November 2015. Paris is heinously attacked. The U.S. Department of State issues a travel alert for Americans travelling to Europe. We have flights and train tickets and hotel rooms booked to visit five cities with plans to do precisely what the government was advising us to avoid.
Concerned, Anthony and I discuss cancelling the trip we had long been anticipating. We were nervous (and so were our parents). I read horror stories of not being able to cross borders at specific locations we planned on using. The government advised against visiting open air markets; the main reason we chose the cities we did at Christmastime. What if we got stuck in one country or another? Or worse, what if the attacks earlier in the month were just the beginning of the terror?
I definitely did not throw caution to the wind. We enrolled in STEP. I sent my itinerary including hotel contact information to my dad. I printed out multiple copies of the address and phone number for the nearest consulate and/or embassy for each city we were visiting.
If you haven’t already guessed, we went. I was constantly alert and surveying my surroundings, as if I were walking to my car alone at night, but eventually my nerves settled and the trip quickly became one that had the je ne sais quoi of “the trip of a lifetime.”
London was the first of the five cities we visited. It was not originally on the itinerary, but we had to fly through Heathrow and opted to book an overnight layover. I had been once before, but Anthony had never. We arrived with just under 24 hours to cram in the sites he couldn’t miss and a few new experiences for me.
I am sure I have said it before: I almost never choose going to a place I have been over visiting somewhere new. However, there is something magical about return travel. It is like a strange memory game, flipping over cards you know you have seen before, remembering some precisely, and getting others entirely wrong. It is also curious to see what has changed and what has remained exactly the same, or maybe even how you have changed since you last stood in the same place.
When booking our hotel, I felt compelled to stay at the place I stayed at with my British Literature class in college: The London Guards Hotel. Only, the very plain but conveniently located London Guards Hotel had turned into the very stylish, but reasonably priced Arbor Hyde Park. I couldn’t have hunted down more ideal accommodations: a well designed, central location with easy tube access and relatively inexpensive rates.
After dropping our bags, we headed out to Sketch for lunch. It was on my shortlist. Sketch is Wonderland: I cannot think of another place as full of whimsy. I could feel my imagination expanding as I walked in through the black curtained hopscotch path.
I ordered the souffle and giggled at the phone number seemingly scrawled on my napkin.
Sketch has different dining rooms serving different menus, open at different hours. Peer in all of them and find an excuse to use both restrooms.
After quieting our gurgling stomachs, we hopped around to a few of the typical sites. If you have not been to London and have only a short time, you cannot miss Buckingham Palace, the House of Parliament/Big Ben, Westminster Abbey where royalty is married and crowned and where many greats are buried, and Tower Bridge which many mistake for London Bridge. Anthony also checked fish and chips off the proverbial list.
A proper high tea was another “must” for me. Anthony obliged my desire to splurge on the Berkeley’s Fashion Tea in the Caramel Room which we reserved well in advance (bookings available 90 days out). These were moments of very meticulous magic. By our 5 o’clock tea time, I was bone-tired. And yet, we stayed up until the morning hours, returning to our hotel with just a few hours to shut our eyes before catching our flight to Salzburg.
After the surprisingly hardy tea sandwiches, scones, and savory bites, we nibbled on a couple of the stunning sweet treats and they boxed up the remainders in a darling neon purse-shaped box. I should also mention they had my name on a shoe-shaped place card when we were seated. The details were delightful!
Harrods was a short walk from the Berkeley, so, silly me, I thought we could just pop in.
We sampled Charbonnel et Walker chocolates at the counter and ogled at the variety before settling on champagne truffles in a Union Jack box.
I wish I would have captured better photos and videos of the animated window displays: teddy bears popping a holiday cracker to reveal Louboutin shoes, a strong man pressing purses, and background singers dancing in flapper dresses.
The last stop before our late night nap was for a night cap at Savoy Hotel’s Beaufort Bar. We ordered cocktails from their pop-up menu (request if not offered). Jetlagged, we sat in one of the gilded alcoves, relaxed a bit, and relished in the fact that we chose a daring adventure over nothing at all.
On my next trip to London, I refuse to miss Selfridges, Fortnum and Mason, Victoria and Albert Museum, and Bob Bob Ricard. To see other places I’ve been or want to go in London, check out my custom map.