A Foggy Day (In London Town)

Back in January we started planning our Thanksgiving weekend trip to London.  The impetus was seeing Hamilton (a musical about Alexander Hamilton, a founding father of the USA) on Thanksgiving (a very American holiday) in the United Kingdom.  I bought our tickets as soon as they went on sale, later that night they were sold out until well into 2019!  Jim was ecstatic and we began booking flights, hotels, and telling friends we were coming, etc.  Unfortunately, in September we were notified the Victoria Theatre was under renovation and would not be ready for the show over Thanksgiving and we had to rebook our tickets for later in January (more on that in a later post).  Still positive we’d have a great time in London, we decided to still take the trip.

Back in late September we had also taken an unexpected trip to London where I’d had a chance to explore many of the tourist site, make a day trip out to Stonehenge and Bath, as well as catch up with and old friend (Andie), who had promised a “locals tour” of London when we visited in November.  As such, this trip was primed to allow Jim to hit all of his must-sees (Westminster Abbey & The British Museum), last minute tickets to another musical (The Book of Mormon), and prime time with one of our all-time favorite people, Andie.

We flew into London on Thanksgiving morning, dropped off our bags at our hotel and quickly made our way to Camden Market for an early lunch and light shopping.  The market was a little empty (it was around 10am), so we had no crowds to dodge or lines (we were told this is NOT what this market is typically like).  We armed ourselves with a coffee and hot chocolate while exploring the stalls, stopped for a bit to order some theater tickets (technology is amazing) before settling with a sausage scone at The Flour Station Bakery, which had a sign that touted selling the best scones in London (who knows if that is true).  It was warm, savory, and everything I want in a mid-morning breakfast treat, so I have to give it two thumbs up.  From there we got a chocolate chip cookie for later consumption.

After ooh-ing and aah-ing over some mens suiting (Jim is in the market for a nice blazer), we caught the tube to Westminster.  I had gone with Kari and Kevin back in September, but we hadn’t toured the outside (which was lovely), but Jim hadn’t been yet.  He absolutely loved the audioguide.  Highlights for him were Newton’s tomb, he later translated the writing on his tomb which says, “here lies that which was mortal of Isaac Newton,” which Jim loves the idea of immortal Newton being elsewhere), the Lady Chapel (also one of mine), and Poet’s Corner (my favorite).  Now, photography is not permitted inside Westminster Abbey, but it IS permitted inside the residential area/gardens.  As such, I took photos galore there with my favorites being those below.  The Lady Chapel work looks similar to the ceiling you can see in the bottom right photos (below), just less gilded and adorned.  I was excited to add this portion onto the tour.

From Westminster we decided to check out the shopping district and walk back toward Piccadilly Circus and up Regent Street.  You see, Jim has had his eye on a Barbour jacket for months and was determined NOT to leave England without his own.

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Unfortunately, the Barbour and Barbour International stores near Regent Street didn’t carry the jacket Jim wanted in the color he desired.  So we decided to walk up Regent Street to Oxford Street (we were entering MAJOR shopping territory) to explore at a John Lewis.  Along the way, though, we stopped at the new BOTTLETOP store to say hello to the founders, Cameron & Oliver.  It was nice to put faces with voices as well as see more of the product in person.  If you’re looking for a fancy & sustainable gift with a great story…bop in there the next time you’re in London.

As we approached Oxford Street the sun was finally setting and the lights began to look spectacular.  Nothing says the holidays like twinkling lights on busy streets…as I write this (November 30th), Toulouse still has not turned on the holiday lights (though they’ve been strung up since before Halloween).  John Lewis proved successful and Jim purchased his dream jacket and even contemplated wearing it out of the store (he waited to switch jackets until after dinner, but did wear it home that night).

I can’t imagine it was even 6pm by the time we decided to beat the rush and have dinner at Dishoom.  When we visited in September we probably waited 2.5 hours for a table, but this time we were seated immediately.  I haven’t eaten many meals in London, but this is my FAVORITE spot.  We ordered so many tasty dishes, but I have to say I am now in love/obsessed with their House Black Daal.  It was everything you want to eat when it’s cold out side and maybe even a little more.  After we’d ordered our meal we noticed they had a special Thanksgiving menu (it looked pretty amazing with a turkey offering), which would’ve been fun…though that Black Daal was 100 percent worth it.

The next morning we hit another favorite food spot from our September trip (though Jim hadn’t eaten there – it was just me, Kari, and Kevin upon Andie’s recommendation):  Granger & Co.  We ate at the King’s Cross location (previously we ate at the Notting Hill location), and I have to say I recommend King’s Cross as we were able to get a set at the counter immediately.  If you’ve ever had brunch with Jim, you know he loves French toast and pancakes, but especially pancakes.  If you’ve ever had brunch in France, you know pancakes are not a thing.  Granger & Co, however, serves ricotta hotcakes that are to-die-for.  As such, we ordered some fresh squeezed OJ, a flat white for Jim/hot cocoa for me, ricotta hotcakes, and corn fritters (maybe the first REAL meal of corn I’ve had in close to 2 years…it was glorious).

Sufficiently fueled for the day, we decided to walk to The British Museum.  Armed with the audioguides we decided we’d take the tour to see the “10 Most Popular Sites.”  We started with the Rosetta Stone and quickly aborted that plan, opting to wander in the rooms with the 10 most popular sites, moving around based on the 10 tour.

The British Museum is FULL of all sorts of antiquities from all over the world.  If pressed, I’d say my favorites were the Egyptian finds.  Below are a few of Ramses (though I can’t remember what the # was) as well as the most popular site in the whole museum – Tayesmutengebtiu (below, bottom, second from the right).  I’m fascinated by Egyptian everything, so this was a real treat.  Additionally, the hieroglyphics below tell the story of how the former scroll was eaten by a worm.  Hah!

Another spot I found interesting was the Assyrian sculpture and Balawat Gates.  You can see photos of those below.  Essentially, these were at the gate of a royal palace, meant to look foreboding from the front and the side.  As such, there are 5 feet…making it an optical illusion of sorts (from the front you only see 4, from the side you only see 4, but from the corner you see 5.  Also, at the base of one there is a little game board (below, middle right) that had been carved out where it’s believed guards played the game to pass time.  How neat.

Jim’s favorite, though, was the ruins from the Parthenon in Athens.  It’s odd/interesting to us that England has these ruins and much explanation is provided throughout the exhibit (a Lord brought them to England from Greece after an explosion in the Parthenon…and Greece has been asking for them back for FOREVER.).  It’s fascinating as the main sculptures from the front of the temple show the birth of Athena (see in the bottom photos).  Dionysus is the only figure with a head (far left) and it is believed the woman lying down (on the right) is Aphrodite.  Neither Zeus nor Athena are shown here, as they’d appear where the hole is (see the guy in the blue jacket).  Jim and I lamented how cool it’d be to see this on the Parthenon in Athens (her city).

All in all we spent close to 4.5 hours in the museum.  There is a plethora of amazing art to be seen.  We also saw one of the statues from Easter Island, various Greek and Roman pottery, Mexican ruins, African art (some of my favorite) as well as some fancy clocks.  A fascinating day of culture, for sure.

After our afternoon in the museum I convinced Jim to get a haircut in our downtime before we made our way to see The Book of Mormon.  Lots of hair later, Jim had a new ‘do and a new coat.  Interestingly, notice all that publicity on Prince Harry & Meghan Markle (this was before it was publicized that they’re engaged but AFTER bookies had stopped taking bets).

We decided to grab dinner at a pub not too far from the Prince of Wales Theatre, Waxy O’Connor’s, before the Book of Mormon.  Let me just say this bar is a giant cavern.  We walked in on one street and Google maps positioned us dining a whole city block away.  The London underground must be nothing but bedrock.

After dinner we crossed the street to see The Book of Mormon.  I’ll preface this by saying musicals are not really my thing, so it wasn’t my favorite.  But Jim LOVED every minute.  We started off with some Gin & Tonics (we’re in England, after all) and settled into our seats to enjoy some clever tunes.  Here are two of Jim’s favorites:  “Turn it Off” and “Hello.”

The next morning was our “Local” day with Andie, and we couldn’t have been more excited.  The plan was to meet Andie at Hackney Central Station and then a quick walk to Violet for lunch.  We took the bus (Jim’s favorite) and then consumed the best grilled cheese (toastie, rather) I’ve ever had while smelling ALL the delicious bakery smells.  I love my French pastries, but this place is AMAZING.  If I lived close by, I’d be buying a brownie or cinnamon bun or EVERYTHING daily.

After lunch we made our way to Broadway Market for a little afternoon coffee and marketing at Andie’s favorite bookstore (or one of them) and coffee shop.   Andie mentioned she used to live close by (heavenly), so we walked through a park and were able to see some gorgeous skies.

We have markets here in Toulouse (and I LOVE a good market), but they’re not the same as what you see in London.  In London it’s somehow fancier and more quick bites/prepared foods/pastries.  In the photos above (middle, right) there’s a company selling “Gorgeous” sausage, which tickled us.  I don’t have a photo of Climpson & Sons coffee (where Jim had an amazing flat white), but I will say we bought some beans (at Andie’s recommendation), and every time I walk into our kitchen I think someone is baking something amazing…and that’s just the ground coffee in a bag on the counter.  I’m excited to see how it smells this weekend when it’s brewing!

Our next stop was Hampstead Heath along with Kenwood House.  This is where our trip turned positively autumnal in the best way possible.  The skies were cotton candy colors (Sailor Skies or something else) and magpies plentiful (we saw more than 4…so that’s apparently good luck, at least according to Andie’s childhood adage).  It’s here Andie told us the pools/lakes in Hampstead Heath are meant to have healing qualities and swimmers take dips throughout the year (maybe if we come back next summer we can join her).  It was a smudge muddy, but fun to navigate around it, even slightly climbing a fence.

We were on our way to Kenwood House, a fancy, historical house featured in the film, Notting Hill.  Andie had initially mentioned touring Kenwood House and I agreed, but it wasn’t until we were in Hampstead Heath that she mentioned the Notting Hill referenceNotting Hill reference.  I immediately knew the spot – when Hugh Grant overhears her talking trash while she’s filming that period piece.  Unfortunately, we weren’t early enough to tour the inside…so we just enjoyed taking photos on the grounds.

I’m including the below photos not because they’re great, but because Jim wanted to get a picture of us taking pictures, so he ran to take it, startling us in the process.  We all were laughing as Jim running in his waxed cotton jacket sounded like a horse or large dog!  It was a good chuckle for the rest of the night.

Andie then took us to her favorite pub, Spaniards Inn, a short walk from Kenwood House.  It was built in 1585 & is rumored to be haunted by three ghosts (we didn’t see any) one of which is known to tug at your sleeve (we’ll have to try that next time we’re there).  It’s also HIGHLY discussed in various British literature (like Dickens’ Pickwick Papers and Stoker’s Dracula to name a few) and frequented by many British authors.  Beyond that, it’s also a gorgeous pub – next time I’d love to stay for a meal.  It was also lovely to warm ourselves by their fire while enjoying a little libation.

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From there we made our way back to Hoppers, a Sri Lankan restaurant.  We tried to be a little early, but that place is popular, so we got a few drinks at a pub nearby before getting the call that our table was ready.  If you like spicy food – this spot is for you.  It was delicious.  It was the perfect end to a perfect day, catching up with an old friend, but feeling like you’d seen her the week before.  It was 100 percent what I needed.  Good friends really are the best medicine for nearly anything that ails you.

It was a perfect weekend with just the right amount of good friends, good food, laughs, entertainment, and culture.  Now we’re excited to host Andie in Toulouse!

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