Wow. Where to begin? Started my journey visiting one of the greatest cities in the world. I have so much to say about London. I mentioned my arrival and the first day through the city in my last post. Here’s the rest.
I got up bright and early on Friday morning and took the bus back to central London from Golders Green. Yes, I didn’t walk. Another 11 km with my 20 kg backpack didn’t interest me. And here’s the first tip: avoid taking buses and the tube in rush hour. There is a congestion charge. Had I taken the bus 15 minutes later, I would have saved a couple pounds. The next tip should be: don’t ever take 20 kg in your bag, which I’ll probably mention a few times.
From Victoria Station, I walked all around central London. Saw the inside of Westminster Cathedral, not to be confused with Westminster Abbey. Didn’t get any photos, as I obeyed the no photography rule. Was a little awkward when I got chastised for wearing my beanie. But definitely an impressive cathedral, if not particularly big.
Then it was on to Westminster Abbey which I have to consider a tourist attraction (not a traveler attraction), as its £20 entrance fee effectively kept me out. But St. Margaret’s Church next door was free. Went through that. This time got some great photographs, despite the signs, only because I saw everyone else snapping pics. But I’m sure it was nothing compared to the Abbey next door. Oh well. I’ll just have to save up some money in my travels and visit London again. Was planning to do that someday anyway.
I continued my walk, passing the Palace of Westminster and Big Ben, and on to the London Aquarium, the London Eye and the London Dungeon. More tourist attractions, and this time at £25 a pop. So those go on the bucket list too.
For lunch, I ate at the Cafe in the Crypt, an underground, vaulted cafeteria which was cheap and stylish. I had the smoked salmon and spinach sandwich, which was delicious.
I continued to wander around London, seeing Trafalgar square, the outside of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the bridges and other landmarks. But a 20 kg bag on the back can only be carried so far. I finally capitulated and went a couple hours early to the bar which would be the location of a massive couch surfing event that night. I say massive, as compared to the dozen or so people who would show up to couch surfing events in Portland, this one had at least a hundred members attending.
The party was fantastic, and I made many new friends, both hosts and travelers alike. I even (luckily) got a host for that night, which was better than a hostel. That didn’t stop me from telling my mom the next morning that I had slept on the street. She believed me. I never said I was the perfect son.
But back to the party. Really enjoyable. The venue was the Loose Cannon, located beneath the Cannon Street train depot. There’s no way to convey the feeling of having a train rumble a few meters above your head every few minutes while you’re partying. Just sublime. A couple months earlier they opened up a whole other venue behind the bar for shows and parties. We stayed in the bar section, but I would love to attend an event in there someday. One more for the bucket list.
Next day, after staying up way too late chatting with my wonderful host, I got to leave my bag at my host’s flat, as she offered to host me again the next night. I then walked, ran and biked over to London Bridge and the Shard, which is the highest building in Europe. And quite a work of art. While London is filled with Gothic, medieval and classic architecture, the Shard is simply futuristic.
From there, I met up with another couch surfer living in London, who toured me around the river attractions. Unfortunately I had spent 4 hours getting to the Shard, so didn’t have as much time left over. But we had a great talk, I learned a lot more about the town, and then was introduced to south London, which is the cheap part of town, and thus much more traveler friendly. So more advice to the budget traveler: eat south of the river. You’ll save a few pounds on every meal. Quality might not be top-notch, but your pocket book will thank you.
Not necessarily the most event-filled day, but it ended on a great note. After another great chat with my host until 2 AM, I looked out the window and saw the snow falling again. 2nd time of the year in London, and simply blissful. Reminded me of every childhood movie I saw of snow in London that made me ache so to see the city.
Sunday was the big day. Rented a bike for the day (£2 for as many 30-minute rides in a 24-hour period as I wanted). I went to Trafalgar square again, the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery, the market in the Southbank Centre, Waterloo Station, the British Museum, St. James Park, Buckingham Palace and everything else in between. The palace was closed, but everything else was open and free.
The best sights were definitely in the British Museum. As someone jokingly said, no other country would dare bomb London, since London has more relics from that country than the country itself has. My favorite piece was the Rosetta Stone. I can only liken the experience to the difference between listening to a song on the radio and seeing the band live in concert. There’s no comparison. Sure it’s only writing on a rock, hardly even art. But it’s not the same as just seeing a picture in a textbook. Makes me look forward to the French museums.
The highlight of the day came at 3 PM. I was lucky enough to participate in the first ever flash mob in Waterloo Station (maybe the first in London). At 1500, at least 100 participants froze in place, allowing the rest of the commuters to weave between us, taking pictures and videos all the while. I was on the edge, recording the whole thing like a good traveler, but frozen in place as well. Not the steadiest recording I ever made, with the camera held above my head for the full 5 minutes, but great fun. I will be uploading the video to Youtube as soon as I can run it through a program to stabilize the image. Hopefully tonight. Update: A little over a year later, here it is!
Overall, London was a fascinating city to explore. The worst part, and possibly the only negative aspect I experienced, was the exorbitant price for everything. I had heard that London was one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in, and now I have experienced that to be true.
One aspect I feel obligated to mention, as I will probably acclimate to it in a couple years, is the simple beauty of the people in London. Facially, physically and fashionably. I felt I was walking around in a fashion catalog as I went through the city. No wonder so many English entertainers have dominated in America and around the world.
The next aspect is the diversity of culture. London has it all. Just walking down the street I would hear dozens of languages. Except for at night, I actually didn’t hear that many people speaking English. But maybe that was just the millions of tourists that flood the city.
London has a fantastic way of blending the old with the new. It looked like about a quarter of the city was under construction, and I was told by long-term residents that it’s always like that. There are fantastic and futuristic buildings going up all over the place (just look at the Shard), while London has some of the most amazing Gothic and Classic architecture in the world. As for the ordinary streets, they are lined with modern storefronts with century-old flats above them.
The weather was quite nice, by my standards. Temperatures ranged from about -3° to 7° degrees while I was there (27° to 44° for my American friends). As I mentioned in my last post, it was snowing on me a couple hours after I arrived, which I was told was the first snow of the season. Then it snowed again a couple nights later, as mentioned. It also rained on and off the whole time I was there, but quite erratically. One hour it would be sunny, the next rainy and then sunny again. I loved it the whole time. Just glad my shoes and backpack are waterproof.
I’m sure I’m forgetting plenty, but that’s what I remember.
Humorously enough, while trying to get a host for Bristol so I could visit Bath, I accidentally typed in Brighton, and almost instantly got a host there. So now it’s Sunday, 3 days after I arrived in London, and I’m sitting on a bus on the way to Brighton. No idea what I’ll find there, but it’s destination 2 of my travels. I’ll be there for 2 days, and then on to Bristol, as originally intended. Stay tuned for news from the southern coast of England.
Ps: I have over a hundred photos of London, and I’m still looking for the best site to upload them (and all my future travel photos to). I will give an update when I get them uploaded. Update: All photos from my travels are available on Flickr. Click the button at the top of this page, or link to my Flickr profile through my social media icons at the far top.