And we're back to our regular programming! After two weeks of walking, walking and snapping photos like a Chinese tourist, I can officially say that I've been to Europe. It feels like this trip never happened, and yet somehow I know it did. The only thing I can take home is that I can't wait to come back! I've talked endlessly about my love for London before--and now I've fallen truly, madly and deeply. I even accept that I should take pollen counts seriously and never never forget an umbrella this time. Here are the 10 things I love the most about London--and why you should do them too!
1. Walk For a city girl used to taking cars wherever she goes, walking around London in cool weather was a pleasure. We walked through a few parks that had gorgeous views (the lake on St. James' Park has a charming view of Buckingham Palace!) and while we we attacked by pollen, we didn't really mind since it was cool. Plus it was springtime, so all the flowers were in bloom! London is one of those cities where you can walk anywhere, and take full advantage!
2. grab a bite to eat
While admittedly, English food leaves much to be desired (seriously) and restaurants can be expensive, they certainly excel at little pastries and desserts. Fresh food is also easy to find and not that expensive to make, especially when you grab them from a supermarket. This photo in particular is from Gail's Bakery in South Kensington. We loved their cranberry scones!
TIP: To save a bit on food expenses, we bought breakfasts at Sainsbury's, and on one occasion, frozen dinners with a bit of salad.
3. ride the tube
You could do a whole series of photos of the different designs of the Tube Stations in London, and it's fascinating to think that these stations have been around for hundreds of years. Speaking as someone who lives in a country with nil public transport, it's one of those things to be really really jealous of.
TIP: There are always closures (and on occasion a strike) happening in the Tube, and the Bus System is easy enough to figure out!
4. Soak up the art
One of the places I didn't expect to visit was the Victoria and Albert Museum. I know it sounds like a sin for someone who claims to love art and design, but now I see the appeal. Just walking through a hall of white marble statues is thrilling, and there's so much detail to see. And it's also free! We managed to catch the Alexander McQueen 'Savage Beauty' exhibit, and it was AMAZING. One of the most unforgettable museum exhibits ever. It sucked that I couldn't take photos.
Another thing about London is the West End. Plays and musicals are constantly being put on show, and I could wax poetic about how amazing that is to me. Roselle and I got to watch the Vote at the Donmar Warehouse, and we saw Judi Dench, Catherine Tate and Mark Gatiss!! Then we hopped over to Aldwych and watched Beautiful with my mom, and had the best time.
Tip: The discount ticket booth at Leicester Square has the most discount tickets on Wednesdays.
5. haVE A CUPPA
I will never get tired of singing the Orangery at Kensington Palace's praises. It's the one experience I was really glad to be able to share with my siblings, and it made me so happy that they were able to enjoy it too. Everyone deserves to feel fancy once in a while.
TIP: The Orangery charges the tea set per person. My parents ordered one set, a set of extra scones and drinks to save a little.
6. Visit the masters
IT'S FREE! How could you not want to visit the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square? Even if you aren't a big fan of art, walking through the National Gallery makes you feel small. The paintings (Van Gogh and Degas especially) just make you feel things. Whenever we visit a museum, I tend to look up the highlights and have steely determination to see only those, but we always end up wandering off to different sections.
TIP: The west galleries have all the Impressionists right next to each other. Sometimes you can catch lectures going on in the gallery (we listened in on a school tour for kids), and they are incredibly informative!
7. Take a breather
I think the thing that blew my mind about London the first time I went was the buildings, the way everything is designed like something from a completely different era. For someone who got used to straight-edge, modern design, this was a welcome change. I think more than half of my photos are just of buildings and streetways--I wished I could explore them all.
TIP: Make sure you cross the Thames at least once on the bridges! It's a bit scary with the wind and all, but the views are fantastic.
8. Relive the movies
It has to be said, there are a LOT of films and books set in London. Sometimes you're just walking by and you wonder why a certain spot seems so familiar. There's something surreal about that, and hello! be still your fangirl heart! I can't forget Gijo's expression when I told him the Doctor Who connection to Southwark Cathedral, or Roselle's adorable freak out when she realized we were standing in front of Buckingham Palace.
TIP: For the ultimate fangirl experience, have a meal at Speedy's on North Gower St. In King's Cross Station (in the movie they used St. Pancras Hotel next door to depict the station), the Harry Potter store at Platform 9 3/4s lets you take a picture for free without commitment to buy the photo.
9. find out what the royal fuss is about
Before I came here for the first time, I just didn't get the world's fascination with royalty. But when we came here and learned the history, the way they lived and saw how far back their influence reached--I was a little worried we would be too hooked. Roselle and I caved and bought a couple of books on Queen Victoria. But it's fascinating to know that these people live and breathe among you. Celebrities notwithstanding.
10. Get out of the city
One of the best things about visiting Kew Gardens for us was that it was a bit far from the city center, and things looked vastly different. In the springtime especially when all the flowers are in bloom, it makes you imagine how nice it would be, living in a small, sleepy suburb. But that's just me, of course.