Dream Come True: London

For the past three years, my mother and I have traveled together on Memorial Day Weekend. Not so much because of the federal celebrated holiday, mainly because every year Mother’s Day in the Dominican Republic falls on the Sunday before Memorial Day. (Yes, I am Dominican. Both my parents were born in the Dominican Republic.) Okay, where was I? Traveling to a new location has been a great way to spend mother-daughter time at least once a year, especially now that I moved to DC. This year’s location was really based on the question: where can we fly to for the cheapest, knowing that we are about 4 weeks out. After hours of searching for flights and destinations around the world, the cheapest flight I found was London! Shoutout to Heathrow Airport! I was able to find a roundtrip flight to London, departing from Boston Logan International Airport for $382 flying with American Airlines. The minute I saw that flight, I said to my mom: “HECK YEAH! Mami we need to get on that! I’m not trying to snooze and lose.” I was really surprised at the price. Like I said, we literally waited for the last minute to find a designation for our mother-daughter trip. I assumed it would be more expensive as a result of the time of year. You know what they say when you assume…assuming makes an……. yeah yeah yeah. 

Anyways, the first step I usually take after purchasing a flight is checking for Airbnb accommodations. However, there weren’t many listings for that specific weekend and the cost was very close to the cost of a 3-4 star hotel. I went on hotels.com and found a great deal at Doubletree by Hilton Hotel London – Tower of London, $500 for 4 nights. Super happy with the price and pictures online so why not?! My mother and I ended up having an amazing experience. The service was amazing! Our cleaning came everyday of our stay to check in with us and personally ask us if we needed anything for our room. She gave us extra toiletries, mainly for my mom because she loves herself some free hotel shampoo and conditioner. The actual room that we stayed in was super clean. I am a huge: bathroom needs to be on point anywhere I stay type traveler and this bathroom was sparkly clean. Another great perk was the location! When I tell you the hotel was legit within a 2 minute walk to the nearest metro stop: Tower Hill, and a 5 minute walk to the Tower Bridge of London. ​It literally made all our city exploration that much easier. 

Day One

How do y’all feel about red eye flights? This was exactly that! On the flight here I watched a couple movies, the main one that stood out: The Hate U Give. Had me bawling my eyes out on the flight. Flight was super smooth and we ended up arriving earlier than expected. We landed in Heathrow Airport around 8am. First time standing up after the entire flight, my legs were feeling weird, that’s for sure! After we went through immigration customs we hopped on the Heathrow Express train which takes you from the airport to Paddington in 15 minutes. I would highly recommend hopping on this express train if you are looking for a quick, easy way to get from Heathrow Airport into the city (Paddington Station is the stop). I purchased a roundtrip ticket for $50 each for my mother and I. Once we arrived at Paddington we hopped on another train to Tower Hill, which is the closest metro stop to our hotel. All in all, it took us about an hour to get to the hotel. It would have taken less time, but I was trying to figure out which direction to take (kind of got lost), how to read the metro map and we squeezed in a quick info session on the perks of an Oyster card. If you are going to be in London for more than 3 days, I would highly recommend getting an Oyster card. It makes the paying process so much easier and it’s a great souvenir at the end of your trip! 

Once we arrived at our hotel we were greeted with freshly baked chocolate chip cookies at the front desk! I don’t know what I was more excited about, the freshly baked cookies or the fact that our hotel room was ready and the person at the front desk allowed us to check in early! We were tired from the overnight flight. All we wanted to do was put our bags down and take a quick 2-3 hour nap. Luckily, that is exactly what we did. Flash forward to 1pm: mother and I are out, and about. Roaming the streets of London. We woke up extremely hungry from our nap so we went straight to the Tower of London to find something to eat. The most traditional meal in London is fish and chips! Great for me since I am pescatarian, and my mother rarely eats meat! We managed to get fish and chips for 7 euros from Tower Vaults. We ate that while walking around the area and enjoying the view, including the London Bridge. After our tummies were satisfied, it was a mutual agreement that our next stop should be: the London Eye

We purchased a ticket combination of fast track entrance to the London Eye and one more London attraction (keep reading to find out the second attraction). Fast track entrance was totally worth the extra money to avoid a long line, and to mention the views from inside the London Eye was absolutely breathtaking. Did you know the London eye has 32 ovoidal capsules, one for each of the London boroughs? The capsules are numbered 1 to 33 – with no capsule numbered 13 for superstitious reasons. ​

After taking a ride on the London Eye, we took a stroll to find a red telephone booth. On our way to a red telephone booth we came across the Big Ben. However, it is currently under construction so we were only able to see the outline of the building as well as the clock face itself. A few steps further down we found the Westminister Abbey and a statue of Mahatma Gandhi at a nearby park. We were super drained after all the walking that we decided to catch the nearest underground train back to the hotel. All in all, day one was super productive, keeping in mind that we arrived in London early this morning on a red eye flight. We were super satisfied with what we were able to see and do.

Day Two

Woke up bright and early. The time difference truly made me feel like my body just received 24 hours of sleep. Remember when I said to continue reading to find out the second attraction we opted in to experience. We went to the Sea Life London Aquarium baby! I’m a huge animal person, whether it is an animal on land or in the sea. I usually try to make it a thing to directly or indirectly interact with an animal on all of my trips. The line to enter the aquarium wasn’t too bad because we went super early. Entry is based on your specific time slot so I would definitely recommend going first thing in the morning so you hit less human traffic as possible.  

The entire aquarium experience took about 1.5 hours. My favorite part of the aquarium was definitely the penguins. Super super super cute! If you are traveling with little ones or simply love animals like myself, head over to the Sea Life London Aquarium. You won’t regret it!

After the Sea Life London Aquarium we walked over towards the Westminster Bridge, where my mom was able to capture this beautiful picture of me with the London Eye in the background. I am surprised I was able to get a decent photo without a photo bomber. The Westminster Bridge was super packed with tourists and natives attempting to do magic tricks in exchange for money. This is the part of the trip where my mother and I were hypervigilant of our surroundings because we were informed that there are a bunch of pickpockets in London. I figured if it was going to happen to us at all, it would happen here. I moved my backpack to the front and just kept it pushing. We walked about a mile to get to Buckingham Palace. I was hoping to see the Queen, but that for sure wasn’t a thing. I was fascinated by the Queen’s guards (guards dressed in red). They legit were not moving at all. Imagine having to stand for hours at a time without making a sudden movement. I think I’d cry. I give props to them! Unfortunately, the changing of the guards ceremony was not scheduled for today, but if you are interested in seeing the changing of the guards ceremony you can access the schedule here. 

After we took in the view and all the pictures we wanted to cut through Green Park, located on the right of Buckingham Palace, and hopped in the Green Park underground line to do some window shopping in Oxford Street (underground stop = Oxford Circus). Although the only shopping I did was purchasing a London double decker bus charm from Pandora, I truly enjoyed walking around and seeing all of the (designer) stores  they had in the area. If you are into designer fashion, this would be your happy place. I’m talking, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Chanel, Burberry, Tory Burch, Moschino, Saint Laurent, and more!

Seriously, it was designer galore. The great thing about purchasing designer things in London is that you do not have to pay London tax (well you pay for it up front and then they reimburse you). All you have to do is fill out a tax form, bring it with you to the airport, and before you check in at your terminal, you show your receipt of the item(s) you purchased, and they give you back the amount you paid for taxes.

After window shopping for about 2-3 hours, we decided it was time to grab something to eat! We hopped back on the underground train and made a stop at St. Paul’s (metro stop for St. Paul’s Cathedral). We originally walked to Nando’s, but realized this restaurant was big on meat, we should have definitely looked up the menu beforehand. We ended up eating at Pho St.Paul’s, which was literally right next door. (I hyperlinked the main menu.) The food was pretty good! I ordered a king prawn (shrimp) vermicelli noodles, and my mom ordered chicken vermicelli noodles. It was a legit authentic Vietnamese restaurant. I give it a solid 8. 

After we indulged in such amazing Vietnamese food, guess what happened?! Yuuuupppp, the itis! I was ready to go to sleep! My mom was really pushing for us to walk home, and my response was, “absolutely not!”. My mom loves walking! I do too, but I have my limits. We hopped back on the underground and went back to our hotel room. Quick 15 minute train ride. Once we got back to the hotel room, it was wrap. I knocked out cold. Woke up about two hours later wanting to explore. We got ready and took a walk down to the Tower Pier, which is super close to the Tower of London.

Here you can take a water form of public transportation up and down the River Thames. We didn’t do the little water taxi, but we definitely took a few pictures with the Tower Bridge in the background. I was so happy there was another family who were able to take our photos because I have yet to invest in a tripod! After our mini photo shoot, we tried to find a bar nearby, but everything was closed in our area. We didn’t feel like going too far away from the hotel since it was close to midnight, so we just decided to go back to the hotel and call it a night (for real this time).  

Day Three

Everyday we spent in London had its own unique experience, but hands down day three was my favorite day! From the beginning of the day to the end it was amazing. Let me tell you why. We started off the day with a walk to the Tower Bridge, we did not go inside to the top but, you can if you want. Check out the hours and admission prices here. Captured the view from different angles, and even managed to get a cute picture of my mom. As you can see she was super happy! Then we walked about a mile to get to Tate Modern, London’s contemporary museum.

(Remember when I said I try to directly or indirectly interact with an animal when I’m on trips? Same thing with contemporary art museums! I absolutely love them!) Tate Modern Museum has four floors of just amazing pieces of art. Highly, highly, highly recommend going! The museum is absolutely free, and I promise you it is worth your time. We spent hours there, truly appreciating every exhibition. 

From Tate Modern we made our way to Brixton, which is located south of London. Brixton has such a different ambiance compared to the other parts of London. It has a Caribbean feel to it with more people of color. We came across a Jamaican restaurant, Turtle Bay, and we loved it! We went during happy hour time! They had the option of selecting three appetizers for the cost of 18 euros, and drinks were equivalent to $4 USD. As you can see in the photo below, the three dishes we selected was king prawns, duck (strictly for my mom, #pescatarianlifestyle), and crab cakes. The food was spicy, which I should have known. I literally had to take a gulp of water after every bite, but honestly, it was so worth it! The food was really good. My mom loved it as well. I would highly recommend it! Not only is the food good, the service was amazing as well. Drinks were great in taste and portion for its cost. 

After spending a couple hours at Turtle Bay for happy hour, we decided to continue our roaming. We spoke to a few locals and we were informed of a Dominican community in Elephant and Castle (underground metro stop). Once we were informed, it was a wrap! We both knew we needed to find this Dominican community. Imagine Dominicans in London. Oh snap, oh snap, oh snap! Imagine it and believe it because it is a real thing. We hopped on the metro and found our way to Elephant and Castle. There is in fact a Dominican community with corner stores similar to colmados/bodegas and restaurants with Presidente beer, traditional food, and Bachata. For the duration of our time in Elephant and Castle, we truly felt as if we were in the Dominican Republic. We forgot we were in London for a second. Aside from Dominicans, there were a lot of Colombians present in the community as well. So for all of my Colombians out there, there is a mini Colombian community for you in London!

Before the end of the day, we did one more stop: Shoreditch! Talk about street art galore! If you love art, street art in fact, this is the place to be! The neighborhood of Shoreditch is legit filled with streets, alleyways, and buildings of pure street art! My camera roll probably has a good 50-100 photos of beautiful street art. I could not stop snapping photos. In this area, I put my mom to work with her photography skills! (Thank you mom!) Aside from all of the artwork, Shoreditch has a number of restaurants. A lot of Indian/Halal food options. If you are a fan of Indian/Halal food this is also the place for you to be! My mom didn’t eat here because we were still pretty full from eating at Turtle Bay, but we were definitely tempted. We literally walked in the neighborhood for a good two hours; didn’t leave until the sun started to set. That was our cue to head back to the hotel. For this night, we decided to have dinner at the restaurant located in the hotel because we received a 5 euro coupon for being great guests at the hotel. The coupon is to only be used at the restaurant located in the lobby. A 5 euro coupon sounds like nothing, but I swear a little goes a long way! My mom and I were able to share a whole margarita pizza for half the price because of our coupon. We are all about saving and traveling on a budget! 

Day Four

Ugh, day four = last day in London. More like the last couple of hours in London before having to head to the airport to catch our flight back home. My mom and I woke up super early, and were roaming the streets by 9am. We weren’t really on a mission, mainly just wanting to go to a souvenir shop to perfect shot glasses (I always buy a shot glass from every country I visit). We went to the Tower of London area, and shopped around for the best prices on shot glasses. Managed to get 4 shot glasses for 10 euros, which isn’t too bad. We continued walking west and realized we weren’t that far away from St. Paul’s Cathedral, which we saw on day two.

We returned to the hotel, took one good last view outside of our hotel room floor to ceiling windows, and hopped on the train to Paddington station. One return ticket to Heathrow Airport please! Again, a quick 15 minute ride. Thanks to Heathrow Express! Totally worth it. If you are traveling to London, I highly recommend purchasing this service. ​

We also came across the London Monument, which is another underground metro stop. There wasn’t much time left before we needed to head to the airport, so we cut the exploring short on this day.