Nick had a rare weekend off, so we decided to take advantage of the timing and took a quick trip to London. Unfortunately, we fell off the wagon when it came to taking pictures!
We left Friday morning after Nick finished work and headed to the airport in Catania. Nick and I have VERY different travel preferences. He likes to be at the gate, having used the restroom and purchased his coffee, TWO HOURS before the flight leaves. I am perfectly happy being the last one on the plane, but I love my husband, so we left the house at 8:25 for our 11:45 flight, and were to the airport, parked, through security and having some really terrible cappuccini by 9:40. Awesome.
Our flight to London was pretty uneventful, even if we did have to deal with Alitalia and their penchant for using remote stands at every airport in their system. There is NOTHING I hate more than having to ride a bus for 100 yards. Let me walk! I promise not to get run over by a plane! We also had a layover in Milan, which was a pretty confusing airport, but we landed in London on time around 5PM and quickly made our way through passport control, customs, and to the Underground station.
We purchased “Oyster Cards” from the kiosk, which are passes you can use on all the public transit systems. You have the option of paying for a period of time (a week, or a month, etc) or “pay as you go”. The “pay as you go” option is great for tourists, because all of London’s transit is zone-based, so you pay based on how far you go at what time of day, and with the Oyster card you get a discounted rate.
As an example, going from Heathrow airport to our hotel (by the Tower Bridge) at 5 PM on a Friday would cost £5.00 if you paid cash, but only £2.70 with the Oyster card. It took us just over an hour, with one train change, but since it would have taken longer with a cab (which would have been £100), and the same amount of time with the Heathrow Express train (which is £16 a person, and we would still have needed to connect to a cab or another train), we were happy with the time/cost. If we’d been staying somewhere else (or had more bags) it might not have worked as well.
We stayed at the Hilton London Tower Bridge, which I took no pictures of, but was a great hotel in the Southwark neighborhood. The area has been redeveloped recently, but there are still a ton of old buildings, and the location was fantastic.
We had a great dinner at Gaucho Tower Bridge, which I also didn’t take pictures of, so thank goodness for the internet! We had massive quantities of beef, and it was delicious. I am definitely going to have to figure out how to find good quality red meat in Sicily, because Nick and I are just not meant to be vegetarians!!
Afterwards we headed to Oxford St. to meet up with my stepsister Megan and to see the Christmas lights. We had a great time walking around and visiting, but by 1 AM we were exhausted and had to call it a night!
The next morning we had a great breakfast at the hotel and then headed out to meet my Dad, who was staying on the north side of the Thames about 15 minutes away. We actually took some pictures!
It’s not a great picture, but you can’t have everything!
Walking across the Tower Bridge was beautiful, and something I hadn’t done before. We also walked down the Embankment to the Houses of Parliament:
We wandered through the back streets of Westminster for a while, and then cut through an alleyway which placed us in a courtyard of Westminster Abbey. We saw a sign saying that the Abbey was closed to visitors (which was fine by me, as “visitors” have to pay £16 each), but the doors were unlocked, and not being a group to miss an opportunity, we let ourselves in. We walked through the Cloisters (pictures not allowed) and found a Deacon passing out programs for the “Crib Service”, which we asked to attend.
I must say, if you have the opportunity to attend services at any of these beautiful churches it is MUCH better than going during the tourist times. We were able to sit and really enjoy the surroundings, rather than being cattle-herded through everything. The organist was fantastic, and the service was very sweet – it was geared towards children (hence the early time), and revolved around reading the Christmas Story, singing Christmas Hymns, and having all the children walk down the aisle of the Abbey to place the Baby Jesus in his “crib” in the Nativity Scene. Great experience!
We didn’t really have much of a plan for the day, especially since most things were closed. We did walk through St. James’ Park on our way to Buckingham Palace (where we found we had missed the Changing of the Guard by 10 minutes).
At this point we were all very cold, so we decided to take the bus (Yes! I got my Dad on a bus! That was open to the public!) to Knightsbridge.
We went into Harrod’s to look around (and use the bathrooms) – it was very busy, but not really any busier than other times that I’ve been there. I guess Christmas Eve doesn’t make a huge difference!
We stopped at a nearby pub for some fish and chips (of course), and then took the Underground to Kings Cross Station.
Why did we go all the way to Kings’ Cross? Not because it’s a beautiful example of Victorian architecture, or because it’s really neat to see a building being used for it’s original purpose nearly 200 years later rather than being a mall or something. Nope, we went so Nick could do this:
This was slightly disappointing, since the “platform” has been moved outside due to construction and renovations, but it was still hilarious!
Afterwards we walked through the city to St. Paul’s Cathedral:
We had considered attending the Midnight Eucharist, but the guard let us know that people started lining up at 9, and the doors didn’t open until 10:30, and quite frankly, we were too tired and it was too cold. We had some drinks and appetizers at a nearby restaurant and then headed back to the hotel.
Christmas morning we had breakfast with my Dad at our hotel, and then took a private car to Heathrow. This was the ONLY option, as all public transit is closed on Christmas, and had we known that we would probably have stayed an extra day. Traffic was awful, and Nick and I were both completely carsick when we got to the airport 90 minutes later.
Fortunately, security was a breeze and we had lots of time for lunch before hopping on our flight home! Our flights were easy, and we were delighted to find our car in one piece when we got to Catania! Our drive home was quick, and we had a quick dinner while calling our families – a perfect end to Christmas!
I hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas!!