Europe 2015 Day 1-4: London

A Europe trip was long overdue for this New Yorker. I managed to clear 19 days (flight time inclusive) to figure out how to plan such an itinerary and came up with:

Day 1 – Fly from NYC to London overnight
Day 2 – Check in hotel, brief sightseeing, sleep
Day 3,4 – Explore London
Day 5 – Daytrip to Paris via Eurostar
Day 6 – Travel to Edinburgh, sightseeing
Day 7,8,9 – Tour the Scotland highlands
Day 10 – Travel back to London, Harry Potter tour
Day 11 – Fly from London to Barcelona, sightseeing
Day 12-18 – 7 day cruise
Day 19 – Fly back home

The most challenging part is planning it all (and saving enough money as well). The flights, hotels, where to go, how to get there, things to avoid, not getting lost, saving money, optimizing time, eating, bathroom stops, what to pack, currency, backup plans for when things go wrong, survival, etc. Somehow, everything went according to plan with a few minor mishaps. Follow me on my travels as I cover the itineraries, highlights, and other random encounters and experiences.

Let’s start with London.

Day 1,2:
Before the flight, I learned that the Tube (London train service) would be out of service that day due to a strike. Lucky me. So I just arranged a £40 taxi pick-up at the airport. It worked out better actually since we (the wife and I) didn’t sleep much throughout the overnight flight. After checking in to our hotel, we had a quick bite in Borough Market (one of the largest and oldest food markets in London) and then slept for 6 hours. We dined at The Real Greek (I recommend) and then went for a stroll along the Thames river and Millennium bridge. After walking by the Shard building and St Paul’s cathedral, we headed back to the hotel to sleep and adjust.

Day 3:
The first of many long days. We walked along the Thames river (resembles the Hudson river) from London bridge to Tower bridge. I know that drivers sit in the right side of the car and all but this affects everything, especially crossing streets. After almost getting hit by a car twice, I quit my habit of habitually looking left when crossing streets and started looking to the right. Actually, I just looked both ways and ran across when roads were clear. Crossing streets are risky here. The Tower bridge is one of my all time favorite bridges.

Anyway, we walked across Tower bridge to the Tower of London which turned out to be more of a museum. There are crowds galore so get there when it opens and check out the beefeater tour. The crown jewels are there but they don’t permit photography. Check out the dragon made up of weapons, chain mail, helmets, shields, and guns; perhaps one of the most badass things I’ve seen in a museum.

There are many ways to get a bird’s-eye view of the city, but the quickest, cheapest, and most rewarding way for a tourist would be via the London Monument. For £4 and 311 steps in a narrow spiral staircase, you get the views and a certificate. I clocked a good 3 minutes to get to the top.

Friday afternoon is already party time for the British. All pubs and restaurants are full of people ready for the weekend. After several mini lunches at Borough Market (couldn’t get enough of it the first time), we headed to Camden (felt strangely familiar to NYC) via the Tube to sight-see and shop. It was quite hot that day, and the Tube was up and running finally but I noticed that the air conditioning is non-existent. Perhaps I take the NYC MTA system for granted. We then made it back in time for a Jack the Ripper tour which was quite informative regarding the history of the never-caught serial killer and the corresponding locations of the murders. Too tired to go any further, we just dined at Wagamama and crashed for the night. A pub crawl would have to wait for another day when there is energy left.

Day 4:
We made our way toward Westminster bridge early in the morning. A trip to London is incomplete without Big Ben.

The London Eye Ferris wheel is also across the river and ideal for a hadouken photo.

To avoid crowds, we made sure to arrive before 9:30am to enter Westminster Abbey. No photography is allowed inside but all I can say is, is that it’s a giant tomb for royalty and other important people from the past, and it’s all disguised as a church. There are also many large-scale sculptures if you’re into to that sort of thing.

After a brief telephone call, we headed to Buckingham Palace via Birdcage Walk to see the changing of the guard which supposedly occurs at 11:30am everyday. Bad luck strikes again; it was cancelled that day. However, we somehow had the perfect view of the guards on horses outside of the palace. People (tourists mostly) were everywhere, it felt like Central Park during marathon day.

After a brief break at St. James park, the journey continues with more walking via The Mall to Trafalgar Square; the Union Square of London. A lot of activity going on here, including a Brazil day event. Crossing streets felt like the Frogger game.

Finally, a few more blocks led us to the London version of Times Square; Piccadilly Circus. We dined at some random touristy lunch spot (forgot the name actually) and then headed back to the hotel to rest up.

Mediterranean food is my thing so naturally, we went Turkish at Tas Pide (I recommend) for dinner. The next day was gonna be a big one, so we slept in early instead of getting crazy on Saturday night. Paris awaits.

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