bag leavingI recently had the opportunity to go to the UK for a business trip and could not pass up the chance to stay the weekend and spend a bit of time in the city. Okay – that is not entirely true – June airfare to Heathrow is so outrageous that the usual Sunday red eye through Thursday or Friday itineraries were outside of my budget. So I offered to spend the weekend, save the company a bundle on airfare and chill in London. I had hoped to arrange the plans so I could meet up with friends while I was there but unfortunately I couldn’t make it work out and this turned into an unplanned solo travel experience.

PaddingtonThe fun part of my adventure began on Friday afternoon when I departed the office where I had spent the week doing the worky work stuff. The office is in a suburb of London – Reading – about 45 minutes west. So I packed my bag, hoofed to the train station and bought a one way ticket (aka a single ticket) to Paddington station. The train ride into the city is easy, frequent, clean and all those nice things you want a train ride to be. Oh and expensive! On arriving in Paddington I fought through the Friday rush hour crowd and entered the Tube station – riding the Bakerloo line to the Central line and exiting at Holborn station. I exited the station and walked about half a mile to my hotel the Double Tree West End. True to Double Tree style I was given two warm cookies on check in!

Double Tree West EndThe Double Tree West End was very nice. I did one of the mystery deals on Priceline so I got a pretty good price (good for London at least). The room was spacious and comfortable. The decor was maybe a little too American for my international getaway, I imagine this same decor is used in all locals. The location was also very great.

I had left the office at 5pm and by the time I was settled in my room it was almost 8pm. It was a very long and tiring journey between the walking and carrying my bags up and down the stairs at each of the tube stations. I have always found public transportation in the UK to be very easy to use – and I still think it is, but it’s certainly not for the out of shape! Why don’t all the stations have escalators or elevators??

Covent GardenWhile I was physically exhausted I only had 36 hours for my adventure and I needed to make the most of my time. I rested for a few minutes while doing some research on Yelp of where to go. I should mention this is the first international trip where I had a data plan and what a life saver this is. I used my GPS the whole trip to walk around and find my way and research what I wanted to do next. This is totally key (and free with T-Mobile!!)

I had picked two restaurants that looked nice, plugged the first one into the GPS and started walking. Now, I visited at one of the best times to be in the UK. It was during the June Solstice – the longest day of the year, which in the UK means the sun sets well after 9 pm. It was also during the World Cup (before England was eliminated…), the weekend before Wimbledon kicked off and not to mention some of the best weather you can get in the UK. Of course, this meant every place was packed to the brim. I walked through the West End into Covent Garden and every restaurant and bar had people spilling on to the streets and enjoying their drinks while they stood in crowds on the sidewalk. And these were not drunk sports aficionados, this scene was investment bankers in three piece suits having their first glass of Pinot this year.

I misjudged the distance to my destination and walked for what felt like forever to my first dinner choice, Punjab. There was a line out the door so I decided to continue on to my second choice Dishoom, which had an even longer line! I’ve taken plenty of solo business trips and don’t have a problem dining alone during the week at half full restaurants. But on a Friday night I couldn’t bring myself to stand in line for a table and eat alone at a crowded restaurant. It was also after 9pm now, starting to get dark and I was fading fast.

Thai DreamI remembered reading a review of Thai Dream which was near my hotel and the reviews were very good and many said it was not crowded! So I headed back in that direction, resolving that if I could not get a seat here I would just eat cookies for dinner. Thai Dream is not located in the popular neighborhood with all the restaurants and if I did not have the GPS I never would have found it. It was down an alley and kind of off to the side. When I approached the owner was standing outside playing with his small son. I entered and was delighted to see only a few other diners in the restaurant. Just what I needed at this point! I immediately ordered a glass of wine and a fried rice dish and all was right in the world as I enjoyed my meal and my book. While this wasn’t the best Thai dish I’ve had it was still pretty tasty (especially compared to most British food!) and it hit the spot. Not to mention it was probably the only reasonably priced meal I had during my trip.

After dinner I made my way back to the hotel and immediately passed out.