There are times in your life when you can actually feel your horizons expanding. When you feel yourself opening up like a flower to all the weird and wonderful experiences this world has to offer. And trust me, that feeling is no less intoxicating in your forties as it in your teens. My niece Morgan and I were drunk on that feeling during our visit to London and Paris last month.
It was a trip to celebrate her high school graduation but turned into a much more glamorous, slo-mo version of The Amazing Race. Finding your way around the University of Alabama campus after you’ve successfully navigated the Paris metro? Piece of gateau.
I was in charge of trip planning, obvs. Scouring travel blogs, dog-earing pages of my Lonely Planet guides, making dozens of lists – this is my heaven. I pride myself on giving my travel buddy a trip that’s personalized to their likes and travel style. My friend Jonathan likes theatre and must-try restaurants and shares my love of sightseeing on foot, so our New York trip had all of the above. Morgan loves musicals and Ubers and free wifi. Noted.
Following is our trip itinerary for two (not nearly long enough) days in London, plus some things we learned along the way. In my next post, I’ll cover Paris and then in a separate post give more of our favorite budget-friendly travel tips, so you can plan a fabulous trip of your own.
Because we were flexible with our travel dates, we left on a Sunday when tickets were a little cheaper. I booked us for a 4 p.m. flight so we could travel overnight. A longer layover in Atlanta meant we could have dinner and not be racing through the country’s busiest airport to catch our plane. Guess what? A two-hour weather delay in Birmingham had us racing through the country’s busiest airport to catch our plane. Onboard Virgin Airlines (where the flight attendants gave us major #ballerinabungoals) we spent the next 71/2 hours watching movies (the surprisingly good How To Be Single, the only ok Sisters, the great, but disturbing Spotlight and the horrific Mother’s Day. Poor Julia Roberts.) Morgan got about an hour’s sleep, I got twenty minutes – not exactly the refreshed and relaxed arrival I’d hoped for, but surely excitement would cancel out jetlag.
We landed at Heathrow at 10 a.m., exchanged some money and got a cab to Chelsea where I’d booked us a light and airy Airbnb flat. This was my first experience with Airbnb and I have to say … I’m a fan. We had the whole apartment in a cute, hip little neighborhood and the property manager who let us in gave us the inside scoop about where to eat and which little shops to go to. And most importantly, we got the wifi password. After she left, we headed out to get fish and chips at the first pub we saw. Luckily there was a terrific one nearby called The Bottlery.
I know the English aren’t known for their food but the fish was flakey and tender and the chips crisp and piping hot. Non-mushy, bright green peas? Check. Fresh-made tarter sauce? Check. On the waiter’s recommendation we had a traditional English dessert, Sticky Toffee Pudding, which may just have been the most delicious thing we ate on the whole trip.
After lunch, we fought off the need to nap at headed to the Tate Modern, for some quality time with Georgia, O’Keefe, Picasso and Andy Warhol. Jet lag really started creeping up after a couple of hours so we headed back to the flat and crashed hard till morning.
With one full day to hit the highlights of London, we made sure to get an early start. Journals first, though.
By lunch we’d been to Trafalgar Square, toured Westminster Abbey, (no pics allowed inside. Oops), seen the London Eye and Big Ben and strolled along the Thames in the pouring rain.
After lunch, we went to Harrod’s, a department store often described as “upmarket,” which apparently means keep your sweaty hands to yourself, silly American girls. Harrod’s is more like a museum for clothes – Prada, McQueen, Dior, all guarded by haughty sales associates whose laser-like stares will cut you dead if you ask to try something on. But there’s a wonderfully gaudy Egyptian staircase in the center of the store and a food hall with 32 restaurants. Yes, please. (Fun fact: Harrod’s had England’s first moving staircase in the 1890’s and people were given brandy at the top to help them recover from the frightful ordeal of riding on it.)
In search of more affordable clothing, I introduced Morgan to the wonder that is Zara, then we Ubered over to Kensington Palace just in time to find out they were closed for the day. No matter. We consoled ourselves with Afternoon Tea at The Orangery.
I got my authentic Pimm’s Cup in England (achievement unlocked) and we had tiny cucumber sandwiches, clotted cream, scones and biscuits (which are cookies.) Morgan had champagne but passed on the macarons since she wanted her first ones to be in Paris.
Refreshed, we headed off to see a spectacular performance of Les Miserables at Queen’s Theatre in West End, then Ubered back to our flat to fall into bed.
Our stay in London was brief but amazing. Check back for the Paris recap and our favorite budget-friendly travel tips, coming soon.