When London calls, the answer is a resounding “yes!” My lovely husband surprised me by booking this three-day trip to London as part (yes, just part!) of my birthday present this year. We got the earliest flight possible on Saturday morning in order to maximize our time in the city of majesty. Our dear friend Leah, originally a New Yorker and now a three-year London veteran, made hotel arrangements for us. If you’re ever there, I highly recommend the Premier Inn in Southwark. Not only is it just steps from the Thames and Borough Market, but its breakfasts are served next door at the Anchor Pub, where you can enjoy a traditional “full English” (a fry-up of two eggs, a slab of bacon, a sausage link, sliced tomatoes and mushroooms) in the cozy room overlooking the Thames. In fact, after dropping our luggage off at the hotel, this was the first thing we did. With its wood paneling, thick carpet and leather chairs, the breakfast isn’t the only traditionally British aspect of The Anchor.
At 11:00 our room was ready, so I took the opportunity to sneak in a little disco nap (you try getting up at 3:15 in the morning and then eating a 1200-calorie breakfast and see how alert you feel) while Johann spent an hour or so walking through Borough Market with Leah. Then the three of us met up with our friend Paul, who lives in our neighborhood in Provence but is originally from London, for some pints at the pub. The boys then departed for the Arsenal match, while the ever-generous Leah treated me to an afternoon at the Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre, where she volunteers as an usher and where shows have been known to go on to Broadway. We saw Sweet Charity, a musical based on the book by Neil Simon. It was an amazing show, and the unbelievable performances made the contrast between the very small theatre and the very big dance numbers all the more impressive.
Leah had a party to go to that evening, so Johann, Paul and I ate dinner at a noodle shop called Ragamama, then sampled some more of London’s abundance of pubs, including The George, which used to be a carriage house and is one of the city’s oldest watering holes. Paul also helpfully pointed out the difference between a pint at a pub and the Japanese beer we ordered at Ragamama. “This is not a pint,” he said, pointing to the bottle of Asahi. “No, literally. A pint is 550 milliliters. This bottle is only 500 ml. That’s only a 50 ml. difference, but it adds up over a lifetime. Work the percentages. That’s ten percent they’re stealing from you.” Living in France, the three of us were unused to seeing heavyset women out on the town wearing scandalously skimpy clothing, and the sights in the pubs made for ample entertainment and ongoing commentary, including this gem from Paul: “Oh… Muffin tops. I thought you said ‘mazel tov.’ I wondered how you knew she was Jewish.”
We met up with Leah again the next day for brunch at the Wolseley. I had been craving Eggs Benedict and a Bloody Mary (things you just cannot get in France) and as swanky as it was there, we were all pleasantly surprised not to have spent a fortune when the bill came. And this was a good thing, because I needed all my funds for our next stop: Harrods (which we got to by double-decker bus, by the way). The windows were decorated for Christmas with a Wizard of Oz theme, complete with the Wicked Witch’s ruby-slippered feet poking out from under the store. Leah and Johann patiently endured my constant distraction (Anya Hindmarch bags on sale! Smythson stationery! Jimmy Choo shoes!) on our way to see the Diana and Dodi shrine on the store’s first floor. Harrods is owned by Dodi’s father, who encased the Champagne flutes they were drinking from the night of their deaths in a glass pyramid and displayed them against a backdrop of candles and photos of the pair. It was a little surreal.
After a quick stop back at the hotel to drop off all my shopping bags, we were quickly off again on the Tube, where I’ll admit we were immature enough to smirk at each other when the announcement came on about train service to “Cockfosters.” Our stop was the Wembley Arena, though, where Johann had gotten us tickets to see… Drumroll, please… Eddie Izzard! What a show! Between the new material and the old favorites, he had us laughing so hard from beginning to end that our cheeks hurt when we left, barely making the last train back downtown at midnight. For a major world capitol, London rolls up the sidewalks pretty early.
On our final day in London, we had a traditional fish ‘n chips at the hip Southwark restaurant, “Fish!” followed by sticky toffee pudding with ice cream. We then strolled along the Thames, taking photos of Tower bridge and picking up a few last-minute souvenirs before making our way back to Stanstead for the trip home. What a birthday present! Merci mille fois, Johann, Leah and Paul! More pictures of our trip are at right under “Photos.”