It’s hard not to sing “A foggy day… in London-town” while skipping around this fantastic British city, though the rest of the song suggests that London can be depressing unless you are Louis Armstrong meeting Ella Fitzgerald in front of the British museum. There is so much to take in and the tea is really much better, especially with some biscuits or “digestives” which I’m still trying to comprehend the difference between. But if you have three days, lots of caffeine, lots of British pounds, and good shoes, you can duplicate the madness that was our trip (my second, Jon’s first) to London.
Day 1. Arrive in Heathrow at 7 in the morning. We hemmed and hawed over the $1.75 exchange rate we got at the airport ATM (note: don’t take out a lot of money at airport ATMs) and wondering if we should be cheap and take the Tube to Piccadilly Circus for about £4 and one hour, or the fast Heathrow Express train to Paddington Station for £16.50 and 15 minutes. We splurged and went for the fast train and got to my friend Dave’s place in Notting Hill swiftly and without passing out en route.
First, after an intended one-hour nap that expanded into three hours, we set off to Westminster Abbey and Big Ben, Parliament and the works. Westminster is unique with all its famous people buried in there, and the audio tour is interesting and well-narrated by Jeremy Irons who speaks distainfully about children who used to play there. There isn’t much to see at Parliament or Big Ben except the exterior, unless you really want to check out when Parliament is in session (snore). Then we headed through St. James’ park towards Buckingham Palace, where parts of the palace are open to the public in August for an exorbitant fee that we were told not to buy into. At this point, it might rain, so make sure you pack an umbrella and maybe a raincoat. Also try not to leave your only jacket, which is waterproof, on the plane like certain husbands did.
Later, you can walk along the Thames River or along Oxford Street. We decided to walk straight across London to meet my friend Maurice and his girlfriend for dinner at a nice Spanish restaurant in the up-and-coming trendy part of town of Shoreditch. Of course, they were dressed much nicer than we tourists were in our jeans and Jon’s backpack. His girlfriend also plays polo. The horse kind, that is.
Day 2. The sunshine is out, and it’s weekend market time in Notting Hill on Portobello Road, right outside Dave’s window in fact, so we woke up to the sounds of people shopping and squealing over clothes, antiques, and fresh fruit and vegetables. We decided to go for a little hike across town – through the long greenery of Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park towards one of my world’s favorite, the British Museum which houses some of the best Egyptian artifacts. Afterwards we went to find some toys at Hamley’s for my niece and nephew, but I would not recommend this activity on a Sunday afternoon unless you want to be run over by little children. We did get to meet Harry Potter, however. We walked along the Thames and headed to Chinatown for dinner, where pretty much every restaurant is the same – though they did let you bring home your food in a doggy bag, something very rare in European restaurants (portions are much smaller there, anyway).
Day 3. We woke up bright and early to be one of the first at London’s ancient castle, the Tower of London. Apparently if you have a voucher from some travel pass, you can get a two-for-one discount that would otherwise cost you nearly $35 a person. If you don’t have the voucher, you can try for the unemployment rate which is the same as the student rate. You can also beg the sales guy for the two-for-one by asking “Pleeeaseee??” as we did and were granted our wish. The Tower requires the whole morning, with a long queue for the Crown Jewels and some extra time to study bizarre equipment at the Armory. Afterwards, you can check out the Tower Bridge and then cross the London Bridge towards the Tate Modern. Here you will wonder when exactly did artists stop creating pretty portraits and landscapes and start throwing bodily fluids on canvases and were still called “talented.” Afterwards, you must make an obligatory stop at Harrods, quite possibly one of the best department stores in the world. Definitely visit the Food Halls and purchase some teas, pay tribute to Diana and Dodi (Dodi’s family owns Harrods), check out the Pet Kingdom (which make American tourists shopping with their measly dollars bitter that British pooches have higher standards of living), the Games Hall which has lots of fancy board games, and the Sport Hall which sells, besides croquet sets, horse-riding gear.
At night, we tried to get tickets to the Proms that take place in August – a series of outdoor concerts in Hyde Park but they were sold out. Instead, we rested up and had dinner with Dave at a pub in Notting Hill, then packed for our flight to Stockholm the next morning. It was time for Jon to give up his sad attempt at a British accent, and we had about enough of fish and chips by then.
Stay tuned for Getting Lost in Sweden next!