Strongest memory: Before we had even arrived in London, our host-to-be, George, had invited us to an event called Sofar Sounds. We like to say yes to most things, but a few months of travelling with each other left us very keen for wider social interactions. We said yes, without hesitation. For $20, a ticket gives you entry to a surprise location around the city, whereby 3 local / up and coming artists perform. It’s also BYO, so it can make for a really fun night. En route George learned that tonight’s gig was not BYO, the reason being that it was held at the Budweiser HQ! A million floors up, we had an exceptional view of London’s skyline, as well as an open bar with espresso martinis on tap. The whole night was spectacular, we met some really cool people, listened to some awesome music and were treated to some stunning views.
Memorable meal: It’s hard to go past the Duck and Waffle. Famously perched high in the sky, I had heard of the Duck and Waffle primarily through social media and everyone ticking it off during their visits to London. Andy and I thought it would be a fun excursion for our last afternoon with George, as a way to say thank you for housing us for the past week. It was pretty glamourous and the house specialty (duck and waffle) was divine – I didn’t want it to end. We also enjoyed some ritzy cocktails too… well, most of us did – Andy treated himself to an expenny glass of wine!
Best activity: The West End! (My loose interpretation of the word ‘place’ for the next question gave me an easy answer to this question, otherwise it would have been so hard to choose between musicals and my answer to the next question.) It took me a while to learn that I should always remember how elated I feel every time I watch a musical, and that I should never say no to any opportunity to go. I have never once regretted it. In London 2019, I was fortunate to see two musicals on the West End: the Lion King and Hamilton. I know Andy will expect a comparison (and possibly even an ultimate pick) but they were so different in so many ways and I loved them both. I had such high expectations for Lion King: I knew so much about it and it was as good as I imagined in every way possible. Hamilton, on the other hand, I knew nothing about and I was so pleasantly surprised in every way imaginable. I would love to see both of them again: Lion King to continue marvelling at the set, the costumes, the acting; but with Hamilton, I’m sure I’d pick up on so much more the second time around.
Favourite place: Hogwarts! Does this count as a place? I hope so. I plan to use it anyway. The three of us headed to Watford for a day of snitches, butter beer and goblins as we embarked on a trip to the Harry Potter studios, something I had wanted to do for years. All day I had that feeling comparable to being at a theme park: imagining the impossible, essentially walking on air. I wasn’t even offended by the extortionate prices being charged for butter beer, I was already sold! I was amazed at how small the filming location actually was, in particular the Gryffindor common room will always stand out to me. The magic of the movies eh? Some of the fairy tale may have been broken that day, however it was an incredible experience and everything I learnt about the so-called magic of the movies is something I will cherish forever.
Unforgettable sight: It’s not even specific to London, but an unforgettable sight was witnessing Andy entirely losing his cool when we saw Jon Snow crossing an intersection. Andy is virtually unflappable, and in some situations, entirely impossible to detect how he is really feeling. Not on this occasion though. As we crossed the road towards Jon Snow, his voice got louder and louder as he repeated Jon’s name again and again (apparently for my benefit, but I’m not sure) and then after he’d passed it took a good 10 minutes before his heart rate returned to normal.
Strongest memory: Bright blue skies and stinking hot sunshine. No, really. From the moment I first looked out the plane window at Dover’s white cliffs and the countryside beyond, England was drenched in mid-August sun that didn’t stop for the entire six days that we were there. Far from the dreary and dismal for which London is known, my experience of St Paul’s cathedral was as a cool refuge from the 30 degree heat outside. Camden market was a seething mass of sweaty punters looking for shade. Even the Thames was looking every day more and more inviting for a quick dip – actually I won’t go that far.
Memorable meal: If you’ve ever had the pleasure of having me explain to you my stance on cocktails, you’ll know that I simply do not abide their overpriced whimsy. And on our final day in London, I learnt the unforgettable lesson to never depart from your principles if it can be helped. The setting: the famous Duck & Waffle – a London establishment – set high in one of London’s central skyscrapers and offering a great selection of (a) fried duck waffles, and (b), you guessed it… cocktails. The meal was excellent – perfect duck on a sweet and soft waffle. But when the time came for me to order the beverage that I would be pairing with said duck, I was led badly astray by my companions. “You’re only going to be here once” they said; “if you only order one cocktail for the rest of your life, it may as well be here” they said. So against my better judgment, I ordered a 15 pound cocktail that, according to its almost non-existent description, was a blend of some flavours I like. Now bear in mind that with the then-current exchange rate, this was about NZD$29 worth of beverage that I had ordered. So let me ask: how would you feel if, five minutes after parting with $29 for the promise of a world class cocktail, the waiter set down in front of you a plain, half-filled flute containing about 50 mls of rose-tinted champagne. How would you then feel if the waiter comes back two minutes later, and brings for your two companions a pair of splendid looking cocktails, each at least 300mls, and each with all the trappings and garnish and colour and pomp and ceremony that you’d expect after forking over a small house deposit? I’ll tell you how I felt – I finished my cocktail in about three mouthfuls, and the rest of my waffle had a decidedly sour flavour.
Best activity: I’m never really sure whether Broadway in New York or London’s West End is more esteemed when it comes to musical theatre, but I walked away from the West End’s production of Hamilton feeling like it would be very difficult for any subsequent show to top it. I’d wanted to see Hamilton for years, and we were very lucky that our host for the week, George, was thinking along the same lines and got us some tickets (they were still pretty hot in demand at the time we went). I’m quite sure that Nicole’s top activity pick is also going to be a West End musical, although I’m intrigued to see whether she gives the nod to Hamilton (which we both saw together), or to the Lion King, which she went to with a friend the night before.
Favourite place: On our final afternoon, after I’d safely recovered from the Duck and Waffle incident, we spent a really nice afternoon in the suburb of Shoreditch – basically just having a look around the high street, doing the classic London activity of having a sunny picnic with some drinks, and then going out for a nice Vietnamese meal with George and Siobhan, who was in town for the day before catching her flight back to Vancouver. Shoreditch was just a nice spot for no conspicuous reason – although if I had to narrow it down I would credit the perfect distance from town, the apparent quality of the shops, pubs and restaurants, and the fact that I found a can of V at one of their corner stores as the reasons why I would like to live there if I ever found myself in London.
Unforgettable sight: On our very first day in London, and not too far removed from peak Game of Thrones popularity, we got to play an unexpected round of a game that London is rather suited to: spotting celebrities. We were in the vicinity of Marble Arch, trying to make our way into Hyde Park, when we stopped at a pedestrian crossing. Resting on his bike about ten feet away, separated only by a single carriageway, was Kit Harington – better known to most as Jon Snow. I wasn’t particularly cool about it, but that was in large part due to my selfless act of trying to make sure that the oblivious Nicole didn’t miss out on such a big fish. As we passed Kit by on the crossing, virtually shoulder to shoulder, I was still nudging Nicole with increasing urgency and repeating “Jonsnowjonsnowjonsnow” with rising volume. He certainly noticed. But no matter. Nicole “I don’t watch the shows I only read the books” Mudgway was no help with the verification of this commendable sighting, but thankfully Summer was there to authenticate.