London Timeline: August 4-9th
Late Night Travel
We arrived late at night to London Gatwick Airport. We did not realize when we booked these flights that Gatwick was pretty far outside the city, and we were staying at a hotel in the city center. So we had a big trek to get from the airport to the hotel at around midnight. A taxi from the airport to the hotel would’ve been ridiculously expensive, so we opted for public transportation as we usually do. We of course had no experience with the London public transit yet, so we had to figure that out. We ended up getting a train from the airport into London Victoria station, and then we were planning to take an Uber from there to the hotel. But surprisingly it was a busy time of night and we weren’t able to get an Uber very quickly, so we ended up walking about a mile from the train station to the hotel, with our bags. Needless to say we were exhausted by the time we arrived at the hotel, after 1:00AM. We also still were not feeling well from Morocco.
Our First Couple Days – Feeling Ill
We were staying the first two nights at a 5-star hotel, the Trafalgar St. James London (Curio/Hilton) in Trafalgar Square, using two free reward nights from a Hilton Honors credit card sign up bonus. We were so thankful to be staying in a nice hotel by ourselves, especially because we weren’t feeling well. We actually ended up spending most of the first 72 hours in the hotel room! The next morning after arriving, we tore ourselves out of bed to make it down to the free breakfast offered by being Hilton Honors members. But this ended up not being worth it for us at all, because there wasn’t a great selection of food (the free breakfast was only the continental/cold options), and I personally was feeling so ill that all of the food was completely unappetizing. After this, we made our way to the Boots Pharmacy to get a variety of supplies for my cold and for both our GI issues. Then, we had booked late afternoon tickets to see the Buckingham Palace State Rooms. The palace is only open a short time during the year for the public, and it was definitely worth it to go inside! Unfortunately you’re not allowed to take photos inside, but it was absolutely stunning. After the tour, we planned to walk around and tour more of London, but we were both feeling so bad we ended up just getting sandwiches and taking them back to the room, where we stayed until the next day!
The next morning, neither of us were interested in getting up to go to the free breakfast, and we even pushed our check-out back to 2pm! Still not feeling well, we tried to walk around London some to be able to take advantage of our time there. However, it was very, very hot, and we just were not up to much. We walked around a little bit; I got myself a familiar iced Starbucks drink; we forced ourselves to eat some ginger and drink a probiotic drink in hopes of holistic healing; and then we found ourselves lying in the grass for a while at Hyde Park. That evening, we checked in to an Airbnb south of the city center. We mentioned to our host that we weren’t feeling well, and he was very kind in offering us some crackers and mint tea, which actually really helped settle our stomachs. After this, we were able to actually eat a real meal for dinner. We got to bed pretty early and again slept in the next day.
Getting Out and About in London
Our second to last day, we did do a little bit more in the city, but since we slept away most of the day we didn’t have time for a lot. We got more familiar with the public transportation system with our “Oyster Cards,” went to the Natural History Museum, walked around the extravagant Harrods department store and had a good laugh at the price tags, and walked the iconic crosswalk at Abbey Road.
We decided that since we had wasted most of our time in London, we would try to make up for lost time on our last day by getting “The London Pass.” This is a sight-seeing pass that gives you access to 80+ attractions for one price. It ended up being worth it for us because it motivated us to do a lot in one day, but in reality you can’t utilize more than a few of the attractions in one day because there’s just not enough time after you factor in getting from place to place and the lines at each attraction.
With the London Pass, we got to experience: The London Tower (castle), the Tower Bridge Exhibition, the View from the Shard, the London Bridge Experience and Tombs (read: haunted house), and the City Cruises Thames River Cruise. We had hoped to also go to Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral, but we failed to realize they both had relatively early closing times (~3pm). We only got to see Westminster Abbey from the outside, and we were only able to go into the lower part of the cathedral, not into the upper galleries for a view from the top. We were also hoping to be able to use the Hop On/Hop Off bus access allowed with the pass, but most of the things we wanted to see were actually within walking distance of each other, so we really didn’t have time to utilize the bus. In the future, I think it would be a really good value to do a 2-day London Pass for only slightly more money, and you could get in a ton more sights!
Finally, a few of the friends we had met during the retreat in Morocco lived in London, so they came into the city to meet us on our last night. They walked us around to a couple spots we hadn’t seen yet, then they hopped on the river cruise with us. Last, we went to eat at a London pub to have some traditional English food and beers for our last night in the UK.
The next morning, we had a very early flight out of London to our next destination, Berlin. We arrived actually earlier than we needed to at the airport, which to our surprise and delight allowed us some time to spend in one of the nicest airport lounges we’ve been to. They had a great selection of breakfast food and drinks. We were both still feeling a little sick and didn’t have big appetites, but we did take advantage of the breakfast.
Overall we were disappointed that we didn’t get to experience as much of London as we normally could have because we weren’t feeling well. But we made up for it with a busy last day. We also realize that sometimes travel doesn’t go as planned, and since we are on this 5 month journey, we recognize the importance of slowing down and taking care of our bodies so that we can continue to have a good trip. I’m sure that we will go back to London again in the future, but next time we are in the UK we would like to see some other areas outside of the main cities as well.
Next Stop: Berlin!
Insider Tips on London:
- For public transportation, they use a plastic re-loadable card called the “Oyster Card.” They do not take cash on the buses like they do in Edinburgh. You need to go to the subway (“tube”) station to get your card, and then refill it at the automated machines as needed. If you’re going to be in London 2 days or more, this is your best bet. The Oyster Card is accepted on all forms of transit including buses, trams, the tube, etc.
- Often if you’re eating at a pub, you go to the bar to place your order and pay, instead of a waitress coming to your table.
- As in other parts of the UK, they drive on the left side of the road; they use the British Pound as currency; the outlet plugs are “Type G” (3 rectangular prongs) and the outlets are 220V.
- Many places in the city take credit/debit cards, but you may still need cash for smaller vendors. Keep some small coins on hand because sometimes the public restrooms require payment (around 50 pence) to an automated machine that only takes coins.
- Don’t get the “filter coffee.” In my experience, they don’t do regular drip coffee very well. Just get the lattes.
- If you have to go to the pharmacy, expect all the medicines and products to have different names than they do in the US. I had to do some extensive searching in the aisles and reading of the ingredients to find similar products to what I was used to. I was unable to find any “cough drops” like the kind I’m accustomed to, but I did find “throat lozenges.” For motion sickness, they don’t have Dramamine, so I just had to ask the pharmacist what they use, and she gave me that from behind the counter.
- Big Ben (The Elizabeth Tower) is currently undergoing renovations until 2021, so don’t expect to see or hear it until then.
- Buckingham Palace is only open a short period of the year to the public. Check online for the dates if this is sometime you’re interested in seeing. Definitely worth it in my opinion!
- Dining out at restaurants is a different experience in the UK and other countries than it is in the US. The waiters don’t tend to “bother” you as much. I think this is because they don’t necessarily work for tips, so they’re not accustomed to checking on you as often. They will let you be unless you wave them down for things, like the check. At first I thought the waiters were being rude or inattentive, but I’ve learned that’s just how it is everywhere we’ve traveled so far.
- Bees! Every country we’ve visited so far including Morocco, the UK, and Germany we have had a huge problem with bees! If you’re eating outside, or even just have a drink in your hand, they are extremely bothersome and persistent. My tactic for my entire life in the US for a rare bee encounter is to remain calm and still until the bee goes away. But so far this has not worked while we’ve been out of the country, because they will continue to swarm you, land on your food, or go into your drink. We have not been stung (yet?) luckily, but the only way we’ve found to get them off of you is to swat them and make contact so they know you mean business (ha)!
- I’m sure you’ve heard of morning or afternoon tea. They drink hot (dark) tea with milk and sugar, like we drink coffee. (Although they do drink coffee too). This is not something I’d ever had before, but we tried it and it was okay. Unfortunately we did not make it to a formal “Afternoon Tea” event like I’d hoped we would get to experience. Next time!
- There are a TON of free museums in London! If we had been feeling better, we definitely would have taken more advantage of these free museums. For sightseeing on a budget, definitely check some of them out.
- London is huge and very spread out. You can get to a lot of things just on foot if you’re willing to walk. But I’d also recommend getting acquainted with the public transit to get from one section of town to another. The Google Maps App has really saved us on being able to figure out trains, tubes, trams, buses, etc! If you have access to data on your phone while traveling abroad, all you have to do is input where you want to go and when you search for directions, choose the option that looks like a train and it’ll give you the public transit route instead of the walking or driving directions. It tells you which train to take, how long until the next train comes, etc. It is a game changer for sure!