Tower Bridge, London Eye, Harry Potter Tour, Burger & Lobster, Lion King, yup you guessed it, London.
To conclude my summer journey, my last stop in Europe was England. I had spent five nights here (four with Jessica, one alone) and since my stay was a bit long compared to my previous trips, I’ll split this post into two parts. Stay tuned for part 2!
We left for London (from Lyon) on the 25th by plane (British Airways). We arrived in the morning then took a cab to our hotel. The traffic jam was terrible hence the ride took more than an hour. But even then the taxi fare was ridiculously expensive and we were definitely ripped off. I know this because when I took the taxi from the hotel to the airport on the day of my departure, the fare was much cheaper despite the heavy morning traffic. And this time I asked for the price as well as how long it would take. So there you go, always ask for the price as soon as you board a taxi because these guys can be pretty sneaky sometimes, especially if they can tell you’re a foreigner.
We stayed at Tune Hotel Westminster. Very simple, very basic hotel. Quite small too, but it was bright and clean. That was all we really needed.
It’s the type of hotel where you pay for a room and bed and everything else (towels, shampoo, hairdryer, TV, Wi-Fi, etc.) are all added costs in addition to the nightly rate. We paid £468 ($845 CAD) for five nights, and the miscellaneous services I don’t quite remember, but around £8-10 ($15-18)? It wasn’t much, but when I booked our hotel online, the extra services didn’t ring through so we ended up having to pay separately in person.
We also arrived earlier than the check-in time, which was to be expected. Our plan was to pay £2 ($5) for luggage storage then visit Big Ben, House of Parliament, etc. (all very close and within walkable distance) and dine at the Red Lion (which I heard was good). Turned out, early check in was around noon (an hour wait at that time) and was the same price as suitcase storage. We were both actually quite tired from waking up early to catch our flight, plus I was still unwell from being sick during the last few days in Lyon, so we just chilled at Costa next door and waited. The thing with planning trips and assigning times to each event was just too ambiguous and stressful. We gave up trying.
After we checked in and settled down a bit, we visited the Tower Bridge.
We attended the exhibition tour and learnt about the history of the bridge as well as its mechanisms and operating methods. The tour concluded with a visit to the steam room and of course, the gift shop.
We came out from the exist beneath the bridge and from there, we ventured out and about.
We were catching an opera later that evening and instead of enjoying fancy finger food and quality champagne at the Royal Opera House’s Paul Hamlyn Hall Champagne Bar, we decided that we were just going to be money-conscious university students traveling on a budget hence resorted to grabbing quick bites from the closet shop around: Starbucks (which was ironic because Starbucks really wasn’t that cheap either).
Boy were prices ridiculous in London! To eat a simple sandwich in their store, you would have to pay a “sit-down” tax. But I was confused as to why paninis were the only ones exempted. The apparent reasoning behind is that a panini is much bigger, constituting more of an actual meal, whereas a sandwich is a fast, grab-and-go type of food. So to sit down and eat a sandwich in a shop like Starbucks, you gotta pay addition money. What?
Unfortunately, tickets for Tosca sold out completely and remaining tickets for Manon Lescaut all started from $300+ so instead, we watched Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos.
Not gonna lie, but uhm… I fell asleep in the middle?
Richard Strauss kind of rang a bell, but don’t think I ever did listen to any of his works. I hadn’t got a single clue what Ariadne auf Naxos was about prior to attending this opera so I went into the performance completely clueless. Understood the first act, but it just went downhill after.
My dad is a big music lover. He warned me before hand that we’d probably not enjoy ourselves because Ariadne auf Naxos isn’t something for people just starting to listen to operas. So either I was lacking in music appreciation, or this just wasn’t my cup of tea.
The performance ended quite late and we had such difficulty getting back to our hotel. It was something about getting off the bus too early. Even then, the stop we got off at was somewhat parallel to the street of our hotel, but I believed so strongly that our hotel was located on the other side of the Westminster Bridge. It wasn’t. But thanks to my genius mistake, we caught a beautiful view of the London Eye and Palace of Westminster sparkling at night.
The next morning, we visited the London Eye and took a spin on this giant ferris wheel.
The panoramic view from atop was absolutely astonishing. The weather wasn’t fantastic, but even then, the clouds couldn’t mask the beauty of this city.
Next on our schedule was my most anticipated event of this entire trip: Warner Bros. Studio Tour!!!!!
After our tour, we strolled along St. James’s Park and headed for Buckingham Palace.
The weather continued to worsen, but regardless, the park was still jam packed with locals just hanging out and the palace was also crowded with tourists.
We shopped along Oxford Street following that and also met up with a long time no see high school friend.
The next morning, we continued with our Harry Potter theme of travels and visited King’s Cross Station for Platform 9 3/4!
Funny thing was when we entered the station, we saw signs for Platforms 9 and 10, but we were so blind to not see that Platform 9 3/4 was actually in between the 9 and 10 and straight in front of us. We had to go to the information desk and I literally asked, “Excuse me, where can I find Platform 9 3/4.” I couldn’t help but laugh a little as well. I felt like I was Harry and certainly felt ridiculous asking such a silly question.
To take a picture with the set, we had to wait in line for about an hour to an hour and a half. There were two staff members from the Harry Potter Shop on site: one photographer (who took your photos) and another who would help you put on your scarf, which you could pick from the four different houses, and also twirl it so it looked like it was flying. And for the price of nine pounds (I believe), you could purchase the photo that they took for you and it would be in a cool Harry Potter themed card stock photo frame.
For lunch, we dined at Burger & Lobster in Mayfair.
Their menu choices were so simple they didn’t even have menus. Whole lobster, burger, or lobster roll. Jessica went with the whole lobster and I myself enjoyed the lobster roll.
The roll was to die for. The lobster pieces were in such big chunks and it was so fresh I could smell the sea. The mayonnaise sauce was also a great pairing that perfectly complimented the lobster meat without overpowering its sweet, natural flavor. Despite its deliciousness, I still found twenty pounds for a sandwich rather pricey, but hey that’s London for ya.
The next destination was The National Gallery. Admission was free so we took a quick look inside.
Following that, we paid a visit to Camden Lock.
The streets were filled with little souvenir shops and there was also a food market by the canal.
We had wanted to take a boat ride with the London Waterbus Company from Camden Lock to Little Venice. We had seen the boats, but we couldn’t find anyone in charge or a place or stand of some sort to purchase tickets. In the end we just missed the last departing ride.
Anyhow, we carried on with our day and headed for the British Museum.
Admission was free and I simply loved it here! The thing I remember most about the museum is the “Ancient lives new discoveries” exhibition which featured Egyptian tombs. Not a fan of these because of the movie series “The Mummy” (which really freaked me out when I watched it as a kid), but manning up and seeing this exhibition from a scholarly point of view really changed my perceptions and made me understand the culture and its art a lot more.
There was just so much to see, but too little time. With that, we had to move on with the next item on our schedule.
The Lion King at Lyeum Theatre! Yes, we watched Lion King!!
No idea why but I had imagined the show to be really boring with low tone African mantras repeating against maracas in the background. I know I know, I sound totally dumb and stereotypical, but I just couldn’t imagine Lion King played out by real life actors and actresses. A lot of online reviews highly recommended going to see this show so we ended up buying tickets for it and boy was it the best decision ever.
I loved loved loved the show. The humor, the dance, the music, the costumes, the set… Everything about it was elaborately ecstatic. Without a doubt, this was the biggest highlight of our trip. If you’re ever in London, you must hit up this show. You will not regret it.
Dinner happened around 9:30/10:00pm. Jessica told me that England had great Indian food so we decided to give it a try and hopped into a nearby Indian restaurant, Sitar, beside the bus stop where we were supposed to wait for our bus back to the hotel.
It wasn’t exactly price friendly, but London pretty much isn’t price friendly in anything. The service was fantastic, and although I don’t usually have Indian so I wouldn’t know what is good versus what’s not, I really enjoyed the food here. Quite a gem that we found by pure luck!
And this concludes day three of my six-day journey. Hang around for ≪part two≫!