To be honest, I never really considered London — or anywhere in the UK for that matter — as a very high priority on my bucket list. It’s always been places like Paris, Rome, Austria and Greece that took greater precedence. However, as a little girl with big dreams of someday going to Europe, I absolutely had to seize an unprecedented opportunity to go to London.
My mom and I decided that 2015 would be our year to take a trip to Europe. None of us had ever been, but have always had the desire to. The tours we were looking at offered a London and Paris package; a London, Paris and Rome package; and a Paris and Rome package. If it were up to me, I would’ve chosen the latter, but my aunt had done the first package and highly recommended it to us. So option A it was.
The closer it got to our departure date of March 29, the more and more I got excited about London! Watching countless episodes of the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes series and Downton Abbey, it was clear I was coming down with British fever.
I was so ready to go to London!
It took us about four hours to get to LAX and another nine or so hours to get to the London Heathrow airport. On top of being completely exhausted from the plane ride, I was experiencing the onset of a cold. But I wouldn’t let those factors affect my time in Europe!
First day in London!
We arrived in London at about noon, and our tour chauffeur politely greeted us with his sign that read our last name. Poor guy had been waiting for us for a while and needed to excuse himself to go to the “loo” right after introducing himself.
We felt like royalty as the driver guided us to his car in which the driver seat was clearly on the wrong side! The 30-minute drive consisted of my mom and I pelting him with questions about anything and everything London: What’s the weather like? What are some of the must-see things to do here? Where did you grow up?
I bet he was thrilled to get us out of his car by the end of that.
After arriving at the Thistle hotel in Euston and taking a nap, we walked over to a hamburger joint called Ed’s Easy Diner for our first meal in London. Yes, it was an American meal, but it’s not every day that you go to a London-native hamburger joint in its place of origin, right?
The result: even better than some American hamburger joints I’ve been to!
Our first day in London was pretty much shot since we were incredibly exhausted from all the traveling and lack of sleep, so we went to bed early to reset and freshen up for our first full day in this magical city.
Sightseeing bus tour and Buckingham Palace
We woke up on Tuesday morning, ate breakfast in the hotel and loaded our coach — sadly, not a double decker bus — to drive around town. Our tour guide, Anthony, narrated while we drove past some of the noteworthy areas, including Oxford Street — which Tony described as a disaster for men, with more than 200 women’s shoe stores and only one pub — as well as Trafalgar Square.
We stopped off at the Household Cavalry Museum, which holds the stables of the Queen’s guard, where we also got a glimpse of some of the guards standing outside.
Our next stop on this part of the tour was Buckingham Palace to see the official London residence of Queen Elizabeth. We walked down The Mall — a beautiful pedestrian friendly stretch of road that points toward the palace — spotting Prince Harry’s home on the right side (sadly, no sightings) as well as witnessing a special parade that featured guards marching and drumming toward the palace. Unfortunately, the Union Flag above the palace indicated that the Queen was not home at the time (if the Royal Standard flies, that means she is home).
Fish and Chips lunch
We had a little less than an hour to grab a quick bite to eat before heading to our afternoon tour. I suggested stopping anywhere nearby that had fish and chips — a London staple — as part of its menu. Sure enough, a place called Garfunkel’s included that dish as one of its featured items. Although I’m not sure how highly rated this place is amongst the locals, I thought the fish and chips here were spot on.
Served on a bed fries, the fish was just the right amount of crispy and tasted even better with tartar sauce. I wasn’t a huge fan of the mushy peas — which I initially thought was avocado — but to each his own!
St. Paul’s Cathedral
Our afternoon tour started at St. Paul’s Cathedral, a beautiful and majestic Anglican cathedral, deemed one of the largest in all of Europe. It was also where Prince Charles and Diana got married. The inside of the cathedral was just as spectacular as the exterior, with its ornate paintings decorated on the ceilings and magnificent windows to add natural light to the interior.
We climbed up to the whispering gallery to see the cathedral from a different angle and to try our luck at whispering at the wall to see if we could clearly make out what we whispered to each other. No luck there. But the view was unsurprisingly incredible.
Tower of London
Our last stop of the day was the Tower of London to see the Crown Jewels!
I couldn’t help but recall an old “Goosebumps” book I read — and later watched when it became a TV series — called “A Night in Tower Terror.” I pictured the main character, Sue, on a group tour — almost like the one I was on — and stepping back in time to the Medieval era. I shuddered at the thought of me experiencing the same fantasy scenario.
As we walked around the side of the tower to get to the entrance of the Crown Jewels exhibit, the grand Tower Bridge, in all its glory, stood in a perfect line of sight from me. If this bridge didn’t tell me I was in London, I don’t know what else would have! Well, except for the Big Ben and London Eye, of course. But we’ll get to that in a later post.
The Crown Jewels exhibit itself was impressive. Examining the exquisite diamond and gold pieces on the crowns for the British Monarchy made me feel slightly uneasy to think of holding all that worth and value on my head.
We caught our very first taxi in London, mainly because I was feeling ill by the end of the day and preferred to catch a cab back to the hotel rather than attempt the subway — also known as the “tube.”
To catch a cab in London is quite simple! Coming from Hawaii, the only way you’re going to be able to get a cab is to literally call a cab company from your phone. But London is almost like New York City where taxis are as prevalent as Starbucks stores are in Seattle. If you see that a cab’s light on the roof is yellow, it means that it’s in service and isn’t carrying any passengers.
So we hailed a cab and hopped in. I was surprised by how incredibly spacious the back seat was. Directly across from our seats were seats that you could pull down if you had additional passengers.
As the driver sped off toward the Euston area, I couldn’t believe how confidently he navigated through the city, swerving between cars and zipping through narrow alleyways. For all I knew, he could’ve been taking the long way to get back to our hotel to rack up the time and money. But he was most likely trying to avoid traffic on the main arteries, or at least I’d like to hope so.
Dinner at Prezzo in Euston
We inquired with our hotel concierge about restaurants in the area, and the girl at the front told us about an Italian restaurant called Prezzo, which was about a 15-minute walk, right near the Euston train station.
Upon arrival, we waited about five minutes to get seated, which was not bad considering how crowded the restaurant appeared, a good indication of its popularity.
We ordered and shared the penne con salmone (penne with salmon) pasta and prosciutto e funghi (prosciutto and mushroom) pizza.
Ah! Absolutely delightful!
I’m not exaggerating when I say this was one of the best Italian restaurants I’ve ever been to. Even though I didn’t get a chance to try pizza in Italy, I got a chance to try it in the UK, and that’s just as good, isn’t it?