· Part I · Abbey Road · King’s Cross Station · Platform 9 3/4 · Trafalgar Square · Green Park · Buckingham Palace · Saint James Park · Thames River · Big Ben · Westminster Abbey · London Eye · Pret a Manger · Twinings Tea · St. Paul’s Cathedral · London Bridge · Tower Bridge · Jack the Ripper Tour · The Ten Bells · Holmes’ Fish and Chips ·
· Part II · Marble Arch · Animals in War Memorial · Change of Guard at Buckingham Palace · The Queen Victoria Memorial · Churchill War Rooms · The Good Ship Benefit · Gordon’s Wine Bar · Sherlock Holmes ·
I have grown very accustomed to having a short amount of time to explore new places. The process has become very methodical in taking advantage of my time. London, however, presented the most unique of challenges.
I sat down at the hotel bar with a glass of wine and a map of the city. For the first time, I was absolutely overwhelmed by how much there was to do and see. Circling all the places I wanted to visit, I realized I was in for one heck of a day.
I decided to buy a pass for one of the hop on hop off buses. Now I usually don’t enjoy those because they don’t move along as quickly as I would like, but with no knowledge of the metro system, the bus was the best way to see the most. What transpired that day was a combination of bus rides accompanied with 18 miles of walking. Below I recall my wanderings. 🙂
Bright and early I woke up to take a morning stroll to the most famous crosswalk of all time, Abbey Road. Located next to Abbey Road Studios, this crosswalk serves trademark for the infamous Beatles album. When I approached, I thought that this incredibly famous location would pop out at me right away, but that certainly wasn’t the case. It was simply a crosswalk, like all the others. The only thing that distinguished it was the stickers that decorated the street lights on either side. Even so, walking across absolutely took my breath away. I couldn’t believe I was walking the same path as the legendary musicians I grew up listening to with my dad. I had to sit down to take it all in, and was especially pleased to noticed the sticker located on the bottom of the lamp post.
“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make” -The End / The Beatles
I continued on by catching the bus to take me most of the way to King’s Cross Station. At my stop, the bus driver asked me to escort two other passengers going the same way. We got to talking, and I found out one of the women was from a small town 20 minutes away from where I’m from in Texas! So if you need a reason to believe the world is small today, there it freaking is.
We walked inside the station, which was full of commuting Londoners. The inside was stunning (as pictured above), an architecture friend of mine said this feature is called a fan vault. This is just a small glimpse of the complexity of the building’s structure. So doing what a tourist does, I bee lined straight to Platform 9 3/4. The lady assisting with photos was mad at me for claiming a Gryffindor scarf, but that wouldn’t change my stride. Please notice the house scarf floating in midair, they know how to make it real here.
I hopped back on the bus again and entered the west side of London, full of beautiful architecture and significance everywhere the eye touched. It wasn’t until I reached Trafalgar Square that I ventured out for the next part of my adventure. I really enjoyed the square because of how much activity was taking place within it. I took a few minutes to people watch (one of my favorite pastimes), and made sure to snap a photo. My favorite are the four lions that guard Nelson’s Column, which functions as a focal point in the square. Below under Part II, you’ll find a couple of my favorite spots around the square that I ventured into on my second visit!
Shortly after I went for a stroll through Green Park. I could hardly get over how beautiful the scenery was, with tall trees and bright daffodils everywhere. This definitely would be an excellent picnic spot. The park eventually led to Buckingham Palace, which was surrounded by the most stunning black and gold gates. London does not miss an inch (or a centimeter) of opportunity to display beautiful architecture. Checking the palace off my bucket list, I continued on along Saint James Park to walk toward the Thames River.
One of my most important rules I have when traveling, is to never forget to look up. Not following my own advice, I wandered down the street not taking much notice of what lie ahead. When I finally took notice of my surroundings, my jaw dropped. Big Ben is everything you dream of from the first time you watch Peter Pan until the moment you lay your eyes on it. This is probably one of the most fantastic structures I have ever seen. Right around the corner from it stands the magnificent Westminster Abbey. I was astounded by the detail of the infamous church. (I must explore the inside soon!)
I crossed the Thames toward the London Eye, which is a stunning Ferris wheel that provides what I would assume to be the best aerial view of the city. I however, took this moment to rest my feet and recharge with espresso from Pret a Manger. This decision was essential, because my day was far from over.
I hopped onto the bus again to travel into the central and east part of the city. We passed by the original Twinings Tea storefront, which has been trading and providing tea since 1706! Also along this path we passed by St. Paul’s Cathedral (as pictured below). Both of these spots have a pin in them for future exploration, but I pressed on.
We soon crossed the critically acclaimed London Bridge that Fergie is so crazy about… However, most notably Tower Bridge is a better spectacle. Funny enough, when you Google London Bridge (which is nothing special to look at), pictures of Tower Bridge pop up in its place. Don’t you worry though, I posted photos of both below so that the Internet will be salvaged from this terrible mistake.
Tower Bridge London Bridge
I got off at the Tower of London bus stop, which is officially Her Majesty’s Royal Palace, housing the Crown Jewels and playing a key role in English history. Insert another pin here, because I must investigate the inside at some point. It was at this bus stop that I found out my bus pass came with a free Jack the Ripper Tour pass. And oh my goodness was it well worth it!
My feet by this point were pounding in pain, but as per usual, I ignored my physical limitations for the sake of adventure. The tour weaved us through the east side of London, and depicted the stories as known of the murders by Jack the Ripper. Without going into much detail, I can say this was one of the most intriguing parts of my day, and I would absolutely recommend that you take the time when you visit. At one point, our tour guide pointed out The Ten Bells, a pub that the five confirmed murder victims and Jack the Ripper himself had enjoyed drinks in the 1800s. Needless to say, that’s where you could find me immediately after the tour. The combination of history and a good local brew made my heart full.
The sun started to set, and I returned to the bus stop to travel back to the west side of the city. However, I had made a mistake with my timing, and the bus had actually stopped running. Plan B remaining the same in the states as the UK, I hopped in an über to take me to my chosen dinner spot. I only include this part of the evening, because the car ride actually ended up being a very significant part of my day. With London traffic being the terrible monstrosity that it is, I wound up on this ride for the better part of an hour. The driver and I had the most uplifting conversation, bonding over life stories and talking about our relationships with our families, both of us so far away from home. I will say that it’s in connections like these, no matter with whom, that make this journey of life so great. I will never forget how encouraged that conversation made me feel.
I was dropped off at Holmes’ Fish and Chips, a small eatery on Baker Street. It was obvious what my dining intentions were, and now I can officially say I will probably never eat fish and chips outside of the UK again. They were that fantastic. The evening ended with a brisk and chilly walk back to the hotel, thus ending one of the most exhausting days of my life.
I went to sleep eager to return soon.
By only the most fortunate strand of events, I got to return to London a mere 3 weeks later! This time I was especially excited to be flying with one of the best crews I’ve had the privilege to fly with thus far in my career. It was the makings of a fantastic time to be had. Jumping ahead 5 hours during the evening flight, we landed into London as the sun was rising. My body is never really sure how to feel in these drastic time changes, but I refuse to let that hold me back from making the most of my time. I took a short 2 hour nap before I headed downstairs to explore for the day.
I was privileged to be accompanied by one of my co-workers, who was getting to experience London for the first time! Our first stop was to see the Change of Guard at Buckingham Palace, pretty much a must-experience if you’re visiting the great city. On our way we stopped by the Marble Arch and Animals in War memorial. Gosh that city is so great. Honestly, the fact that you’re constantly stumbling upon significant landmarks reminds me much of my beloved New York City, and the fact that wonderful places like this coexist makes my heart so full.
To be completely honest, seeing Change of Guard was a bit anti-climatic. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve dreamed my whole life of seeing those palace guards (hoping for a chance to break one of them), but it really wasn’t anything life changing. Quite honestly, I believe some of the magic was kind of broken by the fact that the gates were jam-packed with people, and I was really only able to get a handful of glimpses at the action. My recommendation would be to make this a part of your itinerary on a weekday (I was there on a Sunday), and to make sure to get there early to get a good spot (arguably at the highest point you can get to on The Queen Victoria Memorial directly in front of the palace). Nevertheless, it felt fulfilling to get to experience this part of history!
Once we broke free from the crowd, we wandered down Saint James Park to the Churchill War Rooms. And let me just start off by saying, if you have any love of history, make this a must-see. What an incredible tribute to the Britain’s war efforts during World War II. These war rooms have actually been preserved and built into a museum that showcases the lengths it took not only to protect it’s governing officials, but it also very realistically brings you to recognize what they went through during that time.
For anyone unfamiliar, Winston Churchill was the Prime Minister of Britain during World War II. Because much of this time involved bomb raids and air attacks, it became a necessity to preserve the lives of those who were working to defend the country.
One of the most significant videos I passed by in the museum featured a woman explaining what it felt like to walk around London at that time. She said the street signs had all been removed, and that often times walking home, you would find an area unrecognizable because it had been bombed. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to live in that sort of environment. It was also incredible to look at the point of view of another country that was fighting the same fight the United States fought. As an American, I’ve spent my life learning the stories from our nation’s point of view, so it was intriguing to experience a new perspective.
I’ll save the experience for you to have firsthand, but one of the most interesting parts was this pictured sign that reads “Fine and Warm.” This sign was changed throughout the day to reflect the weather outside, unbeknownst to those who inhabited the war rooms. It baffles me to think about being underground and unaware of outside conditions for so long. The sign was also changed to read “Windy” when bomb raids were occurring.
One last thing I’ll share is about the museum that highlights the points of Churchill’s life. So dense with information, this area is filled to the brim with everything you would want to see and hear about the nation’s Prime Minister. Make sure to take the time to click through his quotes that are archived throughout the years. Man was he a character.
“A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.”
“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another without loss of enthusiasm.”
“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”
Life changing my friends, don’t miss out on that one.
Next we wandered down towards the River Thames, where we caught the magnificence of Westminster Abbey and Big Ben (just as breathtaking as the first time). Photo op advice: for your necessary telephone booth photo, go to the ones located along Great George Street to get a nice shot of the infamous clock tear in the background (reference to the featured image for this post). Just looking out for you guys, because photos are the best memories. 😉
By this point it was about 3:00pm, and we had been so caught up in our day that we realized we hadn’t eaten a thing. So we started in pursuit down the Thames towards Trafalgar Square. However, a particular boat on the dock caught our eye, and we were distracted once again from eating. It was called the The Good Ship Benefit, and it is actually a promotional event that is taking place for the next 6 months. Featuring three levels of pampering, services and dining, this place is a must for all makeup lovers. The decor was absolutely adorable, encompassing the unique aesthetic of the famous brand. We sat back and enjoyed a bottle of champagne on the dock with a beautiful view of the London Eye.
It was over that bottle of champagne that my co-worker and I had the best of conversations. I was so glad to be sharing that day with her, because she made the best travel companion. I also include this, because once again in London I found another uplifting conversation in the most unexpected place. It was so life-affirming to connect with someone I met less than 24 hours before, on a boat in another country (like, what!?). Life leads us exactly where we are meant to go, if we just open our eyes to the opportunity.
Prying ourselves from the beautifully decked out pink boat, we continued our pursuit to Trafalgar Square. We were running late in meeting up with the rest of our crew at Gordon’s Wine Bar. Such a delightful place, this establishment has been around since 1890 (London’s oldest), and serves the best wine and swoon-worthy cheese plates in a candlelit stone cellar. The ambiance of this place is to dye for, and my crew members and I laughed the night away sipping on the delicious wine. Here was yet another one of those moments that let you know that you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. I was so grateful.
Eventually we did make it to food, after extensively exploring the whole liquid diet thing. Sherlock Holmes houses some of the best critically acclaimed fish and chips in the city, as told to me by several natives, so you know it’s gotta be true. With a fantastic meal and the best company, we made our way back to the hotel on the tube (my first time!). Now I’m a real Londoner.
What have you gotten to experience in London, or what are the sights you are dying to see? I can easily say at this point London is one of my favorite places in the world, but there’s still much to be explored out there. 😉
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