The London Experience
There’s one thing I didn’t anticipate when coming up with the ambitious idea that I would update this blog daily during our London trip: how exhausting sightseeing can be!
London is an incredibly easy city to navigate with the well-planned Tube lines – so much so that I wish I lived and worked here just for the convenience – but I can’t even imagine how many miles we’ve walked since our arrival. Those trusty Skechers I raved about in my review weren’t meant to handle this amount of abuse, but at least I’ve slept like a rock every night. :)
The flight was uneventful, albeit uncomfortable and crammed. My brother thinks he booked Economy Plus seats on the flight home, so maybe we’ll fare better on the return. The halls of Heathrow Airport seemed suspiciously quiet after we landed, but that was only because everyone was lined up at the UK Border for passport checks.
After nearly an hour of standing in the queue, I entered the UK ragged, exhausted, and makeup-less. Somewhere on the route from the airport to Paddington Station on the Heathrow Connect train, it hit me. We’re actually in London!
We didn’t stray far from our little bed & breakfast that first day. Being so close to Paddington Station, there was plenty to explore from our home base without getting on the Tube. Brandon wanted to buy a local pay-as-you-go phone to call home, so we wandered on the street past St. Mary’s Hospital where the Duchess of Cambridge recently gave birth to little Charlotte. Ty had been craving fish and chips pretty much from the moment we landed, and we’d spied a place close to our accommodations called Sussex Fish Bar, so we made our way back there for our first authentic British foodie experience.
We’re staying at the Barry House B&B near Hyde Park, and it’s a quaint little family-run B&B in a historic Victorian building. I did a lot of research when narrowing down our hotel selection, and I knew accommodations in London – especially those in historic buildings – are on the small side, but our family room had more space than most. I wasn’t prepared, however, for how tiny the bathroom is. I think we’ve all gotten used to it over the last few days, but it was a shocker.
Other than the fact that Barry House is a budget-friendly B&B with an outstanding location, I was sold on the full English breakfast, which has been amazing. Food tastes so much fresher and cleaner here, and the bacon is more like ham steak than regular bacon back in the States.
But I’m getting into the next day describing the breakfast, so. . .
Our First Full Day
After that yummy breakfast, we caught the tail-end of the commuter traffic on the Tube, and that was the first subway experience for each of us. Words can’t really describe the feeling I had when we came up the steps from Charing Cross underground and were smack dab in Trafalgar Square. I’d liken it to a spiritual experience, even though I'm not religious. It was simply breathtaking. The statues, the National Gallery, the fountain, the pigeons, a bright blue sky . . . so lovely.
We had come to Trafalgar Square to exchange some vouchers for our hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus tickets, which were located nearby at the tour company’s office. It was the best thing we could have done to acclimate ourselves to the city. The Original London Sightseeing Tour has a few separate bus lines, but the first one we caught had a very knowledgeable live tour guide. On top of the well-known landmarks, he pointed us to the shop where Charlie Chaplin had his hats made, the club where Prince Charles threw his stag night (or bachelor’s party), and a high-end shop where the cheapest product is ₤150 shoelaces.
The tour lasted a few hours, and since it also included a river boat tour down the Thames, we headed to Tower Hill to catch the boat after lunch at Garfunkel’s in Leicester Square. It was a short trip down to Westminster Pier, but the crew member and “unofficial tour guide” had some hilarious commentary, and we pulled into the pier just as Big Ben struck 4 o’clock.
From our bus tour, we knew we were close to the most photographed telephone box in London, so we made our way there for a quick photo-op.
We also happened upon Westminster Abbey less than 5 minutes before Evensong began, and of course I couldn’t pass up that opportunity. Here’s a tip: You have to buy tickets for a tour of the abbey, but if you attend a service, it’s free (although we did make a donation).
Most of the days have blurred together, but one of the most memorable days was Saturday when we went on the London Eye. Friday had been particularly cold and rainy, but Saturday’s clear skies made for some great views (and photographs)!
We also spent much of Saturday at the Tower of London.
Yesterday was our first authentic pub experience, although Brandon wasn’t particularly impressed with his beverage.
I, on the other hand, downed two pints...
Since yesterday was yet another rainy, dreary day, we spent much of it at the National Gallery. Unfortunately, there’s a strike going on and they’ve closed off some of the rooms, so I didn’t get to see my favorite painting, The Execution of Lady Jane Grey by Paul Delaroche. :( Even though it couldn’t be helped, that will likely be the one regret I’ll have when I get home.
Yesterday evening’s weather was still pretty pleasant, so we took a long stroll into Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.
Today was mostly spent at the British Museum, and I finally got to experience cream tea, which is lighter than a high or afternoon tea, consisting of tea, scones, clotted cream, and jam.
There were so many artifacts it would take a week to see them all, but we got to view the Rosetta Stone and some Egyptian pieces, so we called it a day.
I know it’s not a substantial blog post, but it hits the highlights. I’ll go into more detail after I get home and have extra time.