Our journey began at what still seems like today, because a real night of sleep has not been achieved. I worked on Thursday until late afternoon in downtown Chicago and then hopped on the CTA with my weekend bag. Meanwhile, my husband was transporting our son to soccer practice and then driving to the airport to park in the amazing budget Parking Lot E that has a tram that takes you right to Terminal 3 where our flight was to depart and from Terminal 5, where we will return. At the same time, my sister was mobilizing to manage the household in our absence.
We had TSA precheck, which normally means you can go faster through security. However, it seems 1,000 other travelers also had precheck, so in the end it was significantly faster to go through normal security procedures. We got to the plane without much time to spare before loading began. The flight itself was relatively uneventful, and to me seemed less tiresome than the last time. I slept some and ate what was served. Pasta, if you must know, and yogurt for breakfast.
We arrived at Heathrow, which seemed much more familiar this time, got through Border procedures, loaded our Oyster cards and hopped on the tube.
Our hotel, Club Quarters Gracechurch, is in the City of London, one of the oldest sections of town. The buildings in the area are a mix of very old and very new. The City of London houses the financial district, so in contrast to the hipsters of Shoreditch that were encountered in our last trip, we waded through platoons of fancy suits to our hotel. Our hotel is nice. The room is quite basic and small, but clean, and the price is right. The coolest feature is big windows on two sides of the room facing a selection of ancient buildings and modern buildings. It’s not a big, expansive view, but it’s a neat close-up city view. It has a teeny bathroom with the essentials. A shower, no tub, same as our last hotel. Although I prefer a bath at home, I would never use one on the road. A shower fits the bill.
If ever you are trying to figure out how to get a full bath into a tiny space, come to London and visit a few budget rooms in hotels. If you don’t come away with ideas, you simply aren’t paying attention.
The receptionist allowed us to check in immediately, so we were able to nap, shower, and FaceTime the kids back at home. They were getting ready for school. Their Aunt, who so kindly stayed with them, looked a bit exhausted. (We owe her!)
We went out for some sandwiches and then hopped back on the Tube to do the Emirates tour.
We’ve been on tours of several stadiums in our prior travels. We visited the Melbourne Cricket Grounds when we travelled to Australia and Fenway Park when visiting relatives in Boston. I don’t watch cricket and am not a big baseball fan (certainly not a Red Sox fan) but in both cases I enjoyed touring these stadiums. There is a lot more to sport than meets the eye; visiting the physical plant in which sports occur gives a special perspective and history that’s not possible by watching on TV.
But this was a special tour, naturally, because I love football and love the team that plays at the Emirates. Before we went on the tour, we visited the Armoury, the massive super store onsite selling Arsenal gear and trinkets of all shapes and sizes and stripes. I had only been to the smaller shop close to the Arsenal tube stop before this; it seemed massive until we stopped into the Armoury, which is closer to the Holloway tube stop. It was so huge, it was overwhelming. I was in the mood to finally invest in some of this season’s gear, but the options were so plentiful I ended up walking away with nothing.
You start the stadium tour from inside the Armoury, in the parking structure underneath the stadium. May I say it is probably the most beautiful parking structure I have ever seen?
I recognize that all detail I might be able to impart here would fail to be of interest to anyone who reads this blog, so I’ll try to be disciplined. We went up to the Directors box, so fancy, that held the Invincible’s trophy. The Invincibles were the famous Arsenal team from 2003-2004 that completed the entire Premier League season without losing a game. We sat in the Chairman’s seat and looked out over the field, where the scoreboard still retained Tuesday’s score from the Champions League match with Bayern Munich, 2-0. We went up to the Diamond Club. We saw trophies, including a special FA cup display devoted to Arsenal’s unmatched success in that tournament, and busts of famous managers and chairmen.
My favorite part of the tour was the portion where you’re able to retrace game day preparations by the teams. Where the players enter the stadium by bus, the dressing rooms, the entrance through the tunnel onto the field. We sat in the home bench seats protected by covers. (My husband, a soccer coach for many years, made a special point of sitting in Arsene Wenger’s seat.) I was surprised how low the seats are in relation to the field. No wonder Arsene Wenger is so often standing during the match. The grass was amazing. It was near perfect, like the most beautiful carpet in the world. We saw the giant hot tub where the guys hang out after the match, the massage tables. We were in the interview rooms and the press room (where again, my husband sat in Arsene’s hot seat). And we we were in the room where the journalists end their day, filing match reports at rows and rows of desks.
We couldn’t help ourselves: next we went into the Arsenal museum. I won’t belabor it, but if you love the Arsenal, some day you must go.
We went back to our hotel and then out into the neighborhood to find dinner. Our hotel was right across from Leadenhall Market, used in filming the Diagon Alley sequence in Harry Potter and the Philiosopher’s Stone. Although it was quite chilly, hundreds of people were ending their work day in the street with a pint of beer or glass of wine. We ducked into a pub called the New Moon on the corner of the market. The pub was somewhat a mixed bag for atmosphere. Some sections were as charming as could be, some were a little weird-looking and run down. Good music, upbeat. The pub did not appear to be especially clean. But I’m glad we stayed because the food was excellent. I had a falafel, quinoa, and butternut squash salad that was perfection. The falafel was crisply fried, the butternut squash was deliciously caramelized, and it was accompanied by sweet and juicy pomegranate seeds. My husband had beef pie. Quite delicious, also.
We shared a Pear & Perry tart tatin with clotted cream ice cream. Ok, I had way more than he did. Oof. Amazing.
We walked around the neighborhood and looked at the buildings, from classical to modern. The famous Gherkin building (yes, so-named because it resembles a pickle) is nearby. A neighborhood so picturesque you can’t begin to photograph everything that’s beautiful, but if you try to, you absolutely shouldn’t force anyone to look at all your photos.
Oh, geez. I guess I just did.