Our journey from the airport to our first AirBnB in London was very long. A bus, 2 trains, and a bit of walking later, we arrived at the first place (we moved to a different one on Monday). After washing up a bit, we went to a local pub and had meat pies and beer (or in my case, cider). Y’all. Random pub on the edge of London and the food was SO GOOD!! Yes, we were super hungry, but I think it was also just really good food.
Our first experience of staying in an AirBnB that we booked has been…underwhelming. It is very inexpensive, and although it takes a while to get into the city it’s very doable. However, it’s also pretty grimy…and the bed is excruciating. We finally figured out that it’s actually broken (the bed) which explains the bizarre and epic dips in the mattress. At about 1 AM, early on Saturday, we figured out a solution. David slept atop the comforter, diagonally on the mattress (which is pretty comfortable actually, it avoids the dips) and I slept on the floor on the mattress topper. David used a towel as a “blanket” and I use a sheet.
You know what…it worked.
Our first full day in London was Saturday. And wow, what a day it was!! We had a slower morning than hoped, but eventually got on a bus to downtown London. Yes, it was a double-decker bus, and yes we rode on the top right up front. It was very fun and we could see where the inspiration for the Knight Bus, squeezing through tight spaces, came. From up top your perspective is wider and it seemed like we were constantly squeezing through tight spaces. At one point a bunch of tree branches smacked into the window right in front of my face, and I couldn’t stop giggling.
Once we got downtown, we boarded our hop-on, hop-off bus tour. We saw St.James’ Palace and some of the shops with which the Royal Family does business. The shoe shop where Prince Philip gets his shoes, for example, sells shoes for £2000. The place where the Queen buys her wine has an average bottle go for £24,000 (!!!).
After just a few stops, however, the tour guide mentioned that it was the observance of the Queen’s birthday that day, and that we should get off the bus if we wanted to see the festivities and have a chance at seeing the Royal Family. We got off a couple stops later (after frantically whispering, and being confused as to why no one else got off) and walked across Green Park, following the crowds, to the gate at Buckingham Palace.
And. Y’all. We saw the end of the Trooping of the Color, including seeing THE QUEEN and many other members of the Royal Family. I was most excited to see the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, and her children George and Charlotte. I adore Kate’s sense of style and her personality seems genuine and kind as well. (Fun fact : we are both 5’10”.) We also saw the Royal Air Force fly over the Palace which was really exciting and cool.
We were so floored by this experience that we walked away saying to each other, “we just saw the Queen of England. THE QUEEN!” There were large crowds streaming out of Green Park along with us. We went to a Marks & Spencer store across the street (thanks Jenny for the recommendation!) and got sandwiches, water, & a Victoria sponge muffin to try. It was all very tasty and our experience was heightened by the group of women (we think it was a bachelorette party — or as they much more cutely call it here, a hen party) sitting nearby, screaming the words along to “Man! I Feel Like A Woman” by Shania Twain while drinking champagne. I was surprised (and pleased) that British women know all the words to that song, too. David commented, “see? This is why drinking in public is a good thing.”
After lunch, we got back on the tour bus and finished the “circuit.” We saw many exciting sights, including the Victoria Tower (which CONTAINS a bell called Big Ben, but which is NOT Big Ben. okay folks. we got it.), Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and a peek down the long lane into Buckingham Palace.
The tour ended at The Tower of London, where we could board a River Cruise included in our bus tour ticket. Before doing that, we visited the London Wall, built in 200 AD by the Romans. It’s always so bizarre to see structures of that age just…sitting there, in the midst of people eating ice cream and talking on their cell phones.
We also visited All Hallows By The Tower church. It is the oldest church in the City of London (which is not the same thing as London, but a part of London) and I was pleased to see a notice in their entryway that they are an Inclusive Church. It was a peaceful and fascinating place to visit. We even went downstairs into a small “chapel” to St.Clare which was VERY small and a bit spooky — turns out it used to be a tomb.
We then went down to the docks by the Tower of London and went on our river cruise. We weren’t super impressed, but it was fun to be on the water and see many of the sights of London from Father Thames himself. I fell in love with Tower Bridge. What a gorgeous structure!
As we left the river cruise, we happened upon this awesome statue of Boudica. We learned about her in a documentary about the history of London that we watched a couple of months ago. Boudica was a Queen of the Celtic Iceni tribe, and she led an uprising against the Romans in 60 AD and died after it failed. She seems like a complete badass. If anyone knows of a good novelization of her story, let me know.
Sunday was busy, too. We got up early and headed into the city to attend church at Westminster Abbey. It was an amazing experience and I’m SO glad we went. I expected it to be packed, but there really weren’t so many of us there. We were actually in the second row of seats (there were several seating sections, going out from the altar in three directions). Yes, the choir was there and sang. Yes, it was gorgeous. Yes, the boys really do wear those frilly collars. (And yes, they really are little kids. It was very cute to see how, although they were very focused during singing, they scratched their noses and stared at the ceiling during the sermon and prayers like any normal kid.) The sermon was given by Reverend Jane Sinclair, and dealt with how stories tell the truth more than history sometimes can. Receiving communion was, for me, a really wonderful spiritual experience. I always get a lot out of communion, but this was a pretty special one.
Sunday afternoon we went SHOPPING. Not exactly a complement to the morning, but fun nonetheless. I was very excited to go to a store called Long Tall Sally that specializes in clothes for women 5’8″ and up! I bought a lovely dress and tried on pajamas pants that were at least 6″ too long.
Today (Monday) we moved to our new AirBnB, which is SO MUCH NICER. Photos to come I am sure. We have an en suite bathroom, coffee and tea station in the room, and the location is way better. The bed is still not super comfortable (when will the world learn that spring mattresses are stupid and awful?? I will never understand) but given that I already fell asleep on it twice by accident, I think it will be fine.
After dropping off our bags, we went to take a ride on the London Eye! It was super fun.
Afterwards we got lunch by the river (hot dogs and frozen yogurt from fancy food carts) and then came back to the AirBnB, where we have been relaxing (and where I have been finishing this EPIC blog post) all afternoon. In a few minutes, we’re headed to the park across the street with sandwiches, and then we’re planning to go to bed at like literally 8:45 or 9 PM. We’ve been walking well over 10,000 steps per day (I can confirm this due to my FitBit’s enthusiastic buzzing) and getting usually a bit under six hours of sleep. 😀 This is obviously not sustainable!!
If you got through this huge blog post, kudos to you. We’re excited to spending the rest of the week continuing to explore lovely old London town!