London

Oh my heavens, it’s been more than a month since I’ve blogged.  Good Lord.  Summer’s been busy, but not THAT busy.  I need to get my act together, and FAST.

So, among the gazillion other things I’ve been doing, I went to London with my mom recently.

In short: I finished school on May 15th or so, had Abigail’s bridal shower a couple days later, and then started my internship one week after that.  Along the way, we hosted friends for Memorial Day Weekend (and visited Niagara On The Lake–would have blogged if I’d taken more pictures…), then went out of town for a Pittsburgh Pirates game and Goo Goos concert, followed the next weekend by Abigail’s wedding!  Seven days later, my month-long internship was suddenly over and I was in a car driving 8 hours to DC, only to jet off on a plane the next day with mom.

So yeah, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind.

Mom and I have been trying to get on a trip together for a few months now, and trying to fly Space A in June is always a bit dicey.  She’d been checking the loads and, of course, the flight was oversold by the night I arrived.  We said a prayer and chanced it the next day anyway… We had to sit in economy (the horror!), but  seriously, we were glad to get on.

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Six hours later (plus another 5 with the time change), we landed at 6:30 a.m. local time.  I’m not much of a plane-sleeper, so I think I managed a whopping 45 minute cat-nap after watching XXXXX.  In-flight movies have really come a long way…remember when they only had one selection and there were just a few screens scattered around?

We hit the coffee shop on the way out of Heathrow before hopping on the Tube into London.

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Mom booked us a room the St. George Hotel, on Gloucester Place.  It’s near Marble Arch and totally walkable to most of the big stuff, and she even scored  a sweet discount on the room.  (Every little bit helps…London is NOT cheap!)

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After dropping our bags and freshening up, we were off to enjoy our first day in London, and all before lunchtime!

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As we all know, Londoners drive on the opposite side of the road, which is a bit hard to get used to.  Thankfully, most of the intersections are marked with directions on which way to look for on-coming traffic.  I’m not sure when the decision was made to provide written instructions, or why–perhaps to inform the myriad tourists or because those Brits are just such a polite bunch–but I’ve always found it fun.  I still remember taking this same photo when mom took me the first time when I was 15. (Good gracious, that was 16 years ago!)

Initially we thought we might catch a changing of the guard, but decided not to waste time fighting a crowd at the palace gate just for a glimpse of the ceremony.  Instead, we followed a company of guards on horseback to the palace, then took a Rick Steves’ (my trusty travel companion) Westminster Walk to see some of the sights.  Mom’s been flying to London a lot lately, so it was neat that she totally knows her way around.  The walk took us to Big Ben and Parliament, situated on the River Thames (pronounced ‘tems’), as well as Westminster Abbey and Whitehall.  We posed next to the iconic red phone booths and even took a peek at the private residence of the Prime Minister.

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The walk ended at Trafalgar Square, home to the National Gallery, an art museum home to many well-known European artists like Van Gogh, Leonardo and Rembrandt.  Mom and I toured it, I bought their well-priced collection book to take home to Andrew (it’s our traditional souvenir from all the big art museums), and then we headed back toward our hotel.

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This post wouldn’t be accurate if I didn’t devote some space to the British attraction in which mom and I spent an INORDINATE amount of time…PRIMARK.  Mom heard about it from some other flight attendants and she hasn’t looked back.  It’s kind of like a nicer Wal-Mart for clothing and accessories.  There are two of them in the city, and it appears everyone–tourists and locals–flock there daily.  Within an hour or so of opening each day, it’s a madhouse.

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We popped in on the first day and I picked up a few items, but because the line for the fitting room was so long (and people were still waiting in it!), mom and I decided to buy and try on at the hotel later.  (Apparently she has this whole ‘buy/try-on/return’ thing down to a science…)

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They have a great souvenir/t-shirt section of front, so I picked up some cute pieces for 3-4 pounds (1 British pound is equivalent to $1.70 here), as well as longer tops to wear with leggings (something I’ve been trying to find for awhile now).  On subsequent trips, I might have gone a little crazy and started grabbing anything that looked cute, like a pair of silky, loose-fitting gaucho pants, a one-piece romper and floral skinny jeans.  I came home with a BAGFUL of stuff (2 pairs of jeans, 1 pair of jeggings, 1 romper, 1 dress, 2 pairs of leggings, probably 10 tops, 1 pair of gaucho pants and 1 scarf) for like $180.  I mean, at J.Crew that would have been 2 things.  Mom didn’t hold back, either, and–even after she bought a larger carry-on at T.K.Maxx–out suitcases were absolutely stuffed.

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We went back each day and every night tried on our purchases, then returned the rejects the next morning…and shopped some more.  It was, perhaps, the most fun I’ve had shopping with mom in a long time.  It was so neat to experience this little ritual of hers.

For dinner, we headed to a local pub within walking distance and near the hotel in which she stays when she works a trip here.  It’s called the ‘Windsor Castle’ and looks just as you would expect a pub to look, except that it serves Thai food…and fish and chips.  I was completely tickled when we walked in and were seated, and then the hostess asked if my mom wanted what she had last time she was in.  My mom is a local in another country–how cool is that?!

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We turned in early that first night since I was going on 1 hour of sleep in 2 days, and subsequently falling asleep in my food.

I slept until 8 a.m. the next day (10 hours of sleep–unheard of!), and we enjoyed the breakfast in our hotel.  If only I could find REAL muesli here…  Each morning, mom and I enjoyed cereal, yogurt and toast with ham, cheese, hard-boiled egg and tomato.  Mom brings her little International (haha) Delight coffee creamers wherever she goes…

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We took Rick Steves’ ‘West End Walk’ our second day, which led us to various shopping districts: Carnaby Street, Regent Street (the high-end shopping district with stores like Longchamp and Michael Kors), as well as Oxford Street (more ‘regular’ shopping, like Apple or H&M) and Covent Garden, which is an open-air, enclosed mall featuring both flea-market booths, upscale stores and dining.

Oxford Street:

(My friend, Regina, sent me on a mission to find some specific makeup items for her, so mom and I visited a few different stores, including Superdrug and Boots, to find her goodies.  So fun!)

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Piccadilly Circus (think a smaller NYC Times Square):

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Carnaby Street (think NYC’s SoHo):

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I popped into Liberty of London and picked up some stationery (I couldn’t resist), which was probably the only thing I could afford in the entire store!  I spied a teeny, tiny leather coin purse for a whopping 65 pounds!  Suddenly, it made that large Longchamp bag I was lusting after (priced at 86 pounds but about 300 times larger than the coin purse) seem reasonable!

Regent Street:

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Covent Garden:
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Somewhere along the walk, we stumbled upon this familiar gem (but notice the change in lettering!):

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Mom nabbed a pair or Chaco sandals and I was super jealous! Of course, we couldn’t find any in my size…

That night, we went to another Thai favorite of mom’s, Busaba Eathai, a local chain and also a Rick Steves recommendation.  We went light and ordered salad-type dishes–the salmon and coconut rice for mom, the chicken satay for me.

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Then we headed off to our show!  We purchased tickets earlier in the day to Miss Saigon, one I’ve never seen and always really wanted to.  There are so many theaters and shows from which to choose…  Do we see Les Mis again?  Do we see Phantom again?  Do we try a new show that just opened?  I’m glad we stuck to a classic, and mom hadn’t seen it in awhile, so it was fresh for both of us. Our 27-pound last-row seats were fantastic in the small theater.

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The next morning, we rented bikes (2 pounds for a 24-hour period as long as you dock the bike after 30 minutes of riding) and tooled around Hyde Park, which brought back memories of my first trip with mom.  Apparently, she says, I fell while we were rollerblading in the park at some point…I have no recollection, but it sounds like me.  I’ve never been good with things with wheels!  (Seriously–teaching me to ride a 10-speed was nearly impossible, yet I felt completely comfortable on a giant horse.  Go figure.)

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The park is huge and people were out in droves riding (bikes and horses), walking, running, rollerblading and sunbathing.  Times like that always make me long for my running shoes!

The next morning, after another muesli-filled breakfast, we took the ‘City Walk,’ which encompasses the one square mile surrounding St. Paul’s Cathedral and is now the financial district.  It starts on The Strand, which turns into Fleet Street, and Rick had us stop at lots of small landmarks along the way, including:

The Royal Courts of Justice (where high-profile cases are tried; regular Joes go to what’s called the ‘Old Bailey’ up the street):

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View up Fleet Street (complete with red double-decker buses):

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The Original Twinings Tea Shop (with tasting room in the back):

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King’s College:

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St. Paul’s Cathedral:

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By this time, mom and I were past tired and hungry, so we passed on seeing Shakespeare’s Globe Theater and the Tate Modern (an art museum just across the river from the cathedral with a handy bridge right there) and opted to find some grub.

We hunted down a Rick-recommended pub, The Black Friar, and sat ourselves inside.  

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We started with hard ciders (that were MUCH bigger than we had anticipated…):

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And we split an order of fish and chips:

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And a summer berry pudding with ice cream:

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We continued the walk and ended up starting at London Bridge:

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We ended up walking to the bridge to see it up close, then realized it was getting late and we were VERY FAR from where we wanted to be…  So we took our lives in our hands and rented those bikes again, only this time we were riding on London streets in rush-hour traffic, on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, and without helmets.  I was terrified, mom led the way and thought it was exhilarating, and all I could think was how horrified my dear friend, Emily, would be if she had been there.  She would have refused right there on the spot.  Obviously, we made it out alive, and just in time to dock the bikes within the 30-minute limit and grabbed our umbrellas before it started to rain!

We ended the night packing up in the room and watching British TV before heading to bed.  The next morning we ate our last breakfast (goodbye muesli!) and jumped on the Tube back to the airport where…

WE GOT FIRST CLASS!

(I’m not sure why we were so excited by this…mom, dad and the boys often get first when they fly, and I’ve flown in first before, but we were jazzed.  And the gentlemen in front of us actually wanted to sit next to each other and asked US if it was OK that they moved seats!  Sitting next to each other BOTH ways flying Space A? Unheard of.)

And, OK, first class international is NOTHING like flying first anywhere else.  It’s like a gourmet dinner, a luxury hotel and a sleepover–all in one!  Seriously…I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so pampered, and I was on a plane.  I can barely wrap my head around the fact that this kind of service goes on all the time…miles above me….and that my own mother (famous for such lines as ‘It’s the maid’s day off,’ and ‘Your fingers aren’t broken,’) provides this service to countless others–strangers–every week!  Mind blown.

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We sat in our seats, which really are the size of an office cubicle, and were handed a menu:

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Silly me, I was busy trying to decide whether I wanted  the spring roll, soup OR salad…until mom said we get ALL THREE!

They start you off with a beverage of choice while still on the ground, so mom and I toasted with some champagne.

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She said they serve better champagne once we’re in the air, so I made sure to sample that one, too, with the nuts they give and we shared a ‘Flake’ bar we’d gotten in London.  The Cadbury brand (like the Easter eggs) is the chocolate of choice over there, and apparently these bars are popular.

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After three separate courses–spring roll, soup, salad–all served to each passenger when he or she was finished with his or her course, my dinner came:

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The photo doesn’t do it justice (I chose one that showcased everything from my feet propped up to the white table cloth and the movie in the background); I chose the coconut curry tilapia and wasn’t disappointed.

Once I finished my dinner, the flight attendant came around with a cheese cart:

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I couldn’t help but think of Andrew’s dad, who loves cheese and ordered the ‘international cheese plate’ each night we were on the cruise a few years ago.  I enjoyed a sample of a few cheeses and crackers with some port.

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And then an ice cream sundae cart!

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A fresh ice cream sundae on an airplane?!  This girl was in heaven!

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After all those courses, they finally give you a break and let you settle into whatever you’d like to do for the remaining five hours or so.  I finished my first movie, The Monuments Men, and then took a little catnap before starting another movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel.  Mom, unfortunately for me, wasn’t much of a travel companion on the way home as she slept just about the entire way!  It’s also fun to see her chatting with some of the flight attendants she knows from years back.  You’d think they’d all know each other if they fly the same routes, but they don’t.

An hour or so before landing they wanted to feed us…AGAIN.  At first I declined–so full–but I wanted to sample everything on this amazing flight and I figured it might be awhile until we had dinner, seeing as we were landing at 3:30 p.m. and still had customs and DC traffic with which to contend.

I spied the fruits and veggies on another plate and promptly ordered one for myself!

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And that, folks, is the story of my trip to London with mom.  I’m so glad I made the time and went; it was a long-overdue time of bonding and ‘getting away from it all’ for both of us, and it made me realize I need to do more traveling–with or without her!  I have the rare opportunity to experience foreign destinations at a reduced airline rate, and I need to take advantage of it while I still can!







man, am i tired

All that traveling has really taken a toll….

I’m pumped mentally to start sorting/purging/packing for the BIG MOVE in a couple weeks, but I think I’m a little overwhelmed into inaction…at least this morning.

There are still SO MANY other random things on my mind, like, “Should I get new bedding for the guest room?” and “How am I going to lose these sneaky pounds that have crept back on before the wedding?” and “I wonder if that English class I took at PSU will count for the Diversity credit at Buff State?”

And, will I ever get together with Regina for her birthday?!

Thankfully, Andrew kept the house pretty clean–dare I say, spotless–so at least I don’t have a ton of THAT stuff to do today.

But, before all that, I must clear my brain and enlighten you with details of my trip!

Let’s see, where did I leave off….?

Oh yes!  A gas and coffee stop on Wednesday morning after leaving the driveway in the dark at 4:58 a.m.

And this is what greeted me upon my arrival in Carmel at 1:30:

A happy grandma and a light lunch!

We ate a bit, then we both snoozed (I think) before heading out to dinner at Seasons 52 with the Richters.  I got Ahi Tuna but it was too done.  Next time: RAW seared only on the sides!

We filled the subsequent days with lots of shopping, errand-running and yummy food. Here are some snippets:

Lunch at Le Peep, where (in true Holly-fashion) grandma and I split an omelet and blueberry pancakes.

Later that night we ordered Bazbeaux Pizza (the Genova–with eggplant and goat cheese!) with salad while watching…

…the opening ceremony of the Olympics!  I am, four years later, STILL disappointed I didn’t catch the Beijing opening ceremonies.  Note to self: carve out a night in July four years from now to watch the next summer Olympics’ opening ceremonies.  (I did view a few YouTube videos, though, to satisfy my curiosity.)

We’d picked up cheesecake to-go, so we enjoyed some of that while watching what was going on across the pond.

While in Carmel, I got some Chick-Fil-A…my usual: a one-strip kid’s meal with fries.  That concoction you see below is a ketchup/light mayo/hot sauce mix.  I dare you to give it a try!

We spent my last afternoon at the movie theater, seeing Brave.  I really enjoyed it–it was funny and touching.

That evening I headed out of town and stopped in Dayton to stay with our friends, Jen and Dave, and see Emily and Dan, who just moved into their first house!

After I took an early-morning tour of the place, all seven of us headed out to breakfast at Mimi’s (because, and I quote Emily: “Andrew isn’t here to veto it.”)  I miss this crowd!