We finally did it! We’ve been living within day-trip distance of London for almost four months and we finally took a day to visit. Sam spent a few days there when we were in college but I had never been. Now I have!
Out of my favorite travel destinations that I’ve been lucky enough to visit, large cities are usually not at the top of the list. Usually parks, beaches, or quaint towns top the list. I expected to enjoy London but to only tolerate certain aspects, such as the crowds, the usual city grit, and the typical tourist traps. I was pleasantly surprised! London, while sprawling, didn’t have the towering intimidation factor that I expected. It was very clean as well. I really loved it! Here’s a photo-filled run down of our trip.
First, Sam and I drove to a train station that connects to the Tube. With day passes purchased, we hopped aboard, only to discover that after one stop we’d have to get off and board a bus due to track construction. The replacement bus dropped us at another station, on a different rail line, so we turned to the map to make sure we were still on track. (Get it? Ba-dum-chhhh!) The London Underground Tube map is famous for it’s design appeal, but I had heard nightmares about trying to understand it. The initial design of the modern Tube map was created by Harry Beck in 1931 when he strayed form normal map ideas (keeping locations/distances to scale, using topography, street names, etc.) and based the map on the locations’ general relationships since it’s all underground and out of sight anyway. Here is the modern Tube map.
I had done all my research, found out exactly what line we needed to take, when to get off, etc. but then suddenly we were on a different line and all that was out the window. BUT, we were able to find our way easily! I was very thankful for two iPhone apps I had downloaded for free (Tube Map & Citymapper). We found the correct trains to transfer to and arrived in London in no time. (Note to self: Next time bring reading for the trip.)
We rode the steep steep escalator up to street level… and there it was. London!
Our plan for the day was to do the Original Double Decker Bus Tour to see the city. We were really glad we did it! It was really helpful to see how the city was organized and we covered much more ground than we could have on foot.
With our tickets we were able to hop on and hop off throughout the day, and we definitely took advantage of that. Shortly after we got on the tour guide announced that the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace was beginning shortly so we got off the bus and walked over through Green Park, hoping to catch some of it.
Standing outside of Buckingham Palace, shoulder to shoulder with strangers and a tri-lingual bobby calling out reminders to guard our belongings, was the only time I felt crowded.
The Queen wasn’t in, which might have explained why the changing of the guard started about 10 minutes late. You know what they say, “When the Queen is away…”
We decided to wait it out and saw a bit over the heads of the people in front of us.
After a few minutes (of what I think is a 2 hour ordeal) our rumbling tummies became our first priority. We tried to squeeze our way through the crowd towards any food source with little success. But, we managed to get an even better view by doing so! Most of these pictures were taken an arms length above my head, but at least I could then tell what was going on.
After we got a better view, the Guard band moved in and began playing. We watched for a bit as they played traditional songs of the royalty. I had read somewhere that the band also plays “modern” tunes to appeal to the crowd more… and lo and behold… Dancing Queen. ABBA follows us everywhere. Seriously.
We walked back through Green Park (BEAUTIFUL) and hopped back on the bus.
We hopped off the bus in Victoria and ate at a great pub called the Shakespeare. As we were eating, it occurred to Sam that someone had mentioned this pub to us… but he couldn’t remember if they said to avoid it or go to it. Either way, we were pleased with our lunch. Back on the bus to soak in more sights (and some of the rain that was starting to fall).
We decided to get off and check out the Tower of London. It was around 3 in the afternoon but we underestimated how much there was to see there! We left when it closed and we probably only saw about half of the exhibits/history there. We were, however, able to see the crown jewels. Holy cow. Impressive. We saw several crowns, baptism bowls, platters, royal spoons (yes), etc. including the Queen’s crown. Photography wasn’t allowed, but it looked like this:
Here’s where the Crown Jewels are held:
There were a few Beefeaters around the building but overall they did a convincing job of making it seem like a regular exhibit, when really the estimated value of the Crown Jewels is anywhere between $400 million and $30 billion. I tried to find a more accurate estimate, but it seems are if no one really knows. They don’t advertise their value, ha. There has to be some serious security measures behind those walls.
One of the most fascinating things about the Crown Jewels exhibit was seeing color video from the Queen’s coronation in 1953. Her young face was so stoic as they draped her in robes and handed her piece after piece of regalia. It’s difficult to even imagine what was running through her head. She has ruled through so much history and she’s still going strong. (“Not all girls want to be queen, Paris. Even Barbie ended up becoming a stewardess…”)
The sun began to set as we left the tower, casting beautiful light on the city.
Next we met up with some friends for dinner in the city. We felt quite cultured and cosmopolitan as we hopped on the Tube to meet up with them. Someone even asked us for directions, which as you know is the triumph of any traveler trying to blend in. Huzzah!
We met them in Covent Garden, which was warm and glowy in the dusk city lights.
With bellies full of steak and Guinness (when in
Rome London…) we hopped on the Tube and made our way back home. Our feet were aching, our eyelids were heavy, and the drunk guys next to us on the train kept singing “What does the Fox say?” (seriously OVER AND OVER), but my mind was focused on the sights of the day. I was smitten.
Lorelai Gilmore said that God lives in London… I mean, f we want to get technical, he is omnipresent, but I’m not sure if it’s His favorite city. It is now one of mine. 🙂