*Editor’s Note: I’m writing this several weeks after the trip, life and all kept me from getting this sorted before now.
After a lovely if whirlwind day in Reykjavik, we got ourselves up before dawn to catch an early flight to London. We’d planned our travel so that we could make the most of our days – early flights and trains so when we got where we were goings, we’d still have time to enjoy it. This strategy proved taxing, to be sure, but early on in the week we kept pace.
London proved very London-y when we landed, damp and cloudy to greet us. Exhausted and not thinking clearly, I managed to get us a bit lost on our way to our rented home for the week but we soon found it, a basement flat in Shepherd’s Bush with two plush bedrooms, a spacious shared bathroom, kitchen and living room and, best of all, a hidden back garden vibrant with green grass and blossoming flowers.
First on our list in London were very London things: fish and chips, red phone boxes, Westminster Abbey and Neal’s Yard. A very needed good night’s sleep later, we took our time getting into the city on Monday, opting instead to catch up on the rest we’d been missing and make breakfast in that morning.
We did a fair share of sight-seeing nonethless, including a boat festival in Little Venice (which I didn’t even realize existed), strutting across Abbey Road, climbing up Primrose Hill and taking in a show in (sort of) the West End, Billy Elliot.
In the midst of our wandering, news broke that Princess Charlotte had a name – we toasted her and our luck to be in country for the announcement. A mix of more food, more pints and many more pictures, and we did OK for ourselves on day 2 in London.
Day three held a welcome change of scenery as Libby and I agreed when we’d decided to travel to London that a trip to Highclere Castle was absolutely top of the day trip list. Better known as Downton Abbey, the castle is about an hour’s train ride west of the city. Libby had tried to snag tour tickets for us in advance, but they were long gone; ever the adventurers, we decided to go anyways and see if we could swing it. We’d take the first train out, get there as the gates opened and hope we’d make the cut.
We did. And we died.
Fans of the show know that Downton is a sprawling estate; you can’t quite tell how vast the grounds are until you’re walking them. Rolling hills dotted with gardens surround the Victorian castle, which is exactly as it appears in the PBS series. Guests touring the building are welcome to walk through the library, the drawing room, the upstairs balcony and down that epic staircase featured so prominently in the show. They are not, however, welcome to take photos, so our memories of inside the castle are our own (jogged, of course, by every episode of the show we both love).
The highlight of our first few days in London, the tour of Highclere really only took half the day, so we boarded the train back to London and used the rest of the time to wander Kensington Gardens and the area, seeking out Earl’s Court Tavern, the pub where I’d been a regular during my first trip to London a decade ago. This time, it was clear the pub business in the city had changed, as all the iconic public houses were actually outposts of a bigger chain, the same menu and specials offered at every single one. No matter – this one was still serving Pimm’s and Lemonade.
We spent the evening finalizing plans for our two fast days in London, sorting transportation to and from the airports and making an attempt to narrow down our laundry list of things to see and do while there. It wasn’t easy.