24 Hours in London

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Hello hello my dear friends. Hope you’re all doing well. As for me, well, it’s been a whirlwind 24 hours in jolly ole England. I’ve just cleared all the security hurdles, and now find myself with a couple hours to kill before we board our flight for Riyadh. What better time to fire off a blog post than right now? I’ve even had a chance to download the pictures from my camera and get them captioned, so hopefully I’ll be able to upload some of those in the near term as well. If not, then I apologize. At any rate, the arrival into London went very smoothly, and there were no issues getting our bags and getting through customs. Before we knew it, we were starting the longish trek to find the tube station which would whisk us into London proper. We decided to just buy some day passes so that we could get to a few of the sights a little easier than on foot. Read on for a full dump of the day, and what we got up to in our brief time, made even more complicated by the fact that we were a little tired. Click here for pictures.

We were on the train heading into town by just after 10am, and got out at Green Park just around 11. The hotel was very handily located, but we wouldn’t be able to get our room until 2pm. Luckily, the concierge was able to take our bags for us and provide a walking map. This gave us a few hours to kill without being encumbered by luggage. Although I’d only managed to sleep around 45 minutes on the plane, I had no choice but to carry on! Luckily, Jody had gotted about 4 hours of sleep, so she wasn’t doing too bad.

If you have any idea of the London geography, You’ll realize that our hotel, wihch was right outside Green Park, was only a couple hundred meters from Buckingham palace, so that was our logical first stop. A nice little stroll through the park, and we were there. Oddly, there was quite a crowd gathered around the palace and the Mall, and plenty of event officers directing the foot traffic and blocking off certain areas. We’re still not sure exactly what was going on, but there were numerous marching bands playing in the parade grounds in front of the palace, which then marched through the gates and onto the mall, where we were standing. It was a pretty neat first activity for us. We were also very handy to the Canada Gate, so we snapped some pictures there before taking off. I also had the chance to pet a big police horse, so you know I took advantage of that.

Next stop on the tour was a stroll down Birdcage Road towards Westminster Abbey and the parliament buildings. The only downside was the fact that it was Sunday, meaning the Abbey was closed except for worship, which we weren’t about to hop in on. Probably worked out better for us though, as we might have spend too long there, and not long enough getting to other parts of the city. Plus, it would have cost around 30 pounds ($60) to go in, and we didn’t have that much cash. So instead, we just admired the outside, and kept moseying on till we got to Big Ben and Parliament. This of course meant that we were very handy to the Thames River, so it was time to cross some of the bridges and get a better view of stuff.

It’s about that time when we noticed the wind was really starting to pick up, and the air was getting quite chilly. Admittedly, it certainly wasn’t “Ottawa cold”, but I’d only packed close for the desert and warm climes of Saudi Arabia, but a brisk winter day. I had only a longsleeve shirt and my goretex shell on. Brr. I made a mental note to throw on the hat and my fleece gloves if we headed out later on again. But I digress. Here we were, walking along the Westminster bridge, staring up at the glorious London eye, that largest of large ‘ferris wheels’, if you can call it that. This thing is an amazing sight to behold, made up of all these big, cool pods. It takes around 30 minutes for a full revolution, and you get a pretty magnificent view of the city from it. Of course, I only know this from what I read, as once again, we decided not to fork over the big bucks and do it. There was a fairly lengthy queue (as per usual), and we decided we’d rather just keep strolling.

I was amazed at how many people seemed to be everywhere we were! I think London is one of those cities that it doesn’t matter what time of the year you viist, it is always overrun by tourists from around the world. After all, this is a city of great history, and lots of varied things to do. I suppose this would make a good start for our trip. After all, we’ll be heading from this great city of public things to a world shrouded in mystique, and a complete lack of tourists. The difference in sensory experiences will probably be quite remarkable.

So, where from the London Eye? Well, we carried along the banks of the Thames, and eventually made our way back across another bridge and hoofed our way to Trafalgar Square with Nelsons column, and then on to Piccadilly Circus (the shopping district with a Times Square-ish vibe, but more reserved). By this time I was getting a few things; tired, peckish, and cranky. We decided to make our way back to the hotel, as it was after 2pm now, to get our room. Once we got into our room, I decided a shower would make me feel a bit better, so I hopped on that. Jody had a hankering to maybe do a little wonder to some shops, and I encouraged her to do so, and instead I opted to take a 45 minute nap to recharge a bit. It was just what I needed to keep going.

Once I had napped, Jody got back, and had enquired after a few local pubs, since we definitely wanted to have a proper London pub experience both for pints of beers and some good local fare. However, as it was getting a little darker out already, we decided to press on with our tacky tourist excursion, and wanted to go to London Bridge, Tower Bridge, London Tower, and the Millenium Bridge, which is very near to St. Paul’s cathedral. To get to tthat end of town we once again hopped on the trusty tube to make use of our passes. This time, I was smart enough to put on my hat and gloves, and once we stepped out into the windy streets again, I was glad I had. This end of town was a lot less busy, but there were still toursts all over the place.

First crossing was London Bridge. This is not the bridge everyone thinks it is. London Bridge is just a very plain highway-type bridge. However, from this bridge, you can look over and see Tower Bridge, which is the old bridge that you want to see. You know, fancy drawbridge, lots of pretty lighting, etc. etc. We strolled along the Thames yet again, admiring the architecture and early evening lighting. Tower Bridge is of course very close to London Tower, which has some very good tours apparently. I say apparently, because we were too late for the last tour of the day, and had to settle for walking around the perimeter, which was itself worth it. We sort of laughed looking at the outdoor skating rink that is currently put up in a courtyard. There were lots of Londoners skating, but even from far away I could see there was quite a bit of water sitting on top. Not an ideal skating surface to be sure.

In this area, we were also lucky enough to catch the drawbridge doing its thing for a sailboat to pass underneath. I took a little video of it, but I’m not sure how nice that will turn out. Last stop on our tourist route was to be Millenium Bridge, a pedestrian bridge that I’d heard a lot about and wanted to check out. We took the tube yet again, and then walked what seemed forever to find it. It was rather anti-climatic, as it was quite dark there, and just wedged between two buildings. At least when we turned around to head back the other way on it, we were treated to a cool view of St. Pauls Cathedral, which had a big Christmas tree in front of it as well.

By now, our hunger was definitely getting the better of us, and we agreed it was time to wrap up the tourist thing, and make our way to a pub. First stop was back to the hotel to drop a few things. It was perfect pub time, and we wandered around a bit till we found just the right place. A sort of hole in the wall, locals-type pub not on the main strip. This was called the Coach and Horses, and had a great menu of food that was exactly what we needed. We warmed up with a couple pints of a special beer called Sleigh Bell Ale, and ordered the grub. Jody had the local delicacy of Beer Battered fish and chips, while I opted for the Pie of the Day, which was steak and ale. Deeeelicious. This was exactly what we’d wanted. One more pint by me to wash it down, and we bid good night to our excellent 24 hour layover in London.

As you may imagine, we turned in pretty quick after getting back to the hotel, and had a glorious night of sleep before getting up early to start all over again. I’ve gotta say, Priceline was a great dealsaver for us too. The 4 star rating was pretty accurate, given the location and standard pricing. If we’d checked in off the street, the rate was 295 POUNDS! That’s over $500! The bed was really comfortable, and the shower / bath also very excellent! I’ll cut it off here, as it looks like we’re about to board the flight. 6.5 more hours, and we’ll be in the ‘Magic Kingdom’. Wish us luck. I’ll check in once we’re settled in there…

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