London - My Preciousss! (part I)


I went to London for the first time in the summer of 2001. I had a connection flight the next day and decided to go sightseeing. I took the Underground's Piccadilli line from Heathrow to the city center. At some point, near Heathrow, the line went above the ground and I saw England for the first time in my life. The sun was shining, we were passing by some old, white, brick buildings with small windows... and at that very moment something happened. I felt this overwhelming feeling of serenity, in a way I felt "in place". I am not sure how to describe it or explain it but ever since then when I am in London, I feel exhilarated and I have the same feeling of rightness. I have been to many places but I have never experienced anything like that, not even close.

I needed a break this year and my immediate choice was London. I bought a plane ticket and booked a hotel in Westminster (near Victoria station and all main attractions) to have more time to wander about. I read some really bad reviews about the hotel the evening before I left on my trip. I got really worried. What kind of a dump I was going to? It was too late to cancel and the penalty fee was 60 pounds. There was nothing much I could do. Even, if I booked something else, how could I know what I was really booking. I decided to figure out what to do when I got there. Not a good start of my trip.

I arrived in London around 3pm local time on 11/25/2009. I went to the hotel and asked the receptionist to check out earlier. I made up some lame excuse I might be staying with friends. He said, it was too late to cancel the first two nights, but should be OK for the third one. I paid for two nights and agreed to let him know if I'd be staying the third night by the next morning. I went into my room, prepared to see dead rat bodies and cockroaches, etc. but the room was pretty decent. The sheets were clean, the heater was on, the windows were double-windows, so the noise was minimal. It was small, sure, but I didn't need a bigger one. I was glad I did not cancel. I was tired but I wanted to see London as soon as possible. I left my luggage and went out.

I had to locate the Victoria bus station first. I was taking a trip outside of London the next day and I had to find the departing spot. I didn't want to miss it. It was one block away from the hotel. Nice. Next to the bus station, I saw a GSM and Internet store and went inside. I needed an adapter for my gadgets. They had one and I also made a deal on a GSM card. Great, I had a UK number. :). I went back to the hotel, left my purchases and went out again. The weather was warm for the season, around 10C (50F) and there were a lot of people in the streets. Just the way I like it.

I took Victoria St and arrived at the Westminster Abbey. I stopped and looked at the Gothic building. It is incredible how much history there is in this building. It was build ten centuries ago and almost all of the British kings and monarchs were crowned in that building, the first ones being King Harold and William the Conqueror back in 1066. The coronation throne, on which the kings sit during the coronation process, is used since 1308. I cannot even comprehend such an old chair. Amazing.

I passed by the Houses of Parliament and stopped at the Westminsters Bridge. I have always liked and enjoyed the way the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben are lit at night and how they reflect on the water. I remembered a quote from one of the Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel about the Ankh river, a parody of the Thames - "It has been said that the Ankh is the only river in the multiverse where cops can draw a chalk outline when a corpse is found". I smiled. It was not that bad, not even close. And I noticed for the first time, how wide the river actually was. It's more than 200 meters wide at this point, very impressive.

I crossed the bridge and continued towards the London Eye. It was lit up as well and looked beautiful. I was not very impressed the first time I took a ride on the London Eye. I was excited the first 10 mins. After I saw London, I was ready to get off, however I had to stay in the capsule for 20 more mins. I bet the experience would be different at night. I decided to take a ride at night next time. There were craftsmen next to the London Eye selling original arts, ceramics, etc. "The Hammer song" was playing and several people were singing along. Gosh! I haven't heard this song in ages. I caught myself singing as I crossed the Hungerford bridge. I passed by the packed Sherlock Holmes' pub and arrived at the Trafalgar's square.

Unfortunately, the Christmas tree was not there yet. Every year the Norwegians sent a Christmas tree to London in return to British support during the WW II. I had to see that. I made another note to myself to come back for Christmas. I headed to the Piccadilly Circus. There were Starbucks shops on every corner and I was not very thrilled. I am a huge Starbucks fan and a coffee addict, but that was a little too much, perhaps. I spent some time in Trocadero. I saw some hilarious t-shirts. Some of the prints were really fresh and really made me laugh. The Piccadilly Circus was as busy as ever. There were people from all over the world, the restaurants and cafes were full, everyone was headed in a different dirrection. The city seemed so alive and full of energy. I really appreciated that moment, I must have missed the commotion.
It was almost 9 o'clock, I was feeling pretty tired and I decided to go back to the hotel... but not before I check on the Queen.

I took the Mall Street and not long after I was in front of the Buckingham Palace. There were a lot of cars passing by and some of them were even honking! I was very surprised. No wonder, the Queen calls it "the office" and complains it is noisy. The Union flag was up, she must be resting in her castle.

I went back to the hotel. It was time for me to rest, as well.


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