London, June, 2019. Given it took a baseball event of historic proportions to seed this trip, adventure travel buddy Trisha and I were not going to waste a minute enjoying it. After our sleep deprived Heathrow arrival, Trisha and I loaded our Oyster cards with five days worth of Tube transit to navigate London. Our British adventure commenced.
Predictably, our Holiday Inn Express Victoria room wasn’t ready at 930am upon checkin. Arrival shocker: no A/C in guest rooms, only the public areas. Eyes popping, here we were in late June on the cusp of an epic heat wave about to roll in. Who the devil booked this place? Like the plumber with leaky pipes, so goes this travel advisor whose own plans are last on the priority list. Fortunately, Trisha’s joie de vivre outshined such alarming news. That, plus the wall mounted fan running 24/7 provided relief. Mostly.
Famished, we dropped our bags, went looking for quick grub. We found it at Gail’s, a fragrant local bakery/coffee shop (chain) in Belgravia with delightful scones and breakfast sandwiches. I found my new coffee love here – a flat white. Trisha, a seasoned London visitor, was already onto it.
With time to kill, we headed to Victoria Station, purchased hop on/off bus tickets on a double decker and climbed up, savoring sweeping views of Piccadilly, Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, and London Eye from our rooftop seats.
Winding our way back to the hotel, we unpacked, took a power nap, then meandered through the neighborhood, finding the cozy Marquis pub for some delish fish and chips.
Next day, we hopped the tube over to Buckingham Palace, finding an optimal elevated spot on the Queen Victoria monument to watch the grand parade. Always a musical and visual feast!
We had just enough time to hustle over to Knightsbridge for our pre-arranged lunch date with my sweet friend Jill, Sales Manager extraordinaire at the highly recommended, comfortably luxurious Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park.
After a horrific fire in June 2018, the hotel fully reopened in April 2019, restored to its original grandeur with a classic contemporary redesign. High praises to the staff who worked over 40,000 hours at various local charities during the reconstruction phase. They’ve continued their volunteer efforts; such is the essence of this compassionate Mandarin crew. After our in depth property tour, we made our way to Bar Boulud inside the hotel, where we feasted on sumptuous fois gras, mussels, and sea bass. The bistro’s namesake Michelin chef, Daniel Boulud, superbly crafts fresh, creative menus with palate pleasing options. Hands down, a singularly exquisite gastronomic experience. The Mandarin’s seasonal outdoor eating venue features a comfortable garden setting overlooking Hyde Park. Exceptional food tastes even better in lovely surroundings!
After a huggy goodbye to dearest Jill, we scooted over to Harrods, just around the corner in Knightsbridge, drifting through the gargantuan Food Court, picking up a few well priced souvenirs. After an intense workout scaling stairs, escalators and perusing the mammoth landmark, Harrods was deemed conquered. Later we made our way to amiable St. George’s Tavern back in Belgravia for scrumptious steak and kidney pie with kale salad. Yummy!
Saturday: game day. See Brits and Bats for full commentary.
We next met up for Sunday brunch at Leicester Square with Trisha’s delightful niece, Isabella, a student in London. After an easy stride around Carnaby Street, we walked and shopped through Piccadilly.
With tickets for the matinee, A Comedy About A Bank Robbery, a fun farce, we settled into our choice seats for an enjoyable afternoon. London theatre never disappoints!
On Monday, we boarded a pre-arranged daylong coach tour from London Victoria Coach Station, an easy stroll from our hotel. Our Viator tickets treated us to a tour conducted by Evan Evans, longstanding experts in all things British. First stop: Warwick Castle, built by William the Conqueror in 1068. Egads, 1068!
While Trisha sauntered through the armor laden rooms, I power walked the interior then went out to enjoy the green space, climbing the coiled staircases inside the sky high turrets.
Onto Stratford upon Avon, birthplace of The Bard. Walking the same floorboards as young Will some four centuries earlier left me unexpectedly moved – and duly impressed that the house was still standing.
This scenic village is well worth a day long visit. Next time. Ravenous, Trisha and I found a local deli with salads and fresh local offerings to fortify us onward to Oxford, where sits the oldest English speaking university. We opted out of the local walking tour to explore independently. After ambling through profusely blooming gardens, we soaked up the ambience of a 3 story bookstore and local coffee shop. Another spot to return to when more time allows!
Nigel, our dapper tour guide, provided rich narrative with historical, cultural and often scandalous tidbits. To and from these landmark areas, we rode through the Cotswolds, as picturesquely green as I’d imagined, with thatched roof cottages dotting the landscape.
Amid its 800 square miles and rolling hills, sits Bleinheim Palace, home to Sir Winston Churchill. For some, a twelve hour coach tour may seen daunting and undesirable, but given all the free time allowed, I say it’s time and money well spent.
Surprisingly, our best meal was served up that night at a superb outdoor Italian bistro on Belgrave Road, O Sole Mio. When the entire staff is shouting in Italian among themselves, primo chow awaits. Fresh pasta, divine wine, incomparable company, under the stars, bellissimo!
Tuesday came too soon. Time to pack up and head to Heathrow for our cushy ride home. Loved trippin’ with Trish! Given our shared wicked sense of humor, good natured mockery, and native Northern resilience, we genuinely had a frolicking good time. Constantly amusing ourselves with lively banter, exchanging hilarious and touching stories from our past, we found more in common than we ever realized. Among the drenched clothes, Virgin Atlantic tea cups, and colorful souvenirs stuffing our bags, Trisha and I carried home a wealth memories we’ll forever savor.
Our brilliant British escapade. A new bond. Where next, Trish?
Footnote: the highlighted elements are worthy of further exploration – or avoidance, as content denotes.