London Trip! | Rachel Vanoven Blog

London Trip!

FINALLY sitting down to start to blog our Europe trip last May that was the adventure surrounding the London newborn workshop that I taught! I’m breaking it up into a few different posts, and this is the London one 🙂 With Karis and all of our shenanigans that I can remember/took pictures of with either my iPhone or real camera 🙂

First tip right off the bat:

Get an Oyster card if you’re ever in London. The Underground/Tube is crazy easy to navigate and there are stops EVERYWHERE. Once we figured out which trains to hop on to get where, we felt like locals…kinda 😉

But lets back up a little bit. A good place to start would be the Indianapolis airport. We needed to show our passports before boarding and the attendant quickly told us we needed to sign them and slid them across the counter. Not thinking, I grabbed the top one, and started to sign. “Ma’am, I’m not sure that’s your passport.”

Whoops.

So Karis had to sign over my “Rachel” and not only did it let us seriously entertain thoughts of “ZOMG Karis is going to get deported in London” but it also looked like she had a seizure while writing her own name and made us laugh every 5 minutes uncontrollably. Our flight to Detroit was uneventful (save for the über creepy rainbow tunnel/acid trip) and we boarded our Air France plane. The flight was long and freezing. And my pregnant sister needed water and they told her that she had to wait until they served dinner (at 11pm) or she could drink the water from the bathroom. Chyeah. Not sure that’s potable there, buddy. Needless to say, I didn’t realize that Air France was owned by Delta or else I never would have booked it. End “I hate Delta rant”.

Landing in London was overwhelming at first, but this amazing angel of a man outside the airport and next to the Oyster Card station appeared out of nowhere and bought our tickets to last us a week for us and handed us a map. The workshops were held at a studio in Canary Wharf, which is the industrial/business district of London. Not the quaintest section, but it also wasn’t seedy and was just business-y. It’s where their stock market hub is!

We were sleep deprived and hungry, dropped our bags off at the hotel (Hotel Britannia Canary Wharf) and stumbled into a restaurant. We were promptly lied to by the waitress about tipping (it’s added in to the check, and she told us that most people tip 20% on top of it—they don’t) but enjoyed some really yummy food and I sipped some really yummy wine. But we had *a lot* to do. The first workshop was the next morning and we still had to get our bearings and then meet the workshop attendees for dinner.

I had planned on just buying a SIM card for my iPhone when I was there so I could hop on a local carrier, but my phone went crazy when we tried, so we just picked up a £35 throw away phone and that’s how I stayed in contact with local British folk while we were there!

Dinner went *perfectly*! We ate all of the pre-workshop meals at The Narrow, it’s owned by Gordon Ramsay and was one of my favorite things about London. The food was crazy good and the people who work there are even better. It was sunny and in the 70’s and just what we needed after a long day of traveling! We stayed way too long, laughed too loud, but it was again, perfect 🙂

After dinner, Karis and I did some exploring and decided to get off at the Westminster station. We came up and were all “Where’s Big Ben?” and whirled around and it was. right. there. Karis and I certainly didn’t start crying like idiots. That’d be lame. We heard of other people visiting London and seeing Ben in the distance and approaching it by walking and were “meh” about it. It was amazing looking up and being shocked by how massive it was. Do it at night, the lights make everything even more magical. And if you’re a Harry Potter fan, seeing Parliament at night all lit up was just like when they flew past on their brooms in Order of the Phoenix 🙂

Walk toward Trafalgar Square (away from the Thames). We made the mistake of crossing the Thames and getting into the business district (boring) and ended up with crappy food and crappy service. If you walk away from the Thames into the old downtown there are TONS of British pubs to choose from…super Englandy if that’s what you’re looking for! After that, we headed back to our room for some sleep! I packed NyQuil to help me sleep,and it worked great!

And in other, non-UK-news. Nicholas lost a tooth that day!

First thing the next morning, at Monika Studios, I opened my iLugger to find the screen was completely shattered. The flight from Indianapolis to Detroit was a hopper flight, and I wasn’t able to carry it on. You were able to see where the good people at Delta threw it into storage, as there was red transfer from someone else’s luggage on mine and the seams were busted. So when I pulled it out, microscopic shards went into all my fingers. Awesome.

Teaching an overseas workshop is very, very stressful.

I can’t talk enough about how great each and every workshop group was. We had a two day workshop, a one day workshop, and a 2:1 day of mentoring. Each class brought a new set of people from all over Europe and it was this gorgeous mess of cultures with the same passion in newborn photography. The studio we rented was owned by a single guy who’s more of a fashion photographer and he kept saying how magical these newborns were. It was really awesome to see what we do from his perspective and made me feel so lucky once again to be there and teaching what I love.

Key to long distance relationships: Frequent pictures. Nick shared his new haircut, Karis and I shared how we’re jet lagged weirdos.

After three days of teaching, we were ready to get out there in London! The workshops were so much fun, but it was mild torture to be in London for the first time and not be able to SEE it…so we were FREEEEEEE (like Kevin Mcalester in Home Alone) and the next two days were going to be FULL of touristy things! Finally!

Now I get to be Tour Guide Rachel….

We had two days to sightsee, Saturday and Sunday, neither of which we ever found the crowds to be insane!

Saturday morning we got up super early and went straight to the London Tower when it opened. We did an audio guide tour and it was seriously awesome. Kace and I were able to take our time and walk around and were total dorks and pressed “play” at the exact same moment each time so we could hear the same narration at the same moment 🙂 Get in line early for the Crown Jewels, it got long quick! Do that first if you want to see them…totally awesome and full of really knowledgeable people working!

Any Diana Gabaldon/Outlander fans?? This was THEE chopping block/axe used in the beheading of the Old Fox, Simon Fraser, 12th Baron Lovat…the last public beheading on Tower Hill.

We grabbed fish and chips for lunch around one after we were done at the Tower of London, along with some sweet boiled peanuts (share a cup! They fill you up!) Then hopped on a red line bus and headed for Shakespeare’s Globe Theater where we paid £4 for tickets to see “As You Like It’ in Georgian! Totally cool, no pictures allowed during the shows, but during the intermission we took plenty and then left (I could only take so much Georgian–the acting was fabulous though!) We walked past the Tate Modern which was cool to see.

Next we caught a Tube to Covent Garden…which was a really awesome area where they close down the streets to cars and there are shops and street performers and really great food! We grabbed some pie, cream and wine and just sat and people watched for a little bit, did some shopping, took pictures, listened to some really talented violinists and opera singers!

Next was another Tube to Trafalgar Square, which had a big basketball thingy going on, which sucked since all the gorgeous fountains and sculptures were covered with orange plastic fences and chain link. Blah. Decided to come back Sunday. We were told that Trafalgar Square has a lot of events like that, so your best chance of catching it “au naturelle” would be to go on a weekday!

Karis messed with a guard at the stables behind his back…

We walked from T.S. back to Big Ben, to see him in all his glory during the day, chatted with an old street artist, and made our way to Westminster and it was CLOSED!!!! NOOOOO! We were so sad, because we both were really jazzed about it after seeing the Crown Jewels and watching videos of the queen’s coronation. SO BUMMED. We decided to attend Eucharist there the next morning at 11:15.

The next morning was mother’s day, and I’m an early riser, so I walked to a corner store down the road from our hotel and got flowers/a card and grabbed some of the hotel’s free breakfast for Karis in bed 🙂 Gotta spoil the pregnant one 😉

Then it was a Tube to Westminster, where a guard was fending off tourists trying to sneak inside by warning them it was an hour and a half long and they COULD NOT LEAVE.

Sounded perfect to Karis and I, so we went in. It was amazing. There were no cameras allowed, which was totally cool since pictures couldn’t capture the emotion that the two of us felt. The priest and other clergy members were so warm and inviting, the message was a.m.a.z.i.n.g. and as I was taking communion, I was overcome with it all and may have cried some. It was surreal. We may have missed out on a tour of the building, but we walked away with so much more! Little did I know that Westminster was just the first stop on my tour of some of the world’s most phenomenal churches.

After Westminster  we grabbed sandwiches at Pret A Manger we headed to Buckingham Palace…which was probably the most crowded place we’d been to, and probably my least favorite. It was nice, just very bare? My favorite part was the flowers, as the tulips were in bloom! We then walked through the gardeny/green/tree area (St. James Palace or something like that) towards Green Park, where people were just sitting in the sun enjoying the day…if we had more time, we would have joined them!

There’s a tube station there and we took it to Notting Hill, which was just gorgeous! It was started to drizzle so we grabbed cups of mulled cinnamon wine from a street vendor…I repeat, delicious mulled wine from a STREET VENDOR. C’mon, America…please try to be this awesome. I digress. And just had fun walking up and down the rows of vendors buying souvenirs. We both got nutella strawberry crepes from a crepe stand, and it was hands down the best and only really good crepe I had all this trip. SO GOOD.

Then it was another Tube ride back to Canary Wharf for dinner at  The Narrow one last time. The manager, Mario who runs it was a friend by this time and was quick to make sure everything was perfect for the groups that I brought for the workshops!

And then, it was suddenly over. 🙁

Our last night in London, Karis and I headed straight to the London Eye, Monday night was a perfect, non-busy night to do it, and we got lucky with a full blown sunset (no rain and only a few clouds!) It was gorgeous and I’m glad we did it last since we were excitedly pointing out all of our favorite spots and was the perfect way to say “Cheers” to one of my favorite cities in the entire world.

We headed off for Trafalgar Square one more time hoping the basketball set up had been taken down and were rewarded with a nearly empty square at twilight. We sat on the steps of the National Portrait Gallery and goofed off, neither of us wanting the evening to end, for the trip to be over. One of my favorite moments of the entire 16 days I was gone was those 20 minutes we spent soaking it all in. Big Ben glowing in the distance, bonging away on the quarter hour, the locals, the tourists, the guitar player singing James Blunt songs behind us, the Trafalgar Lions. Everything.

It had to end, though, like all good stories, and even thought it was late and we still had to pack, we weren’t quite ready, and stopped in the first proper British pub we saw on the way back to the tube. Karis had one last fish and chips and I had some rosé while I practiced my french and chatted up the French couple sitting next to us! I just wanted to stop time, I was anxious to see Nick the next day, yes. But there was this lump in my throat that wouldn’t go away. The week with Karis in London was magical, and I’m so so so blessed to have her in my life and this opportunity to go to England and experience everything we did.

After she left the next morning, and I was waiting for Nick at the airport. I may have ordered breakfast and cried sad and happy tears about it being over.

Loved you, London. We’ll be back <3

  1. Laura says:

    Loved reading this blog. It reminded me why I love London and why I have lived here for 11 years after moving here from the Fort… That would be Fort Wayne, IN. Sometimes I get a bit blaise about it, especially when I get a spout of homesickness. Anyway, so glad to hear you love the place I call my “second home”.

  2. Kelley says:

    Thanks for sharing, it’s nice to see London through a tourists eyes, it makes me appreciate it even more x

  3. Cathy says:

    What a beautiful trip! So happy for you that you got to experience something so wonderful. Makes me want to go to London! As for Westminster, I’m Catholic and I’m surprised that they said all can receive communion, but that’s really nice of them! I suppose they get a lot of visitors and want everyone to feel included 🙂 It’s such a gorgeous church. P.S. Congrats on your sister and her husband expecting a little girl…I for one loved the glitter/cupcakes!

  4. Katie says:

    Westminster Abbey is part of the Church of England (aka Anglican or Episcopalian Church in the US). Catholic churches would never encourage non-Catholics to take communion, whereas Anglican churches have no qualms about it.

  5. christie says:

    To clarify….Westminster Abbey is not a Catholic church. It is Anglican which was part of the Reform of the Catholic church. “Westminster CATHEDRAL” (about 400 yds west of the abbey) IS a Roman Catholic cathedral. This explains why the bulletin said all were welcome to receive communion. If you were at the RC Cathedral the bulletin would NOT have said that as we are the only church who believes in transubstantiation. Many churches have ‘communion services’, but the Catholic church has the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist (transubstantiation). I’m Catholic so I thought I’d just clarify–but I’m not up in arms! 🙂 Anyway, I’m loving this blog!!

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