Monday, August 29, 2016

12 Hours in London & Video Diary

I'm pretty excited to be starting the recap blog posts of this past trip. It was just the best time ever, mainly because I was more than ready for a break from work but also because I got to revisit London, my first true travel love. I hadn't been since 2010, which was kind of crazy because I'd gone so often in my early 20s; (I first visited in 2008, went twice in 2009, and then again in 2010).

I had been itching to get back to London because I'd heard so much about how the food scene has changed (for the better) and because I really wanted to go and do some under-the-radar activities, the same way I did when I revisited Paris for the umpteenth time. Well, mission accomplished. I'll have a few more London posts after I finish my Greek posts; we sandwiched Greece with a few slices of London bread. But in this post, I'll outline what we managed to accomplish with jetlagged minds.
For the first time, we flew Norwegian and actually really liked it. The staff at JFK were a bit disorganized when it came to boarding, but we found the planes to be really new and comfortable so no harm, no foul.

summer holiday 2015
I didn't want to have to deal with checking bags on any of our flights so I pared down my wardrobe a little more than usual - I doubled up on outfits twice on a 10 day trip - and managed to squeeze everything into my new favorite underseat carry on bag, which by the way, really does fit under the seat on "standard" flights (but might be a tight fit on low budget, sardine can airlines). I carried a second smaller bag to fit in my essentials that I wanted to be able to reach for easily on the flight. But, everything in that second bag (and the bag itself) could also fit inside of my little luggage so that later on, when we were flying Easyjet (where we were only allowed one bag), I'd manage with zero issues. Yes, I packed v. smartly and v. light; aren't I awesome?
Z Hotels Victoria
The flight wasn't bad at all and we managed to sleep through most of it, which was kind of perfect because we landed mid-morning and rolled into town right at lunchtime.

For our initial brief stint in London, we stayed at the Z Hotel just outside of Victoria Station. It was the most convenient option because we would be arriving into London Town and leaving via Victoria (on the Gatwick Express, which is awesome and just a 30 minute ride). The hotel rooms are basic and tiny, but they do the job and they're comfortable enough. I wouldn't want to stay here for an extended period of time but for a one nighter, they're perfect. It was about $125 per night, which wasn't bad at all considering the location.
After we dropped off our bags and freshened up, we hopped on the tube in the direction of lunch.
MAZE GRILL (MAYFAIR)
The trip was christened with a meal at one of Gordon Ramsay's restaurants, just a short walk from all the shopping around Oxford Circus. We started with burrata, which was creamy and milky and delicious. The only flaw was that it was salted a bit too generously.
Our second starter was the soft shell crab sliders. These were so good and our favorite of the meal. The little slice of pickle helped cut through the deep fried grease. The crab itself was tender with the crispest breading. And the presentation was really precious.
Honestly, we were a little underwhelmed by the short rib burger and the paprika fries. The fries tasted like they were dusted in barbecue chip seasoning, which isn't necessarily a bad thing; it just wasn't quite what we were expecting. It was just a bit too sugar for our taste. The burger patty was a bit too tough and chewy and though I'm always keen on bacon, it added too much salt. But, maybe I'm just being picky because I happen to make a really mean burger and also burgers are quintessentially American and I guess I think we just do them better; sorry, Gordon.
After lunch, we did a bit of shopping. We stopped by a few stores on our way to Primark, which is my favorite. It's like UK's version of a Walmart, I'd say. It offers everything at a cheap price and it's a joy to browse, though the queues are always out of control so maybe not the most fun place when it comes time to pay.
GREEN PARK
Once we were sick of the crowds along Oxford Street, we hopped back on the tube but got off one stop short of our hotel at Green Park so we could enjoy a spot of nature and maybe say hello to the Queen before dinner.
After grabbing a few overpriced sodas at a kiosk, we then settled into some striped lawn chairs and spent some time relaxing and people watching.
BUCKINGHAM PALACE
Because we had to pass by the Palace on our way back to the hotel anyway, we stopped to take a few touristy photos. The main aspect that I really enjoyed about this day in London was that I felt absolutely no pressure to force myself to take selfies with every famous monument and landmark because I'd already done it before. I actually spent about two weeks in London after I graduated from university so it just felt like we were wandering around my old stomping grounds; it was awesome.
But, since Buckingham Palace was so conveniently close to our hotel, we stopped by and took a selfie anyway. By the way, if you haven't been to London before, please visit, and if you decided to do all of the compulsory touristy activities, I highly recommend going for the changing of the guard. It happens every other day at 11:30 and it's quite a fun experience to watch.
ABOUT THYME
My friend Arseni met us after he finished work so he could take us out for a drink and so we could share a meal together. He's a London local so we let him guide us around Victoria, which is a honestly kind of a dull area. We stopped by The Elusive Camel for a beer - we enjoyed it outside since the weather was fabulous and it's a sin not to imbibe outdoors if the sun is out - and then made our way over to a little tapas restaurant for dinner.

For starters, I got the tomato and mozzarella salad while A and M both sprung for the iberico ham with fig. Both were fabulous. We actually passed the giant pig legs on our way to our table and we surmised that the ham was sliced fresh.
For my main, I went for the mushroom risotto. It was cheesy and creamy and cooked so perfectly.
Sis went for the monkfish, which was cooked beautifully.
A went for the duck confit, which was super tender and delicious. The little potatoes were so crisp and a perfect accompaniment.
For dessert, we all shared the creme brulee, which was nicely done. The custard was super silky and creamy and the sugary crust was thick and crunchy.
Since we had quite an early morning ahead of us (we had an 8AM flight to catch), after dinner, we parted ways and tucked into bed.
Even though it was a really low-key day, I managed to rustle together a short video diary:

And here's a little map of some of the places I bookmarked but didn't visit (in blue) and bookmarked and managed to visit (in red):

xoxo.

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