There’s something to be said about journalling. To prepare for my family’s Disney Northern European Cruise this past summer, we bought travel journals to summarize our journey. I committed to writing in it at least once a day, and looking back on it, I’m so proud I met this goal. Now I have a collection of memories (and a USB full of photos) to look back on. The things we did and places we saw were extensive, so I’ll only touch on a few. London was our first stop, and my impression of the city was this: “I can’t wait to live here when I’m older.”
After a long flight from Toronto, we touched down at Heathrow Airport. After spending an ungodly amount of time waiting for my arrival, I was finally there. I travelled with my family, as well as my step-dad’s, and we took some taxis to the Citadines Apart’Hotel, complete with a bathroom who’s faucet only ran once you flushed the toilet. The space was cramped but I loved it; looking outside the windows you could see old fire escapes and crumbling brick exteriors, and hear laughter through the streets. It was right near Trafalgar Square, about a three minute walk from the National Gallery, where I was able to see a real water-lily painting by Monet, and about ten minutes from Buckingham Palace. As we drove toward our destination, I noticed the roundabouts were gigantic, the streets were filled with zipping cars and honking buses, all managing to drive as if there was an apocalypse, without getting into an accident.
We visited Harrod’s, every shopping-lover’s dream! Its corridors looked like marble, green and white tiles clicking against the heels of the classy women and men shopping there. They browsed through shops with only three racks or so of designer-brand dresses. I thumbed through price tags with way too many zero’s and admired mannequins decked out in Miu Miu, Balmain, Alexander McQueen and Burberry. The posh crowd there gave us some grumpy looks as we tried on fascinators with enough feathers to make a full-size peacock. I lived vicariously through these fashionable women; most of my vacation was spent wearing comfy shoes and workout attire. We ran into Elizabeth Olsen as we paraded through the food court, and she politely took a photo of us. Sadly, staying up for two days straight and chowing down on fish and chips at a Sherlock Holmes inspired pub does not do much for a person’s appearance. Next to her, I looked like I’d gone through hell; but it didn’t matter much because inside, I was in heaven.
One of the most memorable things about London is the twisty streets, like an old witches fingers they jut off at odd angles and curve around random bends. We got to witness the city’s architecture when we took a big red tourist bus around it. My inner die-hard One Direction fan was screaming with delight. The buildings follow the street’s odd patterns, looking as if the Earth itself birthed these white-brick masses, not construction workers. The atmosphere can’t even be described, even at 11 in the morning, people were milling about pubs, upbeat and ready to kill the day. People leaned against the outsides of bar windows, beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other, then they darted off to work as if this was their Monday routine. As soon as the work day ended, the pubs swelled with masses of businessmen. All of them strangely looked like David Beckham, their hair clean and parted, light blue suits and Oxford shoes.
One of our evenings in London included a walk along the River Thames. Although a very touristy area, I enjoyed listening to bands play for coins and walking without a destination in mind. We then went to Prezzo, a fancy Italian restaurant with the best (but the smallest) chicken ravioli dish. Of course, we were craving some British chocolate afterwards so my step-dad went to Tesco to supply ourselves for the night. Cadbury definitely tastes better in England.
Another favourite restaurant we went to was called Le Pain Quotidien, a little bakery chain. It’s a great place for brunch or if you want to share a great meal with friends. It’s a rustic-style bakery that serves mostly organic food that actually tastes like joy in your mouth. I got a Spinach Quiche and I wanted to regurgitate that thing so I could enjoy it all over again. Their tartines (open-faced sandwiches) were also amazing. Along with this delicious experience, Regents Street supplied me with a perfect falafel, butternut squash and aquino salad. And Cafe Concerto helped me with my sweet tooth.
We visited St. Paul’s Cathedral, Canterbury Cathedral and Westminster Abbey during our stay in England. I experienced The Whispering Gallery at St. Paul’s, a circular dome in the roof of the Cathedral, where if you press your cheek against the wall and whisper, someone across the circle, metres away, can still hear you. If you looked up, detailed paintings of angels and nature swell above you. And when I peeked over the railing to see below and shut my eyes out of fear of heights; I could still see the angels imprinted on the insides of my eyelids.
Westminster Abbey was by far my favourite cathedral, the amount of deceased people I had only read about in books were there, remembered through carvings in the walls. Some areas of the church were as old as the 1000’s. Charles Darwin’s corpse lay beneath my feet. Mary Queen of Scots, and other royal rulers tombs were there. One of my favourite authors, John Green, once used a William Wordsworth quote in his novel Paper Towns: “I tramp a perpetual journey.” The very creator of these words, was buried here, separated from my hands only by stone. Lord Byron, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, The Bronte Sisters. The oldest door in Britain from 1053. A room where monks met and later, politicians. This room was remodelled multiple times but held the Domesday book and the Magna Carta. We saw the coronation chair used in crowning ceremonies since the 1300’s.
There were definitely some quirky things about London, and I amused myself by reading many product labels. For example, Orange Juice with Pulp? That’s called Orange Juice with Juicy Bits in London. Even the instructions on my Quaker Oats cups seemed like a new version of English to me. Although I found these little discoveries entertaining, my mom was a bit frustrated when she couldn’t get a normal coffee…anywhere! If you asked for a coffee, you got an Americano, which is basically pure espresso and water. Even at Starbucks, an American chain, the barista looked bewildered when my mom practically had to use sign language to explain her need for regular coffee. “You know, coffee that is brewed? Like, filtered?” she asked desperately. Finally, one barista understood and then furrowed his eyebrows, “Oh! Do we even have one of those machines?” he pondered. It was safe to say mom was happy to board the Disney Cruise at Dover the next day, where they had some “real” coffee.