I know this post is way beyond past-due, but here it is in all of its belated glory.
When I was in college and had decided I wanted to study abroad, I was looking for an experience that was going to be really different and push me to be outside of my comfort zone. I opted to travel to South Africa. So many of my fellow students were planning trips to places like London and Australia, and in my youthful arrogance I thought I was making the wiser choice, because London (specifically), while beautiful and full of history, wasn’t so far removed from the American lifestyle as to generate the kind of eye-opening experience I was looking for. Since then, London has remained low on my list of destinations I’m burning to visit, but when the opportunity presented itself to turn a business trip into a weekend of tourism, this Perpetual Passenger couldn’t refuse.
I don’t pretend to be a travel expert, nor do I think one weekend in London is enough to really form an opinion of the place. But I can tell you that my initial reaction based on the experience I had is one that coincides rather well with the meteorological patterns of the region: it’s okay.
Before garnering angry reactions from my friends and family who have been touting London as one of the best cities to visit, I must say in London’s defense that I was forced to explore this massive city alone, on the weekend in the middle of summer. You might be thinking “Sounds great!” but what this translates to is an exhausting hike to as many sites as possible (some of which are among the most frequented attractions on the globe, seeing that London is the second-most visited city in the world… after Paris), with no co-navigator save for my iPhone amidst scores of other tourists and… teenagers on holiday. After spending numerous holidays/weekends myself in places like New York City, San Francisco, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Athens or Cape Town and now Paris, I can concretely say that I have NEVER been pushed, shoved, slapped, nudged, bumped, hit or just plain walked into more times than during my brief stay in London. And nary was a Londoner (or Brit, for that matter) the culprit.
This isn’t to say that my experience in “The City” was all bad. In fact, I was enamored with almost any attraction I took the time to explore. After a good friend of mine turned me on to a book that deals loosely with “Bloody Mary,” one of the daughters of the famous King Henry VIII, I have since devoured any and all historical fiction books I can find pertaining to the various reigning powers of early England. And so for me there was a lot to see… and feel. Here are some shots of the places I loved the most:
Outside The Tower of London
The entrance to Hampton Court Palace
My favorite - the stunning and overwhelming Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey requires no religious affiliation to appreciate it, though I’m sure if one is of faith they would surely be awed in this place. I can say from my perspective that this abbey amazed me more than even the Parthenon in Athens… it’s so beautiful and intricate and filled with so much history. I saw the tombs of Mary I, Elizabeth I, Elizabeth of York and her husband Henry VII (the first Tudor king), among others. I saw pictures of the recent “Royal Wedding” of Prince William and Kate Middleton that had taken place weeks before in the very spots where I had stood. And as I walked around taking everything in, I was filled with a sense of reverence and respect that I have never experienced before. It was absolutely breathtaking.
But, overall, I’d say my experience in London can be summed up by a few quick love-hate statements:
Loved: London is known for its good (non-English) food, and I had some of the best tapas while there. Hated: You have to plan midday meals very wisely. Twice I was discouraged as my stomach started to growl and restaurant after restaurant told me they were no longer serving food until dinner. Once, this happend at 1 in the afternoon. On a Sunday. In a train station.
Loved: The historic sites of London! Hated: Trying to see the historic sites of London while feeling like herded cattle.
Loved: The tube (subway), and almost everything about it! It was clean, easy to use, everywhere, and their system for charging makes so much more sense than any I’ve used before (pay per stop, instead of a flat fee no matter how much or how little you’re traveling). Hated: The cost of the tube! Though the structure for use was great, it’s a wash when you’re paying out the nose to ride it.
Loved: The music street performers are playing to try and earn your extra change is the best I’ve ever heard! Hated: London is so expensive you won’t have any extra change.
Loved: All of the shopping! Hated: All of the shopping!
Loved: Westminster Abbey. I cannot say it enough. Hated: That you cannot take pictures of the inside. Although I completely understand why and respect it, I sincerely wish I had some photos to remember the place with. I guess I’ll just have to go back
I do actually plan to make another trip to London, and perhaps during a less busy time of year. I also didn’t get to experience much of the city’s nightlife, which I hear leaves little to be desired. I’m looking forward to returning and getting a renwed outlook on England’s capital.