London Redux – 1 week in the capital – An assortment of things, part 1
My sister and I have been convinced for awhile that we must be part British. I’ve known for awhile that I must be – or, at the very least, I should be. I’ve had this feeling since I was about thirteen. I respect the queue and was horrified to discover in China that queueing was certainly not a thing. I love all things that the BBC imprints their mark on. I read dense tomes of obscure British literature. I dreamt of London and spending time in the UK. When most fourteen year old girls were in love with Leo DiCaprio of Titanic fame (it came out when I was in grade 8), I had fallen head over heels for Prince William – who, to be fair, most of my friends had no clue existed given the bevy of boy band stars and young Hollywood actors at the time.
After sending away for one of those DNA “test your heritage” kits, we found out the inevitable truth – we are indeed 28% British. Nailed it. We have a wee bit of Scandinavian and a huge percentage of Eastern European. that we knew. The British part – I was glad to be vindicated after all this time. It explained so much.
I met my mum, aunt, and younger sister at Heathrow Airport the next day. It was their first time outside the U.S., and not to Canada. We hopped onto the Heathrow Express to Paddington station, then grabbed black cabs to Kensington where we were staying in an AirBnb just off Kensington Church Street. This was an excellent place to stay – easy transport links at Paddington, Notting Hill, and Kensington High Street Tube stations.
Besides, the number and variety of restaurants was literally anything, including the famed and beautiful Churchill Arms pub, home court of the Churchill family at one point and now a gorgeous building exploding with flowers – and a Thai restaurant. Lebanese, seafood, Turkish, Parisian-style cafes, Nandos (for the peri-peri fans amongst us), Leon’s (a refreshingly good fast food place), local pubs not serving Thai food, and, when my mum and aunt swore they couldn’t handle eating more pub food, Sainsbury’s soft cookies and their sandwiches.
The idea of using a kettle to heat water is something I had to get used to when I started living overseas. I kid you not, growing up in America, I’d never seen an electric kettle until I lived in Oxford in my early 20s. I was in a hotel in London, and I had to ask a Londoner, “what’s this?”, when I found the kettle. He laughed for … five minutes?
Now that I have a proper British friend, I had to admit my youthful ignorance of such a contraption as an electric kettle. The horror on her face when I said we just heated water in the microwave for tea, hot chocolate, etc was indescribable. It was if I had just dumped cases of tea into Boston Harbor all over again …
Once I moved to China, an electric kettle was standard in hotel rooms for tea and in most houses to heat water properly. When I moved to Hong Kong, it was one appliance I went out to get in addition to a refrigerator, washing machine, and all the other electronics that SURPRISE! almost no flat in Hong Kong comes furnished with.
So, the electric kettle. How did middle class Americans heat water? In the microwave, of course. Enter this new contraption. I tried to convince the others that they could use the kettle to heat water for oatmeal (porridge!), tea, and for the French press.
Step one: Put in water from tap (yes, it is drinkable from the tap)
Step two: Plug in to wall.
Step three: Click on the electricity (another thing Americans aren’t used to doing).
Step four: Hit the switch on the kettle.
Step five: Wait for switch to turn off.
Step six: Enjoy hot water.
*Step seven: Make a cup of tea.
However, old habits died hard, and I ended up convincing no one that the kettle was actually a useful device. It was a bit scaly from the hard water, to be fair, and boiling the water in the microwave or on the stovetop seemed a safer bet. I also think the people who had stayed there before us had also tried to make milk tea in the kettle – therefore, it was scaly from hard water and crusty with milk and maybe sugar. Ewww.
At least, I hoped, when we got to Dublin, we’d actually use the kettle for proper tea.
*A Brit would consider this absolutely essential after boiling the kettle.
We went through the usual tourist circuit, including the Big Red Bus two-day tour, and I got my family out to Greenwich for an afternoon. It was a beautiful day, the perfect sort of London summer I was glad that everyone got to experience.
The boat ride back was stunning, as the afternoon sun hid behind the clouds and illuminated them. I was able to capture a few awesome photographs thanks to how the sun was hitting the buildings like the Shard and the cheese-grater. With a little touching up on Instagram, they became strangely dystopian in nature.
Another morning found us camping outside the gates of Buckingham Palace for the daily Changing of the Guards. This year, instead of being crammed into the fountain at the centre of the road, my sister had gone earlier to secure us a spot right at the gates. This was a pretty spectacular location, as we could see everything going on in the courtyard. Afterwards, we found a great pub to have lunch in and enjoy the sunny afternoon.
We wandered through the British Museum, scoping out the Egyptian exhibits and early civilization rooms along with the amazing Rosetta Stone. We ate ginormous Dutch pancakes at My Old Dutch near Holborn station, and spent the afternoon on the Big Bus tour.
The streets and layout of London started to come back to me after my madcap tour of the city just the year prior. I was looking forward to doing some of the touristy must-sees and must-visits with my family, and I also was branching out on my own to visit different sites and also take a photography tour with a local group.
I was pretty excited to be back in London again.