London

Trip Start Apr 11, 2008
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Trip End Jul 03, 2008


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Where I stayed

Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Thursday, May 15, 2008

Thursday and Friday, May 15th and 16th were (yet another) holiday in Madrid so I chose, once again, to take advantage of the 4 day weekend to go somewhere outside of Spain.  On this trip, I decided to head to London.

I couldn't believe that in my 36 years, I had never been to London before.  I suppose I always thought it was the least exotic of the European countries with English also being the national language.  I have to say, life in England is in so many ways similar to life in the US, and after a month living in Spain, it was nice to have a little reprieve to the lifestyle and language that were more familiar to me.

Unfortunately, I couldn't have picked a worse time, financially speaking, to visit England.  The dollar is already extremely weak against the Euro ($1.57 to 1Eur), and the Euro is weak against the British Pound (1.27Eur to 1Lb).  So, needless to say, I wasn't going to win either way in England, so I prepared myself to come back to Madrid with a much lighter wallet - which I did.

With as much as I had been traveling lately, I decided this trip, I was going to take a much needed break from my typical American "excessive touring, no relaxing" habits.  I wanted to see the major attractions in London, but nothing that required me to get up too early, walk all day, and fall into bed at night completely exhausted.  And, the weekend was exactly what I had hoped for.

My time in London was filled with the usual sightseeing although my friends here in Spain scoffed at how much they tell me I didn't see.  But, this being my first trip to this great city, I figured I would focus on the high-points.  My hotel was right across the street from Kensington Gardens, where Kensington Palace is located and right next to the famous Hyde Park.  Since I really only had a few hours on Thursday afternoon, I figured I would explore the Kensington/Hyde Park areas and just see where the afternoon took me.  Of course, as always, I ran into an American along the way who joined me for my walk met up with me the next day for brunch.  I have found that when I meet other Americans traveling abroad they are either one of two types of people: 1) if they are traveling alone, they are almost always eager to meet someone who they can do things with - I understand this very much as it's nice to have someone to have lunch or dinner with or at least get advice from; or 2) they are in so much of a hurry to "see all they can see" that they don't even want to stop to find out where you're from.  Either way, you have to respect that at least they're getting out there at a time when it costs literally twice as much to visit England as it would to just stay in the US and not broaden themselves at all. But, I digress....

After a very nice couple-hour walk through 2 beautiful parks and a visit to Kensington Palace, I literally stumbled upon Buckingham Palace without even realizing it.  Unfortunately, Buckingham is only open to the public 2 months out of the year, and May was not one of them.  So, I got some good pictures (from outside), and then headed back a different way to my hotel.  London really is fabulous.  Around every corner there are quaint little shops, pubs, cafes, etc...  The people are very friendly - especially the cab drivers.  Every time I got in a cab it seemed I got a mini-tour of the history of the area that we were driving through.  It was great.

So that first night I went across the street to experience dinner at an authentic English pub, the "Goat Tavern".  Now, I probably should have considered the name of the place before just deciding to "pop in".  But, I figured - how bad can it be?  Let me tell you that the meal I had there that night goes down in the record books as one of the worst (next to the one in Toledo, Spain that I mentioned earlier in this blog).  I was feeling more adventurous than normal and had decided that although I almost never eat fried food, I just HAD to try London's famous Fish N Chips.  I walked in, sat down at an empty table and watched the servers walk by for about 20 minutes.  Finally I got up, went to the bar and asked if there was table service where I was sitting.  The bartender told me that I had to order all of my food at the bar and they would bring it to me.  OK, of course it would have been nice had the servers who saw me sitting there for 20 minutes without anything to eat or drink had told me that!  Anyway, I ordered a cider and fish N chips and in a few minutes, everything arrived.  I should have taken a picture of this meal - it was green peas, soggy french fries, and a huge greasy slab of fried fish.  I honestly gave it a shot, but in the end, I peeled away all of the fried coating, tried to nibble at a little of the fish on the inside, had another cider and left.  Not fancy.

I made up for the next day when I met my new American friend for breakfast at the place right next store from the Goat - it was called, "The Giraffe Cafe" (Lord knows how these people come up with names like this!).  It's one of those organic, whole food places that serves breakfast all day, lunch and dinner.  The food was great.  I ate breakfast there every day and even lunch one day. 

So, the next day I bought a ticket for the bus tour around London which came highly recommended both by the hotel and by TripAdvisor (one of my many sources for tours, hotels and other bits of info before I go someplace new).  The tour took me by all of the major sights.  You could hop on and off where you wanted.  The only problem was that the traffic in London is a nightmare (worse than Atlanta!).  By the time the tour got to the Tower of London (which was where I hopped off), we were two hours behind schedule.  Needless to say, this really threw a wrench into my sightseeing timeline.  But, not to worry, I arrived at the Tower of London just in time for the next (and free) guided tour by one of the Tower's Beefeater guardsman.  He took us all around the grounds and told us all the dirt on the dark history of it as a torture chamber and location of many significant (and brutal) executions.  As you would expect, he was very entertaining.  We ended the tour inside the chapel within the fortress where so many major historical figures were buried (2 of Henry the 8th's wives, etc...).  I thoroughly enjoyed the tower. 

After that I didn't want to spend another 2 hours stuck in traffic, so I bought a ticket to the tube and found my own way to Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and Parliament.  Of course, you can't really see anything inside Parliament or Big Ben, but I took some cool pictures.  Then I walked over to the Abbey and paid the 10 lb. "cover charge" to go inside St. Margaret's church (Grace should try this).  Everytime I walk into one of these old, gothic churches it takes my breath away.  This one was no exception.  Since you can't take pictures of the inside and words really can't describe the beauty of that place, I'll just say - it was beautiful.  The history was amazing as well.

That evening I had tickets to see "Wicked" at the Apollo Victoria Theater.  I had wanted to see it for awhile and since single tickets were easier to get, I bought one for 70 lbs. ($140 - which is actually a bargain since they were going for $350 in NYC).  I highly recommend this show - especially if you have kids who are fans of the Wizard of Oz (I would say it's more for 12-14 yr olds at a minimum).  I really enjoyed it.

My last day in London, I spent some time walking around the city - just enjoying all the little shops and cafes on all the crowded city streets.  That night I found a jazz club that served dinner, so I booked a table for 1, and enjoyed a much better meal with a great little jazz band playing.  After finishing my 2nd glass of rioja (the Spanish wine habit is REALLY hard to break!), I headed back to my hotel as my flight left early the next morning.

I would say that London is probably on my shortlist of all-time favorite cities.  The people are great, there's tons to do, lots of culture and believe it or not - you can actually find decent food if you steer clear of the Goat Tavern.  It was an expensive trip, but it was worth it.

That's all for now.  Hope you all have a happy and restful Memorial Day - in case you were wondering - I'll be working!

-d
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