Friday, December 16, 2011

Welcome to London

England and the United Kingdom's capital city, home to roughly 8 million, is a an icon of culture and style, blessed with staggeringly beautiful sights ranging in design from one era to the next.From ethnicity to architecture, it's a dynamic melting pot with eclectic districts and charming streets, and boasts one of the most incredible skylines I've ever seen. I was fortunate to spend the weekend of December 9th roaming among those crowded streets and beneath that stunning skyline, on a trip that was planned on a whim by one of my best girlfriends (who would also be town for business.) What's business without a little pleasure!? Spontaneity presiding, I embarked on my first solo trans Atlantic flight that Thursday evening after work, arriving to London Heathrow bright and early Friday morning. Navigating the worlds busiest airport, which had intimidated the heck out of me on previous layovers, felt like a breeze this time around. I rode the Heathrow Express, a swift 15 minute train ride to Paddington Station and from there navigated the London Underground (the second most extensive subway network in the world, after Shanghai Metro) to our centrally located hotel. Tricia wasn't arriving until a few hours later as she was flying all the way from California (one business trip to the next) so I ventured out on my own until then! Not wanting to stray too far from our hotel, I meandered along the Victoria Embankment bordering the River Thames as the morning sun rose above the London Eye and the Golden Jubilee Bridges in the distance. I came upon the Ancient Egyptian Obelisk, which looks pretty similar to the one in Paris, constructed of granite and inscribed with Egyptian Hieroglyphics. Also known as Cleopatra's Needle, (although it has nothing to do with the Egyptian Queen) it is flanked by two commanding iron cast sphinx statues. I had some fun photographing these guys as well! Check out those claws (and never mind that rotten banana someone left behind. Ew.) American Airlines fed me two substantial meals, but after my walk combined with minor jet lag setting in and some seriously chilly temps, I was ready to warm up, and simultaneously in the mood for a light breakfast.I decided on a tiny unassuming cafe, where the man behind the counter greeted me with a warm smile and thick British accent (gotta love it!) and instructed me to sit anywhere I like. Since Cafe Whitehall is proudly labeled as a Sandwich and Cappuccino Bar, that's exactly what I decided to get.A steaming hot cup with plenty of cocoa laced froth, paired with a fried egg and tomato sandwich on whole grain bread hit the spot.I loved how the sandwich was cut into quarters - it felt quintessentially British. Simple and delicious, the egg was perfectly fried and the juicy tomato nicely complimented. Whitehall Cafe looks to offer and array of savory breakfast dishes and has a pastry counter full of sweet treats. I felt content to linger, but you are also welcome to order your pastries and cappuccino to go. After browsing a few local shops, I spent some time taking in the sights at nearby Trafalgar Square, one of London's most well known and prominent central gathering spaces; named for the Battle of Trafalgar, a British Naval victory over France. Situated in front of the National Gallery and surrounded by busy roadways on three sides, the main point of attraction in Trafalgar is easily the bronze lion statues presiding around Lord Horatio Nelson's Column. Four grand beasts lie outstretched in each corner, overlooking a slew of tourists who jump, climb and crawl over and around them - to pose for photographs, of course! Queue lion inspired photo shoot....You have to admit, these guys are pretty cool. Also in the square, I took in the dueling multi-tiered fountains which are surrounded by large pools of clean blue water. Contained within them are smaller sculpted fountains of intertwined mermaid, mermen, dolphins and fish. These well kept pools with unique fountains on display add a calming aesthetic to the always crowded and bustling space. At night, changing color LED lights illuminate the fountains proving the scene here after the sun goes down is equally as striking. Of course, at this point I have returned many hours later after checking into the hotel and meeting up with my travel companion! Soaking it all in, we listened to some carolers before venturing on foot towards Piccadilly Circus. We made our way into a traditional pub for a bite to eat and of course, a cheers to the weekend ahead with out first official British pint!At Silver Cross we drank Kronenbourg 1664 and shared a comforting dish of Hunters Chicken accompanied by a side salad and "chips" which I doused in malt vinegar. When in England!The dish incorporates juicy chicken breasts with mushrooms, onions and tomatoes, then layers bacon and mozzarella cheese over the top while everything gets smothered in a zesty homemade BBQ sauce. This was better than I expected; I guess I didn't have high expectations for traditional pub food? It came piping hot and was definitely a flavorful and satisfying dinner. The rest of the evening was spent strolling the luxe streets illuminated by intricate light displays more bright and beautiful than any I've ever seen. Tricia and I were awestruck at every turn, it's safe to say that for the holiday season, London goes all out.
We're talking canopys as far as the eye can see of twinkling stars above Regent Street, boughs of glowing holly parading over Carnaby Street and buildings draped in full on sparkling rainbow ensembles on Oxford Street. Among shimmering umbrellas and presents, glittering bows and stars, and cascading curtains, we strolled, we shopped and eventually we settled into to another pub for the night before retiring to the hotels brasserie for a nightcap. Then, we slept it all off in preparation for day two! Can you tell I love this city lots? Have you ever been to London? Do you love it as much as I do? Favorite parts?!

24 comments:

Bianca @ Confessions of a Chocoholic said...

I love all your travel posts! I haven't been to London but I certainly want to make it there one of these days :)
PS - hello from the Philippines!

EricaThomas said...

I loved the descriptions and the pictures! London is one of my favorite cities! I lived outside of London for a year and had a wonderful time. That brought back a lot of memories.

Vanessa Watson said...

WOW! great photos!!! and I love English pub food! London looks amazing during Christmas

Gretchen said...

Wow this really makes me miss London! Great pictures, as always. You really have a good eye for photography!

Jaime @ La vie...J'aime said...

i am loving all the lights- so fun and festive! London is one of my fave cities...been a few times and def need to go back some day!

MelissaNibbles said...

I'm hoping to go to London next year. This post got me so excited!

Meghan@travelwinedine said...

For some reason, I have never been a fan of London! But I loved all of your pictures. You are a jet setter! :)

Shannon said...

those lights--wow! never been to london either, clearly i have a lot of traveling yet to do ;)

Michelle Collins said...

Gorgeous photos! I've never been to London, but would love to go!

Jen said...

You take the best pictures!

I love the lights and the fountains. I've never been to London, but I can see why you love it so much!

Emily @ A Cambridge Story said...

How fun that you jumped 'cross the pond for a weekend! London looks so festive this time of year!

Elizabeth said...

I have never been to London and I need to go. Dave's been a few times and loves it. That sandwich looks fantastic, especially consider the modest exterior.

Ameena said...

I LOVE London...and I envy your ability to get there at the drop of a hat. That's just another reason why I want to move to the East Coast!

I love so many things about London, namely the scones and the Indian food. I can't get enough of it! I'm already counting down the days until my next trip. I can't wait.

Gorgeous photos!

Fun and Fearless in Beantown said...

London is one of my FAVORITE cities! You have had quite the jet-setting year!

In and Around Town said...

I am huge fan of London and would love to spend more time there! I study abroad north of London and did not get down there nearly enough. It has the perfect combination of everything to make for the best city!

Di said...

GREAT pictures! The pub food looks pretty amazing and I love all of the decorations.

MOLLY GALLER said...

I love all the holiday lights! Wow! Way to go, London!

Terrianne, Call me Ree said...

Now that's how 'spontaneity' should be done! What a fabulous getaway you had. Looks like a really great time.

Have a wonderful holiday! =)

Megan said...

I'm so jealous of all your jetsetting lately... and, um, can you plan my honeymoon for me because you would do such a better job!

kfenton917 said...

Love all the festive colorful LED's. My favorite is the shooting stars! Do they need solar PV energy systems? ---I'll be right there!

Rachel Marie said...

I really would love to go to Europe someday. Everything seems so beautiful.

Thanks for visiting my blog and for taking the time to comment! I always appreciate feedback from my readers :)

www.thequirkypoet.blogspot.com

Tricia said...

Great recap!! It was fun to see your pictures from before I arrived!

I would take another spontaneous trip with you any day! You're the best travel companion :)

Jess said...

Did you notice the damage to the right-hand Sphinx? I didn't know this until a while back but that damage was caused by a WWI bomb and it was left unrepaired. Personally, I like that they left it alone. Eventually, there will be no-one left who remembers what the Blitz was like but there will still be proof that it did happen, if that makes sense.

But anyway, I saw in your next blog entry that you were staying in Covent Garden. That's my favourite part of London. It's always really busy, all of London is, but I always feel like it's a friendly kind of busy. Not the uncompromising kind of busy that you might find on Oxford Street, for example. Covent Garden has an atmosphere that's all its own but at Christmas, there's nowhere better. The December before last, my mum and I booked ourselves into London serviced apartments and we had a weekend in Covent Garden and it was lovely. We didn't even do much, we just wandered, watched the street performers, got through far too much in the way of mulled wine and chestnuts but it was lovely.

Trafalgar Square's always nice too. I remember going to see the tree there for the first time and I was convinced that it would have coloured lights, I was so pleased when they were white. They seem to be using those blue-tinged ones now, which I don't like very much, but that can't be belped I suppose.

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