Very glad to have spent the extra 40 dollars for a Virgin Atlantic flight. The huge variety of on-demand programming was amazing. My flight was from 7pm to 7am, so i should have been sleeping, but instead i watched Fantastic 4: Silver Surfer, two episodes of Doctor Who, and a couple episodes of Flight of the Concords (must see if you never have before). Arrived in Heathrow a few hours early, so still dark and no sight of anything but fog. I though I would walk forever through the endless herding and underground tunnels, but finally made it through customs and got my first sight of the city from the train to Paddington.
Was able to drop off my luggage at the hotel (couldn't check in until the afternoon) and started out sightseeing. First stop. The British Museum.
The British Museum was awesome. It is the most amazing collection of Egyptian, Middle Eastern, and Ancient Greek artifacts I've seen at a museum. The wing dedicated to the Parthenon marbles was especially impressive. I was glad to have dedicated several hours here as this was my favorite museum I visited.
After a short Underground trip I went to visit St. Paul's Cathedral, and a mere 400 some steps later i was at one of the more impressive views of London. You were able to walk around the circumference of the highest tower of the cathedral and see all aspects of the city, impressive even with the fog.
Following the views i took a stroll across the Millennium Bridge and walked eastward along the South Thames River Walk. This brought me past the reconstructed Shakespeare Theater (didn't feel like attending a show solo), the HMS Belfast, City Hall, and many views of the city and its bridges, ending at Tower Bridge, where I crossed over to the Tower of London.
I enjoyed the Tower of London. The guided tour helped a lot, but included many obscure references to the history of royalty that you need an English upbringing to understand. Still it was interesting to see the Crown Jewels (even if they aren't as fancy as you would think) and the first castle built in London. I was lucky to make it there and see everything before closing time. There are many good stories there, but you'll just have to check it out for yourself (or borrow my guide book). This area also had a piece of the Roman era London wall and a plaque honoring the neighborhoods people, including William Penn (which i thought was pretty cool).
I finished my night at a little pub down the road from my hotel. It was a little divey, but I now have an idea what football hooligans are like. It was quite a ruckus soccer watching crowd for a Wednesday night, but fun nonetheless. I managed to stay up until past 10, which did wonders for helping my system adjust, but i still slept till noon the next day, missing out on some sightseeing.
My hotel was soo tiny. It was a converted rowhouse. The bathroom appeared to be modular, made entirely of plastic and raised a foot off the floor (to allow room for plumbing i assume). The bathroom in my parents RV is larger, I think. But for the affordable price of $120 a night, what could i expect (note the sarcasm)!
Started the day with a quiet walk through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. The Albert Memorial was quite impressive. The gold statue really shined as the sun finally came out to make the touring that much more pleasant. After the Albert Memorial (I think he was Queen Victoria's husband) I ventured through the park and stopped briefly at the very crowded Serpentine Gallery. I only stepped in to use the restroom, ans the art didn't look like my kind of thing. My kind of thing was outside where they have a tea house. According to the guidebook, they find an amature architect to design and build a tea house for the season that is an artistic and architectural work. It was a neat little structure, but nothing too special. I then ventured through the gardens to see the Serpentine lake and Princess Diana's memorial. Hers was a unique memorial, essentially a circular stream on a hillside meant to be enjoyed by the people, subtle yet impressive.
I then walked across the city stopping to check out Buckingham Palace. This was a bit underwhelming, I didn't even get to see any of the standard palace guards with their big hats, only a handful of cops inside the fence, no idea why... I then walked by Big Ben and the houses of Parliment on my way to Westminster Abbey.
I think Westminster Abbey was my favorite part of the London trip. The audio tour was a must, otherwise you miss much of the history that is associated with the beauty of the place. If you are ever there, make sure you take the audio tour of the Abbey if you have even a passing interest in English history (especially the era around Queen Elizabeth, which has some interesting twists laid out in the abbey). I got an added treat since I came in the middle of the week. Tues through Thurs you can even go into the cloister attached to the abbey where the offices and residences of the higher officials are and even see where the school and housing for the choir boys is (I found the idea of children living in a church kinda disturbing, but that's just me).
After the abbey tour I made my way north to Trafalger Square, with a brief stop off to try and see 10 Downing Street. Unfortunately you can't even get as close as you can to the White House. Trafalger Square was impressive, and contains the National Gallery, somewhere I will have to check out in subsequent visits. Stopped off for a quick lunch (was surprised at how quickly I eat when I'm by myself).
I later went for a walk through the Soho neighborhood. I loved the mix of shops where every street had something different to offer. Even the alleys had numerous shops to provide entertainment.
In the evening i took the Jack the Ripper walking tour. It was pretty interesting, even saw one or two locations that are still the same as at the time. Almost too much information, but was still an interesting way to spend the night.
Went to another bar near my hotel this evening. Only had a few hours to chill, though, since the bars in London have an 11pm last call. I finally got to try some warm beer, it is actually the exception rather than the rule in London, and it wasn't bad. They like some interesting drinks there, like an energy drink mixed with a shot of port wine, and four different varieties of Aftershock that i didn't know existed (black, white, red and green, ugh). Also the bartender looked dumbfounded when I asked if they had any Hefewisen, apparently that is an American and Bavarian terminology.
A little more walking around the city was enjoyable. Glad to see that London's Chinatown, while being larger than DCs, still had a large Irish bar right in the middle. I planned this day's walking around having lunch at St. Martin in the Field basement, but they were closed for renovations. I later hit up the London Dungeon, which was more of a funhouse than a museum and would have been more fun with a group. Still i learned a good bit and had some fun there. I left there and went straight to the airport, feeling like I saw as much of the city as i could have.
Random London stuff
Being the mass transit junkie that I am, i enjoyed my trips on the London Underground. It was amazing how far the system extended. It is almost like seeing DC's future with ads plastering every surface in an effort to raise money. Cool that the window's open, but definitely miss the A/C when running slow through the tunnels. I also appreciated their faster escalators and frequent train service. But make sure to mind the gap ;-).
Noticed that Europeans are not nearly as appreciative of personal space like Americans are (they are willing to stand RIGHT behind you in lines and on trains and elevators). But they are not nearly as courteous either, everyone looked at me like I was crazy for offering up my seat to an older woman on the train.
Nice that London was also smoke free. Even cooler that it was ok to take your drinks outside. So the inside of the bar is empty while everyone stands in the street smoking and drinking.
I feel like i walked pretty much everywhere around the city. To prove it I mapped it all out with google:
Paddington to the British Museum
St. Paul's, to Thames River walk, to Tower of London
Walking around on the second day
Also, my Flickr account has all the pics of everything I've talked about here, so check it out.
That's it for London, next stop Deutschland!