To fully appreciate the story of my trip to London, you must know this. Seven months ago my dear friend Kevin Kraus moved away to London to pursue his graduate degree at the London School of Economics. Before he left, he made me promise that I would come to visit him. Well, I've always been a woman of my word, so when I found an amazing deal on Travelzoo's Top 20 Weekly Travel Deals, I booked it!
As word spread about this incredible deal, friends started joining in left and right, and before I knew it, we had a group of nine European travelers: Emily Hatch, Erin Elton, Erin Hawley, Lindsey Anderson, Megan Hanstad, Lance Johnson, Michael Santiago, Clinton Felsted, and ME! We packed our bags and off we went. And so the story begins . . .
DAY ONE: London
We arrived at the London Heathrow airport at about 10am, not so bright eyed and bushy tailed, but excited nonetheless. The day was gorgeous! Scattered clouds, rays of sun, and a cool 62 degrees fahrenheit. We hopped on a train into town and quickly figured out the tubes (the London form of the subway). First stop, find Kevin! We met up with Kevin at our hotel for an emotional reunion and then ditched our things to begin our exploration of the city. He didn't know it then, but Kevin would become our local tour guide for the next three days.
We began at the Westminster Bridge, home of Big Ben and Parliament. What a spectacular sight! From there we moved on to Westminster Abbey where Princess Diana was married, then Buckingham Palace, a walk through the park, the British Museum, the Walking Bridge, and then to the London Eye for our sunset tour of the city. The view was absolutely incredible. We finished up the night with dinner at Wagamama, a popular Asian bench-dining restaurant, followed by a delicious treat at Haagen Dazs in Leicester Square. The perfect ending to the perfect first day in London.
DAY TWO: London
Day two began early at the Marble Arch in the center of town where the plan was to meet up for breakfast and a Double Decker Bus Tour. Unfortunately, half of the group slept in and the other half was ready to go. So, we went ahead without the whole crew and toured the city via the big red bus. We stopped at Leicester Square (pronounced Lester) for a quick look at the theater shows playing and bought ourselves tickets to see Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat later that night.
We hopped back on the bus and saw a few more interesting landmarks and then hopped off again to take a walk through St. Paul's Cathedral. This was probably my favorite place in London. The architecture was inspiring and the detail was impeccable. It's a must see in London. We made our way to the top of the dome and had another incredible areal view of the city.
Later that night we changed into something a little nicer and made our way across town again for dinner and a show. We rushed through some delicious Indian food (best I've ever had) and then ran off to the theater just in time for our 5th row seats. Amazing! The show was fun and entertaining and I quite enjoyed the english accents! We topped off the night with a little dancing back in Leicester Square at Oxygen where we danced until our feet fell off. Kevin was such a gentleman for accompanying the ladies all night.
DAY THREE: London
Saturday morning the jet-lag hit hard! This time our half of the group slept in a little and were late meeting up with the rest of the group. Typical. After weighing our options we decided to follow the rest of the group out to Notting Hill and do a little shopping out on Portobello Road. After a good hour of fighting the crowds we made our way off Portobello Road and onto the ritzy streets of Notting Hill. What a beautiful little part of town. I fell in love!
After our jaunt through Notting Hill we made our way to the last site on our list, The Tower of London. I was absolutely mystified by this place. Probably my second favorite destination in London. It's where Anne Boleyn, mistress of King Henry VIII was held in jail and later beheaded. In case you don't know me well, I'm obsessed with the Boleyn girls.
Tower of London is also home to so much British History and tales of courageous heroes and cowardess villains of earlier days. It was truly fascinating. We were even able to see the Queen's Crown Jewels. Wowzers! Talk about incredible! Before heading off to dinner we made one last stop on the Tower Bridge for a pic, and mostly to say, "We were there!"
With all our sightseeing of London done, we met up with some of Erin Hawley's friends from NYC who had recently moved to London. They took us to a hot spot in town called Wahaca's, a Mexican inspired restaurant with street tacos and other delicious dishes. After dinner we found our way back to our 5-star hotel that Clinton booked us for the night. We were in heaven! Erin and I decided to get in our swimsuits and soak in the bubble bath for awhile. Best idea ever!
DAY FOUR: Paris
Day Four came VERY early. We were up at 5:30am to catch the Chunnel, a train that travels under the English Channel, to take us to the City of Lights! When we arrived we decided to ditch the metro and take a mercedes to our hotel. Afterall, we were in Paris! The 15 minute drive to the hotel was gorgeous. I was trying to take everything in as we passed old buildings with doors and shutters just like those in my favorite photographs. There were men riding bicycles to work and women carrying baguettes back to their homes. It was everything I hoped it would be and more!
After checking into another gorgeous 5-star hotel (thanks again Clinton!), we figured out the metro (Paris' version of the subway), and found our way to the Champs Elysees. We decided to stop for a quick bite to eat where we could practice the little bit of french we knew. "Je voudrais crepe au jambon et au fromage." And a delicious ham and cheese crepe it was!
With our bellies full we hit the streets for some sightseeing. First stop: Arch de Triomphe. We went to the top where we all saw the Eiffel Tower for the first time. Amazing! Next we caught word that a friend of a friend from France wanted to meet up with us and take us around the city. His name was JB. He met us at the Louvre and we snapped a few quick pictures outside because we knew we'd be coming back in the morning, and then headed over for Sunday Mass at Notre Dame. Did you know it's located on an island? Who knew!
The cathedral is amazing. We stayed long enough to hear some of their worship services. It was neat to have JB there, because before he became LDS 2 years prior, he was a devout Catholic, and was able to tell us some of what was going on. Fascinating! After Notre Dame we stopped for another crepe, this time with Nutella, strawberries, and bananas. YUM!
As the sun began to set we started to make our way over to the Eiffel Tower where we would be greeted with the most exciting surprise of the trip. As we came out of the metro tunnel and looked up all the girls started screaming with excitement! There it was, the Eiffel Tower, sparkling blue in all it's glory. How come no one told me it sparkles at night? I don't mean all lit up, but actually twinkles and sparkles!!! I was in LOVE!
After taking a bajillion pictures we decided that we'd enjoy a nice meal in a ritzy part of town. As we passed the Chanel headquarters my excitement stirred. JB took us to the most elegant dinner where we enjoyed sparkling water, baquettes and butter (must be said with a french accent) and delicate meals prepared only the way the french could do it. I was in heaven!
DAY FIVE: Paris
Our last day in Paris was probably the best day of the entire trip (minus that my camera mysteriously disappeared that day!) It was Emily's 27th birthday and we celebrated with a little breakfast of pastries at the Louvre. We sang her happy birthday and then she opened her present, a book called "I Like You" made by the one and only Shauna Lewis. It was filled with things we all "liked" about Emily. It was definitely a great way to start off her day.
The Louvre was absolutely incredible. We could've spent hours upon hours there, but we gave ourselves a time limit since our stay in the city was short. Of course we saw the Mona Lisa and a few other famous paintings and scultpures, but I think what I loved most was seeing Napolean III's Apartment. If you go to the Louvre, you must see it! It's absolutely unbelievable!
After a few hours of relishing in the world's art and history, we grabbed a few more crepes (yes, thats all I ate there!) and JB took us up near the Moulin Rouge to a place called Montmartre where we were able to see the Sacre Coeur, a gorgeous cathedral set atop the city's highest point. The view was unreal!
A few more pictures and another crepe or two later, we found ourselves wandering the streets of Paris again when JB said "Hey, here's our church, do you guys wanna see?" We were so excited. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not very well known in the city and membership is very small. There is only one ward in the entire city and they occupy the bottom floor of a very inconspicuous building in the middle of town. It was neat to walk the grounds and feel the faith of the saints who worship there.
As the day in Paris quickly came to an end, we stopped in a corner cafe for some dinner and of course, baguettes. As we said our goodbyes to JB, we thanked him for his hospitality in showing us around the city and making our trip so memorable. He told us he'd be moving to NYC in a few weeks and we all promised to visit. Who knows, maybe he'll even make his way out to Orange County this summer. We could be HIS tour guides!
I must say, it was the perfect trip (despite the camera tragedy). Perfect weather, perfect company, perfect cities. I miss London and Paris already! I still can't believe I was really at all these beautiful places and experienced all these amazing new things. I can't wait to go back and see more and explore the rest of Europe. Next on my list: Italy and Greece!