Almost a month ago (!) I popped over to the UK for a quick visit for my sister's birthday, fitting in an overnight trip to Cambridge to see my friend Ruth and her new baby as well. I haven't got around to blogging it until now due to sheer laziness, because lots of photos = lots of time doing the blog, but here we go! The flight, direct from Tours, was fine, except they confiscated both my empty water bottles, and when I asked if that was a new rule, said that they had been doing it since 2003. They got a bit huffy when I pointed out that I had already flown out of French airports three times THIS YEAR without encountering this "rule". Anyway, that at least gave me an excuse to buy Magners cider on the flight rather than paying ridiculous RyanAir prices for bottled water. From Stansted, it's an easy hop by train to Cambridge, where I caught up with Ruth. I hadn't seen her since her wedding, and obviously between not really getting to talk much at someone's wedding and the fact that she's made a whole new mini-person since then, we had a lot of catching up to do. Didn't actually see any of Cambridge, but saw the lovely new house, the lovely new baby (I think I sold Ruth on my theory that all you had to do with baby was pat him like a kitty cat - nothing to do with me being out of my comfort zone there), the lovely new(ish) husband and R's local pub, where I managed to almost knock a table over before we even had a drink! Firmly blaming that on Ruth though, she has a long-standing fetish for sitting on stools, so when some came available shortly after sitting down, she made us move from our comfy couch to the stools and I managed to trip over the fireplace and nearly up-end the table in the process. D'oh! R's lightening reflexes saved most of our drinks though, woohoo!
The next morning, after a bit of a mad dash across one of Cambridge's commons to buy some water before the bus left, it was down to London. The bus was way cheaper than the train and it actually was not bad at all, although obviously takes a bit longer. I got into London about lunchtime (Friday), met my sister and her boyfriend Scott at Embankment and then deposited Jess to get her hair and makeup done before Scott and I headed to his place to drop my bag and get changed for the evening (with strict instructions not to get drunk along the way). Scott's apartment is gorgeous and filled with beautiful real art and antiques, so obviously I was terrified that I was going to come home drunk and destroy everything. Scott put me (mostly) at ease though by pointing out one vase that I was forbidden to break, while the rest was, if not fair game, at least pardonable. Phew!
As it happened, there was no time for drinking before heading back to meet up with the glammed-up and gorgeous Jess and on to her birthday party. The champagne and cider was flowing, there was an amazing birthday cake that not only looked like an elephant, but tasted awesome too, and I got to catch up with my uni friend Amber, who moved to London last year (and was meant to visit me last year except she lost her passport) and my cousin Vanessa, who I hadn't seen in years. Good time had by all!
We were once again blessed with good weather the next day, so we shook off our hangovers and took the bus to Greenwich, a part of London I've never been to before. After a yummy pub lunch, we strolled along the waterfront and checked out the Old Royal Naval College, which has free entry to see the beautiful Painted Hall and chapel.
And then hauled ourselves up the hill to the Royal Observatory, home of the Prime Meridian i.e. 0° longitude and the home of Greenwich Mean Time. Suckers pay to get into the observatory to take pictures on the Prime Meridian, but Scott's inside knowledge lead us around the side, where you can do it for free! There are other bits of the observatory which are free as well, so we spent a bit of time wandering about before visiting Scott's Favourite Tree on the walk back down, where we decided to catch a ferry back into the city.
Once we actually got going, the boat was a nice way to see the city from the water on a lovely day, which I've never done before, but I'll just say this - don't use this mode of transportation if you're ever in a hurry! It took us at least an hour and a half to get from Greenwich to Embankment (I think that's where we got off anyway), most of which was spent in the queue - we were unlucky enough to be about the fourth spot back when they roped off one boat, so we had to wait even longer for the next.
But still, we were in no hurry and had time for a pint in a pub with the world's smallest toilets before heading to dinner at Kettner's, opened in 1867 by Napoleon III's former chef, where we were treated as VIP guests thanks to a less-than-perfect Valentine's Day outing for Scott and Jess. Since I wasn't there on the Valentine's in question, I was more than happy to benefit from the very attentive service and complementary champagne (not to mention the other bottle of champagne, delicious three-course dinner consisting of goat's cheese, confit duck and chocolate torte, and bottle of Pouilly-Fuissé for dessert, which my generous hosts treated me to). I'm not used the champagne flowing quite so freely, so this weekend was quite the extravagant treat and I felt very spoilt!
The trip finished with an early night and a trouble-free run up to Stansted by car in the morning, before getting home, feverishly unpacking and cleaning, and welcoming Rick in the evening. It really was a lovely weekend, so lucky with the weather both in London and when I got back to Tours, and lovely to catch up with a bunch of old friends and meet new people such as Scott, who did a great job welcoming me and even did an early-morning supermarket run to provide me with hangover bacon (two thumbs up!!)