Tea and theatre travels.
Few cities in the world are more ‘bucket list’ worthy than London, England. It mixes incredibly rich history with a modern metropolitan vibe. For Rebecca and I, our visit began with a ride courtesy of my old college mate Grant (the impetus for our trip was my 20 year theatre school reunion), from renowned Heathrow airport to London Center- straight into a sea of cars, iconic black cabs and red double-deckers making slow progress along streets lined with
multi-million pound properties, new-builds juxtaposed with stately brick-stacked buildings from the 1800s, and from the moment we set foot on the old cobblestoned streets behind the Phoenix theatre, our anticipation for a remarkable holiday became a reality.
It was Rebecca’s first time to England and securing tickets to the theatre was the first thing on her list but jet lag was number two, and we took care of that with a nap, at 4:00 in the afternoon.
We stayed at the Antheneum, a boutique hotel which recently underwent a full renovation to keep it current without losing the art deco savoir faire, enhanced by the legendary doormen greeting us outside in full top hat and tails. Even before reaching the lobby, the hotel welcomes guests with a living wall, echoing the tranquility of Green Park just across the street. On the other side of the park proudly resides Buckingham Palace and at the end of Piccadilly in the opposite direction is Piccadilly Circus. We hadn’t even done anything yet and our minds were blown.
Jet lag also gave us no desire to eat dinner at dinner-time, so we skipped it, which meant we were starving when we woke up at 2am. Room service provided all our favorite comfort foods, we ordered three meals off the menu, ordered a movie on TV, ate, watched the whole thing and went back to sleep. It was ridiculous and delectable.
When we planned our stay in London, I had no idea that we would end up seeing a different show every night we were there, but with the world’s greatest live theatre at our doorstep, we couldn’t resist. The TKTS booth resides in Leicester Square, so we visited there almost every day. Our top three of the nine performances we attended were:
1. The Play that Goes Wrong
I don’t think I’ve laughed so much at the same joke - ever! I thought I’d stop laughing but they got me every time, ab-forming laughter.
2. The Book of Mormon
Also funny but the musical version and dangerously irreverent. Our tickets for this show were acquired by lottery, we tried on three different nights to score tickets but the boys in the show were doing the same thing to get tickets for their friends, apparently, so they had much better odds. We finally got wise and had some buds come along to put their names in the draw as well and ended up with four cheap seats in the front row. Worth the effort.
3. 42nd Street
Spine tingling, old school musical that will leave you singing and dancing in the streets after the show.
We didn’t just go to the theatre though, we saw the sights, we shopped the shops, we ate the food and for that we wore proper walking shoes and loaded up an Oyster card. Good for the tube or the bus, the Oyster card will get you where you want to go, without hailing a cab and with the added benefit of saying, “Let’s take the tube”. Here is our must-do list of sights and bites...
1. Buckingham Palace
And this is a word to the locals as well because you live there, and if you haven’t seen it, you absolutely should: go do the walking tour. Strap on those headsets, walk up that grand staircase, through the state rooms and gallery and then go buy yourself a tea cup in the shop at the end. Rebecca can’t stop talking about that superfluously expensive tea cup. *Rebecca note: it was adequately priced for a beautiful turquoise and goldtrimmed, Royal Albert, Queen Victoria’s Jubilee bone china tea cup. Tea cup collectors unite!
2. Fortnum & Mason
This was recommended to us from a good friend at home and we gladly pass it along. The Christmas Shop on the top floor (take the stairs, they are an excellent piece of time travel) boasts Holiday cheer year-round and is another good spot for a souvenir if you don’t like tea cups *who doesn’t like tea cups?! And if you get hungry while you browse, head down to the cafeteria for tea and sandwiches, both are on point.
3. Covent Garden
Great window (and booth) shopping. It’s a great vibe, a great location, and Rebecca would like you to know that Whittard’s original tea shop is there. Pots of steeping tea can be found at every turn so you can sample before you buy. Yes please!
4. Victoria and Albert Museum
With multiple museums to choose from, we had trouble making up our minds and went to two (the British War Time Museum gets a mention here, the layout was confusing at times however the time line of the First World War on the bottom floor was thorough and impressive and a must-see) We did not give ourselves enough time at the V and A, first of all, because it’s the world’s largest museum of decorative art and design (over 4 million objects) and second of all because they had a theatre exhibit. Theatre geeks unite!
5. La Perla This might have been what was actually on Rebecca’s bucket list but it doesn’t hurt for a couple to go together - comfy couch, drinks and a great view. 6. The Savoy If a throwback rich and ornate piano bar experience is what you are in the mood for, head over to the iconic Savoy for a bevy and a chin wag. 7. The Shard and Tower Bridge
The perspective and glam atop the Shard is very cool, then take a late night romantic walk over the iconic Tower Bridge (commonly mistaken for London Bridge because of the song)
8. High Tea
We were pleasantly surprised with the atmosphere at the open, airy Palm Court at the Langham but the real reason to go here is the all-you-can-eat sandwiches. They just keep coming around with the platters until you finally say, no thanks I’m full. Save room for the scones and clotted cream of course but the desserts are nicer to look at than to eat.
9. Alley Eateries
Get lost in the back streets of London. Go find those little gems you will recognize from movies and songs plus small eateries packed with locals, and pubs where people are spilling out onto the sidewalk, where you too can enjoy a pint and a chat.
10. Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral
If this is up your alley, make sure you check what time you’re going because I don’t think you can always go inside. We were happy to take a photo with the Abbey, skip the inside and choreograph a dance on the steps of St. Paul’s but skip that tour as well.
When staying at the Athenaeum, excellent food and drink are at your fingertips 24/7. We made sure to experience dinner at Galvin with Michelinstarred London chefs Chris and Jeff Galvin. Nothing like five-star food in an unpretentious atmosphere. Trying something new, with drinks recommended by the wait-staff, we were pleasantly surprised, but if you’re into a nightcap, the famous Whiskey collection at The Bar is the real deal. It’s a really cool spot to hang out in a swanky grotto-like setting and draw from their famous Whiskey Collection.
We have been talking about going back to London since the day we left. Ten days was not long enough for us (although it was more than enough for our kids to miss us a bunch). Maybe next time we’ll get to see the insides of those churches. London calling… again!