Our first day in London was a leisurely one. After making the morning train trip from Paris, we checked into the London Marriot Hotel Park Lane, overlooking Hyde Park and Marble Arch. After settling in we walked along Oxford Street-enjoying the festive window displays. After dinner we hopped on the tube toward the Embankment Pier for a breath-taking, night-time view of the city.
Well rested, we woke up ready to tackle London. Although maybe a little *too* well rested, we were late for our date with the Queen! We walked (quickly!) to Buckingham Palace for the legendary changing of the guards. The pomp and pageantry is unlike anything we have in the United States—and although touristy, is definitely a must-see.
I also experienced a "big city, small world" feeling when we bumped into Major League Soccer head coach Sigi Schmid, the German who led the Columbus Crew to their first MLS Cup and Supporter's Shield in 2008. I had a mini fan-boy moment and of course asked for a pic.
Although I had been to London previously (2004), we decided to be true tourists and hopped on a Big Bus tour around the city. It was a great way to get a lay of the land and finalize plans for places we wanted to visit. The weather was chilly but we opted for seats on the upper deck for optimal views.
After a few hours of site-seeing, with our awesome Big Bus tour guide, we stopped at the iconic Tower of London before catching an evening river cruise on the Thames. The rive cruise took us through the heart of the city and provided a fun vantage point for such landmarks as Elizabeth Tower (Big Ben), Palace of Westminster, and the London Eye.
We met Dani's friend and former colleague Aengus, and his girlfriend Olivia, for drinks at Princess Louise in Holborn. An honest, traditional British Pub, the Princess Louise was an instant favorite of mine (although Dani was already missing Paris). Afterwards, we taxied over to Covent Gardens for a delicious dinner—while Aengus and Olivia shared their London must-see list with us. It was great to have a local's perspective and we so enjoyed their company.
The first item on our agenda for day three was a stadium tour of The Emirates, home of my favorite European club. Arriving at the Arsenal tube stop you would never guess a world-renowned stadium and football club is housed just a few steps away. I could hardly contain my excitement as we walked up to the grounds. We took a self-guided audio tour, featuring a host of Arsenal stars sharing their match-day experiences, as we explored behind-the-scenes. It was by far the highlight of the trip for me!
Now it was time to check off Dani's London wish list. Up first a trip to the world famous Harrods department store. Back in the Royal Borough of Kensington, Dani was in her element as we browsed the jewelry and women's clothes. The food selection was out of this world and we treated ourselves to cupcakes.
Afterwards we hopped over to Kensington Palace, a residence of the British Royal Family since the 17th century. It was stunning.
We capped off an eventful day with a late dinner and a pint at Ye Old Cheshire Cheese (thanks for the recommendation, Kathryn!). This unique establishment is one of a number of pubs in London to have been rebuilt shortly after the Great Fire of 1666. There has been a pub at this location since 1538 and Charles Dickens is said to have been a regular. Filled with such history (and some crazy winding turns and tunnels) it was fascinating to think of all the people who had been there before us. A definite must-see if you're ever in London.
The next morning (which happened to be Thanksgiving for us) we finished up some site-seeing and then caught the train back to the city of light for a traditional turkey-day feast!