London had some big shoes to fill after I fell in love with Ireland. I arrived in the afternoon after spending some time at the airport in a mix up. When I arrived, I got directed to the Non-EU line. I felt like I was waiting in customs to get back into the US. I had to fill out a customs claim sheet, etc. I wait for almost an hour in the line and when I am two away from the desk, I see the desk guy turn a lady away and approaches the crowd. He asks if anyone is coming from Ireland. The people in front of me and I raise our hands. He pulls us out of line and tells us to go to the next room. Apparently if you come from Ireland (not just Northern Ireland), despite your nationality, you don’t have to go through UK customs. Wish I knew that at the beginning, but hey, part of traveling is being flexible. All I had to do was turn in my flight ticket and I just walked through. I felt like a VIP skipping the queue.
I then began making my way to my hostel. Talk about a great location. I know my generation over uses the term literally, but this term is appropriate for this. I was literally across the street from the British Museum. After dropping off my stuff, I had to go since this was one of the things my aunt recommended that was a must. Honestly, best museum I have ever visited. It had the Rosetta Stone, rooms upon rooms of Egyptian and Greek artifacts and was just AMAZING how so many important things could be found under one roof. You could honestly spend almost an entire day there just going over everything the museum has to offer. I was there until closing and still didn’t give it the time it deserves.
I must admit, I am a Harry Potter fan. Therefor, being in London, I had to check out Platform 9 3/4. I went to King’s Cross in search of this platform. I seriously followed the signs to platforms 9 and 10 and couldn’t find it. All I was doing was getting in the way of Londoners trying to get through the turn table and get to their train. I was not defeated. I asked once or twice and got directions away from platforms 9 and 10. I was in the main part of the station and could not find this legendary site. I finally go to information and all I get out of my mouth is, “This is a dumb question but” and the workers just start to point outside. Wow, they must be used to some Harry Potter fans! I go outside to find that the station is doing construction so the normal ‘site’ is out of commission but they put up a (bad) replica. The sheet of plastic that is supposed to represent bricks is a poor excuse for a replica– but hey, it is Platform 9 3/4. I wait in line and –traveling alone– must scout out friendly looking people to ask to take a picture for me. Small world: the girls that I ask saw my UGA croakie and comment on me going to UGA. Apparently one graduated from UGA and other was just from Atlanta. Who would think Harry Potter could bring UGA students together in London?
I have gotten more into photography being in Europe and have learned that the best times for photos are around sunrise and sunset. I decided to end my day exploring, getting my bearings, and take some photos of London. As I was photographing some monuments, I see this blonde traveler setting up the self timer trying to take a photo with her in the picture. She then asks if I will take her picture, she will return the favor. I agree. While traveling alone, one takes a lot of scenery photos. It is always nice to be offered by someone else to have a photo taken than to seem vain and ask for someone to take a picture of you.
The blonde and I begin talking and she is a fellow American from California. She is also traveling alone and we decided to team up to explore the city. My new friend is named Jennifer and she instantly became the older source of knowledge for me. When she was still in undergrad, she studied in Italy. She and I discussed our experiences as Americans studying abroad. She became the older, wiser sister that had knowledge about things to be experienced for me in the next coming years. It was really interesting.
We got some great photos (Picture in red telephone booth. Picture with Big Ben. Check. Check.) and really just enjoyed walking around that night. We decided to call it an early night around midnight since the tube closed–yet apparently– neither of us are as old as we thought because both were not the first asleep in our hostels.
Jennifer and I met up the next day to enjoy the free New Europe Walking tour. There were so many people! They even divided the group into two and we still had close to 40 in each. Our guide for the day could have played Bilbo Baggins’s stunt double in Lord of the Rings. Interesting fellow. Since the tour began near Buckingham Palace, we were right on time to witness the changing of the guards. I am amazed for something that occurs on a daily basis, the throng of people who were in attendance. I mean, people were hanging off the monuments and statues across the street to get a glimpse!
We continued the tour to see the other –less known– palace in London. This is actually the only place left in London tourists can get a photo with the stereotypical (red jacket, black hat) royal guard. (Picture with guard. Check.)
The tour continued on to Westminster Abbey. (Yes, posters of Will and Kate were still up!) I can only imagine the chaos here only two months ago! The guide finished with telling us some history about the Parliament, which had me remembering the fifth of November… Or least the movie, “V for Vendetta”. Interesting stuff. The guide told us about a local pub for drinks and good food, so most of the group followed him there.
I introduced Jennifer to Irish cider and enjoyed some bangers and mash once more (an English or Irish dish– I no longer know). We were there a few hours just talking and enjoying the food and company. We might be becoming slightly Europeanized 🙂
I had to leave Jennifer there because I actually had to go back to the hostel and shower. Before meeting for the tour, I had decided that I wanted to see a Broadway show while in London. I always have wanted to see The Lion King, but Wicked tugged at my heart as well since for years I have heard friends talk about it. I had come across the theatre showing Wicked the previous day– so I knew where to get the ticket. HOWEVER– as I was walking to meet for the walking tour, I happened to pass the theatre for The Lion King and decided it was a sign and chose it. I must say– the costumes were INCREDIBLE! I have only seen Annie and The Producers on broadway, and must say that The Lion King was not a disappointment! Great way to end the night.
I have one last full day in London. I tour the National Gallery, checked out the famous parks, checked out the WWII monuments (who knew I would find a statue of FDR in London?) and discovered a September 11th memorial.
(I never really realized how much that day means to other countries. When I was visiting my German family and we were visiting their friends in Switzerland, that topic came up. All around the table, everyone remembered and talked about what they were doing at the moment the attacks happened. Call it ignorance, but I just thought it was near and dear to the American hearts– didn’t realize how much it impacted the rest of the world as well.)
I spent the remaining part of the day at the Tower of London and London Bridge (and it was not falling down… hardy har har). At the end of the day, I made my way to the airport. I had a 6 am flight the following morning and since I would have to get there at 4 am anyway and the airport was about an hour out (two because of traffic that particular night due to a concert), I decided to save the cash on hotel/hostel and just hang out at the airport for four extra hours to complete my short– but necessary– trip to London.