I’m currently writing from the comfort of my bed all bundled in blankets and sipping on my third mug of tea in the past 6 hours. On top of battling this cold, I am full on exhausted from our weekend in London.
We flew out of Shannon airport late Friday evening and arrived at our hostel in London at around 1:30am on Saturday morning. We flew with Ryanair, a super cheap budget airline out of Ireland, and it only took us 50 minutes to land at London (Stansted) airport. We then hopped onto a bus which took us to Waterloo station in downtown London where we cabbed to our hostel. We had called from the airport saying that our flight was running a little behind (false) and that we’d be arriving a little later than the check-in time. When we got there the security guard for the hostel/bar (the main floor was a popular bar and the hostel rooms were just upstairs from the bar) denied us entry and was incredibly rude saying it was 3am (lies) and we couldn’t get into the hostel tonight. Thankfully, we went to the hostel reception which was just a few doors down from the main hostel and the guy working there escorted us into the bar to check in. The hostel itself was pretty nice and the bar was packed, making it very loud in our rooms upstairs. Fortunately we were tired enough that we crashed in a matter of minutes.
We set alarms for just a little before 7am so we could get up, get ready and get exploring. Thankfully a small breakfast was offered for free at the hostel so we were able to fuel and go. Rachel and I both love markets, so I had looked up nearby markets earlier in the morning and we found one called the Maltby Market that was only a 20 minute walk from the hostel. I suppose we might be a tad directionally challenged because it took at least half an hour. The market wasn’t quite opened yet, but we looked around at the vendors and got ourselves some fantastic coconut and peanut butter coffee and a Scotch egg. In highschool I had an English teacher (Mr. Callaghan, if you’re reading this!) who taught in England for a few years and I remember him telling us about these Scotch eggs he’d have after spending a little too long in the bar. Since then, Scotch eggs were just something I wanted to try if I ever had the chance.
Next we walked to the Tower Bridge which was another 10 minutes from the market. As we were crossing a bunch of alarms started to go off and they blocked of the middle section of the bridge. Before we really got a grip of what was going on the drawbridge started to open and we got to watch a tour boat leaving the harbour. The Tower Bridge opens approximately 900 times a year and only takes about 10 minutes for the whole process to complete. An older gentleman standing next to us said he lived outside of London and this was only the second time he’d ever seen the bridge open…He was at least in his late 50’s.
On the other side of the bridge we walked by the Tower of London and then walked alongside the river further into London. We detoured at the Tower Bridge Memorial and wandered around there for a little while before continuing to the next destination. A little further down the street was St. Paul’s Cathedral and an information centre. The cathedral was massive and entrance fees were steep so we were content just looking at it from the sidewalk. We also stopped at the information centre just to make sure we were heading the right direction. The lady working the desk told us it was at least another hour walk to Big Ben which was one of the sights on our to do list. At this point in our journey it wasn’t even 11am so we figured we had plenty of time and energy to walk to rest of the way.
We passed the National Gallery of London which was hosting a Malaysian culture day, so there were booths set up for food, cooking lessons, crafts and a stage for live dance and music performances. It was all gated off and unfortunately wasn’t opening until noon so we continued on our way.
At this point we decided to stop for a drink and a bathroom break at a little cafe down the street from the gallery. We didn’t realize how badly we needed a break until we finally sat down and rested for a little while.
After we finished up our smoothies and two glasses of water we ventured back towards the river to catch a view of the London Eye on our way to Big Ben. The London Eye really is phenomenal. According to my research it takes 30 minutes to get all the way around, and can hold up to 800 people. Another fun fact: the Eye has 32 capsules to represent the 32 boroughs that make up London.
Big Ben was just a little further down the road from our viewing spot so we trekked down that direction to check it out. Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster have the most incredible architecture and intricate details in it that it’s actually difficult to wrap your head around. Each little pillar has a different head carved into it and some parts of the building display full statues of influential people at the time it was built. Although I think my pictures are pretty decent, they don’t do justice to the building whatsoever.
We continued walking to St. James park, which is just outside the Buckingham Palace. The park was right full of people just touring around London like ourselves. even though the park was nice it was a little crowded for our liking. eventually we reached Buckingham Palace which was also very busy. We were able to get to the gate and look onto the premises, but other than just looking at the building not very much was going on. The palace guards marched around a few times, and at one point 4 military persons matched towards the gate in formation so I thought something exciting might be happening, but they just picked up a few music stands and carried them back to the Palace.
Next on the list of things to see was Piccadilly Circus, which is kind of like the Times Square of London. It was a good 20 minute walk from the palace and as expected was very busy and crowded. It was really neat to see, but we weren’t too keen to spend much longer in the crowd (or at least I wasn’t). We decided now was a good time to grab some lunch as it was nearly 2pm. We went to this cute little local burger place which claimed to have all local and “honest” food. Rachel and I both opted for the veggie fritter burger and a few glasses of water. By this time, according to google maps, we had walked close to 8km, not including how many times we stopped and/or detoured.
After lunch we crossed back over the river via the Waterloo bridge and attempted to find a bus that would drop us off near our hostel. Little did we know, but the bus system here no longer takes money but instead works off a prepaid “Oyster” card. We continued to walk a little further in the direction of our hostel before deciding to just hop in a cab and go right back home. By the time we returned to the hostel it was close to 4pm. You read that right, we conquered London in 8 hours almost entirely by foot.
We rested at the hostel for a while before deciding to grab some gelato down the street. The gelato place was located not even 2 minutes away in the Borough market, which we didn’t even know existed. We explored the market with our gelato for a little while and I contemplated buying some Oysters as I’ve been craving them since April. I decided against, as we were having dinner when we got back to the hostel.
Once we got back to the hostel for good we ordered some dinner and some drinks and thought about waiting until 10pm for the live music, as it seemed popular the night before. Instead, we went to our room at around 8pm and spent the rest of the night in bed. My cold hadn’t been bothering me most of the day, so I figured it was over. I was wrong. I might have slept 3-5 hours all night because I was up coughing and dealing with the sniffles. God bless Rachel for going to the bar late in the night to deliver me some tea.
Our alarms were set for 4:45am because our flight was leaving at 9 and it was an hour ride to Stansted airport. The cab driver who picked us up to go to the central bus station told us he was heading home in the same direction as the airport and he’d cut our rate in half if we took the cab rather than the bus. All in all the cab only cost 5 or 6 pounds more than the bus would have, and it was so much more convenient and stress free.
Our plane ride home was only an hour and 10 minutes and then a 25 minute cab ride back to campus. Ireland welcomed us with copious amounts of rain and a temperature at least 10 degrees below that of London. Sick, sleep-deprived and exhausted, we hopped off the bus, walked home and I immediately showered, coated myself in Vicks rub and had a much deserved nap.
All in all, London was a success. We lucked out completely with cabs, with food and restaurants, the weather was exceptional (23 and not a cloud in the sky) and we had a better time that we had expected.
P.S. London England marks the 10th country (including my own) that I’ve visited!