“The American Invasion” – Our Time In London
Adam and I bid goodbye to Berlin and headed for our next city: London. Katie and I had been especially excited about this trip because this was leg of the journey when we would be joined by my sister and brother-in-law, Sammie and Steve, and Katie’s parents, Bob and Sally. And while they were with us we would be celebrating Sammie’s 30th birthday, Steve’s 32nd birthday, and Katie’s 29th birthday. Most of the group (with the exception of Sammie and I) would also be travelling to Wembley Stadium to watch our hometown football team, the Cincinnati Bengals, take on the Washington Redskins. So, with so much excitement, we were headed for a truly spectacular time!
This post, like others before has been divided up between my point of view and Katie’s as far as what we did each day.
What We Did
Day 95 (10/25/16): We departed our Berlin apartment and made our way to the airport for our flight to London. We flew into London’s Luton airport, and then had to grab a cab to a hotel I had booked using points near Heathrow Airport. We were staying near Heathrow so we would be prepared to pick up Sammie and Steve from there when the arrived the following morning. Once we settled into our hotel we went out to find lunch. We ended up walking to this lovely little pub called the Green Man. We feasted on savory pies, nachos, and curry and downed our first English ales. That evening we watched all of season nine of The Big Bang Theory on Netflix before passing out.
Day 96 (10/26/16): Adam and I checked out of our hotel and headed to airport to meet Sammie and Steve. When they arrived, we greeted them with enormous hugs before making our way to tourist information to purchase our Lindon Passes and tickets for the London Eye. We then got a ride to our apartment near downtown London and dropped off our bags. We headed across Westminster Bridge and got our first pictures of Big Ben and Parliament. We walked around a bit, past Westminster Abbey, through Saint James Park, to Buckingham Palace, and back, sipping on beers we bought from the grocery store. After we were through we stopped for our first pint together in a pub near the Prime Minister’s residence. This started a sort of chain reaction in which we would wander from pub to pub, taking pictures of sights or in phone booths or with statues along the way. We wound up at a pub a stone’s throw from our place called the Black Prince where we got dinner and more drinks. We had planned to do the London Eye that evening, as Katie and Justin indicated they did not want to do it and had not yet arrived from Amsterdam. While at the Black Prince, we realized the Eye would be closing shortly. However, rather than be discouraged and trying again the next day, our liquid courage told us we could make it if we ran; so, we did. We ran all the way to the Eye and made it just in time to Board the very last car of the evening. We took pictures and took in the city lights during our 30-minute revolution in the Eye. We walked back and rounded out our evening with a nightcap at another local establishment, the Dog House, before calling it a night.
Katie & Justin: After a long day of traveling from Amsterdam and a big mix up at the airport Justin and I made it to London.
Day 97 (10/27/16): Fending off a hangover, Sammie, Steve, Adam, and I (henceforth referred to as NASS to make it easier for myself) got up and headed out for a full day of sight-seeing using our London Pass. Our first stop was the Tower of London. We made it just in time for the free tour led by the Beefeater Guards. We explored the torture tower, chapel, armory, residences, prison cells, walls, gates, and the White Tower. We decided to forego the crown jewels this visit, as the lines were enormous and we wanted to hit as many sights as we could with our pass before the day was over. After leaving, we captured some pictures of Tower Bridge and boarded a hop-on-hop-off boat tour for a quick cruise up the river Thames. We enjoyed a beer and some snacks while listening to the history of various buildings and bridges along the river. We exited the boat at Westminster Port and headed for the abbey. We spent several hours in the abbey, as we generally found this to be one of the most interesting sites in London before heading for our final site, the Globe Theater. We watched some play-actors and had a tour of the theater, which is a recreation of the original, but still serves as an active theater to this day. After leaving, we were famished and after what seemed like ages found a mildly expensive and mediocre Italian place to have lunch/dinner at. We passed the Millennium Bridge on our way back to the apartment. Being easily distracted, we made it as far as the Dog House before getting another pint. We stayed here drinking for most of the evening, eventually being joined by Katie, Justin, Sally, Bob, and more friends from back home including Cameron, Josh, Lindsey, and Cristin. We sought to find our way back to the apartment, but being who we were and completely full of merriment, stopped for one more drink at our favorite pub, the Black Prince, before tucking in for bed.
Katie & Justin: Unfortunately, my parents flight was delayed so our originally planned as a full day of site seeing had to be cut short. After picking up my patents from the airport we headed to the apartment to let them freshen up. I was so excited to see my parents! I think is the longest I have gone without seeing them. I was excited to show them London and hopefully help them catch the travel bug. We headed first to the Churchhill War rooms checking out Parliament, Big Ben , and the London Eye along the way. The war rooms were a underground bunker where most of the British planning of WW2 took place. It had everything, a full kitchen, bathrooms, meeting rooms, bed rooms, map room , everything a person could need since many people Churchhill included lived there during the London bombings . I think this was moe exciting for my Dad than Mom but she seemed to enjoy it. Afterward we were hungry so we wondered to the Windmill Pub for fish and chips. It was PACKED with locals and the food was great. Cameron and Josh met up with us there and after a few beers we moved to the next pub to meet up with the rest of our group.
Day 98 (10/28/16): Today was Sammie’s 30th birthday (and Steve’s 32nd à love you Steve). We first awoke and got ourselves to Buckingham Palace to see the famous changing of the guard. Then as a large group (including all the people who were at the Dog House the prior evening), we decided to start the day by exploring Borough Market, one of the largest and oldest food markets in London. We split up, taking in all the sights and smells (with craft beers in hand, of course), as we explored the various stalls sampling exotic meats, spit roasted pork, and various types of fudge. From here we split based on gender for the next set of activities. The girls went to High Tea, and the Boys headed out to get Chipotle and beer. High Tea was held at the Chesterfield Hotel (not to be confused with the Cavendish Hotel – SOOOOOOO sorry about that Lindsey!), and had a “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” theme. We ate tea sandwiches, scones, and candies, sipped tea, drank expensive champagne, and socialized. Afterwards, we walked to a nearby bar/club called Fifty 9 Bar for happy hour bottles of wine. After some convincing, we managed to get the boys to agree to join us (their drinking adventures had once again taken them to the Black Prince). The bar was having a Halloween party and we stayed to enjoy some of the music and live entertainment. Continuing our celebration of Sam and Steve’s birthday, we went to several other bars in the area, and eventually ended up at the Dog House, where we indulged in drunk-food kebabs and I recorded videos of Sammie telling how she felt about being thirty.
Katie & Justin: Our group woke up early and headed to Westminster Abby. It was amazing and I think my favorite site we saw in London. I had been there before but at that time there was no audio guide. They had one this time and my family and I wondered about for about 2 hours learning about the church and all the famous people buried there. After we went to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard. It was packed and hard to see but we managed to get a decent spot and see some of it. Next, we met up with NASS, Cameron and Josh and headed to Borough Market. We walked through a scenic King James Park along the way. At the market our group split up again. My parents, Justin and I started with a pint and then explored the market trying cheeses, olive oils, my dad got a Greek inspired dish, sauces and of course cheese cake! After meeting up again the girls went to tea while the boys found CHIPOLTLE ( Justin almost died from happiness) and continued drinking at some pubs. We meet up again at a Halloween themed Bar Fifity 9 to celebrate Sam and Steve’s Birthdays.
Day 99 (10/29/16): After such a wild celebration the prior evening, we decided to take it a little easier today. NASS took their time getting ready before heading out to the train station. We took the train to the stop closest to the Mayflower Pub, where we had lunch. It was the original departure site of several of the passengers of the famous ship. We were now full and ready to explore. We had all been very interested to see the facilities from the 2012 Olympic Games held in London. Therefore, we boarded the tube and headed for the Olympic Park, on the outskirts of town. The tube station dumps out into a massive open air shopping complex. We wound our way through a maze of restaurants and stores and crossed a road to reach the park. We first came to the aquatics center, and upon learning the price of admission was only $1 decided to go in for a look. We sat in the stands and watched the various swim teams that now use the facility train, while also admiring the diving area. We decided to forego the track and field stadium because of the steep admission cost and opted instead for a long walk on the grounds, which had the added bonus of allowing us to see how we stacked up against the Olympic gold medalist for ling jump during those games. After we had soaked up enough of the fresh air, and taken some interesting photos, we headed back into town. That evening we opted to hit up the last evening of a local Oktoberfest celebration, and enjoyed some steins and a few games of euchre using a deck purchased from the Westminster Abbey giftshop. With the following days activities in our minds, we opted for a calmer evening and headed straight home after.
Katie & Justin: Today our group went and met up with some friends of Justin and I that live in London, Toni and Chris. We had met the couple on our Honeymoon and couldn’t wait to see them again! Toni picked us up from the tube station and we headed to their place for a few drinks and catching up. Their house was adorable and I fell in love with their puppy Peaches! Next, we headed to dinner. Toni had had a reservation for us and I wish I could remember where because it was the best food we had in London. If you go to London try the meat pies!!! After dinner, we headed to Toni and and Chris’ local Pub for the Halloween Party. I felt bad because it is a costume party that Toni wins every year and she didn’t do it this year because she was with us.( Her costumes are amazing! I saw the pictures) The place was wonderful. It was nice to see a non-tourist place and relax with friends. Toni and Chris knew everyone and we even got to meet Toni’s parents. After a lot of drinking and fun our group headed home. We will miss Toni and Chris and I can’t thank them enough for a great day! Hopefully we will get to see them again son.
Day 100 (10/30/16): Today was Katie’s birthday and the day of the Bengals/Redskins football game. We began by pregaming at the apartment, playing piccolo and cards and downing beers. The entire gang, with the exception of Sammie and I, left for Wembley Stadium to support out hometown team, the Cincinnati Bengals on their international appearance. Sammie and I went to the store, bought some beers, and out on the third Harry Potter movie to play HPDG. Afterwards, we headed to Piccadilly Circus to meet up with Strawberry Tours for their free Harry Potter walking tour. The tour took us through Trafalgar Square and other parts of London, showing us places both where the movies were filmed and places which served as inspiration for places or parts of the book such as the Three Broomsticks, the Leakey Cauldron, Diagon Alley, and more. After concluding the tour as champions of the Harry Potter trivia competition, we returned once again to our beloved Black Prince pub for our farewell drinks and some dinner. Afterwards, we returned home to pack for our flight in the morning.
Katie & Justin: Yay my Birthday!! Justin had gotten me the Bengals tickets and jersey as my present so I happily put on my jersey and we started to pregame for a win. As we all know the win didn’t happen but the game was still a blast. Our group minus Nichi and Sam headed to Wembley Stadium. We drank on the tube and made friends with other NFL fans. There were a lot of different jerseys to see since a lot of Londoners went to the game just to see any NFL game. We made it to the stadium and found our seats. We were able to sit all together which was great. The game was a blast minus the tie . Since the Bengal’s were the home team they had flags for us which made it fun and listening go Josh freak out the whole game was immensely entertaining. My dad even scored us free food from the NFL ! After the game we headed to the black prince for some food.
What We Learned
- Find a good local pub to go to and get to know the staff. It will give you a good local experience and they are awesome for getting advice from. Our favorite pub by far was the Black Prince. We must have gone there at least once a day. Their food was fabulous, the ale was cold, and the atmosphere, being farther out of downtown, was authentic. The Dog House was a close second.
- London historical sites are EXTREMELY expensive. Of all the places we traveled, the main attractions in London (London Tower, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, etc.) cost the most to get in by far, so be prepared to shell out some dough. We got the London Pass, which did help offset some of the expense. However, it would have been more worth it to get the two day versus the one day pass. We just barely covered the cost with our one day passes, but you could have gotten a lot more value with the two day pass for a bit more money. Also, the Globe was cool, but definitely not a “must see”, especially because it is a recreation.
- The red phone booths are awesome for typical tourist photos, but drunk Londoners sometimes use them as toilets. You have been warned.
- The changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace was one of the things we read was a “must-do” in London. And, we were easily swayed in that it was free. However, what we learned was that if you don’t get there super early, you will not see anything. The crowds are insane, even in the off season, and unless you are right up on the gate, you won’t see the guards change. You may see the marching band of guards going through the streets and into the palace gates (if you haven’t been mobbed by the crowd), but really it is not that exciting. And, even if you try to get a picture, you will likely have three hundred cell phones and/or tablets in that shot all recording the marching for a video those people will not be watching later. But I am not annoyed or anything.
- You do not need to take cabs anywhere. If you get the Oyster card at the airport, you can take the tube around all day for just about $7.00 maximum. And, the tube is incredible and massive and goes to just about every site you could want to see. It’s a really convenient and quick and easy to use. That being said, the Oyster Card generally does NOT work on trips to the airports. We were misguided by some tricky wording on the Oyster Card website, and thought you could use the balance to fund those trips. However, you need a separate ticket for journeys to the airports. If you do not get one, you will receive a hefty fine upon exiting the train (believe me, I know what I am talking about).
- High tea sounds cool and is a neat experience. However, it is very expensive and I found it to be a bit pretentious. This is probably the drunk American college girl in me talking, but I was kind of uncomfortable sipping tea and eating little cakes for over $60 per person with no champagne involved (I mean who can drink that much tea). It was a bit of a budget buster for not as much return as I was expecting. I cannot fault the hotel though, as the service was impeccable and the furnishings were plush.
- Justin insisted I add the fact that they have a Chipotle in our lessons learned. He does say that it is not as good as home, but it will do. Just an FYI.
- Running to the London Eye, though a mistake of timing on our part and the result of too much ale, was one of my favorite memories there. We got to see a big chunk of London’s riverfront, and got some exercise at the same time. It was very cool to be in the very final car of the night (even though it regrettably rendered our “jump the line” upgrade for our tickets useless) and know you were getting the best view and would be the last people to do so that day. The night was definitely the best time to go. Seeing London lit up like that was truly the way to go. You get a full feel for the vastness of the city. I loved sharing this with my family.
- Exploring Westminster Abbey was incredible. Be prepared to spend a lot of time there, and be aware that they close earlier than most sites. I have been to a lot of churches during our three months in Europe, and my two study-abroads, but Westminster is by far my favorite. The history of the people buried there is just amazing. I found it even more interesting probably, because I am a big fan of the Tudors TV show, and well as Reign, and loved the movie Elizabeth. In addition to monarchs, however, the church is also the resting place of numerous famous authors, scientists, and mathematicians. You will be floored by how many people you have heard of who are buried there. If you are a history buff, this site is for you.
- On Sammie and Steve’s birthday, we wandered into the tube to head back to the pubs closer to our flat and were met with the harmonious sounds of sexy sax, coming from a pink saxophone in the underground. You have never seen four more ecstatic drunk people.
- Seeing Sammie and Steve again after so long, was in and of itself, a memorable moment. Zi love and miss you both!