london calling part 1

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As the world gears up for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding, scores and scores of journalists and fans will be flocking to London town (well, Windsor for the actual nuptials) to try and catch a glimpse of the royal entourage.

If you’re one of the lucky few, or even if you’re not, take this opportunity to delight in the sights of one of the best cities in the world.  It’s incomparable, really.  So much jam packed history, art, music, everything!  All roads lead back to London.

Mind the gap…

London is a phenomenal place to spend a few days, and since many others share that sentiment, there’s a million ways to get there.  There’s the famed tube/underground, and then there’s several major airports (Heathrow, Gatwick, London City, Stansted and Luton).

IMG_5307.jpgBecause I am a big Richard Curtis fan, I appreciate the opportunity to arrive at the arrivals terminal at Heathrow.  Look around and maybe you too will see that love is actually all around (and technically Windsor castle is the closest to this airport).

The commute into the city is a breeze, with the Heathrow express getting you to Paddington Station in about 15 minutes.  This option costs a pretty sixpence though, at ~ £22-25 depending on peak times.  The other much more budget friendly option is taking the regular tube, a ~30-40 minute journey for £3-5, a steal if you ask me.

The one thing all visitors must look into is an Oyster card, which is the London transit card.  You can use it as a pay-as-you go and refill as needed at any station.  I used the hell out of this card during my short stay.

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I am a big fan on the Mayfair area of town.  One, because it’s tony and two, because it’s far enough from the tourist nightmares that are Piccadilly and Trafalgar, but yet still pretty close to a lot of must see attractions.  The Chesterfield Mayfair belongs to a boutique chain of hotels out of South Africa, and I thought the service was impeccable. I am a sucker for old homes that are converted into quaint hotels (there’s a great breakfast included as well).

First order of business was to purchase a ticket to one of the double decker bus tours.  I know, tourist-o-rama, but it’s a great way to get from point A to point B while getting a guided tour.  I chose Big Bus because in my estimation, it had the best route to get to the British Museum, and it’s pick up point is right outside Green Park, close to my hotel.

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On any tour you choose, you’ll get a sampling of British history and notable figures.  You will definitely see Wellington Arch like ten times, Hyde Park, the Marble Arch, Bond Street, and the Queen’s gardens outside Buckingham Palace.

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i’ve seen your flag on marble arch

But one of the best visuals is turning the corner and seeing majestic Westminster Abbey around the bend.  One of the grandest and most famous churches in the world, this is the site where many royal weddings (the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge) and funerals (including Princess Diana and the Queen Mother’s) are held.  The current construction dates back to the 1200s, and the coronation of all British and English has occurred here since the 1060s.

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(westminster) abbey road is

Unfortunately, Big Ben is undergoing renovations (he’s tilting), so the view as you’re crossing the Thames into the South Bank is mostly of scaffolding right now, but hopefully they uncover this iconic Londoner’s facade soon.

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Don’t forget to catch a glimpse of the London Eye as you cross the London bridge.  This part of London has the BEST food hall, Borough market, where you can feast your eyes and stomachs on artisanal cheeses, cured meats all sorts, and street food from Thailand to Argentina.  Hobb’s beef baguettes always inspire a queue, and really, what’s more British than the word queue?

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eye of the tiger

It takes a bus transfer, but at the Covent Garden stop, you can switch to the green line to get thee directly to the British Museum.

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There are a lot of great things about London, but the very best thing may be the fact that the MUSEUMS ARE FREE.  That’s right, in a city known for its high prices, there are free attractions that can occupy you for hours.

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i’ll wait for you there, like a stone

The shame about it, is that there’s so much to see and so little time, but my must sees are the Rosetta Stone and all of the Egyptian relics, including the mummies.

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mummer’s dance

People complain about London’s dreary weather all the time, but if I lived here, dreary weather = one thing…RAMEN WEATHER.  I could eat ramen everyday, and if you’re out looking for that warm soup belly feeling after a morning museum stroll, there’s a great little spot in front of the museum called Menya.  This ramen is fantastic, the tamago has the perfect yolk consistency, the char-siu style roasted pork is oh-so tender.  And they use black garlic oil in their house special bowl.  It’s rich and the broth is slightly more fatty, but it’s got flavor for days.  And if ramen’s not your dig, Abeno just down the same road is a restaurant specializing in okonomi-yaki, or savory Japanese pancakes that will change your life.  SO good.

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menya and womenya too

You’d think one museum would be enough for the day, but apparently you haven’t been reading this blog for that long because I’m a museum fiend.  It’s never enough.  If there’s one paid attraction that you should see in the City of London, it’s the Crown Jewels/Tower of London.

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It’s iconic.  This complex is the official Royal Palace of Her Majesty, the Queen, and has served as a prison, mint, fortress, armory, menagerie, etc.  Erected from 1000s on, besieging and controlling this castle meant controlling the British Empire, so it’s kind of a big deal.

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beefeater like the gin

You can take guided tours by given been the Yeoman guards (more commonly known as Beefeaters) or just wander the grounds on your own.  The jewels are, of course, something to behold.

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The Cullinan II (317.4 carats) in the Imperial Crown and Koh-I-Noor (105.6 carats) in Queen Mother’s crown are each as big as a baby’s fist.  The weight of the crown is both proverbially and literally heavy.

And of course, no trip is complete without meandering along the Thames.  Peer across the famed murky river at South Bank and the Shard.

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And of course, take in the view of the Tower Bridge, London’s legendary connection.

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Because I was deadass tired from walking at this point, I took a breather by sitting on the hop on-hop off for awhile.  The one thing that is horrible about these tours in London is that the traffic is mad and you can be stuck in it for awhile.  Inevitable (it’s London after all), but at least you can soak in the Palace of Westminster (where the House of Commons and House of Lords come together in Parliament).

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And St. Paul’s cathedral. the mother church of the Diocese of London.

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And you can see where the Archbishop of Canterbury lives at Lambeth Palace, on the other side of the river before circling back around into the City.

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canterbury tales

The next part of the ride is my favorite, as it heads into Kensington.  One of the cutest and most sought after neighborhoods in all of London, spending some time here will show you why Posh and Becks, Madonna and even the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge have chosen this hamlet in which to make their homes.

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It might be time for afternoon tea, and if it is, Elan Cafe is one of the more instagram famous cafes where you can stop for a bite and a cuppa.  There are long lines of people who are looking to take pictures of pink rose paradise, but here’s a tip, head to the less crowded location in Mayfair.

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It may be an instagram fad, but this patisserie can back up it’s shiny veneer by having incredible delicious pastries.

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If you’re looking for more substantial fare, head to the shopping mecca that is Harrod’s.  If you were ever wondering what the definition of upscale is, well then you’ve found it here in the food hall.  Here you can find the highest quality items from oysters to mac and cheese.  If you’re really serious, head to the steakhouse, but be ready to drop some serious pounds…as in British £££s.

And at the very least, you could drop the lbs you gained from your Wagyu dinner by window shopping in the > a million square feet of retail space covering 7 floors.  Londoners are serious about their shopping…and we haven’t even hit Harvey Nicks or Selfridges yet.  Really, IS there a better city than London?

Stay tuned for part 2 on Thursday.  Happy Royal wedding week!

 

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