Wednesday, June 5, 2013

{European Travels} London Day 1

Okay, okay. I suppose it is time to finally share pictures and details of our 2+ week European vacation. Work and social life has been crazy since we've been back, and it took me time to sit down and sort through the thousands of photos we Josh took. 

I'm still trying to decide how to break up these posts, as too much happened each day to combine it all but 17 posts may be a bit over board (even though I could easily do it!) So, please bear with me. And enjoy!
On May 3rd, our months of planning finally came to fruition. With all our luggage as carry-on, we boarded the (delayed and re-routed) plane from Northwest Arkansas to Dallas. After a two hour wait, we left Dallas at 7:30pm local time and, with unsuccessful attempts to sleep on the plane, arrived in London at 11:00am May 4th. 

The Underground, London's subway system, is connected to the airport. We bought Oyster Cards and put $20 on them ($=pounds; I can't figure out how to insert the pound sign. Oops!) These cards allowed us discounted rides on public transportation. We navigated through the Underground, per our landlord's instructions, and 40 minutes later arrived at our final destination of Victoria Station. 

The apartment we were renting was a 5 minute walk from the station along residential streets. It was small and cozy with complimentary wine, tea, bread, and breakfast fixings. 

Despite being dangerously tired, we hit the ground running after dropping off our bags. We were surrounded by great local restaurants, so we stopped in for sandwiches and coffee. After the pit stop we decided to do Rick Steve's free audio tour of the "Westminister Walk" which takes you from the London Eye to Trafalgar Square. 

We took the Underground to Westminster Station, walked out onto the street and BAM! We see the House of Parliament and the Thames. Quite a site to take in on day one.

Big Ben and the Halls of Parliament. Fun fact: Big Ben is actually "not the clock, not the tower, but the bell that tolls the hour." The clock tower was built in 1859 and is 320ft tall; the clock faces are 23 ft across and chimes a little ditty every 15 minutes. 

The Houses of Parliament, which was originally a palace for kings and queens until the royal family moved to Buckingham Palace, stretches along the River Thames. The two very separate houses which rule Britain, the House of Lords and the powerful House of Commons, now both meet in this Neo-Perpendicular Gothic building. 

Downstream from Parliament is the London Eye, which was built in 2000 to celebrate the millennium. 

The tour took us a block in, then turned right up the broad boulevard of Whitehall, one of the most important streets in Britain, and led us straight to Trafalgar Square.

Along the way we saw Britain's version of the White House -#10 Downing Street, the Ministry of Defense, and the Horse Guards.

"For 200 years, soldiers in cavalry uniforms have guarded this arched entrance along Whitehall that leads to Buckingham Palace...Besides their ceremonial duties here, these elite troops have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan."
The archways of the Horse Guard building was once a security checkpoint leading to Buckingham Palace; anyone on horseback had to dismount before passing through. Today, to pass through, you must get off your bike/scooter and walk. Don't you just love tradition? 

And finally, we made it to the grand Trafalgar Square with Admiral Horatio Nelson's statue dominating the center. This square is the center of London. From here you are close to the Britain's government (Whitehall), Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus, Soho, and The City. 

We slowly took in Trafalgar Square, people watching and soaking in the history of this impressive city. We walked to the north side of the square, where a dance-off was taking place outside the National Gallery. 

After persuading Josh not to join in, we made our way inside the gallery. Fun fact: Most museums and sites in London are free!  

The art gallery was huge but nicely laid out in chronological order, and this type A personality can appreciate that! We made our way through European art history, but after an hour of Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Da Vinci, and Monet, we realized how hungry and tired we were. We stumbled upon a pub with reasonable prices where we had drinks and shared appetizers. 
The food was great, especially since we heard "food in London will be disappointing! (Spoiler- London has fantastic food.) We got back home by 8:00 and crashed. 

A wonderful first day in London 

Stay tuned for more London adventures!

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