Last weekend, I got to attend a unique event in London… I’ve written all about it on Spoonfed!
In a dark warehouse in London Bridge, I cower before the heavily armed militia that’s just burst through the door. Full SWAT gear adorns our attackers as they shove flashlights and machine guns in our faces. I, and the others in the warehouse, are interrogated as to our reason for being huddled in the dark in the first place and those not brave enough to answer get thrown out into the blinding sunlight with a warning never to come back. Just your typical Saturday.
Last night was the heartbreaking second overtime defeat of Fulham FC by Atletico Madrid in the finals of the Europa League. The feeling when that Atletico ball hit the back of the net with less than four minutes left in the second overtime – minutes away from a penalty shoot out – was absolutely devastating. But now, having given away the unhappy ending, I can focus on what was, without question, the greatest sports experience of my life and my mother’s last full day in the UK.
It was already set to be a very sporty day. We had plans to visit the Wimbledon grounds and museum to get a taste of the famous tennis venue, even if we couldn’t see any matches, and that evening we were off to see Fulham play a home match against Hamburg in the semi-finals of the Europa League.
The Wimbledon grounds had a great little museum, outlining the history of the club and the game of tennis however much more exciting was the tour. Although the Championships are still almost two months away, there was already a lot of activity underway to get the grass prepared, the facilities in top shape and the tournament going. In fact, both Court 1 and Centre Court had 24 hour guard staff and guard dogs to protect the grass. Our tour guide claimed it was to keep the foxes off but the speed of the guards’ reaction when someone on the tour got too close to the grassy courts suggested they were prepared to tackle bigger threats to the greenery.
The highlights of the tour were, of course, Court 1 and Centre Court but also, a surprise as I hadn’t expected this to be part of the tour, the briefing room. Mom and I got to spend a happy few moments pretending we were winning Wimbledon players in the press room, chatting with reporters about our successful match.
We ended the tour at Centre Court and it was probably the closest I will ever be to that lawn but even with empty seats, no players and guards watching the grass, the atmosphere was electric and I can only imagine how exciting it must be to watch the finals in that stadium.
The afternoon allowed us some time to shop around Wimbledon. While Wimbledon is considered part of greater London, it has a completely unique feel to the rest of the city. It is significantly more rural, the Wimbledon golf course adding some open space between the residential area and some of the busier parts of London, and the pace is a bit less frantic. Wimbledon Village still retains a village feel – and has some great shopping.
A long morning in Wimbledon left us just enough time for a quick tour through the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington before heading back to Fulham for dinner and pregame drinks. We found a perfect riverside pub, The Blue Anchor, for a last plate of fish and chips while I caught my mother up on Fulham’s incredible journey through the Europa League which had brought them to the semi-finals, briefed her on our key players, and generally talked soccer until she tuned out completely.
Finally it was game time. The whole Fulham riverside was buzzing and we definitely weren’t the only people heading from the Blue Anchor to the game. Fulham had to win tonight – a draw or a loss would see them removed from the tournament and the crowd was ready for a show.
Things got off to a rough start when Hamburg scored just before the end of the first half and my mother began to wonder how she would deal with a distraught daughter on the last night before her flight home should things continue to spiral downward.
She needn’t have worried. With 20 minutes left in the match, Fulham pulled ahead 2-1 and the Cottage exploded. Known for being one of the most calm, family-friendly and sedate stadiums and set of fans in the league, the Cottage and Cottagers were all in unison screaming their heads off – and the noise didn’t let up until the final whistle, sending Fulham through to the Europa finals. It was, without question, one of the greatest nights of my life and I’m so glad I got to share that with my mother (who didn’t entirely understand the significance of the event but was happy we won – even if just so as not to put up with me the next day).
And that officially ends my mother’s one week in England. I’ll try to do a recap post with all of the places we visited and links to attractions we saw. It was a crazy, busy, exciting, whirlwind of a week and although I may have tired her out immensely, I think we both enjoyed the whole experience.
On Wednesday, my mother and I had booked a tour with Spoke and Motion – London Bike Tours for a unique view of Greenwich in east London. We started in Bermondsey, headed east along the Thames, stayed on the south side of the river past the Isle of Dogs and finally north again as the river turned to bring us into Greenwich, the home of Greenwich Mean Time (the place where all time is made! Or something like that… I was too distracted by the amazing view to pay much attention to what 0.0.0 latitude meant exactly) where we spent a wonderful afternoon before biking back to our start point.
Here, in photo review, is our bike trip to and through Greenwich:
If Monday had been the City of London: The Grand History, Tuesday was the Devil Wears Prada version of London Tourism. We were going to be hitting some of the top shopping the city has to offer. We first hopped a number 10 bus which would take us east through High Street Kensington, all the way along Hyde Park, and up to the western end of Oxford Street where we disembarked the bus to check out some of London’s high street shopping, beginning with Selfridges, the Harrods of central London. While the Gaps and Esprits and H&Ms of the street could be found in the US, there were plenty of brands that were a welcome change from the standard American shopping fare.
Where things got much more interesting, however, was on Regent’s Street, which offered many more boutique-like shops, as well as a Caffe Concerto which, while a standard pastry and ice cream shop, offered a European flair in display which caught my mother’s eye.
For lunch, we walked south to Covent Garden, which is situated in an area with plenty of its own unique shops and boutiques. We grabbed a pizza at the outdoor Italian cafe in Apple Market of Covent Garden then took a few minutes to enjoy the open air market offerings that surrounded us. Covent Garden is also home to the London Transport Museum, a museum I haven’t yet visited (aside from the gift shop which, in addition to being free to enter as opposed to the museum itself, has some really great unique London gifts) but have heard great things about.
Covent Garden could probably have occupied us for much of the afternoon but we pulled ourselves away to head back north a few blocks to Carnaby Street. This is one of the most famous shopping areas of London and is blocked to vehicles so it’s an ideal place to stroll through the shops. Over the past few years, pop up shops and restaurants, that is shops that only exist for a few weeks or months, have become increasingly popular and there was a pop up shop just at the southern end of Carnaby Street. Proceeds from the clothing and jewellery (made by local designers) was going to charity and we had a long chat with the jewellery designer, a friendly Canadian who swapped visa stories with me.
Finally, at the top of Carnaby Street, we reached a destination my mother was quite keen to visit: Liberty of London. The building itself is impressive enough, an old fashioned wooden structure that houses some of the best designer fashion in London. Oddly, my mother informed me that Liberty has recently launched a line of products they sell at Target in the US which seems to strongly counter their expensive, posh brand here in London but the store is still fun to visit, even if you’re not planning on shelling out £500 for a scarf designed by Vivienne Westwood.
It had been a long day of shopping (amazing how that can take nearly as much out of you as walking around the entire city!) and we were looking forward to meeting Spoonfed co-founders and my bosses, Alex and Henry at a highly traditional British pub for a highly traditional British dinner. We arrived at the Mall Tavern in Notting Hill eager for a glass of wine, some pork crackling, lamb scrumpets (they are exactly as delicious as they sound), mackerel pate, chicken kiev and pork medallions. It was a fantastic dinner and a great end to the day. However we had another early night as the next morning would be one of our most exciting outings yet….
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Despite our brief foray in Kensington and Knightsbridge, my mother had yet to see much of London. I planned to fix that on Monday with a very ambitious tour of the centre of London, focusing on the famous historical and political centres of the city. With no regard for my mother’s poor feet, I launched us towards the city centre on the number 9 bus which took us to Piccadilly Circus.
We hopped off a stop early to visit Fortnum and Masons, home of, among other things, the Scotch Egg, Fortnum and Mason gift baskets and my personal favourite tea set in London. While my mother appreciated the tea set, much more impressive were the window displays – a giant mixer, a rocket ship of home goods and a giant cup of tea.
After Fortnum and Masons, we wound our way southeast towards Trafalgar Square, passing Piccadilly Circus and some of the small shopping alleys of boutique shops on the way. Trafalgar Square has fantastic views of the city and is home to the National Gallery (which we didn’t have time to visit) but helped my mother orient herself as we gazed out over the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.
Before heading there directly, however, we took a stroll down the Royal Mall, the long walk between Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace where a crowd was gathered for an event we never could determine. It was so crowded, in fact, that we didn’t get too close to the Palace at all, but the view from a distance was impressive enough and a shorter stay outside the Palace gave us a few moments to enjoy the amazing flowers and gardens of St James Park on our way towards Westminster Abbey, The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.
We passed on a tour of the Abbey (I had done it twice already) and crossed the river to the South Bank where we first walked under the impressive London Eye then continued east, enjoying the riverside views before coming up on Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and the Tate Modern. We didn’t linger long, however, as we were getting hungry and Borough Market was just a few minutes walk away.
Borough Market on the weekdays is not the impressive bustling open air market it is on the weekends and despite the local sandwich shops and great view of Southwark Cathedral, we were keen for a place to sit down and relax after our long walk of the morning. Instead of opting for a sandwich and curbside seat, I introduced my mother to Nandos, a Portuguese-influenced restaurant chain that proved a huge hit (get the chicken pita with cheddar cheese and pineapple and be sure to load up on Piri-Piri sauce!).
Blood sugar levels restored to normal and our feet briefly rested, we started off again, taking the bus north from London Bridge to visit the Museum of London in Moorgate. This little museum is a hidden gem and has a fantastic local history. In addition to giving great information on the history of London from pre-history onwards, which a heavy focus on the Roman settlers in the area in the first century AD, the museum itself is built above the ruins of the original Roman wall that surrounded the city of Londinium. Parts of the wall still stand in and around the museum and are visible from viewing decks inside. The story of London continues up through the Tudors, the civil war and finally the last major outbreak of plague and the fire of London in 1666. In a few weeks, however, the Museum is going to be opening an whole new floor dedicated to modern London and I’m looking forward to returning to check it out.
Finally, after our Museum of London visit, we were reaching what was, in my mind, the highlight of the day – a visit to the Spoonfed office so my mother could see where I work. It was another short bus ride north and I got to introduce her to my co-workers, show off our office, and grab a coffee at our local coffee shop while we chatted about our busy, busy day.
After such a long day, I had a quiet but fun dinner planned at the Churchill Arms, a tiny Thai restaurant hidden in the back of a Notting Hill pub. The restaurant seems more like the cross between a greenhouse and a garden shed than a place to get a delicious, spicy Thai dinner, but we both enjoyed our meals immensely and I had definitely impressed my mother with my local knowledge of both city attractions, bus routes and places to eat.
With sore feet, full bellies and a plan to ditch the boring history and focus on shopping the next day, we were asleep early and excited for the next day.
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