A historic time in London (plus an epic stopover in Iceland)

On Thursday September 8th 2022, Buckingham Palace announced via BBC that Queen Elizabeth II had passed away at the age of 96, ending a reign of 70 years and 214 days — the longest of any British monarch. As fate would have it, this announcement preceded our departure to London by about 24 hours, so we ended up on a visit to the United Kingdom during extraordinary times.

Mr. Chuckles and I sure seem to have bizarre luck with our travel timing. Mr. Chuckles was in Cuba in 2016 when Fidel Castro died, and we returned from our trip to Cambodia and Vietnam in the nick of time before the Covid-19 pandemic was declared in March 2020. Our trip to London makes it the third time between the both of us that we’ve been abroad during major historic events!

So how did the Queen’s death impact our travel plans?

We had a lengthy bucket list of things we wanted to do, see, and eat during our visit to London, and at the top was a tour of Buckingham Palace and attending an Arsenal match at Emirates Stadium. Well, both of these were quickly removed from our list. The palace was immediately closed to visitors upon news of the Queen’s death and we couldn’t even get within viewing distance of the gates during our week in London on account of the massive crowds.

Back in 2017, I was able to get right up to the Buckingham Palace gates.

This time around, we got as close as The Mall, about a half mile away from the gates, giving us only a microscopic glimpse of Victoria Memorial.

As for the Arsenal match, we had actually managed to obtain tickets for both the Arsenal v. Everton fixture on Sunday September 11 and the Europa League fixture against PSV Eindhoven on Thursday September 15 — after much effort in navigating the complicated ticket purchase process. We bought the Everton tickets via official reseller P1 Travel (translation: $$$) but the match was promptly cancelled. Word to the wise, P1 has not been accommodating with refund requests, so I would forewarn anyone thinking of using them. I was able to procure cheap seats for the PSV Eindhoven match via Arsenal directly, and at first it looked like this match would go ahead so we were quite excited. Lo and behold, we received news about its cancellation once we arrived in London. Fortunately, I was able to refund these tickets easily through Arsenal Fan Services.

Missing the Arsenal game was a huge disappointment to Mr. Chuckles, who has been a diehard fan for decades. If the Everton match gets rescheduled to spring 2023, we may consider a return to London to make use of those expensive tickets. King Charles better stay healthy until then!

Although we missed out on a couple activities, it was a special experience to be in the United Kingdom during this moment in history. We were able to witness events that we will not see again in our lifetime and it sure makes for some interesting travel stories to share.

Travelling abroad (post) Covid

This was our first international trip since the start of the pandemic. Having received four vaccine doses by now, I wasn’t too worried and in fact, Covid seems to be “over” in much of Europe. There are no testing, quarantine, or even masking requirements anywhere and very little talk of Covid at all.

With my guard down, of course I ended up sick! Shortly after landing in London, I developed the ominous sensation of a scratchy throat and this evolved into fatigue and a hacking cough over the next 24 hours, taking the better part of the week to recover. Fortunately, Mr. Chuckles never caught what I had. I never ended up taking a test so I don’t know if it was the dreaded C-virus, but at least I was feeling back to normal by the time we moved onto Iceland.

Feeling under the weather was an annoyance, but I was more concerned about potentially dealing with massive airport delays, what with all the news about travel nightmares recently. Luckily, our transit went very smoothly on all legs of the trip. I ended up having to check my luggage on the way home (Icelandair has very small carry-on baggage restrictions) and I was pleasantly surprised to find my suitcase already on the carousel when I arrived at baggage claim in Toronto Pearson. That’s a first!

Our London and Iceland itinerary

Despite our disappointments and some hiccups, we did still manage to do and see a lot during our time in London and Iceland.

Day 1

Arrival in London. Lunch at Borough Market. Walk along the South Bank and explore Covent Garden.

Day 2

Breakfast at Sky Garden. Visit to Tower of London and walk across Tower Bridge. Attend evensong service at Westminster Abbey. Sunday roast dinner at Blacklock.

Day 3

Attempt to see Buckingham Palace (failed). Paid respects to the Queen at her floral tributes in Green Park. Afternoon tea at sketch Gallery. Tour of Churchill War Rooms. Dinner at Brat Restaurant.

Day 4

Rabbie’s day tour to Oxford and traditional Cotswolds villages. Dinner at Lima London.

Day 5

Breakfast at Dishoom. Walk across Westminster Bridge for attempt to see Queen’s procession to Westminster Hall (failed). Visit to Tate Modern. Dinner at Seabird Restaurant. Watched Witness for the Prosecution at County Hall.

Day 6

Morning at Portobello Road Market in Notting Hill. Lunch at Ottolenghi. Visit to Kew Gardens in afternoon. Stop at Paddington Station to see the Paddington Bear statue. Dinner at Dishoom.

Day 7

Arrival in Reykjavik, Iceland. Walk around downtown Reykjavik. Dinner at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur for Icelandic hot dogs. Evening on Northern lights tour (failed).

Day 8

Arctic Adventures tour to Golden Circle and Secret Lagoon. Dinner at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur again for more hot dogs. Stroll on Reykjavik Sculpture and Shore walk.

Day 9

Arctic Adventures tour to south shore. Evening at Sky Lagoon.

Day 10

Spa day at Blue Lagoon. Departure to Toronto.

Look out for my upcoming blog series with more detailed recaps of our trip to London and Iceland. I have lots to share, but for now I need to catch up on the work and emails that accumulated while I was away…