London 2016: Day 1

If you know me at all, you know I am not a city person.  I hate the crowds, the noise, the fast pace… pretty much everything about a city.  So it may come as a surprise that I picked London as my vacation destination.  Especially since I was just here last year for a couple of days and spent a week here three years ago.  I know it’s a bit of a contradiction, but as much as I hate cities in general, I love London.  I think it’s the combination of history (I’m not a history person either, so another contradiction…), music, and culture that continues to draw me back.  The British scones certainly have a bit of pull as well!

St. Paul's Cathedral
St. Paul’s Cathedral

I first visited London on a school tour in high school.  Of course we rushed through the tourist sites then, and I did a good bit of that when I was here three years ago.  Last year, London was a place to recover from jetlag before renting a car to explore the Cotswolds.  I had no specific plans to visit London this year, and hadn’t even considered it until I found a “cheap” flight last September.  I’m not an impulsive person by any means, but I found the flight on a Saturday and bought the ticket on Sunday.  Suddenly, London was exactly where I wanted to go.

I’m not entirely sure what possessed me to book the 10:30 PM flight out of Boston (as opposed to one of the earlier flights), but 10:30 PM turned into 12:45 AM by the time we finally left Boston.  By that time, I didn’t care that I was headed to London.  It was 4 hours past my normal bedtime, and I was exhausted.  All I wanted was sleep.  I don’t normally sleep on planes, but I managed to get about 4 hours in during the flight.  When I woke up and looked out the window over Ireland, I was reminded of how much I love to travel and explore.  The excitement returned.

One of my favorite parts of arriving at Heathrow is the large “UK Border” signs above the immigration desks.  For some reason, stepping under that sign makes it really feel like passing into another country.  After I got through the long walk from the gate and the long lines to get through immigration (they have a million desks, but for some reason they only ever have a few manned at any given time), I made my way to the Underground booth to top up my Oyster Card (London’s version of a Charlie Card) and add a 7-day travelcard so I can get around the city easily.  From Heathrow, it is about a 45 minute trip to the center of London.

John Islip Street

My hotel is about a 10 minute walk from the nearest tube station, but as I discovered staying there last year, the walk is very pleasant.  John Islip Street is primarily residential from the tube to the hotel, passing brick townhomes and the pretty Millbank Gardens on the way.  I didn’t like the first room I was given, so I was able to move to a second room with a much better view.  Once I was settled it was almost 4PM.  My intended first stop was Borough Market, so I walked the few blocks to the Westminster tube station and hopped on a train to London Bridge.  Borough Market is a cross between Quincy Market and a traditional farmer’s market.  It is located under the London Bridge, and is spread out over several blocks.  Since it was late and I was tired, I did a quick browse and then kept walking.  My plans to eat my way through the market were trumped by exhaustion.  

I walked to the Millennium Bridge on the South Bank and then crossed over the bridge and walked up to St. Paul’s Cathedral.  It had been a bit cloudy when I first arrived, but the sun was starting to peek out and made for some nice pictures of the cathedral.  From there, I walked to Postman’s Park, which is a quaint little park with a wall of plaques dedicated to those who gave their lives as a sacrifice for others.  One particularly moving plaque is dedicated to a 10 year old boy who drowned while attempting to save his brother after having just been rescued himself.  

Millbank Gardens
Millbank Gardens

By the time I left Postman’s Park, I was beyond exhausted, so I made my way to the nearest underground station and took the train back to Pimlico.  Fortunately, I booked an Executive room this week, which comes with complimentary drinks, snacks, breakfast, and evening hors d’oeuvres each night.  Those snacks and treats made for a good dinner before calling it a night.  Tomorrow is filled with a trip to the flower market and at least one walking tour.