After the emotional and locational roller coaster that was Scotland, T and I were really, freaking tired. Our plan was to chill in London, explore at a leisurely but livable pace, and reset. We spent most of our time in London, playing house in one of the biggest cities in the world. Our timing was quite impeccable, as we seemed to have great luck with showing up to places during big festivals.
Our first week, London was celebrating (celebrating?) the 350th anniversary of the Great London Fire – a massive and devastating inferno that essentially burned London to the ground in 1666. Apparently not many people died, but lots of livestock did? Anyways, over our first weekend they had a festival commemorating the event, with a huge fire art exhibit in front of the Tate Modern, leading you over the Millennium Bridge, to the footsteps of St. Paul’s Cathedral, on which they subsequently projected a fire motif across its rotunda. The last day of the festival, they built a giant wooden replica of the city in the middle of the River Thames, and proceeded to light that on fire. What is it with the Subjects of the Crown celebrating such destructive and pernicious moments in history by putting a match to something huge, wooden and manmade?
Naturally, we saw all the things you’re supposed to see. We traipsed across the city, hanging out in Camden, testing the English craft beer scene on The Mile in Southwick, visiting the Borough Market, exploring Soho, strolling through Kensington Gardens (visiting Whole Foods in Kensington – the last taste of home we’ll get in quite a while), and generally frolicking through Westminster, City of London, and the other 400 burrows that make up this ginormous city.
A few surprises along the way:
- The Tube is pretty sweet, but the city is so colossal it still takes a while to get anywhere (also, it gets pretty warm riding down the escalators in the summer months, or “descending to The Core” as Travis liked to put it).
- Platform 9 ¾ was the only thing we waited in line to see (impatient tourists we seem to be).
- Travis preferred to refer to Big Ben as Above Average Ben (although we were sufficiently lectured by a fellow American that at the time, the architecture was a feat of genius. Yes, we get it, you’re cultured and you’re working in London and you’ve forsaken any and all loud Americans judging the hype of British Tourism).
- London Bridge will probably never fall down again, as it’s now so boringly designed that who would even bother? (Clever Brits.)
We did get out of the city a few times: we visited the burgeoning wine country for my birthday. Thanks to global warming, England is now able to produce some pretty tasty and quality whites, specifically sparkling wines. Apparently, the weather and climate is close to Champagne – Cheers to that!
Overall though, one of our favorite things we did was take the train over to Dover to see the infamous White Cliffs. I will say, they are absolutely stunning. You can walk all along them, and there are plenty of great vantage points. It was a really clear day, so we could see Calais, France across the Channel.
Leaving London, we felt a little like we just lived regular lives there. We didn’t push a tourist agenda; we didn’t venture out of the city too much. It gave us a glimpse into what it would be like should we find jobs and sit there for a time. It’s absolutely the biggest city I’ve ever been in, but there are so many great little pockets, it’s easy to envision how we’d pick a neighborhood and make it our own.