please mind the gap

Season’s Greetings!  I hope you are feeling especially festive these days.  I know that I sure am (even despite our lack of home holiday decor).

My festiveness was kicked-off nicely with a trip to Aachen, Germany for a Christmas market adventure with the American Women’s Club of The Hauge.  We took a charter bus on the 3-hr journey to the Southeastern tip of The Netherlands and then over the border to Aachen.  The day was spent wandering about the market and eating lots of food!!  I had a bratwurst (obviously), part of a potato fritter, a cup of hot chocolate (served in a boot mug, of course), some candy almonds, and rounded up the day with a cup of “goulash” soup (not what I would typically call goulash, but it was tasty).  I did also procure some gifts, but I won’t describe those here…in case of certain eyes reading this!!

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Bratwurst!!

Many of you may have guessed based on the title that this post is about England…correct, friends.  We just spent a long weekend in London!  We have been excited about this trip for months, and we had even just gone to the new James Bond movie to build the anticipation.  However, when we awoke early Friday morning to get going, we found this…

SNOW!

SNOW!

At that point, we weren’t sure how the trip would go (given previous road closures when it wasn’t even snowing yet).  Luckily, the trams and trains were running and we made it to Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam with no hiccups.  Unfortunately, as we checked the boards upon entering the airport, we noticed the 2 1/2 hour delay posted for our flight.  We were flying on the discount airline, Easy Jet, so we were SHOCKED when we received vouchers for breakfast due to the delay.  Naturally, our first stop was Starbuck’s!

This is me freezing, but enjoying my complimentary Starbuck's "cranberry white mocha".

This is me freezing, but enjoying my complimentary Starbuck’s “cranberry white mocha”.

Shortly after getting our coffee, our flight was moved back up to only now having a 15 minute delay.  We were delighted by the news.  We moved to our gate, where we then went through security and were “pre-boarded” into this small crowded room.  We then proceeded to remain there for over an hour (I’m not a big fan of crowds or standing for long periods of time).  We were then allowed to board our flight (by walking outside in the snow and climbing the snow-covered stairs), where we remained for another 1 1/2 hours while we de-iced and such.  Moral of the story – false hope is a stinker!  We were lucky though, as we know many flights were cancelled completely.

The ridiculousness we left behind!

The ridiculousness we left behind!  (The plane was just de-iced, so the snow was melted…)

Finally, we had arrived at London’s Gatwick airport.  BC reminded me of his #1 priority – eating at Upper Crust (which he had become a big fan of during his study abroad years in Wales).  Then we boarded the 30 minute train into the heart of the city, and then I got my first taste of the London Underground train system…which we would become very familiar with by the end of the trip!  I was impressed with how easy it is to navigate and how well they have posted directions.  It was there that we got our first instructions to: “Mind the gap…mind the gap, please.”  Oh, how I love the English phrases!

We were staying at the Marriott County Hall, which happens to be in a tourist’s dream location.  We passed the London Eye and saw Big Ben on our way to check-in!  We had a short wait at the hotel to get checked-in, which was perfect as we were awaiting news of a birth in the family.  Unfortunately, no news had come and we were wasting away our daylight, so we decided it was time to head out.  We ventured over the Westminster Bridge stopping for numerous Big Ben and Parliament photos before getting to Westminster Abbey for a tour.  We did the audio tour around the Abbey, listening to lots of information on the famous persons buried or memorialized there and the royal celebrations that have taken place.  What an ornate building…inside and out!

This is our hotel alongside the London Eye.

This is our hotel alongside the London Eye.

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Big Ben.

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Westminster Abbey.

From there, we were headed back to the London Eye, where we had pre-booked a scheduled ride time.  We boarded at the perfect time…just as the sun was setting (a perfect mix of the day and night views of the city).  I was happy to find out how slowly it moved…I had been a tad nervous about it.

The pod before us at the top!

The pod before us at the top!

View of Big Ben from near the top.

View of Big Ben from near the top.

Here we are.

Here we are.

A quick stop back at the hotel to check in on our NEW NIECE!!  We were so excited to be able to share in the experience and see her (even if via Facetime).  We are SO excited to see her soon over the holidays.

We also made the decision during this stop to accept an offer that had been made on my townhome back in the States.  (What a crazy hour!)  Then we were off again to the show, “The Mousetrap,” showing at St. Martin’s Theater in the West End of London.  The murder mystery play (written by Agatha Christie) has been performed over 25,000 times in London since 1952.  We enjoyed the show (despite the hunger and sleepiness that tried to prevent it), but we will not divulge the culprit!

Inside St. Martin's before the performance began.

Inside St. Martin’s before the performance began.

Following the show, we grabbed some take-out from “Ned’s Noodle Box” in our desperation, and headed back to the hotel to call it a night.

(SIDE NOTE: I’m realizing this is going to be a long post.  Thanks for continuing – or Hey, take a break and come back later too.)

Day #2 – we had big plans given the shortened first day of our trip.  First up, a walk through St. James’s Park and down the infamous mall to Buckingham Palace!  BC was not a huge fan of the park, as it was loaded with lots and lots of wildfowl (a royal collection)…including some massive pelicans!  Apparently the original pelicans were a gift from the Russian Ambassador back in the 17th century.

BC's new best friend!

BC’s new best friend!

Then onward towards Buckingham Palace!  I was disappointed that Kate hadn’t been feeling well, given the pregnancy, and we had to cancel our appointment for tea.  But it was a nice view from the outside too!  The gates are spectacular!  We even stumbled upon a march through by some sort of Royal Calvary (we think).

A quick shot while crossing the street.

A quick shot while crossing the street.

Always fun hunting down the poor soul that gets stuck trying to use my camera for a snapshot of us.

Always fun hunting down the poor soul that gets stuck trying to use my camera for a snapshot of us.

I enjoy how things like this just happen all the time in Europe and you have no idea why.

I enjoy how things like this just happen all the time in Europe and you have no idea why.

I was a little disappointed in the lack of festiveness here though…two small Christmas trees out front…really royal family?  You could afford to do better.

See...two trees?

See…two trees?

From there, we wandered through Green Park to Picadilly Circus…the “Times Square of London”.  (Okay, really just one corner with big screens, but close enough…there’s not a lot of that in Europe to begin with.)  We stopped in a couple shops quick, and then headed on to Trafalgar’s Square.  There is an annual gift from the Norwegians of a large Christmas tree put up in this square, so that was fun to see also.

Picadilly Circus

Picadilly Circus

Christmas tree at Trafalgar's Square.

Christmas tree at Trafalgar’s Square.

Then onward via the tube to the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge.  First, we took a walk about 1/3 of the way across the bridge…at which point I got a little nervous and was ready to turn back.  It was amazing to see this bridge in person – stunning!

Just starting to walk over.

Just starting to walk over.

As far as we were going!

As far as we were going!

The whole thing!!

The whole thing!!

We decided that before we started our tour of the Tower of London, we were going to need a little food in the belly!  We wandered around for a bit before stumbling upon a little pub…PERFECT!  I got a cider and BC had a beer from one of the taps that they have to pump up from the basement (a must-do on his list).  I was excited for my chicken and chorizo “pie” and BC ordered the corned beef and hash…traditionally British, we thought.

Pie + Mash = me in a food comma!  Yum.

Pie + Mash = me in a food comma! Yum.

Corned beef and hash!

Corned beef and hash!

Now slightly asleep following lunch, we wandered into the medieval castle at the Tower of London.  We went through the Royal Crown Jewels exhibit which was unbelievable to see!!  Included among the gold, crowns and swords was a 530 carat diamond…WHAT!?!  Ridiculous.  Similar to Westminster, to think of the history of the location was insane!

A shot from outside the castle.

A shot from outside the castle.

From there, we headed back to our hotel for happy hour and to freshen up for dinner.  We had been invited to the home of a partner at BC’s company that he has worked with quite a bit here in The Hague for dinner.  Their home was beautiful and the dinner was fantastic!  It was nice to get to know them and their lovely children.  It was also fun to see their quaint, little town outside the city.

Day #3 – we were planning an especially festive day to end the trip…including a trip to the Covent Gardens Market and Harrods for some shopping (unfortunately lots of people had the same plans).  I just LOVE to experience the holiday season in new places.  The spirit and anticipation around Christmas are so much fun!  Covent Gardens was decked out for Christmas…giant ornaments and candy canes, a big rudolph, a Jack Daniels barrel tree, and lots of greenery and sparkle!

Candy canes inside the market.

Candy canes inside the market.

The ornaments and festive decor inside the market.

The ornaments and festive decor inside the market.

Harrods (a very well known luxurious department store in London) was absolutely WILD!  We could barely move through the store, as there were so many shoppers there.  It definitely limited our ability to shop around, so we probably spent a little less time than we would have under different circumstances.  But hey, the decor was really pretty inside!!

Out front after escaping the madness.

Out front after escaping the madness.

Overall, the trip was amazing!  We were able to take in many world-famous historic sites in only a few short days, we had a lot of fun finding our way around, and we were blessed with beautiful weather (even some sunshine)!  We will definitely be back to London (and other U.K. cities) again!

A few short days, and we’re heading back to The United States of America!!  WOO HOO – we are so pumped to celebrate the season with our loved ones!!

Until next time,
-MK-

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