This year, we celebrated the holiday season in Italy with a last minute decision to add London into our Christmas Day plans. London was a surprise add on to our Bolzano/Venice trip. Adam had the brilliant idea to surprise me with a trip to London. We have both been several times before, but he knows how much I love London. We don't need to see Big Ben or walk by Buckingham Palace again. We've seen most of the sights in London on every "must see" list, but London is different. London isn't just on my travel to-do list. More than just another city on my growing list of travels. It is more than just a city to me. My time there was life altering and sometimes I have trouble believing it really happened. I grew up in London and learned more in 6 months there than I did in 18 years of school. Knowing all of that and being the master of plans and surprises, he found cheap flights, booked a hotel on points, and changed our itinerary for a whirlwind 48 hours in London. A memorable Christmas indeed.
On Christmas Day in London, the city shuts down. A city built around a public transportation system of trains, the Underground, and buses stops completely. Nothing runs unless you are lucky enough to grab a black cab around the city. We woke up for a morning workout and a quick breakfast before setting out for Christmas service at Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB), my old stomping grounds. When I lived in London back in 2007-2008, I often made the the journey up to HTB for a little Jesus time on Sundays. I loved the church and the authenticity of the people I came across in my time there. I also came to know the art of Charlie Mackesy. Still a favorite.
Our walk to HTB was just over a mile and a half through the city. We strolled from Victoria Station through a nearly deserted London. We saw very few people or cars during our walk. We enjoyed the quiet morning and arrived early to the church. Before the doors opened, we stood near the doors and enjoyed being surrounded by British families. We just listened on the chatter around us enjoying the accents and general Christmas cheer. I do love those accents. Once we were seated, a lovely British woman in her 70's (she told me her age at least 3 times) sat down next to me. She arrived with her sister and brother in law but sat up near us on her own. We chatted for the 15 minutes leading up to the start of service and it was wonderful. We chatted about the weather, her family, holiday traditions, her home village, Christmas pudding, and Jesus. She was full of life and spunk and we were basically best friends by the time church was over. Seriously. She has been on her own for over 26 years after losing her husband and she was full of joy. We parted with a hug, two kisses on the cheeks, and a happy Christmas. My London-loving heart was just overjoyed. I could have chatted with her all day and been perfectly content. One of my favorite parts about our conversation was her love for Jesus and her joy at seeing a full room of worshippers on Christmas morning. It was truly something special to celebrate the birth of Jesus all the way across the world with unfamiliar faces, but the same Christmas carols and spirit. One body, no matter the distance.
After church, we walked another mile and a half to our Christmas lunch reservation in SoHo. We went outside the traditional lunch and opted for Cinnamon SoHo, an Indian restaurant. Our set menu included 4 courses, all equally delicious and satisfying. Our original plan for Florence was to feast on pasta, but Indian food was a welcomed change from our current normal.
Our lunch ended and we continued with our strolling. We took a lap through Leicester Square and my personal favorite, Covent Garden. The streets filled with people in the afternoon bringing back the normal London-buzz. Lots of tourists were out taking in the sights by foot and enjoying the city sans-public transport. Since we were in an English speaking country, the next logical stop on our itinerary was a movie. Obvious choice, right? We went to see Rogue One right off Leicester Square filling up most of the rest of the afternoon. It was nice to hear a bit more English and rest our feet and legs for a bit. Plus, Star Wars is always better than no Star Wars. Am I right? So good. Thanks to my brothers for forcing me to watch Star Wars so many times growing up. I mean, SO many.
We wandered a bit more, as we tend to do, and eventually made our way back to our hotel for an early night. It was a new kind of Christmas, but we loved the day. What a treat to be in one of my favorite cities in the world for Christmas for the SECOND time in my life. If ever I was to use #blessed, now would be the time, but I won't. Instead I will leave you with a few pictures from our day including the one featured above. A giant balloon drop at HTB to celebrate Jesus' birthday. Everyone loves balloons and what a way to say Happy Birthday. So Happy Birthday Jesus, thanks for another great party.