The thought of London has always brought with it so many thrilling connotations; Big Ben; red double-decker buses; Westminster; fish and chips; West End; Wimbledon; shopping; ‘mind the gap’; the London Eye; and of course all the streets, suburbs and railway stations from one of my favourite childhood games, Monopoly. I had a never-ending list of sights and activities I wanted to experience, and I had only one short week to go about ticking these off.
My first challenge was customs; and the latest episode of Border Control may well feature yours truly. Because I had no student visa in my new passport combined with the fact that I’d been in Europe for over 6 months, I was technically an over-stayer, much to the delight of the bully questioning me. With no phone to prove that I was a student, it wasn’t until a few hours later that I finally escaped Stansted airport and began my journey into London, the address of my friend’s house simply scrawled on a serviette. Thankfully the London underground is so easy to use (an Oyster card is 110% worthwhile!) and I arrived at Debbie’s a short time later (with plans to move to another friend Donna’s, later in the week). ‘Twas an early night that night, with tomorrow being a new day, new start and of course, a new phone. It only took me one short week to absolutely fall in love with London; here is a small part of what I managed to accomplish:
- St Paul’s Cathedral: Surprisingly, it was one of my absolute favourite things in London. It may cost £16 to enter, but the few hours I spent there were well worth it, especially after I learnt that this is where Princess Diana got married. Here I discovered my love for audio guides; information about the cathedral was broken down into sections and I could move through at my own pace. Climbing the dome to the Whispering Gallery is a must; you can whisper into the wall and its heard 32 metres behind you. Then onwards and upwards to both the Stove Gallery and the Golden Gallery which provided spectacular London views. The gardens down below are also perfect for a picnic, or as in my case, a well-needed nap in the sun.
- Riding the underground at peak time: I rode in with my friend Donna – they were so ridiculously crammed that we watched six go past before we found one that we could mush ourselves onto. I avoided peak time after that, although it was always entertaining seeing the corporate men untucking themselves on the metro and burying their noses into their newspapers on the trip home. I caught the tube to Kings Cross Station, which is also the home of Platform 9 ¾ – the entry point for Hogwarts. Unfortunately my Muggle born self didn’t make it through the wall – I had to settle for a photo instead. Not far from Kings Cross is the British Library; with a wide range of interesting things, including the Magna Carta and the original lyrics to some of the Beatles songs.
- Buckingham Palace: I was advised to get to the Palace at least an hour before the changing of the guard at 11.30am to ensure myself a good spot, and I learnt my lesson; when I arrived about 30 minutes before it was due to begin the place was packed, however being a solo traveller with a sweet smile, I managed to wrangle myself a relatively good spot. Afterwards something bizarre happened; as I was leaving I heard someone call my name, and upon locating the source of the voices, I was delighted to find it was the same two scarfies I had bumped into in Naples! You don’t expect to bump into people you know on the other side of the world, let alone the same people twice. It was lovely spending the rest of the day with Claire and Tim, picnicking in St James Park before ambling around the bustling city that is London.
- Monopoly Mania: After locating the Prime Minister’s house, we continued onwards to Trafalgar Square, Picadilly Circus, Regent Street and finally Oxford Street. My first impressions of Regent Street were fantastic, due to it being pedestrian only on Sundays throughout July. It goes without saying that shopping in London is fantastic, however peak time at Primark is something to avoid; I was so overwhelmed I had to leave. A must visit for any M&M lover is M&M World, located near Leicester Square. Three stories packed full of colourful chocolatey, overpriced deliciousness, with the wallls covered in pick’n’mix M&Ms – every different colour and colour arrangement you can think of, in both normal and peanut M&Ms.
- Camden Markets: so many incredible markets to choose from, unfortunately I only had time to visit one – although it’s said to be one of the best. With all the free food that the stalls give away, I did not even need to buy lunch! However, if you are still hungry after your visit here, it may not be a bad ideal to indulge in a traditional English Pub Meal. My first was for the World Cup final where I tried an authentic Yorkshire pudding and of course I had to go out again to grab some good ol’ fish and chips.
- Harrods: Expensive, surreal, sophisticated and beautiful. What else can I say? To recover from your shopping, head along to Hyde Park where huge is an understatement. Home to Kensington Palace, it is bordered by so many tube stops that I stumbled across it numerous times, unintentionally. I scoped out the Peter Pan Statue, as well as the Princess Diana Memorial (which sadly did not even come close to doing the Princess any kind of justice).
- Tower of London: Despite my best intentions to get there on opening, the queues weren’t too bad an hour later when my bus did finally arrive. I headed straight to the Crown Jewels and definitely beat the queues there (which grew exponentially as the day went on). Although I explored by myself and then finished the day with a free tour by a Beefeater, I would recommend doing a tour as soon as possible because it not only gives you your bearings, but increases your understanding from the get go. From the Tower of London I crossed the Tower Bridge, walked past Shakespeare’s Globe and the London Eye (the longest queue I had seen for anything in my entire life), before winding up back at Westminster.
- Westminster and Parliament: You could wander around the grounds for hours just exploring and there are also various sites you can enter. Sadly I did not have time to go in and watch Parliament in action; however I did have time to attend a 45 minute service at Westminster Abbey, an extremely fine example of Early English Gothic-style architecture. This meant entry was free (rather than £15), and hearing the choir and clergy put me in a trance that transported me right back to my school days.
- Notting Hill: Being a huge fan of the movie, I couldn’t wait to go. However when I arrived I was disappointed to hear that both the café and the bookshop have ceased to exist. Instead I had to settle for a wander around the suburb – fortunately the Portobello markets and streets were undeniably cute.
- Wimbledon: Although I was a week late for the actual tournament, this day was a dream come true. It cost £22 for the museum and a tour of the grounds. After almost missing my tour because I rode 15 stops on the bus in the wrong direction, I was ecstatic to finally arrive. Fun fact of the day: Aorangi Hill (aka Henman Hill/Murray’s Mount – the hill everyone sits on outside the main court with a big screen) is named after NZ’s highest mountain because it was the exact piece of land that the NZ Rugby Club used to lease. I got to see the winner’s trophies and have my photo taken in the player’s interview room.