London, a place that is highly romanticized and something I feel all Americans dream of going. The English are our colonizing forefathers and proper cousins across the pond who still like tea when we still don’t. I remember thinking of London for the first time in middle school and fantasizing about the day I would go there.
Well, the day had come in July when I was on my European Whirlwind, and was the second stop after Dublin. I had met many English during my time in Rio and one of them had agreed to let me stay with her and her family in a southern suburb of the city. Flying into Gatwick, this was great luck for me because it was actually the closest airport to her house and was much less chaotic than Heathrow.
After a very early Sunday flight out of Dublin, I landed successfully and was feeling pretty proud of myself for not making any transportation errors thus far on my solo trip. How quickly my confidence dwindled in The Big Smoke, just to get a few miles I had to take a train, a tram (which is a very different thing!), and a bus just to get to my base location. Throughout my entire four days, transportation was overwhelming and stressful and took a gross amount of time. London is a big city, my biggest tip is to not underestimate that. Plan ahead, leave room for error, and ask questions! I was very impressed with the number of people there and willing to help as far as transportation goes. The system is not perfect, but they try!
I’m sure you’ve already heard of it, but please invest in an Oyster card. Your life will be made so much easier no matter if you are in the city for a day or a year. Its a 5 pound deposit, but you get that and whatever your remaining balance is back when you’re done. Costs will vary widely based on where and how far you’re going. Long distance trains in and out of the suburbs can be about 15 pounds, but local bus fares are a pound and change. I’m sorry to say I can’t give you much detail beyond that because I barely mastered the system myself before I left. My last word is be prepared and try to know what you’re doing ahead of time.
So once I arrived “home” I had the rest of the morning to chill so I showered, because the heat was real, went out to lunch with Maya and her family for Pho, and watched Love Island. Let me tell you, that show was an instant addiction! I absolutely understand the craze around it and support it 100%. Four days had me a fan for life!
Anyways, my first full day was actually one spent celebrating the first of many characters, Harry Potter and the Wizarding world! I booked a day pass through Warner Brothers Studio to see all the crazy props, costumes and behind the scenes goodness in all the HP films. Now I like to call myself a Potter fan, but I am well aware there are people out there who far surpass my knowledge. Regardless, walking into the studio I kinda felt emotional. Just like so many kids around the world, Harry Potter had been a major part of my childhood and to see it all in-real-life was pretty surreal. Even though it was packed with school groups and tours, I’m still very happy booked in advance through TripAdvisor to do this. I got a ride there and back to the city with plenty of time to explore and appreciate in between. Tickets were pretty booked out, but then again I went in July so that’s to be expected. Needless to say, I took many pictures and thoroughly geeked out for the day.
When I got back into the city, I still had a bit of time so I wandered over to Buckingham Palace and explored the surrounding greens and residents. I was very taken back to the hit early 2000’s movie “What a Girl Wants” with Amanda Bynes and was not mad about how much of it I remembered. In between movie reminiscing, I did get a chance to marvel at the thought of being Royal. The royal family is also an incredibly popular thing in the US because we simply don’t have it, and the fantasy of being a princess, indoctrined into high society, is something every American girl has dreamed about. To us, they are almost as character-like as those of Harry Potter, woven into a long story of history.
That night I had family dinner with Maya and took quite a liking to both her father and her dog. I so appreciate seeing my friend’s families and where they come from because it gives me such a rounder picture of why they are the way they are. I loved the conversation and hospitality they displayed!
The next day was my big day in the city. I booked a double decker bus tour with Big Bus Tours and thought it was a fine experience. The routes clearly offered flexibility, but were sometimes confusing, and the frequency of buses varied. But, the price was reasonable and the commentary was informative so I was happy I did it. I had planned to start the day back at the palace and wing it from there, which I did, but it turned out to be the absolute best thing! The first thing I noticed we would be passing was Baker Street, so I got off on the second stop of the tour to explore north a few blocks and see the home of famous detective, Sherlock Holmes. I’ve been a fan of the books, movies, and television show for a while so I was buzzing to see for real. Disappointingly, the cue was halfway down the block and the entrance was twelve pounds for what looked like a small museum which I didn’t think was worth it. I took a decent picture of the outside and marveled for a second before gawking in my luck. Right next door to the Sherlock Holmes museum just so happened to be the official Beatles store of London. My jaw dropped and I died a little on the inside. I have been a Beatles fan since I was ten and have considered them to be my favorite band for just as long. I pretty much ran inside and deliberated buying the whole store or just a keychain and walked out with the keychain proudly. Looking at a street map, Abbey Road also happened to be somewhat close and, riding my Beatles high, decided to walk about a mile further north to see the Abbey Road Studio. It was a beautiful walk, fairly quiet even though I was still very much in the city, and hummed Beatles the whole way there.
After taking my proud picture I hopped on a regular bus back into the thick of things and decided to go shopping. I’m a sucker for Urban Outfitters anywhere but but in America so I waltzed in a bought two things that were much too expensive but are now what I consider to be some of the better things in my wardrobe. Nothing can beat the style of a Londoner. I also stopped in a Primark to see what the fuss was about but was dissatisfied when I could see it was the English version of Forever 21. I poked around a bit then hopped back on my tour bus.
Pickadilly circus was next which also looked like a great place to shop, but one that I didn’t have the time, money or patience for so I just viewed in passing and moved right along to Westminster Abbey. Here, I walked around tons to see Parliament, Big Ben (under construction), the London Eye, and the Thames River. The church I saved for last, and I’m happy I did because I just so happened upon it in time for a prayer service and felt quite honored to be inside such a miraculous building, worshiping the God that brought me there. I could tell other people weren’t as I to it, but it was the perfect respite for me and honestly was a top highlight of my day.
I felt like stretching my legs a bit after service to regain my energy so I walked back over across the river into a Marriott hotel. I don’t really know why I went in there, but I’m happy I did. I ordered a glass of wine, mooched some free WiFi, freshened up in a well-stocked bathroom and munched on some carrot sticks in the lobby until I felt ready to go again. Big days like this are a mental game, so never be afraid to take a bit of rest when you need it.
My last big push was through Old Town to see Sweeney Todd’s shop, the Tower of London, and some key locations where James Bond was filmed. By the end of the day I was shocked at how many key stories had actually come from England. I mean cognitively I always knew that they were, but once there I never really stopped to consider it until the end of that day. That’s why I call this London and characters because that seemed to be what my trip was unintentionally about!
That night I went to a rooftop bar called Frank’s that has cheap Rosé and a pink painted stairwell and I got to watch the sun set over the city. I took that moment to let the jetsetting lifestyle sink in and to really appreciate the incredible life I’ve been given. Frank’s was the best thing I did all day because it was just the right ending.
My final day in the city was a half day and one that required me to cross town diagonally with my pack in order to catch my flight on time to Barcelona. But, there’s not many things one can do comfortably with a 30 lb duffle bag and a backpack on your back. So, I decided to see a show. London is famous for its stage performances so I booked a ticket and saw 42nd Street which ended up being very ironic because it took place on Broadway. Everyone there was quite understanding that I had my pack and were happy to check it in order to accommodate me. After the show I grabbed a very quick, very healthy lunch at a cafe and got a free coffee out of the deal because the barista was just so nice. My Oyster card conveniently ran out just as I was trying to get in the Tube, but to be honest I wasn’t mad about it because people were rushing through there like their lives depended on it and I wasn’t about to play that game with all my stuff. I calmly sat outside a Starbucks, drinking my coffee from the other cafe, and ordered a very expensive rush-hour uber to my train so I could get to the airport. I did, thankfully, and although there were delays, it didn’t really affect me so I was a happy, calm camper the whole night.
If I were to have done one thing differently however, it would have been to organize my days a bit better and squeeze in TATE modern museum and see a show at the Shakespeare round theater to continue the theme.
Overall, London was overwhelming to me and I think a city that deserves more of my time other than in a vacation kind of way. I really think that with more time, more money, and more connections I would really feel the heartbeat of the city more and get a true feel for what it’s about. However great celebrating celebrities and characters are, it’s not really what I strive for in my normal travel. So, fantasize I continue, until the day I can own a London flat cozied up with a cup of tea and see the city for what it really is meant to be.
Until next time!