Having traveled to over 50 countries, it was hard to believe that it took me so long to travel to merry ole’ England. After all, how could I really say that I was a well-seasoned traveler when I hadn’t even been to London?! I figured it was time to remedy this embarrassing reality. As a start to my England venture, I naturally spent a few days in England’s capital city. Having found a great accommodation on AirBnb, I focused my time in and around the Soho area. It turns out this was a very smart thing to do as the majority of the aspects to this cosmopolitan city was located quite near the flat I had rented.
Walked from London Victoria Station to Soho
After an overnight flight of no sleep, I arrived at London’s Gatwick Airport and managed to take the Southern train to London Victoria Station (which is ironically north of Gatwick). I decided to walk the 45 minutes up to my AirBnb in Soho. It was a beautiful sunny day and the cool breeze was honestly a menopause dream. And so, with a little help from a police officer to get pointed in the correct direction, I was off. Thankfully, there were signs at every crosswalk reminding us to “Look Right” or “Look Left”. As tired as I was, this proved very helpful. It wasn’t long before I came across my first red phone booth. I took my first picture in England indicating to everyone around me that I was indeed a tourist.
Not long after my first encounter with iconic England, I happened to walk past Buckingham Palace. People were gathering for the changing of the guard. I took a few pictures and did a little people watching before learning that it would have been a 45 minute wait for the big event. So, I kept walking.
I walked across the street from Buckingham Palace and entered a gorgeous park. All the flowers were in full blooms, including cherry blossoms on the trees and bright yellow daffodils on the grass. I saw a variety of birds enjoying the perfect spring weather too as I walked along the pond. I sat and rested for awhile giving my already sore feet a well-deserved break.
I happened to also walk by what I later learned was Trafalgar Square which houses the National Gallery. The relatively small square was very lively with people sitting along the fountain checking their phones or engaging in discussions. Others seemed to be taken in by the popularity and significance of the location and were taking pictures. I snapped a picture too.
After checking into my AirBnB in the heart of Soho (and buying an adapter because I had brought the wrong one), I set out to explore Chinatown, only steps away from my flat. I was happy it had been designated as a pedestrian zone so I wouldn’t have to always be on guard for accidentally stepping into oncoming traffic in my still tired state.
As with any Chinatown across the world, the entrances featured colorfully and ornately decorated gates. Plus, every street had beautiful orange lanterns casting decorative shadows on the cobblestone streets. Gerrard Street was filled with restaurants all offering authentic Chinese cuisine. I stopped in several to inquire about vegan options.
One the third try, I entered Plum Valley Restaurant and the manager pointed out two vegan dim sum options of which I ordered both as well as some other rice and noodle dishes without any animal products. (If you go there, be sure to say that you don’t want egg wash on the dim sum.)
Discovered a Gay District
A rather vibrant gay area was also within steps from my flat. While it was great to see all the Pride flags, sadly, all the clubs there were focused on gay men. There was only one lesbian location in the area, called She Soho and it has strict signage on the door stating that unaccompanied men were not welcome. She Soho, is a small venue located in the basement and has all kinds of compelling events from karaoke to drag king shows. This coveted women’s space is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, so I wasn’t able to check it out, but I am happy to know it’s there for next time.
Visited the British Museum
After a welcomed good night sleep, I made my way up to the British Museum, which houses an extensive collection of artifacts from every continent besides Antartica. Some of the most historically significant pieces include a moai statue from Rapa Nui (otherwise known as Easter Island), the Rosetta Stone, the Crouching Venus statue, a bust of Egypt’s Ramsesses the Great. In short, the British Museum is a history-enthusiast’s dream.
It was hard to miss Hoa Hakananai’a, the large moai statue from Rapa Nui, where I spent a week traveling around the island learning about these statues. This statue was made in Orongo around 1000-1200 AD.
Parts of the British Museum hit home for me. In particular, I was happy to see that there was section in the “Americas” section of the museum on the first floor, dedicated to the Seminole, an indigenous tribe in the area I live in Florida. A piece of art entitled “The Death of Trayvon Martin” by Catherine Anyango Grünewald affected me deeply. The graphic drawing depicts the crime scene following the shooting in 2012.
Some of the collection items in the British Museum were stolen from other lands, some were donated and some were purchased. I was rather impressed with the clear signage that stated how each collection of items were obtained, not hiding some heinous aspects of colonization and heinous acts included in British history. I think it’s important to own up to past mistakes; otherwise, it still condones such atrocities. I think the world governments could take a lesson from the curators of the British Museum.
If you visit the British Museum (and I very much think you should), be prepared for large school groups of children of all ages. Bathrooms are never that far away, be prepared for lots of steps and not to worry if your feet get tired, as there are plenty of wooden benches for a rest.
I left the museum satiated with newly-acquired knowledge and realized my stomach wanted was ready for something to eat. After a short internet search, I decided to check out Mildred’s Soho for lunch, which was on my way home. Having already perused the menu, I knew exactly what I wanted: the Buraki burger, a house beetroot and white bean patty, dill pickles, baby gem, red onion and fries.
Mildred’s was hopping with almost every table filled. I loved how a sky light allowed for bright light in this small vegan restaurant at 45 Lexington Street. My flavorful burger really hit the spot and the fries were perfectly prepared.
I had been looking forward to Tuesday evening with great anticipation. I managed to get a reservation at Gauthier, a vegan French fine-dining restaurant only a two minute walk from my flat. And as luck would have it, I dined on the first night of the serving of the Spring Menu. I felt like I was experiencing opening night.
Eating at Gauthier was nothing short of a three hour amazing gastronomical adventure. The presentation was on point and the flavors in all 10 courses were phenomenal. The menu also included some rare ingredients that I had never come across before, such as reindeer moss and Alexander stems. This experience also gave me a bit of an insight into French cuisine, with which I had been rather unfamiliar.
Spent a Day by the Thames
The next morning I set out on a walk down to the Thames river, only 15 minutes from the flat I had rented. My first stop along the way was Westminster Abbey, a quite impressive building. Big Ben was just around the corner and hard to miss. There were many protest signs near the Parliament buildings stating “Self-serving liars are destroying our nation”, “Never has so much been destroyed for so many by so few #Brexit” and “Corrupt Tory government. Liars, cheats and charlatans. Get them out now.”
I walked across Westminster Bridge to look out over the Thames and to get pictures of the iconic Parliament buildings on side I had just come from. It was a sunny day and a pleasant breeze ever so gently brushed my face. There were some memorials on the bridge for people who died during a terrorist attack on March 22, 2017 (it was the 23rd when I crossed the bridge).
On the other side I stepped down to the right into the passageway allowing people to cross the street without disturbing traffic above. This included a beautiful archway that I thought would nicely frame my pictures of Big Ben and the Parliament buildings.
After emerging from the passageway again, I noticed a long wall full of red and pink hearts with names, dates and/or messages written on them. It turns out it was the National Covid Memorial Wall. Seeing the hearts continue down the wall as far as the eye could see (I was told it takes 9 minutes to walk to the end), really put the heavy impact of the pandemic into perspective.
I also discovered that I had unknowingly taken pictures of the Parliament buildings on the day that the politicians (and the nation) were having a moment of silence for the Covid victims at noon. I joined a group of women who called out the names of those who were being added to the National Covid Memorial Wall. It was quite moving and I’m glad I participated.
Went to the Opera
My evening began with dinner at Sagar, an Indian restaurant specializing in South Indian cuisine. I decided to try Uthappam (described as a lentil pizza on the menu) for the first time. I really liked it and would happily order it again. It was here that I met a fellow female solo traveler. She was from Costa Rica and I enjoyed swapping stories of all that we had experienced in London.
I had some time before the opera started, so I bumbled around Covent Gardens a bit. It had a groovy hippy vibe with live performers, funky picnic tables and stands selling home-made wares.
And then, it was finally time! I had been looking forward to seeing Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes since booking the ticket well ahead of time. I consider it a special treat when visiting a particular opera house for the first time and I also feel super lucky to see an opera in the country in which it was written. In this case, I had double good fortune because I had never been to London’s famous Royal Opera House and I was seeing an opera written by an English composer.
The opera house was in itself a reason to visit. It encompassed a large space, yet felt quaint and small. Besides the hall, I really liked the hall of opera production posters dating back to 1946 that I passed on the sixth floor on my way to my seat.
The production of Peter Grimes was nothing short of amazing! It was well produced, well directed and well performed! The musicians were brilliant. After each act, but especially at the end, I joined the others in the audience in very enthusiastically cheering and clapping in appreciation of the incredible show. I had seen Peter Grimes three times: once at the Bastille Opera House in Paris, once at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City and the one at London’s Royal Opera House. The last performance was by far the best.
The next morning, I packed up my little backpack, checked out of the AirBnb and walked 30 minutes north to the Euston Railway Station. I traveled two hours north to Lichfield Trent Valley, ready to embark on my next venture.