Sunday, September 18, 2011

Day 2: London (Sept 18)

Here's the entire Flickr set of today's pictures.

After my Virgin Atlantic flight landed on time despite a late start, I breezed through Customs (my questions were "What's your name?", "What's your purpose here?", and "When are you leaving?", I'm not sure if the Customs official even looked at me), my first order of business was to figure out where I was going. It was more difficult because there was no free wifi in the terminal, which I had been counting on. Fortunately I remembered the name of the Tube station, Kennington, and I figured out how to get from the airport to the Kennington Station. I bought a one-day Travelpass which allows unlimited use of the Tube and bus system, and gives discounts on other travel (like river cruises).

That took longer than I had anticipated as well, and so between luggage, customs, and the Tube I didn't get to the apartment until around 12:30 (my original plans were to get to Greenwich by 11:15!). My AirBNB hostess Kathryn was out of town and so I stayed a while to chat with her flatmate Louise. After changing clothes and figuring out that I could still do what I had planned, I set out to ride the Thames River cruise down to Greenwich.

Two stops and a transfer later, I exited the Westminster Tube station on the bank of the Thames River and had my first (of many, no doubt) "Holy Shit!" moment of the trip. There, right in front of me, was the London Eye, and just off to my right was Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. I'm really here!

I got to the boat ramp just a couple minutes too late and saw the boat take off. My Travelpass got me a 1/3 discount, which was nice. The next boat left 15 minutes later and we set off on the trip down river to Greenwich. Along the way the captain pointed out the sights, including the London Eye, the Courtauld Gallery, the Tate Modern, the Globe Theater, the Tower of London, the Tower Bridge and the HMS Belfast. Finally made it to Greenwich only to find that the Royal Observatory's last entry was 4:30pm, and I wouldn't make it up the hill until 4:45pm. Oh well. I got to walk around the building, though, and although I didn't get to straddle the Prime Meridian that goes through the Observatory next to the astrolabe, there was an extension of that line that the non-payers got to stand on. I also set my watch to the official GMT time and check out a surveyor's mark from 1692. After checking out what I could on top of the hill, including a magnificent view of the city, I wandered around the downtown area for a little while and popped into a Fish & Chips place for dinner. The sign on the shop said they had been there for over 300 years.

I took the Tube back to Westminster before dusk - there was a reason I had been carrying my camera tripod all day. I took a lot of photos of the Eye, Big Ben, and Parliament at sunset, dusk, and after dark. I got lucky and it was only slightly overcast, so got some great shots. Then I crossed the Westminster Bridge and took photos of the Eye all lit up, and walked along the Jubilee Walk along the southern shore.

From there, I followed the Rick Steves Westminster Walk which starts at the bridge and goes past Big Ben, turning down Parliament Street towards Trafalgar Square. The walk highlighted the history of the area and pointed out the Cenotaph, #10 Downing Street (I had a nice chat with the bobby in front of the gates, after first asking permission to take photos - you can't see #10, it's around a corner, but there's lots of security), the Horse Guards and the Banqueting House, and finally into Trafalgar Square.

That was enough for me, with my long day and lack of sleep, so I got on the Tube at Charing Cross and made my way back to the house, where I chatted with Louise about my day, and got my pack ready for the next day's journeys. My original plan was to take an 8:00 hop on/off bus tour of the city but I decided there was no way I was getting up that early, I'd change that to a night tour instead. I got to sleep around 3am.

Here's the entire Flickr set of today's pictures.

(Originally posted 9/22/11 at 12:05am, London)

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