Saturday, December 18, 2010


After having my flight leave Malaga on time and arriving in London ahead of schedule I was hoping to be to my friend Lauren’s flat by 1 am. However, this quickly changed when I found myself waiting for the night bus to take me to her flat for over 30 minutes; I ended up not arriving until almost 2. I quickly crashed on the pull-out sofa bed she had prepared for me in the living room, but before I did that I set my alarm for 7 AM, only 5 hours later. Why? This is why:

Day 1: Stonehenge, Day Planning and London at night.

After what felt like 15 minutes of sleep I woke up and within 30 minutes Lauren and I were out the door of her flat and on our way to Victoria Station, the main subway and bus station in central London, where we were meeting her friend Natalie and catching the bus to Stonehenge. However, with my late night of traveling and Lauren’s late night of staying up waiting for my arrival, a Starbucks stop was needed. It was the first time in over 4 months where I actually walked around with a coffee, because that is unheard of in Andalucía (people always sit down for coffee time—you will rarely see someone carrying a coffee around or even eating while walking around in Andalucía).

The subway station after Starbucks was another adventure. The pace of life in Andalucía is very slow—people are never in a hurry and it is very laid back. London, not so much. First, I thought I walked fast, but trying to keep up with my friend Lauren was a challenge. Not only that, but I felt almost a little culture shock walking around Victoria Station and on the subway—I was a sardine. However, we eventually arrived to the station, met Natalie, got on our bus, and were off to Stonehenge. An hour and a half later we arrived. Enjoy the pictures!

There isn’t a lot known about Stonehenge. Its’ history is as much of a mystery as how people over four-thousand years ago were able to stack several ton stones on top of each other. Yet, that adds to the mysticism of the site. The bus allowed us to be at the site for an hour, and really that’s all the time you need. It maybe Stonehenge, and one of the Wonders of the World, but it is only rocks. After our audio tour we hopped back in the bus and returned to London.

Upon our arrival we grabbed some lunch and returned to Lauren’s flat. Lauren was going to meet her uncle, who was in town on business, for dinner, so I decided to start planning out my 2-day adventures around London. I made an itinerary and estimated the amount of time I would spend at each place. I then decided that it might be cool to go check out part of the city at night (because by this time it was 6 pm and dark). I bundled up, found a bus to Westminster, and took in some of London’s most famous sites all lit up. Enjoy some pictures.

After walking around for over an hour and taking several pictures I returned to Lauren’s flat and decided to call it a night—Saturday was going to be a busy day running around London and I needed some rest.

Day 2: Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Winston Churchill Museum

After waking up at 9 and getting to the London Tourist office to pick up my London Pass at 10, I made it to Westminster Abbey around 11 (there was a long line at the office to pick up the pass…). This was later then I wanted, and with an ambitious Saturday itinerary that contained the Abbey, St. Paul’s and the Tower of London I knew I was going to be cutting it close.

However, I wanted to enjoy the Abbey, because it is one of the most iconic churches in the world. It did not disappoint. Note: you are not allowed to take pictures inside the Abbey, so I apologize for not having any. However, if you want to see the inside of the church watch Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding in April.

Upon entering the Abbey I quickly stepped on the resting place (the entire Abbey is an indoor cemetery, with most people being buried underneath the floor of the church and there being large flat headstones everywhere) of one of my favorite figures in history, William Wilberforce, whose incredible story is told in the movie “Amazing Grace.” For the next two hours I walked around the Abbey, seeing the resting place of many other famous people as well as past kings, queens, and prime ministers of England. Not to mention the infamous “Poets' Corner” is located in the Abbey, the resting place of writers such as Chaucer, Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kipling (there are also several memorials to other writers and poets). Two other men who are relatively famous are also buried in the Abbey—Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin, have you heard of them?

Although I couldn’t get any picture inside the Abbey itself, I took some of the Cloisters as well as a few more shots of the exterior.

After a successful tour of the Abbey I made my way east until I arrived at the U.S Capti—eeeh I mean St. Paul’s Cathedral. This Cathedral has dominated the London skyline for centuries and was actually where Princess Diana and Prince Charles were married. It is famous for its‘ enormous dome (similar to that of the U.S Capital building in DC) and atrium.

However, what were even more impressive were the painted ceilings of the church. Again, pictures were not allowed, but they were incredible.

I was also able to get a little bit of a workout at St. Paul’s. You are able to climb a series of steps to get to the Whispering Gallery, which is located inside the famous atrium directly above the center of the main room of the church. It is 259 steps to this gallery. However, there are also two outdoor observation decks directly below and above the dome. The first is another 119 steps up, known as the Stone Gallery. However, if you want more steps you can ascend the final 152 steps to the Golden Gallery, which gives you an incredible 360-degree view of the city. Enjoy these pictures from both outdoor galleries.

After quickly walking around the crypt in the basement I made my way back out onto the streets, snapped a few more pictures, and ate my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It was almost 4, and already getting dark—Tower of London was not going to happen today. Instead, I opened up my London Pass guidebook and decided that Winston Churchill’s Museum and War Rooms would be a good final stop for the day.

I took the tube back up to Westminster and found the museum. During World War II this underground complex was where Churchill and his war cabinet ran the British side of the war. With it being a secret underground complex it was an incredible bunker that kept Churchill and his cabinet safe through the Blitzkrieg and allowed for them to meet and discuss important war strategies.

I did not take any pictures because, unfortunately, my camera’s battery had died, but it was an excellent museum that had reconstructed how the underground bunker would have looked during the war, and had an excellent museum on Churchill and his life.

By the time I finished walking around the museum it was 6, and Lauren’s uncle had graciously invited me to dinner with the two of them around 6:30. However, I made one more tourist stop at Wellington Arch, snapped a picture, and then went off to an excellent Italian dinner with Lauren and her uncle. Day 2 complete.

Day 3: Buckingham Palace, Tower of London, Tower Bridge, London Bridge, Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery

Tower of London was one of the places I wanted to go to on Saturday, but I was unable to make it because of the premature darkness that hits London around 4 pm and the fact that I had read that you need at least 3 hours at the Tower (it closes at 6). So, this was the primary destination for my Sunday adventure.

However, I took a quick detour early Sunday morning to the famous Buckingham Palace. I had another tourist snap a quick picture of me, I took a few pictures of the square and the Palace, and then I was off to London Tower.

Tower of London's history is rich—throughout history it has served as a fort, a palace, a prison, and a storage site for artillery as well as the famous Crown Jewels. It is now one of the most visited sites in all of London.

I started my visit by taking a tour with one of the famous Beefeater guards. These guards occupy the Tower and even live on site with their families. I learned that the requirement to become a Beefeater is 25 years of military service, and then you need to go through a gruesome application process.

The tour was only an hour and gave me a basic understanding and history of the Tower. After, I bought an audio guide and began my own tour through the tower. The main part of the tower is known as the White Tower, which was built by William the Conquer in the 11th Century. Since then an enormous complex has been built around this original building. The White Tower now serves as a museum that has several floors of medieval armor, weapons and other artifacts instrumental to the complex’s history.

The famous Crown Jewels, which include the world’s largest diamond at over 530 carats (Note: Wikipedia refutes this statement saying it is the second largest, but I was told it was the largest flawless cut diamond in the world) are also located at the tower in one of its building. They are kept in an enormous vault that also contains other royal artifacts. These include the coronation crown and several other coronation artifacts (the things used in the actual crowing of the king and queen of England). Again, pictures were not allowed inside the vault. Sorry. Here are some of the complex though.

After completing the 5 separate audio tours and just over 3 hours of walking around I departed the Tower and headed straight for Tower Bridge, where I bought some roasted peanuts and nonchalantly crossed the bridge. Upon arriving on the other side I followed the Thames west past the HMS Belfast, a World War II gunship and up to what is now called London Bridge, which I crossed over.

I then made my way to the nearest tube station and headed back up towards Westminster. After the Tower of London I planned to head to Wembley Stadium, home of England’s national soccer team, but it was a ways north of the city, and I decided to stay central. At this point I ate my peanut butter and jelly sandwich in front of Big Ben and called my friend Helena, who was another teacher I worked with in Honduras and who is now studying at university in London. We decided to meet for a drink around 5:30, and with it being 4, I had some time to burn.

I decided I would head to the famous Trafalgar Square, which is the Times Square of London. The square was decorated for the holidays and with it being dark I really wasn’t able to capture everything. The square is home to the National Gallery, one of the larger art museums in London. I decided to get out of the cold for an hour and walk around the museum’s 60 plus halls of paintings. From Van Gogh, to Renoir, to Monet and Manet, to Michelangelo to da Vinci, it was a pretty impressive collection. After an hour I made my way to Oxford Circus, London’s most famous shopping district, where I met Helena and enjoyed catching up for an hour. After a drink I took off to connect with Lauren and her friends who were having dinner at a Korean restaurant.

After dinner we grabbed some gelato, and then made our way back to Lauren’s flat. I needed to wake up at 3 am to catch a bus to Victoria Station and there catch the 4:30 am train to Gatwick Airport for my 6:30 am flight. All went as planned except I ended up having to walk 30 minutes to Victoria Station from Lauren’s because the night bus drove right pass me at the stop. This was okay because I enjoyed my late night walk through London and it gave me the opportunity to see the city one more time.

After my flight I arrived in Malaga in time to catch the 11 am bus to Motril. However, with only one ticket window open, both of the automatic machines out of service, and 20 plus people in front of me in line, I missed the 11 am bus and had to settle for the next one 2 hours later.

I sat in the bus station, sipped a coffee, read, and waited. Consider the weekend seized.