Fresh from a seven-hour flight from Dubai, we got out of the plane as fast as we could only to find ourselves queuing for the entry stamp in the last half an hour (or probably so). Looking around we had this sudden realization that for the first time in our travels, we’re in a place where communicating isn’t a challenge. It’s a breath of fresh air to hear everyone speak English albeit the accent that needs getting used to (yep, despite working in Dubai). In the counters were a good mix of ethnicities – many of them, if not all, are cheerful and helpful even at 6 in the morning. Quite a good first impression of the city (and country as well).
After all the airport formalities, we made our way to the city via the famous tube or London Underground. We bought an Oyster Card (works like our nol card) that served us our ticket to all modes of public transpo we are going to use for the coming days. Find more about the Oyster card here.
The tube is quite complex that we needed an app (or a map for more challenge) to decide which line to take. Tube Map app is really useful. Alighting in Russell Square, we had our first taste of the Underground that’s several meters deep from street level. From the train platform up, we had to queue for the lift unless we wanted to climb 175 steps with a luggage.
We emerged to a street with brick facades of warm tones– gaah, it was love at first sight! We walked to our apartment, checked-in early to leave our bags and started a long day of exploring the city. There’s a Pret A Manger nearby from which we grabbed a quick brekkie, spending quite an amount for a bland take away. We learned that some eateries charge extra if you opt to dine in.
From Russell Square, we strolled through narrow streets that looked tighter with the presence of the famed red double-deck buses. Along the way, we saw Shaftesbury Theatre whose Motown bill sent shivers down my spine.
Soon we were in Covent Garden’s posh Long Acre, dotted with shops and ladies in nice trench coats. We wandered through the side streets and courtyards, particularly St. Martin’s Courtyard that had us by its contemporary street treatment.
We continued to Charing Cross Road, making a stop at the island just in front of the Garrick Theatre to pick up our London Pass kits. I got too excited as my eyes laid on theatre houses, marquees and posters everywhere, especially at the sight of Les Mis’, Matilda’s and Wicked!
Then, we’re off to Trafalgar Square, a huge open space adjacent the neoclassical The National Gallery. The plaza is activated with street entertainers performing before tourists, hipsters hanging out by the two huge fountains, monuments where everyone seemed to had their selfies on, tour groups trying to listen to their guide and Nelson’s Column, surrounded by 4 lions, overlooking all over these.
Standing from the square, we had a glimpse of the famous clock tower of the Parliament, Big Ben or we better call it by its official name, Elizabeth Tower. We moved closer towards it, walking the stretch of Whitehall, aiming to be on its foot when it strikes 12. Along the way, we saw a couple of monuments, government offices housed in beautiful buildings and the Horse Guards with… guards on horses. There were a couple of guards by the gates, two of which on a horse while tourists go stand next to them, some trying to touch the horse and take photos. All the while, I feel scared they might get kicked in the face by these horses.
At the end of the street, we took a left for the Big Ben. Lo and behold, everyone’s gathered at the same place we’re heading to. Apparently, everyone’s waiting for the noon chime! Lol! All cameras were up when we heard the resounding dong of its bell.
Further to the Westminster Bridge, we had a good view of the London Eye across the River Thames. We went down the bridge to the bustling The Queen’s Walk, dotted by more attractions apart from the iconic Ferris wheel, such as London Dungeon and Shrek’s Adventure.
Our walk continued to the vast Jubilee Gardens, which at that time filled with locals – kids and yuppies – having their takeaway lunches. Though we wanted to join and “picnic” on the lawn, we looked for our way back to The Queen’s Walk passing under the Hungerford Bridge, Golden Jubilee Bridges and Waterloo Bridge.
Since it’s way past lunch time, we’re on the lookout for a place to eat, preferably serving local food. Then, the path led us to the colorful and artsy, Gabriel’s Wharf and Pieminister easily got our attention. Serving hot pies, which we definitely need for the kind of weather, we took our picks and dined in. I tried the Fungi Chicken (chicken, Portobello and chestnut mushroom pie) sprinkled with cheddar cheese gratings on top while the husband had Moodog (beef steak, smoked bacon and craft ale pie) with mashed potatoes on the side. Both of these savory pies were smothered generously with gravy. With two cans of lemonade, our lunch set us back 14.50 GBP (78 AED) but we left with satisfied tummies making it a good deal.
We continued walking Southbank, passing through the tiled tunnel below the Blackfriars Bridge until making it to Tate Modern. It’s not yet our “museum day” but we had to take refuge in Tate Modern because rain suddenly poured. Housing modern and contemporary art, its simple interiors fitted well with its exhibits. There’s a huge chunk of exhibit areas that were closed when we visited so we didn’t enjoy the Tate to the fullest. There’s a nice terrace though, which offers a good view of the Millennium Bridge and St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Did I mention that London museums, most if not all, are FREE OF CHARGE to enter? How cool is that?!
We went out to a sunny London (how unstable the London weather could be?), walking past the Millennium Bridge (yep, still intact despite the Death Eaters’ attack :s) and the uber-packed Shakespeare’s Globe.
Further, we walked into a charming spot surrounded by brick buildings, the tip of The Shard looking over. We emerged to a tunnel that heads straight to The Clink Prison Museum, then to the narrow Clink Street flanked by more tall brick buildings (mostly painted with blue and grey) and the beautiful ruins of the Winchester Palace. At the end, a replica of Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hind galleon greeted us. One can get in for a charge.
Realizing there’s no footpath next to the Thames, we continued to the back streets and emerged to London Bridge. I was trying not to sing the nursery rhyme while crossing, haha. Back on track, we had the Tower Bridge straight ahead and the HMS Belfast on our left. We made a detour to More London because the husband is a huge fan of the landscape treatment in the area. He loves to use it as reference in his projects (okay, I am guilty of that too >.<) The beautiful architecture of the City Hall serves us a focal point.
We climbed the steps leading to the iconic Tower Bridge. The smell of candied peanuts and the murmur of pedestrians fill the air.
At the foot of Tower Bridge, on the other side of Thames, is the UNESCO World Heritage Site listed Tower of London.
Again, raindrops started falling so we decided to hail the tube in Tower Hill. This time, we hopped off a different station, Euston, to ready ourselves for the following day’s itinerary.
We had a really long day (9 hours of walking!) but we had a great time. Our first day in London is all sorts of wonderful and overwhelming, and helped us a lot to get our bearings. There’s so much to see and do in the city proving that our allotted time of 9 days is certainly not enough.
P.S. New watermark! <3