London, England – the capital of the United Kingdom and a leading global city. Arguably more to offer most tourists than any other European city in terms of attractions… right or wrong, Shawna and I only had three days in the city before heading off to see friends in Maidstone, so we wanted to make the most of it!
We arrived in London early afternoon and brought the rain with us from the Isle of Wight. Fortunately this didn’t keep us down for long, as the sun started shining right about the time we walked in front of Buckingham Palace.
However, we have realized quickly, the one thing that will keep us down is the weight of our packs. Although they are fine for day-to-day backpacking, and carrying them a few kilometers if necessary, there is likely no way we will be able to lug these babies around with us for 25-30 kms per day for a month straight while we walk the Camino de Santiago. We need to find the most economical way to get the majority of our possessions to the end of the Camino, so that we can travel with virtually nothing and refrain from wanting to throw in the towel after Day 2. Any suggestions?
Anyways, I digress (often)….back to Buckingham. You are not allowed to go terribly close, but we did spend some time taking it in, and simply letting the fact that we were actually in London sink in. However, once we realized that the Queen was not currently taking in Couchsurfers we moved on to St.James Park and the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. Honestly, I wish we were better able to appreciate art. But it just isn’t our thing….I think that for those who are into art, the National Gallery would likely be your personal Mecca. However, as we breezed through Monets, Manets, and Van Goghs, I just kept thinking of dinner.
Once we were done at the National Gallery, we headed off to our accommodation for the night, the Dover Castle Hostel, in the Borough/London Bridge area of the city. As it was a short distance away, we took this opportunity to ride, my favourite public transit system in all the world…The Tube!!!
I do not know what it is, but I could ride this subway system the entire day, and it still wouldn’t lose any of it’s charm. Yes, I know it is merely a transit system, but for whatever reason the Tube gives me great joy. Shawna, although not having the same nerdy love affair with it, was also relatively impressed with its efficiency.
After checking in to the hostel (which we do highly recommend), we enjoyed a celebratory drink, and then headed off for Indian food, just down the road. Later that evening, we walked throughout the London Bridges area all night past the Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, and along the River Thames. The area was buzzing with people casually taking in the atmosphere which the evening provided.
The next day we checked out of our hostel, and had to move on to another part of the city. We failed to realize exactly how busy the city was, and as a result we couldn’t find a hostel which would take us in for two consecutive nights. Lesson learned.
After a quick run, we spent a few hours in the Borough Market, filling our pockets with fresh bread, cheese, figs, Turkish Delights, and of course Shawna’s favourite dried apricots. If you are ever in the area, this is something we would endorse 100%.
Next on the agenda, was the Tower of London. We had a 2-for-1 coupon, so both of us were admitted in for 18GBP (around $27CDN). Although we don’t want to be paying for a ton of these types of tours throughout our trip, we both enjoyed all the history here, and actually spent the entire afternoon walking the grounds…. the favourite part for both of us was the Tower of Torture.
Next, we picked up our backpacks, jumped on the Tube (sigh), and head to Mile End, where our hostel for the night is located. As soon as we jumped off the subway we knew we were in an area which was a little sketchier. Gone were the days of the manicured parks, lively cafes, and smiling backpackers. We had mistakenly landed ourselves in the projects.
When we finally did find the hostel, the FCT (still not sure what that stands for), it was the sort of sketchy, non-descript building you would expect to be housing hookers and blow. So, concerned that we would be to nervous to even leave our room (is that blood on the pillowcase?), we decided to get back into the centre of London and booked a room at the Piccadilly Backpackers. It was the most I had ever paid for a hostel bed in my entire life, but that is England. We were just happy to be somewhere a little more comfortable.
Piccadilly is very much what I would expect a downtown New York to look like. Bright lights, big city. Broadway shows. High end restaurants. Almost overwhelming, but we had fun, especially when we stumbled upon M&M World… think Disneyland for chocolate lovers. Very much worth the stop! In the end we settled for a slice of pizza for dinner and a few glasses of wine at an underground wine bar, where we met Irving and Tricia who shared their company and their bottle of wine with us, before we checked in for the night.
The final day in London, we walked by Westminster Abbey and Big Ben, and completed the River Walk before grabbing lunch, packing our bags, and heading to the train station for Maidstone to see our friends!
All in all, we really did like London! Lots of activity, running and cycling. It was at least as expensive as we had expected (more on that in an upcoming budget post), but we were able to to see some of the city’s most iconic features, eat M&Ms, and most importantly ride the Tube!