I only had one day in London but I tried to cram as much into it as possible without sacrificing any precious sleep. As tempting as it was to explore the radius around my hotel last night, I refrained. Instead, I went to bed at 9, slept over 8 hours and woke up feeling somewhat refreshed. I wanted to recharge my batteries and embrace my only day in London.
I woke up this morning and ate breakfast with some familiar faces from the tour. Then we met Peter and our local tour guide named Liz who would lead us around London on a bus—different bus, different driver. We stopped at the Prince Albert Memorial and took a group photo. A few of us got up close to the statue and took pictures. Then we were back on the bus.
I liked Liz who was very British and delivered her narration with biting sarcasm. She reminded me a bit of Maggie Smith’s character on Downtown Abbey. Unfortunately we got a huge dose of London fog this morning so we could not see a lot of what Liz was talking about. We went over London Bridge through dense fog and I never saw the Thames which was disappointing. Liz explained that in the early days, criminals heads were placed on spikes along the bridge to instill fear in the common folk.
We entered the Tower of London which is actually 21 towers and not a single tower as the name implies. We saw the stairs where criminals were escorted off the boat and delivered to the queen and where their fate was decided by the direction the beefeaters’ axes were facing. The beefeaters are the yeoman guards of the tower. Today a number of beefeaters can be seen around the tower but Liz explained they are only there for theatrical effect. There is even a woman beefeater which was unheard of in the true days of the Tower of London.
We went in to see the crown jewels but were not allowed to photograph anything. The jewels ranged from swords, capes and crowns and were behind glass. When I exited the crowned jewels area, i was free to wander. The architecture of the towers was beautiful. Gargoyles aligned the very top of this one tower. There was a dungeon area that displayed models of ancient torture devices. It was dark and creepy but I got pictures! By this time much of the fog had burned off and I was able to see some of the modern buildings surrounding the Tower of London. I walked a lot and then met Liz and the tour group back at the bus.
At this point I had to consider my options. I am leaving for the airport at 3:50 am tomorrow so I needed to make it a relatively short day. The tour bus stopped at Harrods. I accidentally left my Kangol hat in the car from the airport to Windsor. I loved this hat, had it for years and was devastated when I realized I lost it. All week I had been in search of a similar hat but had no luck. I found some site that claimed Harrods sold Kangol which was my motivation for stopping. Unfortunately, my quest for Kangol fell short and I could not find anything that wasn’t mink or too dressy for my taste. I did wander around Harrods got lost a few times, talked to a lot of employees, was called “dahling” a couple of times, was tempted by this really cool long flowery Versace dress but left empty handed and less in debt than I would have had I bought something.
Liz, the deliciously sarcastic English tour guide had said that the hotel was 20 minutes from Harrods. I discovered that this wasn’t quite accurate or maybe an American minute is considerably less than an English minute. When I left Harrods I walked for a while in the direction Liz told me to go but 20 minutes came and went and no sign of the hotel or any of the landmarks Peter, with his crisp Scottish accent, had revealed for our benefit as we approached the hotel last night. I went down a side road and stopped for a latte. I figured I could always tap into a wi-fi network and use that nifty Google Maps to find my way back to my hotel. I sat down in a cute little Polish cafe, ordered a latte only to discover that they did not have wifi. I broke out my map of London and asked the Polish waitress where we were, she showed me. I asked her if she knew where the Marriott Kensington was. She didn’t but was kind of enough to tap me into the wifi hot spot on her cell phone. I was really quite touched by her hospitality and determination to help me get back to my hotel.
This morning as we embarked on our driving tour of London with Liz, our Maggie Smith from Downton Abbey tour guide, I couldn’t help but see the parallels between London and New York City, where I lived for 7 years. Both have a theatre district, a financial district, a large park, lots of burroughs but there is one very obvious difference. People in London are considerably friendlier than those in New York. While I’ve always found New Yorkers to be more direct than rude (although some would disagree with me), people in London seemed to want to engage more with others. Perhaps that’s an anomaly. I was only here for a day.
I found my way back on track to my hotel and started walking towards it. By this time I had walked well over an hour from Harrods cursing Liz the tour guide along the way. The weather was beautiful and nowhere near what I expected when I put on my very thick winter coat this morning. That winter coat spent most of the afternoon folded over my arm as I walked. I noticed an amazing building and stopped to take pictures when I realized that I was at the Museum of Natural History. A friend had told me that museums are free in London so I stopped and went in. A security guard stopped me to search my bag. He apologized for doing so, telling me that the only reason he was stopping me was because the bag was rather large. Again, I was perplexed by how friendly people were.
The first thing I saw upon entering was the behemoth remains of a diplodocus, a plant eating dinosaur and fellow vegetarian. I tried to see as much as I could of the Museum of Natural History. Much of what was there was behind glass which made it hard to photograph but it was truly fascinating to witness so many prehistoric remains. Everyone should visit this museum in their lifetime. Once I left the museum, I continued to walk towards the hotel— more than 3 hours after I left Harrods I arrived! I would say two of those hours were spent walking. Later I ran into another tour attendee who was dropped off at Harrods and the first thing she said to me was “that was not 20 minutes!”. I had to laugh.
Before the sunset, I embarked on one last stroll through London. Peter the guide from CIE Tours had mentioned that Gloucester Road was not too far from the hotel and there were a number of cafes and restaurants there. With achey feet, I walked to Gloucester road and landed at some fish and chips pub. I was curious to find out what sort of vegetarian options they had and was delighted to learn that they had a vegetarian fish and chips item on the menu which i ordered.
When the dish came, I was not sure what to expect but I was amazed at how good this dish was. It was so good, in fact, that I am certain I will crave it once I am back in the states. I chatted with the Polish waitress who said she wanted to go to California and asked if I would swap places with her. Once I left the restaurant, I walked back to my hotel feeling a bit sad that the Best of Britain tour had come to an end. I had a glass of wine in the hotel lounge and said my goodbyes to other tour attendees, some who I had bonded with over the last week.
While the tour of Britain is over, tomorrow I fly into Dublin and a new adventure begins.