I believe I’ve mentioned that unlike the rest of the Canucks, I’ve spent a grand total of 45 hours in London. I went on a Contiki tour in Europe when I was eighteen. I hopped on that plane and set out on my adventure. I chose to add an extra night onto the beginning of my tour in London. One of the things that’s not always apparent about tours, they don’t show you anything of your starting city. You have to explore yourself. And so I did.
I flew into London Gatwick at 10 a.m. I hopped on a train into the centre of London and switched to the Tube, dragging my suitcase up and down stairs, on trains and off trains and through the streets.
I made my way to the Contiki London Base. Of course it was too early to check into my hotel room so I stowed my bags at the Contiki Base and set off to explore London.
I had always dreamed of visiting London. Of all the places in the world, at eighteen, it’s where I wanted to visit the most. So it’s kind of ironic that it’s one of the places I’ve spent the least amount of time. I can guarantee that on my first trip abroad, I had no idea what I was doing, but here’s what I did with my 45 hours in London:
London Bridge, oops, I mean, Tower Bridge
Armed with nothing but a Tube map, I had no idea where I was going. I made it back to the Tube station and studied my map. The only thing I recognized was London Bridge. So that’s where I headed.
London Bridge is not that iconic bridge. Let me reiterate, London Bridge is NOT Tower Bridge.
I came out of the station in what felt like a dingy part of town. I want to say, I have no idea if it was or not – but to my inexperienced self, it was not where I had planned to go and I may have mentally freaked out a little.
But I thought, everything in London’s by the river. And so I made my way to the river (I must confess, I don’t remember how I figured out where the river was).
And there she was, Tower Bridge. A must see London sight. And directly across the river? What should I find but the Tower of London.
Tower of London
I definitely wanted to see the Tower of London and it was right there… so that’s where I went.
Once inside I was told that there was a free tour that went around and it was starting soon. So I waited for the tour guide, dressed in costume. And then I got to learn all the historical details of the place. Have I mentioned how much I like tours? I love to know the history of everything, all the little details and stories that make a place interesting or important. But I’m also full cognizant of the fact that I’m too lazy to do research on my own. So tour guides are my favourite people.
I saw the all the places people were beheaded, I learned about Traitor’s Gate, I visited the Armory, and I saw the Crown Jewels. If you can only visit one place in London, this is what I’d recommend. But, as stated above, take any recommendations I have about this city with a grain of salt.
And I have to admit… that’s all I did that day. I went back to my hotel room, met my two roommates (two lovely Aussie ladies who were on a different tour) and crashed at about 7 pm.
Double Decker Bus
I LOVE double decker buses, since this I’ve taken double decker tour buses in many different cities. But London is the birthplace of these and that’s where I hopped on my first double decker bus.
I woke up that morning and my roommates invited me along in our search for an authentic English Breakfast. We found a marvelous buffet a couple blocks from our hotel. Afterwards we decided that a hop on / hop off bus was the best way to see the sights of London (and the cheapest), plus, it gave me my much desired tourist info and history.
Our first stop? Harrods. Someone had told me I had to visit Harrods. I don’t remember who – maybe my mom? So when we stopped outside this famous store, I suggested we hop off.
We wandered through the department store and gawked at things we couldn’t afford (and were eyed warily by security). I needed to buy something – just to get the Harrods bag.
We settled on a mini cupcake… a £6 mini cupcake… but I got my Harrods box. And I still have it.
And back on the bus we hopped. Next stop: Buckingham Palace. As my roommates had already visited the day before, that’s where I left them and my solo trek started again.
I had just missed the changing of the guard but that means I managed to avoid the biggest crowds. The big highlight – I managed to spot some people leaving the Palace. I have no idea who but I figured they must be important.
Westminster Abbey, Parliament, and Big Ben
Hop on. Hop off. The next stop: Westminster Abbey. Which backs on to Parliament, which of course has the tower where Big Ben resides. Big Ben of course is name of the bell inside the tower, not the tower itself.
I didn’t go inside any of these, after all I was running out of my very limited time in this city. So I snapped all the pictures I could desire… and moved on.
And what did I spot across the river while snapping my photos? The London Eye, of course. And I definitely wanted to go up in that. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it, but along with boats and animals, I love going up high places. Provided of course that everything’s safe and enclosed.
I stood in line inside and bought my ticket. And then you went outside and stood in another line to get on. This line was horrendously long. I can’t remember how long it took but I’m sure it was upwards of an hour in line.
Finally I made it on. And it was spectacular. The views of London were stunning. You could see the whole of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and more than I could name.
And once it was over? I hopped back on that bus and rode it all around town. I listened to the whole tour and all the history and interesting tidbits.
Then I had to be back at the hotel. There was an orientation meeting for all the Contiki tours leaving the next morning. I met my tour guide, my driver, and my fellow travelers who would be joining me on my Grand Contiki Adventure.
There was nothing left to do but pack my bag and then go to sleep and wait to depart early the next morning for Paris!