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London is always a good idea

17/12/2018

Because of my extended trip to Australia (I will be starting to write about it soon, I promise), and as we are planning a big girls' trip in April, we kind of had no time to pick and schedule our annual female adventure for 2018. So, when one of my girls invited me to join her on a weekend city break to London, visiting two other girlfriends who live there, it was very difficult to resist. Plus, I've been wanting to go back to London ever since I first visit it some years ago - it was a super last minute trip and only had a day to enjoy the city. Like, who goes on a trip for just one day? Believe me, it was so worth it - rambling around the not so obvious choice for a first time visitor Camden Town, and ending the the day at Piccadilly Circus (and spent more than an hour at an M'n'M store).

So, this time I was going to have much more time than the first one - two whole days! Arriving late in the evening and leaving super early in the morning, it was not exactly what I was hoping for my second visit to London to be, but this is what we had and we surely were going to take the most of it.

Everyone who's experienced London in winter time has to agree that the city might not always be the most warm-welcoming when it comes to weather. Yep, we got rain both days. And everyone who knows me is aware than I don't get along well with umbrellas. I find them cute and so very practical, but when it comes to have one myself... Nah, I prefer the hoodie of my parka jacket. However, if you're planning on visiting London in the winter, highly recommend you to take an umbrella. And rain boots. Or just comfy ones, as the city is really beautiful (specially during the holidays seasons) so get ready to walk a lot! Even in the rain.

As we were staying in different areas of the city, my friends and I met at the subway station of Piccadilly Circus and went to Soho for brunch. Is there a better way to kick off a brit weekend? I'd say NO. Also, as I wrote above - it was raining, so we kind of needed a place to hide for a while. So, the cozy "Bill's" was the perfect spot. After a yummy meal and coffee in a warm atmosphere, we faced the rain and headed towards the Big Ben tower clock. Unfortunately, it was undergoing some renovation works, so it was all covered, but on our way we passed by the Household Cavalry Museum and Westminster Abbey. By the time we reached the Westminster Bridge, the sun decided to smile at us and we even saw some clear, blue skies. Decided not to take a ride on the London Eye and take advantage of the window of nice weather and walk around instead.

So, we grabbed some mulled gin and walked the South Bank, enjoying the gentle kiss of the London sun and the stunning views of the city,  showered by the warm light. We walked the Queen's walk, passed by the original Shakespeare's Theatre (which by the way is still functioning in summer time), snapped some photos by the most beautiful yellow door I've even seen and crossed the Thames river at the Southwark bridge. 

We continued walking East by the river, but the bank-side pathway between London Bridge and Tower Bridge was closed. By the time we reached the second one, sun was already very low (sunset was around 16h), but the light was really beautiful. If you'd like to enjoy the view over Tower Bridge from a cozy, boho-styled igloo, while bonding with your friends over a cocktail, highly recommend you the Coppa Club. You need to book your igloo in advance, though. As we haven't, we went to the St. Katherine Docks Marina, aiming to sip a glass of red wine at the Dickens Inn, but it was way too packed, so we went directly for an afternoon tea instead. Café Rouge was just short walk away, and we needed to sit down and rest a bit. The tea and all the treats that come with it were really nice, besides, I was unintentionally matching the ladies room, but the service was sooooo slow.

Side note: mind your belongings in the area around Tower Bridge, specially if you're wearing a backpack. One of my friends almost got robbed, as a guy tried to open hers.

By the time we finished our afternoon tea the night has already fallen down and the city was all lightened up. We crossed the Tower Bridge and went West again on Queen's walk. There was a Christmas market by the river and the entire bank was shining in the holidays spirit. And there were so many people outdoors, chatting with friends and enjoying Friday night out. Hay's Gallery was also very beautifully decorated with a giant Christmas tree, so worth a photo or two (or even a dozen). Next, we crossed the London Bridge train station and find ourselves by London's (and actually UE's also) highest building - the Shard. Our friend, who lives in London for a couple of years already had bought us tickets for the Champagne experience and to our surprise (pleasant, of course), besides the glass of sparkling Moet & Chandon, we were also entitled to an "open bar" for a while. Sure, it was all packed when we went up the 68th floor, but we managed to get a table (basically just to leave the jackets). Those views were simply breathtaking. And as it was getting later, more people were leaving and very few were coming up. We ended up spending most of our time sitting on the floor, sipping wine/cocktails, appreciating those stunning views and, more important, bonding and spending quality time together. After all, girls' trips are not only about exploring new places and horizons, but also about the time we spend together and appreciating our friendships.

As we were ones of the last to leave the Shard, we went to China Town for a late dinner. The chosen restaurant offered us really yummy food, authentic atmosphere and great selection of wines to choose. Cocktails also looked good, however we sticked with white wine. By the time we left, I believe was passing one in the morning, so we headed to the tube to go back home, as we didn't want to waste the following day, because of sleeping in late.

The morning of our second day in London was beautiful and sunny. We decided to meet directly at Notting Hill for brunch, and as I was walking from the subway station to the meeting point, I had the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful streets in the famous neighbourhood. Which for an architecture lover (and doors lover) was almost equal to paradise. At the beginning of my walk I met huge groups of tourists, and I thought that the entire neighbourhood might suffer quite a lot with its own popularity. I guess it's all great for the business in the area, but what about those people who live here and would like to just enjoy a calm weekend at home? It was Saturday morning, and the crowds seemed to be everywhere. Still, I was able to find some small, hidden streets that were completely empty and calm, which made me really happy.

When we finished our brunch,  the sun had already disappeared, unfortunately. But it didn't start to rain until a couple of hours later, so we still had some time to walk around the thousands of coloured buildings and doors, and take hundreds of photos. (Yes, I came back home with more than 500 photos on my phone just from London.) There were some amazing streets even within the Portobello Market. Like, Denbigh Terrace for instance, which in fact looked more like a jungle - there were so many girls with suitcases (for the extra outfits, I guess) taking photos at every single door. There was even a line at some of the houses... Everything for the perfect insta pic, right? Don't get me wrong - I'm definitely not judging. I just think that there should be some healthy boundaries (after all we are in a neighbourhood and a little respect to the people who live here would not hurt anybody) and more appreciation of the moment... Anyway, the Portobello Market is an amazing place for treasure hunters. There were street musicians, there were antiques, coffee shops and restaurants, accessories, souvenirs, even real Christmas trees. And Notting Hill is for sure one of the most charming neighbourhoods I've been to.

Our next stop was going to be the Buckingham Palace, but to get there, we decided to cross the entire Hyde Park in order to see the squirrels. And to walk around the park of course. Also, is there a better way to see the locals' lifestyle than in the biggest city park? After all it was Saturday, and despite the rainy weather, there were still quite a lot people jogging, walking their dogs and playing with their kinds around the fallen autumn leaves. We passed by the Princess Diana Memorial Playground, as well as the Albert Memorial in front of Royal Albert Hall. Next we walked by the fountain honouring Lady Diana (which sadly was switched off) and by the time we got to the Buckingham Palace it was already at night. Our initial plan was to have dinner (and some fun) at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, but it started to rain quite strong, plus it was going to be super overcrowded, considering the amount of people we met, going in that direction... So instead, we went to a near by pub for an early British dinner - fish & chips and traditional local pie. Delicious. On our way there however, we had to hide from the rain for a bit, and what better spot for that, then the shop at the Queen's Gallery. It offers some really great souvenirs and if you get there around the festive season, don't miss to check out the Christmas tree they have in the entry hall. This year it was decorated with crown-shaped ornaments.

A short tube ride after dinner and we found ourselves at Oxford Circus. It wouldn't be a proper London visit in December if we didn't check the Christmas lights, right? We first walked Oxford street to wander around the decorated windows of John Lewis and Selfridge's shopping centres. They were both very extravagant, bright, colourful and super catchy. John Lewis' focused more on the activities surrounding the festivities - music, ice skating, cheering and dancing, while Selfridge's had its own interpretation of the 21st century Santa. And in 2018 he is a rock star, channeling some Freddie Mercury and Elvis inspired vibes.

We went back on Oxford street and turned right on Regent street, where the angels were lightening our way. I've seen photos of this Christmas decoration, as London has been using it for a couple of years now, but being able to appreciate it with my own eyes was for sure a moment to remember. As we turned left on Great Marlborough street, we were stunned by the facade of The Liberty - London's oldest department store. At its end starts Carnaby street - a funky and creative mix of shops, fancy bars and restaurants, that is visible even at its Christmas decorations. We sat for a while at a bar, over an Irish coffee with Bailey's and berries sider to just observe the street's dynamic. We were trying to get the best position in order to get as much heat as possible from the outdoor's heater mounted by our table and there were girls arriving to dinner with mini skirts and open toe sandals. I know that brits take fashion seriously, but in my humble opinion, that was too much. I mean, it was raining cats and dogs until an hour ago. Plus, winter style and boots can also be good looking. Just a hint, you know... 😉

Next, we checked out the Kingly Court which seemed like a super cozy place for dinner. Reminded me of The Time Out Market in Lisbon, where some of the best restaurants in town operate under the same roof and all tables are shared, though I don't know if the system here is the same. Our walk around London's Christmas lights ended at Piccadilly Circus, where we separated to go home and get some sleep. I was super tired (walked 20km this Saturday) but the holiday spirit could have kept my adrenaline going, when surrounded by that Christmassy scenery, at least for a couple more hours. However, our flight to Lisbon was at 7 am and to get to Heathrow airport in time, I had to wake up at 3:40 am. So, I thought it was better to wrap up my visit here, at Piccadilly Circus, surrounded by angels. 

And hopefully not wait another six years to come back to London.

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