A Whirlwind Trip through London

Fasnacht is over. There will a post about it (or two?) eventually, but right now I am going to try to get in the post on London before we start our adventure to Venice this weekend. Part two of our London series was our very touristy city experience (I guess most of them are, though), where I met up with  not just Chris, but his mom and aunt for a tour of the city.

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I didn’t miss my Friday night flight this time around because I got to the airport on time (maybe too early) and did not face gate closures. There was a minor flight delay, but things were otherwise pretty smooth. We were staying in the London Bridge area, which is incredibly easy to get to from Gatwick. I got to the flat that we were renting just before midnight.

The group did some touring on Friday night, but due to a relatively early flight back to Basel (had to make it in time for Chienbäse in Liestal), we really only had Saturday for our touring. We had a relatively set agenda with lunch reservations planned and a busy day.

Our plan was to catch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace in the morning, so we set out about an hour and a half early so that we eat breakfast at Borough Market first. Borough Market is one of my favorite places to visit in London (if not the favorite). The food selection is fantastic and it’s just fun to wander the market stalls. Unfortunately, we really only allotted enough time to eat and not enough time to look at stalls. It was not enough time, but enough to buy fudge (of course) and try Scotch eggs.

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We caught the Tube to Buckingham Palace. We were there pretty early so that we could get a good spot for the changing of the guard. This was much better organized than many of our other attempts to experience this.

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Unfortunately, after about 20 minutes of standing around, we were informed by one of the local guides that they don’t do the changing of the guards on Saturdays anymore. I was suspicious of this claim at first, but was able to confirm that he was telling the truth with a quick Google search that I probably should have done before we camped out in the cold.

It was fine, though, as the changing of the horse guard was at the same time we planned and only a short 15/20 minute away. It was a pleasant walk through St. James Park. This is an event that I did not know existed, but was pretty cool because there were horses involved. We didn’t stay for the whole event, though.

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We had just about two hours until our lunch reservation and while there were a number of ways we could have spent the time, we decided it was just enough time to squeeze in a very short visit to the place that Chris wanted to try to get to, the British Museum. We had a little bit of difficulty trying to get onto a bus to the museum.

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Eventually, though, we got our bus and the double decker bus experience and got to the museum with just under an hour. It gave us time to see a few exhibits, including the Rosetta Stone and an exhibit on Korean history.

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The visit was too short for such a fantastic museum, but we had 1 pm lunch reservations to get to, so we had to cut the stay short.

Our lunch reservations was at Sketch, which was one of those restaurants that seemed pretty hyped in a lot of things that I was reading. It is also insanely Instagram friendly in a Madonna Inn sort of way.

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We had our reservations for lunch, although in retrospect should have tried to do this as an afternoon tea for the full experience. The restaurant was pretty good, though. The drinks and food were delicious. However, the highlight of the meal was for sure the vegetable poke. I want to try to recreate it because it was very good. I mean, I guess if it’s all vegetables, then it’s essentially non-spicy bibimbap? It was still good.

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Also of note were the bathrooms, which were all in a 1960s style white room with a colorful ceiling and about 16 bathroom pods.

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We followed up dinner with a trip to the Tower of London. We couldn’t introduce Chris’s mom and aunt to London without a trip to see the crown jewels. We got to the Tower of London just in time for the final tour of the day by the Yeoman Ward. It was good to have someone entertaining explain the history of the Tower of London to us.

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After the tour, we saw the crown jewels and then hit up the armory. Chris wanted to see King Henry the VIII’s old armor (mostly for the cod piece) and the big dragon made out of armor. I wanted to see the prison as well, but we got out of the armory with just enough time to get a picture of the Tower Bridge before the Tower closed.

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We hopped on a bus from there to get to St. Paul’s Cathedral. We knew it was closed, so we just looked at the cathedral from the outside and grabbed dinner at a nearby pub. We did a quick stop by the nearby Millennium Bridge before catching the Tube back to London Bridge and back to the flat.

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We didn’t have much time on Sunday because we had a pretty early flight to Basel. We initially wanted to spend the morning at Borough Market, but we found out on Saturday that the market is closed on Sundays. There was a brief plan to try to run to Jubilee Market in Covent Garden in back, but we ultimately decided that would be too hectic. Instead, we grabbed coffee at the coffee shop under our flat and had a pretty leisurely morning.

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We got to the airport with plenty of time to spare, which was used on some shopping and with what has now become the obligatory Wagamama trip.

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Although it was another short trip to London, we packed a ridiculous amount of stuff into our stay. I wish we had some more time for the British Museum and some of our other stops and the whole Buckingham Palace was nearly a bust, but it was a good trip overall.

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Being Alive in London

I somehow amassed a number of trips to the UK in the coming months, most of which are to and from London. I live a rough life, I know. The majority of these trips are to either meet or leave Chris since most of his flights are through London. The first of these trips was this past weekend. It was a quick trip, made shorter by the adventure we had getting there.

We learned a harsh lesson about EasyJet’s boarding policies. Our flight was delayed, so we arrived a little late. Chris was checking a bag because I’m trying to slowly send stuff home to make up for all the random crap I’ve accumulated here so far. Turns out, there is a hard stop to when they close check in and the gates for EasyJet that is connected to the scheduled rather than the actual time of departure. So even though we were two minutes late to the closure of the check-in gate (the difference of the tram we missed), we could not check our bags. This meant that we could either leave our bag at the airport and have it destroyed or book the earliest flight the next morning. Well, there was actually a third option of taking a taxi and dropping off the checked bag, but the flight was somehow undelayed enough for that to be impossible. It wasn’t a cheap lesson, but given everything was actually not as expensive as it could have been on most other airlines.

In any case, this didn’t cause us to realistically lose time in London, just sleep. We were staying at the Courtyard near the airport, so even after flying from Basel, checking into the hotel and taking a short nap, we left for the city around the same time we would have had we been there.

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This trip to London was focused around the West End and hanging out with one of Chris’s former coworkers who moved to London just a few months before we left for Basel. I know you will absolutely believe it when I say that I spent hours trying to figure out what we were going to see on the West End. Granted, most of the research occurred before we tacked on this recent trip and when the green light was for a show in April. I didn’t want to expend the effort to try to do Hamilton given that we have tickets for it in SF in August and wanted to generally try to avoid a show I know either had been or was going to be coming through SF at some point. That part was actually kind of hard because there was a handful of shows on the West End that I missed because I was in Switzerland when they stopped through SF, but I wanted to see something a little more special. And as much as I am always DTLM, I wanted to avoid a show I have seen a million times. What it came down to was Kit Harrington in True West or Patti LuPone in Company. And, well, as much as I like GoT, you can’t beat seeing a Broadway legend in a Sondheim show. Sorry.

In any case, the show was not until 2 pm, which meant that we had some time to walk around and eat a leisurely lunch. We got into Victoria Station and made our way towards the Thames. This included a brief stop to nerd out over Hamilton and a stop in front of the Westminster Cathedral.

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We made our way towards Westminster Abbey and walked around Parliament Square Garden, where I annoyed Chris by referring to statues of famous people by the actors who played them. I, personally, think it was a good use of the trivia knowledge that never helps us at actual trivia. It was ridiculously crowded, though. So. many. tour. groups.

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From there, we walked to the Thames (with some obligatory jokes about the time that we convinced Andrew that they had torn down Big Ben to build condos) and walked along the Thames for a while. We spent some time at an interesting memorial that people seemed to be ignoring in favor of taking glamour shots with the London Eye behind them.

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We had lunch reservations somewhat near the theater, so we made our way through Covent Gardens, where Chris rushed me past Jubilee Market so I wouldn’t spend any time at the market, and towards our restaurant. We ate at Savoir Faire, which specializes in affordable French food. It was pretty good. I was a big fan of the baked goat cheese caprese.

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Lunch didn’t take as much time as we expected, which gave us some time to explore London’s Chinatown. Given that Lunar New Year had just passed, the area was crowded and very festive. We learned later from Elizabeth that the bigger Lunar New Year celebrations were closer to Trafalgar Square, but it was still fun to walk around.

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After a brief stop for some boba, we got to the theater to see the show. I didn’t actually know too much about Company before seeing it, other than the fact that it’s Sondheim, there was a big gender swap in this production and that I could have hated the show and it would still have been worth it to see Patti LuPone sing “Ladies Who Lunch.” I completely forgot that “Being Alive” is the other big number of the show (hence the title of this post) and I recognized far more songs from the show than I expected. Still not sure where I’ve heard some of them. Traditionally, the show is about a commitment-phobic single man who is facing his 35th birthday party with all of his married / almost married friends. There are snapshots of his experiences with each of those couples and the weirdness of relationships. The gender swap of a woman facing the same things at 35 worked really well. I actually don’t know if I would have liked the show as much as I did in its original iteration. I did listen to some of the older cast recordings and there’s a certain additional layer to it in the version I saw. In any case, I loved the show and have been listening to music from it all week.

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After the show, we rushed back through Chinatown to meet up with Chris’s former coworker for dinner at Dishoom. Along the way, we passed by an Agatha Christie memorial and the pub that we ate at during the beginning of our backpacking trip 11 years ago where some strange man tried to convince us that he was the richest man in London.

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We got to Dishoom, which is a pretty trendy Indian restaurant, where there was a looooong line. We waited in line for about an hour, something that wasn’t so bad because they bring you chai tea in line. We ordered a ton of food and it was all delicious, but it was fun to catch up and share stories of our respective ex-pat experiences.

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Given the 4:30 am wakeup call, we were exhausted by the end of dinner, so we caught the tube to Victoria Station and made our way back to the hotel. Chris and I both had morning flights the next morning. Mine was earlier, but we left around the same time because Chris had to get from Gatwick to Heathrow. I made it through security surprisingly fast, which gave me time for my obligatory airport stop at Wagamama.

So, that was our pretty short London weekend. Despite the rocky start and the fact that Chris abandoned me, it was a good weekend. Tomorrow, I meet everyone in Edinburgh, something I’ve been preparing for by bingeing Outlander.