I hope you had an amazing Christmas and had fun seeing in the New Year. It was actually a really special Christmas for me, as my Mum and Dad flew over from Australia to stay with us for the first time. I really wanted to make sure they experienced London for the awesome city that it is, and see the life Si and I have created here for ourselves.
The long-haul from Oz to Europe is brutal. As the parentals embarked on their first ever 24-hour flight, they were somewhat apprehensive about what lay ahead. And rightly so, given the fact that they fell at the first hurdle and didn’t even pass security without being stopped by the Australian Federal Police!! When Mum casually mentioned this in the family Whats App chat I was dismayed. Turns out Dad had once given her a “useful” pocket knife to keep in her handbag, just “in case” she ever needed it, and she had forgotten to take it out. Good thing it was obvious to all that this was an innocent mistake, and one I’m sure she will never repeat! Finally, after clearing security, they made their flight bound for Amsterdam.
As an early Christmas gift to my parents, I sprung for a four-day stay at the Hotel Estherea in Amsterdam. My parents could not stop raving about the hotel and loved it so much that they upgraded their room and didn’t want to leave.
They were really taken with the beauty of Amsterdam and enjoyed their time exploring the vibrant city immensely. They spent their days pottering about the canals, taking in the museum district, and enjoying the local cuisine. They particularly enjoyed the European coffee shop culture, vibrant Dam Square with its glittering Christmas tree, the Van Gogh museum and De Gooye Windmill. Mum told me they found the locals to be super friendly, and that Christmas was a magical time of year to visit with all of the twinkling Christmas lights on display.
Following their romantic escape for two, they took a short flight to London. I was so excited waiting for them in the small arrivals hall at City Airport. I had been waiting all year for them to arrive and it was really overwhelming when they finally did. On their first evening in London, we took them to one of our favourite little restaurants on Bermondsey Street; José Tapas Bar for the scummiest tapas in all of London.
So, where do you take out-of-towners when they come to visit you in the epic city of London? A must stop for us was the glitzy West End to catch Tim Minchin’s theatrical production of Roald Dahl’s Matilda. The sassy play was a big hit with my parents. The production was so much fun and I’d definitely recommend taking friends and family to see it for a memorable night out.
People come to England to see “old things”, especially castles! Looking for a castle with an easy commute from London, I came across Hampton Court Palace. It is about an hour from central by car and even less by train from Waterloo (plus the station is right across the road from the palace making it a convenient option). Whilst the palace was not a traditional Walt Disney looking castle, it was a spectacular place in its own right. It was initially built for Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in 1515, before being seized by King Henry VIII, who later further developed the property. It is one of only two surviving palaces of the many owned by Henry VIII. We loved exploring the historic halls that were once home to King’s and Queen’s. Imagine the stories those walls could tell us if only they could talk.
Having sampled some Game of Throne’s-esq English history, we took Mum and Dad along to a super cute pub in the nearby country village of Esher, Surrey for a Sunday roast. The Cricketer is a traditional country pub, with low thick lying beams and roaring open fire. We have pubs in Australia, but they don’t compare with the charm of the English ones.
That evening we warmed some mulled wine on the stovetop and baked minced pies in the oven, while we decorated our very handsome Norwegian Pine Christmas tree, ready for our traditional English Christmas.
The next day we rugged up and took a leisurely stroll across one of London’s iconic landmarks, Tower Bridge. I love the alleged tale of the gullible American who bought London Bridge thinking it was the more picturesque Tower Bridge. Could you imagine his face when it was unwrapped to reveal the wrong bridge!
Along the Thames, on the city side of Tower Bridge, lies the grand Tower of London, home to the Crown Jewels. I’ve actually been a couple of times now and thought each visit was epic in its own right. I love being able to close my eyes and imagine what unfolded in the once was a palace, in a time long ago. Mum and Dad loved it too. My engagement ring expectations have gone up significantly since revisiting the Crown Jewels. Somewhat unrealistically I fear, but you can’t blame a girl for trying.
A quick skip back across the river and we took the swift ascend to the 32nd floor of The Shard, an architecturally spectacular building that has views over the whole of London, for a bite to eat at Hutong. Our welcome was quite disappointing and entirely frosty. The two receptionists who greeted us gave us the once over and seemingly decided we were not worthy of their hospitality. Knowing how incredible the views are, I preserved. We were eventually shown to our table, and I am pleased to report that the service instantly improved. Our amazing waitress was all over it, and we enjoyed a delicious set tasting menu with course after course of yummy dim sum, to a backdrop of panoramic views over the city. I think this is a much better way of experiencing The Shard than the viewing deck. At £39 per head for lunch with a glass of bubbles, you can’t go wrong.
After lunch, we took a short stroll along the South Bank to Shakespeare’s Globe. The original Globe used during Shakespeare’s day was built in 1599, and destroyed by fire in 1613. It was rebuilt the following year before being demolished in 1644. The replica that we see today was actually been built 230 meters from the original site of the theatre and opened its doors to the public in 1997. Whilst it is a beautiful building and symbolic of London’s history, if your time in London is tight, I’d skip Shakespeare’s Globe unless you are a Shakespeare-keeno taking one of their guided tours or seeing a show there. There is little to see from the outside other than a beautiful old-style building, complete with thatched roof.
With Borough Market right on our doorstep, we want for a little wander through the lively fresh food market. I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t love Borough Market. With all the delectable foodie treasures such as fresh fruit and veg, organic meat, sweet baked treats and an abundance of gooey yummy cheese and wine, what’s not to like?
It was my parent’s idea to give the London bus tour a go. They loved the idea and thought it was a great way to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time and get a feel for the city. And power to them, they were right! As fun as it was, giving us the freedom to jump off and get up close to sights such as the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, Downing Street, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral and Buckingham Palace, I would say this; dress VERY warm, or hold out until the summer. It was very frosty on the upper deck snapping away.
Saving the best of my London tourist treats until last, on the Friday before Christmas when the West End twinkled with Christmas lights and was at its busiest with last minute shoppers, we headed to London’s iconic Claridge’s Hotel for pre-dinner drinks. Since the mid-19th century, the beautiful property has hosted royalty and heads of state alike, and there has been no shortage of glamourous Hollywood-types visiting over the years including Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn, and Bing Crosby. Recent celebrity guests have included: George Clooney, Kate Winslet, Poppy Delevingne, Kate Moss, Sarah Jessica Parker and Diane von Furstenberg. My parent’s eyes lit up with delight as we wandered through the grand marble foyer to The Fumoir, the 1930s inspired and intimate alcove of glamour that offered the perfect setting for sipping our Champagne and Old Fashioned’s.
We then strolled up to Selfridge’s Il Tetto Restaurant & Bar perched on their rooftop with views across Hyde Park and Winter Wonderland. I’m afraid to say the meal was somewhat disappointing, but the company was exceptional. My very entertaining friend Jen joined us and kept my Mum and Dad in stitches.
Hosting visitors in London at Christmas is really good fun. A surreal stillness descends over the city, as crispness chills the air, and the windows of inner-city apartments, few and far between, glow with festive warmth. In our cosy London-city pied-à-terre, we made an exquisite lunch of Beef Wellington and roast duck, before collapsing on the sofa to digest and watch Christmas films.
On Boxing Day, we all piled into our little car, Smithers included and headed up the A12 to Dunwich, a quaint little seaside village on the Suffolk Coast to visit Si’s family. They had booked the Old Town Hall for the holidays. The Grade II listed property with 18th-century origins was super cute and the perfect backdrop for the two families to get to know each other. The day was spent with walks along the beach in nearby Southwold, and with a big hearty meal by the crackling fire in the evening followed by games and general merriment.
Having my Mum and Dad come and stay with us, and showing how them our amazing London was lots of fun. We can’t wait to have them back again and look forward to more exploring the city and beyond with them when they return.
Until next time, safe travels.
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