The three biggies; Rome, Paris, London. There are European capitals (Amsterdam, Prague, Barcelona) and then there are world capitals. Places where culture meets history meets politics. There are many cities where this is true, but these three top the list in the European arena. We liked Rome. We LOVED Paris. So how did we feel about London? Well… we are not really sure. It felt… well it felt a little like being in an American city (or vice versa, as America was born from English settlers). Everyone spoke English, the shops are the basically the same, it is congested and fairly dirty (at least when compared to Paris). It wasn’t as historical feeling as Rome, or as magical as Paris. Our feelings may simply be because we are at the end of our trip and basically out of money. Whatever the reason, we liked London, but just didn’t fall in love.
We took the bus from Cheltenham, arriving in London in early afternoon on a Friday. After checking into our Airbnb we went for a walk down to the Thames River. We were staying in an area near the Tower Bridge, which was the first “sight” we came to. We walked across the famous bridge, down the riverfront, across the London Bridge, and over to the Millennium Bridge. Along the way we saw hordes of young professionals having a Friday night drink outside of the countless bars and restaurants along the river. Our destination was the Tate Modern, which houses modern art of all types. Logan HATES modern art. I don’t use that word lightly; he really, truly, deeply hates it. I don’t love it, but there are artists (such of Dali) that get lumped in with the weirdo fork-glued-on-a-napkin type of art that I do like. We spent less than 30 minutes in the Tate, with Logan mocking the whole time, but since it is free (as are all the major London museums), popping in and out was easy.
The next day we took some serious, hard-core down time. We left our apartment only once, to go grocery shopping. It was amazing and slightly humorous how much joy we felt grocery shopping. We have been cooking a lot of our own meals, but we have mostly been buying groceries one or two days at a time, mostly in smaller markets. The store we found in our neighborhood was a real, bonafide supermarket (America style!!). We bought groceries for our 5 days in London (breakfasts, lunches and dinners) and we had a wonderful time doing it!
Feeling fully rested, we headed out for a day of FREE museum-ing. I had been looking forward to seeing the British History Museum ever since I took a college course called “Trash and Treasure” on ancient cultures. The British Museum has it all: Ancient Egyptian, Greek, Mesopotamian and Japanese artifacts. We saw so many artifacts that I had seen in my textbooks and we didn’t even scratch the surface of everything there is to see. Mixed in with the ancient statues and jewelry are random “modern” type rooms featuring things such as clocks, money and even a case highlighting how many pills people take in their lifetime. We spent three hours at the museum (which is like a lifetime for us) before walking down to the theater district to check out tickets. We ended up not getting tickets (we are pretty much OUT of money), but we really wish we had been able to, as there are REALLY good deals! ($50 for Wicked tickets, day of)!! In the States, you have to buy Wicked tickets months and months ahead of time, and they are NOT cheap.
After two essentially free days (besides the groceries), we were ready to drop a little cash on one of the most quintessential London sights: the Tower of London. We made sure to get there close to opening to try and avoid the crowds, but being that it was the peak of the peak season, that plan did not work and we ended up on the first free Yeoman tour with 75 other tourists. Out guide was GREAT and we learned so much about the history of London, the Tower, and the Yeomans (they live in the Tower!! And are locked in at night!! So interesting!!). We visited the Crown Jewels, the White Castle, where the armory has been for hundreds of years, along with many of the towers. The jewels are AMAZING and sparkly and Logan really loved looking at the different weapons on display. We ended up spending over four hours at the Tower, soaking up history and walking and walking. We were so tired afterwards that a nap felt more than necessary (I may have mentioned before, I LOVE napping!).
On our final day in London we went full-on tourist and visited all the sights we had not made it to (which was A LOT). The day was completely perfect; sunny, warm but not hot, nice breeze; perfect. We started our tourist day at Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard. We managed to find a spot on the monument (where the best views are), but we were not willing to aggressively push our way to the front of the crowd, so after the guards passed by twice we decided to make a break for it and headed to Hyde Park for a picnic lunch and some time spent reading by a lake in public lounge chairs.
After a relaxing lunch hour we headed to the main tourist drag of the city, past Harrods department store, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, Parliament and Westminster Abbey. Harrods is the craziest, most expensive feeling, fancy department store either of us has been to. Sandwiched between the Hermes scarves and Chanel bags are food counters selling live lobster, sushi, champagne and steak. We did not buy anything (for obvious reasons), but it was an interesting stop to make while exploring London. Piccadilly and Trafalgar are basically crowded intersections (with lots of history and prestige). Big Ben, Parliament, and Westminster are, however, everything they are cracked up to be. We did not pay to go in to any of them (the Abbey is over $30 per person!!!) but they are amazing from the outside and are perfect London landmarks.
Our last stop was the London Eye. The 30-minute ride is EXTREMELY expensive (also $30 each), but Logan’s aunt gave us wedding money specifically to go on the Eye, so we took the opportunity to get the amazing views of the whole city. Since we had been cooking all our meals we decided to treat ourselves to a meal out. We feasted on delicious fish and chips, a sausage roll, and beer.
So, did we like London? Yes. Did we love it? No. Will we go back? Definitely, when we have more money. Food, transport and accommodation are all insanely expensive, and while the main museums are free, all the other attractions are so costly. We were focusing so hard on not blowing our budget that it was hard to have a good time. Furthermore, as we near the end of our trip, we are getting progressively more tired and harder to impress. While we did not love London, we really loved England (what very little we saw of it) and want to explore more, with metropolitan London likely being our starting off point. Next time, we will go well rested and armed with plenty of money.