Day 9: London

The final full day!

James and I decided to kickstart the day by going to Camden, which is rumored to have amazing markets, street food vendors and an overall funky feel. We arrive and pop into the first market we saw – Camden Market.

Camden Market is filled with sketchy people, a lot of t-shirts we could get anywhere in the U.S. and a hundred signs warning us about pickpocketers. Then we see a sign in the distance for Camden Lock – the artisan market we came here for.

For a Wednesday, this was a happening market. It was like the South End Open Market but bigger and grander. Had we come on a weekend, we would have run into a farmers market and antique market. We walked through vendor stalls, admired the street food and bought a few things here and there. The food was definitely the highlight and for those of us with crazy diets hard to find accommodations for it, this was pure gold. Every other street cart had gluten free options (some paleo too!). I opted for a pumpkin and cheddar empanada and a chicken empanada, served atop a coleslaw with plantain chips and salsa. James ordered a pulled pork sandwich with the works.

I take the most flattering pictures of James don’t I?

Afterwards we went to check out two shops we passed earlier in the day – Cookie Scream (a gluten free vegan bakery) and Nitro (an ice cream shop that makes its goodies using liquid nitrogen on the spot).

Food coma. This was a pecan cinnamon sticky something (that’s literally what it was called). It was amazing.
James ordered a brownie-wich from Nitro, which vanilla ice cream inside.

Afterwards we rolled ourselves back to the Tube – we had some ridiculous ticket package for Buckingham Palace and needed a few hours to tackle it.

We started the day in the Queen’s Gallery, which was featuring art on the early Georgians and how they came to power. Each room was filled with paintings, letters, war maps and furniture. I personally found the section on William Hogarth the most interesting. Hogarth was a print maker during the 1700s and one of the first people to use pictures to depict a story (think comic book but hundreds of years ago) and make money off of it. 2/3 of the way through, my audio tour died. Very sad.

Next we moved into the Royal Mews and learned all about the stage coaches the royal family uses.

This stagecoach was built in the 1800s. It’s used for coronations and last used during the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. It weighs four tons, takes a HUGE team of horses to pull and one week to move out of this building.

Our final stop on our Royal Day Out tour was the State rooms – or the public rooms in Buckingham Palace. There’s no photography allowed, but if you see a picture of the royal family in an indoor setting, it’s probably in one of these rooms. This portion of the tour was ridiculous and James and I understood why there was a desire to start a new life in the U.S. The ceilings and walls were dripping with gold. Silk was everywhere. Paintings, including those from the Renaissance, cluttered the walls. It was absolutely ridiculous. The one thing I noticed was that the castle, despite its age, did not have an old smell about it (Highclere castle did for example). It was also the only building in London that we saw window screens being put to use.

We left Buckingham palace and headed back to the flat to pack up and get ready for our dinner – a fourteen course meal at Kitchen Table.

Kitchen Table is tucked behind a hot dog joint (which was bustling!). You enter through some secret curtains into this amazing open kitchen with a bar set up around it. There’s an exclusive 19 person maximum seating each night and the chefs create a new menu EVERY DAY based on what ingredients are available through their network of hunters, farmers, fishers and cheese makers. We ended up with 16 courses and my attempt to take notes on each course is below. I will tell you, this was definitely adventurous and finally beat our favorite place in Iceland for the best meal of the trip.

Oyster: Raw oyster served on the half shell, with herbs
Shrimp: Rare, small shrimps served raw on a chick pea cracker; we also received the shrimp heads fried to enjoy afterwards
Chicken: Chicken skin  made into a cracker spread with rosemary marscapone and bacon jam
Bonus course! Pig: Pig head slowly cooked over night and fried. Served on an anchovies dressing
Scallop: Fresh scallop from Scotland with sea salt and raw pickle mayonnaise and roe of scallop smoked and grated on top 
Sea trout: From the Shetland islands, lightly warmed, served on top of a collection of sea vegetables with dried seaweed powder and a sauce made from the fish bones
Cep: wild forests mushrooms sautéed and raw with chestnuts made into a powder and an oil
Duck: Duck leg and neck cooked in its fat and rolled in pastry and fried; served with duck sauce and damson (plum)
Bonus course! Pigeon: Pigeon liver as a mousse, served as a parfait with Cobb nuts and English truffles; served with buttered toast 
Lamb: Cornish lamb belly with sorrel and creme fraise; drizzled with olive oil from the Vatican (i.e. really old)
Cheese: Devon blue cheese with green gauges plum cooked in a puff pastry and served with a plum caramel
Raspberry: raspberry sauce with goat curd ice cream
Caramel: caramel ice cream, caramel whipped cream, caramel drizzle and hazelnut caramel
Pine: Young pine tips pickled and turned into an ice cream covered in dark chocolate
Black Currant: Black currant paste made into a marshmallow and toasted
Vanilla: Madagascar vanilla fudge with sea salt

This was… intense. Some of the dishes forced us to be super adventurous with our taste buds… shrimps heads? RAW shrimp? Pigeon?! I am thankful we didn’t receive the pigeon brains (someone did last week). But it was a lot of fun and super over the top.

Thanks London, you’ve been amazing! We’re so excited to come home and if you’re lucky, we may let you try some of our goodies from Honeydukes.

Day 8: London

We decided to spend the morning lounging around, making pancakes (because this Airbnb had gluten free flour in the pantry!) and taking our time (i.e. sleeping in). Because I don’t sleep in, and the upstairs neighbor likes to run around frantically by 7:30 a.m. I was awake earlier than intended. So I decided to get going with the pancake project. Two minutes into ingredient sourcing, I somehow managed to drop a glass half filled with wine that I didn’t finish the night before. We also had no paper towels, glass everywhere and wine on a lot of clean clothes. Luckily James expects this to happen to me on any given day, so he was ready to help clean up and make an emergency run to the grocery store.

I do say, our pancakes were a success, even without syrup and bacon.

At this point of our trip, I began to feel a bit homesick. I can master a seven day vacation but a 10 day? I start to yearn for home and for comfort. I was also beginning to get annoyed with the musty smell this apartment has. It really is its only downside. If they weren’t so expensive I would buy a dehumidifier and place it in the middle of this place and leave it to make a point. But I digress. So given that I felt homesick and Squeaky sad, James planned our day. We headed off to Guildhall to check out the Magna Carta.

This was a very good museum and its free! On our way to the bathroom (when there is a free restroom in London you use it, even if you don’t have to go), we stumbled upon the Magna Carta and read about early London history and its production. According to the museum, this is the best preserved Magna Carta in existence. And they are probably right, it was pretty flawless despite the fact we could read zero percent of the words (that fancy writing man…). And so we proceeded to tackle the museum from bottom up (the opposite of what we were told to do).

Also by the restrooms was the London Roman Amphitheater. This was SO cool. When Guildhall was being rebuilt, they came across the structure of the amphitheater, which they knew had to exist since the Romans ruled the land 2,000 some years ago but had ceased to discover. The building plans had to be revised to accommodate their new finding, and now visitors are able to walk among the ruins, view the pipe system to pump water out of the theater (SO COOL) and learn about the early days of London.

The upstairs was filled with paintings including Copley’s largest painting which took up a significant portion of the gallery. We left feeling like we got our money’s worth. That’s for sure.

We opted to do a quick lunch and were determined to go to this place we saw on our way to Guildhall – Pull’d. Sadly, it was still under construction so we crossed the street to Pod to enjoy an overly healthy, multigrain, multi kale meal.

Our next stop was the Millennium bridge. For my Harry Potter fans out there, this is the bridge in the sixth movie that the dementors destroy.

We of course walked across it. The bridge is famed for having an amazing view of St. Paul’s.

We were spit out at the entrance to Globe Theater. James felt it didn’t look authentic enough to visit so we continued our journey which eventually took us to the London Eye. After a quick debate on whether or not to do it, we decided to give it a go, because when are we going to do this again? The ride goes slow enough that I could cope and I had to pretend that I wasn’t in a huge glass bubble in the city. But the views are spectacular.

Looking up!
Big Ben & Westminster Abbey

It was very bright and I made James take off his sunglasses.

Afterwards we enjoyed a bubble tea by the dirty Thames shore and moved along to the Tate museum, our last stop before dinner.

The Tate, also “free,” opened up to a huge display of trash. I don’t know what it is about James and I, art museums and trash as an exhibit, but this happens a lot.

This exhibit had to do something with the river. Very obvious, right?

We moved along through the many galleries – through the 1500s, through the 1900s. Eventually fatigue was winning, so we sought out galleries that had large benches that would allow us to sit, review and read everything in the room and then go to the next gallery with a bench. After walking 10 – 15 miles a day for 8 days, this is what your body does to you.

But no amount of tiredness could prevent me from getting to our final destination: St. John’s Bread & Wine for dinner. Folks, this was on the list of places I’ve been dying to go to. The couple who own this restaurant frequently contribute recipes to Bon Appetit and are interviewed on the reg. They’ve provided me with masterful roast recipes I’ve made around the holidays, wowing friends and family alike. It was time to go to the mecca.

The restaurant itself is incredibly simple. Wooden tables, wooden chairs, simple glasses and dishware. It’s no frills because the food speaks for itself. I started with salted mackerel with potatoes, creme fraishe and watercress. It was like jumping into the ocean while wrapped up in a giant cozy blanket all at once. James ordered the mussels which were equally as delicious. For our main course, I ordered the duck leg with bacon and dates. James ordered the grouse (it rhymes with house).

The duck leg was amazing. It fell right off the bone and was complemented by fatty pieces of bacon and the sweetness of the medjool date. I was in duck heaven.

James’ grouse was literally a whole bird, shot earlier that day, served pretty pink. We both thought it tasted a bit like beef. It was certainly gamey, but we can handle gamey. It was when James came across the bullet hole and some blood that he lost interest in his grouse. He lost more interest when my meal came and was jealous. So much for being adventurous!

St. John’s redeemed itself for James with dessert. He ordered an apple crumb cake which came with homemade vanilla ice cream. I ordered raspberry swirl ice cream which was absolutely delightful.

To read more about the Henderson’s (co-owners of St. John):

Day 7: London & Newbury

Ugh. Woke up with the start of a cold! Good thing I packed plenty of DayQuil and Advil to get me through the next few days!

Today was the day that James had to drive on the “wrong” side of the road. Why? Because we were going to Highclere castle! For those of you who aren’t in the know, Highclere is the place that Downton Abbey is filmed. It’s an epic building for an epic television show. The castle is only opened 60 – 70 days a year for the public to walk through as it is still the home of Earl and Countess Carnarvon as well as a television set. It’s nearly impossible to get tickets and a stroke of luck if you are in London when the castle is actually opened. In February, I stalked the Highclere castle website waiting for the summer dates and tickets to be released. We were in the luck, the castle would be open for a few weeks through September 17.

James and I started our journey at Enterprise in Hammersmith (when a quick Google search the night before revealed that the original destination we intended to pick our car up at was in fact much further north than we had anticipated and that there were actually two places with the exact same address in this city. Not cool city builders, not cool). Yes, it is just as weird to climb into the front seat as a passenger on the driver’s side as it is to climb in the passenger seat as a driver.

Calm, cool and collected.

My savvy navigation skills (and a little help from Google Maps) brought us to the highway that we took for nearly 50 miles (this trip was the equivalent of going from Boston to the Cape). Unlike other trips we’ve taken through and out of London, this drive was beautiful. In fact, you could have told us that we were driving on Route 2 towards Vermont back at home and we would have believed you – minus the fact that everything is backwards in this car.

We arrived at Highclere around noon, enough time to walk the castle grounds and grab a hot lunch in their tearoom before we could explore the building itself and also attend the Egyptian exhibit (more on that later). The castle is just as grand as they make it out to be on Downton, and it was exciting that we were finally here.

Approaching the castle from the parking lot.
Enjoying a pot of tea and some overcooked chicken.
When Cory, James and I went to the Breakers mansion in Newburyport, we had to take a picture jumping in front of it. Cory wasn’t here to join me this time, so I took an honorary picture alone. I was the only person doing this. Note that there were hundreds of people there. Good to be weird.
I of course made James do this too.
Walking through the grounds and a not so secret garden.
There were these amazing bush arches throughout the gardens.
View of the castle from the secret garden.
Had to get a water bottle shot in 😉
Our first and probably only picture together during our honeymoon.

At this point we had to put all cell phones and cameras away. No photography is allowed in the castle which makes sense. It is someone’s home AND if you allowed photography, it would take freaking forever to make it through this. We made our way in a very long line through just a fraction of the rooms. Guides were in most to provide a bit of history, gush about being around with the Downton cast (and sometimes George Clooney) and to provide us with insight on which rooms were used in Downton and which were not.

The Carnarvon family also has a lot of interesting history. The 5th Earl of Carnarvon helped discover King Tut’s tomb and was a huge enthusiast of excavating in Egypt. His wife turned Downton into a hospital during World War I (sound familiar?). The only thing I wish there was more of was signage, so that I might be able to learn a bit more than what was in the tiny map they provided and what the guides had to say. Of course, I could have purchased the Highclere castle guide book for 10 pounds.

We exited the castle and headed to the Egyptian exhibit. As I mentioned above the 5th Earl of Carnarvon was responsible for finding King Tut’s tomb. He and his colleague, Howard Carter, discovered the nearly intact tomb in 1922. This exhibit is geared towards children, so there were plenty of signs here!

And then, as quick as we were here, it was time to go. But not without taking this beauty.

On our way out, we drove along a quiet dirt road. I spotted some sheep and decided to try and take a picture. Next thing we know, there’s another car headed straight for us… because we are in their lane. Because that felt so natural, that when distracted by a flock of grazing sheep, we DROVE IN THE WRONG LANE. Don’t worry, no one as hurt and we were able to move before the confused car up ahead had a chance to veer out of the way.

We returned to the city – after a quick pitstop to refill the rental car gas – and headed back to the flat once the car was back in Hammersmith. Rather than do anything interesting, we watched reruns of How I Met Your Mother and Futurama until our dinner reservations at The River Cafe.

The River Cafe was about a mile from our flat and sits on the Thames river. It’s unlike anything we’ve ever been to (decor wise) and filled with bright crazy colors, lots of white and looks like modern 80s (if that makes any sense…). The food was good, but still not competing with Sjavargrillid. Thought the view was not half bad.

When I told the waiter I had a gluten intolerance, it took six cooks to figure out what I could and couldn’t eat on the menu. In the end, they were willing to make just about anything with the exception of pasta, for me.

For an appetizer I ordered a buffalo mozzarella salad. Usually these salads are layers of tomato, basil and mozzarella. Instead, I received a bean, tomato and olive salad with grilled pumpkin and a one pound ball of mozzarella. I’m not kidding. It was ridiculous. James got a crab salad with polenta and tomatoes. He used some of my massive ball of mozzarella to eat his tomatoes. Because I had plenty to share.

For dinner I ordered a whole Dover sole and James had ravioli with ricotta and mushrooms. Our dessert consisted of some awesome gelato.

We returned to watch some British television and waited until our upstairs neighbor was done walking around – something that they like to do between 9 – 10 pm and 7 – 8 am.

Day 6: London

Today was the reason we came to London for our honeymoon. Today we went to the WB Harry Potter studio tour. The morning started early – we had to be at the Golden Tours Victoria office no later than 7:45 am to board a giant HP branded bus that would take us to the studio which is about 20 miles outside of the city.

This tour literally attracts everyone from around the world – from the U.S. to Japan to Germany to Russia and more.

The tour is… amazing. It opens up to the Great Hall set, and you are transported to a magical world – literally. We only had three hours to walk through all of it, but I could have easily spent more time. Both James and I bought the audio tour and were guided by Tom Felton (Draco) throughout. Since it would be ridiculous and lengthy to highlight each of the sets, I’ll stick with favorites. I loved the potions classroom – while simple in structural design, there were more than 500 bottles (and more than 1,000 when used in the movies) each hand labeled and filled with baked bones, rubber animals transformed into something that doesn’t exist in the Muggle world and more. Dumbledore’s office was amazing and finally we were offered an opportunity to get up close and personal with his instruments on display. All the books you see in there? Phone books! And finally, I loved the creature shop, where we learned how they made the creepy fetus Voldemort, Gringott goblins, dragons, Greyback and more.

Harry’s bedroom under the stairs.
The Great Hall. In the first movie, the director was set on having ONLY real food portrayed. And so it was. In later movies, the props department made lifelike goodies alongside some real dishes.
More Great Hall at the head table, where professors sat.
Count house points anyone?
Makeup! Did you know that the scar was drawn on Daniel Radcliffe more than 6,000 times in the shooting of the eight movies?  It also had to be drawn on his stunt double – that’s when he didn’t person his own stunts.
Boys dorm (and Ron’s bed in the front). This is the oldest set and was used throughout the first six movies. The beds were originally built to fit 10 and 11 year old boys. By the time they were 17 and 18, they no longer fit the 5’9″ bed frame and had to curl up or let their feet hang over for scenes filmed here.
Horcruxes. The woman who designed these spent months researching heirlooms from areas of the world these would have come from. How is that for authentic?
Gryffindor common room. The staircases to the dormitories were marked Girls and Boys above the arch to help the actors go in the correct direction.
Any letter that was close enough for the camera to see had to be handwritten. A few thousand were printed (think to the very first movie when Harry receives all of his letters from Hogwarts). The original letter was also too heavy for their owl actors to carry, so they also created a “letter lite” version for the birds.
On the Knight bus! The bus actually drove through the streets of London and routes had to be planned to accommodate its triple decker length.
Our first butterbeer! Neither James nor I could tell you what this tasted like. I had expected something like cream soda but it’s not. It is creamy though, and at points sweet and salty. It’s bubbly and not quite caramel flavored.
Diagon Alley!
The end of the tour spits you out to a 1:24 model of Hogwarts which was used in every movie but the last (CGI had improved to a point where it was no longer needed). Every time J.K. Rowling revealed a new part of the castle, model makers spent three months updating the structure to accommodate new sections such as the owlery, the astronomy tower and the bridge.

Highlight of the trip? So far! We also got suckered into the gift shop and each purchased ourselves a giant mug of the Maurader’s Map (because the one I bought at the Museum of Science exhibition is finally starting to fall apart), as well as plenty of candy from Honeydukes.

Afterwards, James and I came back to the flat and went for another three mile run (this time in the opposite direction) to explore the neighborhood. We passed the Chelsea soccer stadium, ran by shops and discovered the one ice cream place in all of Fulham (this may be an exaggeration but this has not been an easy thing to find): Scoops!

When we returned from the run, we headed over to Whole Foods to pick up some scallops for dinner. But they closed at five. So we went to another grocery store. It also closed at five. Everything here closes at five on Sunday. I would be screwed in the states as often times we don’t get to the grocery until later afternoon/early evening on Sundays! We returned and beefed up our leftovers from yesterday with the addition of some sautéed vegetables. We spent the rest of the evening watching movies and TV, and hit the hay early.

Day 5: London

Emotionally, today was much better than yesterday. Some acceptance happened. Some coming to terms that I can’t change things back at home happened. Some new distractions happened.

Today was another no plans day – so we decided to check out the Tower of London. James and I are both history nerds, so give us a monument with 1,000+ years of stories to tell and we’re golden. Currently, the Tower is commemorating the 100th anniversary of World War I with more than 800,000 ceramic poppies to represent all of the soldiers who perished. (You can learn more about this exhibit here). It’s breathtaking. Every corner you discover more red vibrant glass flowers.

We started by climbing the perimeter wall and learning about its uses over the years, wars, looting, soldiers, kings and prisoners. At the end we waited in a ridiculous line to see the crown jewels, which are indeed quite beautiful and overwhelming but not necessarily worth a long line (we luckily got in line before this started snaking around the building).

Having had our fill of history, we decided to try out a burger place that I read is gluten free friendly and also amazing to boot – Honest Burger. It totally lived up to its reputation. This place was amazing, waitstaff SUPER friendly and atmosphere similar to a place back at home that we both love (Grass Fed in JP).

These fries.. were covered in fresh rosemary. It was so good. It was amazing.

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Oxford Street. We had two goals – Primark and Harrods. Completely opposite end of the class spectrum and both totally overwhelming in their own ways. For those of you who don’t know, Primark is a serious discount clothing store. Think H&M but cheaper. James fell in love with some very European jeans and bought a few pairs. I mostly purchased ugly comfy sweaters to wear around the house.

Harrods was overwhelming in that some handbags probably cost more than our honeymoon. We buzzed through to the gourmet food section (we really do love grocery shopping).

At this point, James and I were done. Spent. Exhausted. We made our way back to our flat in Fulham. After a quick trip to the grocery store, we spent the rest of the evening making dinner together, eating outside and now trying to find some non-reality TV on British cable. We’re failing pretty horribly.

James’ fancy cheese plate.

Sorry James I had to.

Day 4: London

Day 4 started on a somber note. While I was making my morning tea, James shared with me that my beloved Squeaky had passed away. I had expected this to happen – I knew there was no way she was going to survive my honeymoon – but I was still devastated. Day 4 has been a lot of off and on tears through London. Thank god for sunglasses folks. Who knew a tiny little critter could move you this much?

Let’s move on from the really sad thought to the specifics of the day. Keep in mind that I was an emotional mess throughout most of it. To the point that by 10 pm I was walking around our rented flat, drinking wine out of the bottle and talking to my mom on Google Voice. That’s how it was going to roll, and I’m not going to fight that feeling. But I am going to need to buy another bottle of wine.

James and I had planned absolutely nothing. We left the day open to do whatever we fancied and honestly, it was a lot like any other day in Boston, but in a new city. Prior to heading into the city center, we explored Fulham by doing a three mile run. Every morning there’s a farmer market outside – including every type of egg you could ever want to buy.

I’m pretty sure this is my mom’s heaven.

We wrapped up our morning with breakfast on the back patio, which this flat has access to and is my favorite part about it. I’m planning to take every meal out here weather permitting.

After figuring out that the Tube didn’t take our credit cards, we forked over half our cash to buy Oyster cards to get around. There was no one working at the station to help us but two separate men came up and asked if we needed any assistance. Oh the English, always helpful!

We headed to Kings Cross Station. I had a mission to check out Platform 9 3/4. Guys, Platform 9 3/4 is a sellout. There’s a line, a bunch of “professionals” working the line and they charge you for the picture they took! I was in no mood to stand in a 25+ person line, have my picture taken after I spent the morning crying and have someone put a scarf around my neck that probably thousands maybe millions of other people have wrapped around theres. Ew. So we left, but I creepily took a picture of this kid being roped in to commemorate the journey.

By now it was noon and James was ravenous. Sadness does a lot to suppress the appetite, but I finally saw something that I had not seen since arriving in Europe: Gluten Free Options. At Hummus Brothers. James is not a fan of hummus, but too bad! The place was clean, based almost entirely on chickpeas and would probably do quite well in the US (hint hint). I cried into my plate of hummus, but was still able to shovel in a good portion of the chicken and avocado they mixed in it, with gluten free bread that is.

We started to make our way towards Picadilly Circus and I spotted a record store (these don’t seem to be in the US much  these days – but the British must love themselves some hard copy CDs and DVDs – the place was packed). I was sent with one mission: find the Mooshi Monster movie for Natalie. Oh and find that movie I did. I was SO excited (it was the last copy) and it was the first time I felt happiness that day, that I wasn’t even bothered by the judgmental stares of the sales clerk. Yes I’m buying a children’s anime movie. It’s not available in the US. No I have no DVD player to play it but I will figure this out!

We continued on and did the usual sight seeing routine. We were mistaken for locals and asked directions (when one uses a map, one uses it secretly).

In an effort to cheer my up, James mimicked a pose of the girl next to us who was doing this. She sadly didn’t notice.


What’s up blue chicken?
Big Ben is not as big as I remember. I guess I grew an inch.

If I can overcome my fear of the droppy feeling and heights I will go on you London Eye.
Obligatory selfie.

We had one last required stop for the day – Whole Foods – in which my aunt suggested and heavily recommended I visit. While I realize that the purpose of going to a Whole Foods in London is for access to some amazing cheeses, I was over the moon with their gluten free options. I had to refrain from buying every type of biscuit. Did you know that they make pumpkin almond GLUTEN FREE biscuits here? Or butter crunch? Or candied ginger? They make glorious GF blueberry lemon cupcakes with Swiss meringue buttercream. They have a wide variety of coconut water, such as CHAI TEA FLAVORED. I may or may not need to go back dependent on my consumption of said items.

We dragged our tired feet back to the flat (and have figured out the Tube quite well I must add) to rest up a bit before dinner. We had reservations at Pizzarro which was the only restaurant that we were going to that I had not had on my bucket list for a few years. This however was a result of some productive Googling – apparently the food at Pizzarro was to die for. The meal itself was not nearly as good as Sjavargrillid and I’m not sure if anything can top that (but we have three more places to try before I give final verdict!), but the food was incredible and the wait staff knowledgable about allergies and what is permitted. The service however… was just plain strange. No one asked if I wanted a refill on my glass of wine (and didn’t come within earshot to call them over). They took a good 20 minutes to get our check while a huge line was building up outside. It was like going to the Friendly Toast in London.

These little guys were amazing.

But I digress. Before Pizzarro we decided to check out the London Bridge and London Tower (which we will return to, to go inside!). In the hour we were home resting I drank a lot of water. This was now a pressing manner, and we had 50 minutes before our reservation. This led James and I on a wild hunt for a bathroom. There was none in the mall. Pubs were MOBBED because it was a Friday night, and so sneaking in was just not going to happen because you couldn’t even get through the doorway. I scared a monk changing in a Pret a Manger restroom (so clearly left without going) and made nasty remarks to people who wouldn’t let me use the restroom (remember, I am emotionally unstable at this point, hungry and really needing to pee). James spotted some porta-potties across a park and bless him, ran across to see if they were open. They weren’t, but a family bathroom next to them was.

Here’s the thing I’ve noticed about European toilets. None of them have sensical flushing devices. What happened to automatic or a handle? Everything here is a button – one for liquid, one for solid; or a rope; or a single door bell button; etc. I thought nothing of it when I pulled the red rope hanging in the middle of this stall – until an alarm started blaring. Oh, the panic rope. Crap. There was also real handle to flush. And so I left and briskly walked away. Hopefully pressing a reset button 10 times did the trick – otherwise I’m sorry to whomever had to check that on a Friday night!

James would like to be known as the person who can always find the restroom.

Day 3: Iceland to London!

Yesterday was a travel day, but James and I intended to make the most of it, with what time we had in both Iceland and in London. We woke up early to tackle a run to a lighthouse outside of the city sprawl of Reykjavik – Grotta.

There she is!

Grotta had been a fixation for  James the moment we arrived (most likely due to his watching a what to do in Reykjavik video on Icelandaire). There was apparently a hot spring there, its the only place in the city you can see the Northern Lights from and its just a cool lighthouse in general (all according to James).

Grotta was 5 kilometers from our hotel. Being the crazy people that we are, and because we are training for a 10k at the end of the month, James and I decided that running to Grotta was the right decision. So we donned our running gear, rain jackets and welcomed the brisk air with open arms (does it ever go above 54F?).

En route to Grotta. Can’t argue that this is one of the prettier runs I’ve been on.
Had to stop to take pictures. Sorry 10k training, gotta do this.

When we arrived at the end of the path, where Grotta lies, I asked James exactly how does one get there. Well in the video, they simply walked across. During high tide, one does not simply walk across. Rather you stand on shore and look at the ocean covered pathway that leads to this mystical structure – or as James calls it “candy mountain.”

See those rocks that lead out into the ocean? The one’s covered by water? Yep.
He was so sad.
View on our run back.

We left Grotta, ran back to the city, and enjoyed nice hot beverages from what I took to be the Starbucks equivalent of Iceland (Te & Kaffi). We bummed around the hotel until our ride picked us up and returned us to the airport.

A note about the airport – though I took no pictures of it – it’s beautiful. It’s like walking into an expensive Ikea. The number of times you have to have your passport reviewed and scanned is ridiculous, but I guess that’s what you get for traveling internationally.

We ended up boarding our plane on the tarmac, which I’ve never done before. In case you’re wondering, you feel almost presidential as you walk up a massive set of stairs to your seat.

Hello there London

The flat we are staying in is cute, and close to a wide variety of shops and pubs. Once we dropped off our luggage, we booked it to the nearest grocery store for dinner which resulted in me buying wine, fresh farm eggs, stinky cheeses, cured meats, milk, vegetables, the largest loaf of gluten free bread ever (praise the London grocery gods) and some soup. What can I say? I love grocery stores.

Day 2: Iceland

Yesterday, James and I booked the Black & Blue tour through Arctic Adventures. What is the Black & Blue tour you ask? The first half of the trip includes caving through a lava tube, the second half of the trip includes snorkeling in Silfra fissure. Let’s start from the beginning.

James and I have noticed that Icelandics are on time to a T. As in, if you aren’ in the hotel lobby when they say they’ll pick you up, you’re probably going to miss them. There was a little confusion as to which hotel we were staying at, but finally after a 30 minute wait, a six foot something, blonde Icelandic man named Andre picked us up. We were loaded into a Mercedes van with four other folks (in fact, another couple from Boston also on their honeymoon!) and drove off through Thingvellir National Park. Something about these buses in Iceland make us fall asleep, but if you can manage to stay awake, the views are breathtaking.

Rainbows are plentiful and constant. This is the first time I’ve seen a beginning to end and sadly, there is no pot of gold on either side.

Our tour guide veered off the main road after about 45 minutes and drove down a bumpy path, threw the E-break on and we were suddenly there. James and I donned hiking books, rubber pants and awesome helmets with headlights. I’m not gonna lie, it was like being in the Princess and the Goblin (although in Iceland, I’m sure they’d call it the Princess and the Troll).

Our tour guide was awesome. He was funny, knowledgeable and by the end, had everyone participating.

Entrance to the lava cave.
Officially caving. Hi James!
The Icelandic word for Speleothems roughly translates to “Lava Titties.”

James emerges from the cave!
These are pretty rad helmets, am I right?

Afterwards, we piled back into our little bus/van and drove to a service station for a quick bathroom break and lunch. Then it was on to the Blue part of the tour – diving.

For those of you who know me well, you know that I like to be perfect at everything I do and try. What I am going to write next is a big dose of humble pie, but in hindsight, is pretty hilarious given my personality and love for the water. We drove up the road to Silfra fissure and were greeted by our diving instructors, Richard and Juan.  Everyone was handed a “teddy bear suit” which is essentially a giant insulated jump suit. We were then given “the golden rule.” Do not, under any circumstances, pee while on this tour. Noted. (Don’t worry, I held it in)

The dry suit was a ridiculous mix of latex and another waterproof material. Everyone was wearing yellow and blue except for me. I had a red suit. After being the first person to successfully suit up (and was even given a winner hurrah by the instructor), I made a joke about being red shirted. If you do not understand this joke, let’s move along and you will never know how dorky I really am.

Finally, we were ready to hit the water. Each person in front of me gasped when they were submerged, but I thought, of course it’s cold – it’s 2 degrees Celsius! (Note – this is about the coldest water can be without freezing). I made my way down some steps and was hit with the most uncomfortable cold feeling. I thrive in warm environments. I love bikram yoga. I love summer. I love layers and cozy things. I dislike cold feet and hands (yet I live in Boston…). I didn’t realize that I also deeply disliked a very cold face, ears, nose, mouth as well. The instructor pushed me into the water and I bobbed around for a bit. I was beginning to panic.

Everyone was in the water, and I was stuck against a rock, unable to breathe and having a full on panic attack, which caused my goggles to fog up which caused more anxiety. I’m not sure I made any sounds other than some small gasps and moans. The group was a good twenty feet in front of me when Juan realized I had not made it much further than where I was released. All my pride was gone. And… I had to be rescued. Yes, Juan the instructor had to paddle his way back to me, talk me through this panic attack, and then instead of letting me return to the dry land, proceeded to drag me through the fissure.

Thanks for the help James.

Silfra fissure is incredible. I didn’t have an underwater camera (though someone in our group brought a GoPro and promised to send the video, which we will post if we do ever receive it). The water is CRYSTAL clear. You can see everything – every detail, every rock, every piece of algae and plant. Parts are sunny and sparkling, parts are dark and deep. If water gets in your mouth piece, you can drink it.

When I saw the stairs again (I did not come out of the water for fear I would not be able to make myself go back under), I felt immense relief. This was hands down the most uncomfortable activity I have ever partaken and no, I will never do that again, but I am glad that I was convinced to stay until the end.

Once we climbed out, the feeling started to return to my face and hands. It was magical. Everyone but me chose to jump off a little cliff back into the fissure and I explained to the other instructor (Richard) that I am more of a hot yoga person.

As we walked back to the van, the instructors pointed out “The Wall” in the background. Yes, here is The Wall, guarded by Castle Black, in its unsnowed sprayed glory.

Dear Icelandic Nature, thank you for that. It was just what I needed!

When we returned to Reykjavik, we had a few hours to kill before dinner, and continued to explore the city. We enjoyed chai lattes, finally found some gluten free bread (which I no longer needed) and James took about 50 pictures of ducks. I don’t know what it is about ducks and James, but whenever we travel and he has his camera, they are his muse.

Our evening ended at Sjavargrillid – a seafood grill. This has been on my list of places to try for at least three years. It lived up to the anticipation. James ordered the Lobster Feast, which is a lot of lobster. I ordered scallops with haddock foam, salted cod with beef cheek and vanilla icecream and strawberry sorbet for dessert. Each bite was incredible and we powered through our capacity to ensure that we could enjoy every last morsel.

Thanks Iceland – you’ve done us well!

Day 1: Iceland

After a whirlwind of a travel day, James and I woke up at 9 am in Reykjavik (5 am for all you folks back at home). Having no time to research breakfast options, we opted for the hotel’s traditional Iceland breakfast buffet. Upon walking in, I was greeted with a massive 8-foot table filled with different types of bread. This should have been the first sign that eating here would be difficult, but fear not, the other staple in this country seems to be meat, cheese and pickled things.


Our first planned activity wasn’t until later in the afternoon, so we took the opportunity to explore the city. In the few hours we were walking around, it rained, was cloudy, was sunny, comfortable and cold.

Awesome view of mountains, right outside of the hotel.
This city is filled with ridiculous graffiti.

My priority was to find a grocery store and hopefully some gluten free food options. GF bread is pretty much non existent, grocery stores are small and selection is limited. So my staples included rice cakes, very expensive peanut butter (do Icelandics eat peanut butter? something to Google later on!), marmalade, apples, bananas and yogurt. I opted to pass on the dried fish and paprika flavored potato chips. Perhaps next time…

By 1:30, James and I were waiting in our hotel lobby for our first Icelandic excursion – Blue Lagoon – a geothermal spa recommended to me by multiple folks.

Blue Lagoon was amazing. After a bit of confusion with how to use the lockers, losing James briefly (not having the ability to call one another when separated is sometimes stressful) we were both ready to enjoy the geothermal spa. The website can probably tell you much more, but essentially, this place is a naturally heated pool of water – 1/3 fresh and 2/3 salt. It smells slightly of sulfur but not too over powering. There’s fresh silica to rub on your face (although I had a brief moment of going almost blind when it clouded my contact lenses), and a bar in the middle. Yes, you swim up to the bar, order a drink and then float around in complete bliss.

Oh, and it’s beautiful. And yes we opted for the package with the spa robes because why not?

After two hours, we reluctantly crawled out to make our dinner reservation at Lava. Also a place that loves its bread, bread crumbs, bread chips and crispy crackers. I survived (and had plenty of lobster to make up for this) and we left relaxed and refreshed.

We ended the evenings with a stroll through Reykjavik and some amazing ice cream. Oh and a power outage in our hotel room!