Claire, my wonderful sister-in-law, came to visit the week after Thanksgiving and we had such a blast introducing her to England! It’s been so long since I’ve seen my siblings or siblings-in-law, and it was so nice to spend a week with Claire. We visited York, the Yorkshire Dales National Park, Birmingham, and London. Continue reading “Claire Came to Visit!”
Connor always likes to suggest that his birthday be celebrated over the course of an entire week. For once his wish is coming true. Last Friday we kicked off the celebration at BrewDog Birmingham, the quickly expanding UK brewery that we also visited in London. (Craft beer: So rare that if you order something more complicated than a lager they ask you if you want to taste it first to be sure. We’re sure. Trust.) Early Saturday morning we popped down to London to roam, eat, see a show, and check out the Bermondsey Beer Mile. Next weekend we’re heading over the Irish Sea to the motherland. Quite the birthday week!
A quick Google search for “best craft beer in London” directed me to the Bermondsey Beer Mile and nearby Maltby Street Market. Six or so craft breweries have set up shop along a mile-long stretch in Bermondsey and thanks to the growing popularity of the market, the breweries open to visitors for a few hours on Saturday afternoons. We watched a bit of the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace to kill some time and then headed to Maltby Street for lunch. The market and breweries are housed along a stretch of beautiful old rail line (still in use) with huge brick arches. Each arch contains a tiny bakery, restaurant, cafe, distillery… purveyors of all things delicious. Pop-up shops and food vendors line the street outside and make up the “Ropewalk” portion of the market. See above picture.
LUNCH: I had an AMAZING goat cheese, honey, walnut, and rosemary grilled cheese from The Cheese Truck, owned by a couple dudes who claim to make “melted cheese heaven” out of British cheeses. Yes yes and more yes. I almost went back to try another option off the menu. Connor had equally delicious steak with homemade chips (fries) from The Beefsteaks. This vendor specializes in “sustainably sourced, charcoal grilled, naturally reared British beef served with sauces inspired by the London steak clubs of the 17th and 18th centuries.” (I guess that’s a thing?) I’m typically in the anti-steak sauce camp; beautiful steak does not need to be contaminated with condiments (don’t yuck my yum!), but this was a totally different story and I can’t call the juicy, delicate, herby stuff a condiment.
We were having such a blast sampling all the goodies (mead, chocolate, cheese…) that I didn’t take a single picture. Those of you who follow me on SnapChat caught a glimpse, but I forgot to save the images. Rookie mistake. Follow me there @erinksd.
After lunch we met some friends at brewery #1: Anspach & Hobday. The 6 of us had a blast hopping from one brewery to the next despite the cold and lack of toilet situation. Definite need for improvement here. The whole experience was very warehouse-esque and rough around the edges, since this is where all the beer is actually brewed. Super cool.
We also visited Brew By Numbers and UBREW, but didn’t make it to all 6 stops for obvious reasons.
We eventually headed north to the West End and checked into our Hell Hole Hostel from Airbnb. You guys. OMG it was so so SO bad. (Mom you would die.) I’m not going into detail because the weekend was incredibly fun and this HHH is not about to ruin it for me. Never again will I try to find someplace to stay just because it’s within walking distance of our activity. There is nothing wrong with taking the Tube. Also, I don’t recommend staying in SOHO/West End unless you splurge on a nice hotel. Total carnage party central = loud and sticky streets.
We quickly left HHH, had dinner, and went to see Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre. If anyone wants to come visit and see Phantom of the Opera with me 10 more times I’m totally down!!! Andrew Lloyd Weber’s production opened at this theatre in 1986 and eventually spread to theatres all over the world. It was incredible to see this show in it’s original location with the original set.
We bought the cheaper restricted view seats and didn’t miss a thing. The music was so beautiful and moving… I definitely cried and people were sobbing all around us. Two girls got up and left because they couldn’t lock it up. Pretty funny in hindsight, but the music was just incredible. Not even the HHH could ruin our mood. Seriously, if we had done anything other than see an incredible, cloud-9 show before returning to that dump, I wouldn’t have been able to handle it.
Side note: ethically speaking, what do I do about the review for HHH? On the one hand, it was a hell hole!!!! On the other, I kind of knew it would be. The Airbnb listing clearly showed it as a budget/hostel type place. The reviews were all good, but I kind of knew they were from students and people with no standards (sorry).
After basically zero sleep we left HHH around 10am and walked around Westminster, enjoyed the gardens and massive government buildings, had a fabulous burger lunch at Byrons Hamburgers in Covent Garden, and caught a late afternoon train back to Birmingham.
PS: This building was really beautiful. It’s an old gentleman’s club around the corner from 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister’s residence. Notable members included Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George, G.K. Chesterton, and George Bernard Shaw. The club IS open to women.
Lessons from the weekend:
- Eat all the market food, especially if there are long lines. You will be sick later. It is worth it.
- HHH: some standards exist for a reason. Embrace them.
- Buy restricted view theatre seats and use the money saved on classier lodgings.
- Or, see a matinee and take a train back to Birmingham to sleep.
- Do not eat Chinese food at midnight.
- London is very expensive.
- I want to see Phantom of the Opera 10 more times.
This is a rare moment for me: I’m admitting defeat. I ended my afternoon early and I’m in the hotel room bed, chilled to the bone. Oh, and my left pinky toe sliced open his brother, which is fun. Did you know that band-aids (is there a hyphen?) are called “plasters” over here? Well now you know. You’re welcome.
Anyways. We are in London until tomorrow morning; Connor is in the middle of busy-season and has a client in the city. I tagged along because, free hotel. Duh. I spent the entire day in the National Gallery yesterday, which was definitely not the plan. But every time I turned the corner there was another hotshot flaunting his* talent in new and unfamiliar (to me) ways. For example, there was a magnificent painting of two lively crabs by Van Gogh. They also have his Sunflowers piece, which is the definition of butt.
What is even happening here? Sunflowers are decidedly not brown. Are they dying? The crabs are way better.
*Yes, ladies, we are severely underrepresented in the masterpiece art world.
The National Gallery Has a great section of impressionists and post-impressionists, always my favorite. This part of the collection seemed smaller than its counterpart at the Art Institute of Chicago, but it was so fun seeing a new set of work by artists that I really love. I often think that I could look at this stuff all day, and since the weather was crappy, and I was alone, that’s exactly what I did. And I bought a print by Degas, one of my favorite dudes, from the gift shop. You can see a picture on my Instagram.
Connor and I did happy hour at BrewDog, a must-try brewery if you’re in the UK. It tasted like home!! We ended Dry January early, sorry fellow abstainers. Dinner was at Bull in a China Shop, mostly because of its name and proximity to BrewDog. Food was excellent (quinoa salad and ribs). The place was weird though… We thought it was a pub, but it was actually a high-end Japanese whiskey bar. Oops.
After breakfast this morning I walked down to the Thames to enjoy the sunshine while I waited for all of the shops to open. Visiting London in January mid-week is fabulous. There are no crowds, no lines. You might even get by without a dinner reservation. If it rains there are plenty of things to do inside, and many of the main attractions are free. If the sun is out like today, it could be in the 50s in the sun! The wind will ruin you, though.
Notice there are no people in any of these pictures! It was very peaceful.
I checked out Leadenhall Market a bit later, where a few scenes from Harry Potter were filmed. There’s supposed to be great food in this area but it was too early for lunch, so I continued on to Spitalfields Market.
I finally bought myself a black wool hat at Spitalfields. I’d been eyeing all these hat shops since we moved here and I’m very excited to jump on this British bandwagon. I’ve always had a thing for hats, and I’ve had some terrible ones in my day (pink velvety cowboy hat anyone?) The jury’s still out on this new addition. I may or may not look like Carmen Sandiego. Connor will tell me. At least it’s black, the right size, and I know the whole history of the classic style from the Chatty Kathy Salesman. He was wearing a cream suit with tails and a matching top hat. Obviously I trust his judgment.
I shopped around Spitafields – Thursday is antique day – and bough some lunch from one of the many food trucks. There’s a whole section of the market devoted to independent artists, so fun!!! Later in the afternoon I tried to covertly snap some shots of the ubiquitous, colorful street art in Shoreditch. I discovered (a bit too late for this trip) that there are guided street art tours in this neighborhood. I’d love to do this on a future London outing! The only street artist I can be counted on to recognize is Stik. Maybe some Banksy, but not always.
Up next: dinner. I’m still in a food coma from my falafel so not sure what we’ll do.
Disclaimer: I’m having issues formatting this post the way I would like since I’m on my phone, so when I push “post” in two seconds I have no idea what this is going to look like.
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!
Get comfortable and grab yourself a cuppa, because I have a lot of catching up to do! After a month without internet, we’re back in business and I can finally resume a normal lifestyle – no more sitting outside in the rain trying to check my email, or FaceTimeing my mom for an hour only to find out she couldn’t see my face because of a poor connection. I’m now happily sitting on my doll-size sofa hoping I didn’t forget how to blog. Yes, our sofa is a total joke. More on that later.
Saturday 9/12: We took an early train from Brum to King’s Cross in London and an hour and a half later, we were on the Tube heading to our Airbnb in Bermondsey. I really can’t say enough about the genius of Airbnb. We were steps from the Thames, Tower Bridge, Borough Market, the Shard… even a hotel in a less desirable area would have cost a fortune and I think we only paid 70 quid for one night. Since we would be staying near King’s Cross the rest of the week, we did an Airbnb in a different neighborhood so we could see as much as possible.
Anyway… first stop: Tower Bridge! Ahh-mazing! We walked across, but didn’t pay to climb to the top. I suppose this was the theme of the trip: get close enough to touch, but don’t pay for the silly extras. We decided that we’d have plenty of opportunities to do indoor exploration when the weather turns bad.
Borough Market!! Love love love this place. Crowded, yes. But rightfully so! This year is its 1000th anniversary (seriously). We grabbed lunch, sampled truffles, cheese, chocolate, salsa, bread, you-name-it-we-tried-it. I bought my first Pimm’s Cup (delicious) and we wandered for a couple hours before tearing ourselves away.
Onward! We walked along the Thames and checked a bunch of things off our list before detouring for a pint and some rest.
By this point we seriously needed to sit down, so we looked up Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese and headed to Fleet Street for a pint and some (more) history. The pub has been around since the 1500s and was frequented by a number of literary figures throughout the years. Dickens, Tennyson, Chesterton, Yeats, Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle… really cool place. The dark interior doesn’t lend itself well to iPhone photos, but note the “Gentlemen Only” sign below.
The rest of the day is foggy… I think we walked around 12 miles, I was tired and hangry, and we were wandering trying to find somewhere to eat dinner. Connor’s coworker was with us, and well, you know. Two’s company… I can’t remember where we ate, but we made friends with an older man who, again, was thrilled to talk to some Americans, and had loads of advice for us.
Sunday 9/13: Woke bright and early, ate an awkward breakfast at our Airbnb (Connor: “Hi how are you? where are you from?” Girl: “Guess.” ……. I don’t like ethnicity guessing games. Seems like a trap), then headed north to check into our hotel.
Connor had to work Monday-Wednesday, which was why we were in London in the first place. Whoever chose the hotel wasn’t messing around, let me tell you. The St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel was just completely beyond. I would never in a million years be able to justify spending that amount of money just for a bed, but hey. If you want to pay for it, I’ll gladly stuff my suitcase with all the fancy soaps and magazines, gorge on the macaroons, cucumber sandwiches, and loads of desserts in the VIP lounge, and become addicted to sparkling water. (I actually couldn’t fit into the dress I was planning on wearing to Claire’s wedding because of this hotel. #sorrynotsorry) Oh, also, free wine again. Oh, and because they chose the hotel so late, the only room left was a suite, so we stayed in a suite. No big deal.
Front of the hotel (below). Note the Land Rover, Porsche, Bentley, and the RV Clown Car. I’m sure reception thought we were the ones who arrived in the Clown Car. Judging by the knowing smile and “did you have a long flight?” comment, we must have been the worst dressed people they’d seen all weekend. Me: “Oh hello, may I have some of this delicious looking candy? Thank you. We’ve been here since yesterday. I know I look like hell. More candy please.”
The hotel is connected to St. Pancras International Train Station (the Chunnel) and has a really fascinating history. A Victorian Society successfully lobbied to save the building from being torn down and voilà. There’s a whole book written about the building, which I might go back and purchase next time we’re in London.
Like so many things we saw on this trip, it’s almost impossible to capture the scale of the building with a camera. I felt like Belle in Beauty and the Beast just trying to take it all in.
We walked west and went to mass at St. James in Marylebone. Another amazing church. This was actually about 2 miles away from the hotel, and still tired from the day before, we tried to take it easy. We explored the area a bit, checked out Baker Street and Sherlock Holmes’ famed address (site of a museum), strolled through a farmer’s market, and wrapped up the afternoon in Regent’s Park.
The air in the park smelled of roses – there must have been millions of flowers. Again, the pictures don’t do it justice, but it was so beautiful. I’ve never seen so many roses in one place. We rented bikes in order to make it back to the hotel in time to get ready for dinner, and I highly recommend that to anyone traveling in London! It was so fun, faster than walking, and much more my style. The Tube was definitely helpful, but you couldn’t see anything since you’re underground, and it’s sort of pricey.
Whew that’s enough for now. Stay tuned for London days 3 and 4!
OK so I’m writing this post from the WordPress app. No idea how it will turn out so let’s test it on something not that important but still kind of exciting, k? K.
Harry Potter and London.
We’ve been in London since Saturday morning. Connor had business M-W and we leave tomorrow afternoon to fly to Chicago for a very important family wedding!!!!!!
Without further ado, here are a few ways Harry Potter has infiltrated London and taken advantage of tourists. Including me. And Asians.
That’s St. Paul’s Cathedral on the other side of the Thames. The building that inspired the design of the U.S. Capitol.
I made a serious dent in the list of London sights and have loads of pics!!! Apologies in advance for the next post, which will detail all the ground I covered. Goal 1 of the blog is to stay in touch with everyone and share our adventures, and Goal 2 is to help me remember everything we’ve done. 🙂
Can’t wait to be back in the states tomorrow and eating normal food. Did I already tell you that I ate a ham sandwich every day for 30 days while living in a hotel? And that this hotel also provides free wine? I know, try not to barf. Sickly combo.