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A Birthday Christmas Holiday: Day 1 – London – December 4th and 5th, 2015

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Author’s Note: This is the first of a series of posts about my trip to England and Iceland.  I hope you enjoy it!

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I had the opportunity to take a trip.

It was late summer and my wife was about to be away for a month on a wonderful artist residency in New Hampshire.

We discussed the residency, her pregnancy with our second child, and various other upcoming things when the idea of me taking a short solo getaway came about for a period between her return from the residency and my birthday and Christmas.

At first, I thought of going to the Florida or Georgia or maybe out west.

But then I thought – why not go somewhere bigger?  Somewhere I’ve always wanted to go?

Iceland!

I had tons of miles with United, but United didn’t go to Iceland.

They did go to London, and I’ve still never been there.

So I decided on going to both places, using miles for some luxury seating on a London round trip ticket and then purchasing a basic round trip Reykjavik flight from there.

Sure there would be a lot more fly time, but my London flights would be rather relaxing.

So I set off the evening of December 4, flying out of Cleveland…

…and already running into a problem.

At first, the flight was delayed to allow a Houston crew to switch with our Newark flight (it was a question of them having too many scheduled hours for the Houston flight).  Then, a pilot who was simply getting a ride to Newark decided to fly the plane himself, allowing for us to get there earlier than the previous change.

Thanks to the pilot, we did get there earlier (as the Houston crew was nowhere to be seen), but I still lost an hour in an already tight connection time.

Basically, I would now only have 20 minutes to get off the plane and run to the gate.

And I needed to change terminals!

I tweeted to United Airlines in a panic, hoping that would hold the gate in time, especially after learning the gate closed 15 minutes before the flight departed.

They didn’t respond, but someone else did…

…with helpful advice on how to pick up a bus around gate A28, take it to Terminal C…

…and then RUN!

Once the bus stopped at Terminal C, I ran and ran and ran and lost my breath mere feet from the gate, when they made a final call and did not call my name!

I made it to the gate 5 minutes before the gate closed and they said that my name was already taken off the list (along with another passenger that I met on the bus named Pete).

But with some discussion, they put me (and Pete) back on the plane and even gave me back my Business First Seat (used with miles), and I made it to London a happy man, even sleeping a few hours during the flight.

United even responded after my arrival.

Once off the plane, I went through Customs (an hour wait), learned my bag was still in Newark…

…and was actually happy I didn’t have to lug it on the Tube for the hour long ride.

I checked into my hotel (Club Quarters Hotel at Lincoln’s Inn Fields)…

…then shot out first to the super-crowded Harrod’s store via the Underground…

…grabbing a quick lunch in their Food Hall…

…and then escaping the Christmas crowds by going on a nice outdoor walk…

…slowly making my way…

…to Buckingham Palace…

…acting as a complete tourist…

…and then continuing on along Birdcage Walk…

…where I got to feed some squirrels, thanks to a generous chap who shared his bag peanuts with everyone around him.

From there, I went on to see more familiar sites…

…such as Elizabeth Tower (which holds the bell, Big Ben)…

…and Westminster Abbey.

Originally, from there, I had planned to take the Underground to Baker Street and stop at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, but I was already running behind a bit.

So, once I got to Baker Street…

…I used the time for a quick nibble (Itsu)…

…some window shopping…

…and even some food exploration amongst small markets…

…and fancier food halls, where there were Christmas cakes, gingerbread houses…

…and elegant meringue (Marks & Spencer).

From Baker Street, I headed west…

…and followed the crowds to Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland

 

…which was basically a huge Christmas festival with food…

…decadent treats…

…mulled wine and German beers…

…musical entertainment…

…shopping…

…rides…

…slides…

…a circus…

…and a Bavarian Village.

There were even some scarier attractions…

…with reminders of your eventual demise…

…but, honestly, there was too much fun to take anything too seriously.

I spent nearly two hours here before leaving to find something to eat…

…because I didn’t want a sausage sandwich.

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I took the Tube back to my hotel and walked over to Abeno, an okonomiyaki restaurant.

They were booked at the moment but told me to come back around 9 or 9:30 or so…

…so I did…

…ordering a squid, salmon and corn okonomiyaki pancake with all the toppings…

…and it was heavenly.

(I may have added more toppings as I ate it.)

Afterward, I finished this rather long day with a walk about, deciding on getting a pint at a pub.

I had heard about Cittie of Yorke (High Holborn), but they were closing about the time I had arrived…

…so I headed back toward my hotel, passing this crazy figure in a business window…

…and grabbed a bedtime pint at Penderal’s Oak pub instead.

Needless to say, I slept straight through the night.

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