London - An Easy
Start to My Trip
|View from Melissa's flat.
September 4-6, 2007
My time in London was all too brief. I would have liked to have stayed longer; however, my wallet was more than happy to flee
this city. I remember it being an expensive city but I think I blocked out just how expensive this city is! Of course this could
have something to do with the British pound currently being at an all-time high against the U.S. dollar.
One thing that people will rave about is London’s Underground system (i.e. ‘the tube’). As my luck would have it, this
amazingly efficient system would go on a 72-hour strike the evening before I arrived. Just a minor set-back... After all, there
was one exception to the strike and that was the Picadilly line that runs from Heathrow to central London. The bonus was
getting a free bottle of water. They told me it was to get people in a good mood since they would basically be screwed once they
got into the city. It did the trick for me – my friend had already pre-warned me about the strike and had given me instructions
of how to proceed to her office via above-ground transportation.
Melissa’s current client is based right next to St. Paul’s Cathedral. We parked our butts in a pretty little square next to the
church to eat some lunch. Melissa then took my suitcase and I was off to explore.
First stop: St. Paul’s Cathedral.
And I have to say that this was literally ‘a stop’. Churches are normally free to wander around in. In rare cases, there are some
with a nominal fee. But I didn’t consider ~$20 a ‘nominal fee’. So I went inside, took in everything I could see between the
doorway and the ticket counter, and moseyed on out of there.
Second stop: The Tate Modern Museum across the Thames.
I actually went to this museum last year when I started my trip off in London. There were two reasons I was back: a) it was
directly across the River Thames from St. Paul’s, and b) it was free. In London, a person will take any free offering they can
I strolled up and down the embankment to the London Eye (this is also called the ‘Queen’s Walk’ which I find a bit interesting
as I can almost bet money that the Queen is not a regular stroller on this stretch of pavement).
I love looking at the London Eye. Maybe it’s partially due to that it didn’t exist the first time I visited London in 1997. And now
it does. I find it pretty cool that something that massive and that much of a piece of their skyline was erected so recently.
When I was in London a few years ago, I turned my nose up at spending $20 to go on the ride (or should I say ‘flight’ as that is
what British Airways – the company that is behind it –calls it). This time I was going to go for it. Except for one thing. It is now
$30. Now $30 is cheap for a ‘flight’ but I tend to see this as a bit more of a 30-minute Ferris wheel ride. I’m not saying I would
never do it at this price; I’m just saying I wouldn’t choose to have this $30 experience by myself.
Melissa and I ended up walking to her flat from her office since the tube wasn’t an option. Melissa pointed out how chaotic the
streets were compared to how they normally were. I had just assumed this was how it always looked. While streets were
crowded, nobody appeared moody or cranky. I liked that.
We had a glass of ‘it’s great to see you’ vino while watching the sun go down (did I mention that she lives within meters of the
London Eye and that you can see the top of the Houses of Parliament from her place?). We walked around a little bit (because
this area is simply magical at night when it’s lit up) and then decided on a dim sum dinner at Ping Pong. We capped off our
meal with steamed buns filled with dark chocolate – amazing! By the time we stopped talking, it was 1:00am. Proud to say that
once again there was no jet lag happening to this girl!
Yesterday I decided to start the day off with a little jog. It’s not everyday that I have the Thames right next door to me, after
all. So I geared up and began trotting along. No more than two minutes into the run, I came across a bump of some sort. I then
began a stumbling process. I tried to save myself but there was no hope – about five stumbling steps later I was sliding face
first on the embankment. I guess the moral of the story is that I shouldn’t go running? I could have packed up the running
shoes at that point. But no. Not me. After having a couple people ask me if I was okay (I had an embarrassed smile and
assured them I was – their painful expressions as it was happening was almost worse than the fall itself!), I got up and
proceeded to run. The jog took me from the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament to the Tower Bridge and back. Having
scenery like that could almost transform me into an actual ‘runner’ (i.e. person who runs regularly vs. once every few weeks).
As great as that scenery was, though, I have to admit that it still comes in second place to running in the Marina back in San
Francisco. You can take me out of that city but you can’t take that city out of me!
When I went to drop off Melissa’s keys to her at her office, she told me some news. Some very good news. The tube was in
service! I had come to completely accept that I wasn’t going to be able to navigate this large city with the most efficient
transportation system in the world. What an unexpected treat! The downfall to this was when I went to buy my ticket and
found out that a one-ride ticket within central London was the equivalent of $8. My mouth dropped when the guys at the tube
told me this. I know it was not this amount in the past. I don’t care if I sounded like a lame tourist or not – I couldn’t hold
myself back from saying “Oh my God that’s expensive!” We were laughing about it. That’s when they recommended the day-
pass option. I ended up buying it out of principle since it was only $2 more. I thanked them for the tip and went on my way
down to the Underground world (this would be when I would learn from a sign that 53 people were injured last year for not
minding the gap- interesting morsel of useless information).
I went through areas like Marylebone, Notting Hill and Kensington Gardens. With the London weather as beautiful as it was, I
figured an outdoor table at the Orangery at Kensington Palace was in order for afternoon tea.
Before dinner, I went to the National Museum of History since I was walking right past it. Turns out it was closing time – they
let me browse through it free of charge for the thirty remaining minutes. Then onto Knightsbridge and a little trip into Harrod’
s. This served as a reminder of just how much I need to appreciate my Asian fruit when I head to that part of the world –
rambutans were $40 per kilo and mangosteens were $50 per kilo. I love those fruits…but I don’t love them that much (also
considering almost the entire mangosteen fruit is inedible).
It was by sheer coincidence that I received an email from Carolyn (somebody I worked for back in San Francisco) the day that
I was leaving Chicago. She got transferred to the London office. I told her I was going to be in London and she invited me to her
and her husband’s flat for dinner while I was in town. So that’s what brought me to South Kensington. It was great going over
there and hanging out with them. Such a change from working for a person!
Time was flying by and I didn’t even realize it. I looked at my watch and saw that it was 11:00pm. Oops. I was supposed to call
Melissa around 8:30pm. When I called her, her boyfriend Paul had already fallen asleep and she was getting ready to head
home. I was a bit bummed that I was such an idiot with my lack of time awareness because I really wanted to meet Paul. Oh
well. There will be another time.
Melissa picked me up in the taxi and we went back to her flat. Apparently, we both like to talk before we go to sleep because
we ended up chatting until at least 2am. I was blocking it out of my mind that I needed to be up by 4:30am…
But I can always catch up on sleep, right???
Some London Pics...
Me and Melissa at the River Thames.
|Having afternoon tea at the Orangerie.