This was my first time to England during the Christmas season, which is my favorite holiday, so you can say that I was a pretty happy traveler at this point. Everything is covered in lights – Piccadilly Circus is like walking into a Christmas commercial, Somerset House turns into an ice skating dream, and Hyde Park becomes the magical (but insanely overcrowded) Winter Wonderland.
It also meant it was cold. I’m from the land of perpetual summer, so while the locals CLAIMED it was actually a pretty mild winter and there wasn’t any snow and it was relatively warm (lies), I still bundled up real well then proceeded to buy more socks to wear with my Wellies (first rainboots I’ve ever bought, I might add) and cozy beanies. One such beanie was at an adorable Christmas Market next to the London Bridge. There are all sorts of cute apparel you can purchase, as well as amazing food and warm drinks.
Camden Town was the best place we found for mulled wine. I had never tried mulled wine before, and we walked up to a stand where this lady was brewing it fresh in front us, and the aroma warmed my frozen body. If you’re not familiar with this drink, it’s wine warmed with a variety of citrus and spices that is around during the holidays and I LOVE IT.
Camden is also a great place to find Christmas carolers, holiday gifts, and crowds. London’s a pretty packed city as it is, but oh my goodness it was insanely packed with shoppers and tourists, so we didn’t stay long. We did get a chance to witness this adorableness happen:
Remember how I mentioned the ice skating rink at Somerset House? My travel buddy and I made a visit to check out the rink and see how much tickets are. To our dismay, you had to buy the tickets way in advance and come during your allotted time slot. Tickets were completely sold out or the remaining ones were too expensive for our budget. We decided to hang around a little bit to watch the skaters and families enjoy their time with each other.
We were leaning against the edge when a gentleman skated up to us and asked us if we wanted to skate. We told him we didn’t have tickets and were just watching when he said “I have two extra tickets, but you have to use them now because the time slot is up in 45 minutes.” WHAT. After picking our jaws up from the floor and profusely thanking this man, we ran into the changing area, grabbed some skates, and rushed out to the ice.
I found the guy afterwards and offered to buy him a beer, but he was with his family and looked a little weirded out and I think his girlfriend/wife/special person thought I was hitting on him, so I ran away. That moment was so special for us, and I wish this man knew how happy he made us traveling California girls and how he made a small dream come true.
To save money during the holidays and on our trip in general, I went around house sitting using the verified website TrustedHousesitters. How this exchange works is people will go on holiday but don’t want to take their beloved pets with them. In exchange for free accommodation, I come in and live in their home while loving on their animals and doing general housework. It’s an absolutely great way to live as locals, meet new people, create new opportunities, and have some pet companions. The week of Christmas, I was house and pet sitting in a gorgeous house in Putney, which is south London and a rather upscale area.
Down the street from where I was living was an old English Catholic Orthodox church, traditional in every sense with brick exterior, scaled roof, an organ, wooden pews, and everything you’d imagine a centuries old English church looks like. We went to Christmas Eve Midnight Mass in this beautiful church, which is even more surreal with the accents and a very traditional church service.
On actual Christmas day, my travel buddy knew some friends who were flying in that day, so we planned to meet up with them for dinner. As it turns out, everything is closed on Christmas. The public transportation, restaurants, stores, etc. At home in America, there are quite a few restaurants that will stay open, as well as a variety of Christmas activities. While it was difficult to find a place to meet (we located a restaurant attached to a hotel that served a proper Christmas dinner that we Ubered to), I actually really appreciate the value the British place on this holiday. Spending time with loved ones is cherished, and I like that.
Dinner came with what’s called Christmas Crackers, a British tradition. It’s a tube or a barrel that you pull open (creating a crack! sound, hence the name), revealing a paper crown inside. It is thought that the crowns might symbolize the ones worn by the Wise Men and are usually worn when eating Christmas dinner. It was the perfect British Christmas with new friends in new places.
As fate would have it, we ended up meeting Myles and Victoria again in Brighton for New Year’s Eve, then again at home in California much later. Travel friends are the best friends.
Happy Christmas from my little traveler family to yours!