Christmas Getaway to London
Christmas 2010 was definitely the coldest Christmas I have ever experienced. I am from Florida and have always been with my family for the holidays in the Sunshine State. For 2010, my friend and I thought it would be fun to do a Girls Getaway to London over the holidays. We were both single and looking for some adventure this holiday season (think the movie, "The Holiday" with Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet). With the departure date a month away, my friend and I had a falling out. Alone in London is not at all bad, but alone in a foreign country during Christmas was something I had never experienced before.
While the cold weather and ruined friendship initially put a damper on the trip, I found London to be a magnificent place during the holidays! Not only is it a beautiful city, but the warmth and hospitality from Londoners more than made up for the frigidness I experienced prior to the trip.
Upon arriving at Gatwick and settling into my Wandsworth area flat, I went to the neighborhood pub with my friend Andy and ordered the Bangers & Mash. Of course these bangers didn't disappoint, and after a few drinks, I called it a night to catch up on my sleep.
My first full day in London was spent seeing the sights aboard the Big Bus Tour (tickets can be purchased via www.visitbritainshop.us) where we saw all of London's best attractions, such as Tower of London, The London Eye, Trafalgar Square, St Paul's Cathedral (where Princess Di got married), Tower Bridge, Hyde Park, Haymarket, and (of course) Westminster Abbey (where Prince William will get married in April). This hop on, hop off tour was a great way to see the city. I hopped off at Hyde Park to enjoy the Winter Wonderland and get a cup of Hot Mulled Wine. I also got off at the Tower of London to see the Crown Jewels (and tons of people enjoying the ice skating rink outside).
After the sightseeing, I realized how hungry I was. I took a north bound tube (underground) to meet my friend Sharron (a fellow travel writer I met in Montreal) and her friends in the town of Cockfosters (seriously!). We had a great dinner and then hit one of their favorite local bars, The Orange Tree, which was appropriate for a girl from Florida. As more friends arrived, we enjoyed cocktails and some laughs as they did their very best to teach me proper English jargon (i.e. swim costume).
The next day (Dec. 24) I caught the train from Liverpool to County Somerset to my stop, Tiverton Parkway, where I connected with my friend Beth (who I met on press trip to St. Lucia). She picked me up and showed me around her home town. I met her friends and stopped off for a few at the local pub, then we drove to Taunton where her parents live (and where we would spend the next two nights and Christmas Day).
During this entire trip, I had been meeting some of the nicest people who helped me find my way, gave me directions and brought me into their circle of friends as if we had known each other for 10 years. However, Sam and Jane (Beth's parents) went above and beyond as they took in a complete stranger (me) for one of the most traditional and family-focused days of the year - Christmas. Plus, I knew I loved Jane when I saw her Christmas tree, Tallulah. We were later joined by Gemma and Oliver (Beth's siblings) as we opened Christmas presents (Jane and Beth had even wrapped some for me so I didn't feel left out), watched movies, enjoyed Christmas lunch, and watched the Queen's Speech (thanks Sam for making me stand up and salute her...alone).
I returned to London on Boxing Day with my two English sisters as Beth and Gemma came to stay with me for a few nights. Although exhausted from the trip, we rallied and joined their step brother, Beau, at a London hot spot to help celebrate his friends birthday. After this crazy night, "what happens on Boxing Day...will not be repeated." We hung out the next day, watched chick flicks and ordered Chinese take out as we reminisced about the past few days and planned for the girls to come visit me in Florida.
I was sad to see Beth and Gemma leave, but I was excited to continue exploring London. Everyone told me I had to check out Camden Market, so I navigated my way via public transportation to the area and met my friend, Eli, there. He gave me a great tour of the area and told me about the history and how it has evolved over the years. I loved checking out the "stalls" in the Stables Market that housed antiques, clothes, hat, collectibles, home goods and vintage clothes. There was so much to see and so much I wanted to buy, but I knew my suitcase was already bursting at the seams. One of our last stops was a boutique called Boon. While most of the dresses were not my style, I did find one that I fell in love with. After speaking with the clerk, I realized he didn't just work there, but he was the owner of the store and designer. As I paid for my new find, Boon told me that Lady Gaga always stops to see him when she's in town and bought eight dresses (no meat) from him.
After a late lunch at Fogg's Restaurant & Bar, I said goodbye to Eli and headed back to my flat to start the packing process. I had an early plane to catch to Dublin the next morning.
Although I was apprehensive about this trip due to the unfortunate circumstances that happened before I left, I could not have asked for a better trip to a more hospitable city with some of the warmest people I've ever met. It is true - you learn a lot about yourself when you travel alone. In hindsight, I wouldn't have done the trip any differently. Here's to new friends in 2011!