we were back at the hotel, I donned a fuzzy bathrobe and had a late-night snack with the crew before crashing around 2:30 in the morning.
I’m not gonna lie, Thursday morning was a little bit rough! I got off to a late start, intending to walk to Little Venice, where I was meeting a friend of my brother’s for lunch. I accidentally ended up leaving the hotel just as the changing of the guard was happening at Buckingham Palace, and I was able to catch a little glimpse of the guards’ ceremonious choreography, but the solid crowd made it impossible for me to cross through Green Park to continue my walk. I ended up backtracking to Victoria Station to take the tube instead, meeting Dan for a posh lunch in Maida Vale at The Waterway.
Dan was a total treat, and had tons of ideas for our impending trip to Edinburgh, since he’d done his undergrad education there. After we enjoyed our respective burger and chicken salad, we parted ways and I walked down the Canal and around swanky Maida Vale, a mercifully uncrowded neighborhood.
It was nice to escape the pre-Olympics crowds for a little while, but I soon found myself amid hustle and bustle again when I walked into the Lebanese/Middle Eastern neighborhood surrounding Edgeware road. Forgoing the temptation of buying all the amazing-looking dates and other dried fruits for sale, I hopped on the tube at Paddington Station and made my way back to the hotel.
That night included two more highlights of our trip, including a beautiful Evensong service at Westminster Abbey. Stepping into the Abbey was a surreal experience — the majesty of the place was overwhelming. I couldn’t help but picture the 1787 performance of Handel’s Messiah, when 800 musicians filled the church with music. The Evensong service was lovely — the Westminster Abbey choir sounded beautiful in the space, their perfectly-tuned choral voices echoing in The Quire while an organist accompanied them from his keyboard in the organ loft above.
After the Evensong service, we booked it to Covent Garden, where we were to meet some of GF Boy’s friends for dinner and a show. We ended up getting stuck in a huge crowd in Parliament Square — turns out, we’d left the abbey just as the Olympic torch parade was approaching!
A solid throng of revelers was headed our way, and it was all we could do to jump up on some chairs at a cafe to get a view of the passing of the torch.
We contemplated crowdsurfing our way the next few blocks, but just ended up muscling through the crowd to get to the brasserie where we met Misha, Heather, and Alex. Dinner was great — we enjoyed smoked mackerel rilettes, along with a perfectly-cooked portion of salmon with peas and haricots verts. Next, we headed to the Savoy Theatre for The Sunshine Boys, a Neil Simon play starring none other than Danny Devito and Richard Griffiths. With old-school humor and great acting, it was a total hoot, even from our nosebleed seats.
After the play, we decided to go out for a pint before parting ways. We ended up at Maple Leaf Pub — since three of our crew were Canadians, we couldn’t help but check out their ex-pat hub in London. It was a comfortable and crowded pub, just mellow enough to have a conversation without shouting too much! I ended up drinking a club soda while everyone else had beers — my singing voice was taking a toll from tons of talking and nightly hotel lounge drinks with the coworker cohort!
Friday was our last day in London, and I was excited to make my way to a couple last sights on my own — the Tower of London and the Victoria and Albert Museum. I got to the tower at 11:30, just in time for an amazing tour given by Steve, a Yeoman Warder. Turns out that the Yeomen Warders, a.k.a. Beefeaters, are more than just fancily-dressed tourguides — they must all serve 22 years in the Armed Forces, and hold a Long Service and Good Conduct medal to be qualified to even apply for the job! They are decorated and deservedly prideful servicemen, honored to be able to serve the Commonwealth as guards of the crown jewels and ambassadors to the tower.
After a rousing tour (complete with incredibly gory stories about the various beheadings that took place on the grounds), I took the tube to the Victoria and Albert museum, where I sat down for lunch before exploring some of the impressive collections.
Finally, I enjoyed an expertly-made latte in the afternoon sun, watching children splash around in the fountain (and adults goof around on the spinning-top chairs) before heading back to meet GF Boy for our nighttime train to Edinburgh.
Whew, that was a doozy of a post! If you’re still here, thanks for reading! Stay tuned for a London-inspired recipe later this week.