My sister, Jocelyn, and b-n-l, Stephan, arrived in Frankfurt the morning of Friday, March 12th, ready for a European vacation. I picked them up from the airport and ran them around Frankfurt showing them the all the sights before they crashed from the jet lag. The next day we hopped a train and headed down to Heidelberg to let them check out the castle and wander the quaint city there. During these first two days of sightseeing, Shea and I were sure to get them walking as much as possible, so their legs would be numb to all the hoofing we would be doing in London!
On Sunday, we woke up early to catch our flight to London. We had to take just about every mode of transportation imaginable to make it (minus, maybe...unicycle) but we got there all the same. In London we found our way to our hotel in the Marylebone area of town, very near Hyde Park and only about 2 kilometers from all of the well-known tourist attractions. We checked in and freshened up before taking the world-famous Underground (a.k.a. Tube, a.k.a. Subway) to Piccadilly Circus. There we walked around London's equivalent to Times Square with the enormous neon lights and billboards touting all of the world-class shows in town. From there we walked down to Trafalgar Square, where we stumbled upon the St. Patrick's day festival for the city. Everyone was decked out in green and double fisting Guinness Stouts around the world famous National Gallery and Nelson's Column. We didn't witness a single person jump into the fountains, but then again we didn't stick around till the end of the celebrations either.
After making our way through the party, we headed south away from the square down Whitehall Street. Along this street we snapped pics of the Admiralty Arch, the Horse Guards Parade and Cavalry Museum, Downy Street (where #10 Downy Street is located, which is where the PM stays but you aren't allowed anywhere on the street), and the Cabinet War Rooms-where Winston Churchill met with leadership underground to discuss strategies to defeat the Germans while the city took waves of bombings during WWII.
After making our way down the street, we found ourselves standing at Parliament Square, with the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben to our left, Westminster Abbey directly before us, and the King's Court to our right. A very impressive sight to behold.
From there we headed over to the river Thames and crossed over Westminster bridge to the London Eye (which is best described as an over-sized ferris wheel). As sunset was nearing, we decided to take a ride and were rewarded during the loop with a magnificent sunset and seeing the beautiful lights of the city turn on and brighten the sky.
After our view of the city from on high, we headed back across the Thames and came across the Texas Embassy restaurant. Joc and Stephan were kind enough to let Shea and me enjoy our first quality Tex-Mex since leaving Dallas...it was great and the ice cold Dos XX's also tasted amazing. From there, we headed back to the hotel room to get some rest after a long day of travel.
On Monday, we headed out and walked along Hyde Park to meet up with a walking tour at Wellington Arch. We saw all of the military monuments to the British colonies that fought for the Empire. From there we headed down Constitution Hill to Buckingham Palace, where we took in the changing of the guards. Impressive display. Unfortunately though, the Queen wasn't in, otherwise, I'm sure Shea and Joc would have been invited in for tea. The tour then led us to St. James Palace, which was the original home to the royal family, before upgrading to Buckingham Palace. Outside we each took turns playing the part of soldier in the guard shacks and having our picture taken. The tour then wound us through the a number of the same sights we had seen the day before, but only this time, we were able to learn about the history of what we were seeing. Very interesting and definitely worth the time. After the tour, it was time for lunch, and we all decided it was time for some traditional English flair. We headed to a restaurant and rewarded ourselves with fish and chips (fried fish and fries), wrapped in (simulated) newspaper, (almost) like in the old days. "Jolly good lunch, Governa"
After lunch we headed over to the Covent Garden area of town, which is a trendy area with plenty of shopping, but also home to many of the theaters of London. We decided to take in a show that night and were able to buy some cheap seat tickets to one of the big name shows in town called "War Horse". We wandered around that area of town for a while, and then headed back down to Westminster Abbey to take in a prayer service/choir performance at 5:00pm. We got to sit and enjoy the wonderful choir, while at the same time soak in the 1000-year-old cathedral. After the service, we grabbed a bite to eat before heading to the theater to make our 7:30 curtain call. We all really enjoyed the show and after it finished caught a late night Tube ride back over to our hotel and called it a night.
On Tuesday morning, we headed over to the Notting Hill area of London, famous not only for the Julia Roberts/Hugh Grant movie, but also for the Portobello Road Market, which is a mile of shops lining the street with antiques, collectibles, food stalls, top designer and vintage clothing. Stephan and I were very thankful that we had afternoon plans and were able to get the ladies out of there before any credit damage was done. Although the refrain heard through the rest of the trip was "do you guys think we can get back over to Portobello before we leave?"
So, from Notting Hill, we headed back into the city to make our bus to go and see Stonehenge. It took almost two hours to get there, but we were able to watch the city fade away and then see the beautiful English countryside stretched out before us. Let me say here that we were amazingly lucky with the weather in London...we had nothing but clear bright skies and temperatures in the 60's during our entire trip. Unheard-of weather for London in March, but Joc and Stephan were kind enough to bring some of the Texas sun along in there pockets and share it with their English speaking brethren.
We arrived at Stonehenge and took the audio tour around the site. We were pretty amazed at the size of the stones, and it is remarkable to think that we don't really know how or why the ancient people brought them there around 5000 years ago. Best guess is as an ancient sundial calendar...although Shea is sticking with her guess of ancient ice-age drinking Jenga blocks "make fire or drink 5" (+2 GK bonus points for all readers who get that joke). After our tour of Stonehenge, we took the bus back into the city and decided it was time for a night in a famous London pub.
We headed to the "Cittie of Yorke", which has operated as a pub since 1430 and claims to have the longest bar in all of England. We headed down to the cellar where we grabbed some English pub grub, which let me say, does a great job of sticking to your ribs. We then headed back upstairs to indulge in some more of their tasty adult beverages. We had a great time chatting it up, and I can honestly say that we closed the bar down, but don't be too impressed because London bars close at 11 pm.
On Wednesday, we headed over to the oldest parts of the city of London. There we quickly peeked in St. Paul's Cathedral and then walked over the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern Museum. We didn't have time to tour the Museum but kept that on our list of places to hit next time. We walked over to the reconstructed Shakespeare's Globe Theater and then popped in the infamous Clink Prison museum...ghastly what medieval people would do to each other. We then took the "Queen's Walk" down the Thames to the Tower Bridge and over to the Tower of London. The Tower is best known of course for being the place of imprisonment and beheading of Anne Boleyn and also for housing the crown jewels. Seeing all these things allowed us just enough time to blow through a souvenir shop and then head for the airport to catch our 8 pm flight back to Frankfurt.
London was an amazing trip and though we saw lots of stuff, we feel like we were really only able to scratch the surface. It is probably one of those places that you would have to live in in order to have the time to take in all it has to offer. Maybe that is were we need move next...
Just kidding moms.
We got back to Frankfurt and packed Joc and Stephan up to send them by train off to Paris for a romantic getaway. They really enjoyed their time there together and then they headed out from Frankfurt Saturday morning back to Dallas. It was a great trip with them, and though they likely needed a vacation after their vacation, we got to see and experience many new things together!