In May of 2016, I finally embarked on a trip that I’d been dreaming about for years, I was off to see London. Over the years, I’d come up with a variety of reasons not to visit, the main reason was the cost of a trip to London. Between the price of airfare and the exchange rate, I felt a trip was too expensive. But I finally decided I couldn’t wait any longer and I bought my ticket on British Airways.
British Airways has a non-stop flight from Phoenix to London Heathrow, which takes about 10 hours. It is a long flight and I decided to opt for Premium Economy seating. After all the add on costs they charge it was a lot more expensive than I originally thought, even more than flying Premium Economy on EVA Air to Thailand.
For accommodations, I wanted to stay close to a tube station and near the center of the city. While there are a lot of options for places to stay in London, I settled on the Holiday Inn Kensington. It is within walking distance of the Gloucester Road Tube station and several sightseeing attractions.
Day 1 – Arriving In London & Getting An Oyster Card
My BA flight left Phoenix at 7:40 PM and got me into Heathrow at 1:35 PM the next day. Even though the flight was overnight, I didn’t manage to get much sleep on the plane. By the time I got into London I was sleep deprived but I needed my wits about me to be able to figure things out.
My entrance to the UK was a by a sour-puss immigration agent who gave my passport a good going through. She asked me a few questions as to why I was visiting, and oddly “Why now?” which stumped my hazy sleep deprived brain. All I could say was, “I’m not getting any younger.” She stamped my passport and grunted at me to move on. “Welcome to the UK” I sarcastically thought to myself.
I knew from my research that I would want to get an Oyster Card and a week’s travel pass for unlimited rides on the Underground and buses. After I grabbed my luggage from baggage claim I went looking around the airport to find a place to buy my Oyster Card. After taking a few wrong turns and getting lost I finally found the counter. The Oyster Card, 1 week of travel and return ride to the airport cost 42 Pounds.
After purchasing my card, I headed down to grab the Tube to Gloucester Station. The car was pretty empty when I boarded and I kept my suitcase and backpack between my feet in front of me. The cars were smaller than I had envisioned them in my head, I think I imagined a full-sized train.
The Piccadilly Line from Heathrow to Gloucester Station takes about 40 minutes and has about a dozen stops along the way. I found it a quick and convenient way get to my hotel. The Holiday Inn was a short walk down from the Underground station. I could see there were lots of pubs, shops, and restaurants in the area and was pleased with the area I chose.
Check in was quick and I was soon up to my room. None of the staff seemed to be British, which I found surprising. The size of the hotel room at the Holiday Inn was smaller than I imagined, but this was London and I kind of figured they would be a bit on the small size. I’d be using the hotel to shower and sleep and didn’t really need anything extravagant.
After getting settled in and cleaned up I headed out to find a spot for dinner. I ended up at the Stanhope Arms, a modern British Pub run and staffed by what I could tell was mostly Eastern Europeans. After a few pints of London Pilsner and a steak & ale pie with a side of chips and gravy, I headed back to the hotel for some sleep and to plan my itinerary for the next day.
The weather is a bit cool and I turn on the heat before dozing off to sleep.
Day 2 – Big Day Sightseeing In London
I didn’t get much sleep on my first night in London. I had dozed off for a few hours in the afternoon, and only getting a couple hours sleep before waking up at 2:30 AM. I didn’t get back to sleep till 6 AM finally waking at 11 AM wasting half my day. Jet Lag sucks.
I had an awesome breakfast burrito and coffee at The Diner. An American style restaurant near the hotel. The waiter came over and chatted with me a bit. He was a friendly gent and gave me a few sightseeing tips, including taking the hop-on hop-off bus tour.
I take the tube and head on into Westminister. There is no crowd this time of day. Walking up the steps the first sight I’m greeted with is Big Ben, gleaming in the mid-day sun. I’m immediately in awe at its amazing scale and beauty. A broad smile breaks across my face and I’m almost giddy with excitement. It’s a feeling I’ve not felt in a long time.
The street is busy with many tourists moving about, taking photos and many selfies. It’s a diverse collection of tourists from all over the world from the languages I was hearing.
Churchill War Rooms
I made my way to the Churchill War Rooms where I found a queue of people waiting for their turn to enter. The line moved fast and I was inside in about 15 minutes. It is a self-guided tour and I found it fascinating to see how Churchill and his staff lived and worked during World War II.
The Churchill Museum is in the center of the bunker and has a lot of information about the man and his time before and after the war. I found it interesting to learn he had fought in the Boer War, written several books, and lived a rather interesting life before he gained fame as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
After leaving the War Rooms I walked up Westminister stopping for a photo of the Horse Guards, a peek at 10 Downing Street (couldn’t really see anything) and enjoying the warm weather. The buildings and architecture really come alive in my mind, and I can imagine what a grand city London most have been at the height of its power.
I finally reach my destination of Trafalgar Square. The height of the center statue is impressive. Though there seems to be something going on as the lions and statue are behind temporary fences. There are people milling and sitting about, the square is a busy and popular place. I have a wander around, snapping a few photos and taking in a couple of street acts before heading into the National Gallery.
I don’t get a map at the entrance and decide to just use the basic maps on each floor. I’m not a huge art lover, but seeing these pieces in person I can’t help but admire the skill and detail of the paintings. They look so vibrant and beautiful even hundreds of years later. It is a fantastic collection of artwork from masters across the centuries.
I spent an hour or two looking around before my hips and knees were starting to ache. I didn’t have much more walking in me for the day.
After resting my eyes and aching hips at the hotel I head back to the Stanhope Arms to grab a bit to eat. I have three beers and fish and chips which cost $33 dollars. I thought for a moment that I need to tone it down a bit and not spend so much. But those are some other guys words in my head. I work hard, make good money, and don’t do much back at home. I can afford it. I’m going to eat, drink, and spend what I want on this trip. Time to enjoy life!
Day 3 – Sleeping All Day and Night Photos of Big Ben
I wake up at 2 AM again. This time I can’t get back to sleep. What the heck is wrong with me? Is this Jet Lag? I drag myself out of bed at 7 AM and have a coffee and breakfast at Burger King. When I return to the Holiday Inn, I lay on the bed and fall asleep, wasting another half day.
I get out in the afternoon and head to Tesco where I grab a couple of sandwiches, a bag of chips, and a liter of water for 5 pounds. If you are on a budget, that’s how you can eat cheaply in London.
No sightseeing for me today as I wasted it in bed fighting jet lag. I decide to head down to the South Bank to try to photograph Big Ben and Parliament in the twilight.
Big Ben and Parliament – Night Shots
Sundown is at 9 PM and I’m at the South Bank by 8 PM. I found the spot I was looking for, a popular place for photographers and grabbed my spot. Other photographers started showing up and I had a nice chat with a young guy from France that had been living in London for a few months.
Soon a professional photog showed up and we started chatting with him as well. He was from the UK but lived in Princeton, NJ. He was back shooting shots for the Spielberg movie – BFG. He gave me his card and we all chatted for a bit more before the sun started going down and everyone turned to their cameras and started shooting.
The weather chilled a bit and had to have dipped into the 50s. It felt like winter to me, but then I would turn around to see people jogging by in shorts and t-shirts.
I wish I had brought my tripod, but I did the best I could balancing my camera on the wall, hoping I didn’t drop it in the river Thames. After I had taken enough photos of Big Ben and Parliament I decided to take a walk down to Jubilee Bridge.
It was really too dark for my camera without a tripod, but I got a few nice shots looking back at the London Eye.
Day 4 – Tower of London and South Bank Walk
I woke early again today, this time I made it all the way to 4 AM. I once again head to Burger King for breakfast, determined not to waste another day I fight hard to stay awake.
I decide to head out early to the Tower of London and leave the hotel a little after 9 AM. I make it there in about 30 minutes by Tube. Walking down the steps from the tube station the first thing I see is the remnants of an old Roman Wall. I sometimes forget the Romans once occupied a large part of Great Britain.
Tower of London
There is no line at the Tower of London ticket counter and once inside the stone gates I practically have the place to myself. I head to see the Crown Jewels first as the guidebook recommends. Once again, no line and I’m one of the few tourists inside.
The Crown Jewels is an amazing collection. It’s not just jewel encrusted crowns but a large collection of gold and silver historical and ceremonial items. The wealth of the British Monarchy is spectacular even in this day and age.
I toured the Fusilier’s Museum, The White Tower, and a couple other towers before finally joining the Beefeater Tour. Our tour guide was a serious entertainer and had us all laughing hard while educating us as well.
I spent another hour or so walking the walls and exploring the main tower, which is a huge museum filled with Medieval artifacts. I love this stuff and could spend all day doing it. I spent over three hours at the Tower of London.
Thames South Bank Walk
I decide to take the Thames Walk up the South Bank back to Westminster. I stop at a few sights along the way to take photos but don’t go in. I wanted to see the Globe Theater, but it is overrun by school children with a play about to begin. I decide to leave it for another trip.
Life along the South Bank is lively with lots of shops and restaurants. There is a skateboard park decorated in colorful graffiti where I stop and watch the skaters do their thing for a few minutes. I carry on along and checkout a book fair that takes place under one of the bridges.
I’ve done a lot of walking the past few days and my knees, ankles, and feet are starting to hurt. I can tell I’m getting some blisters too. All I want to do at this point is make it back to the tube station in Westminster and head home.
I grab a much deserved beer at the Stanhope Arms and some dinner before heading back to the Holiday Inn for some sleep.
Day 4 – British Museum and Laundry
Everything aches this morning. Feet, knees, hips, back, you name it and it hurts. I was on my feet for 6 hours straight the previous day. I really need to get in shape.
I’m starting to feel the loneliness of travel today. While I enjoy the sights and they keep me busy, it’s just not the same when you can’t share it with someone.
I turn on the TV and Brexit talks dominate the news and morning shows. There is a lot of talk about losing their culture. I can’t help but think that in the service industry, so far I’ve yet to meet a British Person. Everyone seems to be from somewhere else. I’m not sure what it means, but it makes me think and contemplate.
I had a fairly good sleep and made it to 6 AM, the Jet Lag seems to be waning. I’m sure all the exercise helps. I make a cup of coffee in the room before heading out.
I walk over to Bo-Bo Bubbles to drop off my laundry. The hotel laundry services were ridiculously expensive. Cost for just 1 pair of jeans was $10. At the laundry, it cost me $15 for the whole lot.
I was turned away at first because I didn’t have my own bag to leave my laundry in. I went to Tesco, bought a few things so I could get the bags. Turns out they charge 5p a piece just for the bags. A small sum, but not something we are used to in the States. I return, drop off my laundry and it will be ready by noon.
After a full English breakfast, I hop on the tube and head over to the British Museum. The weather was warm and sunny so I decided to take a walk through a park on my way to the museum. The park was lively with people walking about and many sitting and having a chat enjoying a glorious spring day.
The British Museum is simply amazing. It is filled with some of the most important historic relics from around the world. From the Rosetta Stone to Egyptian Mummies to Greek and Roman statues it is a splendid collection.
My personal favorites were the Egyptian, Assyrian, Greek, and Roman exhibits. The Easter Island Moai was cool to see too. It really makes me want to learn more about the history and these cultures.
I spent at least 4 hours walking around the British Museum, and once again my knees and ankles were toast and I needed to head home. I picked up my laundry, grabbed some food at Tesco, and had a beer at the Arms.
Food and drink in London is expensive. It’s been costing me about $25 – $30 per meal, including a few beers. The London Pilsner I like is $7 a pint.
Two more days left and I need to make the most of them. That is something this trip helped me to realize once again, life is short and I need to start making the most of every day. Live where you want to and do what makes you happy. Get out and enjoy life to the fullest every day. My life back home is dull and boring and I need to make a change.
Day 5 – Changing of the Guard and War Museum
Once again, I awake all too early at 4 AM and can’t get back to sleep. I finally get out of the room at 9AM and go to Zach’s Deli for some breakfast. The coffee is good, the eggs are scrambled and so/so. The sausage and bacon are not so good. It wasn’t bad, but not good either.
Changing of the Guard – St. James Palace
I take the Tube over to Buckingham Palace. It’s only 10 AM and the crowds are already thick with people waiting for the changing of the guard. I decide to head to St. James Palace where you can see the Guard leaving and get some great photos.
I get a great position and get some excellent shots of the troops marching out, but my camera is taking a long time to write files and I miss too many more. I follow the troops on their way to Buckingham Palace, which now looks like every tourist in the city has gathered in front of the gates.
I realize I’m not getting anywhere near the Palace and decide to head to Jerym Street and Piccadilly Circus to do some sightseeing and shopping. I stop into Floris, a custom perfumer that is known as being a favorite of James Bond, or at least Ian Fleming. I buy some No. 89 cologne and shave cream and now I smell like a posh English gent.
After dropping of my shopping haul at the hotel I still have half the day left and decided to head to the Imperial War Museum.
The Imperial War Museum
The large naval guns positioned outside the museum make an impressive entrance. I give a 5 GBP donation and grab a 1 GBP map and have a look around.
The WWI display on the first floor is excellent, at some points you are walking through the trenches as you make your way between exhibits. The reaming floors contain a collection of artifacts from various wars including WWI, the Falkland War, and Desert Storm. There are a few planes and even a V2 rocket hanging from the ceiling. It’s an enjoyable visit if you are a war history buff.
I make my way back to the North Lambert Tube Station only to find it closed. There was a sign on the door telling me to take a bus or hoof it to the next closest station, Waterloo – I chose the latter. Waterloo was a longer walk than I anticipated and with hurting ankles and feet I couldn’t wait to get there.
Waterloo is a large station and I find myself following signs, going up and down escalators, and walking down long hallways before finally reaching my station and taking my seat on the tube. I not seated for but a moment when a voice comes over the intercom telling me there are severe delays on this line and to find another option if available.
I check my iPhone London Tube app and see I can take another line and get a connection home at Westminster Station. Which is what I do.
I grab a couple beers at Tesco and decide to relax at the hotel room as my legs and feet are really hurting.
I head over to the Stanhope Arms for dinner again, the place is crowded and I have a few more beers waiting for a table. I have a nice chicken tikka curry and nan bread and finish off with a cheesecake. Yum. I have a nice chat with an American couple seated next to me who are just finishing up a six-month sabbatical. I’m jealous.
I was exhausted. I make my way back to the hotel and crash out on the bed instantly. I wake up early in the morning fully dressed, then climb into bed and finally get a full nights sleep.
Day 6 – Relaxing Walk Through Kensington Gardens
It’s Saturday and my last full day in London. I sleep in and make it out of the room before noon. I head outside and the weather is wonderful, sunny and warm. I grab a Starbucks coffee and Burger King for lunch. I’m not exactly eating healthy this trip.
I walk toward the National History Museum, taking in the wonderful old architecture along the way. I love the tree-lined streets and small little back alleys. It makes me realize I want to find a new place to live, one that reminds me of London.
The National History Museum has an unbearably long line outside so I decide to skip it and just wander around and see what I can find. I make my way North and stumble upon a sign for Kensington Gardens, so I head that way.
On my way, I come across the Royal Geographic Society, home to some of the world’s greatest explorers. The outside of the building isn’t impressive other than the statues of great adventurers David Livingstone and Ernest Shackleton. I would love to see the inside of those hallowed walls.
I make my way to Kensington Gardens and find a large statue of Prince Albert across the street from the Victoria and Albert Museum. The weather is fantastic and a perfect day for a walk, or a bike ride as I see many people cycling through the park.
I make my way to the lake and begin walking the path that circumnavigates it. I end up at the Italian Gardens where I relax for a while, taking in the fountains and pounds. It’s days like today, walking around a beautiful park in the center of London, the sun is shining, the weather is warm, not hot, but that perfect spring weather, and I can’t help but reflect on my life.
I’m living where I don’t want to live, doing what I don’t want to do, being who I don’t want to be. I’ve wasted the last 20 years of my life living a life I thought I should, not one that I wanted. I need to change things before I have a lifetime of regret.
I make my way back home after a few hours enjoying the wonderful day. I start packing my bags, regretful that I have to head to the airport tomorrow. It has been a wonderful experience in London, and I could really see myself living there.
My trip to London was a fantastic experience. The Jet Lag and strange sleep patterns caused me to waste some time I wish I’d have spent exploring, but I still managed to hit all the main sights on my list. I can see myself returning to London again, should the opportunity present itself, it is definitely one of my favorite cities I’ve visited so far.