After our adventurous bus ride from Brussels, we arrived in the evening of the 30th to Walthamstow Central, near where Brian’s cousin lives. We were greeted with wine and great conversation, before heading upstairs to pass out to recover for our amazing next few days visiting the city.
On the 31st, we went with Natalie, Chris, and their son Trey to eat at the staple of London food, Nando’s. We had been told we had to try it and it was actually really good! Brian and I split an order of the chicken with mashed potatoes and corn on the cob. The walk from their home to the restaurant is actually one long market, and said to be the longest market in the world! There were all sorts of vendors, shops and stalls along the way. Soccer matches were on so Brian was taught how to properly wager some money at one of the many betting shops we passed on the road. After stuffing ourselves silly, we went to a local brewery, Wild Card Brewery. We enjoyed some delicious beers here and each song on rotation was great, I really wish I would have asked for their playlist. They were setting up for what looked like it would be a great New Year’s Eve party. While we were there, Trey realized he left his Legos at the restaurant and fortunately when we returned, they had them waiting for us! Whew – crisis averted.
Chris, Natalie and Trey were going to a friend’s house party for New Year’s Eve, while Brian and I were meeting up with a fellow Tottenham Hotspur fan, Sarwan, for some drinks before watching the London fireworks over the city. We arrived at the Brazilian bar in Chelsea where his band would be playing, but it was such a winding, twisty turny place it was hard to figure out where they would perform. We just went to the downstairs bar to get some beers. Sarwan and his samba band arrived and it was wonderful to catch up with him, as well as meet some of his friends. Soon, it was time for us to head to Primrose Hill, where thousands of people were gathered to watch the fireworks. Some people decided to bring their own, personal fireworks, which sometimes seemed to explode a little too close for comfort. We counted down with the London Eye and rang in the New Year. After, we had a drink in Camden at the Dublin Castle, which is a legendary bar that has been host to many famous acts, but we just sort of stumbled upon it. The bar was packed to the brim with some interesting characters, which was endlessly entertaining. Finally it was time to catch the free Underground home – the trains run for free on New Year’s Eve, which I think is a great idea!
January 1st was a quiet day (of recovery) of going to the pub to watch the Tottenham game (they won!), and visiting Brian’s new favorite place in the world, the new LEGO store at Leicester Square. It’s the biggest LEGO store in the world! Trey and Brian bonded over their love of LEGO during our visit. The museums were all closed on New Year’s Day, and it was pretty rainy and grey (London weather, of course), so we decided to cook dinner at home and enjoy the evening. We picked up the necessary ingredients for grilled cheese and tomato soup for a cozy night in.
The next day we had big plans! One of my favorite things about London is the huge network of free museums. Natalie explained that since she was able to work from home, she could work from the museum cafe, and spend a while really enjoying one exhibit, with no pressure to see all of it at once. If only we had something in Oklahoma! We visited the British Museum, which I had visited before many years ago, and loved just the same the second time. We were able to see the Rosetta Stone, the Egyptian mummies, Roman and Greek artefacts, and so much more. We were able to see quite a bit before we had our little lunch of packed sandwiches, and then it was time to head to White Hart Lane!
White Hart Lane is home to our favorite team, the Tottenham Hotspurs. Although we were sad we couldn’t attend a game while we were there, we were able to go on a stadium tour, which was pretty amazing. They are actually building the new stadium next door, so it was cool to see where all the history has been made and what the new one will be like. It was sort of the best of both worlds. We got to visit where they do the press conferences, the home team and away team locker rooms, and even go down to the pitch. We sat in the big racecar chairs that I always love seeing on TV, and learned a lot about the history of the team.
After the tour, we went to Brick Lane, a cool, interesting area, and stopped to get a bagel at Beigel Bake, which hit the spot. We wandered through the streets of the area and I liked so many of the interesting vintage shops and bars. We stopped and got some drinks, and Brian got an amazing strawberry lime cider that I was super jealous of. That evening, Chris showed us is his amazing sticker books from his childhood, which were sort of like baseball cards, but you received stickers of the soccer players.
Finally it was time to show Brian the touristy sights of London. He had been there for days and had yet to see Big Ben up close! We decided to start on the west side of London and work our way east. Our first stop was the Natural History Museum. For 112 years, a dinosaur named Dippy has greeted visitors in the main hall, and it turns out the day we were there was the last day he would be there! While waiting in line to get in, we met a fellow American named Matt who just happened to be a fellow Tottenham Hotspur! He was traveling solo, so he joined us for a bit on our day. We then visited the Victoria and Albert, which is literally across the street. Inside was DaVinci’s Forster Codices, which was cool to see but also very tiny. After our visit we walked past the massive Harrod’s Department store to visit Buckingham Palace. It was a sunny, beautiful day, just like when I visited London 7 years prior. Somehow I’ve lucked out on sunny days when visiting London. Matt parted ways with us, as he needed to check into his hotel and finally catch up on some sleep – he had just flown in from the United States and I think the jetlag was hitting hard.
We walked through the park toward Big Ben, and of course the massive crowds of people who were there as well. We popped inside a bar that has a view of the tower for some beers, and Brian used the free wifi to find us the perfect place for our London mission: to put together our LEGO set of Big Ben with a view of Big Ben. And we succeeded! He found a great view from a hotel down the street, which had an open lobby where we could sit, have a snack, and make our little creation! We had previously put together Buckingham Palace, because we knew it was less than likely we could just chill outside by the fountain for a while working on LEGO, but it was so much fun to put together Big Big together. With that success, it was starting to get dark, so we went to the National Portrait Gallery, and listened to one of their excellent 10-minute-talks, where a volunteer speaks in depth about an art subject that they well-versed in and passionate about. It was really interesting to listen to. Again, I would love for Oklahoma City to have a similar museum network. One day, maybe…
That evening we wanted some fish and chips, so we went to a local pub recommended to us by Chris and Natalie and had a delicious dinner. Brian noticed that it happened to be pub trivia night, so we stuck around a played. Our team, “American Werewolves in London,” did abysmally when it came to very specific British pop culture trivia, but we were complimented on the things we did know, and even won the wooden spoon for coming in last. We also learned what Polomints were from a nice grandmother at the next table. The question about those stumped us totally.
January 4th we made our way to the Tower of London for one of the guided tours and a look at the Crown Jewels. The Yeoman Warders give tours every 30 minutes. When we arrived it was rainy outside a bit (typical London drizzle) so our tour was held inside the chapel. By the time we finished the talk, which was very interesting and our guide was very funny, the sky had cleared a bit! We then went in where the Crown Jewels are held. I love the little side moving walkway to take you past the famous jewels so people don’t crowd around or just hang there forever blocking the view. You are transported by them, feeling a little like the lazy people in Wall-E, and you marvel at the dazzle and the shine. After daydreaming about a massive heist, we took in some more of the exhibits like the Bloody Tower and the White Tower. We needed to keep a move on though, because it was time to catch our ferry at the Tower Pier. The ferry is part of the London public transportation, just like Hamburg has. Their ferry costs more than a regular ride (in Hamburg it’s the same cost) but it’s way better than having to pay for an overpriced tour! Our ride took about twenty minutes to go from Tower Pier to Greenwich, and we went straight under the Tower Bridge for a great view of the skyline, and had time to eat our lunch. It was a very comfy ride and had tables and a little place to order coffee and snacks. Highly recommended!
We arrived at Greenwich and found a place to grab a beer at “The Gipsy Moth,” which was really cute before we headed up to the Royal Observatory where you can look over a totally different perspective of the London skyline. We also paid to go through the museum, and we were able to see all the interesting telescopes and devices used throughout history to advance science. We took cheesy pictures over the Prime Meridian, where east meets west. It was a really interesting and unexpected area! We were able to see a bit of the sunset before we walked under the Thames through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel to meet Sarwan and his son for dinner at the Lahore Kebab House in Whitechapel. We sampled so many delicious dishes and had way too much food, before we headed over to a local pub to watch the Tottenham vs. Chelsea game. The pub really filled up when the local university let out a class and suddenly we were surrounded. Tottenham had a very satisfying win, which really put a nice bow on our great evening.
Our flight to Berlin was early the next morning so we needed to pack up our things (find where they had all migrated to) and prepare to return to the land of beer and sausage! London was amazing and I’m so glad we had plenty of time to explore and catch as much soccer as possible. Next time for London: catch a soccer game in person!