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Day 2 in London

Cramming more tourist attractions into a day than I ever thought possible!

View Post-College Eurotrip on atbrady's travel map.

We woke up this morning at 8am, or what we thought was 8am. Sleeping in a room with 6 people wasn't as bad as I expected. There is one old guy in our room that snores pretty loudly, but I luckily remembered to bring earplugs which allowed for perfect silence. Hunter said that the music from the bar downstairs was pretty loud, but I didn't notice that either with the help of the earplugs. Honestly, the worst thing was going in at night trying to look around in the dark for my shower stuff and trying to minimize the obnoxious creak when I have to pry open my locker. I fell asleep pretty quickly and didn't wake up until my alarm went off. Apparently my cell phone clock is messed up because its not on the Verizon network and is somehow 40 minutes late (an hour plus or minus I might understand, but 40 minutes? go figure). Anyways, breakfast at the hostel was basic to say the least. Maybe I should have expected 10 breakfast cereals and a few loaves of bread with jelly, but I was holding out hope for some eggs (I'd even settle for the mass produced, tasteless scrambled eggs from the Cornell dining halls). Anyways, a few breakfast cereals and bread is all we got.

I also noticed that there were a ton of young kids down at breakfast at the hostel. I'm talking like 12-15 year old kids in groups of 5-10, with no adults in sight. I'm not sure whether I just didn't see the adults with them, but it seemed to be the norm for a bunch of groups. They seemed to be Europeans and I realize that a trip to London isn't the same for them as it is for Americans, but it was still an interesting sight.

We walked to one of the stops of The Original London Sightseeing Tour to hop on the bus for our extremely touristy day. I was a bit skeptical, but at the very least, we were prepaying for transportation to all the major sights. Our first stop was Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guards ceremony. Basically, it was an hour of pomp and circumstance with a band and the funny little guys with huge fuzzy black hats. It was ridiculously crowded and hard to get a view. Had I read my guidebook a bit closer, I would have seen that they rated it as one of the most overrated attractions in London, but I was nonetheless glad to go. After all, I wasn't going to leave without seeing Buckingham Palace and when better to go that when they are putting on this huge show. Hunter talked about how boring it must get for the band to do this every day, which prompted some Brit to tell us that one of the guys in the band was his son and that this was his last performance because his commitment to the Royal Airforce was up. He didn't seem offended but it was awkward/funny. Anyway, by talking to our little buddy, we found out that the band does these hour long ceremonies every day for two weeks then has two weeks off. And that's ALL they do. Free housing in the nearby barracks included. Not a bad way to make a living. It was cool to see all the different dress uniforms for the guards and ultimately left me wondering how much all of this traditional monarchy stuff costs to keep up. Between that and wondering with hunter where funny yet iconic police helmets originated. We agreed that if nothing else, at least you could count on the Brits to stick to their traditions. Overall, it was an overly touristy experience but one that everyone should probably experience. We then hopped back on the buses and drove around to a bunch of the sights for about a half hour before our next stop at Westminster Abbey. It was at this point that I realized that my camera battery died. Normally no big deal because I have a backup, but for whatever reason, the backup wasn't in my bag and must have been left in my hostel locker. Luckily, I had charged up my phone the previous night, which has a pretty good camera, but its really annoying to upload all the pictures one-by-one so that will have to wait for another day. Hunter also had a camera but is not as trigger happy with his camera as I tend to be.

Westminster Abbey was absolutely fantastic. The amount of tombs, stories and history there is unlike anywhere I have ever been before. We were given hand-held, phone-like devices where you could listen to a recording of a guided tour. Basically you followed a path on a map you were given and when you got to certain points, you would press the button of your stop to listen to the significance of whatever you were standing in front of. There was also supplemental things you could listen to if you keyed in and wanted more information. I ended up listening to almost all the supplemental stuff as well as reading almost all of the plaques. The building is enormous, with huge vaulted ceilings and countless rooms and chapels. And yet every inch is decorated with intricate details of ornate architecture, sculptures, and the like. Many of England's Kings and Queens are buried here as well as other famous Brits. Its also where coronations take place. This place was so old that it was teeming with cool stories and things important historical significance of the last 1000 years of England's history. Well worth the somewhat high price of admission (15 pounds/20+ dollars). Once I upload pictures I can get more in detail about everything that is packed into the Abbey.

Right next door is the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. Like the abbey, they are very ornate and look ancient, but are actually only built in the 19th century (practically brand new in London). Big Ben just may be my favorite building in the world. It is trimmed with gold all over that shines in the sun and is really much more impressive to see in person that any photo I had ever seen. With all that gold, it was amazing to see that they were able to keep it immaculate. I half expected to see someone coming down from having just cleaned it. There was some scaffolding on the buildings around Big Ben, but it was an amazing sight nonetheless and even surpassed the hype in my eyes. Unfortunately, the visiting hours are limited to Saturdays and a few other random times throughout the year, so we weren't able to go inside.

Afterward, we were feeling the effects of a minimalist breakfast and grabbed lunch at a funny little deli called pickles. Hunter asked for wheat bread and the guy said "you mean this brown bread?" It looked and tasted like wheat, but I guess they're not as health conscious over here. I had a Chicken Tikka sub. I'm still not sure how to pronounce Tikka but I had to try it as I had contemplated getting a some Tikka dish at dinner last night. It was basically similar to a BBQ sauce and it was pretty good. We ate in a huge nearby park which are seemingly everywhere. Then we went to the Churchill War Rooms which was the HQ for Churchill and his War Cabinet during WW2. It was also a pretty cool museum, especially for war buffs. It was basically a secret underground barracks that was lucky to never have been bombed during the multiple air raids by the Germans as it's ceilings weren't even bomb proof for the first few years of the war. Had Hitler ever been tipped off as to it's location, it could have had a huge impact on both Britain and the outcome of the war. This place also had hand-held audio tour guides which work out pretty well. You could see the original maps that were used to plot locations of troops and ships and could see the pinholes from heavy battlegrounds and common shipping lanes. It was pretty cool to learn about WWII from a non-American perspective. At some point while walking around I also discovered that it was not just in Bourne movies that European cops drive BMWs, they actually do! Hunter and I found that pretty entertaining

After leaving the War Rooms, we walked to Westminster docks where there was a free tour by boat included with our bus tour. It took us down the River Thames (apparently its pronounced Temms) to see a bunch of cool sights from the water. We saw the London eye, various other monuments (which are EVERYWHERE in London) and saw the new London Bridge (they even mentioned the American guy who bought the old bridge for 1 million pounds and had it taken apart stone by stone and rebuilt in Lake Havasu, AZ - I had to fight the urge to yell out that I had been there!) and also the Tower Bridge which is the bridge most people think of as London Bridge. It enabled us to get a few cool pictures from different angles of the major landmarks and was well worth doing since it was included free.

Back at Westminster pier, we hopped back on one of the last buses and rode around for the rest of the tour that we hadn't been on for another 45 minutes or so. By the end I was convinced that this had been a great investment. I had been resistant to a bus tour thinking we wouldn't get to see the sights but close, but not only were we able to hop off the buses at any stop we wanted to check out the sights, but then a bus would be at every stop about every 10 minutes to hop back on without any wasted time. We also learned about more monuments and buildings than I ever would have known existed. You probably could have bought a day long pass on the tube to get to all the sights for much cheaper (it cost a whopping 25 pounds, almost 40 bucks), but the commentary was actually pretty interesting and it took you right to the sights you wanted to see, rather than to the nearest tube station. It was also on the tour that we were informed that London was actually two cities in one, Westminster (in you guessed it, the West) and London (in the East). They run pretty much seamlessly into one another except for a couple landmarks erected to mark the spot. We hopped off at Trafalgar Square where we wandered around for a second night trying to find the restaurants recommended by Hunter's guidebook. It was pretty late by then, so we ended up having to search out about 4 places before we fine a winner, but wandering around the square was pretty enjoyable. We ended up once again going to a place not in a guidebook after 3 failed tries with guidebook restaurants and had a great authentic British meal anyways(will we ever learn?) Hunter had some British sausage and had to ask what "Toad in the Hole" meant when it came to preparing it. He found out that it was when the sausage and sides were put into Yorkshire pudding shaped into a bowl at which point he had to ask what Yorkshire pudding was (similar to a pancake mixture). I had Gammon steak which had a side of eggs. Not until I got the meal did I figure out that Gammon meant ham (I'm guessing) but it was enjoyable nonetheless. I also became one of those people that took pictures of our food since both were so authentic looking (again, to be uploaded soon). We had London's Pride with dinner which our waiter recommended. True to British form, it was only slightly cold and was somewhere between last night's bitter and Sam Adams.

After I stopped at a few trinket shops to get a Union Jack flag and a mini Big Ben, it was about 10:30pm. We walked around the square bit and decided that we would walk home. At one point, we passed a gay bar and some sex toy shops in Soho and also saw our first hooker. Did I mention that there is CCTV (Closed Circuit TV) everywhere in London? They have cameras and signs pointing to the cameras everywhere. I wondered how prostitutes got away with anything with all the cameras around and wondered whether prostitution was legal here. (Don't worry, I wouldn't be using their services either way). A quick Google search when I got home showed that prostitution is in fact legal but soliciting in public is not, so CCTV operators must not be paying very close attention. It was around that point when Hunter said "as the Brits would say, I think we're in a bit of a dodgy neighborhood," which I thoroughly enjoyed. Even so, I never felt unsafe in the area or anywhere on our long walk home. I love walking around a new city to get a feel for the areas tourists usually wouldn't see. By the time we got home, we had spent about 16 hours around London (8am-12pm) and had packed just about as much touristy things into one day as possible.

Now we're in the common room of our hostel planning tomorrow's adventures. Our tour-bus pass is good for 24 hours, so we're going to get up early enough to catch a ride to the Tower of London where they keep the crown jewels. Apparently its good to get there early and avoid lines. Then we think we'll hit the London Museum and the Imperial War Museum both of which are free and sound interesting (Hunter really likes the War stuff). While I'm writing this, a bunch of people just came in. They must have closed the bar. I can't believe why anyone would be in London and want to spend time at a hostel bar when there are authentic pubs on every corner, but hundreds of kids do. On the plus side, it gives them a chance to interact with each other more, which Hunter and I really haven't had much of an opportunity to do since we basically are never here except to sleep. There's a group of Spanish girls trying to teach a couple American guys Spanish and another group of various Europeans playing music that is as varied as the countries they are probably from. Maybe we'll be able to work on that at our next stop as the cultural exchange is also a cool part of the experience.

I think its safe to say that London is my favorite city in the world. It might be a bit premature as I haven't been to all that many big cities and I expect there will be a few contenders on the next few stops of this trip, but in comparison to NYC, I think I like it even more. There are far more open spaces, from open squares with monuments and fountains like Trafalgar Square to the various parks both big and small throughout the city (better than I expected even though the guidebooks said it was the best park system of any major city). Also because the buildings aren't nearly as high, it lets much more light in. However, the main reason is that this city is so filled with history. Every corner has a story, a pub and probably a monument. Off to bed for now!

Posted by atbrady 18:18 Archived in England Tagged tourist_sites

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You should have remembered Yorkshire Pudding, it's one of Laura's favorites, that I serve with beef gravy. Anyway, what a great day. We are at Woods Inns - a nice day too.

by Tom Brady

Great idea "blogging" . . . so descriptive / well done!!! I feel like I'm on part of your trip! I hope you brought ear plugs for Hunter, too (what a saving grace!). Will look forward to hearing more! Love you ~ xoxoxo

by Elaine Brady


I love reading your blog. It is so great. I am so jealous of your trip but I could never do as much in a day! I am so thrilled for you. I love the pictures of food. Glad to know that you are eating. Keep writing. I just love it.


by Laura

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