Whenever I can’t think of anything super interesting to write about, I tend to turn to Wikipedia to see if anything super interesting happened on that particular day, be it someone’s birthday or some kind of historical event that could warrant interesting blog post. Unfortunately nothing has come up this week that makes me want to write about it. There was, however, something that did catch my eye.
Apparently back in the day – at least in London, England – beheadings were quite popular during this second week of February. On February 13, 1542, Catherine Howard, the fifth wife of Henry VIII, was executed at the Tower of London on the grounds of adultery, and then on February 12, 1554 Lady Jane Grey, who ruled England for nine whole days, was beheaded at the Tower of London on suspicion of treason.
Worst. Day. Ever.
And then all this made me realize – I was there!
Okay, obviously I wasn’t there at the time of the executions. I’m not Doctor Who, and I don’t have a telephone booth or a Delorean that can transport me back 500 years. But I was in London – and at the Tower of London – on those days exactly ten years ago.
Actual ravens on the Tower green!
My husband (well, boyfriend at the time) and I decided on a whim to take a trip to London for Valentine’s Day back in 2003 because we were young and free and had the money to do such wonderful things (this was obviously before kids). I had been obsessed with London and England in general for as long as I could remember, and the decision to take advantage of a good airfare deal took about two seconds to make.
Courtesy of these guys. And yes, I took the glass.
After a ten-hour flight from Los Angeles to London (which included a kosher meal but absolutely no sleep), we arrived at Heathrow airport on February 11th with just one thing on our minds: FOOOOOOOOD. Seriously, we were so hungry that we decided to go to the first restaurant we saw after getting off the Tube in Notting Hill: Pizza Hut. Yes, I know we can get Pizza Hut anywhere, why would we want to go to it when we’re supposed to be off trying new things?
Um, because we were starving, ya’ll. We didn’t care. And you know what? That pizza tasted HEAVENLY. I’m pretty sure it tasted British, too, for the record. Which you can’t get in the U.S.
We stayed at a hostel (not a youth hostel, and REALLY not like the kind in the horror movies) in the Notting Hill area called Hotel Tria, and it was lovely. In which lovely = tiny and affordable. But it was actually perfect for us. It had two twinish-sized beds, a bathroom, and a small TV hanging from the top corner of the room, which is all we needed, since we weren’t going to spend much time in the room.
Breakfast was included at the hostel, which was made up of mostly toast and corn flakes, and shared with other people staying there, which was made up of mostly German tourists who had a habit of talking really loud in the morning but who were also equally entertaining to be around.
Since it’s been ten years, I don’t remember every single thing we did or saw while in London, but I can definitely speak to the highlights. First off, we walked everywhere. We had one-week passes for the Tube, but it seemed that despite the cold February weather, we wanted to walk everywhere because that’s how you truly experience things, am I right? By quickly walking by them while you freeze your ass off.
This was before GPS.
British food is nothing to celebrate, but we did stumble upon a couple of awesome pubs, one in particular close to The City (as in downtown) called The Hung, Drawn, and Quartered where I had – I kid you not – the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich of all time. What made it so awesome? I don’t know. I was drinking beer at the same time, though…that might have had something to do with it.
FYI London Travel Tip: If you’re looking for a place to have dinner and you go to a pub, make sure you ask if they’re serving food or not. We went to a particular pub on a Thursday night to have dinner, and it wasn’t until we ordered our drinks when they told us that they didn’t serve food on Thursday nights. So after my husband downed his Guinness in record time, we went to the next closest restaurant, which was TGI Fridays. Don’t judge us on our very American restaurant choices. And for the record, I ordered chips instead of fries, which made it TOTALLY BRITISH.
CHIPS, not fries.
Funny but true and somewhat embarrassing because I’m so ridiculous story: Even though Starbucks is everywhere in the U.S., I first started going there while we were in London. There was one near our hostel in Notting Hill, and because I wanted my green tea in the mornings, it was an easy and somewhat familiar place to get it. I quickly started up a sort of “Starbucks in London” routine, getting the Tazo Zen Green Tea and different times of the day – mostly just to hold to keep my hands warm. After a couple of days of this, I decided to be ballsy and started ordering my tea with an English accent and using terms like “pounds” and “pence”. I’m sure they saw right through it, but I felt sort of awesome and ridiculous at the same time. He he.
Doubles as a hand-warmer.
My husband had already been to London a year prior and had told me about a pizza chain called Pizza Express that he swore was better than California Pizza Kitchen. So I tried it, loved it (mainly the doughballs, which are exactly what they sound like, and dipped in buttery garlic), and we managed to go to three different Pizza Expresses during our week in London. The most memorable Pizza Express was located in Oxford (where we spent one rainy day) in an 800-year-old building. It’s stuff like that that makes you realize how young the U.S. is in comparison.
We bought the cookbook. You’re welcome.
And although it was cold and rainy, Oxford was pretty awesome. The university pretty much takes up the whole town, and those academic buildings are CRAZY. Like, this-can’t-be-an-actual-college-campus crazy. Seriously, it made my alma mater in Wisconsin look like the slums.
In Oxford you can also find Alice’s Tea Shop which, if you’re a fan of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland like me, you’ll thoroughly enjoy. I got a magnet and a button and other various odds and ends to bring home with me, but I had to be careful of how much I could buy. Not necessarily because of money, but because of space. That’s because there were no suitcases on this trip. Nay, my husband and I decided to keep it simple stupid and just bring a backpack each. That meant just bringing one pair of jeans, two different tops, and before you get grossed out, seven pairs of underwear. I guess at the time it was convenient, but looking back I wished I could have brought home more souvenirs. I didn’t even take that many pictures because this was a time before iPhones and even digital cameras, and I was using a camera with FILM in it. And apparently I get lazy when I know I have to develop a bunch of film. So the pictures you see in this post are pretty much it.
I apologize for the poor quality as well. It was 2003, you know.
Anyway, we saw most of the sights around London that most people tend to see when they’re visiting: Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the Millennium Bridge, the London Eye, Hyde Park, St. Paul’s Cathedral (I used their bathroom in the basement!), and Buckingham Palace. We also spent a good part of the day at Harrod’s, which if you don’t know is a HUGE department store – so big that we definitely didn’t get to every section of the place. Of course we made it to the important parts – the candy and sweets department, a somewhat out-of-place 50s diner near the women’s clothing department that served the fattest pancakes ever, and a pretty awesome all-children’s bookstore where I picked up a strange-looking British edition of a The Baby-sitter’s Club book.
And of course I couldn’t visit London without at least one semi-stalking adventure. I had a bit of a thing for Orlando Bloom back in the day (my husband was very tolerant) and after learning that he attended Guildhall School of Drama, I just had to scope the place out. That chapter can be appropriately titled “In Which I Pretend I’m a Prospective Student, Steal a Class List Containing the name of Orlando’s sister Samantha, and Leave My Gloves in the Bathroom”.
Why, yes, I am very interested in studying here.
We spent actual Valentine’s Day at the same place Lady Jane Grey, Catherine Howard, and about 110 others literally lost their heads. Because apparently the Tower of London is the most romantic place on earth. Seriously, though, it’s a very cool place that’s absolutely riddled with history. I addition to seeing Tower Hill (the actual site of the executions), we got to see the Crown Jewels, rooms filled with actual suits of armor, and rooms recreated to look as they did 500 years ago. It’s cool even when it’s staged.
We spent our last Saturday there in Notting Hill at the Portobello Road street market, which I only really knew from the movie Bedknobs and Broomsticks (and proceeded to sing the song “Portobello Road” ALL DAY) where we were stopped at one booth after another looking at the various antiques and kitschy odds-and-ends that were being sold. The one exciting thing I remember happening there was when we were walking through the street and someone else bumped into me as she passed by, and I quickly realized that it was Minnie Driver. Yes, Matt Damon’s ex-girlfriend totally ran me over. It was pretty awesome.
By our last day it was evident we were completely wiped out – walking around London in the cold and rain will do that to you, and even spending one of those nights back at the hostel eating crackers and watching “Ant and Dec” (a variety show of sorts) didn’t do much to rejuvenate us. So while I absolutely loved every moment we spent in London town, I was very much ready to go back home.
Of course I desperately want to get back there – specifically up to the more northern areas like Liverpool and Carlisle and Newcastle upon Tyne – and this time I’d pack a suitcase, bring home more souvenirs, and definitely take more pictures.
Oh, I would be checking into every single place we walked by via Four Square and location tagging all my Instagram photos. Because that’s how we roll in 2013.