Britain: Christmas in London


We spent Christmas day in London. Anticipating it to be similar to Christmas in the US (a popular holiday, but with things open), we planned on doing a fair amount of stuff. Unfortunately, pretty much everything was closed, and it was both cold and rainy, but we still had a fun day exploring the city.

Lots of balls! This display was intended to give some idea of the size of space. Pretty cool for a department store window.

Lots of balls! This display was intended to give some idea of the size of space. Pretty cool for a department store window.

On Christmas eve, we’d gone along the Thames – south of where we were staying. For Christmas, we headed north and west, out of the central Marylebone area into Little Venice, Notting Hill, Paddington, and Hyde Park.


First stop: Baker Street. In particular: 221B Baker Street, to visit the residence of one my favorite fictional characters, Sherlock Holmes. I remember my grandfather gave me a Sherlock Holmes stories when I was maybe 10 or 12, and I absolutely loved them. I even remember him telling me that Holmes had since retired to live in the country as a beekeeper (now a movie). I knew that Conan Doyle, the author of the Holmes stories, had invented a fictional address. Maybe to save some unfortunate Londoner from regular harrassment. There’s no actual 221B – or at least, there wasn’t. Now there’s a Sherlock Holmes museum, which you can visit. Naturally, it was closed for Christmas (and I wouldn’t have wanted to go in anyway – a tiny museum in a fictional place dedicated to a fictional character). We posed outside among the Japanese tourists who were also taking photos. The apartment/museum is suprisingly close to the large Regents Park.

Ha! Candid photo at the start of the day's exploration, near Marylebone.

Ha! Candid photo at the start of the day’s exploration, near Marylebone.

We followed the border of this park north, and it was already starting to get dark at this point. This was a problem for the duration of the trip. Although milder than the US, the UK is much further north than even NY (look on a map). So although I was expecting it to get dark early, the sun was already down by 4pm! In the dark, we visited Abbey Road for more photos, trying to remember which way to face while crossing.

Abbey Road

Abbey Road

Abbey Road itself is a pretty busy intersection, and you have to pity the local drivers, with all the tourists frozen mid-stride on the crosswalk. This area of the city is pretty far outside the center, and we curved further away from our lodging to visit a few more neighborhoods. Our ultimate goal was Notting Hill. Alex loves Hugh Grant, so it was a must-visit.

Little Venice in the murky weather

Little Venice in the murky weather

On the way, I was curious to see ‘Little Venice’. After all, we’d seen ‘Big Venice’ the year before. It’s basically three canals whose banks are filled with houseboats, and felt closer to Amsterdam than Venice – perhaps also due to the cold weather. (Clarification: Alex doesn’t really love Hugh Grant).

Awesome sculpture made of soap - it was slowly disintegrating in the rain.

Awesome sculpture made of soap – it was slowly disintegrating in the rain.

Notting Hill was a bit of a disappointment to me. Cute, but it was filled with BnBs and hotels, probably because of the cachet of the name and fact that it’s not too far from Westminster and Buckingham Palace. That said, we found a really cozy little pub… perhaps the second that we saw open all day (I managed to track it down online – Sun in Splendour).

It turns out that pubs in Britain have a separate kind of tap for some beers, a handpull. They’re supposed to aerate the beer, but in practice I didn’t notice much difference. Some brands always seemed to be served via handpulls, while others were on regular taps. I naturally ordered these handpull beers, since they seemed more exotic – my favorite was Doom Bar, not least because of the awesome name.

It was a long walk back along Hyde Park to the School of Economics, where we were staying, and we headed to bed early. We had a travel mishap, uncovered a few days early, that meant we’d be getting up extra early to arrive in our second city of the trip, Manchester.

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