I’ve been calling the UK my home base for the last year and a half (even though I’ve spent about 6 months away), and since last year’s plan to spend Christmas together with my parents in Switzerland fell through, we decided that this year we were going to spend the holidays together.
When I travel on my own I usually tend to go in various neighbourhoods to see what the local life is like. I do visit the touristy sites too, but my favourite thing is to get lost in different areas, stopping for coffee and doing some people watching. With my parents coming over, it was the perfect opportunity to revisit the numerous attractions in London that I hadn’t taken the time to visit since moving here for the housesits.
The morning my parents landed in London, I was ready to go meet them. Or so I thought.
I had bought my bus ticket to the airport, looked up how long it would take me to get from the flat to the station. Even adding a few more minutes to my planning to make sure I would be there when they would land. Little did I know I had forgotten to take some rather important information into account. I had looked at the time to go from the flat to Victoria station. The train station. And I was catching a bus.
Now if you are familiar with London you know that the Victoria bus station is not far from the train station at all. But when you come out the wrong exit, and you only have 10 minutes before the departure of the bus you end up walking really quickly.
I arrived at the station with about 7 minutes to spare, but when I looked on the departure board I couldn’t see which door my bus was leaving from. I thought I would walk around the station and surely I would see it. I made it to the very back of the room and quickly noticed I couldn’t see it anywhere. I came back, starting to think I wouldn’t find it in time and would have to catch the next one. That’s when I knew I had done the exact same mistake as my first time in London, trying to find my bus to Scotland. The bus station is actually divided up into two buildings. And of course, I was in the wrong one. I quickly made my way to the other half of the station, and sure enough, my bus was there. People were slowly getting in so I joined the queue and took a deep breath. I would be on time to greet my parents.
When I arrived at the airport, my mum sent me a message from the other side of customs telling me that the line was really long. I wasn’t going to spend my time waiting by the door so I found a quiet spot, relaxed, and enjoyed some delicious coffee. A while later my mum texted me it was almost their turn to go through customs. Knowing they would be in desperate need for caffeine in order to be somewhat coherent after their red-eye flight and being such a good daughter, I went to buy them some coffees. The queue was quite long and when I finally turned around with the coffees, hurrying to get by the door, suddenly they were right there, in front of me. So much for my great welcome to London I wanted to give them… but at least they didn’t have to wait for coffee!
After all the morning emotions, we got back to the city to drop the suitcases in our AirBnB flat and get exploring. I knew I wanted my parents to see all the touristy sites, and since we had an underground pass for the day, I decided to start a bit further away and make our way back slowly. I took them to Marble Arch, an area I really like next to Hyde Park. The surprise on my dad’s face to come out of the underground right next to the massive arch, with all the double-decker buses around was amazing. I couldn’t have picked a better place to start.
For the remaining of our first day in London, we enjoyed a walk through Hyde Park, following the lovely Serpentine lake. The nature break was really needed and it made me realise that as much as I like cities, I do need some large space and some fresh air regularly. Later on, we headed towards Harrods, trying our best to avoid the herds of last-minute Christmas shoppers. We then moved on to Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey and obviously Big Ben and Westminster Bridge. I don’t think a first visit to London would be complete without seeing the iconic Big Ben and the London Eye. We ended our first day together by celebrating Christmas Eve back at our flat and enjoy a non-traditional vegan meal.
The next day it was Christmas day so all the buses and undergrounds were not working. It was a perfect day to go explore Tower Bridge and the areas around it. We clearly were not the only tourists in this part of the city but it was not as crowded as I had expected it to be. We did some exploring, this time seeing St. Paul’s cathedral and finding a Starbucks that was open for a much-needed coffee break. On the next day, we returned to some of the sights and added a few more like Covent Garden and came back on Millenium Bridge, enjoying the colourful views of London at night. It was already time to pack our stuff and get ready to leave for Scotland.
Staying in beautifully hilly Edinburgh meant that we had to visit the castle! It was my third or fourth visit, but I still found it quite interesting. And the views of the city are quite nice. We also went to the always busy Princes street to have a look at the Christmas Market.
I really enjoy rediscovering some cities I called home for a while with people who see it for the first time as they notice many things that are now normal for me. Being in Edinburgh involved more shopping, and eating out which was quite lovely. Even though we had rented a flat and were able to make our own dinners, relax and talking about our days, it’s always nice to eat out when there’s plenty of options for a vegan traveller. I even had my parents try some Haggis, but of course, we opted for the less-traditional vegan version at Henderson’s!
The next day, we went up Arthur’s Seat. Every time I’ve been there it’s always been so windy and cold, it made me feel like I was back home. While I do like Arthur’s seat, the place that really feels like home to me, is the Salisbury Crags, located right next to it. I love walking along the cliffs, and usually, it’s a little bit quieter since everyone aims for the bigger hill. The views over the city are simply gorgeous.
On our last day, we explored Calton Hill, and the surrounding streets, and spent the afternoon shopping for souvenirs. It was quite funny to be doing this as it’s something I haven’t done in a long time. I used to love shopping and bringing souvenirs home, but now that I carry all I own on my back, I rarely buy anything (unless it’s a really cute dress or jewellery). First of all, I don’t want to add weight to my bag and also I don’t have a home to display souvenirs in!
Lovely family time
I don’t know about you, but sometimes, being back with my parents 24/7 can be challenging. It’s easy to fall back to our old habits and get upset when our parents tell us how to do things. They clearly have our well-being at heart, but sometimes being told how to cook when you’ve been living on your own for years can be slightly infantilising, and frustrating. But luckily, this time around, we were all in a good mood and none of these unnecessary tensions was there. So I enjoyed every single minute spent with my parents. Seeing them discover what has been my new normal for a little while now was great. I started to notice things I had never seen before. All you need sometimes is to see your own city through new glasses, or a new point of view to realise how interesting or pretty it is.
We shared stories, discovered new areas together, laughed, and overall had a great family holiday.
Quieter New Year celebrations yet
After dropping my parents at Edinburgh airport on Dec 31, I came back to the city, only to find it filled with way too many people for my liking. I had time before catching the bus to my friend’s place, so I decided to go have coffee. The coffee place I picked is always fairly busy, but on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, it was packed with people already celebrating. I was definitely not in the same mood; it’s getting harder every time to say goodbye to my parents as I never know when I’ll get to see them next. As soon as I finished my coffee I left and decided to go wait at the bus station, a much quieter area in the city on that afternoon as most people were arriving and quickly joining the fun, and very few were leaving.
When I arrived in Dundee at my friend Aurelie’s, I discovered that I was not the only one fighting a cold. So much for our plans to go out! We ended up watching movies and barely made it to midnight. It had to have been the quietest New Years Celebration of my life so far. I must be getting older as I felt really good to get a good night sleep and I started the New Year feeling much better!
I will be in Dundee for the whole of January, so if any of you guys fancy going for a walk, coffee, drink or something, let me know!