Ello there London!
Sunday, September 21st
I arrived in London at the ass-crack of dawn, 6:30am is when my bus pulled into Victoria train station, and was immediately lost. Seriously, London is huge and intimidating and DO NOT try to figure out the bus system on no sleep. It was immediately apparent that I wasn’t in small town Sweden anymore. I eventually navigated to the correct bus route and headed out to the hostel I was splurging on for the next few nights.
The hostel that I was staying at was called New Cross Inn Hostel (don’t know why they had to have both Inn and Hostel in there) which I had found for a great deal on Airbnb. It was a bit more ‘big box’ hostel then what I had wanted but it was going to serve its purpose wonderfully. They let me throw my pack into the luggage room, scarf down some of the free breakfast for the day, and then I was off back to downtown for a day I had been looking forward to for years…. The Group was going to be reunited!
The Group was my close group of friends during my backpacking trip through New Zealand in January 2012. Made up of four Londoners (Claire, Andy, Rachel, and Alexandra) and myself, we were instant friends and they without a doubt made my New Zealand trip the incredible experience that it was.
I made my way to Euston station where I was reunited with Rachel after two and a half years! Rachel is this crazy, wonderful human being who provided much of the comic relief during the trip and it was so incredible to see her again. She had a walking route all planned out for the morning until we met Claire and Andy at Victoria Station, too! She took me through Covent Garden where we saw an opera singer performing, through Trafalgar Square and past St. James and Buckingham Palace, and then down to Victoria Station. We grabbed a beer while we were waiting for Claire and Andy and we all let out a huge, “KaKaaaaw!” when we were all finally together. It was so amazing to have them there with me. They were a huge, massive reason why I made London a destination on my trip and it was so good for it all to come together.
The four of us continued our tour of London past Westminster, Big Ben, and Parliament, crossed the Jubilee Bridge, ate lunch at an Italian restaurant off of Trafalgar, and had some drinks in Jubilee Gardens. It was incredible to be walking through London with all of them and at some points I just took a step back and smiled as the three of them all bounced back and forth with conversation going a thousand miles a minute. Clair and Andy were the same as I remembered them. Their relationship and the constant sarcasm and wit that surrounds them was a constant sense of joy on our trip in NZ and the same could be said for today. What made it even better was that Claire was pregnant and due in just a week or two. It was magnificent. My cheeks hurt from the constant laughing and smiling before the day was even halfway over.
While the day was missing one of the original Group, it was such an incredible day and even if it had been the one day I had in London would have been completely worth the cost and time it took me to get there.
Monday, September 22nd
I enjoyed another free brekky before heading to London Bridge station to explore the city. I walked past Monument to St. Paul’s Cathedral where I went exploring for a few hours. The Cathedral is beyond gorgeous and absolutely massive. I embraced my rebel spirit and snuck a few pictures while I was there before climbing up into the dome for an incredible view of the city and descending into the crypts to see all the final resting places of famous dead people. It was quite a wonderful few hours! I then walked up to Kings Cross Station, stopping at the food carts in Exmouth Market along the way. When I got to Kings Cross I embraced my inner wizard and went to platform 9 3/4 where, for just a fleeting moment, I might have hoped that the brick wall actually did lead to a secret world of magic, moving pictures, and dragons. Mainly dragons.
I decided to cope with my deep disappoint over my muggle-ness by taking the subway down to the Natural History museum. This is one of the many museums in London that are free and everyone knows that the second best thing to live dragons are dead dinosaurs so it made perfect sense! I spent a few hours in the museum perusing their collection of animatronic ancient reptiles, shiny rocks, and taxidermy specimens (which they admit is growing old and faded but they dont refresh due to the demand it would create for endangered species poaching) before making my way back to my hostel. I spent the evening skyping with Sara about life and if or travel plans would be able to match up or not. I ended the night by exploring the depths of the discount theatre ticket market in which, much to my delight, I found a deeply discounted ticket for tomorrow’s Phantom of the Opera performance. My wallet and logic got the best of me though and I didnt purchase it.
Thursday, September 23rd
The first thing I did Thursday morning was buy my ticket to Phantom of the Opera. See how long that lasted? I was beyond excited for this opportunity, as Phantom has been my favorite musical ever since I read it in 8th grade. And I was going to see it in London, of all places!
I had a full day of exploring to do before the show, so I headed back to London Bridge station to begin my tour of the Thames. I walked across London Bridge, explored the entire outside of London Tower (which is super expensive to get into but had an impressive display of red lilly flowers all around its walls in remembrance of World War I soldiers with each flower marking a single death), and then followed the bank all the way to the Millennium Bridge. Thankfully it wasn’t being ripped apart by Death Eaters while I crossed so I was able to make it to the other side and see the Globe Theatre! I almost bought a standing room ticket for a performance that afternoon but decided that Phantom would be more than enough theatre for a day. My next stop was the London Eye, that giant ferris wheel that is apparently the only thing that exists in London according to Hollywood, where I rode up high above the skyline for some truly incredible views. I also met an eloping couple who was getting married in front of the Eiffel tower the next afternoon, so that was pretty awesome.
I took the train out to Earls Court, which gave me just enough time to see Kensington Palace (I was under strict orders to find Kate by a dear friend in Louisville but unfortunately I was unable to accomplish this), explore the massive Hyde Park where I saw the Diana memorial, and finally the Wellington Arch and all the war memorials at the entrance to St. James Park. I ate dinner on the steps of Trafalgar Square with a trio of dancers performing below and a massive, blue chicken watching from above.
I was beside myself as I walked up to Her Majesty’s Royal Theatre. Just the name is impressive! I did take a sigh of relief when I saw the attire of the other patrons. I wouldnt stand out too much in my hiking boots and tech shirt.
Even though I was in the very last row of the very highest balcony (I looked down onto the chandelier if that gives you an idea) I was still giddy with excitement. And even with my incredibly high expectations I still walked out absolutely baffled at how perfect and emotional the show was. The Phantom took a bit of getting used to but I soon was captivated by his raw, emotional performance. My favorite was definitely Christine though. Her voice was perfect. The sets and props were all phenomenal, with my favorite being either the graveyard or Opera rooftop scene. The show made me laugh (whether it was improv or not the performers put some pretty witty humor into some scenes) and cry multiple times. Music of the Night and the Phantom professing, “Christine, I love you,” definitely brought tears to my eyes. After the show was over I made it back to my hostel and fell asleep so I could dream about wizards and phantoms.
Wednesday, September 24th
I had an early morning so I could catch my bus from London to Paris. Note to readers, try to avoid going through rush hour public transport with a 70L pack. It is no fun.
I made it the Victoria bus station with time to grab some groceries and take one last peak at those big double decker buses. It would be a long, 10 hour ride over land and sea (or under the sea I guess).
Unfortunately the wifi on the bus wasn’t working for my phone again but I was able to get a lot of planning/mapping of what I wanted to do for the rest of the trip done.
And just like that, before I even knew it, I was in Paris!!