Foreword by Tamlyn:
[Last month one of my close friends, Sarah, went on her very first trip abroad to emerald England and in particular, its ‘beating heart’, London.
The following is a guest post by Sarah documenting her fun travels and new experiences over there… We both hope that you will enjoy reading it! 🙂 ]
I’m usually not the kind of person who can organize her thoughts into a blog post but I will give it a shot. As Tamlyn mentioned in her intro., I went to England last month. I had no idea what to expect from a ‘first world’ country and so I boarded the plane with just some nervousness and very few expectations.
I thought the flight would be scary and that the airplane food would be gross but I was wrong – mostly. My flight, though a tad uncomfortable, was quite smooth. The in-flight entertainment was a good distraction, they had quite a selection of movies and the food was good overall, although the breakfast left much to be desired… in fact, I may never eat scrambled eggs again!
So, after an uneventful ten-and-a-half-hour flight, I landed at London’s Heathrow Airport only to find out that, for some unexplained reason, my suitcase had been left behind in Johannesburg. Needless to say, it was a horrible experience to discover, as a young woman on her first trip abroad, that all her luggage was still back home! I thought I would never see my things again but I think I was too tired to panic. Fortunately, the airline managed to sort out the issue and later, even sent my luggage to my hostel free of charge so that I didn’t have to return to the airport to collect it.
My fiancé met me at the airport and we took the underground into London’s city centre. It’s a quick train ride and I was fortunate to have someone to show me where to go and what to do because, with my track record, I’d probably still be lost. Jokes aside, the underground is very convenient and is fast and easy to master once you get the hang of it.
My first day in London was not spent doing too much sightseeing, as I was still recovering from my flight and had to find my hostel.
However, I saw the iconic Tower Bridge, which was built between 1886 and 1894. It’s a combined bascule and suspension bridge that crosses the River Thames, close to the Tower of London. It also happens to be one of five bridges owned and maintained by the ‘Bridge House Estates’, a trust overseen by the City of London Corporation. The bridge was officially opened on the 30th of June 1894.
Some people mistakenly think that the Tower Bridge is the London Bridge but, just for the record, they aren’t the same bridge. However, they are both owned by the above-mentioned corporation. Opening hours are 10:00 a.m. to 17:30 p.m. in the summer and 9:30am to 17:00 p.m. during winter and the adult admission fee is £9.00.
From there, I went to see Hyde Park and because the place I was looking for was on the other side of the park, I decided to walk through the park. Big mistake! The park was beautiful and while I don’t regret spending time in it, it was so much bigger than I realised so it was a lot of walking for one day!
The next day was as amazing because we rented bicycles and cycled through Hyde Park. This was certainly a much easier and quicker way of getting around. The beauty of the bicycles is that it only costs you £2.00 to hire one for a 24-hour period and 30-minute rides are free. There are, however, additional fees and rules. (For more information you can visit: www.tfl.gov.uk/modes/cycling/santander-cycles)
We used the bicycles to get around that morning. First off, we made for Buckingham Palace. The guards and the palace look just like they do in all the pictures I’d ever seen of them. I was amazed by the palace’s beauty and size and just the fact that I was actually seeing it in person was very exciting to me. I did not take the tour, as I was travelling on a budget but I was satisfied with just seeing it from the outside. 🙂 The Palace is only open during the summer months for tours (between July and September) from 10:00 a.m. to 17:30 p.m.
From there we went to Trafalgar Square. It was crowded! With people and pigeons. And the traffic was horrible which helped me get over the whole bicycle thing very quickly because I’m fairly inexperienced when it comes to cycling in traffic. The square itself was pretty cool and I liked that I knew where the South African Embassy was just in case I got in any kind of trouble.
After that we decided to go to ‘M & M’s World’. Yes, you guessed it… it’s a three-storey building devoted to all things M & M’s and you can enter it for free. Sadly though the M&M’s themselves are not free of charge. They had lots of merchandise (and of course, M & M’s in every colour imaginable). Something really cool was that you can make your own personalised M & M’s. It was so amazing! Did I forget to mention that the inside of that building smells like chocolate? I was in candy Heaven for a few minutes! Unfortunately, I have no pictures to share of the ‘awesomeness’ experienced there that day.
My third day in London was spent on my own and I decided to explore the city and walk its streets. Walking along the River Thames was beautiful, although the river was quite dirty and appeared polluted. I then walked over to the Tower of London and browsed the gift shop and though I didn’t see the Crown Jewels in person, I did see a replica and it looked pretty cool. 🙂 All that walking was good for me.
I also heard of a prison museum called the ‘Clink Prison Museum.’ The pamphlet said it was: “the prison that lent its name to all other prisons”, and it sounded quite exciting. However, as I am notoriously challenged when it comes to directions, I gave up looking for it after spending an hour walking in circles. I then decided to drown my sorrows with Vanilla Coke, which I think tastes amazing – and as a side-note, Coke tastes very different in England to how it does in South Africa for some reason.
London is not a fun city to explore alone so I convinced my fiancé to join me for sightseeing once again. I decided that Madame Tussauds would be fun to see and happily, the tickets were reasonably priced at £33. Although you can get all sorts of amazing deals if you purchase your tickets online, for this price you have full access to all the wax statues, you are able to see the Marvel exhibition and you get to see the newest addition: the Star Wars exhibition.
Above all, however, I was determined to take a picture with the statue of Nelson Mandela. I always wanted to meet him so getting to take a picture alongside his wax statue was an incredible experience.
The ‘skin’ of the statues feels real, as does their hair and they a special display that explains the step-by-step process that goes into making a wax statue, along with all the finer details that go into it like the hair, make-up and outfits. I was quite fascinated by it but if that kind of thing would bore you to tears, then have no fear for it you keep walking, you’ll see statues of The Beatles, Justin Bieber, Jimmi Hendrix and many more as you find yourself in the music ‘Hall of Fame’ as it were. 😀 I spent hours studying the statues and posing for pictures with all kinds of famous people.
At that point, London lived up to its stereotype of being a rainy city and when we left Madame Tussauds, we had a dash through the rain to the train station, having forgotten our umbrellas! Thankfully, we only had to cross the road. Exploring London in the rain is actually quite an incredible experience though… if you like rain and have the correct shoes, a warm jacket and an umbrella, that is. I only had two items off that list and they weren’t something useful like correct shoes or an umbrella!
From there, we hopped on a train and headed straight for The London Eye or ‘The Coca-Cola London Eye’, as its sometimes known on account of its sponsor. The Eye has had numerous sponsors over the years like: British Airways and Merlin Entertainments. A fun fact to mention is that in June 2008 over 30 million people had ridden the London eye since its opening in March of 2000.
It’s really just an over-sized, ‘observation’ Ferris wheel, which happens to have incredible views of London and, according to a few of the locals I spoke to, if you are looking for a romantic date or want a breathtaking view of London, then taking a sunset ride in The Eye is something you definitely want to do. The ride lasts for 30 minutes and the ‘cars’ are not unlike the cable cars that one rides to get up Cape Town’s Table Mountain. 🙂
You can see Big Ben from The Eye and seeing as it was just a quick walk away, we decided to cross the river and take some pictures.
What I didn’t know beforehand was that you can’t actually take a tour of Big Ben unless you are a citizen of the United Kingdom, seeing as it is the London Houses of Parliament. Also, even if you are eligible for a tour there is a 12-month waiting period before you can go on said tour. So that was quite a bummer.
However, Westminster Abbey was right across the road and we were at least able to see that and we also had the option of going on a tour. I know, I know… Westminster Abbey isn’t as cool as Big Ben but it is great all the same. 🙂
That concludes my tour of London. I got to explore so many places and try so many new things while I was there but I still didn’t even see half of what London has to offer.
- I would suggest you make a list of places you would like to see, then do careful research on where everything is located and what the cost will be.
- If you are travelling on a budget, there are plenty of free activities to enjoy such as museums, galleries and other tours such as the ‘Jack the Ripper’ tour, which is free and pretty scary to boot.
- Also, keep an eye out for special offers or discount coupons found in the pamphlets covering attractions that you find in hostel or hotel lobbies.
- Another way to save money is to buy your food from a local supermarket or take packed lunches on your sightseeing adventures.
- Also, if your stay in London is for a period longer than four days, consider buying a weekly travel card. It not only saves you money but time as well because you won’t have to stand in a queue purchasing train tickets every morning and travel card is valid on some of the buses.
- There are some sights that you can also purchase combo. tickets for. As in, you get to enjoy two sights for the price of one. For instance, when we went to Madame Tussauds we bought a combo. ticket for Madame Tussauds and The London Eye that cost £40. The money saved can then be spent on other things like souvenirs.
That’s it then… the end of my incredible London adventure. (After my stay in London, I explored Stonehenge and a few other sights in the English countryside with some of my extended family.)Thank you for taking time to read my thoughts and experiences from my time spent in the beautiful city of London. I am quite in awe of it even now and hope to see it again someday.
I definitely recommend it as a place that should (if it’s not already) be on your bucket list. I hope this has been as fun and informative to read as it was for me to write.
[Closing thought from Tamlyn: Many thanks to Sarah for preparing this delightful guest post for my site! I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have! 🙂 ]