Did you know that when I was a newborn my bedroom "theme" was Paddingon Bear? I didn't either – at least, not consciously. But for several years now I've been wanting to go to London. Not Europe, not England, but London. Any time I would watch anything on BBC America I would get this urge to go and visit the place the show was taking place, immersing myself in All Things British. I must have told Tashia this at some point because this past Christmas, what did she get me?
Airfare and lodging for a 9-day, 8-night trip to JOLLY OL' ENGLAND! And you want to know the best part? She gave me 5 months to plan the activities! And plan I did, down to the minute!
5 Months Later...
Our flight in was fairly uneventful (despite a bit of a hustle across what seemed like all of Chicago to make our connecting flight at O'Hare International). We left Cincinnati at 8pm on a Thursday, which gave us plenty of time to get to the airport after work. Then we flew overnight (I slept rather well; Tashia not so much) and we landed at Heathrow at about 11:30 am local time. As soon as we got there we took our first tube ride...
We got to our flat to get the key from the owner, then rushed back out to the heart of the city to Leicester Square (that's pronounced LES-tuh for you non-anglophiles). We made a quick stop to grab our London Passes (which let us see almost all of the attractions we visited on our trip) and our Oyster Cards (which we used to ride the subway aka The Tube), then wandered around a bit, taking in the sites and smells and experience.
The first thing I noticed was... almost nobody was speaking British. It wasn't a tourist area per-se (though we certainly weren't the only tourists there), but London is such a multicultural city that significant portions of the residents don't speak English as a first language. After a stop at the M&M store (where they had Harry-and-Megan themed packages – we accidentally planned our trip on Royal Wedding Week), we looked around for a place to eat. We found Little Italy – it was certainly a tourist trap, but the food really wasn't all that bad and the prices were fairly reasonable. Plus it was the first thing we'd eaten that wasn't airplane food for a day and a half. Oh, and Tashia ordered her favorite thing in the world: water!
This was where we found out that if you ask for "water," it's not free like it is here in the States. At least we learned our lesson early! After that we stopped for the fanciest looking little gelato cone you've ever seen, at Amorino.
Bellies full, we headed off to start the walking tour I created of the ancient city of Londinium. Did you know that the original city of London was built within a Roman wall that was constructed in the 2nd or 3rd century? Neither did I, until I started doing research for the trip. I figured if we were going to spend a week here, what better way to start than from the beginning? After a quick tube ride and several references to my handy map (we weren't lost... just exploring), we managed to find the north-west-most corner of the remaining sections of the wall.
There were actually quite a few locations in this area where you could see portions of the wall and the forts and towers built into it. We explored for a while and then started our walk towards "The City", which is actually a small city called City of London, located smack dab in the center of the city of London. Yeah, I never really could wrap my head around it but I guess when you've been around for 2,000 years you do what you want. By this time it was around 6 in the evening on a Friday. The City is a business- and finance-heavy part of town, so it was largely deserted by the time we got there.
The main exceptions to the empty streets were the pubs. Most had a line around the block of people waiting to get in, and one pub apparently decided to use the public street as their patio (if you zoom in on the picture of The Monument below you can see people holding beers... they just made a 350-year-old statue part of their bar). Also interesting, whereas earlier in the day we were surrounded by almost entirely non-British speakers, this area of town was the complete opposite. With all the tourists and commuters gone home for the day (and surrounded by some stereotypical landmarks) it was finally starting to feel like the London we were expecting. After stopping by the Monument to the Great Fire of London (side note: there have been more than one incidents labelled "Great Fire"; seems London caught fire a lot) we headed to the southwestern-most portion of the remaining wall.