We got to the London Stansted Airport very early in the morning and our plan was to take an early EuroStar to Paris. We took a bus from the Airport to St. Pancras Railway station.
As we walked in, we were met by some security guards. They asked us if we had tickets for the train. We told them that we did not, expecting them to tell us to leave. They told us that the ticketing counter opens at 6:00 am and that we were welcomed to hang around in the vicinity. They pointed to a fake grassy area. We looked in the direction they were pointing and saw two people fast asleep, or passed out on the Astroturf.
So, naturally, we slept on the Astroturf too. Luckily for me, it was right next to a 24hr Starbucks, so I ate some yogurt before fluffing my backpack and falling asleep.
At 6:00 am we went to the EuroStar ticketing office and bought tickets to and from Paris.
There weren’t many tickets available so we got ones for Wednesday to Paris coming back on Friday in 1st class. (My brother paid for the first class tickets. Thanks Malcolm!) Then we headed out to look for a hostel.
My brother was a bit worried because I, in my usual manner, did not make any reservations at a hostel. My plan was to just show up. I told him that there are many hostels near the Bayswater tube station, so we should just go there and look around.
He really wanted to go to an internet cafe to look for places to stay. But since it was still so early in the morning, and most internet cafes weren’t open, it would have been a waste of time. My mom and I left him outside an internet cafe waiting for it to open. By the time it did we had found a place to stay at the Smart Hyde Park Inn, which was good since we had forgotten to leave him any money to pay for internet time.
Malcolm started to have fun
My brother’s biggest complaint during the trip was the lack of ice for his drinks. When ordering a coke in China a waiter would hand him a room temperature bottle of cola. He would then ask for a glass of ice.
waiter: I’m sorry sir, are you sick?
Malcolm: No. I want some ice for my drink.
waiter: For your drink?
Malcolm: Yes, I would like a cold drink. May I have some ice.
Malcolm: It’s a hot day. I would like a cold drink.
waiter: Would you like me to get you a fan?
Malcolm: No, just some ice…
waiter: I’m sorry, but we don’t have ice for drinks.
He had this conversation in every restaurant. All the waiters were perplexed as to why a man would want his drink colder than room temperature. No one had ice for drinks.
Determined not to give up, he set out to look for restaurants with their drinks kept on display in refrigerators. We walked past restaurant after restaurant until we found one. We sat down at a table and ordered our food. Then Malcolm walked over to the fridge to grab a nice cold Fanta and the Fanta was warm.
The refrigerator was unplugged. It was being used more like a display case for drinks rather than a cooler. Malcolm was defeated.
In Russia and Finland it was cold, so even room temperature drinks would be cold. But in London, Malcolm got all the ice he wanted with his drinks.
He was most happy about speaking English again. Though I must say that for being in Russia for only 2 days, Malcolm picked up quite a bit of Russian. He could introduce himself, order food, and be polite. He even learned some cyrillic. He said that he had Russian co-workers back in Ohio and had a head start. But still…
How to get there:
You can enter the E.U. and the United Kingdom by a train, plane, or boat. I’m not sure what needs to be done to get a European visa before hand. Americans are issued stamps at the port of entry which allow up to a 90-day stay.
- Emergency number: 112 for fire, police, and ambulance (for the UK and most other EU countries)
- CPG Grey:
- Crash Course:
- 17 Carnations
- Angela’s Ashes
- At Home: A Short History of Private Life
- The Book of the Maidservant
- Kings, Queens, Bones & Bastards
- The Last of the Duchess
- Oxford Time Travel Series
- Outposts: Journeys to the Surviving Relics of the British Empire
- The Pillars of the Earth Series
- Royal Affairs
- The Royals
- The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher
- Sex with Kings
- Sex with the Queen
- The Virgin Queen’s Daughter
- 51°30’12.3″N 0°07’10.1″W
- Go to Waterloo Station.
- Look up, the Eye can easily be seen.
- Walk to it.
Merlin Entertainments London Eye
Westminster Bridge Road
Westminster Bridge Road
- 09:00 to 17:00 Monday to Sunday
- Telephone: +44 (0)870 990 8883
- Calls cost 10p per minute plus network extras
- Usually 10:00-20:00
- Open everyday, but Christmas
- Time changes each season
- You can have parties in the Eye.
- You can get some of the best views of the city. The best time for romantic looking photos are just before sunset.
- 51°30’04.9″N 0°08’30.6″W
Use any of the below underground stations:
- Green Park (Jubilee and Piccadilly lines)
- St James’s Park (Circle and District lines)
- Tour: July 31 – Sept 29 9:45 – 15:45
When the Queen is not in residence 19 State Rooms are open to the public. Book in advance to ensure admission. £8.75-15.50
Well no one can stop you from strolling by at any time day or night, but it’s best to pass by during the changing of the guards.
- Changing of the Guards
It takes place in front of the palace at 11:30 everyday in summer and every other day in winter. In the summer it’s gets pretty crowded so come with some sort of icy beverage and grab a good spot.
It’s great to just walk around and see the gates of her Majesty. Who knows, you might even get a quick glimpse of one of the Queen’s butlers.
- 51°29’57.8″N 0°09’47.8″W
Go to the Knightsbridge tube station. Go west down Brompton road and pass Lancelot place. Harrods should be on the left side of the street.
- Mon-Sat 10:00-20:00
- Sun 11:30-18:00
- Opens later on Sale Days
- Open even on holidays!
- A tour guide once told me that anything can be bought at this store if the buyer has enough money. It’s a great place to do some serious shopping if you are rich. If you don’t have a lot of money, it’s a great place to buy a knickknack or two on sale. There is one floor that is always decorated for Christmas. What more could you want in a store? By the way, this place also has the nicest bathrooms I’ve ever seen in a store.
- For the American shoppers, when using a credit card here, the buyer is given the option of paying in pounds sterling or U.S. dollars.
- Don’t forget to stop by to see the Dodi and Diana memorial.
- 51°31’25.7″N 0°09’30.3″W
Go to Baker Street tube station.
- Open everyday, but Christmas
I can’t say what this place is like since I never went in. It was good enough for me just to take a photo of the outside. I’m not a big Sherlock Holmes fan.
There are lots more to see and do in London, but we had very limited time. Since I had lived in London for about five months in 2005 and this wasn’t my mom’s first visit, we let my brother decide where we should go.
- The Tower of London (51°30’29.1″N 0°04’34.1″W)
The beefeaters tell the most gruesome stories in the most wonderful ways. I only wish I were British so that I could be a beefeater when I grow up!
- Tues-Sat opens at 9:00
- Sun-Mon opens at 10:00
- Mar-Oct closes at 17:30 with last entrance at 17:00
- Nov-Feb closes at 16:30 with last entrance at 16:00
- Madame Tussauds Wax Museum (51°31’22.5″N 0°09’18.0″W)
Although I never actually went to see it, I’ve always wanted to. But then again, I don’t really want to. I think wax figures are a bit creepy. (Dead communist leaders aren’t creepy, but wax people are…)
- 9:00-18:00 open until 19:00 in the summer
- 9:30-17:30 on school days
- Westminster Abbey (51°29’57.4″N 0°07’38.4″W)
This is the closest I’ll ever get to Isaac Newton or a British queen.
How to get there: Go to St. James’ Park or Westminster tube stations
- Mon-Sat 9:30-15:30
- Sunday and religious holidays it is open only for church services, but everyone is welcomed to join.
- Big Ben (51°30’02.6″N 0°07’28.6″W)
Go to Westminster tube station map
It’s free because you can’t go inside without special permission.
Unfortunately I have no idea who one would ask to get such permission. If you know, please tell me.
Other than that you could always run for parliament, but I doubt it’s worth going through all that trouble. But you can walk around it for free any time of the day.
I once joked, before I had ever seen it, that I wanted to put my foot in the Thames. But after seeing the river, I have no urges to jump in. It’s still really romantic to walk along the Thames.
- Trafalgar Square: (51°30’29.0″N 0°07’41.0″W)
Stare at the extremely tall monument to Lord Nelson. In case you care, this is where you can find the South African embassy.
Go to Charing Cross tube station map
Exit #4 is right next to Trafalgar Square
- The National Gallery: (At Trafalgar Square)
I’m not a big fan of art, but when I lived in London, my apartment didn’t have air conditioning. So I spent hours staring at paintings and cooling off.
There was one of a skull that I really liked. When you stood in front of it and looked at it, the people in the picture looked normal, but the skull looked odd. You have to stand off to the side on your toes to see the skull in a proper perspective. If you ever go to London, check it out.
- Piccadilly Circus: (51°30’36.2″N 0°08’05.8″W)
Remember that Wayne’s World movie quote?
This is a very crowded part of London, which is a very crowded city to begin with. In every city, there is a part of that city which looks like it could be any city in the world. This is London’s any-city section.
You have to see it to say you’ve seen it.
go to the Piccadilly Circus tube station then go above ground.
- Regents Park: (51°31’52.5″N 0°09’25.1″W)
When the city starts to get to you, just go to a park. One thing I loved about London is that there are many lovely parks to choose from. This one is filled with flowers, especially in the inner circle.
Go to Regents Park tube station. Cross Marylebone road.
- Opens at 5:00 every morning.
- Closing time varies.
- Hyde Park: (51°30’26.1″N 0°09’56.4″W)
This is a huge park which is connected to other parks like Kensington Gardens. This is a great place to have a picnic or an afternoon nap. I wouldn’t walk alone in this park at night though.
Don’t miss the Princess of Wales Fountain.
Look for the peter pan statue.
This park is very big.
One way is to go to Hyde Park Corner tube station, but there are many ways to get in.
Get an Oyster card. It can be used to ride both the subway and buses in London. You can get one from any tube station for a refundable £3. You can also get one for free with the purchase of any monthly bus or tube pass.
It lowers the cost of a single fare ticket.
If you can’t decide whether to get a single fare ticket, return, or day pass, the card will decide for you. At the end of the day, you will only be charged for what the cheapest option would have been.
When your vacation is over you can return it at any tube station and get your £3 back. Yes, there is a tube station at Heathrow Airport.