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A 30-something living in the foothills of the Virginia mountains; I'm saved by grace, addicted to coffee and my little sister is my best friend! I devote most of my time to exploring, reading, attending as many Nationals games as possible and documenting life here. My Prince Charming got lost somewhere along the way...but I'm trying to remain hopeful that true love exists.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

London: Travel, Tea & The Big Bus

Oh my - London - what can I say? I know there are moments that I don't think words can do justice to; rounding the corner and seeing the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben for the first time...walking the grounds at the Tower of London and in general just knowing the history that soaks the streets of London and the surrounding English countryside.

I'll try not to make this a picture explosion - but I can't guarantee that will happen - I took over 800 pictures over the course of our 8 days in London. I guess when you consider that's only (yes, ONLY) about 100 pictures a day, that isn't so bad. I'm honestly surprised there aren't more pictures! It was certainly one of the greatest trips I've been on in my thirty-one years and I will try my best to recapture those feelings here as I recap our trip.

I hope you enjoy the pictures and I hope you enjoy me sharing this dream come true I experienced over the week of Christmas and New Years!

The Christmas Tree at the Dorchester Hotel

Wearing our Christmas Crowns for tea!
We arrived in London early on Christmas morning - around 6:45 - and it took us about 45 minutes to get from Heathrow to our flat. We didn't stay at a hotel; my Mom had heard that they are notoriously small and so we went with AirBnB, we stayed in a two bedroom flat in Chelsea and it was great! As soon as we got into the flat, I laid out on one of the beds and crashed. The only thing we had planned for Christmas was having tea at the Promenade at the Dorchester Hotel...and so I slept, curled up in a ball under my coat for about four hours.

It was a different way to spend Christmas - and please don't take that to mean bad - different doesn't always have to be a bad thing. I will say it didn't necessarily "feel" the way Christmas normally does, but life and it's experiences are ever evolving...so I suppose the way Christmas feels is also something that changes. 

Each of our plates had a traditional English Christmas cracker - you pull the ends and out comes confetti and some surprises. My cracker held a little pocket mirror, a joke and the all important paper Christmas crown(s) that Lindsey and I wore throughout our tea. Several other people at the Promenade were also wearing their crowns and we felt like we fit right in! The tea was absolutely delicious, the cakes, scones and clotted cream were to die for and they even sent us back to our flat with cake pops! What's not to love? We managed to stay awake until almost 9 PM...well, my Mom, Lindsey and I did...my Dad not so much!

The Houses of Parliament & Elizabeth Tower
The London Eye!
Tower Bridge on the Thames
Love. This might be my favorite London "landmark"

We booked a three day pass on the Big Bus London Tour - which is basically a big ol double decker bus that you can hop on and off all over the city and see all the things. We weren't sure what our plan of attack was so we decided to hop on to the Big Bus and ride all over the city and see what all we available to us. So, we were able to cruise all over the city...starting at Victoria Station and going all around London, seeing all the sites - the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Cathedral, the Shard, the London Eye, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, the Gherkin, Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace...have I named enough things yet?

When we arrived on Christmas day, we didn't really see any of the landmarks that make London seem like "London"...so even though I knew we were in London, it still didn't seem like we were in London. Well, that definitely changed as we rounded the corner to cross Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben - technically Elizabeth Tower - loomed large. I may or may not have gotten a wee bit excited because...y'all...I was in London! And of course, while I was taking in the Houses of Parliament and all that business on the right, I looked left and there was the London Eye! I suppose on the bus ride, things all started to seem very real! I was in awe from there on out and was especially enchanted when we passed the Tower of London - one of the things I was most looking forward to.

Climbing on the lion(s) in Trafalgar Square

The Royal Horse Guards & the London Eye looming large in the background.

Westminster Abbey

Buckingham Palace

Our guide on the Big Bus was named Nuri and she was pretty excellent - she was very knowledgeable but also absolutely hilarious and really easy to chat with; she was conducting a walking tour on Sunday and so we decided we'd meet up with her for that and around lunch time we hopped off the bus after making the rounds to see what we could see on foot. We explored Trafalgar Square and climbed on the lions - even though it's technically illegal - but everyone else does it, so why shouldn't we? We walked down the road toward Westminster Abbey, stopping along the way to look in on the Royal Horse Guards and snap a few pictures. 

I will say I'm always astounded by the stupidity of people (I know - you're like, wow...what a jump) and this was no exception in London: there were signs next to the horse guards; who are actual men on horseback in full uniform who have to hold that horse reigned in one position, so not an easy job...and the signs said not to touch the horses because they would bite. Yet what did almost every person approaching for a picture try to do? Pet the horses! Come on people - seriously? Enough on that though. We passed 10 Downing Street, home of Prime Minister David Cameron and we took some token London phone booth shots before arriving out front of Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament. We snapped pictures for days and then decided we'd hop back on the bus and head over to check out Buckingham Palace before searching out a dinner spot. 

Buckingham Palace is grand, certainly...but I suppose when I think of a place where royalty lives, I naturally think more of a castle. It's all those Disney movies, I'm sure. Ha! It was fascinating to be standing so near the spot where William and Kate shared that kiss for the people of London, where the births of Prince George and Princess Charlotte were announced on the special placard...a place where so much history has unfolded for many years, not just the past five. Granted, all of London is dripping with history - I mean, it's been a city since Roman times. It's a bit mind-boggling when you really think about it. We sought out dinner and ended up just grabbing some sandwich things from the market by our flat to close out our first full day in London. 

Mr. Holmes...are you there?

There are those famous fuzzy hats!

Harrods - oh my gracious - whoosh.

The Eye by night...
Sunday we started the day by riding the bus over the Baker Street - I had to stop in at 221B, of course! There is a Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221B Baker Street but we'd read some reviews saying it wasn't really worth the fifteen pounds that they asked for and the lines were usually quite long. We arrived at 221B around 9:15 and there was already a line for the 9:30 opening time! Eek! I was plenty pleased just to see 221B and snap a few pictures - it's not like Sherlock and Watson were there anyway. ;)

We met up with our tour guide from the previous day at 10:45 and went on a whirlwind walking tour along the Royal Mews (the roadway leading up to Buckingham Palace) to St. James Palace in preparation for watching the Changing of the Guards. St. James Palace is little known but is where Charles and Camilla, Henry and his cousins Eugenie and Beatrice live...in Clarence House, which is apparently attached to St. James Palace. It's also where the pictures and announcement of Prince William and Kate Middleton's engagement was done and the balcony of St. James Palace is where it is announced that a reigning King/Queen has passed on and the new King/Queen is announced. It's believed to be bad luck to hear your own pronouncement of "Long Live King/Queen So-and-So"...so I suppose Charles should avoid that balcony for the next little while - although it seems like Queen Elizabeth will live forever; she'll be 90 in April.

And yes - of course Charles will be the next King. As Nuri said "it doesn't just skip Charles because everyone hates him." Ha! After watching the Changing of the Guards with what amounted to (it seemed) every tourist in London, we crossed Green Park to have lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe - the first ever built. We followed up lunch with a ride on the Big Bus again; this time to Harrod's, the largest department store in London. All of the tourists at the Changing of the Guard obviously came to the same place because it was so packed you couldn't move....granted, the BIG SALE was on...the only sale Harrod's has each year is from December 26th (Boxing Day) to January 17th and those Brits weren't playing around. After a bit of shopping, we hopped back on the Big Bus and made our way to the London Eye.

You may have noticed I don't seem to have any pictures from a high vantage point...ala on of the pods of the London Eye...and that would be because I elected not to ride. Now, don't be sad for me. I'm not sad for me. I have a paralyzing fear of heights and the idea of being trapped in a pod with no way of escape for thirty minutes was enough to send me over the edge - so my family hopped on and I watched the wheel turn, change colors and just look spectacular from my seat on the ground. See - it's fine. I promise. We hopped on the Tube/Underground afterwards and cruised over to Fleet Street for some supper at Punch Tavern...and even though it was Fleet Street, Lindsey was brave and got herself a pie....ha-ha! And if you don't get that reference...well, I can't help you.*

Big Ben by night...

So - the first two full days in London - not too shabby if I say so myself. But oh, there's so much more to come! Until next time, cheerio! 






*Okay - I can help you. Look here.

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