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Published: April 11th 2015
Spring has sprung! The birds are chirping, the sun in shining, the trees are budding, and I am soaking it all up.
It is difficult to live so far from my beloved family and friends, so it was fantastic to spend a week with my mom in London over the Easter holidays!
Though I’d visited London a few times before for long weekends, having a full week to delve in and explore gave a whole new perspective of the city. We invested in a week’s underground pass, which allowed us to move quickly and efficiently around the city. The stations and trains were remarkably clean, especially when considering the volume of people using those spaces constantly. It was pretty remarkable how manageable it was to move around London, given its size and the crowds, and we had many positive experiences with very friendly and helpful people.
The people watching on the escalators entertained us. It was fun to see how many people, like us, enjoyed looking at others as they passed in the other direction. Lovely dress coats seemed to
be a must for women in London- there were so many styles and colors. Typically, men were clean-shaven, unlike the many bearded Scandinavians and Coloradoans, but their haircuts were pretty standard, even verging on boring.
On our first morning, we set off into the sunshine to make our way to the Churchill War Rooms. We arrived early, around 10 when it opened, and we were already asked to wait a few minutes, as there was a crowd. The rooms were really interesting to see, maps covering walls, yarn showing supply lines, etc., and the complementary audio guide gave us the information we needed to appreciate the small details (the sign that was updated to let those who were working underground know the weather that day in the city, etc.).
Recently, a museum devoted to Churchill was added to the back of the War Rooms. It was extraordinary. The amount of information, the different modes of communicating and experiencing the information, and the layout of the museum were brilliant. As we chatted over lunch, my mom and I swapped facts about what we did not know about
him before going in. For us, that museum was a highlight of the trip.
We walked up to Oxford Circus, enjoying the sunshine, spring displays in stores, and people passing, to make our way to Liberty of London for afternoon tea. It is hard not to love a tradition which involves slowing down in the afternoon to enjoy a hot beverage and some sweets! We then drooled over and drowned in their selection of fabric, before visiting another department store’s haberdashery to compare.
Our next morning began with the impressive and daunting British Museum. It is incredible that a visit there is free; for those living nearby, it would be great to visit the museum somewhat often for small amounts of time. The building itself is imposing, and the volume and scope of the artifacts that the museum houses ultimately overwhelmed us. After appreciating the Rosetta Stone, we chose to focus our attention on one section, but even then, we were overwhelmed.
We strolled along from the museum to Covent Garden, appreciating the small independent shops. We weren’t overly
impressed by Covent Garden, but perhaps we had built it up too much after it had been recommended. The main attraction we were told was a pavilion with shops and restaurants inside. When we were there, it was extremely crowded, and the shops and restaurants were mainly chains. But, the people watching and the streets surrounding the pavilion made for a nice afternoon.
Perhaps it was my mom’s jet lag, or just not finding the area too stimulating, we decided a bit more culture was needed. We zipped off to visit St. Paul’s Cathedral. After a flash rain storm, our only of the week, we walked around the exterior and marveled at the enormous dome. The interior was equally impressive, and I would have enjoyed a tour or audiobook, but we had to leave due to evensong-but it would be something I would prioritize another visit.
Some friends had invited us up for the day in Oxford, so we took the train from Paddington station in the morning the following day. The train ride was rather unremarkable, but I think that made Oxford all the more
extraordinary. Gerry, the Brit of the couple, was a professor at Oxford, and so he took us around on a whirlwind tour of the university. Things like, “Here is where Haley lived and saw his comet,” or “This is the first secular building dedicated entirely to music,” kept me in wonder as we wandered around the college and city.
Lunch at a gastro-pub in a nearby village allowed me my first taste of sticky toffee pudding. I could wax on here about that dessert for a good long while, but I’ll refrain. After having shared about our experiences at the Churchill Museum, our hosts were inspired to show us his childhood home. We drove the perimeter of the grounds, and it was astonishing how long that took us to do! As we took our drive, we were able to appreciate the lovely hedgerows and pass through sweet villages. The day offered a pleasant contrast to the bustle of the city.
We opted for spending the next day on the South Bank. We walked the pedestrian bridge, the Millennium Bridge, taking in a view of the city.
Though there are many parts of London which are lovely, and perhaps it was because it was a gray day, but the view was not beautiful, but it did offer perspective on the layers of history and the enormity of St. Paul’s. After a delicious breakfast and some clothes shopping (a bird in the hand!), we visited the Tate Modern. The museum itself is impressive, and we decided to do as we had in the British Museum, and just immerse ourselves in a small part of the collection.
The walk we took from there to Borough Market took us past the rebuilt Globe Theater and some super hip looking restaurants. The market was great fun. It was buzzing with people and brimming with incredible food! The fresh produce was incredible! And, we found a few baked goods which we couldn’t possibly resist. Perhaps it was because we were not on a time schedule, or because we were not encumbered by bags, but even though the market was crowded, it did not overwhelm me like Union Square in New York City. Perhaps that is due to a vacation mindset as opposed to the daily
Our culinary adventures did not end at the market that day. We took the recommendation of a kind manager at a restaurant to check out a fish ‘n chips place called Rock and Sole. We loved the experience and the fish was so fresh.
I am sure smelling of oil, we set off for an evening of theater. We had purchased incredibly inexpensive last minute seats to see War Horse, which was playing just around the corner from our hotel. The play was exceptional. The staging, interpretation of the horses, and use of staging were extraordinary.
Taking inspiration from a craft and cooking blog we both follow, we decided to spend much of the next day in Shoreditch. But, before we made it there, we hopped on a double-decker bus and tracked down the knitting shop Loop. The bus ride was so fun! We sat up on the top in the front, and seriously, I felt like I was flying! It offered a new vantage point, allowing us to peak into gardens and the like.
Shoreditch reminded me of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, from 6 years ago. Cool shops, vintage clothes, independent shops, and great cafés. We took it all in, appreciating the different energy in this part of the city. After a mediocre lunch at an Indian restaurant on Brick Lane (forgot to do our research on which was best before we left home!), we took an unintentional long walk to reach the underground station, which took us through some business districts and along a street of exclusively African fabric shops-sometimes getting lost in a city is great fun! We rounded out the evening with another sticky toffee pudding, good, but not as good as the first, and the musical Billy Elliot.
For our last full day, we, along with every other tourist in the greater London area, visited Notting Hill in order to appreciate the Portobello Market. As we pulled off to the side of the sidewalk to look at George Orwell’s home for a moment, I had the sense that we were in fact watching a parade go by there were so many people! But, somehow it all worked out, and we were
able to appreciate the antiques, unique wares and vendors, and delicious foods that the market offered.
Our visit held a great balance of museums, shows, shops, sweets, evenings knitting, and time chatting. I still do not know if London is in fact less frantic than NYC, or if that was just because I was not in a hurry I was not affected. Regardless, the diversity of people, food, activities, and neighborhoods were stimulating, and it was not hard to find something that appealed.
Now it is the final stretch of the school year! As I will be moving to Copenhagen next year, I’m trying to soak up what Helsingborg has to offer, though I know it is a quick trip away if I find myself missing it next year. Off to enjoy an evening stroll in the sunshine!
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