I know this is supposed to be a long distance relationship blog, but right now, and for the next couple of posts, it will be a travel blog! And of course, travel is also a part of a lot of long distance relationships due to the fact the distance is, well, long, and requires a lot of travelling, so why not make the most of it? The decision to go to London first was owing mostly to A) The Harry Potter Studio Tour; B) Visiting an Australian friend living in London; and C) Exploring a city anew.
So how was it? We weren’t friends, London and I. We stayed for 10 days. I spent the first 3 days with a cold, brought with me from work. I also had unpopped ears from the plane for days, owing to that cold. As soon as that cleared up, I spent the entire next week (and day or two in Stockholm) limping, owing to a pulled hamstring. Now, if anyone knows London, it is a big city with a LOT of walking. And a lot of people. And stairs galore – especially at all the major tourist attractions! Their tube system is amazing, and sure there’s a tonne of escalators, but they weren’t at every station and I found myself slowing down the foot-traffic in the subway trying to limp up and down these stairs because half the time it was that, or walk to the other end of the platform to reach the lift, which didn’t sound much better either. But I survived, with my eager 60-year old mother well in the lead.
We had a night flight into London, and arrived at the place we were staying in King’s Cross late, so our first day in London was a lazy one. We caught up on sleep after our grueling 26 hours or so on planes and at airports, and decided to get a 48-hour ticket for the Hop on Hop Off City Sightseeing Bus. It was a Thursday, and boy was it a waste of money during the week! The bus just doesn’t go anywhere. It sits in non-moving traffic. Oh, but first we had about an hour wait for it when it was supposed to come every 20 minutes. Nevertheless, we set off on our journey.
First stop? Tower Bridge. We had decided to stay on the bus listening to the commentary, not in any rush, just taking in the sights and the traffic and the people. After getting lost finding our way down to the pier, we had a bite to eat whilst waiting to take the river cruise to Greenwich… but the last cruise wouldn’t get back in time and instead we caught it back the way we had come, to Westminster Pier. From there, we met up with my friend, Hayley, in Trafalgar Square, who I hadn’t seen for three years and we had our first meal in an English pub! We looked around Buckingham Palace, where we returned the next day on the bus to catch the very end of the Changing of the Guards by chance, after getting lost again!
We found the lovely St James Park behind the palace, where we sighted our first squirrels. It was nice to see a bit of greenery among all the old buildings, home to a lot of birds and a quaint old cottage. The afternoon was spent exploring Oxford St and the many shops along there – from Harrods to Hamleys, to Disney and Primark. It was like the walking never stopped, and though I was eyeing off an Olaf mug and Mischief Managed pajamas, I resisted, saving my dollars (or pounds in this case) for later. I believe this was the night I injured my leg, and I still have no memory of an actual point where I did something to it, but the next day it was agony!
And what did we do? Climbed to the top of St Paul’s Cathedral! 528 steps up which meant 528 steps down, the whole while I’m trying not to bend by knee going up and down the steps, and that was the start of my torturous week! I won’t say anymore on that though because it was a good week regardless, and we saw all those famous London landmarks. The Cathedral was amazing with all it’s inner architecture, as were the panoramic views at the top – very windy and cold though. We visited Christmas markets at South Bank, the oldest pub in London and learnt about a college student tradition of dressing up in Santa costumes and, well, getting drunk. Still not sure what to think about that, but we had to ask when we saw hundreds of Santas filling the street!
The next day brought with it plenty of fog and misty rain as we visited the Tower of London. This was no different to any other day though really, as we had misty rain every day and didn’t see any blue sky! Apparently it made a difference to the Londoners though, because the first 2 tours outside the tower didn’t run because of the weather, which meant we missed it, though we did catch the end of one tour and saw the chapel. Would you believe the tour inside the tower wasn’t running either because they were low on staff? We just seemed to be getting rotten luck! But we ventured at our own fast pace checking out all the armoury and the Crown Jewels, before rushing off again for a tour at 2pm at the Oldest Operating Theatre in London, up another narrow winding staircase. I wasn’t too fond of this one either, but my Mum used to be a nurse and I’m sure she loved all of the grueling detail of grave-snatching and blood curdling screams of patients while I sat down at the doorway to stop from passing out. We ended the day with a gripping Jack the Ripper walking tour, and learnt about all 5 of his murders and the suspects involved.
I *think* this is the night I first visited the Platform 9 and 3/4 Shop at King’s Cross. It was just before closing time and there were still people getting photos with the trolley, beside some renovation work that was happening. Google had pre-informed me before the visit they were expanding the store, which I thought was probably a good investment when I saw the size of the poky little shop! It was so exciting to have so much cool merchandise at my fingertips, but I held back knowing I would return here with Johan and we’d make our purchases then, but our biggest purchases we’d be saving for the bigger shop at the Studio Tour. Still… mugs, keyrings, tickets, lanyards, bags, shirts, books…
Our 6th day in London gave us a relaxed morning as we met up with a family friend for coffee and cake (correction… hot chocolate and cake) at Kings Cross station. We then hopped aboard a train to Paddington and found a lovely little Christmas shop on our way to Kensington Palace. I reckon I could’ve brought home several large Santas, if it wasn’t for suitcase limitations! The palace was lovely, hundreds of old paintings and sculptures and delicate dresses. You had to remember to look up at the roof to see the designs painted above you. Makes you wonder how they did it all in the old days. We saw Princess Diana dresses and dresses from other princesses and queens gone by, and a beautiful nursery. By the time we left it was dark, as we walked back through Kensington Gardens to get to Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland and meet with Hayley again for a fun evening looking around more Christmas markets and watching crazy people on crazy rides whilst having hot chocolates and german sausages!
We couldn’t pass up the opportunity of seeing Madam Tussauds, and spent the next day photographing wax models of famous stars, half of whom I don’t even know – had my photo with Katniss though! The attention to detail is amazing on those models, the eyes and the hair… crazy! I think it would drive me nuts. Whilst some do look very fake, some do look very real! …Apart from, you know, not breathing. That said, they did have a section of animated ones and one that slept with a rising and falling chest. Of course, knowing our luck, Westminster Abbey was closed for visiting too. Instead, we visited the Tower Bridge again at sunset (not that there was much of one), but this time to go up it to the Exhibition and walk across the glass floor which wasn’t for the weak at heart. Thankfully, it was no problem for us and we walked back and forth a few times watching the cars and boats beneath us! Apparently, seeing a show in London is a must-do as well, and we’d booked for The Woman In Black. Mum sort of fell asleep during the first half and I had to keep nudging her awake. I sort of fell asleep during the second half and she had to keep nudging me awake. That’s what happens when you sit down after running around non stop… you nod off. So, the experience of a show in London wasn’t great… but it was a good performance from what I can remember… I think.
December 16… The day I was to meet Johan… But his flight wasn’t due until 9.30pm, and this was the last day we could really fit in to do a day trip to the countryside and get out of the city smog. Except, we hadn’t booked anything. We’d looked at several tours over the week and couldn’t make our minds up. By the time we’d decided on one the previous night, the website was saying to phone for late bookings and of course it was after hours, so we set an alarm at 6am to ring up first thing in the morning, and waited on the phone for half hour and no one to answer our calls. So we gulped down our breakfast and decided we’d go to the coach station and hope they let us on. It was just as well we hung up the phones too, because by the time we got to Victoria Coach Station and found the correct platform, it was 8.13. The tour was due to depart at 8.15! Amazingly, they took down our card details and let us on with not a moment to spare, and finally our luck seemed to change!
Aside from our day at the Studio Tour, this was probably my favourite day in (or, I guess, out!) of London. To relax on a coach, not be so rushed and to be able to smell the fresh open countryside air! Our guide was funny and energetic, and didn’t shut up the whole trip – which didn’t stop us having a nap here and there – but he was great fun to listen to. Our first stop was Windsor Castle, home of the Queen. We each had audio headsets and explored all the rooms of the castle, some that had been damaged by fire and rebuilt. They had an amazing dollhouse complete with running water and flushing toilets! Next stop was Stonehenge. You’re not allowed to go up to the stones themselves, but it doesn’t stop the birds! They still don’t know why some people decided to place these stones the way they were, though there’s speculation of gatherings or sun dials, etc. By now, I’d managed to find a WiFi spot and had messages from Johan panicking that his bus was late and he might miss his flight! But there was nothing either of us could do but wait and see.
From here, we stopped by a charming little village town called Lacock and had lunch in the oldest pub in England, followed by a short evening trip to Bath, where we didn’t see the Roman Baths, but looked around souvenir shops and had a snack, including a most delicious berry ice cream cone before the long trip back to London… and back on the tube to Heathrow Airport, to meet my boyfriend! I’d had messages from him saying he’d made it and he’d be seeing me soon 😀 Well, after a one hour flight delay…