London, United Kingdom

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“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” ~ Samuel Johnson.

London is a city I doubt I could ever grow tired of and continue to love it long past the screams of my wallet against the plundering it takes there*. With flights at less than 35 euros and 30 minutes between the Netherlands and Britain there is little reason not to go, so we chose the capitol of the United Kingdom as the perfect spot to celebrate the Frenchman’s birthday weekend.

After a bit of a rough start on not-so-easy EasyJet we were in London before we even had the chance to fall asleep in our extremely tiny plane seats. We could not have chosen a better weekend as the city was covered in remembrance poppies from wreaths on statutes to art piece and from a sea of poppies at the Tower of London to a poppy in the lapel or a poppy pin on the breast of every person, all commemorating the centurion remembrance of the start of WWI. (To learn the “why” of the poppy check out this really great video.) The Frenchman’s first impression of the city was that, “It is so nice to see advertisements and signs in English!” (He did not return with me to to States in May, so he has not been in an English-speaking country for now fifteen months.) As I had already experienced the feeling of “wait, I’m in Europe, but everything in English” during my first trip to London seven years ago what struck me was how much the weather had changed during our 1/2 hour flight across the English Channel. Though by no means sunny or warm, the Netherlands seemed like a tropical, sun-filled paradise to London, where we arrived to rain and frigid air.

As the Frenchman had never before been to London I was determined to show him the best time possible in our short weekend break. After making several indecisive hotel bookings and cancellations over the duration of about six month I finally settled on the Edwardian Leicester Square, which turned out to be a perfect location on the West End. We were upgraded to a fantastic corner room and enjoyed the plush, 70s velour vibe of the place. The best part about the hotel was that it was just a block away from the Prince of Wales Theater, where the amazing, spectacular, (insert adjective here) “Book of Mormon” has been playing to completely sold-out crowds nearly every night for several seasons. It remains the sought-after ticket in Broadway and the West End with good reason: It was truly unbelievably good. As can be expected from its creators, the men behind South Park, the show is very crass, but it is not without heart and emotion. The songs, though not Webber-esque arias of saddness, are side-stitchingly funny, and the casting top-notch. The Frenchman had a huge smile on his face and sat next to me belly-laughing for the duration of the show – just the sort of joy you want to see someone experience for his birthday!

For the rest of the weekend we spoiled ourselves at one of the city’s best restaurants, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay; popped into quite a few pubs for draft beers and shepherds’ pies; visited the Tower of London; and watched the lights turn on from the London Eye. We also caught up with a friend from our Albania trip who is living in London, and she introduced us to her neighborhood, Brixton Village, a vibrant, young area of London with bars and restaurants and a lively covered market full of unique eateries. Sunday, after a much too short visit and another quick flight we were back in Amsterdam.

As of current we do not know if we will be remaining in Europe next year or returning to the States. Should we remain, and we both hope we do, we would love to spend the summer in the countryside of the United Kingdom and Ireland, places which we imagine to be quaint, better priced than the capitol and full of pints of Guinness.

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* One thing I absolutely do not like about London is the cost to do things. Naturally, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay and the Book of Mormon were extreme splurges, but even less expensive activities are absurdly pricey. Generally, I do not write about the costs of our travels here as I find it to be distasteful, but, thinking about only London compared to other cities, for example, two day passes to the London Metro cost $27.97; two tickets to the Tower of London cost $58.14; two tickets to the London Eye, for a normal, thirty-minute ride were $83.78; and train tickets to and from the airport (London Southend) cost us a total of $102.46 (+ $28.28 for a charge I don’t understand.) Most meals or a few rounds of drinks at pubs were approximately $60. And our hotel, had we paid for it out-of-pocket, would have set us back $570.38 per night or $1,140.76 for our two-night stay. When Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame said “Travel is worth any cost or sacrifice,” I do not think she had London’s extreme costs in mind.

 

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