Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Winning London (Part 1)

Even after only 48 hours- arriving Friday night and leaving Sunday night- we both felt right at home in London. It was a short trip, but one of the best we've done together. It's rare that we're both interested in something to the same extent. Usually it's me who's in heaven in Europe and David who's excited about going anywhere in America. We finally found a middle ground!

After a delayed flight, a train strike, and a slightly nerve-wracking walk through unfamiliar streets at 1:30 a.m., we were relieved to find our hotel (and our bed). Our first glimpse of London was a man peeing outside the train station, but things quickly started looking up from there ;)

We started out our Saturday with a trip to Westminster Abbey. I had never been before, and because of the royal wedding and the centuries of history (in that order), this was at the top of my London bucket list.

When we got off the underground at Westminster, we had to laugh at the foggy weather obscuring our view of Big Ben. Way to be a stereotype, London. Even though we never saw the sun, we were pretty lucky temperature-wise. It was an unseasonably warm 48 degrees. If it hit 48 in Wisconsin right now, people would break out their shorts.

If you're not aware, Westminster Abbey is the Parliament's neighbor!

Sadly, pictures are not allowed inside the abbey. Happily, I was feeling adventurous and I still took some. AND I got to embarrass my husband while doing so. #winwin

Another downside to Westminster Abbey is the fact that it costs 20 pounds to go inside!! After doing it, I'd say it's worth it... but it was odd to me to pay so much money to enter a church. 

France has a cathedral where coronations took place (Reims), a basilica where most kings and queens were buried (St. Denis), and another place where famous French people (authors, artists, politicians) are buried (the Pantheon). Westminster is all of these things for the British. And it's a little more exciting, because they still have a monarchy and big events have happened there much more recently. 

This one's a little blurry, but it's the spot where Queen Elizabeth was crowned in 1953 and where William and Kate got married in 2011.

The tombs of Elizabeth I, and her cousin (who she had executed) Mary Queen of Scots, are right across the hall from each other.

There are TONS of small side chapels and tombs. We actually spent about 2 hours exploring. This one was my favorite- it's called the "Lady Chapel." I don't know why that made me laugh. The ceiling is amazing!

On the way out, there was a plaque marking this as the "oldest door in Great Britain"- from the 1050s.

By the time we finished at the abbey, it was lunch time. We headed to the Covent Garden area. If you know me and David, we are both ridiculously picky eaters. Miraculously, the very first restaurant we came across had something on the menu for both of us- that doesn't happen often in France. It was a magical moment of feeling majorly at home in London.

The covered markets in Covent Garden were beautifully decorated. They were busy with people finishing up their Christmas shopping (or for the men, probably just starting haha).

This was one of the liveliest places we came across. I was so happy because the south of France is one big ghost town in the winter. It was fun to do some people watching! The most entertaining thing was that (as far as I understand) groups of men who supported different soccer teams were drinking and singing songs at each other. Kind of odd, but entertaining.

I felt like I had to do something Harry Potter-themed in London, so our next stop was King's Cross to visit Platform 9 3/4. Yes, they actually built a place to take pictures. It's not exactly really between platforms 9 and 10, but it's pretty close. And it's hard to miss, because of the long line! We waited for 30 minutes. The secret of the scarf is that it's a staff member's job to throw it for you at the perfect moment.

I think it was worth it! I don't know if David does because he's not a Harry Potter nerd like me, but oh well. There's also a big Harry Potter store.

Our next stop was to head over to the Tower of London/Tower Bridge area. We didn't go inside, but we walked around the whole tower and took pictures. It was only 4:00 p.m. but it was starting to get dark already! Where we live it doesn't get dark until after 5:30.

Modern London across the Thames. It's funny that skyscrapers are just across the river from a medieval fortress.

David's chosen activity (I guess he had the right to choose something since I made him wait in a Harry Potter line) was to go to the evensong service at St. Paul's. We'd started our day at Westminster, so why not finish it at St. Paul's! Like Westminster, there is usually a 20 pound fee to visit, but if you go during a service it's free. You can't wander around and do the audioguide tour during the service, but you still get to see it.

Also like Westminster, pictures aren't allowed... but I did manage to sneak a few from my seat before the service started. It was my first Anglican service. It seemed a lot like Catholic mass. There was more singing (complete with a choir)- which is why David wanted to go. If I'm a Harry Potter nerd, he's a medieval Anglican music nerd. I personally think that's weirder, but to each their own. I still like him. ;)

We decided to look for dinner at Piccadilly Circus. It was even more crowded and lively than Covent Garden. I love being in big cities, so I was loving it! I even did some shopping. With the big ads this part of London is Times Square-esque. I thought several times during our trip that in some ways London is a cross between Paris and New York City. It has the modern aspects and the lovely architecture and history.

We ended up eating at an American restaurant which we've never tried in America- Shake Shack. It might be frowned upon for an American to choose an American restaurant in London, but remember that I live in France. It was nice that comfort food from home was available, unlike in France. Can you say chocolate malt?? It was delicious. 

That about sums up day 1 in London. We went to bed tired and happy with sore feet. According to our phones we walked 10 miles. And you know I didn't wear comfortable shoes.

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