As you may or may not have already deduced from the title of this post, I went to London last weekend! I went down with Ariel to meet up with her friend, Harrison, who is studying in the Czech Republic. Well, that’s not entirely true. Ariel went down Friday morning and met Harrison, and I joined them Friday night. But let me start from the beginning.
For some inexplicable reason, the Scottish Literature Department likes to schedule its seminars on Friday. I managed to switch my literature seminar to Thursday, but unfortunately, I got stuck with a 2 PM Friday seminar for my Enlightenment class (which is organized by the Scottish Literature Department). It seems really silly to me to schedule the seminar at that time since all of the students in that class are American study abroad students and would probably relish the chance to have a three-day weekend… But, alas, it was not my decision. However, I wasn’t going to let my seminar stop me from traveling to London.
Ariel doesn’t have class on Friday so she caught an early flight on Friday morning. Due to my seminar, I had to catch the 8 PM flight. I flew with a discount airline called RyanAir. Although Glasgow has an international airport in the city, because RyanAir is a discount airline, it flies out of Glasgow-Prestwick, which is about forty-five minutes south of the city near Ayr. In order to get to the airport, I had to catch a train. I thought I would be clever and walk to the train station instead of taking a taxi, since it wasn’t that far away.
When I got to Glasgow Queen St. train station, I bought my ticket from the electronic ticket booth and proceeded to the departure board to find out which platform I had to go to. Only my destination was not on the board. At that point, I started to get worried. If I missed my train, I could miss my flight. If I missed my flight, I would miss out on London! Not to mention all the money I would have wasted.
I asked an attendant where I was supposed to go, and she said, “Oh, you need to be at Glasgow Central. Go out those doors and to the right.” So I walked out the doors and turned right. I didn’t see anything that said “Glasgow Central.” I kept walking. I started to get really worried, since the early train I was going to take was due to leave in less than five minutes. I had no idea where to go. I followed the crowd a little bit until I found a map of City Centre. Turns out Glasgow Central train station is four or five blocks from Glasgow Queen St. “Go out those doors and turn right” my ass. I eventually found my way to Central Station and boarded a train, hoping it was the right one. Luckily it was, and I got to the airport with plenty of time to spare.
Again, because RyanAir is a discount airline, my flight to London did not land at Heathrow but rather at London-Stansted, which is about forty-five minutes from the city center. I had pre-purchased tickets for a bus into town, so I caught that and then hailed a taxi to take me from the bus station to the hostel. I realized later that I probably could have taken the Tube, but at that point it was almost 11 PM and I was alone in a foreign city. So I coughed up the 15 pounds for the taxi.
I got to the hostel, met Ariel and Harrison, and went to bed. I originally bought the plane ticket because it was considerably cheaper than a train ticket and faster than a coach, or so I thought. All in all, my travels to London took close to six hours, which is about the same as it would have taken if I had taken a bus. If I go back, I’m definitely taking a bus. Easier and cheaper.
Enough about my various modes of travel. On to the interesting stuff! We woke up early Saturday morning and ate the free breakfast at the hostel before heading down to King’s Cross Station to catch the Tube to Westminster Cathedral. It was my first time on a subway, and it was pretty much what I expected. Underground, dark, busy. As the weekend went on though, I really began to appreciate the Tube. It’s incredibly easy to navigate (thanks to Harry Beck’s brilliant map design), fast, and convenient, though crowded.
Our first stop was Westminster Cathedral. It was huge and very pretty. It felt strange to be inside a Cathedral, since I don’t really attend mass anymore. It was a nice experience though.
After that, we found our way to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard. That experience can be summed up in three words: SO. MANY. TOURISTS. Really. There were so many people there you couldn’t really see what was going on. Basically, a bunch of guys in uniforms marched to the palace, then a marching band came, then some more guys on horses. The marching band played several songs (including, oddly, the James Bond theme), and then (I’m assuming this, since I couldn’t actually see it) they switched guards and the rest marched back the way they’d come. The way I’ve described it makes it sound simple, but the entire process lasted an hour and a half. I tried to snap some pictures, but it was difficult due to the mob of people, my limited height, and my lack of a long zoom lens. I don’t understand Britain’s lingering obsession with the monarchy, so I really wasn’t that impressed. But it was a fun experience, and at least I can say “been there, done that.”
After the changing of the guard, we grabbed some lunch at a pub. I had the original English breakfast (yes, for lunch). I forgot to take a picture of it, but it consisted of two fried eggs, two pieces of toast, three pieces of thick-cut bacon, a container of baked beans, a fried tomato, a fried mushroom, a sausage, and two pieces of black pudding. It was a good meal, but a strange one. I’m not sure I’d order it again. And I’d definitely never eat that assortment of foods for breakfast. I’ll stick to oatmeal, thanks.
After lunch, we headed over to Westminster Abbey where many famous royals, aristocrats, and authors are buried (including T.S. Eliot, Charles Dickens, Robert Burns, Jane Austen, and many more). British coronations also take place at the abbey. Unfortunately, we did not do our research properly and weren’t able to go inside the abbey since it closed before we got there. We contented ourselves with taking a few pictures of the outside, before catching the Tube to the Portobello Road Market.
The Portobello Road Market is a street market in Notting Hill that sells everything from vintage clothing, to fruit, to cheap souvenir trinkets, to antique furniture and maps. It was by far my favorite part of the trip (and not just because I saw Robert Downey Jr. there, which I did, he passed right by me). It felt more authentic than the other sites we visited, and though busy, it was certainly less crowded. It was fun to browse the stalls. And the freshly made butter-sugar-cinnamon crepe I bought was scrumptious. I could have spent all day there. (Interesting notes: right near the market, we found a row of houses that looked suspiciously like Keira Knightley’s house in Love, Actually. Also, Notting Hill was filmed at and around the market. Pretty cool.)
After the market, we headed back to the hostel for a bit before venturing out to find dinner. We went to a restaurant in Leicester Square called Wagamama which serves Asian-inspired food. It was an interesting place, because instead of having many small tables for two or four people, they have only a few long, cafeteria-like tables. After dinner, we had planned on meeting up with a friend of Harrison’s, but it was pouring rain so we just headed back to the hostel. The train stop nearest to our hostel was King’s Cross, so we decided to find Platform 9 and 3/4 before heading to bed. After several trips round the station, asking two guard for directions, and splashing through innumerable puddles, we finally found it!
On Sunday, we woke up early and jumped on the Tube to Tower Bridge. We passed by the Tower of London, but didn’t go in because we were short on time and it was too expensive. As we were walking away from the bridge, we got to see it raise up and let a boat pass underneath. That was pretty cool. Don’t get to see anything like that in Omaha.
Next, we walked to St. Paul’s Cathedral, where Princess Diana and Prince Charles were married. It was a massive building. So huge, I couldn’t fit it all in my camera frame, even when I was standing in the middle of the street on the pedestrian walkway. We went inside for a little bit, but a service was about to start so we left.
After St. Paul’s, we caught a red double-decker bus to Trafalgar Square. We stopped for lunch at a place called Frankie and Benny’s which described its fare as Italian-American. Don’t go there. I’ll say this: it was edible, but I would have preferred McDonald’s.
After lunch, we crossed the square to the National Gallery. The Gallery was my second favorite part of my London experience. I got to see real Monets and VanGoghs and Rembrandts and Vermeers and Degas and Renoirs. Even a Michelangelo and a Raphael! I was also pleased to see the work of J.M.W. Turner who I had just learned about in my literature class. Even though I was exhausted, I really enjoyed the museum. It deserves more time though, so I’ll have to go back at some point in my life.
After the museum, Harrison had to leave to catch his plane. Ariel and I had a couple of hours to spare so we found our way over to Harrod’s. There’s really no good way to describe Harrod’s. It’s a department store, but it also has a grocery store in it. It has entire rooms dedicated to things like stationary, perfume, pet accessories, and Christmas. I saw a leather briefcase there for almost four thousand pounds. And a single fountain pen for nearly two thousand pounds. Crazy stuff.
Finally, after two action-packed days, it was time to head home. We caught our bus back to the airport, then our plane, then the train, and finally a taxi back to our flats. I really enjoyed London and I hope to go back. There are so many touristy things I didn’t get the chance to do (the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Tower of London, etc.), but I’d also love to get to know the real London, away from the tourist sites.
Anyway, I’ve written way too much. Thanks for slogging through my rambling. Until next time…
P.S.- As always, for more photos, please see my Facebook page. If we aren’t friends, feel free to friend me so you can see them!