I visited London for the first time ever this past January. I went for a week to celebrate my birthday + New Year's Eve with a friend of mine who lives there, and I had THE BEST time! I have travelled a lot, and can't believe this was my first time to London. As with any major metropolis, it's impossible to see everything in just 7 days, but I think we covered pretty good ground. We also spent 3 days out in the countryside [which was as magical as I imagined it would be.]
First on my list, after my not so secret love for all things Royal Wedding + Kate Middleton, was Buckingham Palace. My friend/tour guide had never been there and he's from the London area and has lived in the city for over 15 years! I was so excited to see this iconic palace, and if I'm being completely honest, it was a complete let-down. I was expecting gilded greatness and all I got was a boxy grey building. Needless to say we moved on quickly.
Next was my very fancy birthday lunch at Cessoni's, which I highly recommend! We sat at the bar, and the restaurant had the coolest buzz/vibe going. It was the afternoon of New Year's Eve and you could tell everyone was in a good mood and relaxed. We split the burrata [some of the best I've ever had] as an appetizer, his first time trying it and it was a hit. Between that and the rosé champagne I was one happy girl. Fast forward to that evening, after a quick stop off at a local pup for a few drinks, we made our way up to the top of Hampstead Heath, the tallest point in London located in a serene park. From there we had the most amazing view of all of the fireworks going on around the city!
The next day we had to pick up our rental car, which I was in charge of driving, since apparently no one in London drives so sooome poeple don't get their license's renewed. Being a self proclaimed adventurer I was up for the challenge of driving in the wrong side of the car on the wrong side of the road. I was so cool calm and collected, until two blocks from the rental car lot where I took the a parked car's mirror off. Let's just say I can laugh about it now, but in the moment it was traumatizing!
Being out in the English countryside was everything I wanted it to be: fields of sheep contained by stone fences. We spent the days walking the fields and the evenings in the charming pubs we discovered on our walks. I hesitate to call our hotel a hotel because it was an old manor turned into a sort of bed+breakfast type place. Incredibly charming, and it didn't hurt that they upgraded us to a suite [how? one of my number one rules of traveling...]
Back in the city early that Saturday, because the stupid Enterprise office closed at noon. On a Saturday. Don't get me started with them. They were horrible through out the entire process. So anyway, back in the city early on Saturday, we were able to make it to a delightful tourist spot: Portobello Market. Located in Notting Hill [yes, I found the bookshop and took a pic] this street market spans a dozen or more blocks of vendors selling everything from antique tea sets to junky I heart London t-shirts, etc. This area is known for the antique dealers and part of the fun is weeding through the crap to find some real treasures! We spent all afternoon just strolling around looking at everything, it was great. By mid afternoon we were starving and stumbled upon a real find, the Electric Diner. He had "the best burger of his life" and I had a really gooey really tasty grilled cheese. He didn't stop talking about that burger for a solid two weeks after. Just yesterday I was remembering this meal and googled the diner only to find out it has a major Chicago food connection! Apparently the same mastermind behind Au Cheval is behind the Electric Diner burger, that explained a lot! Amazing food aside, let's be honest, the second I overheard some fashionista claim that this is where Angelina Jolie eats when she's in town, I was sold.
On my last full day in London we walked. We walked more than we had walked any other day of the trip, which seemed impossible. I had to see Big Ben, Westminster Abby, Tower Bridge and everything in between. It was a great day to walk and see the sites and the rain held off on us. At the end of the night we found a restaurant's patio equipped with heater lamps, candles, and cozy blankets to wrap up in. Needless to say it was a romantic spot to overlook the Thames and Tower Bridge while sipping the best mulled wine I've ever tasted!
Until next time, London!
[Next time I'm in London To-Do list: Museums, Indian food, Electric Cinema, Crown Jewels, any other suggestions?]