This past weekend Doug and I headed down to London for the weekend, along with our fellow expat friends, Jeff and Kerry. You may remember them from our trip to Belgium. We really enjoy travelling with them, especially because we all like to have fun, while at the same time, try to save money where we can. In this case, we all rented an apartment for the weekend, thus cutting the cost in half. Plus, with the apartment, we had access to a kitchen, which means we didn’t have to eat out every meal.
Overall, we had a really great weekend. There is just so much to do and see in London that I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of taking trips there. Not only does it have the historical sites, it also has the touristy sites, the markets, the SHOPPING, and endless neighborhoods to explore. It’s always a challenge to get good weather in London, but I would say we got decent weather this weekend. It was pretty chilly, with the highs only in the 50s (°F), but at least it didn’t rain too much. I would say there was more sun than rain overall.
We started out our trip by leaving work a little early on Friday (don’t worry, we worked extra during the week to make up for it) and drove down to London. It seems that with at least 2 people, and especially with 4, it’s always cheaper to drive than to take the train. Plus, our apartment had free street parking on the weekend, so we didn’t have to pay for that.
After fighting through some Friday afternoon traffic, we eventually made it to our apartment and dropped off our stuff.
Next up on the agenda was dinner. Now, if you’ve heard any of the news over the past couple of months, there has been a huge horse meat scandal across Europe. Basically, a lot of prepared foods (like frozen hamburgers, lasagnas, etc) that had been labelled as beef were actually horse meat. This scandal was very widespread and all of us have probably eaten horse meat without realizing it. So leading up to the weekend trip, the group had been emailing back and forth making plans. There was a group consensus that we wanted to try horse meat, as in, try it while knowing that we were eating it. There are multiple pubs in London that are now advertising horse meat burgers as a sort of mocking capitalization on the horse meat scandal. We found one of these pubs (The Lord Nelson), and decided that was our place for dinner!
We arrived at the Lord Nelson to find it with a sunny beer garden and lots of the after-work crowd. It reminded me a bit of The Rathskellar back in Indianapolis. We eagerly entered the pub to order our drinks and horse burgers, getting slightly worried that none of the clientele had any food. As it turned out, the pub was out of horse burgers! That evening they were having a grill-out with all sorts of exotic meat, including wild boar, venison, ostrich, kangaroo, and wagyu beef; however, NO HORSE! Apparently they had horse the week before, and would have it the week after, but not this particular week. Even though we were disappointed, we decided to try some of their other meats. I ended up with the wagyu beef, which although might sound the least exotic, is actually beef from a cow that was fed beer and massaged with beer throughout its life. Although tasty, it was incredibly small and could have fit on a White Castle slider bun. Overall though, we would give the Lord Nelson a thumbs up for the atmosphere and uniqueness.
On the last Friday of the month, many of the museums in London stay open late and have special events with music and pop-up bars. It just so happened that we were there on the last Friday of April, so we made our way to the Natural History Museum.
I really enjoyed myself at the Natural History Museum. It may have been because I’ve never had wine while exploring a museum, but it really made the exhibits a lot more interesting. The museum building itself was really impressive. As we approached, I was amazed by the architecture, which stood out against the setting sun. Inside, the scene was really lively. The big atrium had chairs and tables set up, with bars along the side, and the live music stage on one of the large staircase landings. They had different acts come and play throughout the evening, and it was entirely free to get into the museum. You just had to pay for your drinks if you wanted any.
The plan had actually been to “museum-hop” and also check out the Victoria and Albert museum just down the road, but we were enjoying the Natural History Museum so much that we actually stayed there the whole evening. Drinking wine while exploring is definitely the best way to explore a museum. I might be ruined for the rest of my museum trips.
Saturday consisted of shopping, sightseeing, and more shopping. First up on the shopping agenda was the Borough Market. This market is one of the better known markets in London and has an amazing selection of food, both fresh and prepared. We had all decided to do a sort of Master Chef challenge that evening for dinner, so we were on the hunt for all of our ingredients. Additionally, there was a secret ingredient that had to be used in every course: basil. I loved walking around the market and there was so much variety that it was like being in a French, Spanish, Italian, Belgium, and English market all at once. It was like they combined the markets from all of our different trips and put everything in one place. You could get your French cheese, your Belgian chocolate, Spanish ham, Italian pasta, and anything else you can imagine. They had a dessert section that was so dangerous, everything looked amazing! They also had a lot more exotic meats. Doug and I actually stumbled upon a horse burger! There was only one patty left, and Doug and I knew it was a sign. We got the horse burger to have as a starter for our dinner that evening. At last, we would be able to have horse!
The Borough Market had a great selection and you can see the dinner we made from all of our fresh supplies later in the post.
Next up, we did a Rick Steves’ audio guide tour through the City of London. The tour was really good, and it took almost 3 hours! That may have been because we actually did the tour backwards, which was challenging. And no, I don’t mean we did the tour walking backwards, I mean we did it in reverse order. It just made more sense to do it that direction based on our starting and ending points.
Anyway, the tour took us through the main city of London, which was devasted by the great fire in 1666. It also took us by the financial heart of London, which I hadn’t really explored before. The architecture of those buildings was just incredible. We learned about many different churches along the way, and most of them we just poked our head in. Most of these churches, including St. Paul’s (which we toured in a previous London trip), were designed and built by Christopher Wren. He built over 50 churches in the London area!
After the Rick Steves’ walking tour, the group split up. Jeff and Kerry headed to the medical museum, while Doug and I went to do some shopping at some charity stops in a posh part of London. In case you were wondering, over here a charity shop is the same as a thrift store in the States. I recently read an article that outlined all the best charity shops in London. Apparently if you go to the nice neighborhoods, you can find amazing stuff, even designer labels, that have barely been worn! I love a good bargain, so off we went to the charity shops in Pimlico.
I had a great time trying on some ridiculous clothing at the thrift shop, all the while humming Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” song in my head. As with any thrift store, you have to search, but overall I would say the selection was definitely higher than any other I’ve been too. In fact, I actually did find an amazing deal on a nice dress for work, as well as a new pair of jeans. Doug got himself a nice spring jacket (not the one in the picture below! haha) Doug lasted only about an hour before he started acting like a child in an antique store (i.e. extremely bored), so we didn’t really get to shop as long as I would have liked. Oh well, more shopping and deal searching for next time!
I somehow convinced Doug that we should check out Harrods, an amazing and huge department store that was only about a mile walk away. Wow! I was amazed at the crowds and the size of Harrods, and also at the high prices! They really had some top end stuff, and the food halls were probably my favorite part. The chocolate hall was like all the chocolate shops in Brussels put into one place! I liked walking around Harrods, but honestly the crowds were a little much. Constantly scrambling to find your way through the crowd was pretty annoying, so we decided to make our way back to the apartment to prepare for our food challenge dinner!
The food challenge dinner was a great success! We all enjoyed an excellent dinner, and had basil in every course! We didn’t declare a winner, but I would say Jeff and Kerry definitely won on presentation of their rice and stir-fry dish. Just look at that rice in the picture below! Doug and I made the first little appetizer of the bonus horse burger. It turned out to be delicious! I wouldn’t hesitate to eat horse again. Next, Doug and I made a goat cheese, tomato, and basil bruschetta starter. The main course, created by Jeff and Kerry, was a nice Thai stir-fry with chicken and basil. Finally, dessert was made by me and Doug and it was a creamy ricotta cheese mixture with strawberries, basil, and balsamic vinegar reduction. Plus an extra dessert of a few chocolate pieces we picked up at Harrods. It was really nice having an apartment so that we could enjoy such an incredible meal with our fresh ingredients bought at the Borough Market that morning.
On Sunday morning, Doug and I went to the Tower of London. Jeff and Kerry have already been there, so they did their own thing.
We got there pretty close to the opening time and headed straight to the crown jewels as we have been told the queue can get quite long. Luckily, we beat the crowds and hardly had to wait to see the crown jewels. No pictures were allowed, but I was thoroughly impressed by them. I still can’t believe the size of those diamonds, sapphires, and other gemstones! Very amazing!
We also toured the White Tower, which is the big building in the center of the complex. It has been home to many different things, including the royal mint (where they made the coins), the ordnance survey (where they mapped out England’s terrain), and the royal menagerie (like a zoo with the royal’s private collection of exotic animals). They also had a large collection of armory, but I wasn’t too impressed since we have already seen tons of that in the Royal Armory Museum in Leeds.
We also did the guided tour led by one of the Beefeaters. It was close to an hour long, and I was entertained by it. The jokes may have been sort of childish, but I still enjoyed it.
Afte the guided tour, we went in most of the other towers and walked around the walls. I’m glad that we’ve finally visited the Tower of London because I feel like it’s one of those must-do attractions in London.
We spent quite awhile exploring the Tower of London, probably around 3 hours, and we still didn’t see everything. But we were starting to get hungry and bored, so it was time for lunch. They actually have Chipotle in London, so that’s what Doug was requesting. I said that sort of felt like going to McDonald’s when there are so many other options in London, but Doug won the argument. Hey, it’s not like I don’t like Chipotle, so I didn’t put up too much of a fight. We hooked up with Jeff and Kerry and ate a nice American-style lunch at Chipotle. I’m happy to say that it tasted exactly like it does in the States. A very nice taste of home.
After our lunch, we took a stroll along Oxford street and stopped by NikeTown!
And that about sums up our weekend trip to London. As we were trying to drive back home, we got stuck in lots of traffic as a football (aka soccer) match was about to start. I think it was between Arsenal and Manchester United. Not only was there car traffic, but the amount of foot traffic was crazy. It was funny sitting in the car watching all the zombie-like people walk by.
In conclusion, we had a great little weekend in London. I really liked renting the apartment as it gave us more freedom, and of course, I liked travelling with Jeff and Kerry.
Next up is Prague!