Let’s start with the breakfast spread at our hotel, shall we? Homemade granola with yogurt, fresh bread with lox/prosciutto/salami, melt-in-your-mouth waffles, the best scrambled eggs and sausage I’ve ever had, pain au chocolat, and a tart to go. Yes, that was my breakfast. Connor doesn’t suffer from Stuff Your Face Syndrome.
Happy as a clam, I set off to explore while Connor spent the day working. I walked to Covent Garden and wandered in and out of shops as I waited for the rain to stop. A pop-up antique market kept my attention for a while, and I made friends with a guy selling old books. He let me hold a few very old editions of Shakespeare’s plays, and I lingered as long as I could. Books! le sigh. Someday I’ll have a library full of musty, beautiful, ancient volumes. BUT NOT TODAY. I had a lot of walking to do and I was not about to lug Shakespeare around.
Before I left Covent Garden, I noticed a line forming outside one of the buildings. So naturally, I joined the queue and asked Google to tell me what I was waiting for. I figured it must be good if people had lined up before the building was even open. It was the opera! The Royal Opera House offers a limited number of discounted day-of tickets, but you’re only allowed to buy 1 ticket. One. I figured Connor wouldn’t be that pleased if I ditched him to attend the opera solo, so I left the queue. You may remember I desperately wanted to attend Hamlet at the Barbican and planned to get in line at 3am to score tickets. Due to the terrible rain I opted to stay in bed instead of getting on the tube. The hotel concierge was happy to take care of this for me, but that was going to set me back a few hundred pounds per ticket. This is probably a terrific service for the normal guests at this hotel, but remember I just stuffed my face so I could save money and skip lunch.
I headed to Trafalgar Square and walked around the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Nelson’s Column, and checked out a church. The rain was stopping, so I didn’t go into the museums. Next time!
Next, and at the top of my must-see list, was Buckingham Palace! I planned to follow a self-guided walking tour focused on royal and stately buildings in the area around Buckingham, but I was completely sidetracked when I heard drums rumbling down The Mall. Side note: when exploring alone, you have the luxury of changing your plans every two seconds and doing stupid things like waiting in lines for no reason. And so, I booked it down The Mall, ignoring 10 Downing Street, the Horse Guards Parade, St. James’ Place, and whatever else, hoping I didn’t miss whatever it was that required drums.
Inwardly screaming with excitement, the whole palace came into view and I joined the crowd. It took me 20 minutes to realize that I was watching the changing of the guard ceremony. Which was fabulous because for some reason I thought I had already missed this when I wasted so much time in Covent Garden. Either I’m easily entertained or this really is a pretty awesome thing, but I stuck around for an hour, watched the horses, listened to the band playing James Bond, and loved every minute of it.
I continue to be amazed by the gardens in England. Each time you turn a corner there’s something grand and beautiful and unlike anything you’ve seen yet. The Italian Fountain in Kensington Palace Gardens was beautiful – another Queen Victoria contribution to the city.
I made my way down Oxford Street, which was probably not the best route back to the hotel. Way too many people shopping and generally disturbing my peace. Take me back to the fountains and gardens! I did see the giant and famous Selfridges building, though. This may have been cooler if I hadn’t spent the last 6 years working on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. My 16 year old self would have loved it. I did go inside, but turned right around when someone tried to spray me with perfume.
FINALLY I made it back to the hotel and went straight to the Chambers Club for some snacks. I had walked more than 16 miles and deserved some sparkling water and macaroons.
Dinner with accounting people topped off the day.
Tuesday morning I ate another gigantic breakfast and biked to the Tate Modern Art Museum. Modern art can be weird, yo. But the joke’s on me – I was under the impression I would be spending the day with Monet and Manet, but that’s the Tate Britain. Blast. Not one to miss an opportunity to check out some art, I made the most of it. They really do have a pretty good collection:
After perusing the galleries, I walked across the Millennium Bridge to St. Paul’s Cathedral and planned to check out the inside.
However, today was the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, and a service was just ending inside the cathedral. David Cameron and a few other politicians were in attendance, and it was clear I wasn’t getting near the place for at least a few hours.
That evening I had reservations at NightJar, a jazz club in Shoreditch. Next time I’d love to explore this neighborhood, known for its artsy streets and graffiti-riddled walls. I intended to look up some of Banksy’s pieces but ran out of time.
Thanks to a handy app on my phone, I figured out that I walked more than 50 miles while we were in London. I’m sure that record will be broken at some point over these next couple of years. Yes, it’s exhausting, but I covered a ton of ground, spent basically no money, and would do it again in a heartbeat!