Travel

London Sights 2

I had ambitious goals to visit every sight, and every museum. But London is big, and a week is a surprisingly short time. So, as the week was quickly zipping past, only one last sight was kept on the list. On my last full day in London, I woke up early and high-tailed it to the infamous Tower of London.

One of the things I love most about London is the perfect mixture of the old and the new. The Tower of London is a perfect example of that. With the first part of the structure built in 1078, it's remarkable that this compound still exists right in middle of modern London.

I arrived before any lines had formed, bought a ticket and a tour book and set off to venture the site on my own. One of the main attractions (and the main reason I wanted to visit the Tower) is the Crown Jewels. That was my first stop, no cameras allowed.

The Tower of London served as a castle, a keep, a prison, and a symbol of intimidation against the enemies of England. From the central White Tower, to the Bloody Tower which hosted prisoners, torture, and executions, I explored the rest of the grounds. Walking along the outer wall, I imagined myself with a bow and arrow shooting oncoming hoards as they tried to cross the large surround moat.

It was a perfect morning, and I was able to see everything quickly without the mid-day tourist crowds gumming up the works. I'd like to go back and take a full tour with one of the Tower's iconic Yeoman, maybe on my next visit to London.  I made sure to stop by the neighboring (and probably most iconic of iconic London sites) the Tower Bridge, often mistaken for the "London Bridge."

From there it was time for another photo shoot, so I zipped back to my hotel. And for my last night in London, I joined my new group of friends for drinks and a night out bar-hopping in Soho.

London Sights 1

After the work was all done and out of the way, it was time to see some more of the sights of London... and I had quite the list I wanted to tackle. It was time to board a bus and be on my way to Trafalgar Square.

Trafalgar Square is a large open space in the center of London situated right in front of the National Gallery. With large fountains, sculptures and four large recognizable lion statues, the square is a well known tourist attraction. One of the large plinths hosts modern art that changes periodically and currently is home to a giant blue rooster.

Next I was off to Hamley's Toy Store, an iconic five floors stuffed with every toy imaginable. The store has been a part of London history since William Hamley opened his first store in 1760. The current store is enormous, and the perfect place to buy a special little something for one's nieces and nephews should you have them.

More busses, and much more walking found me in front of the London home of the royal family, Buckingham Palace. The palace was beautiful, guarded by large gilded rod-iron gates. With the cold weather, however, I was disappointed to see the royal guard's iconic red uniform covered by a drab gray coat.

There was time for one last sight before my evening plans. And I had my priority in mind... Platform 9 and 3/4 at King's Cross Station. To be honest, it's a photo spot with a trolly permanently attached to a random brick wall near platforms 9 and 10 with a theme park style line and photographer ready to sell you a photo print of your magical entrance into the Harry Potter world. But it was a fun must see for a Potter fan like myself. And the small old-world Potter style shop tucked in the corner was nice to visit as well. I made sure to pick up a couple exclusive items that can only be purchased there at Platform 9 3/4, passed on my professional photo print, but made sure to get a couple nice snaps on my phone.

From there it was back to my hotel to shower and head out for an evening with my new London boys. With soar feet and aching legs, dinner and a pint of cider in the local gay-pub was a pleasant end to the evening.

Night Out in London

After wrapping our shoot yesterday, I headed back to my hotel. Everyone was exhausted, but I wasn't ready to give up or throw in the towel for the day. My second wind hit and it was time to explore. I did a little research and set my sights on dinner at a place called the Flat Iron.

Call it intuition or call it luck... but this was an amazing choice. Not only was it located in an extremely cool area of Soho London, with alley ways and narrow streets that conjure up visions of Harry Potter's Diagon Alley, but the food was incredible!

The menu is simple. Do you want a flat iron steak, or do you want a flat iron steak? You get a choice of sides and sauces, but the menu is kept simple and I love that. Seating is family style, and the space is cramped, although delightful in it's rustic decorations.

I was sat with a group of friends who had already begun their meal. A distractingly cute server sat down next to me to deliver a tin cup of delicious popcorn and discuss my choices. I placed my order and the food was at my table in record time. And did I mention it was incredible? 

I filled myself up on flat iron steak, fries, kale salad, more tasty popcorn and enjoyed a cider.  The theme of the restaurant was so focused without being overdone. Even the knife was a miniature meat cleaver. Overall, a VERY well done experience. I hope to get back there again someday.

After dinner, I spent some time bar hopping in the gayborhood of Soho, where most of the gay bars are located in London. There are no pictures of this part of my evening, sorry.

I've been very proud to have ONLY traveled by public transit during my whole trip so far...and around 1 in the morning, I boarded one of the iconic double-decker red busses and headed back to my hotel, a belly full of happy food, happy drink, and a happy evening out exploring on my own.

Fish and Chips

Day two in London got off to a slow start, and stayed pretty low key throughout. To kick off the day, I found a local coffee shop, ordered my standard international coffee choice, a flat white, and caught up on some emails.

For lunch, I was determined, no matter how stereotypical it sounded, to have some Fish & Chips at a local pub. This was surprisingly hard to accomplish. Not because a pub that serves the dish was hard to find, quite the opposite. Searching online, I found so many options I was completely overwhelmed with choice.

Do I visit the Rose & Crown, The Two Chairmen, the Lamb & Flag? Ultimately I took a stab in the dark and found myself at the Two Chairmen.

With a stomach full of delicious Strawberry Lime Cider (my new favorite), fried fish and french fries, it was time to meet my local friend Luka. We had planned to go and visit the studio for our photo shoot and get a good look at it to help us prepare. We met up at Piccadilly again (it's a good central location) and this time I made sure to snap some pictures.

Afterwards, Luka took us to a great area of London that I never would have known about called Camden Town. Unfortunately we got there a little late and most of the shops and the large market he wanted me to see were closed for the day. It's on my list to revisit later this week. We did, however, get to eat at his favorite vegan restaurant in London...and it was actually quite good.

And that's all!  Not too exciting, but I've still got lots of time here in the Queen's Country.

London Day 1 - Part Two

The day is saved. The trip is saved... And London is bloody Brilliant!

I got to my hotel, settled in, took a much needed shower (even the most perfect among us can start to emit unfriendly odors after 24 straight hours of traveling) and took a moment to regroup. Within a couple short hours, my client had secured a new model (much hotter than our previous "celebrity" if I may say so) and the shoot was back on the schedule. I felt the huge weight on my chest become just a little lighter.

With things starting to work themselves out, I knew it was time to get out of the room before the early sunset and see some of the sights near my hotel. It just so happens that those sights are some of the most iconic in London.

A short five minute walk and I was face to face with Big Ben himself. Westminster is a gorgeous area, and Westminster Abbey is stunningly massive and beautiful. And then there was the Westminster bridge, the London Eye, and County Hall. I didn't ride the Eye this time, that will be later this week.

It may have been cold and cloudy, but the weather made for some stunning snapshots of the sites.  And of course, I had to stop and get my obligatory foreign-country-Big-Mac, which I have lovingly nicknamed the Big Ben Mac this time around.

After my mini-tour of the nearest attractions, and as it was starting to get dark, it was time to meet up with the videographer for this weeks shoot, Luka. We have been in touch for weeks now in the planning process of my visit, and it was great to put a face to a name... (and a very nice face indeed). He has been exceptionally friendly and helpful in all of my planning and is gracious enough to be my tour guide here in London.

We met in Piccadilly Circus in London's West End. The Circus, or "circle", could be compared to New York City's Time Square, with shops, flashing billboards, crowds of people, and all of the theaters. But we were quickly off to SoHo, London's gay district, for a coffee. I'm sure I'll have to make it back for a better exploration of Piccadilly before my trip's end, particularly since I didn't get any pictures.

Luka and I enjoyed a little caffeine, followed by a little alcohol, and lots of creative brainstorming for the shoot later this week. He's a talented videographer and I'm excited to work with him. I'm looking forward to what we can create together. But we decided to call it an early night since we have a lot more work and sight-seeing ahead of us.

And while I am writing this at one o'clock in the morning, and am feeling pretty wide awake, I am going to force myself to get some sleep. So, I'll say goodnight from a rescued day one here in London.

London Day 1 - Rough Start

Extreme blizzard conditions, mind-numbingly long delays, and a complete disaster of epic proportions. Let's be clear that I am not using hyperbole here to describe my last 24 hours of travel.

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. 

We've all heard the line, but so clear was it's application in my life during this last day that I feel lower than even the lowest of mice right now. The goal was simple, fly to London for a photo shoot with a sexy male "celebrity." But that's where it all fell apart.

When the "celebrity" for which you are flying halfway across the world to shoot backs out on you and you're sitting on a plane that's about to cross an ocean but that can't back away from the terminal gate because the tug that's pushing it can't get traction on the icy surface of the tarmac... you start to wonder. You wonder as the tug pushes and pushes and the giant plane rocks back and forth and doesn't budge. You wonder and imagine the little engine that could, spinning its wheels on the slick glassy ground.

I think I can, I think I can.  You tell yourself.

But then you remember that you don't have a model to shoot. You remember that you have an extremely angry client that blames you for the debacle. You remember that you're about to spend the next seven hours completely cut off from the world with no way to solve any of your problems and that even when you land it will be so early that nothing can be done for hours after.

And so, you put your phone into airplane mode, turn on some Stephen Sondheim and make the most of the stale overcooked meal that spent too long in the warming drawer during the hours of tugging and pushing and scraping and sand-dumping that had to take place before the plane could finally leave the gate (not to mention the additional tug with snow-chained wheels that was brought over built for a plane twice the size).

So, here I am. In merry ol' London. I made it! And that's the happiest part of the story. I've got a basket full of questions and no answers. But I'm here and I think I can still salvage something from this trip, or at least...

I think I can, I think I can.