Every Christmas or on dates before Christmas we like to take a trip around Europe for a week, more or less, to get to feel the Christmas atmosphere in other places. This year the chosen city was one of the most visited on these dates, and in any other, London. During our somewhat less than a week we were able to visit the main points of interest of the capital of England and the United Kingdom.
London is one of those cities that it is true you can visit at any time of year, since bad weather can surprise you at any time and, always has something interesting to offer the visitor. But if what you like is Christmas and shopping, the end of november is your moment to travel to London. We bought the tickets in advance, in September to travel the last week of November. And although it seems soon, around mid November, London is adorned with Christmas lights and flea markets.
Day 1 in London
We took advantage of our first minutes waiting in front of the door to draw up a plan of what to do in London this afternoon if the schedules respect us. Unlike previous trips this time we have a very vague plan and our goal is to cover the list of things to visit as the experience progresses.
After a few minutes of the scheduled time for boarding, we got on the plane. It seems that everything goes smoothly, but the bad news does not take long to arrive. There seems to be a air traffic congestion in northern France that prevents the control tower from authorizing the takeoff of our flight.
There is no choice but to sit in our seats and wait for the situation to improve. So they inform us by public address while the flight attendants give explanations to the passengers in an English whose accent is clear from the beginning that it is not the American we are more accustomed.
The plane starts moving around an hour later than expected. From that moment, there are no more unforeseen events. We bid farewell to the ground and start flying over the Mediterranean heading northwest. We did not take long to see from the window the snowy Pyrenees welcoming us to the French airspace.
The sky remains clear throughout the journey until we start flying over the British Isles, at which time a blanket of gray clouds confirms our arrival. It does not allow us to enjoy too much the views from the heights. Thinking already in GMT time zone in less than 3 hours we landed at the Stansted airport, which as you can imagine is not the closest to the city center.
As I had already purchased the bus tickets when doing the online check-in, we simply had to pass the customs (somewhat slow, but that's what it has when it comes to real controls) and, go directly to the bus station located just outside the terminal, one floor below the arrivals area.
We take our bus to Paddington train station (only four subway stops from our hotel). I had some sandwiches in my bag to eat. We take advantage during the trip on the bus. We arrived at the accommodation at about 3 pm. Let's talk about hotels. Life in London is alarmingly expensive and accommodation is no exception.
During our first steps of preparation for the trip, we quickly reduced the list of possible accommodations to just two or three locations that offer cheaper rates in exchange for sacrificing certain amenities. Anyway, I started looking around the periphery and found the hotel, which adapted perfectly to what we were looking for with good price, good communication and above all spaciousness.
The room had the inevitable carpet, but everything was immaculately clean, and we had a king-size bed, small table with a large armchair, large desk with plasma TV, complimentary coffee and tea service (the first day they give us bottled water too).
There were ironing board, and a large bathroom with a nice bathtub. The downside is that everything was a bit outdated with old switches. The hair dryer should be in a relics museum and the toilets needed a change, but we were in England! Anyway we were comfortable in the room, the heating worked perfectly. So once we were already set, we still had the whole afternoon ahead and we could start discovering this famous city.
Well, first we go to an exchange office and the supermarket to buy something for breakfast and snacks for the next few days. We are not very good friends to take stuffed sausage, that is why we have to try the gastronomy of the country we visited, but this time it would have been very good for us.
Our first visit is the Natural History Museum, just across the street from the hotel with the help of Google maps previously downloaded on the smartphone to not depend on an Internet connection that we do not have. The facade of this building, as well as its interior is impressive. Its original architecture seems to move you to the world of Harry Potter novels. We enjoy like true children in the red zone, where we find an earthquake simulator and in the blue zone, that of the dinosaurs.
At the end the visit to the museum took us something more than we thought. There is so much to see and to learn, and that was not far from the hotel. In the afternoon we wanted to do something very British and have the Afternoon Tea, that is, the typical English tea at 5 o'clock.
But then, after a good time, we went to the Diana Memorial Fountain conveniently located near our current position south of the park. The memorial in honor of the late Lady Di consists of two divergent channels of granite through which the water descends until it is again in its final destination. In one of them the water flows calmly without obstacles. In the other the water finds multiple obstacles that symbolize the stormy life of the princess.
The silence of the place combines perfectly with the sound of flowing water, creating a pleasant and relaxing atmosphere. Only a gang of ducks threatens to create scandal, but finally settle for soaking the beaks and legs in the waters of the source. We continue our tour of Hyde Park bordering the Serpentine Lake that crosses the park diagonally. Throughout it the local fauna enjoys the rest that the scarce affluence of public grants.
We are surprised to find a section in which the waters are delimited by buoys and a public pool is announced, and it is hard to believe that anyone wants to bathe in waters clearly affected by the questionable hygiene of ducks and derivatives. I must understand that in the bathing season they manage to isolate the waters so that they remain clean, since otherwise, at first sight, entering them seems a risk to health.
As we approach the eastern end of the lake, we can see a ferris wheel and a free fall attraction in the distance. We decided to go towards them, walking like this until the northeast corner of the park. What we found there is Hyde Park Winter Wonderland. What is Winter Wonderland? It is the amusement park that rises in Hyde Park from the end of November to the beginning of January on the occasion of the Christmas holidays.
The flea market, or better said the Christmas market is bigger than we have seen. We walk next to roller coasters, haunted houses and of course dozens and dozens of food stalls for all tastes. The deployment of the town hall to entertain young and old during the holidays is enviable. It has attractions that have nothing to envy to an amusement park and the Bavaria area, without a doubt the best.
Our tour through the attractions takes us to the corner of Marble Arch, where the metro station and a transfer connecting the red line with the black line allows us to reach the London Borough of Camden town. Its streets are filled with clothes, tattoos and piercings stores, and walking north offers us the Camden Market, a street market and a fixed visit in the agenda of all tourists.
Taking advantage of the fact that there do not seem to be many people waiting for their turn, we decided to eat first at a Kentucky Fried Chicken near the subway station before resuming the march. Although we enjoy the food (a burrito and a portion of chicken with potatoes and drink, in this area it is preferable to take advantage of the appetizing food stalls of the market, as we would discover a few minutes later.
If you like Christmas and the Oktoberfest, this place will enchant you. Here we were until 10. The rush hour is already in the past and the wagons have a much clearer appearance. We arrived at the hotel exhausted after an intense and irregular day and we hurry to unpack our bags after having left them as we arrived to avoid losing time.
We go to the pub-like bar to have a drink. It was a typical English atmosphere Like the one we see in the movies, besides, all Christmas decorations were beautiful. The last thing left to do is to vaguely decide which area we will visit tomorrow with renewed strength.
After that, I take advantage of the irregular internet connection of the hotel to watch The Road Trick episode on Netflix and then I put the plugs to sleep. The steps of our neighbors on the top floor crunch the ceiling, which makes us crave a room on the top floor, free of footsteps on the roof.
Day 2 in London
We woke up for the first time on London soil. Spending the night has not been entirely easy due to the excessive power of the heating and the noise that the old hotel window seems to make when the wind hits it hard. The Weather Channel mobile app assures us that we have about five degrees of temperature in the street. Despite this, we are already quite recovered from yesterday's journey when we got up at 7 in the morning.
We went down to the underground floor of the building to discover that breakfast service included with the reservation of the room. There awaits us a dining room with about 12 tables through which two women go, one quite young and another who from the moment zero reminds us one from the Downton Abbey series.
When she approaches us to offer us breakfast, her accent only adds to the resemblance. Breakfast consists of a selection of cereals, coffee, tea, toast with jam and butter spread, juice and a main course that undergoes small variations every day. The combination of today is egg, bacon and beans. We do not know how cold we are waiting outside, but with such embarrassment I do not think it matters.
Sated we go back to our room where we only have to take our backpacking kit to take to the streets and discover London in broad daylight. For a first contact with the city, we decided to hire a free tour. The tour started at 11 o'clock in the morning, a very prudent hour. In it we visit the West End, one of the most popular and characteristic areas of London. Here is the famous Big Ben and Westminster Abbey.
The tour lasted about 3 hours, so after the tour our guide took us to a restaurant where we could try the famous Fish & chips with drink and dessert. It is a overrated plate with a thawed fish fillet, battered and fried in abundant oil accompanied by equally lousy potatoes practically anywhere in London for the same price.
During the tour we met a young couple with whom we become good friends and, we decided to sign up for the night tour of the best places for Saturday night in London. As it was still early when we finished eating, we went all together to the British Museum.
I do not know if it was because we visited it quickly (we did not have much time because the museum closed before 6), was full of people who crowded in front of the showcases or that was so many things you could see but I was a little disappointed.
Of course, I loved seeing the Rosetta stone but the mummies, the coffins and other remains of the pharaohs of ancient Egypt (a culture that, by the way, I love) seemed like simple objects in a showcase. Probably, an audio guide, such as the one provided at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, would have added more value and understanding to the visit and to the objects exhibited there.
As when leaving the museum it was already dark around 4:30 pm, I decided to take advantage and see the Christmas lights of the surrounding streets. We walk through streets like Oxford, Regent crowded with people, shops with attractive shop windows and fascinating Christmas lights. Without a doubt, this is one of the best things we can do when you visit a city like London.
And, just like that, letting go, and a little bit on purpose too, we arrive at the Victoria's Secret store in London. It is a place that even my girlfriend likes to accompany me for shopping. And then, we head towards the hostel. We needed to shower and change our clothes to go for a guided tour of the wild saturday night party in London.
The Spitalfields neighborhood seemed different. The Backyard market, a large brick warehouse deserves special mention in which besides, of course were food stalls (we ate in one of the Bulgarian food stalls). On the ground floor, we find endless second-hand clothes and vintage accessories and some strange characters. Here there is no haggling and an authentic military jacket can take a good part of your budget for the trip.
Maybe it was the neighborhood itself or the selected clubs, but it was quite a disappointment. We did not fit much in those places. Of the gambling dens that they took us, I liked only the first one, which is even recommended in the Lonely Planet London guide.
In it, as we learned the next morning, is one of Banksy's original art (for those who do not know him he is a famous graffiti artist, one of whose works (a graffiti on the wall of a building that was going to be demolished) was sold for $ 800,000.
The beer in all of them was terrible. For all this, after the last bar we decided to return to our accommodation. To our surprise, despite what the guide had told us about our first free tour through which we had hired him, the subway was closed and the bus ride was much more difficult than that one could wait. It took us almost two hours to arrive.
We did not see the time when we get into bed and rest which did not happen until after 3 o'clock in the morning.
Day 3 in London
After a first attempt to wake up at 5 o'clock, it is finally at 7 o'clock when we cannot go back to sleep. Today's plan does not require large early risers so we would have preferred to take advantage of the circumstances to sleep a little more than usual.
Today, it was our last day in London and we had two options either to take a day trip to the prestigious Oxford or Cambridge university or walk quietly and not leave a corner of the city without seeing. Guess what was our choice? Faced with what many I am sure you have thought, we decided to visit those outstanding places and repeat those that we liked the most.
We wanted to enjoy the city, stroll through its streets, aimlessly, lose ourselves, ultimately, enjoy. For the breakfast of the hotel this time we did not go there as what better way to start the day than by taking a typical English Breakfast. Despite its exaggerated price it did not fill us as much as expected. The place chosen, was a very cute cafeteria that was close to the Gloucester Road subway stop.
Around 9 o'clock in the morning and after stopping at a newly opened souvenir shop in which to buy a thimble and a key chain, we enjoyed our cafes in the desert dining room below the premises waiting for the British Museum to open its doors in an hour. Along the way we spotted a group of cyclists dressed as Santa Claus and his elves whose history we would discover later.
Next, we headed to the Victoria Underground Station. It had dawned a bright day and we had to take a good place to see the change of guard at Buckingham Palace, which during the winter takes place every odd day, if the weather allows, at 11:30. Is it worth spending an hour waiting while your feet and hands freeze? Absolutely No.
To us it seemed like a joke, an act prepared for the tourists like us. Especially when the band started playing songs as well known as songs by Bruno Mars. When the show ended, it was already close to 13:30. We only have to see the main facade of the palace, less photogenic than we expected, from the heights of a Victoria Memorial that on the other side allows us to see now from the distance the Big Ben clock.
We exchanged a few pounds at the exchange office next to the subway mouth of Victoria (which, surprisingly, was the best in all of London) and we went for a stroll. And since we were already hungry we turned to the cafe. I had found in one of the free subway newspapers a coupon and since most of the food we had tasted had seemed like garbage to us, at least today we would also eat garbage, but more cheap.
We reached again the Big Ben, now with a sun that makes the golden tower look much more. We cross the Thames through the nearby and well-traveled Westminster Bridge, which, as we move away from the tower, brings us closer and closer to the huge wheel of the London Eye on the other side of the river. It is located next to a discreet boulevard inside which we find a cafe and a recreational room with bowling. A Star Wars flight simulator mocks my lack of coins to succumb to temptation.
We follow the course of the river beyond the London Eye, which we ignore. The price is somewhat excessive even in these circumstances, even more so when in future days we expect a skyscraper with totally free views. After crossing the cute park of Jubilee Gardens we reached the Southbank area, where we discovered for the first time the love Londoners have for street food stalls.
After a few minutes we turn left to get away from the river to reach the large and busy Waterloo station, from which after a transfer between the black lines (Northern) and green (District) takes us to our next destination, another with frikis connotations. We arrived at Earl's Court.
Only one of the two of us is a confessed whovian, but that's enough for a visit to the vicinity of the Earl's Court station to be a fixture on our agenda. And why? Well, because it is here, practically on the doorstep of the station, where the only blue police cab can be visited in the city of London. And it so happens that one of those blue cabins was the design chosen by those responsible for Doctor Who to camouflage the protagonist's TARDIS, that spacecraft capable of traveling through time and space and that is bigger on the inside.
The TARDIS has no hint of the magic and epic with which I imagined when I return to be a child watching the series. Here it is old, dirty, with the remains of some sign that had to hit him in his day and stuck wall to wall with an adjoining kiosk that prevents being able to surround it completely. Pedestrians ignore it as they would with a normal telephone booth and only a punctual tourist like me seems to pay more attention than usual.
After the geek quota of the day we returned to the subway to return, now with daylight, to the Piccadilly Circus. Neither under these conditions we were impressed by what we expected, and after contemplating the hustle and the illuminated signs and taking advantage of the fact that we still have 90 long minutes before nightfall, we took the path on foot to Trafalgar Square.
London's quintessential square welcomes us with a lively, festive atmosphere. Residents and tourists intermingle in the constant hustle and bustle of a nerve center of the city. The center of the square is starred by the statue on high dedicated to Admiral Nelson and in front of her and only distracted by some Christmas decorations waiting for the staircase that ascends to the National Gallery.
We climb up to its entrance, from which we have privileged views of the whole plaza seen in the distance by the Big Ben clock. Taking advantage of the fact that access is free (although a donation of four pounds is requested) we access the interior of the main art museum in London. It is not our intention to explore it in full, so we use a map to decide what is most interesting to include in our journey.
The debate ends when we see that there are several rooms dedicated to impressionism, L.'s favorite artistic current. We are going to them, soon finding several paintings by Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh among others. The most universal of the paintings that we have the opportunity to see is The Sunflowers of Van Gogh.
Still inside the National Gallery, we sit for a few minutes in the wooden benches in its corridors with the free internet connection, discreet but sufficient to catch up on social networks. We decided here our next steps, which will consist of going downhill Regent Street after having traced it previously thanks to two subway stops of the brown line (Bakerloo).
Regent Street is notably adorned with Christmas motifs and shops for all pockets succeeding one after another, during his journey we make a small incursion between the H&M and Gap racks before entering the Hamleys toy store. If you like toys, Hamleys is your place. A place with as much surface as El Corte Inglés dedicated to the leisure of the small and not so small. In its five floors employees follow each other demonstrating all imaginable gadgets, from dolls to drones.
And for the cries of emotion some seem to enjoy more than the customers themselves. We also find here merchandising of some film and television franchises, although in all the comparisons the prices are somewhat more expensive than in Forbidden Planet.
Along the way, what this morning were isolated cyclists dressed as Santa Claus has given way to literally armies of Father Christmas strolling through the streets. In subsequent research we would discover that today was the SantaCon, a new tradition whereby every December hundreds, thousands of people disguised as Santa Claus walk the streets of big cities like New York, Portland or now London with the sole intention to Drink and have a good time.
In London that translates into taverns still more full of the usual and invaded by red clothes and white beards. We complete the walking tour of Regent Street reaching Piccadilly now to the north, where we get back on the subway to get off at Covent Garden. Ten minutes on foot after we arrived at the place to cross out another must from the list.
At the recommendation of a friend, we chose a place to fulfill the obligatory mission of eating in a fish & chips. The best of the dinner is the glass of Skyr, a yogurt typical of Iceland that reminds us of the wonderful trip lived a few months ago.
The place is small and more austere than the web page had foreseen. Despite this, we reached an hour where it is not difficult to get a place to sit. The menu shows substantially cheaper prices for take-away service than for eating at the store. We ordered the variety with calamari and the most classic dish of cod. In both cases, there is all the good that battered fish can be for two people who are more adept at meat.
Both the potatoes and the tartar sauce that accompany them fulfill and fill. It's 5:30 pm and it's already dark at night when we end the dinner, which has left us by the not insignificant figure. After what would be the last subway trip today and sharing a car with Aziz Ansari's secret brother, we arrived at the hotel after 6:00 pm.
With a good handful of new memories on the back and the only goal of resting to face the next stage, we can only relax, shower, see a chapter of Homeland and turn off the lights of the room around 22:00. For now, today it is not necessary to resort to earplugs. With the luggage already prepared, within six hours the alarm of our mobiles will kick us out of bed to take the long way to Gatwick.