Tuesday, January 18, 2011

lesson learned, london is crazy at Christmastime

I know, I know, I stink. This pesky family thing keeps getting in the way, plus all the SNOW, good lord, it won't stop snowing around here. Moving on, though...

Day 2- December 26th, otherwise known as Boxing Day:

The airport's Hilton is connected to Heathrow's Terminal 4 by a walkway, so we took our two carry-ons and a purse (AND THAT'S IT!!!), well and our scarves and gloves and hats and jackets and all that, and walked to catch the subway to LONDON! And then discovered that the subway was on strike. Yes, that's right, the Tube workers were on strike and we were left with no way to get into the city, which was precisely why we'd spent the money to stay at the stinking airport the night before anyway. After shuffling back and forth in the terminal trying to find someone, ANYONE, who would give us advice on what to do, all the while cognizant of the fact that the flat owner's housekeeper was waiting for us at the flat only until 10:30am, I sat down with our guide book (highly recommend) and determined that our only option was a more expensive train. We were stuck, though, so we bit the bullet and paid our $60 and hoped the subways within London would be running once we made it to the train station there.

Surprise, surprise, they weren't. The Tube was completely shut down, and the clock was ticking away, and we hadn't even changed any money into British Pounds yet, and I didn't have a cell phone, so I had no way of calling the housekeeper, and frankly, we were both starting to panic. We surfaced onto the street to see if the buses were running and if we could figure out where we were. At this point, the logical thing would have been to take a taxi, right? But we had a serious budget, and taking that train had already blown the budget for the whole day and I didn't even know where we were in relation to Fulham, and plus, we had no cash, and I didn't want to get stuck with another massive taxi fare on top of the train, so buses it was.

Thankfully, a good citizen told us which bus to take to get us into the general vicinity of Fulham, and then, miracle of miracles, I spotted a Hilton hotel across the street. I raced in there, explained my situation to the concierge (just stayed at the airport Hilton last night, have no coins, can't find a phone, subway not working, etc.) and he lent me their phone (sweet wonderful man), so at least the housekeeper situation was squared away.

We took not one, but TWO buses, at which point I was almost kissing my little carry-on for its ease of transport, and we made it to Fulham. Then my brilliant husband used his Blackberry gps to get us to the house and we were able to collapse onto the couch and consider what to do next. Honestly? We were beat at this point. We'd already been up for several hours and running around in a rather stressed state, so all my plans to take a bus tour and hit all the major sights were kind of thrown out the window. We decided to call today a lost day and relax as we enjoyed the city.

We took a bus to Hyde Park, where a traditional German Christmas Market was being held (and you know how much I love German Christmas Markets). We walked through the market and admired the food and the stuff and exclaimed to each other HOW FREAKING COLD IT WAS. Seriously, it was fuh-reezing. Frigid. It was so cold, I started to worry Josh was going to pack up and leave me to change his ticket to Jamaica. Hat, gloves, scarves, coats, long underwear, and still freezing our butts off cold, so we briskly walked through the park and headed to the shopping area.

Now. A friend had told me that Boxing Day is to Londoners what Black Friday is to us- i.e. a total freaking shopping nightmare. We still didn't fully realize how much Londoners love their shopping until we reached Oxford Street, and then holy smokes. It was like walking in New York City's Times Square crossed with Rockefeller Center, at Christmastime. I have no words. We were totally overwhelmed and squished and were being pushed and shoved and pulled apart by the crowds. It was nuts. I thought the British were orderly people!

We finally ducked into a department store to grab some food, which happened to be Selfridges, the second largest department store in London. Um, wow. The food, the displays, the goods, we were awestruck. We stuffed ourselves, and warmed up a bit, until we felt ready to brave the crowds again. We had a plan this time, though. We side stepped through the crowds, on a mission to reach Regent Street, an upscale street full of shops that would lead to Piccadilly Circus and the Leicester Square and Covent Garden. Regent Street was gorgeous, a mix of old buildings and new shops, on a curved street, where all of the building followed the curve of the road. It was pretty impressive, but my only disappointment was that the stores were your typical US stores, exactly what you'd find at your local mall- Banana Republic, Gap, Clarks, Victoria's Secret, etc. It was around this time that Josh and I started playing a game where we'd punch each other in the arm every time we saw a Starbucks. It sounds strange, but honestly, it was hilarious because we were punching each other every couple of minutes! Londoners LOVE them some Starbucks! Not surprisingly, though, the tea menu in Starbucks takes up more than half of the menu, as opposed to our typical lattes and mochas.

We walked for a couple of hours, enjoying the sights, relishing in the British accents we were hearing, and then stopped at a coffee shop (not Starbucks) for a pick me up. We sunk into squishy chairs at a tiny table next to the window, and then, um, I passed out. Like completely fell asleep in mid-conversation. No exaggeration. Josh tried to wake me up, couldn't, so he took a picture and let me nap for 20 minutes. With a tiny snooze under my belt, I felt awake enough to continue on. We perused some of the theatres and their shows because I was dying to see a musical or play or something. We wandered through Covent Garden and its shops, had a quick kiss at the Merry Kissmas Tree (very cute), and completed half of Rick Steves' walking tour through the West End of London, until I was falling over on my feet and I waved the white flag of defeat. We boarded another bus (on our way to becoming the bus experts we would be at the end of the trip) and grabbed dinner in Fulham on our way back to the flat.

(I can't believe I'm posting this picture for the world to see)

A quick note to say, I hadn't actually believed the food in London would not be good, because it is a major city! How could the food be bad? Can't you find good food everywhere? But, um, it was less than stellar. I think out of 6 days we had one halfway decent meal, and several really unappetizing meals, but the rest of London totally made up for it.

A quick Skype call to the kids, where I listened to their sad little voices ask me if I was coming home tonight (a question they would ask every night) and we crashed. I think the combination of the time change, the walking, and the COLD did us in. We fell asleep at 10pm, with big plans for Day 3 of London!

(**to be updated with pictures tomorrow, I SWEAR, but I'm falling asleep on the keyboard right now)


YG&B said...

love it! love it! post more! and yeah, london food is surprisingly bad unless you like indian.

Downsized Attorney said...

I studied abroad in London. For 3 out of the 5 months I was there the Tube workers were on strike and we had to walk or take the bus to school. It's annoying and happens all the time. Yes, the food is not great either. Lodon is a charming city though. I love hearing all about your trip, it takes me back.