London Calling

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!

London!

London greeted us with a lovely (rare!) blue sky.

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.

On a double decker bus, enjoying the view.

On a double decker bus, enjoying the view.

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.

Green Park still lived up to it's name.

Green Park still lived up to it’s name.

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 gate to Buckingham Palace. The Queen was not in…
Clearly she didn’t know we were coming.

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…”

Waiting...

Waiting…

We decided to wait it out and saw a bit over the heads of the people in front of us.

The Palace. How sad to have such a beautiful view but never open your curtains.

The Palace. How sad to have such a beautiful view but never open your curtains.

Changing of the guard

Here they come!

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.

Welsh Guards

Welsh Guards

During autumn and winter they do the Changing of the Guard every other day.

During autumn and winter they do the Changing of the Guard every other day.

Thanks to Sam's steady hand and camera skills for this shot.

Thanks to Sam’s steady hand and camera skills for this shot.

This one's for you, Mom. :)

This one’s for you, Mom. 🙂

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.

Green Park looking exceptionally green, even with orange leaves covering the ground.

Green Park looking exceptionally green, even with orange leaves covering the ground.

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).

The London Eye!

The London Eye!

The cutest tourist I saw all day.

The cutest tourist I saw all day.

Big Ben!

Big Ben!

Sam and Ben

Sam and Ben

Thanks Wind for the flippy hair. :)

Thanks Wind for the flippy hair. 🙂

Palace of Westminster, where the House of Lords and House of Parliament meet.

Palace of Westminster, where the House of Lords and House of Parliament meet.

Serious faces while waiting for the bus. They're quite serious, Londoners.

Serious faces while waiting for the bus. They’re quite serious, Londoners.

This just seems to very British to me.

This just seems to very British to me.

So glad I turned around on the bus to see this!

So glad I turned around on the bus to see this!

Looking through the London Eye...

Looking through the London Eye…

We drove a little further to have a great view of the Eye.

We drove a little further to have a great view of the Eye.

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:

The Imperial State Crown. Check out that huge ruby and the even larger (317 karat!!!) diamond below it.

Here’s where the Crown Jewels are held:

This did not look how I expected it to (based on a certain episode of Sherlock) inside or out.

This did not look how I expected it to (based on a certain episode of Sherlock) inside or out.

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.

"Repunzul, to the tower! ... There's a sale at Penny's!"

“Repunzul, to the tower! … There’s a sale at Penny’s!”

A Beefeater from behind.

A Beefeater from behind.
Standing guard

Standing guard

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.

Covent Garden all baubled up.

Covent Garden all baubled up.

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. 🙂

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5 thoughts on “London Calling

  1. I envy your coats and scarves! As well as your being in London. Also, if you return, there is a tasty Greek restaurant right next to the Globe Theatre called the Real Greek. I highly recommend it–well as it was in 2009 🙂 If you have a hankering for Greek/Mediterranean food, it is delicious!

      • When I ate there, it was the first “differently flavored” food I’d had in three weeks. Everything I’d eaten before was more traditional British food, so not exactly jampacked with exotic spices. And by exotic spices, I really just mean stuff like cilantro and cumin. I still remember the meal I ate there and can almost taste it. ALMOST. If I recall correctly, we had flatbread and dips of tzatziki, melitzanosalata (eggplanty and SO GOOD), htipti (cheese and roasted peppers) and probably something else. And we probably had kebabs, but I mostly remember the dips. I only remember the names because I just creeped on their website:
        http://www.therealgreek.com/menu/food
        And I want to eat it right now because I’m hungry and lunch isn’t for another hour here!!!
        So, next time you’re in London, eat at the Real Greek for me 🙂

  2. Your amazing attention to the details of the city brings back so many fun and pleasant memories…have been there twice..so much to see and experience..enjoy….

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