In three short days London became one of my favorite cities in the entire world. London is so unique because it's home to such a wide range of people, cultures, and food. It's amazing to see all of these things work in unison to make up one of the coolest places on earth.
How'd we get there?
My mom and I flew a combination of Delta and Virgin Atlantic to get to London. I paid $501.40 for two positioning flights to Chicago and redeemed miles for two Virgin Atlantic Upper Class tickets to London. I've already written extensively about my Virgin Atlantic Upper Class experience so I won't bore you with the details ;)
Where'd we stay?
We stayed with my Mom's friend Karen and her family. Karen went to the University of Iowa with my mom WAY back in the day. Karen and her husband Rod now teach full time and live in London wit their daughter, Sissel. They were kind enough to open up a room for us in their flat for the three days we were in town. I can't thank Karen, Rod, and Sissel enough! They we're overly accommodating and went out of their way to give us a great London experience.
What did we do?
When my Mom and I landed in London on Friday morning we met Karen at her school to drop off our bags. Her school is located just down the street from the Abbey Road crossing that the Beetles made famous in 1969. My Mom and I tried to replicate the iconic photo, but I don't think it turned out quite like the album cover...
After making our iconic street crossing, we hopped on the Big Bus London. Nothing screams tourist like riding a double decker bus with head phones in your ears and a camera in your hands! Since it was my Mom and I's first time in London, we wanted a guided tour around the major sights and sounds. The nice thing about Big Bus London is that they offer free WiFi on all of their buses. This was really nice for those of us traveling overseas who don't have regular cell phone service.
We decided to hop off the Big Bus tour right by the most famous clock tower in the world. Here's a fun little fact for you: Elizabeth Tower, formerly known as the Clock Tower, is located at the Palace of Westminster. What most people don't know is that Big Ben is actually the nickname for the bell inside the Elizabeth Tower, not the tower itself.
Next up was a river boat tour. If you purchase a 24 hour pass with Big Bus London, it includes a one-way river boat tour on the Thames. The river boat tour was another great way to see the city. Our tour guide was awesome and he had a very quirky sense of humor. The boat took us from the Elizabeth Tower all the way down the river to Tower Bridge.
Since we only had a one way ticket, my Mom and I decided to beat feat back down the Thames. We passed all sorts of London landmarks on our walk. We even crossed Millenium Bridge, which you may recognize from one of the Harry Potter movies.
We stopped to take a look at William Shakespeare's Globe Theater. It was mentioned on our tour that Mr. Shakespeare spent a lot of his time along the Thames River.
Saturday morning my Mom and I set off for Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard. Karen had warned us that it's really popular and told us to get there early. She wasn't lying. This place was PACKED. My Mom and I slowly weaseled our way to the front of the crowd and managed to get a good spot. If you're over six feet tall you're in luck because you'll be able to see over the majority of the people there. I even had a few strangers ask me to record videos and take photos because they couldn't see.
That afternoon we met up with Karen, Rod, and Sissel for lunch in Chinatown. Elizabeth and I had just visited Chicago's Chinatown, but London's made that look miniature! London's Chinatown is like four square blocks of roasted duck and paper lanterns. It was really cool to see.
After we had our fix of Chinese food and culture for the day, we went to The National Gallery. I failed to mention it until now, but the best part about London is that all of their museums are free! They have areas for freewill donations, but otherwise they are completely free. The National Gallery reminded my of my trip to the Louvre. There were paintings wall to wall, as far as the eye could see. Much of them had no significance to me, but I did stumble upon a few Vincent Van Gogh pieces that I recognized from various classes and textbooks.
Our big event we planned for Saturday night was to go see the play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Everyone said, "If you go to London you've got to see a play!" Normally, live theater really isn't my gig, but I decided I couldn't pass it up. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time blew my mind! It was one of the coolest things I've ever seen. The set, actors, and atmosphere were perfect. I'll definitely be seeing another play the next time I'm in town.
My Mom and I got up Sunday morning and went to visit the Portobello Road Market. The market was awesome and the entire street was lined with storefront shops. A lot of the shops were selling vintage jewelry and clothes. I personally didn't buy anything, but if that's your style you'd have hay day there! The coolest part was probably the color of the homes though. Every house was painted in some sort of bright, vibrant color. When they were lined up in a row it was almost like they were a rainbow.
Next on our list was Kensington Palace. Located in the heart of Kensington Gardens, the royal residence is something out of a fairy tale. The high, gold gates and lush, green gardens are certainly fit for a king.
We spent the next part of our afternoon at the British History Museum. Once again, I couldn't help but notice a striking resemblance to the Louvre. We got to see one of those mysterious heads from Easter Island.
A giant Buddha.
And I did my best impressions of some Roman sculptures.
Our final stop on Sunday was probably the most exciting of them all. We went to watch a flyover and police procession at St. Paul's Cathedral for fallen London police officers. After everything was finished, my Mom, Karen, Sissel and myself hung around to see if Prince Charles would come out the back entrance. Sure enough, after a small crowd had gathered and a 15 minute wait, the Prince himself came waltzing out. I have to give credit to my Mom and her extremely nice camera for the photos. We were a considerable distance away and my iPhone 6 wasn't up to the challenge.
What did we eat?
Take a wild guess what my first meal in London was...Fish and Chips! I didn't travel halfway across the world not try London's famous fish and chips. To top it all off the restaurant was called Great British Fish and Chips.
Funny story: I literally waited 10 minutes to get a picture of this sign, but this Indian guy would not move! I was sick of waiting so I just decided he was going to be part of the post. If anyone recognizes him, let him know he got a cameo on passengerpoldberg.com.
Friday night Karen, Rod, and Sissel took my Mom and I to their favorite Indian restaurant Fire 'N Spice. I don't eat much Indian food at home so I pretty much put my fate in their hands.
Rod and I shared a local bottle of Cobra.
Then we sampled a wide variety of dishes. I can honestly say I enjoyed them all. I can't recall any of their names, but they were quiet tasty and none of them were crazy hot.
As I mentioned above, we all went to Chinatown for lunch on Saturday. Karen and Rod took us to their favorite dumpling place: Dumplings' Legend. When you walk in the restaurant you can see them making all of their dumplings fresh, right in front of you. We probably sampled 10 different combinations of dumplings in addition to some duck and noodles.
Sunday morning my Mom and I stopped at the Electric Diner on Portobello Road for an authentic English breakfast. I got the full English breakfast with eggs, sausage, Canadian bacon, mushrooms, tomato, beans, and toast. I'm not sure how much I'd enjoy eating these ingredients separately, but if you mix them into one giant English mash it's out of this world! I'm a big fan of the full English breakfast.
Far and away our most iconic meal of the trip, and maybe even my life, was at the Duck & Waffle. Located on the 40th floor of the Heron Tower, Duck & Waffle has some of the best views of the entire city. The restaurant is surrounded in floor to ceiling windows so there isn't a bad seat in the house. The best part about Duck & Waffle is that they're open 24 hours. So if you can't get a reservation for sunset, I'm sure the views are just as cool at night.
As for the food, we all tried their signature dish, the Duck & Waffle. It sounds like an odd combination, but I can assure you its delicious! According to our server, the duck is marinated for 24 hours so that the outside is crisp, but the inside is tender and juicy. It's served on top of a fluffy Belgium waffle and topped with a duck egg. You douse it all in their maple syrup with mustard seeds and VIOLA! The Duck & Waffle.
I should note that they do have a bar and you don't need reservations to get drinks there. Depending on how full they are, you usually can just go right up.
All In All
The city of London blew me away! It will go down as one of my favorite trips of all time.
What's your favorite thing to do when you visit London?