** Quick Note: This trip was taken in 2007, photographed with an 8 megapixel point and shoot camera, and written from the perspective of a 22 year old who had never blogged before. Enjoy :) **
We took a night bus from Edinburgh to London. I had remembered it as a train, but after a quick reminder from Matt that we literally had to run through the streets of Edinburgh, backpacks bouncing, I feel the need to correct myself on the mode of transportation. The rest of my feelings on night travel remain the same though. It’s great in theory, but I am such a light sleeper it is doubtful that it is ever going to be a good plan for me. We got to London tired and early and we couldn’t check into our hostel (The Meininger on Queen Anne’s Street) so I slept on a couch in their lobby. Of all of the friends that we made on our trip, I’ve stayed in contact with our roommate from this trip the most. I have gone back to stay with him and he has come to the states and stayed with both Matt and me. I love when traveling buddies keep traveling together!
I have mentioned the free Sandeman’s tours in other posts, but I did not discover them until after London, so we took a different walking tour that we had to pay for and it was decent at best. I have found that a lot of tours leave something to be desired- but NOT the Sandeman New Europe Tours. For the best walking tour of London check out NewLondon Tours. The tours are free, the guides are dynamic and incredibly knowledgeable and they are all native English speakers who now reside in the cities they work in. The only income they make from the tours are tips so prepare to give between 10-20 pounds. You have my word- it is worth every penny.
Our tour covered the basics and though it wasn’t the NewLondon Tour, I am still glad we did it. We started at Pudding Lane where the Great Fire of London started in the 1600’s. We walked to the London Bridge (often confused with the Tower Bridge which is the grand-looking one). Then we went down to the Financial District where our guide regaled us with stories of the royal reserves and told us a tale of the Duke of Wellington who supposedly challenged the royal sculptor to a duel when he saw the sculptor had cast his statue without stirrups. After a little research, I have decided that this story is likely untrue, I have read that stirrups are often left off of a statue when the person is still alive. Another source notes that Roman generals often rode this way and it is meant to symbolize victory. As always, I will remind you that I am not an expert, I am simply passing on information as it was given to me. If anyone has other theories I am very interested to hear them.
On we went to the Temple of Mithras. This excavation site is an ancient shrine to the Roman god Mithras. If you don’t know what you are looking at, it is not much to see at all. In fact, I am quite sure that on my first trip to London I passed right by without noticing a thing. This is exactly the reason that I am so insistent on taking tours. This time around, our guide dove deep into the ancient history of the British Monarchy versus the Romans.
We visited St. Paul’s Cathedral and the crossed the “Wobbling Bridge” or the Millennium Bridge which crosses the Thaes and is a direct path to visit the Tate Modern. Though we did not go in on this trip, I will never forget the first time I crossed the bridge. In a previous post about London I talked about the 7-7-05 terrorist attacks on London. When we were forced off of the tube, this is where we ended up. It was a very memorable experience.
Down the Thames we went, taking in the London Eye, the Oxford Tower and entering into the Temple District, made famous by the Knights Templar. On our way out of the City of London (entering Greater London) our guide pointed out that there is a statue of a dragon looking out over Greater London. This is where the queen must stop and ask the duke or governor for permission to enter the “City.” She rules supreme over Greater London, but the small ancient zone located within, is symbolically set apart.
Next came the Royal Courts of Justice, Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square. We crossed through the arches at one end of the Buckingham property and saw the Royal Guards House and Prime Minister’s house. Our day finally came to a close at the most recognizable square in England. We took pictures of Parliament, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey and then headed back to our hostel hoping to warm ourselves and change into dry clothes. As would seem to be a British tradition, we were cold and soaked to the bone.
That evening we dined in Covent Gardens. I had to stop and browse through the Apple Market as I had strong memories of visiting with my family years before. The next day had a lazy, leisurely pace. I walked through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, stopping to take pictures with very angry swans. I visited St. Mary Abbots, a cute little church on Kensington High Street and finally ended up in Nottinghill. The Portobello Market is absolutely one of my favorite things to do in London. If you visit, you must block off an entire afternoon for this experience. Full of antiques and unique wares, gourmet food samples and fresh fruits and vegetables, everything about this area is picturesque.
The next day we visited the Natural History Museum. One of my favorite stories from this trip was a conversation Matt and I had after several hours of touring the museum. I was loving everything. As the former president of the Save the World’s Club… (yes, the club name was possessive, because my 8-year-old self thought the world would happily be the owner of such a noble club… but that is a completely different story)… anyway, I could have been endlessly entertained in this huge museum- even Ross Gellar would be jealous! Matt, however, was less than amused by the time we reached the third floor and he had still not seen what he was looking for. We were standing under a giant whale when he finally turned to me, completely annoyed. “Where the hell is all the history???” he demanded. I wish he had snapped a picture of my face. I was so completely and utterly surprised. “All around us,” I told him. “Are you kidding, we have been here all day. What do you mean where is the history?” Still completely serious, he said, “I thought there would be war stuff.” At this point it dawned on me where the miscommunication had taken place. “Matt…” I started slowly, “This is the Natural History Museum, not the National History Museum.”
Later, to cheer him up, we headed over to Abbey Road to pay homage to the one thing we could both always agree on completely. The Beatles are the greatest band that has ever existed.
I spent my last day at the Victoria and Albert Museum. I went alone and took my time, walking through, stopping with my sketchbook to draw. This is something I had never done in a museum- but had always wanted to do. (All the other semi-strange and ostentatious art students do it… I didn’t get to go to art school, but why not pretend for a day!) I was not nearly as good as the work around me. Go figure.
In 2013, I quit my job and bought a one-way ticket to Thailand. After four months of backpacking I returned to the States and fell in love with a guy whose job sent us straight back to Asia. Nothing has gone according to plan... and it's been absolutely magical.