Out of the states and into London… the weather was beautiful – what luck! We arrived our first night and stayed with Rob’s friend Scott and girlfriend Molly. We almost immediately went out for a pint. I was enjoying London already and absolutely loving the accents all around me. We were also able to meet up with a friend from home who was visiting London at the time – Simon. It was really nice to see a face from home (helps with the homesickness).
We spent our next day touring some of the sites – walking across Tower Bridge and taking a tour of Tower of London. At the end of our tour we were able to go see the Crown Jewels! This was probably my favorite part of Tower of London – diamonds galore! Including the biggest ever cut diamond at 530 carats!! After getting a close look at some of the jewels on the crowns, I am surprised kings and queens are able to hold up their head with those things on! So elaborate… it was really neat to see them up close. We also went to Covent Garden, which is an area with a lot of street performers. There was a magician there that Rob had seen before and he was great. Also there was a contortionist dancer who was a little left of center but put on a good show. A bit too much of his show was spent stretching/warming up, but still entertaining and a unique experience.
We decided to go to Brighton for the weekend and it worked out that it was Gay Pride, which was a lucky coincidence. We went to the parade with a friend of Rob’s – Jonathan – and it was SO much fun (pictures below). We spent the next couple days exploring Brighton – going to the beach, spending time on the Brighton Pier, which has a permanent carnival set up (Rob made a self admitted “sad” attempt at a mechanical bull), having some delicious food, and enjoying the nightlife. More than a few hours were spent in a large labyrinth of streets and alleys known as “the lanes” which is filled with shops and restaurants to poke into. Brighton was a great city and we loved spending the weekend there.
We got back to London after the weekend and were now staying with my cousin Dimitri and his girlfriend Jade. It was really great to see him and meet his other half. (I think he made a good pick with her 😉 ) We spent our next couple days seeing more sites around the city. We rode the London Eye where we got fantastic views overlooking the all of London. Afterwards we walked to Big Ben and Westminster Abbey both of which were stunning! I also found out that Big Ben is just the bell in the clock tower, not the whole tower. (Maybe I am in the minority with being new to this information but oh well!) We went to Buckingham Palace in an attempt to see the changing of the guards but there were SO many people there that we couldn’t see a thing. Eventually we gave up and went for an ice cream instead (#win). After the mass crowds we were itching to get out of the area so we took a train to Camden – a really cool indie/punk town with market style shops. I was elated to see so much shopping opportunity! We went into a store called Cyberdog there. It was an experience…. This is essentially a raver’s heaven. The store is almost 100% black lights with glow-everything: nail polish, clothes, hair color, bracelets, shoelaces, paint, gadgets, you name it, they have it. They have dancers who are paid to just rave dance all day long in the store. Rob is considering applying instead of returning to a career in finance. We spent at least an hour and a half just walking around looking at stuff.
The next morning, we took a free walking tour around the Westminster neighborhood and saw Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and many more major sites while getting the full history of most of London’s iconic landmarks. Later that day, we rented bikes and rode around the London Zoo where we were able to see some of the animals even without paying to get in. We ended our day with a trip to Notting Hill which was supposed to have some great markets but it was sort of closing up by the time we got there, so we just got some dessert and went back to the flat to meet up with Jade and Dimitri. We were able to spend a couple nights out with them, mostly dinner and drinks, which was nice after a long day on the town.
Our final day was pretty short so we decided to create our own mini pub crawl. We started with the Duck and Dog pub where we had some delicious classic pub food, followed by Cock Tavern where we had a drink with an equally suggestive name and completed our tour with Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. It’s hard to resist a bar named after a cheese. We had a spectacular 7 days in England and it was a great start to our European section of our trip. Much more to come!