Travel - Europe

City Lights

26. London, UK

(Actual Trip Date: October 29 – 31, 2010)

I classify my travels into city-city sightseeing or going some place to witness the marvels of nature. And after three months of traveling, I can say that my favorite city-city is London in the United Kingdom.

I didn’t really know what to expect going to London, except that I really wanted to go just because it’s one of the tourist hot spots of the world. After train troubles and plane troubles (300 euros for a train seat and 100 euros for an airplane seat? No thank you!), we ended up taking a ferry across the cold English waters for half the price of an airplane seat. While ferry travel was slow and took up the entire day, it was rather pleasant for us since we just got done with a hellish week of finals. Lounging around on board, we slept, talked, read, experienced a small ’bout of dizzy spells, and then ate our first British meal: fish and chips!

One of the best things about backpacking is all the people you meet. While on the train to the port we needed to go to board our ferry, we met two ladies, one a part-time model with lovely dark features and another girl fluent in several languages, including English, and one of the funniest people I’ve met. I don’t even remember what we talked about but it left a lasting impression. Furthermore, while on the train from the port to London, we met a small British boy who swears he was older than he actually looked. He amused us the entire ride by being completely sarcastic and pseudo-macho while his grandpa read the magazine behind him and shook his head in exasperation. He told us coming to London was a mistake, but I beg to differ after the two days I had in the city.

The morning of our first day there we went on the Fat Tire Bike Tour (quite recommended) and I was blown away by the beauty of London’s parks. I never expected them, in the upcoming winter, to be quite so green and elegant, complemented by the rich gold and crimson leaves swinging off the trees. And luckily for us, we happened to experience half a day of sunshine before the usual London rain fell through. I say the best places to go in London just for relaxation or to read a good book would be the parks. Adopting the aura of the parks around, even the memorial dedicated to Princess Diana was tranquil and gorgeous.

What made my day? Seeing a rainbow over the blue-gray waters of London.

Shopping advice: People say there that the best place to shop is Oxford Street. That may be true if you like catastrophic crowds equivalent to China, but there are great stores on the street (your usual Gap, H&M, Fossil, Zara). For me, not an avid shopper, after trying to wade through those crowds for a couple hours, it gets tiring. So either avoid Oxford Street or go at an odd hour on an odd weekday.

Places to eat: London is quite expensive with the conversion from euros to pounds. I somehow managed to spend only 100 pounds in two days, excluding the price of my hostel and the ferry ticket. We figured out pretty quickly that the cheapest places to eat is to walk into a pub and look at their menu. Otherwise the prices at restaurants can be quite steep. We then venture into one the second night we were there though since we wanted to try some more English food. I don’t really know what constitutes as English food but the sampler dish I got was pretty tasty.

London is definitely a place of sight-seeing. In just two days, I got to see most of it by walking leisurely around, but I still wished I had a couple more days to take a walk through the park, lie on a bench and read, feed the ducks, see the Peter Pan statue, and just enjoy the lively city more.

(What also is quite refreshing since I have traveled to so many places where I struggle to maintain communication is the fact that everyone speaks English!)

Favorite sights?

Well, first of all, everything is prettier by night. Seeing the Big Ben, Parliament, and the London Eye in all near proximity within one another was breathtaking when the sun was down. The London Eye’s changing colors reflected off the water and men rolled steaming wagons of delicious, tasty, but most importantly, warm peanuts down the sidewalks.

By day, Westminster Abbey is a sight to behold, but having the experience to walk inside was even greater. Being a Buddhist, I’ve never had the opportunity to walk and stay for a whole church service, but in London, I took a chance and went to the service being held that morning. My first service and it was spectacular. Walking past so many graves of different famous people like Newton was awe-inspiring! When am I ever going to have the chance to do this again? Buckingham Palace was also magnificent to behold from afar; not as great as other palaces I have seen, but it was satisfactorily pleasing to watch the guards.

Now, being in London, all my friends and I went Harry Potter crazy. I felt like everything we saw, we related to Harry Potter. In the morning service in Westminster Abbey, they mentioned Harry Potter! Then hours later, I was on the Millenium Bridge which was the start of the sixth Harry Potter movie, and then by the end of the day, we had taken pictures at Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station! (I have to say though that Platform 9 3/4 is quite the understatement. The cart is incredibly small…)

The one thing I regret though was not being able to go to the Harry Potter Movie 7 Part One Premiere. That would have been spectacular.

But all in all, London is a spectacular city and one I wouldn’t mind taking a week vacation to again. With the lively voices and brilliant lights equivalent to New York’s Times Square on the Piccadilly Street, the unexpected aura of peace in the parks, and the scintillating nights reflecting off the Thames River at night, it is the place to be.

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