London, a Thanksgiving trip recap

A recap of another trip to London, and a summary of attractions, pubs, restaurants, and lounges which made the itinerary

London, a Thanksgiving trip recap
Gherkin cocktail bar view at sunset

Just like last time when I visited London, the temperatures rarely ventured above zero degrees centigrade. At least this time around I had some proper attire to keep me warm, so maybe not all is lost when it comes to learning from experience. My parents came along for the visit, and although we went over the Thanksgiving holiday, the trip was also to my sister's 30th birthday. However, just because it was a quasi birthday celebration, does not mean we sat home all day eating cake and drinking tea. Instead, as is typical for when I go travelling, must be something in the Bajkowski genes, we tried to pack as much exploring into the trip as possible.

One of the first destinations was Wimbledon, also known by the proper name as The All England Lawn Tennis Club. As a kid I always dreamt about playing at Wimbledon, but alas this did not materialize, so the least I could do was to visit these hallow tennis grounds. Granted it would have been more entertaining to visit during the actual championships, but nevertheless I can at least claim to have been there. The tennis museum, although a little bit on the pricey side, is definitely worth a trip for every tennis fan. We also visited the famed Tower of London, located next to the equally famous and picturesque Tower Bridge. There is a lot to explore here including the White Tower which contains beautiful armor exhibits and the Crown Jewels.

London as seen from the Royal Observatory

Another historic landmark we visited was the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, which as the name implies is home to the Greenwich Mean Time and the Meridian Line. The views of London from the hill on which the observatory is located are fantastic as is the museum, which is free to attend. The chronometer exhibit is particularly interesting detailing the longitude problem which was eventually solved by John Harrison and his H4 Timekeeper. His H1 through H3 prototypes are also on display and functioning, which allows one to see all the fine engineering in detail, the progress and refinements from one version to the next, and of course the miniaturization - very cool if you admire engineering marvels.

With all this exploration we also got hungry, so we had to hit up a few fine dining and drinking establishments. One restaurant worth mentioning is the Salvador & Amanda Tapas Bar. Located in a cellar and very well decorated this restaurant has a fantastic atmosphere in which you will enjoy sipping on sangrias for hours. To be frank, I found the food to be only on the fair side and the service a little inattentive at times, but because of the fantastic atmosphere even that can be forgiven. On the other hand, if you are really looking for some fantastic food you need to check out the Vrisaki Greek restaurant. This was the second time for me at this establishment and it was just a good as I remembered. Large portions, fantastic taste, great service and simply all around good people. It might seem a bit like a whole in the wall from the street, but don't let this fool you. You might need to call ahead and make sure you can get a table as it is highly popular with locals who have been frequenting this joint for ages. Another place not to be missed is the London Borough Market which is simply a culinary delight. You can find some very exotic dishes here or settle for the familiar, but in either case you will be delighted. There are stands dedicated to just about anything you can imagine and everything seems superbly fresh as if it has just been delivered from the farm - delicious!

Gherkin Building

Now what would a trip be without a few tasty beverages. One spot we visited was the Trafalgar Tavern, which is located right next to the University of Greenwich on the Thames river. This is a historic pub dating back to the early 1900s and has large bay windows from which you can enjoy a lovely view of London. The vibe is very relaxed, although the large open spaces might not be for everyone. If you happen to visit this place on a Sunday be sure to order the Sunday Roast in addition to a lovely pint - you won't regret it. Speaking of pubs, given my last experience I simply had to stop at The Captain Kidd again and I'm happy to report that this is still my favorite pub in London. You can have several superb pints, great bar food, a great atmosphere, and all of this without ruining your bank account. Chatting with the bar tender I found out that this pub is owned by the Samuel Smith Brewery out of North Yorkshire, which operates over 300 pubs throughout England. Having been around since 1758 you can tell these guys know what they are brewing and when it comes to my beer pallet they are right on point. I'll be back at Captain Kidd's for sure next time I get to visit London. If you dare to take a little road trip outside of London, a fantastic pub is the Five Horseshoes Pub out in Maidensgrove. We arrived there pretty late in the evening on a very cold day, and the interior with nice wooden benches, low ceilings, and a nice warm fireplace seemed to comes straight from a hobbit tale. I've been told the surrounding countryside is also breathtaking, so I'll try to make it out there earlier next time around.

If you fancy more upscale venues over pubs, London has plenty to offer in that department as well. The only problem is that many of them are very strict on the clientele they admit and tend to require private memberships which often times can only be obtained through recommendations. In short, you might need to pull a few string to get in. One such place is Bungalow 8 on St. Martins Lane. This is the second time I've been to this venue, and just like last year when I visited it for the New Year celebration I just don't find very much special about it. The crowd is all right, the design of the place is fair, the drinks are very expensive but then again that is to be expected, but there is just nothing I find too inspiring about the place - maybe it is just not my cup of tea. On the other hand, the private club at The Ivy is a fantastic three-level creation full of class. One feels transported back in time to long gone days of bourgeois splendor which is lacking in most establishments these days. Comfortable couches, a skilled piano player, smooth drinks and delicious desserts - a very nice way to spend the evening indeed. If you desire something with more of a view, then you might want to consider the cocktail bar located at the top of the Gherkin building. The glass dome which houses the bar offers breathtaking panoramic views of London that are second to none in the city. On the downside, the lounge really lacks ambiance and the service is nothing to write home about. Granted, it likely is mostly targeted for business meetings, but with city views like these it is a shame that not more effort was put forward in making this a truly amazing experience.

London is a fantastic city and I’m looking forward to heading back there some days and discovering a few more spots. Cheers.