Sunday, December 28, 2014


When a pair of friends from Toulouse invited us to England for a proper British Christmas, we jumped at the opportunity. We are so grateful to have been around friends and family for the holidays.

After a crazy day of travel – Innsbruck to Munich by car, flights from Munich to Frankfurt then Frankfurt to Heathrow, a coach from the airport to Basingstoke, and finally a quick drive to our destination – we arrived to The Old Post Office (our friends’ parent’s home) in the quaint village of Sherborne St. John.

We hugged and caught up and ate and drank before all tucking in for the night, because in the morning Andy and I were off to the big city of London for a one-day tourism marathon.

Stop One: Notting Hill for an Early Lunch at Ottolenghi

Having hopped on the tube almost immediately upon arrival in London, we pottered through the most adorable neighborhoods of Notting Hill in search of Yotam Ottolenghi’s self-titled take-away shop.

We were overwhelmed by the selection by ultimately settled on a savory muffin, a four-bean sesame salad, marinated bell peppers with tomatillo salsa, and crema-lime roasted butternut squash.

Andy swears by Yotam's Hummus recipe and his cookbook Plenty is full of the most mouth-watering vegetarian food there ever was. I'm fairly confident we'll be acquiring two more of his cookbooks - Jerusalem and Plenty More - very soon.

Stop Two: Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park

With full bellies and eager feet, we headed toward Kensington Palace and Gardens. The pleasantly warm – even sunshiney at points – weather made for a lovely, albeit long, walk through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park.

Stop Three: Buckingham Palace

En route to Buckingham Palace we walked through a holiday carnival appropriately named Winter Wonderland. We gathered that this festival was likely a British attempt at a the ever-popular Christmas Market, and while it pales in comparison to the markets of Innsbruck and Vienna, it was apparently deemed suitable by the many, many families in attendance.

We took the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Walk and wove our way to Buckingham Palace. My biggest qualm had nothing to do with the landmark itself, but instead with the oblivious, brightly shoed woman who shamelessly photo bombed every single one of our photos in front of the palace gates. Nothing a little iPhoto cropping can’t fix.

Stop Four: Kings Cross Station and Platform 9 ¾

For those of you Harry Potter nerds out there, you’ll appreciate the time and energy that went into this stop. After waiting in line for nearly 30 minutes, we made it to the front of the queue, selected our “house” scarf, and took a turn at pushing the trolley through the wall and onto Platform 9 ¾.

While Gryffindor and Slytherin tend to be the most often selected scarves, Andy and I went rogue in our house-picks. Andy donned the blue and bronze of Ravenclaw, claiming he is surely “not brave enough” to be a Gryffindor yet “not evil enough” to be a Slytherin. Personally, I was proud to wear the yellow and black of Hufflepuff, as according to the attraction staff “almost no one” chooses that house, and therefore I figured it to be the least dirty.

We made a quick stop at the Harry Potter Shop to buy a box of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans and a Chocolate Frog as a small thank you for our hosts. Upon purchasing, we disappointingly discovered both had been manufactured in Fairfield, California.

Stop Five: The Strand and The City of London

By this time in our day we were running out of steam. We tubed to Trafalgar Square, walked The Strand, passed the Australian House (of Harry Potter’s Wizarding Bank, Gringot’s, fame) and The Royal Courts of Justice, and stopped for tea at the original Twining’s Tea Room.

Stop Six: Parliament and The London Eye

The sun was long gone and the wind had picked up just as we made our way toward the Parliament buildings. Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and the London Eye were all dressed up for Christmas and shone beautifully in the dark night sky.

We had every intention of taking in the evening prayer service at Westminster Abbey, but a quick (and not worth noting) trip to Picadilly foiled our plans. After a delightful walk along the Thames, we grabbed a quick bite and headed back to Waterloo to catch our return train.

London exceeded our expectations in so many ways but after a day in the city, we were happy to be on a quiet train back to the country. We are eternally grateful for the generous gifts from my mom, Martin, dad, and Lenny that helped make this trip possible - many, many thanks!

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