This is our oral history of my 35th birthday trip to London!
Megan: Somewhere between LA and London, hovering between 34 and 35-years-old, as most of the plane slept, a flight attendant noticed that I was awake and excited told me to run up past first class (“tell ’em Selina sent you”) and look out the window to see the Northern Lights.
With my heart pounding, I raced past the un-aware passengers, blew through curtains, avoided the feet of the lay-flat first class, and pressed my face up against the tiny window in an emergency exit door. Sure enough, there they were: Pale and bright green lights, shimmering in the sky.
I debated not waking up Mike for a second — boy needs his sleep — but then I was like, “I’d murder him if he kept this from me.” So I rushed back and shook him awake, “You need to get up right now and come with me to see the Northern Lights.” He was up in a flash and rushing back to the tiny window with me.
It was the first (and maybe only) time we’ve seen them. And I cried from happiness, and relief, and full-body-tingling awe, as we watched the towering green lights dancing above the clouds.
I thanked Selina, the flight attendant, for the incredible birthday present, and she poured us two glasses of champagne (I drank them both of course). I believe the moment I turned 35, I was standing above the northern hemisphere, glass of champagne in one hand, Mike’s hand in my other, the aurora borealis shining behind me, and the rest of my life, looking just as bright and wondrous, in front of me.
After that excitement, and a few more glasses of champagne, I slept surprisingly soundly. I can’t say the same for Mike.
I was still riding the Northern Lights high as we deplaned and zoomed through customs (as much as you can zoom while standing in a long queue). I got a “happy birthday” from the customs agent, we snagged our bags, and were off to Mike’s college friend Pete’s flat in Richmond, with a cab driver that managed to annoy us with his personality as well as the fact that he took speed bumps like he was trying to launch his black cab to the moon.
Pete’s flat was charming and not without its quirks — steep staircases, tiny hallways, and… creative access points to let light in (aka. a terrifying grate in the bedroom floor!?). Since his sister, Soph, was in town, and his son, Leo, was staying with him the next day, we were given a blow up mattress in his office, and was told that it may have a slow leak. Although, to our delight, he assured us that he ran his moist face over every inch of the mattress and couldn’t find/feel a leak. But, at 4am the next morning — when we found ourselves practically sleeping on the hardwood floor with air mattress all around us — we had, indeed, confirmed a leak.
Mike: The taco bed!!
Megan: Anyway… around noon, after a quick pub lunch in the garden (they have gardens and children’s playgrounds in the bars in England!), and a birthday Guinness for me, that blowup mattress in a cramped space looked and felt like absolute heaven as we napped.
Then it was up and time to rapidly get dressed all fancy-like for my Special Michelin-Starred Birthday Dinner in London. But first… busses, and trains, and subway rides galore, as we wound our way from Richmond into my favorite city in the world.
Mike: Two Michelin stars!
Megan: Once properly ensconced in the city — Harrod’s to the left of us, “the most expensive condo in the world” to our right, and crowds, double-decker busses, and useless red phone booths all around us — we blindly followed Pete around, wildly guessing at which direction the restaurant was.
We eventually found it, but not before Mike and I squabbled about whether or not I was going to be hit by that bus. (I think I was totally safe.)
Mike: Megan is still alive, thanks to me.
Megan: Dinner was such a freaking treat! First of all, it was in a super-nice hotel. Our table had a gorgeous view of the trees in the park next door. And everyone was so very posh and British. I was in proper English heaven. Adolescent Megan, who dreamed of eating fancy meals in London, was just squirming with delight. Okay, Adult Megan was doing the same thing. Although as good as the food was, it wasn’t my favorite…
Everything was a bit challenging for me, and I still feel bad that I ate and hated that frog leg, knowing now that Pete would have loved it… as he loved ALL the things.
Pete’s pure enjoyment of the food was one of my favorite parts of the meal. Well, that and the meat fruit (chicken liver paté that looked EXACTLY like a tangerine from the outside. Except, surprise! It’s meat inside. Apparently it’s an OLD British practical joke, and now an inside joke, as it supplied endless conversations, between the three of us, about our German metal band called “Meat Früt.”). I also loved the little portable liquid nitrogen ice cream cart they push around the restaurant.
After dinner we walked to the original Soho House, in fucking Soho! It was awesome — very different from LA’s. It was an old sprawling brownstone-type building, with tons of tiny little drawing rooms filled with tables, or couches and cozy chairs, or small bars. But, due to all the quaint tiny spaces, it was crowded beyond comfortable. So we sweated profusely as we waited for our drinks (once again Pete reminded me of the joys of the espresso martini when you’re starting to really feel the late hours and previous cocktails catch up to you) and then journeyed downstairs to sit at their lovely (but small) outdoor patio. So small that we were forced to share a table for a while with Tobias Menzies (of Outlander and Game of Thrones fame!!!). Of course, I didn’t realize it was him, until we were happily seated at our own table a couple of steps away. But another unexpected birthday sighting to close the night? I’ll take it!
We ended the evening with a late-night stroll around London. We checked out statues and took selfies on bridges… until Pete remembered that he’d left his cell phone back at Soho House. So we Black Cab-ed back to Soho House and then all the way back to Pete’s, where we crashed on our Leaking Air Mattress Taco Bed.
The next day we ate a breakfast of avocado toast and tea in Pete’s sunny shared garden space, and worked out our plans which included drinks, walks, and the thing that I think I loved the most on this trip…
At one point, Pete asked me, “Do you think we should row to the pub?” And I was all, “Is that some kind of British saying for ‘go to a bar?’ or do you really mean ‘row a boat to a pub?’” And he confirmed: “It means, rent a rowboat, row it down the Thames to a pub.” Um.. the answer to that is always going to be YES.
And I’m so glad we did! It was so much fun. Even though Leo kept pulling the rudder to the right, so I spent the entire ride course correcting… Even though it started to rain in big fat cold drops when we were only halfway there…
Even though, when we got to the pub, we found it flooded and had to take off our shoes and climb awkwardly over railings and wade through river water to fetch our drinks… Even though the water started to recede, like, 5 minutes later, and Pete had to awkwardly climb back over the railing to move the boat, while balancing a complaining Leo on his shoulders and head, and somehow miraculously deliver him onto the tipsy boat that was only attached the the land by a loose rope and Pete’s big toe…
Even though, once finally seated as a group, enjoying our hard-earned beers (and one aperol spritz for Pete), we got the memo that Pete’s sister, Soph, had arrived, hours early, to his flat and she didn’t have a key… Even though we spent the next ten minutes trying to figure out how we were going to both get the boat back AND get back to Soph in a timely fashion… Even though I was nervous that it was up to Mike and myself to get the large row boat back to the Boat Guy all by ourselves, so that Pete and Leo could run home to rescue Soph…
Mike: Megan, still alive. Thanks to me.
Megan: Our time in London ended with a loud and drunken dinner over Indian food, and a fitful sleep in our Taco Bed, before leaving in the wee hours for Edinburgh.
We took the train, which was awesome for these reasons:
1. I got to see Platform 9¾, a la Harry Potter fame!
2. We got breakfast at a restaurant next to the station, and, while I learned that I do not like cheese in my pancakes, Mike learned that the restaurant’s owned by a chef favorite of his from Australia!
3. We rode First Class and got served snacks and REGULAR coffee the whole time.
4. I saw a lot of sheep and cows.
5. We both got a LOT of work done. Which meant we could enjoy Edinburgh ASAP.
Mike: I remembered why I’ve wanted to take one of those epic cross-continental train trips at some point in my life – it’s relaxing and mildly glamorous way to see a country. Then the non-stop jabber of an old lady in a nearby seat began to grate… and I remembered why I don’t really want to take an epic cross continental train trip.
But it was a lovely way to get to Edinburgh for amazing meals…