Plans: I fly from Toulouse, where I’ve just attended a work conference, to Heathrow on Saturday morning, where my bestie from school will collect me and we’ll spend the day together. My travel soulmate, Lené (who has just spent a week in the French Riviera with another friend), joins me on Saturday evening and we spend Sunday and Monday here too. On Tuesday morning we head to Scotland. All on board? Here we go.
When: June 2018
Day 1: A spot of British culture with my oldest friend
I’m just about exploding with excitement when I spot Natasha and her youngest jumping up and down outside the arrivals gate at Heathrow. She takes me to her house so I can do all the laundry (the comfort of old friends, right?) while we try catch up on every single thing in between planning our day.
Windsor wins. We stroll through the gardens, skip going inside the actual castle (it was an open day) and watch a fudge demo in a tiny, boiling little shop instead. I buy kilograms of soft, chewy fudge. It was worth all the weight I gained in the following months.
We have drinks, we shop, we have late lunch, we stroll. We part ways after making plans for the next day – her oldest is coming home from a week-long camping trip so she’s skipping the evening’s festivities.
Fast forward a few hours and we (Lene, Natasha’s hubby and I) are way too late for the pub scene. It’s 10:30 and everything is closing up. We find an open pub filled with the drunkest Brits I’ve ever seen, and I don’t understand a word anyone says (I’m not exaggerating – it took a good 20 minutes for me to eventually hear ‘Kevin Petersen’ and I now assume we’re talking about cricket). An hour or two later we find a rickshaw that takes us to Leicester square, where I speak to a scout-type guy as if I’m a legit gangster. Eventually I find us the coolest club-like place I’ve ever set foot in*.
I can never find the place again but it was 80s & 90s themed, there was live music and it was like walking down stairs into another dimension. I was stone cold sober when I walked into this other dimension, fyi. After dancing on sticky floors and making friends with everyone there we walked back up those stairs somewhere close to 4am.
Day 2: A jam packed itinerary
We head to Notting Hill and I buy all the Turkish silver jewellery at Portobello Market. I gawk at things in Poundland. We have beers at a proper English pub. I still don’t really understand what people in and around pubs say, and I decide it must be a different dialect altogether. Natasha’s hub works for a super wealthy family in Kensington (I don’t think I’m allowed to say who), so we head in that direction and he shows us around the ‘hood of the royal and famous.
Off we go to Camden Market to meet more good friends. Anchen and Michiel moved a couple of years ago. We stroll around the market and eventually settle on the food that smells most delicious. Definitely, DEFINITELY go into the weird rave store and definitely visit all the floors – there’s a pretty interesting sex shop section. I happened to enter the shop ugly crying as Tasha and I had just parted ways, and still I seemed very ordinary compared to staff dancing on pedestals and the very eccentric patrons.
After we had said our goodbyes to A&M as well, we headed to London Bridge to see some touristy things. It’s a beautiful area but Big Ben was mostly hidden behind construction scaffolding. We went for a spin on the London Eye, which went really well considering I have a knee-weakening fear of heights – Lené is apparently making it her mission to cure that through exposure therapy, one adventure at a time. On request we posed for A LOT of pictures with the Chinese tourists on the ride with us – too much of a language barrier to ask why, so we eventually just smiled and posed.
Day 3: The Westminster Abbey disaster
We’re exhausted but excited to do some sightseeing. We have a tour booked for Westminster Abbey, and our taxi is stuck in traffic. Long story short, we check Google maps and decide to abandon ship and make a brisk walk for it. We’re both very, very unathletic and we were very, very late. There was panting and shouting and limping and half-running and definitely a lot of swearing. We missed our slot.
We ended up getting tickets at the door, but something felt a little off-kilter. Beautiful sights to see, but things were a little off. When you know, you know. I eventually got lost in my surroundings and just as I let my guard down, it happened.
Emotions. Overwhelming emotions, out of nowhere. You know, the ones you keep inside? Lené sees it. I see her panic. I gesture towards the votive candles, and she nods, understanding that she needs to light one on my behalf. I’m very relieved because I need to leave the building. I’m close to the door and I’m already removing my headphones and audio pack. Almost there.
And then Lené calls me back.
‘What was his name again?’, she whisper-shouts with eyes the size of golfballs.
And roundabout there we both lose our cool. I just walked outside so I could at least cry in peace behind my sunglasses.
20 Minutes later, after we both had our individual regroups, we break out in simultaneous laughter and crying in the back of an Uber. Because I telepathically asked her to light a candle for a long-deceased love, because she forgot his name in a panic, because she thought his name mattered in that moment, and because this is the kind of thing that happens to us. We abandon our second Uber for the day in traffic (much to the driver’s relief, I imagine) to get a closer look at the changing of the guard and to catch a collective breath.
We head to our obligatory Hard Rock Cafe stop where I’m giddy after one cocktail as usual, and we then make our way to Oxford street to shop at the worst imaginable exchange rate. I bought actual life changing shoes at Debenams and it was worth every pound.
I bought way, way too many things at Boots, but I’ve been using every single thing. And thanks to Primark I’ll never run out of panties or sneaker socks again – should have gotten more secret socks though. We also had buy an extra suitcase.
On top of all this, we had booked tickets to see Chicago that night. We dressed up as much as we could with what we had available, and made it just in time. So just in time, in fact, that we couldn’t even use the bathroom before we were hurriedly ushered to our seats as the theatre doors were closed behind us. We’re relieved to be sitting down, and excited to see the show.
But the comfy seat and the overwhelming day tricks my body and I can.not.stay.awake. I mean it’s not like there’s a lack of audio or visual stimulation. There’s a lot going on on stage and it’s amazing. But my eyes don’t want to work with me. I wiggle my feet. Move my hands. Look around. And that’s when I see Lené dozing off next to me and I lose it for the umpteenth time that day.
Intermission arrives like the best gift I’ve ever received. I speedwalk up and down the street, and even jump up and down a few times. That seems to do it. I buy coffees and the most sugary treats I can get my hands on, and we both really appreciate and enjoy the second half. I feel like I owe Cuba Gooding Jr and the rest of the cast a personal apology. It was a really phenomenal show.
We go back to our AirBnB to pack and get some much deserved sleep, but not before breaking into another fit of hysterics on the way up to our apartment (it ALWAYS happens on the stairs).
In conclusion I didn’t love London. It felt like I was forever trapped between buildings and/or commuting, but I know it’s because we tried to do way too many things with too many people in too short a time. If you’re heading to London for the first time, I’d recommend at least 4-5 days.
Next stop —> Scotland
*Had to mention this because if you know me, you know I’m not generally cool enough to manage things like this. I was insufferably smug about ‘my’ find, almost as if I built the place myself.