As the doors to the plane closed and the pilot made the announcement for the flight attendants to make all final preparations for take off, the reality of what I was about to do sank in.
Flying to London solo sounded like a great idea coming off of the heels of Paris, but now that I was physically on the plane, with no escape route, I wasn’t so sure.
This was my first solo trip oversees, I mean Paris was kind of solo, but I also had the safety of knowing Jack was within a few miles if I really needed anyone. I was on a 6:10PM flight from NY that landed in London at 6:20AM. I had specifically picked that flight so that I could sleep the entire flight, wake up in London and have a full day of adventure ahead, really the only way you should travel oversees. So, naturally, I did everything I shouldn’t have done. I don’t know whether it was excitement, nervousness or a combination of both, but I did not sleep one minute on that flight.
The pilot made the announcements about landing, and I took a deep breath, told myself to put my big girl pants on and braced myself for adventure.
The first day I hit the ground running, checked into my hotel early, and headed out for a true English Breakfast. What is the first thing you should do when in London? Have a cup of tea, of course.
One of the first things I do no matter where I travel to is ask the concierge/front desk about breakfast spots (or meal spots in general) before I have a chance to really explore. I have never been let down, and when I say never, I mean never.
I had breakfast at this really quaint spot called the Royal Quarter. The tea was delicious, and even though its Twinings which we definitely have in the US, for some reason it tastes better here. I then walked down to Buckingham Palace just in time to see the changing of the guards. This happens at 11AM every other day. I thought it was just going to be a few minutes, its about 45 in total, so make sure you have time. Also, highly recommend getting there early and getting a spot on the steps of the Victoria statue for a higher vantage point. It was a cool experience. It’s truly a ceremony, and it was really cool to be part of an experience that has been happening since people can remember. The one warning I will give you, and so will the cops at Buckingham Palace, is it’s a hot spot for pickpockets, so guard your valuables.
I then did the classic English Afternoon tea at the St. Ermin’s hotel, who happen to also have their own Bee Terrace. Yes, actual bees. I didn’t know what the hype was being from the States, but just wanted to do it for the experience and say I had afternoon tea. After all, its a pot of tea with finger sandwiches, right? Well…..I might be doing afternoon tea everyday I’m here. The finger sandwiches….. oh the finger sandwiches. I don’t even like salmon, but I devoured the salmon and dill ones. They had this awesome cranberry and turkey one too, the cool thing about St. Ermin’s is they change their menu based on the season. So if you come back in spring, summer or fall, it will be a different menu.
Another London must, the ale. Go into as many pubs as you can and try as many different ales as you can. You won’t regret it. One I recommend as a cool hangout, at least from my observation during happy hour on a Friday, The Albert. Cool vibe, young professional crowd, great ale.
I went back to my hotel and ordered a cocktail and a pot of tea before finally crashing for the night. It was only 8PM London time, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open for another minute. On to the next adventure filled day.
Woke up early to get some sightseeing in, the London eye was under repair so I couldn’t go up. However, always make lemonade out of lemons. There is a great photo op spot across the river from the London Eye. At the right angle, the pictures are amazing. Big Ben, scaffolding until 2021…. but I still snapped my Clark Griswald “Hey Kids, Parliament…Big Ben” photo. Westminster Abbey is beautiful and the souvenirs in the gift shop are pretty great too. Taking home some beautiful handmade beaded Christmas ornaments.
Anyone that knows me knows that Jo Malone has a special place in my heart, in fact one of its scents which you can only get in one store in London reminds me of some great memories. That being said, I HAD to go there. The flagship store is located on Regent Street, and although I went there for Jo Malone, I stayed for hours looking at the beautiful architecture and breathing in the history this city holds.
I will say that by Day 3 my tea obsession was in full swing. I woke up, had a great Eggs Benedict at the hotel and started on my adventure. I will say, that when the hotel concierge knows how you like your tea after being there for just 2 full days, it might be time to realize you have a problem. That being said, the tea is delicious, and so worth giving up coffee for a few days. (Side note: the coffee in London is NOTHING to write home about)
By this point, full on jet lag had set in and with barely any sleep I had to take a power nap. I highly suggest power naps when you have jet lag and not full on sleeping because otherwise your body clock will really be at a disadvantage.
I decided to do a bar crawl for historic pubs in the city, an experience I found on Air BNB. Probably one of the most fun things I've done in a long time. It was either going to go great, or horribly. Thank goodness alcohol brings people together, and by the second and third pub we were all friends. If you are in London and would like to try a couple of beers, check out www.liquidhistorytours.com. I had Dave as my tour guide and not only did I have awesome beers in really cool pubs, but learned a lot of the history while walking to and from each one. First one we stopped at was the Cockpit, check out the signs right above the bar, they are pretty cool. We made it through the City of London and the more we walked, the more and more I fell in love with this city. Our last stop was a really cool spot that had live jazz. Highly recommend this tour for not only beer drinkers, but history buffs.
I had received a text the night before that ironically one of my friends that I hadn’t seen in years was in London for work. Of course we were going to meet up! It was awesome to know someone in the foreign land I've been in for a few days. We decided to meet in a pub called Mr. Fogg’s, please note there are about 7 pubs called Mr. Foggs in London. So after we finally were at the same Mr. Foggs, we enjoyed a night of bar hopping, live music and friendship.
We started out at Mr. Fogg’s Tavern where the hot toddy was heavenly. Next we headed to O’Neill’s in Chinatown. I was told that its one of the really great Irish pubs in London (also a chain), but I had to check it out. A few doors down from O’Neill’s is Waxy O’Connors. This is probably one of my favorite bars that I've come across. There was live music, and on Sundays its Celtic live music, which was awesome. They have different music genres on different days so definitely check out the lineups if you are looking for something in particular. Another really cool thing about this bar (that I found out about from the concierge at the hotel), it used to be a church. The bar is awesome, great atmosphere, fun and really cool looking to boot. Our last stop, Cahoots. This is a cute little speakeasy type place on Kingly street. I say speakeasy type, because there is a bouncer at the door. However, once you get in, you are transported to a different place and a different period in time. The décor, the drinks, the music….. you feel like you are in the 1940s. We listened to great music and enjoyed a few cocktails, it was a great ending to an awesome bar crawl in London. Sharing the experience with a friend I would have never expected to see on my solo journey.
Day 4 in London started with one of my bucket list items, Stonehenge! Most people in England that I told I was going, treated it as if its just another tourist attraction, and for some it might be. However, this was always a bucket list item of mine. Maybe it was from seeing it in European vacation with the car backing up into the huge stones, or the shroud of mystery that surrounds Stonehenge, but I was going. Its about a two hour bus ride each way from London, but the countryside is a beautiful sight to see as well.
There are sheep that are right near Stonehenge and you feel like you are transported into a different time, well aside from the #stonehenge signs that tell you to follow them on social media. I enjoyed this experience so much, and you only have 2 hours before the bus leave promptly. I thought I was only there for 10 minutes, but it wound up being an hour and a half. So as I rushed back to the bus, I grabbed a piece of apple pie with custard on it for the road. It sounds unusual, probably one of my favorite breakfasts. Who thought apple pie with warm custard would be so delicious. If you ever have a chance to go, go! Its truly an awesome experience. There are other prehistoric sights near Stonehenge as well that I didn’t have a chance to see, but I would go again in a heartbeat.
I concluded my last day in London by walking around, getting some souvenirs and taking in the little bits of the City that I have fallen in love with. Tea, beers, sights…..trying to live in the moment. I stopped into a pub around the corner from my hotel for my last sip of cask ale and fish and chips. The Albert. I wound up chatting up with some locals and making new friends. In my opinion, much easier to do in a foreign country than in your home state. As the night wound down I sipped in the excitement of being in London to hold onto for the next time.
I have found out this trip that it’s hard to travel solo, but worth it. I have found myself constantly telling myself, “Look up from your phone, you’re in London.” Those moments I remember to do that are the most memorable of the day, heck of the trip.
Sometimes we get so wrapped up in “is this going to make a good picture”, that we forgo the moment and what makes that moment so precious. So I challenge each and every one of you, that while you are trying to find that beautiful angle for the selfie that’s getting uploaded to your Instagram story, to pause and appreciate where you are in that exact moment. I don’t just mean where you are physically, because let’s be honest, its possibly your living room. I mean appreciate where you are in life at that moment. Are you with family? Are you with your love? Are you solo and completely enjoying the moment? Wherever that is, breath just one long deep breath before (or after) you hit the camera button. Remember where you were and how you felt, and every time you look at that photo, it will bring you back to that same frame of mind. Hopefully its a peaceful, powerful, invigorated frame of mind.
London is Calling….