Kookaburra Travels to London
Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree, counting all the gumdrops he can see.
Stop Kookaburra. Stop Kookaburra.
Leave some there for me.
You are probably wondering why I chose an Australian nursery rhyme to kick-start this London blog. It seems silly, but I am traveling with my dearest friend that I have known since we were 5. So naturally, I have regressed to a childlike state determined to have him singing this tune by the end of our 10-day London/Italy trip. Silliness aside, this was one of my highly anticipated trips since attending an international sporting event (especially one as popular as the Rugby World Cup) tops my travel bucket list. When my friend told me he scored England vs. Fiji opening game tickets, I jumped at the opportunity and immediately booked my flight to London.
I'll let you in on a little secret. I've never seen a rugby match and knew nothing about this somewhat violent sport. However, my neighbors can attest that I often scream enthusiastically at my television while watching American football, so I'm no stranger to full-contact sports and die-hard fans. Despite my lack of rugby know-how, I was extremely entertained before, during, and after this monumental sporting event and will cherish this thrilling experience.
Pre-Match Festivities at Twickenham Stadium
How do you entertain a crowd of over 90,000 screaming fans? Have them sing Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" (circa 1969) repeatedly until they are fully pumped up. I certainly was. You can feel the energy and excitement just by watching this short clip. And yes, we had amazing seats!
Underground Railroad and Rugby?
My friend Hardip and I were extremely perplexed when the crowd kept chanting: "Swing low, sweet chariot...Coming for to carry me home" throughout the entire game. This song is typically known to US residents and American history buffs as an anthem for the Underground Railroad movement. So you can only imagine our confusion when we discovered that the England Rugby team adopted this as their ongoing mantra as well.
Who knew? Did the choir boys who popularized this sports chant research its historical significance before it became the official British rugby mantra? I doubt it, but it definitely caught on decades ago and will likely remain an indelible part of British rugby culture. While I won't delve further into this topic, this recent article from The Independent provides some perspective. Click here for details.
There was plenty of fanfare including marching bands, pyrotechnics, and crowd participation (e.g. loud chanting and singing) as a member from each participating country was announced. Prior to the opening kick, Prince Harry spoke as the stadium camera zoomed in on the Duke and Dutchess of Cambridge. Lovely seeing you both, William and Kate!
The best part about this outing? British hospitality and sportsmanship. My friend is a die-hard Fiji Rugby fan and was clearly in the minority throughout the entire stadium. While I expected occasional jeering from England sports fanatics, Hardip was actually welcomed by many. Several England supporters actually wished him good luck and shook his hand as he walked by. I salute them for being incredible 2015 World Rugby Cup hosts.
Fiji lost the match, but what an experience. Look how happy we are!
Since I've visited London several times already (for work and for play), we only allocated less than 2 days to spend in town. Unfortunately, you won't find typical London tourist sites in this blog post with the exception of Harrods and Covent Garden. How could I resist walking into glamorous Harrods and not taking a photo with this British cutie?
The following balloon installation at the highly popular Covent Garden was one of my trip standouts. I managed to take several shots of the incredibly artistry while sipping a cocktail at Punch & Judy - a highly popular restaurant/pub in London. Hardip mentioned that this was the very spot where he sipped his first drink - many years ago. How cool is that?
Before the Rugby World Cup, we visited a few notable places including South Hall (40-minute Uber ride from central London). South Hall is home to many Indian food (a London staple) restaurants and textile shops. Hardip's mom specifically asked that he bring back several potential outfits for an upcoming wedding. Post trip side note: Hardip's mom credited me with identifying 3 gorgeous garments, but it was actually Hardip that selected these stunning fabrics. That's what happens when you've known someone (and his mom) for several decades.
This wouldn't be an official Eat, Drink, and Be Myra blog without the eating and imbibing section. If you're visiting Picadilly Circus, simply walk a short distance to several notable gourmet spots including Ice Bar Restaurant and Heddon Street Kitchen.
Ice Bar Restaurant - Brrrrrrlicious!
I once saw a televison episode that featured an Iceland-based pub, where guests sported fur-lined ponchos while sipping cocktails from a massive ice sculpture. After watching that show, Iceland landed on my travel radar. While it's still on my destination wishlist, I was able to fast track the ice bar experience when I heard about London's Ice Bar Restaurant. There are 2 parts: 3-course dining then post-dinner drinks inside a sub-zero degree freezer.
Once you're done with your meal, the hostess will escort you from your dinner table to the Ice Bar queue just behind the reception stand. Here you'll receive a hooded jacket with gloves since you'll be holding a glass made of ice during the entire 30 minutes you're alloted inside.
Loved the chilly experience, but I wonder how the bartenders managed to work inside for extended periods of time. And these girls queued up for drinks below aren't wearing their hoods? I'm apparently a cold weather wimp and the quitesential warmth-loving California girl.
Down the street from the Ice Bar Restaurant is Gordon Ramsay's Heddon Street Kitchen. I used to watch televised Hell's Kitchen competitions and wondered if I would ever visit one of his heavily touted restaurants. Since I only had one cocktail inside the freezer, we decided to have one more for the road.
Introducing the Bonnie Scot: Monkey Shoulder blended scotch, lemon, honey syrup,Talisker, and lavendar foam. I tend to gravitate towards scotch/bourbon/whiskey drinks so I was drawn to this cocktail instantly.
Even though I was already stuffed from my 3-course dinner, I ordered the ahi tuna tartare appetizer so I could at least sample one of Ramsay's creations. Who knows when I'll have that opportunitiy again.
At the end of day 2, we bid farewell to London and caught a 3:30am taxi to Stanstead Airport. I consider myself to be a seasoned world traveler, yet I never heard of Stanstead airport until I left for Venice via Ryan Air. Apparently, Stanstead is an increasingly popular airport hub (1-hour cab ride from the Hilton Green Park Hotel in Central London) since many low-cost airlines have established routes there.
Expect to see hundreds of people at the airport before 5am. If you want to catch a quick bite before your flight, there are several packed restaurants to choose from includiing Giraffe Restaurant. Since we only ate a single empanada for dinner a few hours beforehand, we were starving by the time we cleared security. Giraffe offers a full selection of breakfast items so you don't pass out from hunger. Bloody Marys at 5am + zero sleep? Why not?
Stanstead Airport Tip: On the return trip, you must queue up in one of two border patrol lines (EU Citizens and All Other Passports). We arrived at midnight from our Italy trip and expected to sail through pretty quickly. While we were in the much shorter line, we waited at least an hour for patrol officers to interrogate every single person. Be prepared with travel documents/transfer itinerary when questioned. Hundreds of passengers were still in line after we were cleared past 1am. Expect transfer delays.
While the London segment of my trip was short-lived, this will easily be one of my most memorable trips. I hope to return one day and visit dear friends I didn't get to see this time around. Until then, Kookaburra says, Cheerio! And yes, my friend was definitely singing all 9+ lines of the Australian Kookaburra song by the end of our trip. I am incorrigible and relentless when it comes to random silly antics. My job here is done.