We went through customs after our flight at about 9am London time. We made the mistake of not booking a hostel before we got to London, and the guy checking our passports asked ‘you literally have no idea where you’re going?’ kind of baffled at the stupidity. We then went through the process of going on the public subway system right from the airport, the ‘tube’, with handy Oyster cards that you put credit on to swipe through all of the stops with ease. We just picked a stop somewhere in central london and used wifi at a starbucks to find some local hostels. We were rejected at the first hostel we went to by a nice Aussie receptionist who referred us to the hostel we settled on.
We checked in our stuff at the hostel and went off walking into central London. With less than 4 hours of sleep on the plane, jet lag hit me really hard. Some decent pasta and potato skins at a nearby Garfunkl’s really helped, and i was downing a lot of water.
Jacob and I undoubtedly were very touristy on our long day in London because we only had a day to spend there. We started at Buckingham Palace, like any good tourists. Here I brought out my nice camera and started snapping pictures. It was a nice day, and from there we went into St. James Park, which was very open, with lots of trees and shrubbery (!!!!). Ducks and pidgeons wandered about the park, fearless of any human presence. It was very much like Central Park in NYC, but with a nicer and more exotic feel to it. From here we hit Westminister Abbey, Big Ben and Parliament, and then up to a lot of administrative buildings with incredible architecture. Outside of these were monuments to recognize military figures like General Montgomery who beat back the Infamous ‘Desert Fox’ Erwin Rommel in his campaign of North Africa during WWII. There were numerous others I had never heard of, or who had served in far off campaigns in colonial wars in Africa or India. The end of these was a monument to the Women of WWII.
We went into a central area with several fountains for a rest before heading off across a bridge to a sort of shore drive with lots of street performers outside of the theater and art areas of London. We passed the iconic Big eye doing this. We sat inside the Natonal theater lobby for a while, saw a skate park with really interesting graffiti, and Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. We also passed a cartoonish self guided tour of a model of Sir Francis Drake’s famous galleon, as well as a prison museum. We were less than interested in seeing those. We finished off at an authentic British pub near London Bridge, where I had a sort of square pot pie with chips (fries). Jacob and I also enjoyed a pint of beer. (It comes in pints???)
By the time we finished, it was probably 6 oclock local time, and we headed to a local tube station to catch a ride back to near the hostel. We rested here for a while, over the course of which 2 obnoxious and false fire alarms went off. The hostel did have a nice lounge area. There were a large number of german youth and adults. It was entertaining listening to them speak, and they struggled to communicate with the receptionist who, though not english, scolded the kids for not learning more english in Germany, which we thought was funny. We went for a night stroll and got some Gelatto, my first taste at the treat.
Our room mates were 3 Canadians, 2 were an older couple, the third was a girl by herself. the other is a mystery nationality and we only saw him when he was asleep in the morning. This mystery national was the biggest snorer I have ever heard in my life. This woke us both up multiple times. He’s like Mat Reidel x2. I went to bed at a little after 11PM, set an alarm for 945 the next morning, but slept through it and was woken up by Jacob at 1030. Had a quick breakfast at a local starbucks (I know), and rushed off to the tube to take us to Liverpool station. We took a train going to Southend Airport probably 40 miles outside London. The route was very scenic, going over some nice English countryside. We missed the stop because we didn’t press the button to open the door (thought they were automatic), and got off at the next stop 4 miles away, where we were able to get some locals help us find a bus stop to take us to the airport. From here it was a breeze. Despite all of or travel, we were ready to board a full 2 hours before the flight.
I enjoyed the accents, the British jargon, and the familiar culture, slightly crooked. There are an enormous amount of nationalities and languages being spoken all about the city. It felt like a more organic multicultural NYC just because the proximity of all of the other nations makes tourism and travel much easier. It is a bustling city with trains and people constantly moving in crowds, and plenty of tourists moving to landmarks. People smoke here far more frequently than I am use to. I enjoyed thinking about the history and culture of England and London as I traveled through it; the heart of a great maritime empire, a key player in both world wars. There’s so much. This is where a lot of my favorite shows and movies like Sherlock and V for Vendetta take place. This is the nation where Tolkien wrote LOTR. I’m walking streets that I’ve seen on film and that have influenced countless musicians and artists. I’ve read so much about Britain and a lot of my Political Science classes have depth on British politics and history. I feel that while anyone can be a tourist and find the big and pretty buildings, to fully appreciate anywhere beautiful and exotic requires an appreciation of the history and culture. Without having even a grasp of what you’re seeing, theres no context, and little meaning beyond the immediate images. It doesn’t take much or an excessive amount of study, and it doesn’t need to be specialized, but you feel better going somewhere you’ve at least read a bit about. At least I did.
London was good, but brief. If I had more time I would have enjoyed going in museums and on tours. We will be here briefly again at the tail end of the trip for our flight home.