On the early morning of Saturday, October 31, 2015, I touched down at Heathrow airport just a week after having been in London for a week of work. This time, however, as the customs agent asked why I was visiting the United Kingdom, I told her with a grin that I was there to celebrate my 30th birthday. (It’s my secret mission to make serious folks like customs agents smile, and mission accomplished.)
The amount of time and effort to actually leave the airport after an international flight is long and tiresome, but once I got a hold of my checked bag, I was off towards the train to central London. By the time I reached Paddington Station, I was desperate for a cab to get me to my hotel and for someone to take my heavy bags away from me. I walked up to the taxi, lean in towards the window to let him know where I was going and hesitate, expecting him to get out and help me with my bags. At that point, the elderly driver, who had not moved an inch, says:
“Can you manage?”
Oh. Well. Yes, yes I could.
And so I did.
This trip was the first one where I was traveling alone. While I did spend a large part of my week with a friend and London local, I also had time on my own. It was quite the experience. So in some ways, Mr. Cab Driver was just making sure I could handle it. I managed just fine, thank you very much.
My week was split between an old love, London, and a new one: Scotland. The beginning and end of my journey was in London so that’s where we’ll start. I’ve been to London many times, and it’s always been my favorite city–the rich history and culture, THE ACCENTS, architecture. There really is a little bit of everything there. And quite frankly, I’ve been an anglophile and fan of British culture for so long, it’s kind of the perfect place to visit and celebrate my 30th.
When I was there just a couple of weeks before, I had the fortune to stay in a 5-star hotel as a work perk. This time it was the Comfort Inn for me with sounds of the trains clicking along the tracks going in and out of Victoria Station just outside my window. It was one of those moments when you walk into the hotel room for the first time and can’t help but laugh at just how tiny it is with a single bed (as in twin) and this computer monitor-like flat TV screen bolted to the top of the detached closet at the end of the bed.
Hey, I don’t need anything fancy. 😉
I spent the first day wandering for a while. I prefer an overnight flight when going overseas, but the downside is that the Comfort Inn does not let you check in early (unlike the 5-star hotels). So I dropped my bags off and took off to the closest coffee shop. I needed caffeine and badly. (Hello, flat white, and thank you for your frothy espresso goodness!)
I trekked to Oxford Street and took a jetlagged stroll (actually, in the wrong direction for a while because I was that tired I wasn’t paying attention). I eventually stopped by Selfridge & Co., a shopping favorite of mine (well, mostly browsing) but a much better place to stop through than Harrod’s in my opinion. There’s even a British TV show about how the store was founded in the early 1900s by an American from Chicago. So there ya go.
My first day involved a lot of walking, FaceTiming with my parents, meeting up with my friend (who before my most recent trips to London, I hadn’t seen in 4 years!), eating the most yummy meal at Wagamama, and prepping for Halloween night.
I’m not really sure how I stayed upright through the day and night, but I did. My last few years of costumes have all been so on point. This year, not so much. I tried to be Rizzo with a Betty Boop wig
because who makes Rizzo wigs? but it was just NOT working. We spent the evening out and about in a few neighborhoods and called it a night by 10 p.m.
Sunday, I had the first half of the day to myself, and visited Hillsong London. It’s a sister church of the one I attended while living in NYC. The original was founded in Sydney, Australia and they have churches around the world. It is quite an experience. They are very much a “come as you are” church with no pretenses. I would encourage any and everyone to have a visit. It was really nice to go there and feel a bit at home.
The rest of the day consisted of a late lunch with the sister of a friend from my middle and high school days. And the evening ended with a date. (Yes, that’s right. I totally turned on Tinder and had a date or 3 while I was in London.) My date played tour guide, and we visited a few different cocktail bars. It’s a really interesting way to see a city you’re not familiar with and learn more about it from someone else’s perspective. There were 2 more dates in the following days (with a different Englishman). For any fellow Outlander fans out there, the craziest part about the whole thing was that their names were…wait for it…JAMIE and IAN. It was as if it were fate or something. I had a great time, and it’s an experience I’d recommend to my single friends. Be careful and safe about it, but it’s nice to meet new people. You never know where it could take you.
Right amidst my London experiences were 3 days in Scotland. That journey requires its own post, which will be coming shortly.
Meanwhile, my return to London (on my birthday, aka Guy Faulkes Day, aka Bonfire Night) had me attempting to meet a friend and his wife at a very old pub–older than America in fact. A pub with its own history, including being an old haunt of Charles Dickens, called Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. However, the attempts to reach this pub in a timely manner were quickly thwarted by this gigantic group of protesters taking advantage of the holiday to wear the Guy Faulkes masks and cause a stir from Parliament all the way to Trafalgar Square. I eventually made it across town to the old pub and had a lovely time catching up over steak and ale pie.
I had Friday to myself and was feeling a bit sappy as it was my last day before it was time to get back to reality. Going on this kind of trip does help you learn more about yourself, because let’s face it, even at the age of 30, I have a lot to learn! I spent most of it dedicated to the shopping I had put off until the end, buying things I knew I couldn’t get at home. I wandered some more, and stopped at the National Portrait Gallery. It was a low key, bittersweet day filled with a bit of wishing I could rewind and do the week again.
So, could I manage? I could just fine, and quite enjoyed myself. What I learned from the trip is that I still love traveling to the U.K. just as much as did before and quite frankly, I need to do it more often (when time and money allow). Feels like I should start planning again soon…