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First Days in London ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง

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We have arrived!

The weather was a cool and windy 50ยบF when we stepped off the jet bridge at London Heathrow. The gate situation was complicated so our small band of travelers were ferried via bus to the terminal. After sneaking Alanna's bag off the claim line, we wandered around looking for the Heathrow Express into the city. Side note: if anyone from the Heathrow airport is reading this, the signage for the express train is awful. There were security attendants guiding people, but I feel like signage should have been enough for this fundamental transportation away from the airport. Eventually, we did discover the correct train, bought tickets (about $75 including the tube ride once the express line ended!) and weโ€™re on our way.

First Sights

The sights moving into the city were foreign, yet familiar. Not so far from the cityscapes of America as to be unrecognizable, but just alien enough to cause a pause, and then delight as their true nature was revealed. We snaked through a menagerie of tunnels and tight corridors, passing other trains every few minutes. Tight walls lined much of the route, but occasionally, things would open up to show a broad view down an avenue or across a small green space. The train car was quiet and not crowded at all; a pleasant beginning to ease us into the mild mannered chaos to come.

The Tube

The express line terminated at Paddington station, one of many hubs connecting the inner city subway (The Underground/Tube) to rail lines permeating outside the city and beyond. It had rained not too long before as the platform was slick with the sloshy footprints of travelers. I regretted not changing my shoes at the quiet airport terminal the moment by legs began to drift further apart in awkward angles. I somehow "saved" the fall and landed in a pose of proposal, although Alanna was behind me, unable to accept the comical romantic gesture. Picking myself up, we proceeded through some gates and down into the tunnels.

Thankfully, our hotel was located off one of the many lines serviced through Paddington station (Bakerloo line) so it was a matter of following the signs to our designated platform. The subway was unfortunately much more crowded at 4pm than our previous coach. Alanna ended up awkwardly standing at the end of the car with her 3 bags while I had worked my way to the middle to stand with my single carry-on. Eventually spots did open up for us to sit, but she opted to stand and gaze on at me as she corralled the wheeled bags in her corner of the train car.

As we arrived at the end of the line and our final stop (Elephant & Castle) the crowd had thinned and we followed the denizens out of the catacombs, past the gates of collection, and onto the street. A bustling roundabout sprawled before us, tall buildings visible both near and afar as we got our first real sight of the city proper. A brief consultation with Google maps led us around the corner and to our hotel a block or two away.

The Hotel

We're staying at the Travelodge Elephant & Circus. A budget hotel by all standards, but nice enough. This location was built quite recently so it's pretty nice on the inside. A small cafe doubles as the reception, with a few beers on tap (including Budweiser!) and food available for purchase. We checked in and headed up to our room, surprisingly delighted to have the top floor and what seems to be the prime corner room! As I type this sitting in the bed, I can see the London Eye ahead of me, St. Pauls cathedral to my right and some of the taller buildings in the financial district. If we end up extending our stay in London, I'm certainly excited at the prospect of keeping this view until our departure!

An Evening Stroll

After checking in and cleaning up from the flight, I wanted to go for a walk and see the city. On the map, I could see London Bridge just up the road, and I was eager to see something touristy! Now, the more traveled amongst you dear readers, will know that London Bridge is nothing special. It's a bridge. Tower Bridge on the other hand, is a sight to behold! Fortunately, we could see it quite well from our crossing a half mile away in the middle of London Bridge. I keep telling myself it's actually better to have seen it from afar so I can really appreciate the entire structure for what it is!

We continued north another block and then started west. My goal was to eventually pass by St. Paul's and then head back South over the river and back to our hotel. We did that, but not before getting distracted with The Bank of England. A map at the corner location teased us with "The Gherkin" just a block away out of site, so we continued on to capture a photo of the egg shaped building from a plaza below.\

Seeing rain on the horizon and having paid "close attention" to the weather, I knew light showers would soon be upon us. We ducked into a T.K. Maxx (not a mis-spelling) and rummaged around for an umbrella to purchase. A few short minutes after stepping back onto the street, we were greeted by the pitter patter of falling rain drops all around us. The pitter patter soon transitioned into a dull hum as the rain continued to fall. Alanna held on to my arm as we both squeezed under the small personal umbrella. She had worn a proper raincoat so I didn't mind her poking out too much. ๐Ÿ™‚

Getting more soaked by the minute, we pressed on towards our hotel, passing by St. Pauls cathedral at the height of the storm, our shoes soaked by the plethora of puddles conjured from the unevenly paved stones and bricks of this historic city's center. We crossed the Southwark Bridge and weaved through streets snaking back to our haven of warmth and solitude.

Arriving at the hotel, we decided it would be best for me to fetch dinner from restaurant around the corner while Alanna cuddled in bed. After taking her order, I proceeded down the street to pick up Nando's, a staple of British fast food. I'm not sure where the internet meme's originated about "picking up a cheeky Nando's" but I thought the food itself was fine for what it was. I ordered the roulette of chicken wings, while Alanna was more reserved with a grilled chicken wrap. We both tried some adventurous sounding sides that probably didn't deliver on their promised descriptions, but they were a welcome addition to our empty bellies!

After dinner, we watched a little tv and drifted off to sleep. ๐Ÿ’ค

Day 2

The next morning came at us fast! I forgot to turn off my alarm to get up for work at 8:30, but luckily we were both drifting in and out already. We continued to languish however until around 10, when showers and dressing were in order. The weather was more pleasant, not a dark cloud in the sky and the forecast showing only a slight chance of showers in the late afternoon, but the wind was audible from even inside our perching sanctuary.

Exiting the hotel, we headed up the high street in search of sustenance. We had passed the Borough Market the previous evening, but it had already closed. Arriving around 11am, it was now abustle with life and energy as we entered the open air bazaar. A plethora of stalls lined the tight walkways, some hawkers shouting wares and enticing passerby with the smells of fresh food. Alanna stopped for some pastries, a chocolate bagel and something else I can't remember, and we continued to snake through the market. Eventually, we stopped at Monmouth coffee for a cup and stayed for a few minutes as they no longer offered to-go cups in the name of saving the environment. Fine.

The coffee was Columbian (my favorite region for coffee) and the tight shop was a welcome respite from the wind outside. We sat up in a small gallery overlooking the rest of the shop while I sipped the bitter brew as quickly as I could manage without burning my mouth. Coffee: 3/5, ambiance: 5/5!

The Museum of London

Our bodies now replenished with sustenance, we continued our march on towards the Museum of London. We had to backtrack once or twice, but eventually made it to the busy roundabout, up the escalator and into the main entrance. No tickets were needed and the entry was free (though they do ask for a donation at various locations within the museum). We began our tour where every good thing starts, at the beginning, and stepped into the prehistoric era. Apparently, mammoths were a staple of this region at some point in history. Pottery and ancient tools lined the display cases but were quickly replaced with a more modern history, beginning when the Romans came to tame the wild lands of the British Isles.

We snaked through the city's Roman history, then into the Medieval era, seeing exhibits on the plague and the Great Fire. We then ventured deeper into the beginning of the renaissance and the Victorian eras, finally ending in a more recent history of the city since the end of World War II.

Another Museum & Lunch

We were both getting a bit peckish at this point and wandered down the street to a bustling falafel shop. We both ordered a filled pita and were stuffed by the time we were finished eating! Re-invigorated, we set off to find a tube station to hop over a few stops near The British Museum. Another free attraction, this one much grander than the last. Artifacts and exhibits representing the entire world were on display. The keen eye would note a parallel between British colonialism and many of the displays on offer, but that's another story for another time. Putting aside dubious acquisitional history, they were marvelous displays of antiquity and wonder.

Alanna had grown weary of walking so she found a spot to sit while I wandered the museum alone. This likely worked in both our favors as I tend to walk quickly past most things, only stopping to admire the exhibits that really catch my eye. Unfortunately, the famous Great Wave painting from ancient Japan was not on display today, but I enjoyed the rest of the Japanese displays as well as the plethora of statues and carvings from ancient Greece. Hopefully I can compare and contrast them to what remains in Athens one day!

What's next?

Now that we've settled in, I still feel it's 50/50 up in the air whether we extend our stay in the city or venture out into the greater area of Great Britain. Regardless of our departure date, I think we'll head north by train to Edinburgh, a 5 hour journey through the countryside and along the sea.

Hopefully, I can continue to find the energy to write these large posts, but only time will tell! This nearly 2,000 word essay has taken a while to write, yet even now I could think of a few more paragraphs to elaborate with. If you enjoyed reading about our trip in this much detail, please reach out in whatever way is convenient and let me know! I have text messages available while we're abroad so don't be a stranger. ๐Ÿ™‚