A Few Days in London
I landed in London in the afternoon and took the train from Gatwick into the city. My friend Otto from college was in Europe visiting his sister, Grace, who was studying abroad in Paris and they were coming into London later that night. I went to go check in to our hostel which was right near the London Bridge. Otto wasn’t getting in until later so I just got settled in at the hostel and got a bite to eat at the bar/restaurant in the hostel. Otto ended up not getting in until around 10ish so when he got to the hostel we just hung out at the bar in the lobby. It happened to be karaoke night which was pretty funny.
The next day we woke up on the later end and our first stop was to get food at Borough Market, a really cool open air market with tons of restaurants and food vendors of all kinds. We walked around there for a bit, I got a curry chicken wrap for lunch and then we walked across the London Bridge toward the Tower of London.
After walking down the river we made it to the Tower of London. Originally a royal palace, the Tower of London is probably most famous for being a prison and place of execution, even though it was never designed for that purpose. It is now a tourist attraction and houses The Crown Jewels. We bought tickets and walked around the grounds for a little bit before going on a tour lead by a Yeoman Warder. The Yeoman Warders are the ceremonial guardians of the Tower of London. They are all retired veterans of the armed forces and they live, with their families, in the Tower. Their main function now is serving as tour guides of the grounds. Our tour guide was amazing! He had such a classic dry, British, gruesome sense of humor. He showed us all around different parts of the Tower and told us a lot of stories about its history as a palace, armory, prison and place of torture and execution.
After finishing up at the Tower of London we were pretty hungry but it was too early for dinner so we walked around and found a cool bar to get a drink and some food. It was inside of a beautiful old bank building. Afterwards we headed back to our hostel to shower and rest for a bit before going out to dinner.
After relaxing for a bit we took the Tube across the city and met up with Grace who was staying with some friends of hers for dinner. As London is supposed to have great Indian food, we decided to try some for dinner. We ordered a ton of food and it was delicious!
After dinner we walked around the city for a bit before heading back to the hostel. The next morning we woke up to go see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. We took the Tube across the river and then walked past Big Ben and Parliament and through St. James Park to the Palace where we met up with Grace We watched the ceremony before heading over to the British Museum.
On our way to the museum we walked past Piccadilly Circus and we stopped to grab lunch at a little block of street food vendors.
The British Museum has an unbelievable collection of artifacts from all around the world and it is free to enter. I guess when you have an empire that conquers so much of the globe you collect some pretty cool stuff! We didn’t even see a large portion of the museum but the stuff we saw was incredible!
One of the coolest things collections in the museum is the Parthenon Sculptures. The Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens was a Greek Temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. It was richly decorated with sculptures on the friezes and pediments. In 500 CE, it was converted to a church and the sculptures began being removed. The building was heavily damaged in 1687 by an explosion of gunpowder being stored there by the Turks. In the early 19th century, Lord Elgin brought many of the sculptures to England, leading to them being called the Elgin Marbles.
After leaving the British Museum, Otto and I decided to use the bike share program and bike over to Hyde Park. It was a little scary to be biking through the streets of London on the left side of the street but after a little while it go easier. It was a beautiful day and the park was full of people when we got there. There were a bunch of police officers at the entrance to the park and a lot of signs about not doing drugs and Otto and I were really confused. It took us a while to realize that the date was April 20th, or 4/20 and that the huge crowd in the park was there to “celebrate”. We walked around the park for a while, which was gorgeous and then took out bikes again and rode around the rest of the park and then over to Harrods, where we walked around the awesome food section for a bit.
We biked back to near Big Ben and Westminster Abbey and decided that we had done enough biking through the streets of London, so we walked the rest of the way back to our hostel. It was a long walk but we past a lot of cool things on the way, including the London Eye.
That night we went to this American style burger and fried chicken place. It was great to have some good American food again! The milkshakes were really good too.
That night Otto, Grace and I decided to go out. Otto found some place online that looked cool so we started walking there. We walked through a bunch of suburban looking streets for a while until I definitely thought we were lost and then Otto said that we were there. Basically in the middle of an intersection there were some stairs down into what turned out to be a speakeasy style bar. It was really cool and we met a cool British couple who gave us some good ideas of what to do for our last days in London. I later found out that the bar was actually a converted old public restroom!
The next day we got up kind of late and decided to head down to Pop Brixton, which the couple had told us about the night before. Brixton is a neighborhood in the Southern part of London that is a little more grungy and ethnic. There was a large market that we walked through and lots of little restaurants with different ethnic foods. Pop Brixton is this community space built out of large shipping containers that houses independent retailers, startups, restaurants and some event and community space. When we first got there everything was closed so we walked around the neighborhood and stopped in for a small bite to eat at a Jamaican restaurant nearby. I got the curry goat with rice which was pretty good. Then we went back to Pop Brixton, and by then things had opened up so we got a second lunch, haha. I got ramen from this little stand that was really good!! It was cool to see a much less touristy side of London.
After finishing lunch we took the Tube over to Covent Garden and walked around there for a bit. We walked through a couple cool marketplaces, had some really good cookies from British chain called Ben’s Cookies and then ended up in Trafalgar Square.
After walking around for a while we decided to get tickets to see a play that night. We chose one called “The Comedy About a Bank Robbery” which was a new show by the same troupe that had put on an award winning play called “The Play that Goes Wrong”. After buying the tickets we headed back to our hostel to shower and change. We got dinner at a pub called The Queen’s Head which has been around since 1736! We ate upstairs in the restaurant and I got a meat pie with mashed potatoes which was very good. Then we went downstairs to the pub portion and had drinks before the play started. When we looked up the play, it said that in fact that night was the opening night of the show! We were very confused as to how we could have gotten tickets that day and I’m still not sure if that is accurate or not. The play was hilarious! It was full of super dry, farcical British humor with lots of puns and plays on words. We were laughing literally the whole play.
After the play we went back to our hostel as Otto was leaving with Grace early the next morning for Dublin. I woke up and had to check out of the room by 10. I had made plans to have lunch with a family friend who lives in London. I left my stuff in a locker at the hostel and met Selwyn for lunch at The Wallace Collection, which is a privately owned art collection which is open to the public for free. It is housed inside a beautiful manor in London and has a restaurant inside as well. He was running a little late so I looked around the collection while I waited. The collection was massive and had many beautiful pieces, including a few that were very famous and I had learned about before. Once he arrived we had lunch in the restaurant. It was really nice to see him and catch up.
After lunch I went back to my hostel to kill some time before heading to the airport. It was great to explore London for a few days as it is such a cool city! That night I took the Tube to Heathrow I caught a flight to Iceland where my friends Julian, Michael and Sam were going to be meeting me the next morning for an eight day road trip around the entire country!