Monday, February 27, 2012

London: The Good, the Bad, and the In Between

Tower Bridge behind.

  Amazing, that in a little over two hours you can seemingly go from one universe to another.

  For me, riding the train through the Chunnel, to and from London, was the equivalent of going to another world. How can two places so close in geography be so different in culture and atmosphere?

  I guess when one of those places is one of the largest international cities in the world, you're bound to get an incredible experience not seen many other places. 

  Here are a few highlights (and the always unavoidable low-lights when traveling) from my two-plus days in London this weekend:

The Good:
    A look down onto the river from London Eye.
  • the view from London Eye -- even though it isn't cheap (almost £20, or $32), the ride on the giant ferris wheel is a must for everyone!
  • Tower Bridge -- loved the setting. The detail and the color is much different when you can see it in person! Very cool. 
  • Borough Market -- would love to have spent more time at the farmer's/food/everything market, and maybe had a quick meal. But we got there late in the day, when things were closing up. Reminded me a bit of Seattle's Pike's Place Market (with less fish).
    St. Katharine's Docks.
  • St. Katharine's Dock -- right off the Thames River, and under Tower Bridge. An area we sort of stumbled up upon, where we found the coolest Starbucks I've been to -- in an old gazebo-type building in the middle of the marina, and some beautiful (expensive!) yachts that were docked there.
  • Barclay's Cycle Hire -- we rented bikes for £1 per bike for 24 hours, and explored Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens by day, and rode back to Covent Garden from Tower of London by night (2.5 miles). A fun/different way to see and explore the city. Gave our tired legs a much-needed rest.
  • being in a International/Global city -- on any given street corner, store, or restaurant you can hear seemingly every language EXCEPT English. Also you're able to find any type of food you may have a craving for. 
  • stumbling upon cool parts of town you didn't necessarily intend on finding (St. Katharine's Docks, Borough Market and surrounding area, Kensington Palace Gardens - one of the most expensive residential streets in the world).
  • Tower of London -- visited twice the castle twice. Amazing views all around the grounds. Didn't go in, however. Would have cost another £20!
    Sunset on the Thames. London Bridge.
  • Covent Garden  -- another lively district, where you can find fruit and vegetable stands, along with various other types of foods and goods to shop for.
  • sunny weather! -- it's London, if the sun comes out, it's a good day. We had 2 straight days of sun.
  • happening to get to Buckingham Palace right as the changing of the guard was getting underway. Hoards and hoards of people gathered to watch and catch a glimpse. Made me wonder what it was like last Spring during the Royal Wedding.
  • Niketown London -- cause I enjoy anything Nike. 
    Buckingham Palace at the changing of the guard.
  • walking the Thames River at Sunset.
  • Big Ben & House of Parliament (Palace of Westminster) -- loved the detail you could see in the buildings, and hearing Big Ben gong. 
  • the Tube -- London Underground is easy to use--didn't get on the wrong train one time! And of course, 'Minding the Gap'.

The Bad:
    Big Ben, of course!
  • Pound to U.S. Dollar conversion -- buying anything, then converting how much you've spent to dollars, realizing you're grossly overpaying ($25 for an Italian pizza, $6 for a 1/2 pound of Starbucks coffee, etc..) 
  • being unable to explore the neighborhoods in Notting Hill and Kensington because you realize you need to ditch the previously-mentioned Barclay's bike rental bikes -- but not having a docking station anywhere in sight. We then found two different docking stations, that were not yet operational! One hour and several miles later, we finally got rid of the bikes! 
  • having tired/swollen legs & ankles (the life of a tourist!).
  • lots of construction -- understandable because London is preparing for the Summer Olympics (the Underground, Plazas, and various monuments were all being worked on). 
  • not knowing enough (ANYTHING?) about British & Royal history -- it's hard to fully get a grasp on the big picture when you have no foundation to start from. 
  • not seeing the Queen.
Tower Bridge and Tower of London.
The Ugly:
  • being in an English-speaking country and understanding, at best, 1 or 2 words out of every 7 spoken by a Brit. After constantly saying what?, at some point you just nod, and pretend to understand. I guess 'British' and 'American' really ARE different languages!
  • breaking your camera on the first day, and having your phone (which served as my back up camera) die by 6 pm each evening.
  • not quite trusting the 'look right' or 'look left' signs painted on the crosswalks, and standing on the corner, looking five times, both ways, before crossing the street.
    The cool Starbucks. Of course we went in for a drink!

  • being unsure if the British tip in restaurants -- they don't everywhere else in Europe! Yikes (we later found out that they do tip)!
  Anytime you travel, you'll have some great, and not-so-great moments. Thankfully the great moments were far more-frequent than the latter!

  Those are some of the moments that stuck out for me the most about London!

  All in all, I had a great time getting a little taste of the capital of England, and am hoping to make it back in the near future.

  Enjoy the pictures and video!

 Panorama view of London from London Eye.

They're nice to help us outsiders cross the street without getting hit.
Me with a few friends at Buckingham Palace.
End of the Changing of the Guard ceremony.
Required London Underground picture.
Looking up Westminster Abbey.
Westminster Abbey.
Big Ben and the House of Parliament.
Top of the House of Parliament.
Thames River, with London Eye behind.
Looking up Big Ben.
Big Ben and House of Parliament from the bridge.
V and I heading up the London Eye!
Almost to the top!
Still inside London Eye.
Tower Bridge.
The infamous bike!
Kensington Gardens.
Found the Peter Pan statue!
Kensington Gardens.
V telling me how tired she is. ;)
Kensington Palace Gardens.
Riding bikes in Notting Hill. Taken while riding my bike!
Finally found a docking station to get rid of that bad boy.
Niketown London. A must for this Portland girl.
Covent Garden. A big bowl of Paella.
V's excited. Or tired. One of the two. In Covent Garden.
Minding the Gap on the Tube.
Tower of London.
Tower of London.
Sunset at Tower of London.
V ready for round two on the bikes!


  1. The Brits consider American English a foreign language--for a reason. Yes, you do tip and you don't get free refills on soft drinks--I learned that one the hard way.

    1. It wasn't necessarily the specific words they were saying that I couldn't was the accent! Guess I'm more adept at deciphering French or Italian or Polish accented English! :)

      No free refills everywhere else in Europe too...that's what was interesting. The Brits are slightly different than European countries in certain ways, but alike in other. So there's no solid rule to follow for outsiders! :)

    2. In Scotland, I was shown around by a local who told me you don't tip. Go figure that one!

      I love spending time in the UK and am happy to have local friends now so I can get off the beaten path. I also learned that some times the Tube is actually the long way of getting somewhere, but you have to know all the alleys and mews to get there the shortest way. No way a tourist is going to figure those out.