I should probably write about what happened on the first two days of the trip… The first flight was to San Francisco. At the San Francisco airport, we barely made our connecting flight to London. The line at Virgin Atlantic was huge, and we had to walk very very fast to catch our plane. Although the flight to London was 9+ hours, it went by so fast. This is because of the huge selection of movies/video games we were able to watch/play. I spent two hours playing Super Mario 2! I also watched a movie called Stage Beauty with Claire Danes while Marc watched Kill Bill Vol. 2. We didn’t have to buy our headphones either. We each got a Virgin Atlantic zipper pouch complete with earphones, sleep mask, earplugs, toothbrush and mini-toothpaste. It was too cute! And the food was actually decent.
The flight got into London at around noon. We had to wait 30 min. for the shuttle transfer to the hotel. We got to our hotel, the Hilton Olympic, at 1:30 and were told we couldn’t check in until 3pm. The plan had been to take a nap and then go sight-seeing. We decided to find a place to eat and then come back to the hotel. Our hotel was in the Kensington area of London. It had a lot of pubs and delis and stores nearby. We ended up getting some food from a deli. I got a goat cheese, olive, tomato and lettuce salad and some water. We took our food and ate it outside. After lunch we continued wandering, and found Holland Park, where we sat for a bit and discussed whether we would be able to get up after a small nap. At 3pm we returned to the hotel and were told our room wasn’t ready. We had to wait another hour before we could check in. By the time we got to our room, I knew we wouldn’t be going back out. We were too tired, and by 6pm we were both asleep. We woke up at around 6am, completely awake and ready for a full day of sight-seeing.
The breakfast at the hotel was a huge buffet, with the full English breakfast available–eggs, bacon, sausage, tomatoes, ham, mushrooms, and beans. There was even haggis! And all kinds of juice, bread, yogurt, cheese, cold cuts and fruit. They even had vegetarian sausage which was good since Marc doesn’t like pork sausage. The dining room was very nice, too–I wish I’d brought my camera.
After breakfast, we had a short walk to the Kensington Olympia tube station. It was a bit puzzling at first, but relatively easy to figure out. The first thing to figure out was what kind of ticket to buy. Standing in front of the automated ticket machine, with its 30+ buttons and descriptions, we must have looked lost because someone asked us if we needed help. He helped us purchase two, two-zone singles for 2.20 pounds each, or about 8 dollars for the both of us! We were quickly learning how expensive London was. The first stop after we got on was Earl’s Court. Earl’s Court is a large, three interchange station. We were supposed to get off there and switch to another train, which we didn’t realize until later. So we had to do a little back-tracking, but eventually we got to where we were headed, the Victoria Station.
We had decided to buy tickets for one of the hop-on, hop-off double decker buses as a means of getting a general orientation of the city. As soon as we exited the station, there was someone selling tickets to one of the buses. He told us they were 15 pounds each and good for the entire day. We shelled out the cash and hopped on. We were blessed with warm, sunny weather and so we sat on the top. The first place we hopped off was by Westminster Abbey. Marc was obviously impressed with the building and took over the camera. It was a bit of a relief to see him so excited about sight-seeing. I wasn’t worried that he wouldn’t enjoy himself on the trip, but there was always that possibility. The price to get into Westminster was 8 pounds, and we decided not to go in.
After Westminster, we walked through St. James’s Park, which is close to Buckingham Palace. The park was lovely. It had a large “lake” with ducks and swans. We got to the Palace and there was a huge queue of people. But seeing the queen was not on our list of priorities. We hopped back on a bus which took us over the Westminster Bridge, and we hopped off on the other side. From there, we took in magnificent views of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Then we walked to the Waterloo Pier and the London Eye. The London Eye was something else we wanted to do, but was too expensive. I told Marc that when we got to St. Paul’s we could climb the dome and have just as good a view.
With our hop-on bus ticket, we also got free tickets to take a Thames cruise, which disembarks from Waterloo Pier. The captain of the boat gave us a guided tour, which was quite informative. For example, we learned that the correct name of Big Ben is St. Steven’s Tower, and that the bell inside the tower is named Big Ben. We ended up taking the cruise all the way up to Greenwich, which was probably a mistake since there was nothing we wanted to do in Greenwich and it took a good hour out of our day.
We took the boat back to the Embankment Pier. By then it was early afternoon and we hadn’t been to any of the three thing we wanted to see that day: St. Peter’s, the National Gallery, and the British Museum. But our first priority was lunch. We wandered up through Trafalgar Square and Marc pointed out the location of a Subway. I told him that under no circumstances would we be eating in any American chain fast food type of restaurant. We settled on a cafe right next to the Subway, and had some delicious paninis. We realized that we wouldn’t be able to fit in the National Gallery and the British Museum, so we decided we’d do those on our last day in London, after the tour was over.
After lunch we hopped on the bus and took it all the way out to St. Peter’s. The facade is under restoration, but we were able to climb the 400+ steps to the top of the dome. It was here that Marc learned how truly afraid of heights I am. I moved tensely from spot to spot, keeping my back pressed against the hard stone wall while Marc took pictures. After that we climbed back down and looked through the church itself. There were several signs that said via imagery that photography was not allowed inside the cathedral, so I put my camera away. One of the things that really bugs me about traveling in Europe is when people take pictures when there are obvious signs that you are forbidden to do so! Especially in a church.
As we left, they were refusing to let anymore people inside the church. It was already 4pm. It felt like we’d done so much, but we hadn’t really done THAT much. Our feet hurt and we were both tired. We decided to head back to the hotel and rest up before going out to dinner. We had decided the night before to eat at a Thai place close to the hotel for my birthday dinner. It took forever to get back to the hotel! We eventually had to get off the bus because traffic was so backed up. We spent another 4 pounds on tube tickets and arrived at the hotel after 5pm. We watched some BBC, and then set out for dinner at 6-ish. The Thai place had excellent food, and I tried not to calculate how much it was costing us in US dollars. After dinner we went back to the hotel and collapsed. We had to be up at 4:45 the next morning when the tour would begin.