trip report: london babymoon
Ah, the babymoon. While Mike and I will use any excuse to travel (indigenous cheeses being a favorite, though), we knew we wanted one last hurrah before my travel ban started (Dec. 8th!). In case you're wondering, my doctor told me I shouldn't be more than about an hour away from my hospital after week 34.
Since we'd already done our big trip this summer to Istanbul and Greece over Labor Day, we weren't looking for another week-long destination, but something quicker. And while many people use their babymoons as an excuse to lie on the beach and do nothing (also a great idea), I had a free hotel stay burning a hole in my pocket and Mike was dying to see a Premier League football match.
Was it the most relaxing way to prepare for a baby? Absolutely not. Do I wish we'd had a week to explore London rather than a long weekend? Absolutely. But was it still a blast? Undoubtedly.
We flew Norwegian for the first time, as their prices were way below everyone else's. And while I'm sometimes skeptical of extremely cheap airfare from the States to Europe, the service, seats and food were all surprisingly good. It was a much better experience than what we had when we flew XL to Paris.
The only bad part was trying to sleep on the flight. Red eyes are tough regardless, but when you're a) supposed to be getting up every two hours to avoid blood clots and b) 28 weeks pregnant, it's a little hard to get comfy in an economy class seat. Little Lewin did not really feel like sleeping (I think she was excited about Harrods, too), so spent the majority of the flight chilling up in my right rib. Cool!
But, by the time we landed, we were so excited I didn't really mind the sleep deprivation. We flew into Gatwick and hopped straight on the Gatwick Express, which after a very pleasant train ride, dropped us off at Victoria Station. Our hotel, The Goring, was just about a five minute walk from there.
The Goring! A few months ago, one of the footmen (yup) came to visit me at work and gave me a gift certificate for a free stay whenever we were in town. I find it hard to imagine I'll want to stay anywhere else the next time we go back. The hotel is beautiful, with hand-painted wallpaper, a gorgeous room for tea, and the most hospitable staff you'll ever encounter. There's even a garden in the back where you can play croquet and practice your English accent. The best part was that the concierge staff worked with me to send someone out to buy Chelsea football gear so it was waiting in the room when we arrived, as a surprise to Mike.
Since we arrived fairly early on Friday, we stored our bags, grabbed a quick tea, and walked to Quilon for an Indian lunch. To be honest, it was decent, but didn't blow me away. But it was close to the hotel and did have excellent mango lassis, so that was a huge bonus.
After a quick change at the hotel, we took the tube to the Tate Modern, one of my favorite museums in the world. Bonus: it's free! FYI: for transportation in the city, we loaded up Oyster cards with about 15 pounds each, which lasted more or less the entire trip. We didn't actually take a cab the entire time. The tube in London is similar to New York's subway in that there are a lot of stops and the trains run very frequently. Of course, theirs is much cleaner and doesn't, to my knowledge, have pizza rats.
From the museum, we took the tube to Oxford Street, where I freaked out over the immensity of the Liberty department store. Did I buy baby clothes? Hell yes. Also: a new robe, party streamers, and lots of British candy.
While many of my trip itineraries begin with food and work their way out from there, I knew more or less immediately the two places that I want to do dinner while were there: Dinner by Heston Blumenthal and Nopi. We hit the former on Friday night and it absolutely lived up to expectations. If you're a foodie like me, you may have heard of the "meat fruit" dish that is served as an appetizer. It's chicken pate encased in an orange jelly, but it looks exactly like an orange. And it was heavenly. Still not quite sure if it was preggo-friendly, but I'm still standing, so hopefully that means I'm safe.
We also had a glorious dish of risotto with saffron that I'm dying to recreate with the Iranian saffron we bought in Istanbul. Stay tuned for that...
We were up the next morning fairly early to get dressed and head out for breakfast at The Ivy in Chelsea before the football match. The walk from the hotel to Chelsea was a very nice 20 minute stroll and I loved seeing all of the gorgeous town homes on our way. London is about 500 times prettier than most of New York but it still feels very urban and accessible. It's a good combination.
Other than the hostess asking us to take off our Chelsea scarves (rookie mistake!) the meal at The Ivy was splendid. Even at 10 AM it was packed with people and we loved sitting outside on the heated terrace. From there we walked the rest of the way to the stadium, about another 20 minutes. The game was a blast, even if Chelsea did lose rather miserably to Liverpool. They did, however, score one goal, so it was really exciting to see how the stadium erupted into cheers. During intermission (halftime? Is that the word?), we treated ourselves to a chicken curry pie and while we were in line someone offered me his drink tickets. "Oh," I said, "I can't drink!" And he just looked at my sideways and said, "They don't card here, darling." So, did he not know I was pregnant? OR: did I look like a pregnant teen? I am really hoping the latter.
Anyway, after the game, we wandered back through Chelsea, stopping in a few stores and picking up gobs and gobs of candy and cookies at Marks and Spencer. Dear world: why aren't flapjacks available everywhere?! After two more breaks for clotted cream and scones (in that order) we took the tube to Harrods, where we explored the absolutely stunning food hall, plus the spy room and, natch, the baby clothes. From there we zipped over to Regent Street, where we did a bit more window shopping before retiring to a New Orleans themed bar before our dinner at Nopi.
Nopi! Those of you who know me well are aware that I have a non-sexual crush on all of Ottolenghi's food plus a sexual one on Ottolenghi himself. Jerusalem is hands down my favorite cookbook. Nopi is one of Ottolenghi's sit down restaurants (as opposed to Ottolenghi delis which are more grab and go) and the dishes are definitely reminiscent of what you'll find in his cookbooks. While everything we had was truly spectacular and unique, the appetizer of the savory cheesecake was something you'd be hard pressed to find anywhere else. It will be one of the most memorable dishes of 2015 for me, for sure.
Sunday morning we met up with all-around fabulous person (and my former boss!) Jess and her husband and daughter. After a proper French brunch (ha! Get it?), we popped into The White Company (think the British version of Restoration Hardware, but less rustic) and Peter Jones (a favorite of the royals!) for some regular and window shopping. Baby Lewin now has her own copy of The Tiger Who Came to Tea, which is the most delightfully English book I have ever seen.
With a few hours to go before our flight, we hopped the tube at Sloane Square to Notting Hill, where were oggled the homes and stopped in at Ottolenghi to pick up lunch to eat on the train back to the airport. To everyone on the Gatwick Express that afternoon: I'm sorry if our moaning was misconstrued as something else: the eggplant really was just that good.
Thanks to the Cath Kidston at the airport, I managed to get a bit more shopping in (holiday slipper socks! Passport holders!) before boarding the flight. We ALMOST had a luggage emergency when they told us both our bags were totally over the carry-on limit, but some creative packing and wearing of many layers kept us in the clear. No joke, I think I had about 10 pounds of Percy Pig packages.
The flight back, being an evening one, deposited us back to New York at a reasonable hour, even with a fog delay (London...). And thanks to Global Entry, which I recommend everyone get IMMEDIATELY, we were through security in about 2 minutes and in a cab not long after that.
So now we're back in New York for the foreseeable future. It is a little weird to me to not have a trip on the horizon. Most of the time, we've got one to two in the works at any point in the year. I have no idea what it'll be like to travel with a baby, so, for right now, we're not planning anything until we see how we can handle it. I'm comforted by the fact that almost all of our friends with kids under a year have taken them on a plane, many to Europe or places equally as far, and lived to tell the tale. So, stay tuned for developments on that in early 2016...
For now, operation nursery begins this week!