DAY FOUR: Notting Hill, Paddington, & Kensington

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17,000 steps. (I almost killed my own mother.)

We took a morning stroll through a rainy Notting Hill. I was only a little sad to miss Hugh Grant, but comforted myself by singing that Bee Gee’s song that plays during his sad-man montage:

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We bought Mom a hat. It’s adorable.

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Breakfast: We stopped at a quaint bakery, Gail’s. We found out later that Gail’s is a chain, but it was soooo delicious, I didn’t care. I’m convinced the scrambled eggs were made by someone who really loves what they do. Mom had delicious porridge. We also had a hot cross bun, which was the first time I can really remember having an actual hot cross bun. I loved it so much that I made them for Easter from a recipe Gail’s published here.

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Paddington Station just because.

My parents love Paddington Bear, and that inexplicable love has rubbed off on me. (Okay, embarrassing aside: I thought of Paddington as the British Pooh Bear for quite a while before realizing that Pooh is also British.)

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Victoria and Albert Museum. I love Victoria and Albert. I think it’s one of the most beautiful love stories. He gave up so much for her! She mourned his death for forty years! They had a million children!

That’s why it was a surprise when we finally got to the Victoria and Albert Museum, and instead of seeing Victoria’s gowns and Albert’s love letters, I saw signs for “Art Deco” and “Asian Fashion.”

Me: This is probably the stupidest question in the world.

Museum Curator: You’d be surprised.

Me: Is there a section of the museum on the actual Victoria and Albert? Because that’s kind of what I’m erm well here for.

MC: There are a few things on Floor Five.

Me: Well, that’s a relief.

Twenty minutes later…

Me: Mom, I made us walk here for a bust of Albert (that was rejected by Victoria) and a five-minute montage of Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.

We walked from there to Kensington Palace. We got a little turned around in the gardens, but eventually made it there. It’s hard not to be just as enamored by the wildlife as the palace, honestly. There were so many swans.

From there, we were hangry, so we made our way to Goat’s Tavern.

We walked home, tired and full and tired.

 

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Day Three: Windsor, Stonehenge, and Bath

“Please be back on the coach at the time requested. We will leave you if you’re not back on time. Be here on time.”

Okay, Norma. We get it.

“And no hot foods. Cold food only.”

What? Norma, you’re out of your mind.

Norma was our tour guide. I’m fascinated by the idea of being a tour guide. It’s a very unusual kind of life. The people you work with are constantly new. You have to be nice to them even when they’re idiots. You go to the same sights weekly (daily?). And you perform the same jokes on people over and over and over. Maybe this isn’t unusual. Is this kind of every job? Are we all Norma?

Windsor Castle.

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St. George’s Chapel. Do we walk on the graves or…? Okay, people are walking on the graves, so I think it’s okay. Oh, gosh. I just stepped that one. I don’t feel good about it. I’m sorry, sir–er, Your Majesty.

I’m over the walking thing and would now like to be buried in St. George’s Chapel, preferably next to George VI (who I can’t get to not look like Colin Firth in my head).

I could’ve spent all day in St. George’s, but Norma had us on a tight schedule. We wanted to see the State Apartments, so I was forced to mow down school children on a field trip to rush through Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House to get to the coach on time. I wish I were kidding. I didn’t knock kids over, but I did knock them out of the way.  I didn’t see a problem with this until now and all I can think about are their cute school uniforms and gleeful accents and I’m the worst.

The State Apartments were cool, I think. Norma really put the fear of God in us, I guess. We BOOKED it. I call it the Chandelier Run. Come back next year for our Painted Ceilings 5K.

Stonehenge.

Oh, this is so cool and strange and in the middle of nowhere. I think the best picture is from the other side, don’t you? It really smells here. Very farm-y. What was that? Did you feel that? Norma talked about “vibes,” but I swear I just felt something. Oh, that’s wind. Oh, wow. That’s really windy. It hurts my face. Is that sleet? Oh, gosh. It is. It hurts. It hurts everywhere!

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Okay, one thing I found really interesting about Stonehenge is that there are mounds for miles around the rocks that are burial grounds of prehistoric people. In Indiana, we have Native American burial mounds. Not kidding. I find this fascinating and strange. People are people no matter where they are, you know?

Bath.

 

After the speed-walking disaster at Windsor, Mom and I flew through the museum portion of the Roman Baths to get to the actual bath (which is at the end of the tour btw). It’s neat. I’m sorry that I don’t have more to say about it. To be honest, I felt I was looking at a giant green pool straight out of National Lampoon’s Vacation. On the upside, I’m apparently cured of all ailments after tasting the purified version of the magical healing spring water. Still waiting on my bacne to get that message.

So, we saw the big pool. Woo. Our clothes were soaked from the sleet/rain at Stonehenge and Norma wasn’t allowing us hot foods/drinks. It’s no surprise that we felt we needed a beer.

The Ale House was a gem of a find. It was the kind of place I imagined getting lost in on a UK vacation–an old pub full of regulars with approximately four tables. Mom and I got our beers and made friends with the man next to us. He was waiting for his daughter to come back from class. We laughed with him and had a really good time, and when he left, Mom said, “Do you think he really has a daughter?” And I said, “I thought the same thing.”

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Me [while buying pork rinds]: I feel bad buying these after seeing all of those piggies on the way here.

Bartender: Oh, don’t worry. It’s just their skin deep fried!

I’m sorry, Norma, but in order to appear complicit with your crazy rule about hot food, I did, as you suspected, lie to you. The bag was full of hot food, not a souvenir. It smelled like shepherd’s pie because it was shepherd’s pie. I’m sorry, but in our defense, Mom made us wait until we were back in our hotel to actually eat it. I think I know what you’d say: The only thing better than hot food is cold food!

Day Two in London

DAY TWO, or breakfast breakfast breakfast.

I love breakfast, and it seems that London–in its heart–really gets that (and really gets me).

Breakfast at the Raison D’etre.

“What can I get for you, sweetie?” Sweetie? Me? This guy’s ridiculous.

“For you, sweetheart.” Thank you, darling.

He calls Mom Cleopatra. Am I in love with him? It’s hard to say. We have at least a decade between us, but what’s a decade when he can make hot chocolate like this:

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“The Very Naughty,” indeed.

Things are all very French and sophisticated until my eggs fall on the floor. I cover them with my shoe before the waiter can see. Good thinking, Hil.

Double-decker bus. Mom and I are on the top level even though it’s freezing and raining. “I’ll mark down the places we want to go back to.” “Great idea.” “Do you have a pen?” No, do you?” “No…”

Thames River boat ride surrounded by a school group of French children. It turns out teens are teens are teens, no matter where they come from.

Tower of London. Okay, but really, can someone explain Henry VIII’s armor to me? CHILDREN SEE THIS.

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Speaking of crown jewels. Hello!

(Also, photo cred here because I was waaaaay to embarrassed to take a photo of that.)

I didn’t realize I was on this trip to see diamonds, but yeah, it was the actual crown jewels that showed me I’m only in it for the stones. This is sounding very weird if you think I’m still talking about the armor. Get your head out of the Tudors’ gutter! I’m talking about the diamond rings and the sceptres and Queen Victoria’s little crown (that I think I really could wear every day).

They don’t allow you to take pictures of the Crown Jewels; it’s kind of nice to be told no photos or phones. I liked not having to worry about getting the perfect photo.

Dinner/lunch: fish and chips. Feeling right British, we are, we are.

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Buckingham Palace coming in hot with breathtaking light. I’m not sure the house is much to look at without it. (Sarcasm.)

Day One in London

For Spring break, my mom and I went to the UK for eleven days. This is our story. Dun Dun.

DAY ONE.

The tickets were on sale. Cheap, they were. The kind of cheap that allowed me, a true cheap skate (who is not above walking the Costco samples for lunch), to buy them instantly. The only catch? The flight to London flew out of Chicago. Chicago is three hours away. Four and a half by train.

I always say that a breezy, five-hour train ride is the proper way to begin any international vacation. If you’re leaving before dawn and the train station smells like liquor and weed? Well, that’s even better.

We really did things right.

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My mom and I went on the trip together. We were so excited. Sitting in the Amtrak station going over the week’s schedule, we felt like no one alive had ever done something so cool, so… unique. Then we said hi to the people next to us, an aunt (around the same age as Mom) and a niece (around the same age as I am).

Okay, so there were other female duos out there. That’s great! Room for everybody! Oh, you’re going to London too? That’s good. Good for you. Good for us, right? You’re going to Stonehenge? Well, everyone goes to Stonehenge, right? Right? Suddenly, Mom and I realized we were like Lorelei Gilmore hiking the PCT à la Cheryl Strayed. We also realized it didn’t matter one bit.

We were so keyed up for the trip, we thought we’d go from Union Station to O’Hare via the L. Six bags + four hands + public transit = NO PROBLEM. We made it, but some of our knee skin didn’t.

Food from Indianapolis to London: two (three?) Pop-Tarts, Cliff Bar, one cheese/nut pack, Auntie Annie’s cinnamon pretzel, two airplane meals, so much coffee, another couple of Pop-Tarts in there somewhere.

In London, we arrived at this very strange hotel, the Avni Kensington, that would become our home. Not exactly a home in the sense of welcome place, but more like a home is a person—that person being the great aunt you know you’re supposed to like, but you kind of hope you never have to smell again.

We couldn’t check in since it was six in the morning, so we got ourselves on the Underground and went to Westminster bridge and walked around for a bit. It turns out, not much is open at six in the morning. We found a breakfast spot that as far as we could tell was run by exactly one person.

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Purchases so far: Breakfast. Touristy London sweatshirt (because I thought it was a good idea to not wear my coat?).

Double-decker bus. Brief fight with the ticket man over printing our tickets. Mom’s phone died, and I only had the confirmation number. I was explaining this to the man, and he walked away from me. Walked away! You don’t know how almost mean we can look like we’re getting until you’re super rude to our faces, sir. It’s the kind of half-committed, near-death stare that makes people rethink their decisions, okay?

London Eye. Waiting in line for hours means getting to watch two nine-year-olds touch (feel up?) and almost knock over a wax figure of Angelina Jolie. It’s only a week later that I question why a wax figure of Angelina Jolie was at the London Eye at all.

The view is gorgeous, even in a little rain.

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“Is it fatigue?” you wonder. Or are you really the kind of person who gives a stink eye to the little boy hogging the computer that tells you about the buildings? What does this say about you?

Every wild trip starts out with a 6pm bedtime.