Day One: Prepping for the wedding, walking around London

The old Bulldog of British politics still stands guard at Westminster

Why am I not tired?

I didn’t sleep much on the overnight flight to London. I had a crazy busy weekend ahead of our journey abroad.

And all I want to do is walk around this magnificent city.

Let’s back up a minute. We’re in the U.K. for a very special reason – the wedding of our oldest son, Pierce. You may have caught last year’s blog about his proposal to the love of his life Ghazal. The date is now set for Sunday, Aug. 19 at Carlton Towers in West Yorkshire.

My wife, Grainne and I, flew over to London on Sunday night following a successful gala for our family charity, Curing Kids Cancer. (Raising more than $100,000!). Our two youngest sons – Garrett and Finn - came over a few days earlier to do their part in making sure Pierce had a memorable bachelor party.

I’m not sure we got all of the details, but there are rumors flying that Pierce dressed up like Uncle Sam and greeted bewildered Brits as they stepped aboard the underground train system. Now that’s making America Great Again!

With the pre-wedding shenanigans over, Grainne and I wrapped up our charity duties and headed to London. After a largely uneventful flight, we met Pierce, Ghazal, Garrett and Finn at Heathrow and made our way into central London via the Underground. Disappointingly there was no Uncle Sam to great us as we entered the train with our many suitcases.

We headed to the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, our headquarters for the next few days. If you haven’t seen this place recently, then you’re missing a treat. Marriott has spent some serious coin in making this a destination hotel. Built in the 1860s and 70s to front the St. Pancras railway station, this red brick Victorian structure towers above everything in sight. The “Grand Staircase” is truly grand. Its underground pool and spa are a peaceful sanctuary from the hubbub of London. The bar is classy and not cheap. I think we’ll be happy here.

The grand staircase of the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel

We reach the hotel by 10am, and because it’s so early, our room is not yet ready, so we head over to Pierce and Ghazal’s nearby flat for a “bacon butty” – a English bacon sandwich slathered in butter. It’s true. Traditional English is fare is not particularly healthy but dang it’s tasty.

We catch up on the latest wedding plans, meet Marley the dog, laugh a lot and before you know it, it’s time for lunch. We head to the Skinner’s Arms, the local pub where we had eaten on our last trip over.

Grainne and I shared a massive steak and ale pie, downed with a pint of Guinness. Garrett and our friend Sarah indulged in chicken and leek pie, Pierce and Ghazal shared sausage and mash, Finn ordered an all-time favorite - gammon steak (ham) with a fried egg. Our friend Sterling admitted to a lamb obsession and ordered the lamb burger.

We waddled out of the pub.

AND I’M STILL NOT TIRED!

Grainne goes back to the hotel for a nap, but I volunteer to lead the younger ones – who are less familiar with London - on a walking tour of Westminster, Whitehall and Trafalgar Square. So we jump on the Victoria Line to Victoria Station and walk down Victoria Street.

We dash into Westminster Cathedral, the mother church for English Catholics (not to be confused with Westminster Abbey). One bonus if you’re a tourist - there is no entry fee for Westminster Cathedral. We light a candle, say a prayer and amble down to Westminster Abbey and Parliament Square.

The foot of St. Peter in Westminster Cathedral, worn by the touches of the faithful.

If you’re visiting London this year, you’ll miss out THE icon of the city. Big Ben is wrapped in scaffolding as it undergoes repair.

Walking down Whitehall, it strikes me that there’s a photo opp every five minutes in this city. Downing Street. Horse Guards. Trafalgar Square.

On guard or posing for tourists? Does it matter?

Just as we’re about to head back to the hotel, Pierce calls to ask if I can run a wedding errand. How can you say no? So the gang follows me over to Covent Garden to take care of printing the wedding programs.

Now there’s one last job – find a restaurant for tonight. We settle on Le Restaurant de Paul, which is part of the Paul chain of bakeries. I know, I know – why choose a chain? Well, first Paul (established in France in 1889) makes fabulous breads and pastries. Secondly, they have a pre-dinner three-course menu that’s only GPB 15. And thirdly, it’s air conditioned. With temperatures in London hitting 80 degrees this week, that’s a bonus!

Here’s what I got for GBP 15 (about US $20): country paté, chicken paillard with broccolini, and crème brûlée. My wife had the same menu, except she chose chocolate mousse as her dessert. Other dishes that filled the table included pea soup, duck confit, steak entrecote, not to mention charcuterie, cheese puffs and a cheese board. The food and service were exceptional.

We finish our meal. We chat. And I feel my eyes closing. I’m finally tired. Pierce takes notice and announces that it’s time to leave.

We stroll home and take in a few more sights, including the former home of J.M. Barry, the author of Peter Pan. I climb into bed where sleep comes quickly. Whisking me away to Neverland and dreams of more adventures in London.

Sterling, Garrett, Sarah and Finn outside Westminster Abbey


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