Yes, this trip occurred nearly eight months ago (!!!). Yes, I have been on a different vacation since this trip happened. Don’t judge. Finally…here you go.
This plan to go to London sprouted about a year ago when my friend Katrina over at Thrifty Gypsy’s Travels talked about this Groupon for a London trip. I asked my friend Lance if he might want to go to London, Ireland or Iceland and he said he’d prefer to go to London. So we bought our Groupons–$999 for airfare, hotel and some tours (that we unfortunately did not take).
Lance and I flew into Gatwick, as that is Norwegian Air’s entry point into London–unfortunately, the only place nearby that Norwegian flew out of was JFK, so we took the MegaBus up there since it was the cheapest way of going. The flight was supposed to be less expensive and surprisingly, the planes were brand-new and super nice. We had been upcharged for checked baggage and meals, but even then it didn’t seem so bad considering how cheap the Groupon was; the total was still under $1400. We took the Gatwick Express into the city, switched to the Tube after lunch (where the sports bar staff took pity on us and gave us free shots), and went to our very cute hotel room in Earl’s Court (an adorable part of town, by the way), which admittedly had a pretty great view, even if it meant we would hear the trains all night long. It also had a free breakfast every day, so that was also a plus.
We hadn’t been there long before I realized we would be late for our timed arrival at the London Eye, for which I had bought combined day/night passes. We were still able to get in with no problem, and were treated with an amazing sunset view, which surprisingly was way cooler than the night time ride. Of course, we were both pretty bushed by then since we’d been travelling for about 24 hours before we’d even gotten to the hotel, so it’s not like we could have truly enjoyed the view from the Eye at night anyway.
We spent nearly the entire day Monday at the British Museum, our mouths agape at just how much there was to see and how cool it all was. We could have easily spent our three full days in London at the Museum and maybe still not seen everything. We vowed we’d come back if we had any spare time. We wandered around town for a little while until eventually and serendipitously coming across the place where ping pong was allegedly invented. It’s now a bar called Bounce where you can get food and drinks and play ping pong. We had a blast even though we started out poorly (we got better!) and spent a ton of money at this place. Late that night, because Lance hadn’t eaten at Bounce, he was hungry, but we weren’t sure if there were any decent places around worth trying. Fortunately, there was a great local burger chain, Gourmet Burger Kitchen, just up the street and we got in just as they were taking their last orders for the night.
Even though it was winter, we decided that we would try and make it to a garden anyway. A local we’d met at the British Museum had advised us to try the Chelsea Physic Garden. It was pretty cold that day, but we braved it for a while before wandering around some more and eventually finding ourselves at the grand National Portrait Gallery. Just the building itself is worth seeing, even if you’re like me and “not a big art person.” There were plenty of pieces I recognized, and some I was glad to be introduced to.
On Wednesday, we spent much of our day at Westminster Abbey. We had all intentions of taking the guided tour, but we were misled about what time it began and, disappointingly, we ended up missing it. But just looking around the Abbey, you can’t help but marvel at it. We did the audio tour and learned some interesting facts here and there, but mostly you just end up trying to take in all the sights and still you miss things because there is just so much to see. You also feel very weird stepping over people buried beneath the floor, but they’re everywhere, so you can’t avoid it. Near the end of the tour is Poets’ Corner, and I was geeking out until I realized that most of the plaques are just in recognition of writers and most of the writers are actually buried elsewhere. (I bought a book about it from the store anyway.)
We made our way over to the Tower of London, which we hadn’t realized was so expensive, but upon venturing around inside, we realized it was definitely worth it. Not only are the Crown Jewels there (giant shiny things!!!), but there is SO much to see. The armory was sort of interesting, but its upstairs was full of fun interactive games and exhibits. We didn’t see all of the buildings there either, but we had no idea that there was so much going on there or else we might have tried to make more time there.
Our plane didn’t leave until Thursday evening, so Lance and I reasoned that we could still get some time in at the British Museum, except this time, I got caught up in a long bag check line, where we wasted about 15 or 20 minutes. We spent most of our time in the South American and Indian/Asian galleries, the latter of which we both found especially fascinating. Lance had just joined a tour of that gallery when we realized we needed to leave. We had hoped to be at the airport by 3, but after a sit-down lunch of fish and chips, gathering our stuff, and taking the Gatwick Express back to the airport, it was 4:30 by the time we got there. Fortunately, we didn’t have any serious lines or anything to bother with.
We got back to New York around 9 p.m. that night, glad that we’d have a night in a hotel as opposed to continuing back to DC. We woke up Friday morning worrying that snow might delay our bus though, so we made a call to Vamoose and asked if we could move our reservation to an earlier time. We’d still get to DC around rush hour, but it would beat getting there even later and during a potential snowstorm. Vamoose didn’t charge us the difference in the ticket prices and instead just charged us a fee for the change–I was really pleased about that because our original booking had been significantly less expensive.
We were both tired from the trip, but had really enjoyed ourselves. I had only gotten to two of the numerous places I’d wanted to visit, but realistically, there was only so much we could have done with just three full days. Needless to say, I’d love to go back, but I think Lance and I both agreed that London is pretty full-on. My impression of the people we encountered was much different than I’d expected it to be. I was surprised that on sidewalks, I felt compelled to move out of others’ paths because it seemed that no one was going to accommodate me. Compare this to DC or maybe even New York, where I think people generally make an effort not to run into each other. Plus, waitstaff didn’t bother with niceties; they just asked us if we knew what we wanted.
That said…next time I’m seeing the Globe.