To be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from London. With all of my Spanish friends telling me about their weather dilemmas when visiting: snow, rain, cold, etc., especially in February… But, with my training at its peak for the ½ marathon and the excitement I had to see my lovely friend Jen, I was on my way!! When I arrived in London I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by the sun, and thankfully, it didn’t leave my side the entire trip!! So lucky! I arrived Thursday night, just as the sun was setting over all of the beautiful London homes and I headed into the city center on the infamous Underground, ‘minding the gap’ the whole way! (You’ll only get that if you’ve ridden it! Haha!)
I arrived at my stop ‘Swiss Cottage’ which was very appropriately named because it was such an adorable part of town with big white walkups and my hostel was actually a completely renovated historic building. It was so unique, with a big wooden staircase and big stained-glass windows throughout. I went out to find some good Indian food, something I heard you can’t miss in London, and with a recommendation I found an awesome little place to spend a nice evening getting to know my maps, readying myself for the very busy next two days of touring London I was about to experience. While at the restaurant, engrossed in all of my ‘London info’ a little old man at the next table struck up a conversation with me and suggested that if I was a runner, that maybe I would want to start off my Saturday with a nice run around Hyde Park. Wanting to see that…I felt it would be a great way to kick off my tour of the city!
The next day, bright and early I jumped on the Underground and was on my way to Hyde Park. What an beautiful place for a run, and it definitely helped that the sun was shining down on all that were out to get a morning workout! After my run, I stayed in Hyde Park to get a better look at the Kensington gardens and the extremely nice houses that surrounded it! Wow! As I was headed back to the subway to take a quick shower, I saw a sign that was pointing towards ‘Notting Hill Gate’…I knew that had to be my next stop!
I think anyone who has ever seen the movie, wants to experience Notting Hill, and of course so did I. As I got off the subway and entered into the little burrow of Notting Hill, I was fascinated by all of the colorful houses in pastel blues, pinks, yellows, greens, and purples. So cute! I walked my way down one of the cozy little streets and ended up right in the middle of the famous ‘Portabella Market’ of Notting Hill. It was so fun to take a gander at all of the antiques and precious trinkets that were for sale there.
After just a short time, I had to be off back to the entrance of Hyde Park Corner, the meeting place for the afternoon walking tour I had scheduled into my day. I love the walking tours that are offered in most of the big cities, through a company called Sandeman’s New Europe Tours. They give great tours because all the guides are so passionate about the history and the insights that they are telling you! I knew this had to make the list of things to do and it would be a great way to see and learn a lot in a short time!
As we began our tour I knew this was going to be a good one! We had an amazing tour guide, who was actually from the States, but had studied English literature and history and really new her stuff!! We walked along some green belts that eventually took us to the outside garden walls of the Buckingham palace.
As our guide described to us very interesting stories about the only two times someone has tried to jump the fence and stow away inside of the palace. One story included camping tents and a group of very disoriented men, while the other an intoxicated bum who ended up chatting up the queen at the base of her bed!! Very funny stuff! We visited Buckingham palace knowing that Queen Elizabeth II was home because her special flag was flying. Then, we were off to see the infamous palace guards, fuzzy hats and all! We did not try to harass them, as so many do, but we got our pictures with them and they literally DID NOT MOVE! I could never do that job! Haha!
Our last stop on the tour was Parliament Square where we finally saw the stunning ‘Big Ben’ bell tower, actually now called the Elizabeth Tower after Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her Diamond Jubilee in 2012 (60 years on the throne!!). Here, we also got to see the outside of the beautiful Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament. So surreal to be there seeing it all in person! During the tour I had become friends with a girl that happened to be the sister of the guide. So after the tour was over, the three of us stopped in for some pub food and as we got to talking, they invited me to join them for the Grim Reaper Tour that they were going to do later that evening.
I wasn’t sure I was really going to like this tour, as I am not a huge fan of ghosts and other spooky things. But with Sonja, the amazing tour guide, I was totally engaged in everything she was telling us!! We started at the London Tower as we discussed the many hauntings that have been reported, even in recent times. We walked around the side of the tower and saw the moat surrounding it, that back in the day, transported prisoners in and out of the tower and ultimately down the River Thames. When we finally reached the River Thames ourselves and I was pleasantly surprised to see the amazing view of the Tower Bridge at night! So striking with all of its lights!
As Sonja took us through the East End of London, she described it just how it would have been in the 1800’s; prostitutes sweeping the streets, starving men, women, and children, almost all immigrants coming to London looking for a better life, but obviously not finding it here. She began to unfold the entire story of Jack the Ripper; his victims, the witnesses, and the ongoing mystery of his true identity, which still has people perplexed even today. Fascinating. As we said our goodbyes, she left us at the Liverpool Street Underground Station, which she reminded us, had been the former sight the Bethlem Royal Hospital, the world’s oldest psychiatric hospital, also known as ‘Bedlam’. Spooky, right?! A very great first day in London Town!