We arrived in London just in the nick of time. The underground took us far outside of the city center, but we located our hostel with ease and arrived just after reception should have closed. Thankfully, the receptionist was running late, so we were checked in and shown to our room in no time. The hostel was several stories tall, cramped, and constantly smelled of stale beer. On the bright side, it was clean, safe, and the bathrooms always had upbeat music pumping from the speakers. We were staying in a little room with 4 triple bunk beds crammed into a tiny space. When everyone was up and about, it was impossible to get anywhere. Simply climbing out of bed in the morning (I had a top bunk on the 3rd level) was a display of acrobatic skill I never knew I possessed.
The next morning (Monday), we got up early and set out to explore. It was “Bank Holiday” in London. We never really found out what the significance was, but there were crowds gathering by the London Eye and loads of street performers, live music, and good food. We got some burgers (for the first time in Europe, I found a veggie burger!) and found a sunny spot on the lawn to relax and eat. We ended up taking turns people watching and falling asleep. It was almost strange to be back in an English-speaking country. Everything about London felt reminiscent of Home.
|Peter Pan statue in Hyde Park--throwback to Winning London anyone??|
Also, there's a rare sighting of The Monster, which I've been failing to incorporate.
|Princess Diana Memorial Fountain|
While we were blessed with gorgeous weather for our first day, on Tuesday, it POURED. Constantly. We got a hop-on-hop-off bus pass for the day and just stayed on the whole route. The upper deck was partially covered, so we took the front row and tried to stay dry. This proved especially difficult, as the water wasn’t draining properly so as it poured, the rain kept on collecting and would periodically attack us on particularly harsh turns or stops. Eventually, we moved downstairs to the better-insulated part of the bus and waited to get off.
Along the way, we drove across the Tower Bridge, saw Hyde Park, Westminster Abbey, Parliament, Big Ben, the London Eye, Buckingham Palace and the Sherlock Holmes Restaurant. After the tour, we went to the London Eye to make our 8:00 reservations. It was beautiful to see the views of London from above, but it was too cloudy for The Perfect Picture.
After the Eye, we hopped on a river tour and floated down the Thames while watching the sunset. Everyone else was getting off, but we figured we’d just stay on as long as we could and watch the lights come on over the river as the sky darkened. We started playing music and singing off-key to Macklemore and The Kooks. Eventually, we asked if we were returning to the London Eye and learned that we were actually about an hour out of London already. Luckily, we were able to get off at the next stop and catch the last ferry back. Our timing really had been perfect!
For dinner, we were determined to find good Indian food, so we followed the advice of Cassie’s London tour book and found ourselves in a swanky modern Indian restaurant. We tried curried lentils, olive & cheese naan, and kebabs. Everything was amazing, and the bill was even more so. To soften the blow, they brought us out delicious mint leaves covered in white chocolate.
After a good meal, we were going to check out some English pubs, but we ended up in a sketchy neighborhood around midnight and decided to head back to the hostel before the metro shut down, rather than get stranded in an unknown area.
After so much stress from traveling, we decided to sleep in and have a rest day. We slept in till 3:30…a little later than we planned on. Although it was too late to get tea by the time we were showered and ready, we went back to the Sherlock Holmes Restaurant for an early dinner. I got a vegetarian pot pie (which was on my list for London), and Cassie got a classic order of fish & chips. We ended up successfully checking out some popular pubs in the area after dinner and learned a few things:
1) Americans tend to flock together. By the end of the night, we hadn’t met any locals, but we did have a group of 6 Americans bar-hopping together.
2) Pubs close at 11 pm. If you want to stay out later, find a bar.
3) Bars also close early. After being used to the Italian nightlife (going out late, staying up till dawn), I was shocked by the stark contrast in England.