Monday, September 12, 2016

48 Hours in London: Day 1

London is my favorite city. It's huge, there's loads to do, and the accents melt my heart every time. I made a list of not-so-known sites, so we did our best to mix those into some of our favorites and in the end, I feel like we did so much in the short time we were there. In fact, our health app said we walked 12+ miles on one of the days, which was the most we did all trip.
A lot had changed since the last time I was here back in 2010. The main difference, I suppose, was that I actually had some money to spend this time around but the other huge difference was how much better the food scene was. I think I had one of my favorite meals of the trip here, though I think my favorite meal changes on what I'm currently craving at the moment.

Because our flight was delayed, we arrived in London an hour behind schedule, though that didn't really matter all that much. We flew into London Luton and hopped on the shuttle which took us to the train station and then hopped on the train that took us to St. Pancras. Then, we hopped on the tube from King's Cross St. Pancras to the most logical stop closest to our hotel, which was Borough. From there, we had about a half a mile walk to the hotel. It was quite a bit of traveling with our luggage in tow and by the time we arrived at our hotel, we were pretty exhausted and hungry.
CITIZENM BANKSIDE
For our final two nights abroad, we stayed at the CitizenM Bankside. I chose this hotel for a few reasons: the price was right, the rooms seemed really cool, and the neighborhood was convenient and close to all the trendy bits. Checking into the hotel was done via a touchscreen kiosk, similar to checking into a flight at the airport, where you could make as many room keys as necessary and you aren't forced to have human-to-human interaction, which is probably great if you've just hopped off of several modes of transpo and you're feeling cranky.
The room was pretty bare bones and had that awkward glass walled loo and shower that we'd encountered a multitude of times in this city already. But, the bed was stupidly comfortable and we loved the high tech aspect; you can control everything with an iPad (provided in the room).
The other really nice touch was that they provided a few snacks and drinks, free of charge. If you consumed anything, it was promptly replaced by housekeeping the next day.
EST. INDIA
For dinner, we really wanted to do a curry takeaway but realized that would make our room smelly. Plus, we didn't have much space in our room anyway and we'd likely end up spilling something on our comforter and in the end, it didn't seem worth it. So, we hopped on Yelp and found a restaurant called Mango Tree and headed over. Unfortunately, they were all booked up so they sent us over to their sister restaurant, Est. India, which was much larger with plenty of vacancies. We settled in and promptly ordered a bunch of food because our stomachs demanded it.
For starters, we the papadums, which came with three sauces: mint chutney, mango chutney, and a spicy pepper sauce. We also got the meat samosas, which were actually wrapped in phyllo dough (which was a nice throwback to Greece) which made them extra crispy. We also got a side dish portion of both the lentils and the aubergine - both dishes were awesome - and a side of garlic & coriander (a.k.a. cilantro) naan. For our main curry, we got the chicken jalfrezi, which was super spicy and totally hit the spot. We'd been missing spice in Greece, as delicious as the food was, so this was a necessary meal for us.
After curry, we headed back to our hotel, where we "admired" our street view (by the way, we could have had our pick of a high floor room with an atrium view or a low floor room with a street view and we decided to go with the less claustrophobic one) and fell asleep watching a movie (which was totally free). In the course of our time spent in the room (which was basically just when we were getting ready for bed and sleeping), we watched Pitch Perfect, Deadpool, Zoolander 2, Trainwreck, and How to be Single. Yes, a sort of embarrassingly dreadful list, but this is the type of scenario in which you watch a bunch of guilty pleasure, dumb movies free of judgment, okay?
After a glorious night's sleep, we woke up bright and early the next morning because we had a breakfast reservation to get to. We took a short walk over London Bridge (which is really unimpressive and for whatever reason, people always confuse Tower Bridge for London Bridge) to our destination.
Along the way, we caught some glimpses of St. Paul's and Tower Bridge from London Bridge. Tower Bridge is gorgeous and London Bridge is not. Remember? It kept falling down.
MONUMENT TO THE GREAT FIRE OF LONDON
We stopped by to say hello to the Monument. We'd had plans to climb it but ended up abandoning them; the abandonment was a combination of laziness and forgetfulness. If you're curious, it opens at 9:30 and costs £4 (per adult) to climb. I read that the views are actually really quite nice so if you're looking for a kind of cheapo alternative to the London Eye, this might be your babe.
SKY GARDEN
In the end, the missed views at the top of the Monument weren't a tragedy because our breakfast reservation was at the Sky Garden. I'd tried to just get some free tickets but they were all gone so I just booked in for breakfast. But you know what? We didn't even need to buy breakfast there because it's not like you're waited on. You buy your breakfast from a little breakfast bar and then sit at your (reserved) table. So I guess that's a helpful little trick. If the regular free tickets are all gone, just book in for breakfast and be real cheeky and skip out on eating and then your trip is free!
I was a little disappointed that the day was so grey, but I had to be grateful that it didn't rain and I suppose that sort of embodies the London vibe. However, I think my photos would've been far more impressive with a blue sky in the background. Oh well, next time.
There's Tower Bridge again; we had some great views from up there.
The greenery inside was really nice too.
When we walked in, we were told that the upstairs would be closed off shortly due to a yoga class (how awesome would it be to do yoga up here?) so we scurried up to have a gander before we were denied access.
This is probably a great place to grab a drink too, if you're not keen on waking up early enough for breakfast.
Even though we realized we didn't really need to eat here, we acknowledged that we had to eat somewhere and figured we might as well eat with the view, so we grabbed some overpriced ham & cheese croissants and a pair of scones and tucked in. The scones tasted like cornbread, but I relished the clotted cream.
ST. DUNSTAN'S IN THE EAST
This ended up being a v. gardeny day because we visited several. Immediately after Sky Garden, as if we hadn't had enough greenery, we headed to St. Dunstan's in the East, mostly because it was so nearby, it seemed wasteful not to take a peek. Luckily for us, it was basically empty - we only ran into two other small groups while we were there - and we got to enjoy the space in a really serene and peaceful way.
This place was totally gorgeous and gave me Secret Garden vibes. I loved it.
PORTOBELLO ROAD MARKET
After our green morning, we hopped on the tube and headed way across town to the Notting Hill stop so we could go get our fill of Instagram pr0n at Portobello Road.
It's honestly one of the most picturesque, perfect, pastel-filled neighborhoods ever and if you even care about Instagram in the slightest, then you have to visit. I'm half joking but if you're an ig basic bitch like I am, you'll love it here; I promise.
Besides being super charming, the neighborhood is home to a street market which is filled with stalls selling various items, from vintage teaware to prints to old timey clocks. Even if you're not actually in the market to buy something, it's a lot of fun to browse.
Luckily for us, it had rained quite a bit while we were on the tube and by the time we arrived, the skies were going blue and gorgeous.
I would've loved one of these canes so I could channel Lucius Malfoy for bad mood days.
Keeping with my tradition of visiting Portobello Road every visit to London, we also popped by Hummingbird Bakery, because I also have visited this bakery on every trip to London, and grabbed a pair of cupcakes. M went for the s'mores (of course) and I went for Nutella (duh). She ended up eating her cupcake on the plane ride home whereas I had mine as a lunchtime pick-me-up on my first day back at work. They boast American-style cupcakes, which makes it kind of stupid that I keep going here, but I just love the decor and the cupcakes are really delicious.
LITTLE VENICE
Portobello gets quite crowded so we only stayed for about 20 minutes before hopping back on the tube. By the way, the day pass is £12.10 for unlimited rides within Zones 1 through 6 and it's a great deal, considering a single ride is something like £5.

We got off at the Paddington stop (shoutout to Paddington Bear!) and grabbed some of the Santander bike hires for £2 for 24 hours, which is such a good deal. We decided to bike around Little Venice. This was another lesser known site (at least to me) and it was so much fun. It's a really charming little area and we really enjoyed seeing it on bikes.
The canals are really cute, some of the boats are set up as shops and cafes, and there are other boats that will take you around the canals, which is really sweet.
KING'S CROSS & HARRY POTTER SHOP
Both of us had been reading Harry Potter nonstop since I'd sprung for the e-version and we could carry them around everywhere on our phones. And being such big fans, we naturally had to give Platform 9¾ a visit, right? A lot has changed in King's Cross since my last visit. Previously, there was just a little half-trolley with the Platform 9¾ sign on its own and anyone could go and take a photo and there was no queue. Now, there's huge lines due to the fact that there's a huge Harry Potter store and every fan and semi-fan swarms the area like a plague of locusts.
We're never keen on queueing so we skipped the photo opportunity in favor of browsing the store, which was equally crowded and annoyingly chaotic. Nonetheless, it was fun and for a brief moment, I thought about buying a wand but then I decided that if I'm going to spend money on Harry Potter memorability, I'm going to do it right: I'll do it when I finally visit Harry Potter World.
Being here did resurrect my nerdy idea of getting some sort of Harry Potter tattoo. I just want something small, like a pair of spectacles or a phoenix feather or something. Or maybe I'd get the deathly hallows symbol to represent what a powerful witch I am. I don't know. I'm almost 30 though, you guys, maybe I'm too old for it. Although, Harry Potter came out in 1997 when I was 11, which was when Harry was 11 so we're basically peers so maybe that justifies it. I don't know!
Just as quickly as we'd left the chaos of Portobello, we left the Harry Potter store.
SKETCH
Just before 13:00, we headed to our tea reservation at Sketch. I sold Portobello Road as ig pr0n, but wait until you go to Sketch.
"Hopsketch."
We'd booked in for tea at the Gallery (named for the weird artwork on the walls, I suppose) so that we could sit in the pink velvet chairs that resemble ladyfingers (to me at least) and feel like little girly princesses for an afternoon.
If you ever come here, you must take an opportunity to use the loo. It's the weirdest, most fascinating thing and you go pee inside of little egg-shaped pods.  There's also actual french maids doing the cleaning.
I also guarantee that the artwork is some of the creepiest, weirdest stuff ever. My sister said they probably included it to balance out how sickly sweet the rest of the space is. Either way, it's interesting to look at.
Since neither of us are big drinkers, we settled on the non-alcoholic afternoon tea (which came with sparkling grape juice); we aren't champagne fans but we wanted the fanciness.
For our first pots of tea, M got the chai and I got the darjeeling. The chai wasn't as good as the McNulty's that we have at home, but the darjeeling was fantastic.
Soon after, our sandwiches and pastries arrived.
The savory tier was by far the best of the bunch. The curry chicken salad in particular was my favorite. And in fact, once you finish your sandwiches, your server will come by and ask if you want more. M went for the salmon and the chicken salad where as I asked for just more of the chicken salad. For as much as you're paying to take tea here, I thought that was a nice touch.

The sweet tiers ended up being a bit too much sugar for us. And in the end, they almost made us feel sick. Smartly, the couple next to us only ate a few cakes and asked to wrap the rest in a doggie bag; I wish we had done the same.
The highlight of tea was definitely the scones. They were buttery and kind of flaky but really tender and moist. I like to spread on clotted cream first  - this is the Devonshire way - but I know that there are debates on what is the proper way. I like doing cream first because I love loads of clotted cream on my scones.
Our check arrived in this weird little sandpaper envelope; seriously, this place was so weird.
ST. PAUL'S CATHEDRAL
After tea, we actually had a poke around Oxford Street for a spot of shopping. I ended up buying a camel colored waistcoat from New Look and M got herself a super soft t-shirt. We decided it had been a long day already so we headed back towards our hotel but we got off at the St. Paul tube stop, which was just across the Thames from CitizenM, just so we could say we saw it.
Having been here so many times before really took the pressure off of doing touristy things. We just perused the area in a low-key, just having fun kind of way and it was great.
When we crossed the street, we ran into a couple of these BFG Dream Jars and apparently there's a Dream Jar Trail (it was only through 31 August). It was really cute. I didn't actually see the movie (I need to) but it was one of my favorite books as a kid. I mean, every Roald Dahl book was a favorite, right? This first one we encountered was Stephen's dream.
MILLENIUM BRIDGE
Then, we made our way across the Millenium Bridge; luckily there were no Death Eaters around.
Here's a view of London Bridge and Tower Bridge poking up behind it. See? London Bridge is rather dull so stop mistaking Tower Bridge for it; it's insulting to Tower Bridge.
And of course, we waved hello to the Globe Theater on our way back.
And we ran into another Dream Jar. This one was Ryan's dream.
After a quick freshen up and a rest, we headed out again.
LONDON EYE
We'd hoped to take a spin on the London Eye (I'd done it before but M hadn't) but the queue was just too long so we skipped it. Remember I said we hate queuing? We could have booked ahead but we weren't sure what the weather was going to be like so we just winged it, and I guess we paid the price. But it wasn't a big deal, as we'd gotten some great up-high views of London from Sky Garden that morning (though those views didn't include Parliament).
WHITEHALL GARDENS
Instead of being babies about not doing the London Eye, we decided to just walk around and enjoy the other sites. On our way to one of the random sites I had bookmarked on my map, we walked through Whitehall Gardens.
VICTORIA EMBANKMENT GARDENS
And then we walked through the Victoria Embankment Gardens. As we passed through the gates, it started drizzling, which was crazy and annoying because I had just photographed Big Ben and Parliament with blue skies.
LAST SEWER GAS LAMP
While it was drizzling, we made it to the last gas lamp in London. Cute, right? I'm kidding. One would hardly realize what they were looking at if they were just wandering down the street. But basically, this lamp is powered by methane gas. And some clever person nicknamed this street 'Farting Lane,' you know, because it's Carting Lane and that's such an obvious joke.
MARKS & SPENCER
After our adventures in Westminster, we made our way over to Oxford Circus so we could make our way closer to our dinner reservation. We still had a bit of time to kill so we stopped by M&S so I could pick up a souvenir for my pup. I do this on every trip: I buy some foreign dog treats. He doesn't know the difference but I do.
The selection was small but there was a variety of snacks that were different from what we have at home. Eventually, I settled on these Schmackos, which is by Pedigree, a brand that is well known in the states. But I'd never seen Schmackos stateside so I was satisfied with this purchase.
DUCK + RICE
For our last dinner on holiday, I figured we would want something a little different so I booked in at Duck + Rice, which is basically a Chinese fusion-y dim sum place.
Our bellies were rumbling so we ordered the Szechuan dumplings, edamame, crispy wings, pak choy (a.k.a. bok choy), Singapore fried noodles, green beans, and the namesake dish: duck & rice, which in the end was almost too much food except that we enjoyed every dish so if I had to do it again, I'd do it the same. We were seated at a tiny table and they told us the food would come out as it was ready, which we didn't mind because we were both really hungry. The dumplings and edamame arrived first. The dumplings were spicy and delicious and the Szechuan peppercorn wasn't overpowering, which I appreciated. Szechuan peppercorn, if overused, tends to make my tongue feel weird and numb. The edamame was typical, which means it was delicious because it's one of our favorite munchies.
The wings were awesome. They basically took the wing and split it in half so there was meat surrounding one bone which made it super easy to eat, if you know what I mean? The server advised us to squeeze the lime into the fish sauce before dipping. It was delicious and we loved the little Thai chilis in the sauce.
The bok choy was standard, but it hit the spot.
The noodles were slightly spicy and really well made. This might have been one of my favorites of the night.
The green beans were spectacular. They were seasoned deliciously, the bits of ground pork were a nice treat when you encountered them, and the beans themselves were cooked perfectly - not too soft but not too raw.
The namesake dish was really delicious. The roast duck was tender and the skin was flavorful. Also, we just missed eating rice so it definitely quelled some cravings.
After dinner, we wound our way through Picadilly Circus, hopped on a tube, and then got off at the most convenient tube stop. That still left us a ways away from our hotel so we grabbed more bikes (because we were still within the 24 hour window) and made our way back. It was so convenient because there was a dock literally in front of our hotel.
Toasting to our final evening, we grabbed two Pimm's Cups at the bar and brought them up to our rooms so we could enjoy them with another free movie. With such a packed day, I think it took all of three seconds before we both conked out.
And here's a 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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