The second day out in London provided even more walking opportunities. I had stayed at the hostel for two nights and had the chance to stay at my friend’s flat in Surrey the next evening. So I gathered everything again and set out. I hopped off the bus at Queensway on the Northern border of Kensington Gardens with the intention of hiring a bike from the stall near the entrance. I must have done something to my right foot the day before because it’s been annoying me ever since and that particular day seemed perfect for a bike ride. The bike never happened however, because I wasn’t the only one with the idea and there were none available.
Instead I walked with my full pack, winding around the park, gazing at the palace and ponds, wondering how gorgeous it would look in the summer. I saw The Albert Memorial which is located just opposite the Royal Albert Hall (both architecturally impressive sites). I found the Peter Pan statue I wanted to see, and hung there was a flower wreath memorialising the passing of a young one. Couldn’t help but get teary eyed with that one… An unexpected emotional walk through the park. Also I noticed an injured pigeon standing in the water and I couldn’t help it and I really felt like I let the poor guy down.
So, a bit sad, I continued my route around the Italian Gardens, crossed a section of Hyde Park and emerged from the bare Rose Garden to the city streets. Notable Hyde Park features included the horse track (designated dirt pathway) running all around the park and the various memorials and statues. The next place for me to see was Buckingham Palace, which was about a ten minute walk via Wellington Arch and war memorial areas. The weather had made a rapid turn for the worse about five minutes before this so I did a sort of scurry around the palace area, snapped a few obligatory photos and moved on.
I met my trusty guide and dear friend at a nearby tube station only to learn that we were walking another 45 minutes to our train. Haha! What’s another two miles at this rate… ; ) We did get there. And she showed me the MI6 building which is pretty awesome. So a slightly eventful ride to the suburbs and then quality downtime with a couch, home cooked food and my amazing friend. A great hot shower really sealed the deal.
Another day for the books and a deserved night of sleep. After two days of exploring, I felt pretty confident with getting around… so we spent the next day not in the city. It was fantastic, and you can read about that coming soon!
The first day after arrival I hopped on the bus to Piccadilly Circus and scooted past the other tourists gathering around the monument to make my way towards other points if interest. I strolled through St. James’s Park, admired the variety of birds taking a swim in the lake, the daffodils blooming, and the views of the city from this little green space.
I took a route across the yard at the Horse Guards Parade and caught the changing of the guards just in time. A walk south took me past 10 Downing St (Prime Minister lives here) and Westminster Palace with Big Ben. This is where I discovered some lovely quiet streets between beautiful buildings for my rest. The way back gave me time with Westminster Abbey (and a hot tea), a beautiful sunset, and my brief look at The National Gallery. A bit of shop discovery around Piccadilly and then I was on the return to my hostel, a thirty minute trip.
Actually seeing the buildings really gave me the feel of London that I had been looking for. Though road barriers, police sirens and dirty sidewalks surround them, I couldn’t help but hear some arrangement of horns trumpeting a welcome for me. ; ) Yes… once a romantic, always a romantic. No grafitti’s gonna get me down!
Next… London Photos Part 1
A quick three hours from Iceland and I was stepping out at Heathrow to a giant, yet unusually quiet airport. The group of us made it to the border check with our customs forms. I was approaching anxiously, recalling horror stories about getting through immigration. I’ll never know if those accounts are accurate though because when I stepped up to a station the guard was clearly in a great mood, laughing with a coworker. He asked where I was coming from in the US and when I answered he promptly made a Frasier reference and we got on talking about American TV. A minute later my passport was stamped, he never asked me any other questions, we laughed and it was over.
Nearly an hour delayed to meet my friend at the entrance I hurried through baggage claim. What a nice thing to see her waiting with a smile and a dance. I’ve always wanted my own “Welcome to Britain Jaida! ” sign as well. : D
She was so helpful in getting me familiar with the transport systems. I secured a pass and we hopped on the line towards town. Talk about thoughtful, there were snacks, a water bottle, and a sim card for my phone waiting for me in her bag too! Next we found my hostel, got checked in, and went for lunch at the corner pub- The Princess Victoria. This place was the perfect introduction to the English gastropub experience. Good cider and a rich meal combined with the beautiful old building made it just right. We wandered around the nearest giant shopping center, found a place to top-up my sim card and picked up some food from the M&S before calling it a day.
I think I’ve over-prepared myself mentally for my first London exposure however. No moment of shock and awe when I arrived. I felt adjusted right away. It sort of just feels like any other city. There are busy streets, lots of people, lights, loud noises. So, historical significance aside – if you’ve spent time in a large city, you’ll manage fine. All of the same music you hear in the US is playing on the radio here. The atmosphere is familiar.
What is quite different is hearing at least ten languages being spoken around you constantly, and that part is just awesome. A reminder that the world is a massive place and we’re all here living our days for similar purposes. Also I have an even greater desire to be fluent in something other than English.
The ancient architecture and many museums are also outstanding and upon experiencing them I finally registered that I was in a very different place. That bit comes next so stay tuned!
I finally was able to get a couple hours of sleep after testing all of the possible positions I could manage in my seat. So as I lifted my head from the tray table in front of me, I noticed first that my arms were numb from supporting my head, and then realized that our flight was 9 minutes from landing. Just minutes left of the 7 hour trip. So I tidied up and waited. Just another landing, “it’ll be fine” I thought. But when i saw all of the beautiful lights waiting I felt out of place… these certainly aren’t Medford or Spokane lights, and they aren’t even Seattle or Portland sights… this is Reykjavik guys! So it finally clicked and I’ve accepted my situation. ; )
It’s 6:30am in Iceland (8 hour difference) and here I am! It’s still very dark during the majority of the day this far North but I see the snow falling and the lights and I can’t wait to explore this place in the spring.
Oh and by the way… their retail shop here is the most beautiful thing I’ve seen. Photos, pottery, sweets, spirits, and a whole stunning display of Icelandic wool (both yarn and knit items) at its entrance. Absolutely gorgeous. Small but impressive seems to be the theme of the services in Iceland. The flight was comfortable even for economy seating, the crew was lovely and this airport is super (…duper…) sweet.
LONDON up next…
A slight nod to a fantastic artist who’s country I head to next… Iceland! Land of raw beauty, including: geothermal spas, colorful towns, and lots of Icelandic sheep… Unfortunately you’ll have to wait a couple of months for the full report, as this is only a layover on my way to the UK!
All of it’s incredibly exciting and I’m feeling pretty crazy right now. So much to look forward to and an abundance of things to be really grateful for today.
There are some technical details to get sorted regarding photos and the blog but I’m working to figure it out. Mobile photos will do for now…
Looking forward to updating you from afar!
I say goodbye to Ashland tomorrow morning and depart for the coast! I have one last time to make sure things are settled and organized in my storage unit. The rest of my things get packed into my Camry and then that’s that. This is one of the times where a bit of OCD kicks in and I become nutty about whether I’m remembering everything that I need from here… triple checking my pack, running around the house collecting miscellaneous items, tending to computer-related tasks before I pack that away as well. But good thing that I have these trusty guides and reference books! 😉 They have been helpful in organizing all of my random thought processes.
Thank you to Ellen for gifting the Europe on a Shoestring book from Lonely Planet so many years ago when I was really first getting inspired to travel abroad. She was the first person to offer that push, it made me uncomfortable yet excited to know that she had such confidence in my ideas and is a huge part of why I became serious about making it a reality.
Thank you to Emily for the awesome Travel Organizer (again, years ago). I have not thought my trips to be worthy of this tool, until now, and I am so happy to have it. It feeds my need for categorizing everything. The packing list is extremely helpful and there’s a bit of humor incorporated with the text. If you are familiar with the brand Knock Knock… you get it. Brilliant tools and accessories. I have compulsively checked to make sure that my passport is still there nearly every day now. Phew…
And thank you Dad for the detailed guides for England and Ireland. I have learned a lot reading through these and they’re very thorough and are helping me become pre-acquainted with these places. Continually inspiring with endless suggestions on things to do and stops to make. 🙂
So this is it for a little bit friends! I wanted to give an update about what is going on as I prepare to leave tomorrow. After this week is up I’ll be on my way to see my family around Seattle. Then I’ll have a week and will provide some more detailed information about the approaching trans-Atlantic adventures!
Ready or not… here I go!