Well we spent the night on an airplane. It was luxurious, in comparison to the public buses we had spent the last month or so on. There was clean, individual seats with airconditioning, or a blanket if you were cold. No dust coming through the windows blanketing your body. A bathroom, multiple bathrooms, that you could access at any time, even while the plane is moving! They fed you, twice! There were movies to watch if you were bored and couldn’t sleep, in english NOT swahili and to top it all off, free liqour. It was paradise. Nothing like perspective to appreciate what was a long and grueling set of plane trips on the way to Africa, but are now short hops and skips for 8 hours in comfort.
We arrived in London to the luxury of the Heathrow airport where we took some time to freshen up in the emaculate “western” bathrooms, put on some much warmer clothes, and then we headed out of the security section of the airport. First on our to do list was to ditch our bags somewhere so we could dissapear into London without them. At the end of the concourse there is a magical place for just that. However, it costs and extraordinary amount of money to store two back packs for 7 hours. After seeing the price, I believe it was about $40 dollars for our two bags, we had to repack a bit so we could fit our African gourd into one of the backpacks and not have to pay to store it alone. It was a weird challenge as gourds are not a nice shape for putting in a backpack, but Lindsay the magical packer got it to work.
After that unfortunate dispersal of cash we went and got some tickets for the train into the city and back so we could hop on the train. That wasn’t cheap either. Now I’m sure in Europe these prices aren’t ridiculous, but after having come from places in Africa where we didn’t spend more than $50 in a day, for absolutely everything, spending over $65 before we even left the airport was killing us! Hopped on board the train and sat back and watched parts of London roll by as we headed into the heart of downtown. We stuck out like soar thumbs. First off we’re wearing hiking pants, as they were the only type of pants we had, and what apparently looked like very North American t-shirts and hoodies. The rest of the Brits on the train were much more stylish and have given me some ideas to not look like a t-shirt bum.
After 45 minutes or so we walked up out of the subway to the corner of… well I’m not sure, it was a traffic circle. It did have a nice fountain in the middle and was surrounded by traffic and the architecture of London we had come in to see. We got our bearings on a little map I picked up from the subway and started heading towards Trafalger Square. Along the way we spotted some token red phonebooths and stopped to take pictures. Turns out they double as urinals, so if you need to get the cliche photo like me, make sure to hold your breath, and try no to touch anything 😛
A little bit of walking later we were at Trafalgar square, as were many other tourists on this cold and cloudy day. We were freezing as we just went from a month of 25-35 degrees to a day of about 5, maybe a bit warmer but it didn’t feel like it. It was much to much like home, (Vancouver). We walked about the square, took pictures at the big statue, Lindsay posed with the Lion, and we even managed to see the Canadian Consulate all decked out in Canadian flags. We actually saw more of them at first than the Union Jack. Eventually we spotted Big Ben off in the distance down a street so we started walking in that direction.
We passed a ton of pubs that we thought we might make our way back to for lunch, but didn’t. Turns out we picked a good street to walk on as it passed another place we were hoping to walk by, the Horse Guard Parade. We walked in, past a very done up guard, sword and all, and onto the parade. It is really just a big open gravel yard next to some nice old buildings. There wasn’t anything going on, so we took some pictures to say we saw it and then headed back out passed the loudly stomping guard parading his way around. We’re curious as to whether he is actually a “guard” or an actor hired to be here for tourists such as ourselves hoping to get a more “authentic” London experience.
A little farther down the street we made it to the parliment buildings and Big Ben, where, for the first time in a month or so, we waited for the lights to change to cross the street. Well, one of us did, there was no traffic so the other started walking. This is a two trip habit we hope to continue once home. Never again shall I waste time waiting to cross a road that has nothing on it!!! Stupid westerners following too many rules. Most of the London folk didn’t wait either, it appears to be a stupid North American tradition of blindly abiding to all rules set before you. I digress.. we made it across the street to Big Ben. Took some pictures, happened to be around to hear it chime on the hour, even though I think it went every 15 minutes, and it also seemed to be the incorrect time…
Took a quick stroll up the street and onto West Minister Bridge to see across the Thames and look back at the full length of the parliment buildings. It was a nice view and it was of course captured in many photos. After a quick back around to the other side of the parliment building we went across the street to Westminister Abbey. There was a lineup. They wanted $30 to go into the church. I don’t pay money to go into churches, so instead we went into the chapel next door which was free. The chapel is as big as a normal church and very ornately decorated as well so that was a nice stop.
After the church we started wandering somewhat aimlessly. We passed a little square full of statues of important world leaders, so we took some fun photos with Nelson Mandela and Churchhill before continuring on our way. Along the way we managed to walk past the front of the “New Scotland Yard”, which we have now seen on tv quite a few times since, so it was fun to have been there. Then my quest for a characterful pub for lunch began. We made it down a few random streets, one with a really fun cobblestone market area, before finally settling on a pub. We ended up going into “The Green Coat Boy” which looked rather authentic. Later, after closer inspection and talking to our waitress we discovered it was one of the chain tourist pubs that all the tourist end up in because it looks cool. Well it does look cool even if it isn’t authentic, and they still sold Great British Pub Food, or at least that’s what the menus said they did :). We sat down for lunch and of course ordered fish and chips. Mine came with pickled onions, peas, and a half a loaf of white bread. I have never had those as sides all together, and I’ve never had bread as a side. It was different and I’ve decided I like pickeld onions. The highlight was ofcourse getting to have a Guinness in close proximity to its actual home. I had heard they were better in England than in North America so I needed to find out. It was pretty good, but to expensive to by another!
Following tasty and filling lunch we meandered our way towards Buckingham Palace, which really doesn’t look that nice from the outside, I’m sure it’s nice inside but on the outside, meh. The gate was at least a little more ornate and while holding up our passports to the coat of arms on the gate we discovered how very similar it is to our Canadian passports. Took some time to watch the guard, he didn’t move of course, and see traffic drive by and down the long road. Saw some more gold in the distance so we headed towards even larger gates that were part of Green Park? or possibly Hyde park. Can’t open those ones but you can walk beside and eventually through the very nice park in the middle of the city. At the other end of the park was a war memorial statue which we spent some time reading about and admiring before finally checking out our last double decker bus, before minding our steps back down into the underground. Caught one of the trains heading back towards the airport and to our final flight home.
Once back at the airport we retrieved our bags, paying way too much for a few hours of storage, headed back through security up to our departure gate. A few hours later we were on our the last leg of our journey heading home to Vancouver, another awesome trip complete. Topping this one is going to be very difficult as it was a dream come true and so spectacular in so many different ways. We find ourselves today (over a year later) remembering random stories that we forgot we had experienced and thus living the rip all over again.
More adventure awaits….