Visiting London was always something I have wanted to do, but I just never knew when the opportunity would come about. I have always been curious in learning how similarly yet different American and British culture and history is. Is it always rainy and cloudy? Is the national dish really Chicken Tikka Masala? Is tea time really worth the hype? Well it came as a shock to me when one random Ramadan morning I woke up ready to start my typical day and then suddenly by night I was on the next flight to England.
That morning I received a frantic phone call from my aunt in Algeria informing me that my cousin, a university student in England, fell ill and required assistance. Since my aunt didn’t have a visa to enter, my husband and I decided to go and help my cousin.
Although it was not the first trip we took with my then 6 month old daughter, it was the first overseas trip and we were a bit nervous. How we prepared everything in time to leave that very night, in the middle of Ramadan, for an 8 day trip is beyond me. I packed enough baby essentials for a few days and planned to buy more as needed while I was in London. I generally recommend only doing this if you speak the same language or share the same culture of the country you are visiting. Otherwise, try your best to have everything packed and ready to go.
During the 10 hour flight from Phoenix to London, I started to smell a familiar aroma. It was Chicken Tikka Masala! I thought to myself that surely my mind must be playing tricks on me because why would this scent be on a British Airways flight? Well as it turns out, the national dish of Britain really is Chicken Tikka Masala because that is what we were served for dinner. After landing, we rented a car and quickly remembered that the British drive on the left. My husband did a few practice driving sessions before we hit the road to see my cousin in Brighton, England, two hours away. Out of respect for her privacy, I will not discuss what had happened to her but Alhamdulilah, she was already feeling much better when we arrived.
Before I speak about London, I want to share some insights of Brighton. It is fairly calmer than London and much colder than the 110 degree (43 degree Celsius) we just left Phoenix in. Although not as buzzling as London restaurants during Iftar time, my cousin took us to a few spots with Halal options. We highly recommend Shandiz for Persian food and Mascara for North African dining. We spent most of our time helping my cousin relax, but there were some moments where my husband, daughter and I would be able to go walk on the Brighton Palace Pier alongside the English Channel.
It was rainy and cold most days, however England makes up for it by being so green. On our drive to visit London, we passed by miles of endless grass fields. There were small English cottages perfectly lined up on the road. There was plenty of space to pull over and take photos and even privacy to perform salah prayers while gazing over the greenery.
Since this trip was suddenly planned, I didn’t have the usual time to come up with a proper itinerary. I took a screenshot of top attractions in London and we went from there. We walked by Big Ben, West Minister Abbey, Buckingham Palace and Tower Bridge. We visited the Tower of London, British Museum as well as take a ride to the top of the wheel in the London Eye. I highly recommend bringing a baby carrier as some parts of the Tower of London don’t allow open strollers, including the pods of the London Eye.
London is no stranger to Muslim culture or tourists. Stepping into grocery stores or simply walking the streets, you’ll find a hijabi staring back at you from a billboard or bus stop advertisement. Although I acknowledge my privilege in being an American tourist, Londoners were always helpful and polite to us when we asked for directions. They loved to hear the American accent and would ask us about American life. They were curious about American politics. We would laugh together with the British people we met mimicking the way each of us pronounced the same English word differently.
London offers numerous Halal restaurants open for Iftar time. As travellers, we were exempt from fasting but the hosts made us feel welcome during Ramadan since we were so far away from home. I recommend Maedah Grill for Turkish food and Tayyabs for Indian food. Although we were not able to get a taste of the famous fish and chips, we did experience a traditional British afternoon tea at The Wolseley. The assortment of finger sandwiches, pastries, jams, scones and tea were just the perfect combination of savoury and sweet.
One of the last places we saw on our trip to England was the Stonehenge. I have always been intrigued by ancient monuments that are still a mystery today. It is a perfect getaway from the chaotic city life in London and only less than two hours drive. While there is a lot of walking to do in the open space, there are many benches surrounding the monument to sit on. This was perfect for feeding my daughter as well as giving my cousin a chance to relax.
As our journey came to an end, my husband and I realized that not every adventurous trip has to be planned. We do not need to stress if we do not have a whole itinerary planned before we go somewhere. Part of traveling can be unexpectedly exploring new territory, even if you are with a baby. I would recommend London to everyone, especially for those who already speak the English language and are familiar with the culture. Because of those familiarities, England is the perfect place to take a spontaneous trip. Most importantly, we are humbly grateful to Allah (swt) for being in a position to help a loved one no matter what part of the world they may be in.
Nouha is originally from Algeria and grew up in New York. She received her Masters Degree in Occupational Therapy and loves to work for non-profit organizations. She is currently writing her first children’s book. Throughout her life, she has travelled and explored different parts of the world as a solo, fellow and mommy traveller. She currently resides in the United States with her husband and two children. She highly recommends travelling with children and not to view it as burden or reason not to travel. She will be sharing tips and tricks on how to do this in upcoming articles. You can follow her on Instagram by clicking here.