Having recently returned from our trip to London and Paris and being firmly ensconced back at work (high over the North Pacific), it is with very fond memories that I can look back on our vacation. Since I haven’t looked at the credit card statement yet, I don’t have any buyers remorse or regret, either. The trip across the Atlantic almost never came to be, as we, mostly me, were indecisive on when to leave and how to make it work on our budget. In the end, I’m glad we went. It was a great time and the memory making was well worth the trip. Years from now, a few extra dollars here or there won’t matter in comparison to the time we had.
Our vacation started out nice and early and we got to New York in plenty of time to check in early at the British Airways counter. Being there so early meant we got assigned seats straight away and together, even though we were flying on standby for next to nothing. Paying passengers who showed up late weren’t able to sit together, so we were glad to be next to each other. I was looking forward to service by BA instead of one of the U.S. carriers. I was also excited to be a passenger on a 747-400. I fly them for a living but hadn’t yet ridden in the back of one. Years ago as a kid, I rode in the back of 747-SP’s, a shorter version, but this would be my first experience on the plane I actually fly. The service and the aircraft were very good. The main body gear on a 747 turn in the opposite direction as the nose gear in a sharp turn (called body steering) to help the large aircraft navigate tight turns. For the first time, I noticed this affect as it is quite pronounced in a turn. Sitting behind the wing in a right turn, the middle of the plane swings quickly to the left, and if you aren’t ready for it, it can seem a little unnerving. Pretty cool, though.
We landed at Heathrow about six am local time, or one in the morning our time. After a quick hop on a train to Paddington station in the heart of London, we made our way to buy tube tickets to ride the underground to our hotel. Different cities call the same thing different names: In Paris, it’s the Metro, in Washington, it’s the Subway, Hong Kong has the MTR, and London has the Tube. Quite literally, the tube cars are rounded at the top so they fit down the tunnel and it isn’t exactly a roomy feeling. Contrasted with New York, where the subways are huge, London’s feel a bit cramped.
The nearest tube station to our hotel was Lambeth North, just a few minute’s walk to the Novotel Hotel where we stayed. Arriving there about 8:30 a.m., there were no rooms yet available, so we dropped our luggage off and headed out into the city. Day one consisted of a walk past Parliament and Big Ben, and then back to the awaiting room at the hotel, where we took a long and needed nap. Back up again a few hours later, and as night fell, we saw Buckingham Palace lit up at night and dinner at Trafalgar Square.
The next morning took us on a jaunt through some parks, up to the top of the Wellington Arch, a view of the changing of the guard at Buckingham palace, a quick view of the queen as her motorcade whisked by, and a picture-less walk through the national art gallery. Stopping only for a quick bite to eat for a late lunch, we then heard a piano recital taking place at a nearby church, took a walk past both the London Eye and Westminster Abbey, which were too expensive to go on and in for a tour, gazed at the shopping in London’s largest store: Harrod’s, and finished the long day off with dinner at a pub, once again at Trafalgar Square. The day was probably too long and we were beat, but we felt like there was too much to see and not enough time. The pubs were fun to eat in as they were more of a relaxed atmosphere and were much more affordable than the local restaurants. We could get fish and chips and drinks for about $25.
The following day was a little more relaxed, as we started to run low on energy. We started off with a river tour down the Thames (pronounced Tims), a long tour through the Tower of London, a hike up hundreds of steps to the top of St. Paul’s cathedral, a tour of the Tower Bridge (often mistaken for the London Bridge), and finally a visit through the Tate Modern art museum. The Tower of London, where the crown jewels are held, is really a fortress like structure with lots of towers within it and in the fortress walls. We took a free tour which told a lot of the history of the place and we were amazed at how many nobles were killed there, either in it’s streets inside, or just outside the wall for all to see. Those often killed there had their head’s placed on a stake as a warning to others. After the Tower, we found a great place for lunch that was very affordable and offered free refills like in the States! A great burger and fries came with a drink and we were pretty excited about that, as most of Europe offers tiny drinks and no refills — for three times what we’d pay back home for all the drink we would want.
St. Paul’s was an amazing church and the interior was certainly not inferior as the ceiling towered hundreds of feet above us. Ambitious as we were, we took the steps to the top of the dome and could see for miles. The 437-ish steps were tough to go up, but worth the effort. We hiked over to the Tower bridge and took a quick look through it. My legs started to cramp going up the steps and one of the people working there asked if I was all right and reminded me I still had a long way to go. Laura told him that we had just climbed St. Paul’s too and that was the reason for my troubles. Embarrassing? Yeah, a little . . . The Tower bridge has a drawbridge design that also has a support structure across the top of the bridge. The London bridge on the other hand, is nothing special: just concrete and modern. It looks like it was built 5 years ago while the Tower bridge has lots of character and history to it. I didn’t find anything to look at in the Tate modern art museum, but art isn’t really my thing. The tour guide we had on the river tour joked that he lost his wallet there once, and when he came back to get it, twenty people were standing around it as it lay on the floor, admiring it. I thought he was joking until one exhibit we saw was a piece of rope that was strung out on the floor — that was it. Wow, now that is art and I never could have done that! With dinner at a Thai place near our hotel, we finished off a long day of sightseeing.
Our final day in London forced us to relax our schedule even more, as fatigue wore us down. We made it an aim to see three things: The British Museum, the British Library, and a relaxing free organ recital at Westminster Abbey. We could have spent days in the museum, but after a while, all things old started to blend together. The recital was my favorite as the pipe organ was beautiful, and we stayed off our feet, too. We wanted to hear the free recital because a tour of the Abbey was very expensive and no photography was allowed. So since we couldn’t take pictures anyway, we decided that being able to see the inside for free during the recital would be just as good. The Londoners are quite Nazi-like in there angst to keep photos from being taken inside their churches and galleries. We would later find and enjoy the Parisian model of: take photos whenever and wherever you like, including inside Notre-Dame and the Louvre. I’m sure the anti-photo hysteria comes from a reverence for the church, but I think that places too much on the church itself and not The One the church was built to honor. After all, the building is only brick and mortar, but the Creator is so much more than that. A quick dinner at Ned’s Noodle Box finished up our last day in London. The next day we would be heading to Paris.
To read about the ride on the Eurostar to Paris and our time in the city of love, continue reading here. To see more photos from our time in London, click on the photo at the top of this post.