London Calling

First off, I have to give an apology for keeping y’all in the dark for the past 2 weeks. I hit the road traveling and didn’t prepare well. The good news, though, is I took on a couple of places that I think you’ll enjoy the journey. So let’s get to it!

I have had the pleasure of traveling through London’s Heathrow airport more times than I can count in the last year. I have gotten very familiar with the British Airways lounge at Terminal 5. We’re good friends. The lounge feeds me, it rests me, gives me a much needed potty break, and then off I go. Yet, in all these stays at the airport, I’ve never actually stepped out into jolly ol’ London. What a bummer. This last trip, that all changed!

With a 12-hour layover, I finally got the chance to take London on. That’s what I’m talking about! What’s better, is that I got to take it on with a merry band of friends, including my fabulous London local, Nisa. It certainly helps to explore a place with someone who actually knows the lay of the land, particularly when you’re on a tight schedule.

Usually, when I travel and arrive to a destination, I simply walk to the baggage claim area and there is a nice guy standing with a sign that picks me up and off we go to wherever it is I’m staying. Heading out into a foreign destination without the knowledge of where I was going felt a little different. First off, I have to hand it to Nisa who waited 3 hours for me and the group to make our way out to her and find her. It’s a little challenging when you have to rely on whatever free wifi is available so you can What’sApp. Our choppy messages told me to head out to a coffee shop to meet her, but my Google maps said it was 2.5 miles away from the airport. Ummm… not so sure about that, especially since I wouldn’t have wifi and the help of my nav outside of the lounge.

So we took a chance and headed out and decided we’d figure it on the way. Off to exit the airport we went! I kind of felt like Tom Hanks in the movie The Terminal, stuck so long in the airport and about to take my first steps outside to freedom! Ok, maybe it wasn’t quite as dramatic, but it was definitely exciting. As we were about to hit the exit, some lovely ladies were pitching the express train out to London. The friendliness of Londoner’s lived up to its reputation as we put these ladies to the test about the best option on transportation. They gave us the in’s and out’s of taking the bus, the tube (yup, the tube, not the subway), or the train. A quick chat and some brief glances amongst the group and we opted to go for it. Tickets bought and now the challenge of finding Nisa.

Ten feet later, guess what? We found Nisa. At the coffee shop. Right outside the terminal. Not 2.5 miles away like Google told me. Challenge overcome! On to the train and into the heart of London we went.

Off the train and onto the tube! I felt so big city! Even waiting in the stations felt glamourous! Yes, I was such a tourist. I’m sure that the millions of people that ride the tube daily feel anything but glamourous. They probably don’t take pictures with the station signs and posters of the Queen, either. But hey, when in London…!

So here is your insider trivia if anyone ever asks you if you’ve been to London and you want to pretend that you did; every time the tube comes to a new station, there is an announcement to “Mind your step”. It was so adorable. Why thank you, recorded announcement! I felt very taken care of. It was kind of like I had my own little butler riding along with me. Nice.

Our first stop was at Westminster Abby station and on to Big Ben. Between all of the other tourists, the regular city traffic and a bit of construction going on, getting the perfect picture of the big guy proved a bit challenging, but not impossible. Admittedly, I thought that Big Ben was part of a bridge. I was wrong. It’s part of a big building that seems to go on and on. There was a gate that happened to be open with some Bobbies out front, hehe- I said Bobbies! I really have no idea if they even call the police that anymore. I forgot to ask Nisa. I thought about taking a mad dash and sneaking in past them to get on the grounds, but I figured since we only had a few hours until we had to get back to the airport, that challenge might best be saved for another time when possibly being detained wouldn’t put a crimp in the rest of the day.

Side note: When traveling to London in the winter, bring a coat. Not a hoodie, but a coat. And gloves. And a scarf. And a beanie wouldn’t be a bad idea, either. Coming from the relatively warm climate of Texas, and heading to the summer of South Africa, our little troupe wasn’t exactly dressed the best. Although, we were told that we had an amazing day of weather since the sun was shining, the temperature was low and the wind just cut right through you. Particularly when we crossed a bridge over the Thames river and there were no buildings to give you shelter. The result? Lots of pictures with very red noses. We would have made Rudolph proud.

My favorite part of our walk was actually when we got to a little section where it became an alley of old buildings that were original to centuries past. I suddenly felt like I was transported to another world and I really wanted to step back in time and feel what it must have been like to live in the hustle and bustle of this place when cars and cell phones and modern conveniences didn’t exist. I could imagine hustling along in a corset and petty coats under a full dress, carrying my little basket of whatever items I had bought. I could hear the noise of horses clomping by and local vendors hocking their wares. I could smell… well, I decided to stop at the smell. Imagine no toilets, no regular showers, did they brush their teeth? An actual blast back to the past would be fun, for a day. After that, I definitely prefer dental care and regular bathing. Still, walking down these streets made me feel like a kid in awe.

Then it came… the London Bridge! Who didn’t grow up singing songs about this bridge? I couldn’t wait to see it. And then I saw it. Just a bridge. Nothing much to it. Actually, the underside of it seemed more interesting with a London Bridge night club and a sight-seeing dungeon. Oh yeah, I don’t think I ever quite realized how much violence took place in London’s past! I think we passed 2 or 3 different dungeons that you could tour like a haunted house to experience the pain and torture that was doled out to those who got captured and imprisoned for whatever misdeeds they had done. Then there was the London Tower, which was much more than just a tower. It was a massive building that I learned was also another dungeon. Dang!

All of this had been great! It had been awesome to take on, but it was the view across the River Thames that made me giggle like a school girl! As we crossed the tower bridge, we looked on to the newest additions to the London skyline. These buildings had cool designs and names to match their shapes, like the cheese grater, the radio, the headlight. And then there it was. The Easter egg! Ok, ok, it’s not called the Easter egg, it actually has some formal name that starts with a G, but it didn’t stick with me because it looks like a giant glass Easter egg. Why did this egg-head building get me so excited? Two words: Star Trek. Yes. I have seen them all. Movies, TV series, each of them. And this building was spotted in the last Star Trek movie. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to go near it or in it, but I still breathed the same air that surrounded it! Consider this fan girl happy!

As the day came to a close, so did our jaunt on the streets. One more hop on the tube, where we minded our step, and then to the train and back to Terminal 5. I felt like we saw so much and at the same time, there was oh-so-much more to explore. Nisa and her friend Losie were awesome hostesses that took fantastic care of us. It was really quite generous of them both to take a day to just let our little group gawk in awe at the wonders they showed us. It was a fun adventure that leaves me feeling like it is to be continued…

Have you ever been to London? What was your favorite part? Maybe you have yet to go, but you know exactly what you want to see! Make sure to share it in the comments. I’d love to hear about your experience, or maybe add your must see to my list, too! Until the next time!!