One of my close friends from college had an extra year of school to complete, and decided to spend it studying abroad in London. When I found out, I knew I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to visit with a free place to stay but wasn’t sure whether or not it would work out. Then my Thanksgiving plans suddenly fell through and with just a little over two weeks to spare, I booked my plane tickets! Little did I know, one of my other friends from college was doing the exact same thing. We coordinated itineraries and decided that we might as well spend a couple of days in Dublin while we’re over the pond, as they say. Let the adventures begin!
(November 25 2009) Day 1. Flying out from Boston, Landing in London.
Danielle and I wanted to start our trip as soon as possible, so we took an early a.m. flight. Apparently not many people travel abroad over Thanksgiving, because the plane was super empty. We easily each had our own row, which was nice, because we could spread out and sleep fairly comfortably. After a very long ride, and some surprising decent airplane food, we land at Heathrow around 9 p.m.
After meeting up with Chrissie we take our first ride on the tube to Roehamptom, where the University is located. This will be our home while visiting the UK. Despite sleeping on the plane, Danielle and I are both exhausted and it’s too late to go out and explore, so we spend the night catching up and planning the week to come.
(November 26 2009) Day 2. London.
The next day is Thanksgiving, and we plan to celebrate the holiday despite being out of the country. We adopt one of Chrissie’s fellow American friends in London and spend the day food shopping and cooking. Because Thanksgiving obviously isn’t an event in London, we have a little trouble finding the right ingredients (we eventually gave up on the idea of cranberry sauce). We settled on some turkey legs and chops, white potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, gravy, stuffing, corn, rolls, and wine. It was a little makeshift, but delicious. Our little pseudo-family was proud of our first independent Thanksgiving dinner.
After dinner, it was again too late to really head all the way into the city so we spent the night playing cards, finishing the wine, and fraternizing with the flatmates. We also did a late night tour of the University campus, only causing a slight raucous climbing the trees…
(November 27 2009) Day 3. London.
Chrissie has the day off, so the three of us hop on the tube and take our first trip to London. With oyster cards in hand, we get off at St. James’s Park and make our way towards Buckingham Palace. Unfortunately, we just missed the parade and changing of the guard, but it was still impressive all the same. The ornate gates and fountains and the size of the building were nothing to take for granted. We then meandered over to Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, looking at all of the birds – only some of which we could actually identify. We decided to make our way to the Thames, and it was during this walk that I got my first sights of those icons of London: the double-decker buses, Parliament, Big Ben, the statue of Churchill, the London Eye, red telephone booths, and ancient cathedrals.
We decided to next take a river cruise tour of the Thames in order to get a view of everything that awaits us the rest of the week, as well as to introduce us all to some history. Our tour guide was a lot of fun, and despite the slightly chilled weather, we were very happy with the ride. We got even better views of all of the bridges, museums, and buildings (including the Globe Theater) lining the riverbanks.
But our day isn’t over yet! We’re determined to fit in as many activities as possible, so when we get off the boat we head over to take a closer look at London Bridge and the Tower of London. We don’t go on a formal tour because it’s nearing dinner time, but we walk around looking at the entrances to the dungeon, the ice skating rink out front, and take tourist photos in abundance.
To end the day, we went to Piccadilly Circus to visit the Absolut Ice Bar, Belowzero, which was quite the experience. I’m not super fond of the cold, but I couldn’t say no to the invitation to drink at a bar made entirely of ice. Everything was blacklit – even our cocktails (served in ice glasses) were glowing! We were only allowed to stay for 40 minutes, but even with the industrial hooded cold weather gear that they issued during admittance, I was more than ready to venture back into the (relatively warm) November London air.
(November 28 2009) Day 4. London.
New day, new adventure. The three of us wake up early to go to Notting Hill and Portobello Square. We spend the morning wading through the crowds, admiring the colorful house fronts, and shopping the stalls, acquiring such trinkets as tea cups and scarves. After we’ve had our fill of shopping we head back to the Thames and visit the Globe theater. Chrissie had already been there, so Danielle and I took the tour while she waited outside. Being English majors and overall lit geeks, we enjoyed the history of the structure. We were touring a piece of history, something we had read about since our first world history and literature classes. It was enlightening to see the stage (or at least the replica of the stage) that the actors performed on, the pit in front where the common people watched the show, and the balcony that possibly seated royalty.
The previous night Danielle and I had booked a bus tour to Bath, Stonehenge, and Windsor Castle for the 29th. However, we became nervous after never receiving a formal confirmation of pick up location and times, and the company was not picking up our phone calls. Because Chrissie had obligations that evening (she was technically a student, after all), Danielle and I decided to make the trek to the company’s office to see what was going on. We looked up the address and headed over Tottemham Court Rd Station. But despite our best efforts we simply could not find the company’s building! Frustrated and disappointed, we double back to the British Museum, which we had passed along our walking in circles. We walked in, grabbed maps, and noticed that it was eerily quiet. After five minutes or so of wandering the main entry room’s art, we realized to our dismay that the museum was actually closed! Leaving even more frustrated and disappointed, we decide to at least grab dinner in the area before returning in complete defeat. We find a cozy pub and order some delicious fish & chips and beer.
Feeling somewhat still dejected we return to Chrissie’s room and email the company to let them know we are cancelling our reservations due to the lack of communication and decide to just book our own train ride to Windsor Castle the next morning — we’ll do Bath and/or Stonehenge another time.
(November 29 2009) Day 5. London.
Another early morning (the theme of this trip) so that Danielle and I can make our way to Windsor castle. We don’t take a formal tour, but we go into every room made available to the public and traverse the entire grounds admiring the remarkable stone building, the beautiful gardens, the stoic guards, and the artwork kept inside the private rooms – including that famous dollhouse. I was also pleasantly surprised to be able to view some original Da Vinci sketches – my favorite!
After spending a few hours roaming the castle, surrounding town, and grabbing lunch, we return to London to meet up with Chrissie and go back to Picadilly Circus. We take in all of the crowds and jumbo trons and then do some shopping at Harrod’s. We have an early night in anticipation of our upcoming trip to Dublin.
(November 30 2009) Day 6. Flying out from London, Landing in Dublin.
Danielle and I again wake up nice and early – this time in order to catch our 8 a.m. flight to Dublin Airport. After landing and checking into our hostel, located right near the Temple Bar, we promptly make our way to the Guinness factory. Priorities! We take the official tour, reading all of the signs, taking numerous pictures, writing our notes on the visitor wall, enjoying samples in the tasting lab, and then grabbing our free pint in the Gravity Bar. Getting the 360° view of Dublin itself made the experience worth it!
After finishing our pints we grab some lunch along the River Liffey enjoying the sights. Refueled, we next head over to the Jameson Distillery (again – priorities!). At the beginning of the visit we volunteer for the yet-undisclosed activity that will conclude the tour. We’re both adventurous, Danielle loves whiskey, and they needed more female volunteers, so why not? We had fun walking through the building, looking at artifacts, and learning more about the Jameson whiskey-making process and history. The tour ended in the tasting room, where the volunteers learned how to appropriately taste whiskey and blind tasted and guessed three different varieties: American (Jack Daniels), Scotch (Johnny Walker), and Irish (Jameson). I’m not a whiskey connoisseur myself, so I no longer remember all of the tasting details and didn’t quite finish all of the shots, but it was a fun experience and I was presented with a certificate at the conclusion! Afterwards, we received a full-sized free mixed drink. I chose a Jameson and cranberry juice – which was pretty delicious.
After dinner and some wandering around the city looking at all of the sculptures and lights, we decided to check out the nightlife. We are both beer and (Americanized) Irish pubs fans, so we were excited at the night to come. We were not disappointed. We stopped at a couple of different places, including the Temple Bar (where I ordered a Temple Brau) and the Porterhouse Brewing Company. The bars were cozy, served delicious brews, and we met one very friendly and entertaining bartender. He even gave us a free drink (which he promised “wouldn’t get us pregnant”)! We weren’t out too late considering our early morning flight, and because we knew we wanted to fit in a lot of sightseeing the next day, too.
(December 1 2009) Day 7. Flying out from Dublin, Landing in London.
The next morning we do the nerdier tour of the city. We begin by trekking over to the Dublin Writers Museum. We actually showed up before the museum even opened, so we stopped at a nearby cafe for some coffee and pastries. When it’s finally a decent museum-viewing hour, we head back to the museum and opt for a self-paced audio tour. We geeked out over all of the pieces from or about the major Dublin writers: Joyce, Shaw, Yeats, and more. Danielle and I took an Irish Lit class together in college with a very memorable professor, so we had soft spots in our hearts for these authors. We knew she would be proud of our visit.
After we had our fill of Irish Lit, we wander the streets and do some shopping. We pass by the James Joyce statue and the Dublin Spire, walk over a few bridges, and discover some more statues placed around the city. We then make our way over to the Dublin Castle. We explore the old and new portions of the building, taking a guided tour that gave us some history of Ireland, Dublin, and the castle itself. We marveled at the elaborate decorations, the throne room, and the palace gardens.
With a little more time left to kill before heading to the airport, we walk around the Trinity College campus. We marvel at the beautiful buildings but unfortunately don’t have enough time to view the Book of Kells (next time!).
Speaking of next time, I definitely want to return to Dublin. After Trinity, we had to head back to Dublin airport to catch our flight to London and reunite with Chrissie. Our trip in Ireland was short and centralized, but super fun all the same. Dublin was a great city with a great attitude.
(December 2 2009) Day 8. London.
Sadly, Danielle had to leave the morning of the 2nd. Chrissie had classes, which meant that I had the day all to myself. At that time I lived alone in Boston, so I was no stranger to an independent lifestyle, but this was my first time wandering a foreign city all by myself. I was excited and a little bit nervous.
I decided to spend the day in Trafalgar Square. This ended up being my favorite spot – nothing like saving the best for last! I loved the lions, the fountains, the buildings, everything. I visited both the National gallery (where I saw da Vinci’s gorgeous Virgin of the Rocks and Burlington House Cartoon – neither of which prints do justice) and the National portrait gallery (where I was pleased to attend the special exhibit Beatles to Bowie: the 60s Exposed). After purchasing a super awesome posted to remember the city and museum by, I got some coffee and lunch in nearby bookstores and cafes.
I met up with Chrissie back on campus when she finished her classes. We took a (double-decker!) bus to Putney for dinner and some shopping in the rain. There were some cute outdoor craft vendors selling Christmas goodies as well as big name stores in a sort of outdoor mall.
We headed back to campus afterwards and got dressed up for clubbing that night through the University. We went someplace in town (I forget exactly where), but the club was all-out. It even had a dance floor that had a glowing floor, kind of Michael Jackson-style. We had a great time dancing, singing, drinking, and just enjoying ourselves. After some late night junk food, it was time to go back to her flat and go to sleep. This was bittersweet, being my last night in London – but at least I spent it in style!
(December 3 2009) Day 9. Flying out from London, Heading Home.
For once we’re able to sleep in a little bit. My flight was at 5 p.m., which didn’t leave enough time to go into the city or make any big plans, so we spent the morning packing and saying our goodbyes. Then I was on the tube for the last time, heading back to Heathrow airport. Goodbye, London! Thanks for the adventures.