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, PART TWO.
If Saturday was a "touristing" day, Sunday was a pilgrimage of sorts. Walking along the Thames river from Tower Hill to Buckingham Palace, we soaked up London like thirsty sponges.
We didn't have a grand plan for exploring London today. Our phones were as good as dead because we forgot our adaptor, but Trip Advisor had too many suggestions anyway. It felt good to leave the hotel with nothing but a general direction. "Follow the water" is usually good advice.
We weren't the only ones. It was a beautiful day and the entire length of the promenade was packed with people. Tourists and locals alike were out, and they were there by design. The Thames is built to enjoy, with a riverbank littered with restaurants and markets and theatres and museums. This prime real estate is for everyone, even the skaters who perform tricks like they just don't care, to the delight of gawking onlookers.
There's no need to venture far from the river. Everything is here, everybody is here, this place was meant for you.
Since living in Europe, my sense of personal space has changed. I love it when things are going on around me, when I can see people enjoying themselves, hear people conversing in different languages, and feel the rhythms of life in the city.
I recalled biking Edmonton's river valley during "rush hour" virtually in solitude, and I found it hard to comprehend. That seems so foreign now. And as I contemplated the irony of thinking that, I realized I had just passed a street performer swallowing fire. There was so much else going on along this promenade that someone swallowing fire was simply part of the mosaic. Activity isn't an event here, it's just life.
We finally reached Big Ben. I have to confess, my whole life I thought Big Ben was just a really big dumb clock. Who cares.
Honestly, sometimes I wish I could reach back in time and check myself. Big Ben is absolutely gorgeous. London really is a master of making a grand statement, whether old or new or refurbished, and here at the approach to Big Ben, the crowds were the exclamation mark. You are here!
Buckingham Palace was not what I expected either. Relatively plain from the outside, it was a beacon that attracted people from all over. We sat among the tulips (even though the signs said stay off the grass) and people-watched for a while. We eavesdropped on a Dutch family's conversation happening nearby.
We hit Trafalgar Square and swung by the Canadian embassy to admire the Canadian flags before heading back to the hotel.
It was a full day of walking the city, and we felt full and happy and in love with London.
We came back to Trafalgar Square on Monday before our flight back to Amsterdam.
We decided to visit the National Gallery because it's free, and it has one of the coolest Netherlandish paintings, The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck. The painting is notable for its complex use of iconography, perspective, and the convex mirror in the background. It's full of detail (like the artist's portrait reflected in the mirror) and so striking.
Van Eyck has signed the painting on the wall above the mirror "Jan van Eyck was here 1434."
And with that, our trip had wound down to a close. A brief drink at the Sherlock Holmes pub was the perfect way to say "until we meet again," and then we were on our way back to the airport.
London was bigger, more cosmopolitan, more intricate and more fun than I expected. London gives you a taste and isn't surprised when you come back.
Yeah, London is touristy. It calls to us travellers like sugar to a colony of ants. How could we resist that sweet treat (I'm looking at you Big Ben!)? And so we swarm. Some countries, some cities, some attractions are worth the crowds, the hassle and the cliché, and London is definitely one of them.