London…I love you.

London exceeded every expectation.  To be fair, I had no expectations, so it was a low bar.  I am not a fan of Christmas and some lovely friends offered me a place to hide out alone for a week or so over the holidays and I jumped at the chance to get away from the pressures of the holidays at home.  Little did I know that it would be a grand adventure.  I fell head over heels in love with that bloody town.

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I packed in seven full days of exploring…and three of those days were holidays with tons of things closed.  It’s a bonus in traveling alone that no one has to keep up with you, and you only need to stop when you’re hungry or have to use the bathroom…and I always push it.  One day I walked 16 miles, including stomping up the 500+ steps to the top of St. Paul’s to see the view of the city.  I lost my fitbit a couple days later, but my guesstimate is that I walked 100 miles over the week.  I never wanted to take the underground, I always wanted to soak in all of the gorgeous buildings. Over the week I saw the Tower of London, had an insanely expensive cocktail at the American Bar at the Savoy, visited the Victoria & Albert Museum and the National Gallery, gawked at Big Ben, gazed at Trafalgar Square, shopped at Old Spitalfield’s Market, looked around Liberty, saw street performers at Covent Garden, and wandered through the Winter Wonderland carnival.  I even saw the Changing of the Guard (which was something I personally found overrated and a little boring.)

It’s really hard to choose what my favorite moments are out of all my exploring, but here’s an attempt at a top five (in no particular order.)

Themed Neighborhood Christmas Lights

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Oxford street, Marleybone, Regent’s Street, Carnaby Street and more.  London neighborhoods, you really know how to do Christmas lights.  Thank you for taking my grinchiness away for the first time in many years.  It was truly delightful taking in the displays.  I loved walking through the streets at night and watching the themes change from peacock feathers to snowflakes to whatever the next set would be.  It made me so happy to be surrounded by Christmas spirit in such a fun way. The windows at Selfridges were also incredibly amazing, and deserve a hat tip.

Christmas Tapas

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I ate shrimp and liked it.  That’s just crazy.  I stumbled into this crazy Spanish place on Christmas Day when everything else was closed.  I had already stocked up on food to cook at the flat the day before, but was so ecstatic to have a place to spend 3 hours dining on a set menu of delectable treats and sangria instead of eating my frozen pizza.  Often when I travel, I usually have a memorable moment that revolves around food — from the tomato soup in Amsterdam to my steak at 11pm in the east village of New York city.  I will remember this meal for the rest of my life.  (A close second food memory is the Sunday roast I had at a little tiny bar around the corner from where I was staying after the end of a long day.  It paired perfectly with a couple of pints of cider.)

Stonehenge

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The tour was billed as a 10 hour day that started with Windsor Castle and ended at Oxford…but I only cared about the middle.  Windsor castle was unimpressive, crowded with people listening to the audio guide about 100 patterns of gifted china and blocking the pathways.  It’s a castle.  Big whoop.  It was a stressful morning, and a long bus ride, but finally when we got to Stonehenge, everything melted away.  It was a bucket list moment.  It was magical.  I walked around and around, looking at it from every angle.  It hailed a little.  The skies were epic.  My heart was full.  I am eternally grateful that I got to stand on that ground in that place and see those stones.  You can see my whole album here.

Street Art Exploring in East London

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So when I found out that I could walk around and see real Shepard Fairey pieces, I might have squeed with delight…but never expected to run into one of those pieces in a random alley when I wasn’t looking.  Street art is one of my most favorite things to seek out in any city I visit and London is one of the world meccas for it.  Why should I spend a day in a stuffy museum when I could walk the miles around East London and see hundreds of unique and original pieces of art?  I took hundreds of pictures and got lost over and over again without a care.  I’d walk down an alley and turn a corner and walk 3 blocks back in a circle because I would see something in the distance that caught my eye.  I recognized pieces by the same artists all over London, and even found art from people who I had seen in San Francisco and Paris.  I couldn’t believe how amazing and inspiring the work was.  You can see my whole album here.

WICKED WITH ENGLISH ACCENTS?!

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The last night I was there, I saw Wicked for the 5th time…but omg, it was in London and with English accents.  It was amazing.  It was also some of the best vocals I’ve seen in any of the performances I’ve attended. I was so exhausted after walking around all day and almost left at intermission, but when the finale came, I cried and stood and clapped and whistled.  It was a tremendous event to end the trip on.  For a trip that was about Defying Gravity, I don’t think I could have seen any other show.

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I am so grateful for a life that allowed this adventure.  It’s amazing to me that I found this group of friends a decade ago that has become my musical family, and that has given me these friends that mailed me the keys to their home and gave me a safe base for my adventures. Thank you so much Danny & Jes. Thank you for sharing your home, your town, and your friendship.

It was also pretty great to have so many world traveled friends with so many tips about the best places to go!  Thank you for everyone weighing in with your travel advice and helping me build out the ultimate itinerary.

I am also grateful for all of the people that cheered me on and encouraged me through this adventure, especially when I really needed them the last night.  Technology is a magical thing – and I felt like I never was really alone, and loved sharing my moments with people back home.  While I navigate North American adventures pretty well on my own, this was a bit outside my solo travel comfort zone.  The trip had moments that truly tested my ability to deal with crowds, be alone in crowded places and deal with some truly challenging situations all alone.  I’m incredibly proud that I was able to go on this adventure by myself and it has built a ton of confidence for future adventures!

Want to see more?  All of my London pictures can be found here.