Walking into Annie and Richard's flat was the most delightful relief. It meant we were finally there, landed at our home for the next few days. We could put down our bags and put up our feet and shift from getting to London to being in London. It also meant we were reunited with Neel after a seven-day absence.
That was nice.
Annie had left wonderful instructions for us for a quick outing that afternoon so we hopped the tube the Kensington for a quick bite and a wander around. Kensington is lovely. Lots of gorgeous homes and cafes and shops. We also popped into the Natural History Museum for a quick pee and a look around the lobby. It's an absolutely stunning building.
Back home in time to finally actually MEET Annie (How weird it must have felt for her to have us in her flat while she was at work!). She made us all cups of tea, and Callum is seriously addicted now. I remember thinking, "Wow, they really do drink tea!"
I think I'll say it over and over again that I just don't have words for how wonderful and special it was to finally meet Annie (and Richard). They took pity on our tired selves and made us dinner at home that first night, and spending the evening with them in their flat and enjoying a delightful dinner (icy cold gin and tonics, a really lovely shepherd's pie with steamed broccoli and a "modified" pavlova for dessert) was just the kind of thing I was most looking forward to about our trip. We talked and talked with an ease of people who have know each other for ages. About blogging and plans for their flat (exciting) and London and the US. It was the best welcome we could have imagined.
Many of my favorite parts of this trip were the intangibles, moments like that first evening and others I'll mention. But also, it was the light. It stays light so much later than at home, still twilight at 10PM. I loved it, and I loved how our conversation lingered right up until bedtime.
The next day, Annie took us in hand for a Special Bird-Sanctioned Tour of London!
Gracious, Annie must have some London connections. Gorgeous, perfect weather every day that we were there (way better than Paris and Callum still won't be convinced that it's ever cool and rainy), and each place we stopped showed itself off to its best advantage. We took the tube to Westminster to take a scoot around the Abbey, Parliament and Big Ben. After that, just the loveliest (I'll probably say that too much. Shrug.) walk through St. James's Park toward Buckingham Palace.
Barricades all around at that palace clued us in to the fact that something might be up. We caught a few seconds of the Queen's Guard band and then suddenly two open horse-drawn carriages brought what seemed to be some dignitaries in to the palace. Now that was cool. Nice work, Annie! Walking up The Mall, away from the Palace (where people were literally standing in the middle of the street to take pictures!) we ran into another band!
After that was lunch at Inn the Park (I'll do another post on food and shopping later on), and we headed out for a quick boat trip down the Thames toward the Tower of London. How can one place be both gruesome and charming, I don't know, but it was.
After the Tower, we took the Tube home (home!) to Primrose Hill, where we stopped in the village for cupcakes and milk for our tea. We had a bit of a rest before heading out to the York and Albany, where Annie and Richard got married, for a lovely dinner. More on that later. It was just the best day.
We called Wednesday "The Festival of Neels/Neils." We met with two of Neel's...cousins (?), one from the Indian side (for lunch and shopping) and one from the Irish side (for dinner). It was great! Neil #1 traveled the furthest and spent the bulk of the day with us. We had a pub lunch and headed to Liberty and then Harrods for a bit of shopping and then tea. Afterwards, Neel, Cal and I hit up Cleopatra's Needles (a must-do from Callum's Latin teacher) before heading to Waterloo station to meet up with Neil #2.
First, I want to say that it was using the somewhat sketchy WiFI at Waterloo that we learned that DOMA had been struck down. That was really nice, and I felt really proud to be an American in that moment. Apart from that, standing "at platform 12 under the clock" at Waterloo station on the lookout for a man we'd never met felt a bit like being in a spy novel! Neel knew not to watch people who were looking at the arrivals/departures boards but at people who were looking out for other people. It wasn't long before we decided that this Neil wasn't at Waterloo and when Neel called him he said, "I said Waterloo? I thought I said Charing Cross!"
After that bumpy start, Neil #2 was a delight. He walked us along Fleet Street pointing out some important old London landmarks to a restaurant called Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. Rebulit shortly after the Great Fire, as Neil said, he didn't bring us there for "the food or the beer, but for the building." Neil (Can I tell you how hard it is not to type "Neel?"), who spent the bulk of his career as a London police officer (and a number of years stationed at Buckingham Palace) had a wealth of stories for us. Wonderful tales about security at the Palace and the history of the city. We'd go back to London just to spend more time with him alone. And really, amazing stories aside. Isn't meeting family the craziest, best thing?
Neel's mom died when he was a kid, and Callum's middle name comes from her. Nuala, Neel's mother, grew up in Ireland, where her father had a border store. Neil #2 told Callum that you can still find the house where Cal's great-grandfather's store once stood. Next stop Ireland? Somehow, I feel certain. And don't even get me started on the Indian side of the family! That country is on the docket some day too.
We stumbled home so tired from such a lovely, full day to find that our wonderful hosts had made our bed for us. How great to just fall into it! The next morning we got to spend some time with Arthur and Evan before we bundled off to St. Pancras and onto the Eurostar to Paris.
To be continued...