Thursday, February 13, 2014

LONDONBABY: Part I

Last weekend I ventured off to London, England with Kiera, a friend who hails from Ontario. In the days leading up to the flight I played Joey Tribbiani's voice saying "London, baby!" over and over again in my head. 
We took the train to Edinburgh on Thursday afternoon because most flights to major cities leave from Edinburgh for the cheapest price. Our flight left at 6:20 AM on Friday so we stayed with Kiera's family on Thursday evening. We read books to young Kate before turning in for bed around 8:30 PM without shame. Our cab was scheduled to come for us at 4:45 AM. 
The ride to the airport is a blur and we both passed out on the flight. We arrived at Gatwick airport, south of London. Our welcome included completely armed security personnel meandering with AK47s and dogs. We exchanged glances and hurried to the train station. 
We sat on a train for an hour before it decided to begin moving, due to a broken down train north of the station. We finally left Gatwick airport about an hour and a half after arriving, but wait. The public transport saga was far from over. The train was supposed to take its passengers through several stops, all the way to London Bridge, the stop we needed to catch our bus tour. Instead, because of the delays, the train dropped all of the disgruntled passengers at East Croydon, where we waited again for another delayed train. 
We finally made it to London Bridge station and found our bus stop. We hopped on and crossed Tower Bridge, with spectacular views of the River Thames. We had purchased tickets for the Tower of London so we got off at the next stop and took a tour from a beefeater. Strolling through such a historical place was enough to give me chills. I saw the White Tower built by William the Conqueror in 1190 and tower green, where the private executions of Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey, and Catherine Howard took place. All three women are now buried beneath the altar of the chapel within the Tower of London. I was entranced by the Crown Jewels, sparkling since 1301, and still in use by the crown today. We spent nearly three hours wandering the grounds and exploring every tower. 
We were near the pier so we caught the river cruise associated with our bus tour and floated down the River Thames past Cleopatra's Needle, the Globe Theater, the Houses of Parliament, and iconic Big Ben. 
We got a closer look at Big Ben and listened to its deep ringing at 4 PM before heading to Westminster Abbey. It was closed by the time we found it, but just looking at the outside was awe-inspiring. I didn't know my neck could crane that far. 
Due to construction in the area, our bus stop had moved and we spent a solid hour looking for it. We couldn't find it in time to catch the last tour and instead focused on finding dinner. Unfortunately, everything we found was far out of our budget and so we resigned ourselves to locating the hostel first, and THEN dinner. 
From my years of watching The Amazing Race on TV, I learned that asking directions from a hotel is the best thing to do when lost in an unfamiliar city. 
We located Victoria station, somehow managing to completely bypass Buckingham palace even though it was supposed to be on the way. 
We both purchased tube, or Oyster, cards and studied the map of the tube system to find the fastest way to Woolwich, where our hostel was located. 
Woolwich Arsenal station is the very end of the DLR tube line and we exited the station to find something very much resembling Bronx, NY. In fact, every time we told experienced Londoners where we were heading, they grimaced in distaste. We wandered in a giant circle before asking for directions for the millionth time that day and finally found our hostel by some small miracle since there was no sign or anything. Just ominous stairs leading to an unfurnished lobby and a makeshift office. 
The man checking us in spoke minimal English, but I'm convinced that because of Kiera's curly blonde locks and blue eyes, he decided to bump us out of our shared 8-bed room and put us in a private 2-bed room at no extra cost. WITH bunkbeds. So much room for activities. Whatever the reason for our good fortune, I was thankful since it meant we could lock our belongings in our room and not have to worry about carrying our backpacks all day for the rest of our stay. Such a room would have normally cost us 19 pounds a night, but we only payed 9 pounds per night for the entire duration. We shared a bathroom with the other ladies of the hostel, with one shower completely OPEN, the lock on our door was finicky, and the street noise was enough to keep me up almost all night, but you get what you pay for. And...it was London, baby!
After taking a 5 second tour of our room at Hostel Ordnance (seriously, that's how long it took), we headed outside, pushing past the smokers who had congregated at the bottom of the stairs in the doorway, to a local fish&chips shop. They advertised southern fried chicken and I fell for it. It wasn't Popeyes, of course, but it was close enough for now. And at that point I was so hungry I would have eaten almost anything. Maybe not haggis. 
Our first day in London left us exhausted and I'm almost embarrassed to say we were again in bed by 10 PM at the latest. My alarm was set for 5:40 AM so I could catch my Windsor/Oxford/Stonehenge tour in the morning. A Very Lucky Girl wasn't about to waste any sightseeing daylight. 

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