Halloween weekend in London was a panic, a rush, a trip, amazing. There was a fair amount of flying by the seats of our pants, but mostly things worked out fine. Even if they hadn’t, though, it still would have been incredible and a major dream realized. Prepare yourself for a long blog post.
Kathleen and I arrive at approximately 2:30 in the morning. Groggy and ready to sleep, we zombie our way to the bus stop and buy tickets… only to find out the bus had stopped running about a half hour earlier. Great. Cab time. Kath and I hop in, relish the fact that we use English to talk to the cabbie, and enjoy the views as we wind around the city. Well, at least I enjoy the views. Kathleen probably fell asleep, as she’s prone to do whenever taking a cab/sitting at bars/in class/living her daily life as a narcoleptic. As we get closer and closer to our hostel, the driver starts to get confused. The GPS says we are at our destination, but there is no Palmer’s Lodge in sight. We drive around, call the hostel, drive around a little more, and eventually figure out that we had originally been across the street from it. Naturally.
[I need to obsess over our hostel for a minute. Palmer’s Lodge was unbelievable. We honestly could have spent the entire weekend there without leaving and still would have had a great time. The building is an old mansion that was converted to house tons of people. There was a restaurant with amazing food (and free breakfast); a fully stocked bar; a sweet loungy-bar area; an enclosed back deck to eat, drink, and hang out; a great living room with comfy love seats and a tv; and, most importantly, every bunk had curtains. CURTAINS. It was great. Upon arriving we didn’t immediately realize that our bunks were also equipped with their own little lamps, so Kitty decides to throw on the intense overhead light. Feud immediately instigated between us and our 11 roommates.]
The next day Kath and I walk through Regent’s Park, one of the royal parks of London. We have a beautiful view of the city that only makes us more eager to start adventuring. On our walk we come across a little sandwich shop in a gazebo. Two words: tea time. Two more words: cheese crisps. One more word for good measure: meringues. We definitely spend more time there than intended, but it is 100% worth it. [I taught Kitty K the art of adding milk to tea, and I think I can safely say her life hasn’t been the same since.]
After a significant amount of lounge time, it’s time to go intercept our third traveler, Mary Kate. She studies abroad in Cork, Ireland, so she’s arriving separate from us SLUsers. We have no idea the troubles that await us…
- Obstacle #1: MK didn’t receive our message that we would meet her at Victoria Train Station instead of at baggage claim.
- Obstacle #2: We had no idea where (or specifically when) she was arriving.
- Obstacle #3: Mid-phone call my phone ran out of minutes.
- Obstacle #4: None of the phones we borrowed nor the payphones would call the phone number of hers that we had.
- Obstacle #5: The station refused to let us make an intercom announcement.
However, miraculously, we end up figuring out that Mary Kate was using her American phone, so Kathleen was able to call her on her American phone. Such a process. It is a godsend that we finally contact MK, too, because rather than taking a train to Victoria station she ended up taking a bus to a different nearby station. Ultimately we scoop her up and head back to the Lodge.
That night we have our first magical experience with Palmer’s Lodge restaurant, as well as our first awkward experience with the Palmer’s Lodge bar. We eventually decide it’s time to hit the streets, so after consulting the front desk we end up taking a double decker bus to Camden Town. We see a group of people dressed up in Halloween costumes, so we follow them to a bar called The End of the World. Accurate name. The bar is fun and crowded, but with a strange mix of people. Death core music is playing. More men in kilts than anticipated. Inexplicably, quite a few top hats boasting the Southern Comfort logo (naturally we decide to steal one… more on that later).
We accidentally befriend a group of Irish boys (not surprising… can’t get over how friendly Irish people are). I bond with Karl, teaching him a card trick while he convinces me that he works in a factory where he folds paper clips for a living. Kathleen chats with Karl’s friend who is wearing a lacy white thong on the outside of his jeans. Mary Kate talks with the one British guy in the group. After a really weird introduction to part of the London social scene, the three of us head back to the hostel, once again pissing off our roommates by being loud and coming in late. Whoops.
The next morning we make our way to the Wellington Arch to start our three hour free walking tour. For anyone traveling through Europe, I really can’t stress enough how awesome these tours are. The company, Sandeman’s New Europe, has tours in pretty much every major city. The tour guides are working for tips, so they put a lot of effort into being funny, interesting, and informative. Our guide for London was, once again, an Irish guy. (I honestly can’t get away from them… not that I want to.) The tour takes us to Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guards, Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, Parliament and Big Ben, and so much more. Afterwards we decide to swing by Harrods, which we leave after approximately 2 minutes because we’re completely overwhelmed.
We head back to the hostel for another dinner at the restaurant, and then frantically pull ourselves together to go out. We throw on some black and white clothes and our newly-purchased penguin masks, ready to go on the Sandeman’s New Europe “One Big Night Out” Halloween pub crawl. The night is… crazy, to say the least. Everyone is so intensely dressed up and so intensely drunk that there’s no way it can be a normal night, even if we want it to be. The company handed out t-shirts and markers to everyone, encouraging us to write on each other’s shirts. Here are a few gems:
- “Someone kiss Aimee”
- “Baby on board”
- “9:20 pm, I still love you”
…and oh so many more.
The next day we decide to do some adventuring on our own, starting with Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. Both are fascinating and gorgeous. We have a great tour guide for the Tower of London who teaches us about London’s history of royalty, death, and torture. We come across some seriously awesome “graffiti” carved into the walls of the tower, some things dated from the 1600s. One of my favorite parts about London is how tangible the history is. No matter how “touristy” things are, they still feel authentic.
At a certain point, Kathleen and MK realize they have to appease me before we can call the trip a success. They know they have to take me to Platform 9 3/4s at Kings Cross Station. I can fully and proudly admit how much I geeked out when we came across the trolley half-embedded in the brick wall, on its way to the Hogwarts Express. An absolute dream come true.
Later that night the three of us go to a service at Westminster Abbey. First of all, the church itself is gorgeous. Halfway through the service, though, I realize that I can stand exactly where Kate Middleton stood on her wedding day to Prince William. WHAT. I’m not as obsessed with the royal couple as some people I know (*ahem* Hannah), but it was still awesome to be in the exact spot I saw on TV when I watched the royal wedding months earlier. Definitely never thought that was going to happen.
The next day Mary Kate heads back to Ireland, leaving me and Kathleen to explore London by ourselves for another day and a half. Indulging me once again, Kath agrees to venture with me to Abbey Road. After all, I don’t think I can consider myself a true Radsliff if I fail to visit Abbey Road Studios when in London. Outside the walls of the Studio fans left graffiti of Beatles lyrics, paying homage to the famous Abbey Road album whose cover photo was taken there (obviously… just spelling it out for those who are pop culturally illiterate). I also, of course, add my own little note to the wall.
Kath and I spend the rest of the day exploring a river walk that our guidebook suggests. We stumble upon an awesome outdoor book market on the South Bank… Pretty much my heaven. Tables and tables and tables of books. Incredible. I then convince Kathleen to accompany me into the Tate Modern art museum. She isn’t quite the art lover I am, but we both love seeing the Picasso, Lichtenstein, and Warhol pieces. Next up: The Globe Theatre. Quick transition from my studio art minor mindset to English major mode. I hadn’t realized that the original Globe actually burned down (twice), but this recent recreation is still incredible. It is still sort of hard for me to picture the actual William Shakespeare working in a theater exactly like this one (though slightly bigger), but it definitely gives some more dimension to the plays that I have read. After such an exhausting day of exploration, Kathleen and I decide to officially succumb to “Treat Yourself 2011” with bestie date night at a nice restaurant. A few glasses of wine, a bread sampler, lemon chicken, eggplant parmesan, tiramisu, and gelato. Perfect. Not to mention, we also have a beautiful view of the River Thames and some twinkly Christmas lights. Truly a perfect evening.
Though it’s Monday night, Kathleen and I decide we need to go out… because it’s freakin’ Halloween. Kathleen finds inspiration from the SoCo tophat we stole on our first night out in London. I purchase a full-body banana suit. Two costumes are born: Abraham Lincoln and his banana. We decide to do exactly what we did on that first night and take a bus to Camden Town… but the streets are fairly empty. Confusing. It’s Halloween… People should be out and going crazy, right? Wrong. We follow a promoter to the one bar that’s actually celebrating, and end up being the only people really dressed up. Highlights of the evening: moshing in the middle of the bar, seriously confusing our fellow celebrators, and honestly convincing multiple people (accidentally) that Kathleen is a man. I guess the eyeliner beard is pretty convincing.
On our last day in London, Kitty and I decide to have very few main goals: go explore the National Gallery and find some Banksy graffiti. We get to the National Gallery no problem, immediately choosing the priorities of which pieces to see. In honor of Kathleen’s one-off painting class with her mom, we check out van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” first. As expected, it is seriously impressive. We make some quick rounds and eventually head out to lunch at the Sherlock Holmes restaurant. Delicious and awesome. On to goal two: Banksy. My art history class this semester includes a project and a paper on a topic of our choice, so I obviously choose my favorite street artist. I thought it would be cool to have some first hand experience of his work before doing the class work, but Kathleen and I can’t find his stuff anywhere. Such a fail. After a little bit of searching we call it quits, hit up Starbucks, and have another tea time.
We have nothing else to do, but it’s only 4pm. We heard about some markets around London, so we figure we might as well check one out. Best. Decision. Ever. Essentially it is a huge open air market with clothes, bags, jewelry, vintage stuff, etc. We each end up buying a flannel shirt and scarf, and I add a super cozy sweater to the list. [The sweater can be seen in pretty much every weekend trip from London onward. So obsessed.] Successful shopping trip. On a whim we decide to go be sophisticated and see The Lion King play at the Lyceum Theater. We buy cheap-ish tickets online and run to the theater. I saw the show in San Francisco years ago, but that doesn’t make this time around any less impressive. The costumes, actors, sets, and pretty much everything else are so exactly perfect. Incredible.
Finally, after the show ends, so does the weekend. Kathleen and I go back to the hostel to grab our bags, hop on a train, and arrive at the airport ready for a sleepover. Unfortunately, the Gatwick airport is nowhere near as prepared for airport sleepovers as the Dublin airport. Chairs are sparse. It is freezing. No wee-fee gratis. Essentially I end up shivering on the floor next to the bathroom while Kathleen sits up all night, studying and watching our stuff. However, even this less than ideal experience doesn’t put a pall over the rest of our amazing weekend. I love London, and I honestly can’t wait to go back.