I thought London was boring. Can you imagine that? Somewhere between cricket and high tea, I closed my mind to one of the world's coolest cities. I thought I'd have to go there eventually but I really wasn't that enthused. As it turns out, I was dead wrong. London is so damn cool.
How we ended up in here was rather dramatic, but we had to leave the Schengen area which comprises most of Europe (a riviting story for another time). London was the closest and most convenient destination, and once I realized that London was going to save our butts, I started warming up to it immediately. We had very little time to plan, a day or so, but our circumstances ignited our enthusiasm, and we were quite determined to make the most of our short trip.
We arrived at Heathrow Airport Friday evening and took the tube to the Chamberlain Hotel in the Tower Hill area. Brian probably thought I lost my marbles because I was so excited to be taking the Underground (they actually say "mind the gap!"). It was then that I started to realize that, far from being boring, London is almost too cool for comprehension.
That night, we took a short walk over the iconic Tower Bridge. Everywhere we went, we were reminded that we were in LONDON. The Union Jack flag catches your eye where it should, but also in the most unlikely places (toilet seats). No matter where you are, you can smell the roasted nuts offered by street vendors, and there's an airplane or two flying above your head.
I got the distinct feeling that no one is out of place in London. The cityscape shouldn't work between the old and the new, but it does. Shiny modern structures dwarf historic architechture and together they cascade down to the riverfront. This is a city that will surprise you every day.
On Saturday, we visited London Tower. We met some lovely English people in line (which looked formidable, but went really fast), and they made us laugh with jokes about the crown jewels. We often joke that we have a lot in common with the English, being part of the Commonwealth and all, but I think we really felt like we belonged here. Maybe it was understanding the language, which kind of felt like cheating, maybe it was friendly chitchat, maybe it was just smiling on the street, but the Commonwealth bond felt like something real.
At London Tower, we joined a free tour led by a Yeomam Warder or "Beefeater" named Billy. I recommend joining one of these. There was easily one hundred people there, but Billy Beefeater made it work. I was reminded just how funny the English are, and how important humour is when your history can be so dark.
That night, we joined up with a "Jack the Ripper" city walk by Ripping Yarns, costing only a handful of change. The tour was led by an off-duty Beefeater named Ken, so we got another performance worth every penny.
I don't want to give too much away, but the city walk is a popular and very cool way to discover London. If Jack the Ripper isn't your jam, there are dozens of offerings. We passed by many other groups just in our little corner of London, and that alone made my heart explode with happiness.
The more I travel, the more I understand why tourist traps come to be. Some countries, some cities, some attractions are worth the crowds, the hassle and the cliché. I have to ask myself why, oh why, did it take me so long to get here?! London had me planning our next trip before we'd even left for home.
Our London exploration continues in the next installment...