We had the good fortune of being offered a coworker’s townhouse in Central London over the holidays while she and her family went back to the States. It was a generous offer, too good to refuse, so we didn’t!
We chose to fly British Airways (BA), which has an easy direct flight from Rome to London’s Heathrow Airport. Lots of folks have told us about getting incredibly cheap flights on Easy Jet or RyanAir. But in order to take advantage of their low fairs, you must be prepared to pay extra for every little thing and only have a carry on bag. We seem to be incapable of packing all the clothes, shoes and toiletries we schlep along into the regulation sized teeny, tiny bag. Michael is fond of saying “go big or stay at home”, so we go BIG and fly with BA where we don’t pay extra for a large bag. The flight crew on BA is so cheerful and chatty too, plus the booze is free. It’s a no brainer for us!
Our friend’s home is in the Belgravia area of central London, a short walk from Victoria Station, Buckingham Palace and wonderfully, Harrods department store. We arrived on Christmas Eve. After quickly settling in and meeting our friend’s cats, which were our house companions for the week, we jumped into one of the plentiful black taxis London is famous for and headed to Sofra in Mayfair. At Sofra, we enjoyed a tasty Turkish dinner complete with Turkish wine and took some baklava home for a late night snack.
This was our second trip to London, having gone earlier in the month for a few business meetings Michael had there. After living in Rome, London is striking for its orderliness, cleanliness, the cheeriness of its people and the multitude of languages you hear spoken on the streets. Hardly anyone we met was actually from London. Those few Londoners we did meet, always commented on how few of them there were around and how difficult it was to get traditional British food anywhere. (I can’t feel too bad for them, really, haggis, bashed neeps, fried fish, and blood sausage, yuk!) In fact, London is Europe’s largest city with 9 million people, where 300 languages are spoken by it’s many immigrant citizens and visitors. It’s also wildly expensive with the exchange rate at about 1 GBP (Great Britain pound, they opted out of using the euro) being equal to $1.81 US.
As we were in London over Christmas day and Boxing Day (the 26th), which is a national holiday originally celebrated as the day in which employers would gift their staff for Christmas, it was a quiet few days with lots of places closed.
We were however, able to enjoy a morning tour of the major tourist sites on Boxing Day through Golden Tours. There were only 5 of us on the little tour bus along with our guide David, who was a retired broadcaster for the BBC and World News Service. He was quite interesting and a great tour guide. He showed us Buckingham Palace and the surrounding parks. We viewed Westminster Abbey, the Parliament and Big Ben and got to see them from the other side of the Thames River, which is one of the most famous shots of London (we later saw the shot in a James Bond movie). We saw the old city of London, which is the original city, and now the main financial district. We enjoyed a tour of St. Paul’s Cathedral where Diana and Charles were married and visited the crypts below, where many famous Londoners are buried and where the Royal Family sometimes holds church services in their private chapel. Our tour included Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus (which is NOT an actual circus, but a circular “square” in the city), Chinatown, the West End, the London Eye (a giant, slow moving ferris wheel that offers great views of the city) and 10 Downing Street where the prime minister resides. We almost got run over by the horses during the changing of the Calvary, who guard Buckingham Palace! It was a great morning, and I’d highly recommend the tour.
During our visit we went to see the musical Wicked at the Victoria Apollo Theatre. It was a wonderful production with great costumes, easily understood songs (I have tended to avoid most musicals because I find it hard to understand the singing), and a delightful story. I was tickled for days after seeing it.
We chose to go tour the Tower of London unfortunately on a cold and rainy afternoon. The Tower is a complex of buildings that were at various times in history home to royalty, and a prison which became famous for torturing it’s prisoners in cruel and crude ways. The Crown Jewels are housed in a museum there and unfortunately the line was sooo long and it was so nasty outside, that we decided to forgo it for another time.
It was great to sample some of the variety of cuisine available. We ate French food at La Brassiere on Christmas day, sushi at Zuma in Knightsbridge, yummy fresh salads at the Botanist in Sloane Square, great barbeque in Harrods’s food court and a lovely dinner with views over the Thames at Harvey Nichols with Michael’s boss. We shopped, mastered riding the Tube, had drinks at a few great hotel bars, and ate lunch at a traditional English pub. I got a good hair cut at an Aveda salon and we relaxed in our friend’s lovely and comfortable home.
It was a wonderful trip and yet we were happy to return to the sunshine and our familiar flat in Rome to celebrate the New Year. We return to London again later this month (more business meetings for Michael). I plan to use the time to see some of the great museums. Hopefully we will be able to take in another show or a play and try more yummy
I know it’s a bit late, but a sincere and heartfelt, Happy New Year to you all!