Thursday, August 29, 2013


Stop #2: London!

I've never been to London before and I was so excited to finally check out this city. The one thing that I didn't realize was how big it was! London is fricken huge and the biggest part of being able to see the whole city is having a hotel in a great location. Luckily the Tube and trains around London make it easy to get to and from the airports easily, as well as around the city.

We stayed in a hotel near Paddington Station, which put us near the Nob Hill area. We chose the Stylotel. This hotel was small, but clean and cute. The staff was also very friendly and helpful with all questions that we had. Kim and I tend to ask a lot of questions because we want to know what the locals know. We aren't in town to just do the tourist stuff, we want an authentic experience. The Stylotel reminded me of a cruise ship. Narrow hallways and tiny rooms, but it was all that we needed, included breakfast in the mornings, and near public transportation. You are also given a free drink at the pub associated with the hotel, which is right around the corner. It was a decent enough place. The drinks were reasonably priced, plenty of seating, and had good music.

London Eye
One thing that we learned on our first night in London, was that most pubs don't have music because of noise ordinances, and most close by 11pm and must have a special license to stay open later. Those that have food, tend to stop serving by 10pm, so if you are arriving later in the night, like we did, don't expect to have a late, crazy night, unless you want to pay to go to the city center areas. Also, for as much beer as England produces, the people there didn't seem to be too interested in the local brews. Being a beer "connoisseur" and I use that term loosely, I wanted to try everything local. I didn't think it was that bad, but the locals looked at me like I was nuts. Despite their confusion of my liking their beer,  they were all very friendly.
Big Ben

We had an early night and headed in because we knew we had a long day the next day. We got up pretty early and set out to get on the hop-on/hop-off bus tour. This is something that we have found to be a great way to see cities quickly and determine what we wanted to do. I would highly recommend these tours to anyone! I will say that I was pretty unimpressed with the service that we chose in London. The buses took forever and one even left us at our stop and kept driving after waiting for over 20 minutes. In London, and this is the only place that I will say this, DON'T take the city sightseeing bus, take the Big Bus Tour.

Due to traffic, it took a lot longer to get across town than we had anticipated, but it was a good time to relax and take in the atmosphere. We rode past a few of the sites and decided to get off at the Tower of London. Maybe I was just
Westminster Abbey
ignorant, but I thought that it was an actual tower, I didn't realize that it was basically a fort where they kept royalty and the crown jewels during times of war. It was really worth seeing, a whole walled-in village that still holds the crown jewels. We took our time and checked out all of the exhibits, including the torture chamber. From there, we hopped on the boat and rode it down to Big Ben, where we got off to take more pictures. Along the way, we saw the replica of the Globe Theater and the London Eye.
Kensington Palace
Tower of London

After a quick lunch at another pub, we walked around near Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, which is a sight to be seen! It was beautiful! Then we hopped on the bus again, and rode it over to Kensington Palace. There are huge gardens and a great walking area near the palace. Unfortunately, the palace itself was under so much construction that it didn't live up to what we were hoping for. After that, we went to Buckingham Palace, which was magnificent. Of course there were plenty of people around, but it was just a great feeling to be standing there. That evening, we had dinner at the Black Swan pub, which was fun. Then we walked around and checked out a few other places before heading back to the hotel.

Windsor Castle
The next day we went to Stonehenge, Windsor, and Oxford. The first stop was Windsor Castle. There is an entire town built around the castle, with the storied boarding school that the princes went to when they were younger. The gardens and everything were pristine and the Queen was even in residence, although we didn't have the opportunity to see her. It was a beautiful day out and it was nice to be out of the city and seeing a gorgeous castle. The next stop was Stonehenge. This is a place that I have been wanting to see since we booked the trip. This was going to be the highlight of England for me! Stonehenge is such a mystery, still to this day, the stories that are told and the theories surrounding the construction of the monument is insane. You can't even imagine moving stones as big as the ones at Stonehenge and you begin wondering yourself. There is just a magic about this place. It was everything that I had hoped for and I was so excited to have finally been there. The last stop on the tour was Oxford. Oxford is a town built around Oxford University, which is actually 29 smaller schools built in different areas. Everything is old, as you would imagine, and the architecture is amazing. It's a great little town, and place that would be great to stay overnight in. We took a walking tour around the town, seeing all of the main sights, and then went to a pub called Eagle & Child, known to have been a watering hole for C.S. Lewis, to have a pint while we waited for our return bus. That evening, we went on a walk around town and landed ourselves in a pub talking to some locals. There was a brother and sister there who were very friendly. They grew up in the country and the sister had moved to London with her boyfriend and was loving city life. They were a wealth of knowledge and very interested in the trips that we had previously taken. It was a great evening, plenty of drinks, and we were able to stay out later than in our own area!

The last day in London, we got up and went for a walk through Hyde Park. It's a lovely, huge park, and a great place to relax and get some fresh air. Since we didn't have anything pressing to do and our  flight wasn't until the evening, we could spend the day "being local". We came across the Princess Diana Memorial, which was a beautiful fountain structure, and walked along the river, watching the ducks and swans swim around happily. We then made our way to Harrod's, the famous department store. It was HUGE! Much bigger than I had imagined. It was just a day of window shopping because there was no way we could afford anything in there, even with their huge sales! We then continued our journey into a small italian cafe, where we had a great lunch and time to reflect on all that we had done in London.

It was time to walk back to the hotel, and head off to the airport. London was nice, but it was time to move on...

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