If I could sum up how I felt leaving London in one sentence: I could live here. Not only was this city something to truly behold, but there were so many times that I felt as if I could be a local, knowing the streets, navigating the tube like a pro. Joining my parents for the week of Christmas in England will always stand out in my mind as one of the best Christmas gifts I've ever received.
I arrived pretty late at night, so after forcing myself to sleep until a normal time to try to beat "the lag," we decided that the Eye would be our first stop. My mom is Miss Planner Extraordinare (sometimes I see where I inherited some of that), so we were ushered through the fast lane and got to skip the line to see the city.
When I turned thirteen my mom took me with her on a vision trip to London, the first time I rode the Eye. Then it had been sunny, and several Londoners had told me I'd lucked out. This time was a bit more usual, overcast and grey with a light drizzle. My dad was so enthused by the raindrops on the pod that I'd pick overcast over sunny anytime.
We spent our week staying at Guoman's Tower, right next to St. Katherine's Docks and the Tower of London. We knocked out a tour straight away, thankful we could come back and wander throughout the week (it was here that I managed to find Thai people, hearing their distinctive tones behind me as we exited the chapel at the Tower).
After our full day of touristing the heck out of the River Roamer, I left my camera in our room in favor of a relaxing and fun evening with some local friends. Alex and Megan showed me what it was like to be an expatriate local, and our dinner at Southern Joe's (a barbecue dive they'd scoped out and been wanting to try) and walk around Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square, etc. proved to be one of the highlights of my entire time in Europe.
Day two can be summed up in one or two words. One: walking. Two: Bench, please. We walked to Big Ben. To Westminster Abbey. Through St. James's Park. Past Buckingham Palace during the changing of the guards. Through Hyde Park. Through Kensington Palace. Then we found a taxi, and I logged about 13,000 steps. Score.
Kensington Palace was quite... informative. I hadn't expected there to be as many "exhibitionary" items as there were, and it was fascinating to learn more about the former inhabitants and their lifestyles rather than just looking at what's been left behind.
Once we didn't want to walk anymore, we got dressed up and headed to dinner and a show, of course. What else do you do when you're about to fall over from jet lag and sore legs? We ate a wonderful butternut-squash-themed dinner of soup and gnocchi at Tutton's, a beautiful restaurant in Covent Garden very close to Lyceum Theatre, where we saw The Lion King. If you've never seen the show, it's a must. So much color, so many amazing costumes and set designs. Holy Rafiki.
If you spend any time with my family at all, you will realize quickly that we are a bunch of nerds. Nerds about computers, nerds about design, nerds about movies. Harry Potter is something that allows us to be such nerds. When I was young I was required to read the books for school, so my skeptical parents allowed it for the sake of my education. Little did they know (or me, for that matter) that they would end up loving the series just as much as my brother and I did, if not more.
That being said, a studio tour of the sets from the movie wasn't an option on our trip, it was required. Wednesday morning we took a bus from the city to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour, where we were allowed to geek out to our hearts content (among other, costumed, decked out fans) exploring sets, perusing shelves of Hogwarts garb, trying our hand at some (assisted) magic, and learning the secrets to making the wizarding world come to life.
Another evening with local friends followed suit: actual beef in an actual burger from Honest Burgers in Soho. Megan and I ventured down tiny little sois–excuse me, alleys, to find a cute little corner restaurant filled to the brim. I ordered the best beef I'd tasted in ages and got to see the flat some of my friends call home: tiny, but the coziest little place I've ever seen, right in the middle of bustling Charlotte Street with a view of very top of the Eye squeezed between two "turrets" across the street.
Forever a fan of views and heights, the next day involved the Shard, western Europe's tallest building. Definitely impressive, this building opens up on the very top floor to those who wish to be wind blown above everyone else in the city. It was raining a little while we were out there, but the experience was worth all the chill.
The Shard is less than a three minute walk to Bourough Market, the first place that seemed familiar to me after living in Southeast Asia for over a year. The goods and smells there were anything but familiar (even the Indian Chai, something I would kill for in Thailand!), but the market experience and the sight of all the vendors slammed together was a welcome respite from all the differences I'd been pelted with for four days.
Being Christmas eve, we started to plan what our Christmas day would look like, and how we'd make it special since we were displaced. It felt odd being in a place none of us had called home for such an important day. We split up to shop for each other's stockings, one of my favorite traditions. I ended up over near Oxford Circus somehow, logging another few thousand steps and loving being surrounded by Londoners just going about their business. I guess that's what I was doing as well, though. Just life.
For lunch on Christmas day we boarded a Citycruises boat on the Thames with a bunch of other misplaced expats and stuffed our faces until our stomachs hurt. I'll give traditional English dinner a thumbs up.
And because the only thing you do on actual Christmas day is laugh and eat and praise the Lord, we retired to our hotel and took a leisurely walk around the Tower and the docks to make us not feel so bad about eating so much and being away from so many.
On our last full day–Boxing Day, I dragged my mother out to go shopping. We snagged a few good sales down near Carnaby street, an area of town Megan had shown me and I had dipped into a couple days before. This is as close to Black Friday shopping as I've ever gotten, and I actually enjoyed it. We'll see what happens come Thanksgiving next year when I'm living back in America...could be bad.
After a lunch of fish and chips at Shakespeare's Head, and because Dad wouldn't come with us, we met him at the Millennium Bridge for some extra walking. My parents let me go look at Shakespeare's Globe, though we didn't have the time to go in or get a tour. It was enough for me. We ended the evening at a 1520's pub called Prospect of Whitby, London's oldest riverside pub.
The next morning I took the tube, then a bus, then another metro to Gatwick where I flew out to Amsterdam. London, I could live in you.