This Europe trip had been a long time coming. I’ve wanted to travel to the Netherlands during the spring to see the tulips at Keukenhof since 2013 or 2014, and originally planned on taking this trip during the spring of 2016. Various circumstances prevented the trip from happening in 2016 (and 2017, and 2018), so by the time spring 2019 rolled around, nothing was going to keep me from going.
Though, Easter came awfully close.
Easter is my favorite holiday, and given the choice, I would prefer to be in town so I can go to church at my church for both Easter and the days leading up to it. The problem with Easter, though, is that it always falls during spring, and this year it happened to fall on April 21: right when I wanted to be in the Netherlands. In the years since I originally decided I wanted to go to the Netherlands during the spring, the list of places I wanted to see on the trip expanded, and grew to include London after my cousin moved there a year and a half ago. Despite wanting to be in the Netherlands on April 21, it seemed to make a lot more sense to be in London on April 21, particularly from a church-on-Easter perspective. So I flipped London from being the last stop on the trip to the first stop (which was a little bit of a bummer, because had I been in London the following weekend, I could’ve spectated the marathon. Sigh.), and on Good Friday, boarded a flight from Chicago to London.
I knew I would get little to no sleep on the flight over, which helped me be a bit more zen about the situation. My flight had a few Headspace meditations meant to facilitate sleep on the seatback entertainment, so I plugged my noise-cancelling headphones into that and attempted to drift off. I’m pretty sure I slept for about 90 total minutes, though my Fitbit says I slept for zero minutes. Either way, it wasn’t much.
After landing and going through customs, we made our way to the Tube and took that to my cousin’s neighborhood. My sister had gone to visit my cousin last summer and gave me her Oyster card with a pound or two left on it, so I topped that off with a few more pounds and we were on our way.
Public transportation in London blew me away. We just missed the train leaving Heathrow, and, having taken the Blue Line more than once from O’Hare, I figured we’d be in for a 10-15 minute wait, especially since it was a Saturday morning on a holiday weekend. Nope. The next train pulled into the station in three minutes. When we transferred to a different line later on, we didn’t have to wait at all. It blew my mind. I generally consider the CTA to be pretty functional (especially compared to the horror stories I’ve heard about the MTA in New York), but London’s public transportation was light years ahead of anything we have here. Coverage, frequency, ease of use: everything about it was a hundred times better than what I’m used to. What I would give to see any city in the United States invest that much in public transportation….
Anyway, my cousin and his husband met us at the Tube, and we headed to their apartment for some snacks, showers, and general getting our heads on straight before heading out for a gigantic walk around London.
We started at Westminster Cathedral (not to be confused with Westminster Abbey, which is a totally different thing. I had no idea until we showed up at the cathedral and I thought to myself, “This doesn’t look anything like it looked on TV when Will and Kate got married…” ).
After spending a little time there, we walked to Buckingham Palace.
It was sufficiently impressive.
We walked past Green Park and the Wellington Arch and then went for a stroll in Hyde Park, which was decorated with signs reminding parkgoers that “cannabis is illegal,” despite it being 4/20. All the lulz. (The signs didn’t seem to bother those partaking at all, for the record.)
The birdwatching in Hyde Park was delightful, despite it being a pretty bustling place. (London was having its best weather of the whole year up to that point, according to my cousin, so the park was appropriately packed.). I saw parakeets (!!) flying between trees, and once we got to The Serpentine, I saw SO many new-to-me birds! Eurasian Coots, Mute Swans, a Eurasian Moorhen, Tufted Ducks, Egyptian Geese, a Black-Headed Gull, Herring Gulls, and a Gray Heron were all in the water. None of those birds are particularly rare in London, but since I obviously don’t live in London, I was quite excited to add eight new birds to my life list (Herring Gulls live in Chicago too, so I already had them on my list).
After our time in Hyde Park, we walked through Mayfair, which was stupidly beautiful:
and Grosvenor Square to get to Fortnum and Mason for some tea shopping. My cousin got me two tins of green tea from Fortnum and Mason for Christmas, and I’ve had it at work almost every morning since. It is SO good, and being in Fortnum and Mason was both amazing and so overwhelming. We ended up leaving with a tin of Peach tea, Wedding Breakfast tea (a blend created to celebrate Will and Kate’s wedding in 2011), and a tin of shortbread cookies.
After shopping for tea, we got afternoon tea for ourselves at The Wolseley. I was fading fast by that point in the energy department, but a gigantic pot of caramel tea (I KNOW) did a great job of reviving me.
It was my cousin’s birthday a couple days before we arrived, and his husband had ordered a cake for him from a bakery (whose name I don’t remember, unfortunately) in Soho, so we wandered around there for awhile. I loooooooved it. I realize how silly this sounds, but it reminded me so much of Diagon Alley in Harry Potter! We just don’t have little nooks and crannies of streets like that in the U.S. (or at least, we don’t have them anywhere in the U.S. where I’ve been), and I kind of thought the general look and feel of Diagon Alley was just made up. Nope! That’s how the streets in London actually look. I was obsessed.
By the time we picked up the cake and walked around a little more, all that tea I had had had worked its way through my system, and I was in pretty desperate need of a bathroom. I mentioned this when we were right outside The National Gallery, so we popped in to use the facilities there. That was the only reason we stopped by, but they weren’t closing for another 15 minutes, so we decided to take a speed-tour through the gallery and ended up seeing a couple Van Goghs, a Monet, and a Seurat. Not too shabby for a bathroom stop!
We kind of saw Trafalgar Square, but it was apparently the Feast of St. George that day, so the whole area was set up for a related festival. We walked around the square, headed towards St. James Park, kind of saw 10 Downing Street, and then continued on our way to the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey.
We spent some time in the Victoria Tower Gardens and crossed Lambeth Bridge, and thus concluded our bonkers, somewhere-in-the-neighborhood-of-20,000 steps tour of London.
(Yes, I realize that’s a pigeon. But it’s a Common Pigeon, not a Rock Pigeon like we have in Chicago (though they have plenty of those in London, too), and honestly, I think this is one of my best bird photos, so I’m showing it off.)