Traveling with Friends: Part 4 - London

December 27-28, 2015

Kathryn and Brandon's visit had taken us to Stratford, Dublin, and Warwick. It was high time to give them a proper London experience, and that was just what was on the ticket for their last few days in England! We left Birmingham and headed to London on the train for one last whirlwind adventure before sending them off to the States. *sob...* 

Our hotel was in Kensington, putting us in a prime location for not only a good tube stop but also for visiting Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. Honestly, I don't tire of walking around London ever, but it's especially lovely in this area of the city. While we walked, we also make sure to stop by the Albert Memorial (which is quite impressive) and the Peter Pan statue. It was a really laid back way to enjoy the afternoon as we just walked and talked, generally enjoying each other's company and the magnificent views surrounding us. We then made our way to Buckingham Palace. The walk up to the Palace is quite long, but it is rather lovely if you ask me! While we didn't get to see the changing of the guard, it was still pretty neat to say we went to the Buckingham Palace.

Then we sped through part of the British Museum (and it was swamped - I had to literally push my way through the crowds in the Egyptian exhibits - ugh!), took a turn through Leicester Square, stopped for dinner at Chipotle because my friends love me, and ended the night walking through Trafalgar Square. We made our way to Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and the Parliament buildings at one point before heading back to the hotel, but it was rather dark (which is not surprising since it was December in England... it gets so dark so early here in the winter). It was a very full day with a lot of walking, especially after a long train ride, and we were glad to get to sleep that night!

This cheeky squirrel... he chased Kathryn down the fence in attempt to acquire her chips!

The next morning, we found ourselves wandering through London in search of an official Paddington Bear for the girls Kathryn babysits back home. We wandered the streets of London for quite a while, popping into this tourist shop and then that tourist shop, stopping here and there for a few pictures, but to no avail. We decided that maybe it was best to go to the Paddington station and see what we could find there as there is supposed to be an official Paddington store there. Little did we know that that particular station was closed for construction - lame! So we didn't acquire the Paddington Bears, but that was alright. Not the end of the world. We made our way to King's Cross station so we could visit the 9 3/4 Harry Potter platform... only to arrive to a swarm of tourists waiting in the longest line the station worker had ever seen, or so he told us. So we snapped a picture of Stanley the mouse with the platform in the background in-between the tourists taking their photos there and spent some time wandering through the gift shop instead.

Next, we were off to the Tower of London. Our morning's adventures-gone-awry put us a bit behind schedule and the place was, like everything else, absolutely swamped, so it took a while to get our tickets and get admitted to the Tower. Because there were so many people, we decided not to see the Crown Jewels (that line was crazy long), but we enjoyed the majority of the rest of the property. Seriously, that place is huge. You could spend all day there. When Patrick, my mom, and I visited on our very first day in England, we spent quite a few hours there just exploring and taking in the general splendor - yet we got to see and walk through a completely different section of the Tower this time around that we didn't even touch the first time! While it's a bit pricey, the Tower of London is well worth the money if you take the time to truly experience it.

We had two more things on our list for Kathryn and Brandon's last day in England - The Globe theatre and Saint Paul's Cathedral. None of us had been to either place, so we were all looking forward to it... particularly The Globe!

Ah, The Globe theatre. I didn't remember this until looking at my photos, but apparently we used our wits and were able to get 2-for-1 entry tickets for our entry and tour - wahoo! I do love getting a good deal. I remember being completely awed at how small the building looks compared to the monstrous structures surrounding it, but it's actually rather large in my opinion! While it isn't the original Globe theatre of Shakespeare's day (it's actually the third Globe - both burned down at different times in history), this reconstruction is but a few blocks away from the original original location and has been built (rather expensively) to as close to the original specifications as possible. I say "rather expensively" because, well, it did cost a ton of money - as it would when you have cashmere goat hair plaster walls! True story, folks, but all in the name of keeping close to history! 

I swear to you, I was as giddy as a school girl being here. Our tour guide, Matt, abounded in British wit and charm, so I laughed at his jokes and even answered one or two of his questions (that's what happens when you teach Shakespeare units - you know the answers to the questions when you play tourist. With Patrick, a fellow Shakespeare lover, and Kathryn, a fellow English teacher and Shakespeare nerd, by my side, I was one happy camper sitting in this most impressive structure. It was one of the happiest moments of my life, guys, I kid you not! My goal for this summer is to see a play there... maybe even as a groundling. Eek! 

It's when I get to do stuff like this that I realize just what an amazing opportunity our living in England really is. Maybe someone will gift me with thousands of dollars so I can get a car, play tourist all the time, and really appreciate this country the way it needs to be appreciated. Hehe.

After prying ourselves away from The Globe, we walked across the Millennium Bridge over the Thames and headed to Saint Paul's Cathedral. The sun was going down and there were about a million people outside the Cathedral, but that didn't stop us from enjoying a whirlwind trip inside. Actually, there was going to be a choral service there about a half hour after our arrival and it pains me that we didn't get to stay to hear it. I'm hoping to get back to London over the Christmas holiday next year just so I can experience it before I die. The sound of the organ and the voices warming up filled me with so much joy I was nearly brought to tears - and that wasn't a part of the actual service. Imagine what it was like! Sigh. One day. Also, you're actually not supposed to take pictures inside the cathedral, but I cheated... oops. Sorry, not sorry!

The next morning, we had to say goodbye to Kathryn and Brandon. But before we did that, we had to get dinner and enjoy the rest of the evening in London. We had quite a time trying to find somewhere inexpensive to eat that was also open and serving food, but we settled on a Nicholson's pub eventually and enjoyed a pint with our meal (although my pie was still a bit cold in the middle so I had to send it back).

We didn't go to the airport with Kathryn and Brandon that next morning mostly because it would mean a lot of money spent on the tube and a two-hour round trip for Patrick and myself. We would have done it except for the fact that we were planning on meeting up with my friend Hillary that morning, so it didn't really make sense to do so. It pained me, though, not going with them and having to say goodbye at the tube station. I'm not sure how many tears I cried on our short walk back to the hotel, but it was more than I would like to admit. It's a good thing we had plans to see Hillary that day because I would have been an emotional wreck otherwise!

When I look back on this trip in the years to come, long after we've ended our time in England, I wonder what I will remember most. Probably Dublin and The Globe when it comes to experiences, but I have a feeling that I'll just cherish the thought of such dear friends spending all that money to fly across the world to come spend Christmas with us. Our holiday season could have been filled with homesickness and loneliness, but it wasn't thanks to them. It was filled with love, laughter, and experiences that will be memories for a lifetime.