Monday,March 19th, 2012
Today is my travel day between London and Paris. My flight doesn’t leave until 3pm this afternoon, however, so I have time to write up my London thoughts before I leave.
London was a pretty awesome city! There is an insane amount to do and see here. When I first got off the train at Victoria Station one of the first things I saw was one of those old style black cabs. The second thing I saw was a bright red double decker bus. London is so distinctive and full of similar icons of English culture that it is impossible to confuse it with any other city. When you are in London, you KNOW you are in London.
My first few minutes in London were actually a bit like meeting an old friend – or, a better comparison, finally meeting in person someone who you have been talking to on the phone for a long time. Everything seemed somewhat familiar and as I saw all these famous symbols of London (the taxicabs, buses, telephone booths, police officers etc…) I couldn’t help but shake my head and think; “Oh London, you are just as advertised.”
My hostel is located above a pub just a short distance from Victoria station. The pub has been key during my stay because of St. Patrick’s Day, which was two days ago.
My first morning in London was a drizzily, rainy day. I bought an umbrella and made my way to Hyde Park where I met the guide for the free tour. The London free tour was excellent, though the terrible weather put a dampener on things a bit. The tour covered Buckingham Palace, St. James Palace, the Prime Minister’s house, the Horse Guards Parade, St. Stephen’s clocktower (which is often mistakenly called ‘Big Ben’ – turns out Big Ben is just the name of the bell inside the tower, not the tower itself – thank you Tour guide!). Westminster Abbey was particularly impressive, it was covered with sculptures and designs and the longer I gazed at it the more cool things I noticed! There were many sites that I wanted to actually enter, but they were often prohibitively expensive. Westminster Abbey cost over 20 pounds for entry (around $30). Most of the famous tourist sites cost well over 15 pounds to enter. If you are planning a trip to London and really want to see these places, not just from the outside, be sure to budget several hundred dollars for tourist entry fees.
After the tour I went to a pub near Westminster Abbey for some fish and chips and a Guiness (it was St. Patrick’s Day, after all). The pub was playing a rugby game between France and Whales, and listening to all the drunken Englishmen screaming at the television was pretty entertaining. That afternoon I took a short nap before meeting up with some Californians that I met at my hostel. We had a few drinks at our hostel pub (while watching the Ireland/England rugby game, which was complimented by a MUCH rowdier crowd than the France/Whales game from that afternoon) and then wandered for a bit before finding another pub for dinner (this time I had bangers & mash). The rest of St. Patrick’s Day passed as you would expect St. Patrick’s Day in London for a bunch of young travellers to pass.
For my second full day in London I decided I had to go see the ‘home’ of Sherlock Holmes. I started by heading out to Westminster Bridge (because I wanted some more pictures of St. Stephen’s and the Thames). I walked along the river for a bit, then turned in and made my way to Trafalgar Square. On my way to Regent street I passed Her Majesty’s Theatre, where the Phantom of the Opera is currently playing. I nearly tore out my hair when I realized the show doesn’t play on Sundays and that I had missed a golden opportunity to see this show! (it has been on my list to do for several years now). Regent street led me to Piccadilly Circus where I picked up Oxford street and followed it all the way to Baker street.
The reason I am throwing all these street names at you is that I am hoping it is giving you a sense of that familiarity I feel with London. Nearly all of these streets and places I am seeing I have heard about, read about or seen in movies and television throughout my life – which is why I described coming to London as seeing an old friend. Anyway I saw the Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221B Baker street. Then I decided to stretch my legs and walk down to London bridge and – just a little farther – the tower bridge of London. Hours later (and with very sore legs) I made it to the Tower of London and got some cool pictures of the Tower Bridge. I made it back to the hostel around 5pm that evening and had a few beers and a pizza to celebrate my last night in London.
Today I am going to take a short walk and maybe get a better look at Buckingham Palace (maybe catch the changing of the guard, if I’m lucky!). Then it’s off to the airport for my short flight to Paris and the last leg of my journey. I will spend 4 days in Paris and fly home on March 23rd. This means that I am 4 days away from finally getting back to Canada, and I have to admit I am really, really looking forward to finally getting home!
Stay tuned for the Paris update in a few days!