The Flight: I flew non-stop from LAX (Los Angeles) to LHR (London Heathrow) via Air New Zealand. While I don’t have a lot of experience with airlines, as I’ve mostly flown Delta or the like for my trips to Germany when I was younger, I was impressed! Firstly, their customer service is outstanding. Flights to London are so simple from all around the world. The stewardesses’ are friendly and good-looking (that’s important you know).
There were no male stewards (going back to a time when planes were run by cute, friendly, and good-looking female stewardesses’), not that I have anything against the males, but they take away from the experience a bit. Anyway, they were all professional and their uniforms were tip-top. (pictured here is the east coast of England, the cliffs jutting out of the water)
In-flight entertainment was excellent. The monitor in the headrest in front of you is interactive via a remote, and you can choose from 78 different movie titles, listen to music, podcasts, radio shows, and even some ebooks. I watched the new movie A-Team and the old classic The Shining.
So Many Great Things to See in London
First Impressions: After landing, I made my way to the metro (tube station) that was connected to the airport. There at the station was an information center that provided me with the info I needed and I bought an Oyster card. Oyster cards are refillable transportation cards that can be used on the metro and buses throughout the city; more on that later. I got a card and topped it up with £5. Immediately afterward I realized just how expensive this city was going to be, and that I would need to play it safe. The US dollar is almost worthless here.
I took a tube near to where I would be meeting my host later that day. My plane had arrived an hour early so I had plenty of time to bum around and check out a bit of London.
As soon as I reached the landing going out of the metro, I stopped. My senses exploded with the sights and smells of London. There were people EVERYWHERE. A lot like the Big Apple, but with older buildings. And confusing streets. London isn’t laid out like most US cities, which are formed of grids and are easy to navigate. The city is old and therefore laid out as it was originally long ago so the things to see in London are everywhere.
The mix of cultures was staggering as well. If you can think of the country, it was here. I saw a lot of turban-wrapped heads, and like a typical American, I thought of the recent Travel Warning that was put out by the US Gov’t. I quickly put that aside though and remembered the teleconference I had heard.
The Under Secretary specifically mentioned that it was not to discourage Americans from traveling, but just to be aware. If something looks out of place, leave. Simple as that. My host Chris would later tell me “You notice there are no rubbish bins in the tube stations anymore?”, because of the bombing a while back in the metro. Makes sense.
I walked around a bit and made myself get lost. I ended up in what looked like a posh (well-to-do) area and saw a few Ferraris, Bentleys, and Porsches. No matter what corner I turned, there was something different. Another thing I noticed was that it was very green here. Moss grew anywhere it could and the parks were absolutely beautiful. I happened upon a park named Hyde Park, which was huge. Basically, it was London’s, Central Park. There was even a coffee shop nearby named Hyde Perk. Heh. (“Friends”, if you’re trying to think of why that sounds familiar.)
Sight Seeing: Trafalgar Square is where I eventually met Chris later in the evening. It’s a large square in front of the Natural History Museum and just down the street from the Houses of Parliament.
After I met with Chris (I was easy to spot amongst all the people, with my camo gortex jacket), we went to a little-known pub (I can’t remember the name of it, maybe Chris can enlighten me). Excellent beer! No televisions or music, but that was the great part. People were forced to socialize and the environment was chill. I was tired however after seeing some of the things to see in London and we made our way back to his place after that first pint.
On the way, he showed me a bit of what he thought might be interesting. We passed through another square which is a bit like a small version of Times Square.
Moving LED billboards and even more people (we passed through at night, the photo is the next day) and lots of shops everywhere. I have to say, I couldn’t believe how Americanized it was as far as shopping choices were concerned. From food to clothing it was all here. One exception: TJ Maxx there is named TK Maxx. Why the letter difference I’m not sure.
After we got back and I dropped my bag off, we went and split a pizza from a local shop which decently priced and it was quite delicious. Chris was full of information and we stayed up discussing and teaching me about London. He is also a MAJOR CouchSurfing geek and that’s OK. He’s a bit of a celebrity in that sense and I was grateful for all of his information.
The next day I headed out early at 0800 to go see the touristy areas first and foremost because there are so many good things to see in London. My main destination was The Tower of London, but I’d get to see most of everything else on the way. The first stop after I made my way down from Trafalgar square again was the Houses of Parliament, home of Big Ben Tower. Yep, it looks just like it does on TV, but in better detail
As you know it sits right on River Thames and looks like it could fall in. The river itself is dirty and filled with trash, but isn’t that expected of such a large city of 7.7 million people? I didn’t mind however and enjoyed walking along the river. If you enjoy walking, London is for you. If you don’t, there are buses that stop every 2 to 5 minutes.
The next stop was The London Eye. This monstrosity of engineering looks like a giant Ferris wheel and is composed of glass pods that can each hold about ten people and slowly spins around. It basically lets you see a lot of London from high up and take pictures. However, I wasn’t going to pay the £45 ($71.75!) they wanted for the ride. It was just cool looking at it.
Tower Bridge was just an amazing sight to see. Two giant towers make up a beautiful support structure for the large bridge. Walking across it provided a great view of the Tower of London and the boats along the river. Speaking of which, I didn’t even take a picture of the Tower of London. The old castle was being renovated and was covered by plastic sheets and scaffolding. Why does this always happen to me? I took a picture of me in front of it where there wasn’t any scaffolding. It’s a big structure. So many great things to see in London.
Afterwards I walked around a bit more and got lost on purpose again. I was peckish so I needed to find a place to get something to eat, for cheap. The places along the river all had tourist prices. And we can’t have that, now can we? I finally stumbled upon a little shop about a mile south of the river in the neighborhood area and I had a “pattie”. This is a strange-looking food but it was tasty. It was meat (mine was a bit of lamb) with some cornmeal around it. Very simple but it filled a hole. The shop owner and I talked for a bit about his travels to America where he learned computer repair years ago. His shop is a mix of Internet cafes, restaurants,s and computer repair. In London, business rent is extremely high, so you make as much use of the space as possible.
There are tons of free things to see here if you just take the time and review the information available. There are also a lot of paid exhibits to see, which are a bit ridiculously priced if you ask me. As I said before, this city is expensive and you will be stretched thin if you don’t play your cards right.
Walking here can take it out of you if you’re ill-equipped. Improper shoes will make it a horrible day, luckily my shoes are the good comfy kind. What made it worse were my feet themselves in pain. Reason? My mother helped me pumice them and wore them smoothly. Big mistake. Calluses are apparently a good thing to have to protect your feet from walking all day. In no time at all, I had huge blisters that I had to take care of at the end of the day. Walking funny also caused cramping in my legs. Not so much fun. So be prepared. The city’s pathways are not made of nice smooth concrete like in the states. There are cobblestones, stone blocks, and irregular edges everywhere. So it’s a lot more like hiking a rocky path than walking the streets of a busy city. Just FYI.
The next morning I got up to go hitch-hike my way to Belgium. I’ll detail that in the next post. Until then, good day!
I hope you enjoyed this post about my first trip to London. I welcome your comments and would love to see what you have to say about your trip to this immense and lovely city, good or bad.