And now, for my first overseas post! I have now been in London for just one day, but what a day it’s been. I’ll tell you what, days feel very full when you’re awake at 4am from the jet lag.
After a (very) early morning Skype with the immediate family back home, I headed out for a stroll through the night. It was beautifully clear and cool – a nice change from the grey skies and rain the previous evening – and quiet. The roads were well-lit but empty, so I saw London for the first time – my first red phone box, street of identical houses, and Victoria and Albert Museum – completely uninterrupted. I can definitely say that for me it was the perfect way.
Of course, even after I finished my little jaunt, it was still hours before anything was due to open. I didn’t have any food for the week, so I tramped quite some way looking for a Sainsbury’s at 6:30 in the morning. I spent about $13 buying enough food to last me the next three days, or thereabouts, which was gratifying considering the price of literally everything else in London – but they had no bike helmets!
From there, it was time to pack a lunch and then head out to Hyde Park (or rather, Kensington Gardens) to watch the sun rise over the Gardens and the lake that lies within (the Round Pond, as it is creatively named).
From there, I returned to my place of accommodation to consolidate my belongings and head out towards the city centre for a walking tour leaving from Covent Garden. Rather than spending all the money to take the tube, I planned to try out London’s extensive system of bike hiring stations. After a significant time spent wrangling with the machines I eventually procured a bike and walked it to a nearby shop in order to buy a (apparently not compulsory) helmet. By this time, I didn’t have enough time to get to the city by 11, when the tour began, but I rode in anyway as there was another at 1.
Once in, I arrived at Piccadilly Circus, home to a very large number of souvenir shops, honking cars and people taking photos of things. It occurred to me that self-guided touring would involve a lot of walking and getting lost and trying to navigate with inadequately detailed maps, but that didn’t stop me from stumbling upon a war memorial that I naively assumed to be Nelson’s column (it wasn’t, not even after I took several selfies with it) and then later Nelson’s Column (and the rest of Trafalgar Square). With aching feet and feeling slightly irritable about my own navigational skills, I grumbled my way to the tour meeting place.
The tour was excellent. For starters, it was free – they do ask for donations at the end, but it’s not compulsory. We had an excellent tour guide who was full of historical facts and the occasional dismal pun (the humour of which was far overshadowed by the delayed reaction of all those who learned English as a second language, in order of their skill level). It took in the freely accessible parts of Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square, the world’s smallest police station (about the size of a phone booth), St. James’ Palace, Buckingham Palace, St. James Park, Churchill’s War Rooms, Parliament and Westminster Abbey, with an excellent dose of anecdotal information in between. It was a splendid introduction, and I do not hesitate to recommend it to anyone coming up to London. I intend to go back to some of the places to go inside, but I certainly wouldn’t feel particularly bereft if this tour had been my only look at them. Here’s a picture from St. James Park:
On the way home, I found a little back street place called Duke of York Square. It was just a shopping plaza, but it felt totally out of the way and there were no tourists around. The entrance was just a little obscure, and I really enjoyed walking through, like it was a little pocket of normality in the middle of miles and miles of not-really-normality. And then at the other end it widened out and was very obvious from the main street – there was even a gallery and a park! Best of both worlds. But it was very cool.
And now? Well, it’s 6:13pm, the sun has gone down and I’m pretty much ready for bed! But I should really stay up – as much as I enjoyed my night walk, I should probably go to things when they are open. Also trying to beat jet lag is a good thing when I’m going to start uni in 11 days.
Well, that’s about it from me. Hope you enjoyed reading this post – questions or comments can be posted below. Arrivederci!