My mum and dad recently celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary and to mark this momentous occasion they decided they wanted to do a family dinner together – in London!
After lots of research, followed by lots of planning (mainly done by my sister, and organiser extraordinaire Gail), the time came to pack our bags and jet off on our first family excursion across the water to land of Westminster, Big Ben and red buses.
Thankfully everything went like clockwork during our flight from Belfast International Airport and just over an hour later we touched down in Gatwick where we caught the Gatwick Express train, followed by the Tube, to make our way to our home for the weekend, the Corus Hotel. Situated beside Hyde Park, and beside the Lancaster Gate tube station, this hotel could not have been better located. After checking in to our rooms, which were cosy, modern and boasted all the mod cons needed including very welcoming air conditioning, we headed to the in house restaurant for something to eat. The menu consisted of traditional options as well as spicy dishes ensuring there was something for all palates. As well as delicious, flavour bursting food the staff, who found out it was also my mum’s birthday that day, presented her with a complimentary dessert, garnished with a candle, which they presented whilst singing Happy Birthday to her.
London is one of those cities that no matter how many times you visit, there is always something new to do. This time round, I got to experience lots of firsts, these were my top five from this trip:
1. STATE ROOMS AT BUCKINGHAM PALACE
I have been to the gates of Buckingham Palace several times but this was the first time I got to step inside during a tour of the building’s State Rooms. As we toured through the Grand Hall to the Throne Room as well as the White Drawing Room to the Music Room not to mention the jaw dropping Ballroom, to name only a few, we not only got to glimpse the fabulous spaces in which the Royal Family conduct official business as well as entertain guests, but also got to see the current Royal Gifts exhibition, which tells the story of the Queen’s reign through a vast display of official gifts presented through the past 65 years. Once we completed our tour we enjoyed a cup of tea in the Buckingham Palace Garden Cafe, which really was a spectacular way to finish this particular adventure.
2. KENSINGTON PALACE
Our visit to London coincided with the 20th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana. Although we saw a special exhibition in her honour on display at Buckingham Palace, showcasing some of her never before seen personal effects as selected by Princes William and Harry, it seemed remiss not to also visit her former residence, Kensington Palace during our stay. One of London’s central Royal residences, the Palace boasts a stunning architecture as well as a remarkable history that definitely makes it well worth a visit.
3. MOTOWN AT THE SHAFTESBURY THEATRE
My mum is a huge fan of Motown and so my sister and I were raised on hits such as ‘My Girl’ and ‘Stop! In the Name of Love’. To celebrate mum and dad’s anniversary, we wanted to spend the night at the West End and so tickets to see Motown the Musical were a must. Motown tells the story of Gordy Berry, a man who broke barriers and fought against the odds to define the sound of a generation with the creation of Motown Records. With a cast that gives passionate and raw performances and a soundtrack bursting with hits from legendary Motown artists such as Diana Ross and the Supremes, Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Marvin Gaye and The Temptation, this show had me captivated from start to finish and dancing in my seat.
4. HYDE PARK
With Hyde Park situated right on the doorstep of our hotel, it was definitely high on our list of things to do. With beautiful buildings and wonderfully crafted structures such as The Serpentine Bridge, the Diana Memorial Fountain, the Peter Pan statue, the Serenity sculpture, and the Joy of Life fountain, Hyde Park and all it encompasses is a truly exquisite space that offers everything from walking / jogging routes, boating, swimming as well as areas to simply sit and soak up the atmosphere. On Sundays the Bayswater Road side of the Park also becomes the home to a wonderful street art exhibition where the artists display their works which are also available to purchase.
5. DRINKS AT THE SWAN
The Swan is a typically English pub which was neighbours with our hotel. With lots of outdoor seating and hanging baskets, this was a colourful spot to soak up some of the late summer sunshine we experienced during our trip. With an extensive list of cask ales and world wines, in addition to friendly and welcoming staff, I genuinely fell in love with this spot.
London is a city that never gets old however my favourite first of all during this trip was getting to explore this fabulous place with the people that mean the most to me.