Greetings friends, family, creepers, and anyone else who has stumbled upon this blog. It’s time for another rendition of Christina’s globetrotting adventures! This is my first trip by myself. Nobody to help me out. Solo. Well except for my friend, Drew, but he’s no help. (Just kidding, Drew, you’ve already at least helped me navigate the Tube and that’s help enough).
The start of our adventure began at Logan Airport, the crossroads of America. As per usual it was crowded, congested, and they stole sixteen of my dollars for two waters and a bottle of fruit punch. We were off to a good start.
We boarded our plane and quickly took advantage of the entertainment programmed into the headrests of our seats. For our six-hour flight we rotated between snacking, watching, and sleeping. For once I actually DID sleep for a bit, but only about two hours tops. This will be a key fact to remember later.
We landed at Gatwick Airport at 8:30am British time (3:30am American time, mind you) and were greeted by the longest passport checkpoint I have ever seen in my young life. It filled the pole-lined zig-zags almost to the brim with sleep-deprived zombies desperate to break through to get themselves some English breakfast tea. I assume. Whilst in line, we came across three separate groups of people who were also from New Hampshire. I was wearing my UNH sweatshirt, so people were keen to introduce themselves. People from New Hampshire love to talk about New Hampshire, I’ve noticed.
After waiting in line for a full hour (on two hours of sleep!) we finally made it up to the front of the line and met with the grumpy passport checker. He asked us how long we’d be in the UK, how long we’d be in Europe, and what we’d be doing there, in the creepy monotone of a Disney villain, or at least their crotchety sidekick. After thirty seconds with that charmer, we were finally free of the hell that was airport security.
We headed down to baggage claim and collected our luggage (which at that point had been thrown off of the carousel and into a heap nearby) and went to get my money exchanged. The currency exchange guy was quite possibly the most charming, delightful British man in all of London. He was smiling and bantering with me as he exchanged my dollars to pounds and euros, like it was the very thing that brought him the most joy in the world. At this point, I was ever so happy to be in London, and my impression of British people (having only met security checkpoint man) had shifted greatly. Thank you airport currency exchange guy, you made my morning.
The currency guy also gave us our tickets on the Victoria Express from Gatwick into central London. With tickets in hand, we were able to skip the line at the station and board the train right away. The train ride was nice, with little views of suburban communities on the outskirts of London. The little towns looked like Harry Potter’s neighborhood. Not Hogwarts, the one he lived in back when his life still sucked. It was cute, but due to sleep deprivation, I came close to passing out a couple of times. Drew admitted that he did pass out a couple of times.
When we got to Victoria Station, we debated over whether to take the Underground or a taxi to our destination. We eventually decided on a taxi, because we didn’t feel like dragging our luggage onto the trains. Our taxi driver was awesome! First of all, while waiting in the cue to be picked up, he had hopped out and started buffing his silver cab. You gotta appreciate a man who takes pride in his vehicle. When he pulled up, he helped us with our bags and we were off on our way. He had a cockney accent, which added a touch of charm to all his stories. I realize now, as I am proofreading that I’ve used some sort of the word “charm” about 8 times, but I’m not changing it, as it’s a recurring theme of this city!
As we drove we got suggestions for activities and food. It was less of a cab ride and more of our own tour! We also drove right by Buckingham Palace during the Changing of the Guard Parade and saw the mounted guards march right past the car. It was most definitely the best cab experience I’ve ever had. We’re also 2/3 on the awesome British people counter.
After dropping our luggage at the hotel (and failing at attempting to check in to our tour) we were off to scavenge for food. We came across an Italian restaurant that was advertising a pizza, salad, and 2 glasses of wine for 10 pounds, so that seemed like a good stop. I’m not sure if it was just because I was starving, but that pizza was delicious.
Following lunch we attempted to take the Tube to Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. Well, we got lost, because we tried to figure out where we were going after we were underground. No cell service, no map. We awkwardly made our way back to the top and decided to try again later. Next we puttered around a couple of gift shops. I picked up my British flag, my first souvenir of the trip.
After that we checked in for our trip in the “Contiki Basement.” We were surrounded by some interesting characters down there. It was a bunch of people convening for a bunch of different trips, so I still don’t know which of them are coming on our trip. Only time will tell. We ditched our bags in our rooms and were off for our most adventurous portion of the day.
Our first goal was to conquer the Tube. Drew obtained a map from the concierge and this time got directions on how to get to Madame Tussaud’s. We made our way back to the Russell Square station near our hotel to give the Tube another shot. Before I tell the rest of the story, I’m just going to say, the Tube is amazing. A British voice tells you to “Mind the Gap,” on your way onto the train. I smile like an idiot whenever it does. And the trains are super fast as well as super convenient! We’ve never waited more than three minutes between trains, and we’ve JUST BARELY missed trains before. Not to mention the system is easy to navigate and it feels like all of the big landmarks in London are never more than 4 stops or a couple of transfers away from each other. Well done, London. I approve of your transportation system.
We got off at the Baker Street stop and I got to take a picture with a statue of Sherlock Holmes himself. We approached the door for the museum and were greeted by an employee who asked for our tickets. Well, we’d pre-ordered tickets as a combination with our London Eye tickets, and it turns out, we had to pick them up there. This was unfortunate, as we had not yet come close to that part of town. So, we hopped back on the train and headed towards the River.
It was about 3 or 4 in the afternoon at this point, and we were beginning to run out of gas. We got off the Tube at Waterloo station, and through the glass ceiling I could see the Eye. From that point it was a quick jaunt to the river and we were in the presence of not only the London Eye but also Parliament and Big Ben. Fun Fact—Big Ben is the name of the largest bell that chimes, not the clock tower itself. But at this point everyone worldwide still calls the clock tower Big Ben so I feel like calling it that is still at least socially acceptable by the majority.
The area around the Eye is a grassy courtyard were people were sunbathing and reading and walking their dogs. Think of a college campus in springtime. Upon seeing the area, Drew asked if we could lay in the grass for a little while. As a sleep deprived woman with sore feet, I couldn’t have heard a more perfect suggestion. We took a fifteen minute break and laid on the grass in the sun, in the shadow of the Eye. No big deal.
We felt recharged enough afterwards to investigate the London Eye River Cruise. We had tickets to ride the Eye itself, but had time to kill before our reservation. Luckily, as we already had tickets to see the Eye, it meant we got a discount for the cruise. It wound up being only 7 pounds, which, for those of you who don’t know British currency, is kind of a steal.
We had just missed the boat ahead of us, but that put us ahead in the line for the next boat. We were able to take some pictures of Big Ben and bask in the sunlight while waiting. We’d had surprisingly wonderful weather. This was London, after all: land of never-ending fog and rain showers. Yet, there we stood, blue skies, sunshine, and Toy Story clouds. It was a beautiful day.
The boat cruise was AWESOME. Best 7 pounds I ever spent. (And probably the only time I’ve spent exactly 7 POUNDS on anything, but I digress.) We got to see everything along the river. We started off down by Parliament then passed by a bunch of landmarks while our skipper, another adorable British guy, made jokes and puns. He gave us some occasional knowledge and facts about London. Drew dozed off a couple of times but I woke him up. He woke up just in time to hear about the RMS Belfast, a boat instrumental to the invasion of Normandy. That perked him up. We also got to see Tower Bridge. Check off another stereotypical British landmark!
Before our Eye trip, we had time to kill, so we went to a bar called the Slug and Lettuce, which is apparently a chain of trendy British Bars. So I guess it’s the British equivalent of the Thirsty Moose if it were decorated by the guys on HGTV. We got some nachos and each tried some “Britishy” meals, he got bangers and mash and I had a British-style brisket sandwich. Both were pretty darn good.
After dinner we boarded the London Eye. It was 7:30 so the sun was low in the sky and cast cool shadows on the city. We could see the whole city, which, similarly to Boston, has a mix of shiny skyscrapers and stone buildings generations old. It was really cool to see from that high. We even learned some facts about Buckingham Palace: when the Union Jack is flying over the palace, it means the queen isn’t home, if a flag with lions on it is flying over it, she is home. We learned this from a seven year old. Smart kid.
At this point, we hopped back on the Tube and headed back to the hotel. By the time I got back, I met up with my roommates, two Aussies named Theresa and Natasha. They both seem really sweet and fun but I won’t know them long anyway; they’re leaving for Paris tomorrow. Either way they’re really fun and nice and we’ve had great conversations about our differences in measurement and currency.
After meeting them, they went out to get dinner and I crashed. Hard. Good news is, I’ve very well adjusted to this time zone. It’s a good thing! We crushed London in a day! And we still had another whole day!