Thanks London, Now My Feet Hurt: South Bank, Westminster Abbey, Royal Parks, & Camden Town

Yesterday was probably one of the longest days of my life—I mean it in a good way, I suppose, although we shall see what my feet think about that if I keep this up for too long. I should add that I’m lucky to even be here right now, because when I landed at Luton airport the customs official there spent about 15 minutes absolutely grilling me. What was I planning to do in Europe? How much money did I have to spend? How did I make a living while I was in the States? Where was I going after London? Finally, he stamped my passport and let me go, but only after I started thinking it may not have been worth flying to the UK at all. I’m glad he did let me in though, because exploring this city has been fantastic.

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After trying—and failing—to sleep in Luton, I took a cheap shuttle into London and arrived around 5 AM. The first notable building I saw was the BT Tower, which happened to be right around the corner from where my bus dropped me off. Keep in mind it was absurdly early, so I really didn’t have many options in terms of finding entertaining things to do. I holed up in a McDonalds for an hour to connect to the internet and while away some time on Facebook (still need my fix, even abroad) and then decided to see the city by bike. London has a bike sharing program up there with the best of them, and for just 2 pounds daily it is extremely affordable. I might take the tube once just so I can “Mind the Gap,” but having a bike to get around has allowed me to become intimate with this city in a way that is simply impossible when you’re stuck below ground.

I started my trip near UCL and headed off to Trafalgar Square and Covent Market—I was too early for the market, but did manage to see the largest chicken I have ever seen, of any color:

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I crossed the river at South Bank and walked west, passing by the London Eye and finally walked across the bridge, right in front of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.

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While the Eye was definitely impressive, I was a little underwhelmed by the latter; they’re beautiful buildings in their own right, but I really don’t see why there is such a big fuss made about them, in particular Big Ben.

Part of why I am not so impressed by the neo-Gothic style of the Parliament building can be blamed on beautiful Westminster Abbey, which is nestled right behind it. So far, it’s the single most expensive thing I’ve paid for on this trip (more than the hostel I’m in right now, in fact) but it was worth every penny. From a historical perspective, it’s also undeniably the one thing that King Henry III got totally right—under his rule, the earls of England revolted because of Henry’s reckless attempts at taxation, and among other things, for insanely trying to buy the crown of Sicily from the Pope, who at the time had no power over the island himself. Despite being a poor ruler, at least he had great taste in architecture. Westminster is the first true Gothic cathedral I have ever had the pleasure of visiting, and I will never forget walking from the darkened North porch into the nave and staring upwards into the great stained glass rose window in the South transept.

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Since photos were not allowed inside the church I only snuck one more, of Geoffrey Chaucer’s tomb. I did have the opportunity to shoot photos of the cloisters, as well as the majestic chapter house, which featured a brilliant depiction of the Last Judgment from the Book of Revelation.

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After about two hours of marveling at Westminster Abbey I left the hushed quiet of the cloisters and returned to the cacophonous streets. Keep in mind that it wasn’t even noon and I hadn’t really slept yet, so I was desperately tired, smelly and in need of a decent bed. After some quick research in yet another McDonalds near the Eye, I departed for Kensington, about 5 miles away. As luck would have it, every bike station I came to was empty, so instead of being able to casually bike my way there, I had to settle for trudging with my heavy pack all the way through St. James Park, Green Park, and finally, Hyde Park.

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My feet were killing me by that time, and when I finally arrived at my hostel I collapsed in bed and fell asleep for six hours. When I awoke from my much-needed siesta it was only about 8 PM, so I took the opportunity to chat for the first time with my family back home. Despite a spotty connection, we were able to see each others’ faces and have some decent time together. After that, I took a bike out toward Camden Town and basically fell in love with the place. It’s got such great nightlife and people watching made for an interesting—and free—way to spend the evening. I think today I will be headed there to get a taste of the action during the day, and maybe visit a free museum (British Museum, Portrait Gallery, the list goes on!) today as well. Cheers!

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