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My friend had a 20 hour layover in London. It was her first visit but, since her flight came in too late in the afternoon for us to actually go into any of the “must visit” venues, we did a whirlwind overview. After meeting her at Heathrow, we caught the Express train (15 minutes) to Paddington station. Having stored her larger suitcase, she was traveling very light so we caught the Bakerloo tube back to the flat to pick up John. Instead of doing the more expensive “Hop on, Hop off” tour bus (which is great if you have plenty of time), we took the public bus instead.

Double Decker Bus 453

Double Decker Bus 453

For a first time visitor, a double-decker bus ride is a quintessential London experience and we scored the front row seats on the upper deck ~ great view. I chose the 453 because it started for us near Regents Park, heads over to Great Portland Street, ambles down Regents Street through Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus, by Trafalgar Square, down Whitehall to Westminster where we hopped off.

Despite the freezing cold, there were a lot of other hardy souls out and about with us. We walked by Big Ben, Houses of Parliament (aka The Palace of Westminster) ,Westminster Abbey & the Cathedral. While we were walking around the crypt area, we could hear organ music ~ it certainly added a creepy touch (in a good way) to the dark and cold evening.

Big Ben

Big Ben

Westminster Crypt

Westminster Crypt courtyard

Westminster Crypt

We then caught the Jubilee tube to London Bridge so Rachel could have a view of Tower Bridge. We walked around Borough Market, even though the stalls were closed. We pointed out some of the Harry Potter film locations. We were looking for a traditional English pub to have dinner but then we walked by Roast restaurant.

Several people have mentioned to me that Roast is one of their favorite restaurants in London so we decided to give it a try. Surprisingly, even though it was a busy Saturday night, we were able to walk right in and even got a window seat overlooking the market and a view of St Paul’s Cathedral. I’m glad I didn’t read the “Rough Guide London” synopsis of the restaurant prior to going. They describe it as “a place for those seeking truly British meat dishes.” As a vegetarian, that would have given me pause and I might not have gone in. From the moment we entered, I felt very welcomed. Our adorable server was very friendly, professional and took great care of us. She had the cutest accent which none of us could figure out (it sounded a bit French to me). Curiosity got the better of us and we asked her from where she hailed. Being a good sport, she made us guess. She knew we’d never get it because she’s from Lithuania but she learned English in the US and in Quebec Canada (thus the French influence).

I had to ask for the special vegetarian menu since they don’t want those veggie dishes cluttering up their meaty menu. My meal of Butternut Squash Soup with Herefordshire goat curd and Beet Root & Blood Orange salad was nice but I could tell John and Rachel were a little more impressed with their meals of Dorset Rock Oysters, Beef Wellington and Beer-battered Cornish Whiting and chips.

Fish and Chips at Roast

Fish and Chips at Roast

The wine list is very extensive, and even included US wines which is uncommon, but I opted for a favorite of mine: Pinot Gris from Argentina. The dessert menu (puddings) looked fabulous but none of us had any room left. Rachel was a bit perplexed with the “Pudding Wines” until I explained that didn’t mean American puddings. In the UK, pudding=dessert.

I definitely recommend Roast for anyone wanting a special occasion. It’s on the more expensive side but worth it for a special night out. I’m planning a trip back for their Brunch ~ maybe in the spring.

Because her visit coincided with a rare snow storm in London, I was secretly hoping the snowy weather might delay her departure for a few hours today so we could show her a little more of the city. But her flight was one of the lucky ones (and one of the few) who made it out of Heathrow today.

It was wonderful to see Rachel and it was refreshing to experience London with someone seeing it for the very first time. Much fun!

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International Dinners

John is attending a year-long course here in London. Roughly half of the class are international students, the other half are British and there’s only one other American.  It makes for very interesting conversations when we get together as a group ~ not always pleasant, but always engaging.

We know this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to get to know people from all around the world.  We meant to start hosting dinners much sooner, but here we are four months into our stay in London, and we finally invited our first guests from amongst John’s fellow students ~ the Israeli family.

We served typical American fare including chocolate brownies for dessert (big hit with the girls). We did throw in a British tradition which is the famous Christmas Crackers ~ they pop when you pull them open and there is little prize inside as well as a paper crown.  My prize was a mini mirror.  As we travel, I love to add new traditions to our celebrations and the Christmas Cracker is definitely a keeper.

Christmas Cracker

Christmas Cracker

 

At the end of the meal, we pulled out a game and Logan chose to torture teach them how to play “Apples to Apples” ~ it’s a fun game of word comparisons. Good way to build vocabulary. Turns out, they had so much fun with the game, the girls have asked their parents to buy the game so they can play at home.

Apples to Apples

As I expected, the conversation was fascinating and I learned many new things about living in Israel.  I already knew about the compulsory military service at age 18 for both men (they serve 3 years) and women (2 years) but it was different hearing about it as I looked around the table at their four daughters and I thought about each one of them in the military.  It also got me thinking about our all-volunteer military (which is less than 1% of the US population) ~ how so few do so much for so many.

Darn if they didn’t make me feel like a homebody!  As much as I’ve traveled the world, they’ve traveled so much more than either John or I.  Backpacking in Chile? Carnival in Rio? Hmmm…I’ve got a long way to go to catch up with their adventures.  It was fascinating to hear about it though and I’ve added several places to my travel wish list.  Including Israel!

As they were leaving, John’s colleague told us this was the first time he saw a Christmas tree in someone’s home.  That warmed my heart as I love the idea that we were able to impart a new experience on someone who has been around the world is a great feeling.

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