Our first impressions of London were the usual frets and worries of a new place. We wanted to do things correctly and not make fools of ourselves, its human nature. This is not easy in a land where everything is quite different than what we are used to. But, we arrived with open minds and some friendly tips and advice from family and friends. This eased the transition somewhat and gave us an entry point that set us up for success.
Lines. Nothing can prepare you for lines. Endless lines. Lines that don’t seem to ever move. When all of our preparation to go, go, go lead to this one situation over and over – waiting in lines. Lines. Lines to get on the plane. Lines to go to the bathroom. Lines to get off the plane. Lines to go up the escalator. Lines to get through customs. Lines to get your luggage. Lines to get a cab. Lines to get money at the ATM. Lines getting tickets for the tube. Lines to check in to a hotel. Lines. Unavoidable.
We got screwed by the cab driver. A short ride from Heathrow ran us $78. Yowza! We were tired and lost and couldn’t find our way to anything except the line of black cabs. Perhaps they design the exits to flow that way. We knew it was the worst option. But, we just wanted to finally arrive – somewhere. So we paid the price and found the first hiccup at the end of our short cab ride. ATM cards work great in the UK if they happen to be chip cards. It seem the whole of England has forgotten how to swipe. Ugh. With some coaching from the hotel bell boy the cab driver figured out how to run the card manually. Disaster averted.
Our hotel was a bright spot. Every single employee was courteous and helpful and service oozed from them in good mornings and good day sirs. The hotel rooms in Europe are insanely small but you can get by once you get used to it. We tend to waste a lot of space in the US, and you start to realize that maybe the UK has this right. Less is truly more. Our beds were a sanctuary of softness and warmth. Amazing sheets, pillows, comforters and even wool blankets. Splendid. The bathroom while also small was clean and functional. Look out, the water is HOT! Wow! But, the bath sheets were enormous and softer than any we’ve ever used. Luxurious is our hotel.
We walked the 3 blocks to our tube station (Gloucester) and purchased our Oyster cards. This allows us to ride any tube with just tapping our cards in and out of gates. Slick. The tube was so cool and easy to get around on. It was important for me since I hate renting cars and had nightmares of driving on the wrong side of the road. Gloucester was great and we found we could get anywhere we wanted to go with a short tube ride or two. The stations like Victoria and Kings Cross were important sites for us just to visit.
Getting cash was pretty easy too. We were warned to watch out for sketchy ATMs. We found it best to use the inside ATMs at actual banks like HSBC. We could figure the price conversions in our head pretty easy after a while and got used to the change and proper denominations. With cash in hand and an Oyster card for the tube you can conquer the entire city of London. Nothing is out of reach if you have cash, the tube and oh yea a chip card. 🙂 Wish I had one of those. A couple times Alyssa had to make a big purchase with her card, our only chip card. Duh.
Breakfast at our Hotel Xenia was awesome. We were worried about the food and this was a pleasant surprise. I had paid a little extra on our hotel reservation for full breakfast. It was worth it. The buffet alone was top notch. Fruits and breads and cheeses galore. They thought us crazy when we declined tea or coffee daily. We drank juice and they could not understand how we could wake up without tea or coffee. The addiction continues. The juice was wonderful. The pastries and breads were to die for. Then we ordered omelets. Wow. Can’t say enough about this hotel. A treasure in Kensington.
Next door was super market type store called Sainsbury. We could get anything we needed there and prices were quite affordable. I even bought a new shirt there for ten pounds that was very nice since I packed light. We bought shaving gel and razors and a few items that do not travel well. Just dumped them at the hotel. We got our money’s worth I am sure.
Ohh the cars. We must have been in the Beverly Hills of London. I was so enamored by the beautiful automobiles that past by our hotel at regular intervals. Cars that you never see in the US were driving by on daily commutes or off to the gym. In ten minutes of standing with my mouth agape I saw the following. Rolls royce, Bentleys, Maseratis, Ferraris, Lamborghini and countless Mercedes, Beemers and Audis. What fun to hear them coming up the street. One morning at breakfast 27 lambos drove by on some sort of car club ride. After a few days of this I felt I could hear the difference between a Porsche and a Lambo with my eyes closed. What joy!
Blending in is a joke. The entire city is full of gawking tourists dressed weirder than you. If you want to blend in London you need a navy business suit and snappy shoes. Then you’ll look like your just going to work even with that Victoria’s Secret shopping bag under your arm. The whole town is used to dodging around idiotic tourists. Just get used to saying sorry a lot. Like how we always walked on the right side of the sidewalk and expected the whole of London to swerve around us. Idiotic tourists!
Ohh the people. I am not sure we ever saw any actual folks from London town. We saw people from every corner of the planet earth. We heard dozens of languages as we walked down the street to our tube station. A diverse place indeed. Perhaps the very thing that makes the UK great is this mixing together of hundreds of religions and diverse peoples. It was a dazzling thing to see. We are quite closed minded back home in the USA, and perhaps doubly so in Orderville, UT. I imagine this is what New York is like. Or at least how it used to be. Welcoming all from every corner of the earth, come and be free and live with us in harmony.
We were not prepared for the oldness of England. What a wonderful surprise that buildings can stand for hundreds even thousands of years. Our experience in Utah is that anything around 100 years old is falling over and caving in. Perhaps that is our own creation, this hurry up and build a house mentality. Like pioneers or settlers trying to get a shelter up before winter. Thinking that we will build a better house later and then later never comes. These grand structures of stone and wood in England put anything I have seen in America to shame. Except perhaps the LDS temples like Manti and St. George. They have the look of lasting like the castles and churches of London.
We walked freely each day down random streets just wandering. We never felt unsafe or out of place, just exploring. The streets, while not clean – were organized and laid out well for foot traffic. We enjoyed long walks and green parks such as we have never seen. The spring blossoms and bulbs brought a color and vibrance to the area. We were constantly stopping and taking pictures of everything. A blossom, a building, a duck or goose – everything was new and exciting. Every corner brought a fresh surprise and more eye candy.
The weather turned out to be a lie. We were told to bring umbrellas and jackets, to expect clouds and rain. We found none. Each day we awoke to sunshine and beautiful weather. My jacket was only used in the evenings. On the last day it was finally cloudy and we knew this is what they were talking about. A gloomy look and feel. But, not to us. Our weather was ordered up special for a trip of a lifetime with father and daughter. It was perfect. Every single day.
We did a lot of things and we walked everywhere. But, we never once set foot in a museum. I am sure we missed something, but it was never on our agenda. We walked by them and up to them just never inside them. The sites we wanted to see were book shops and waffle stands. The every day things that Londoners may take for granted. We wanted to do more than check sites off of a list. We wanted to feel like we lived in London. We felt the crush of people crowding into the tube at 5:00 pm on a Tuesday at Oxford Circus. We tasted the lovely ice creams from the street vendors.
Our last day was spent shopping in earnest. We wanted to get something special for each member of our little family. It took us an entire day to get the job done. We would often get distracted by things that we liked. I had crepes with pepperoni and peppers and cheese. We had the most exquisite cupcakes at a stand in the tube. We spent hours in a book shop on Picadilly. The last day might have been the most fun. Looking for the perfect gifts for the ones we love.
People may say that we missed this or that. They may say that we were crazy not to see the crown jewels. We may never know if we missed anything great. This was our trip and each day was custom made specifically for us. Each double decker bus and honking cab seemed to be carefully choreographed parts of a grand play meant only for us. This was our London. This was our experience. It was wonderful and we leave with a feeling that this could be home. The feeling that we are welcome here, we belong.
What an amazing town. What a splendid trip. We are so blessed.