We took the tube to the Elephant and Castle stop, which was a quarter mile from the hostel, St. Christopher’s Village, where some people in our group would be staying that night. I thoroughly enjoyed the names of all the stops (Piccadilly Circus was a fan favorite) and Jamie loudly complained that he didn’t see the “Elephant Castle” anywhere after we’d gotten off.
We dropped our bags at the hostel and headed out for lunch. Naturally, since we were in London, I had Asian noodles and rice at an establishment run by people for which English was their second language. (The noodles were great.)
Jon Goh became our tour guide through London. We trekked down the street as I exclaimed, “Christmas!” “Christmas!” “Christmas!” at all the Christmas things I saw. We only realized it after we’d done it, but we ended up walking for four hours through London. It was a “bridges and clocks” sort of day. The first bridge and first sight of the day was London Bridge, which has apparently been falling down for hundreds and hundreds of years. The Thames water is really quite dirty, but apparently it was once a river of toxic waste, so award for Most Improved.
The first thing we did when we reached St. Paul’s Cathedral was identify the nearest phone booth. Someone mentioned taking a picture in the phone booth, so I went inside and asked someone to take a photo. Suddenly, 4-5 people (I honestly can’t remember which it was, I was so smashed) crammed inside and we set the record for number of solar car mechanical engineers fit inside a London phone booth.
Next stop was the Tate modern art museum, so we headed across another bridge. But first, we spotted a small Paddington bear — I don’t know why it’s there (or why there are so many of them all over London) or what it means, but we took a picture of us taking a selfie of us, for good measure.
On the bridge, we saw the Globe Theater right near the Tate! We didn’t end up going there, but it was neat to see it. This is the third Globe built, since the first two had a propensity for burning down to the ground.
As we approached the Tate, I saw a little glowing faire right in front of the museum. Jon Goh said, “Oh the Christmas village?” and I was all like “CHRISTMAS!???!” We all decided to split up and meet back in thirty minutes. Most of the group headed into the museum, but I darted straight into the Christmas village. It was my favorite part of London. The shops sold things that I definitely didn’t need or want — decorative “fairy” lights, kitschy signs, stained glass lamps, knitted hats, scented candles, snow globes, handmade soap — but the atmosphere was wonderfully Christmassy and warm (50 degF) and fuzzy and it didn’t get any better than that. (You don’t understand, I LOVE Christmas.) I ended up buying a handmade leatherbound notebook from a leather shop because I love to write and because it smelled good and because Christmas!
I went inside the Tate museum for a hot second and then asked myself “What am I doing?”, turned around and went back to the village. I leaned against the railing, took in the view of St. Paul’s from afar, and thought about Christmas until it was time to meet back with the group.
Our last stop was Westminster Abbey, which took us right by Big Ben. We were all surprised when we saw it — “Is that Big Ben??” “It is Big Ben!!” “What a surprise!” Unfortunately, Big Ben was so big that he didn’t fit inside my camera frame.
We gathered outside Westminster Abbey to figure out what we were doing next. I sat down against the gate and someone asked, “Are you loitering at Westminster Abbey?” A small sign that was ironically located directly above my head read “CCTV camera operating at all times.” If the gift shop had sold a sign that said “I Loitered At Westminster Abbey”, I would have bought it.
Unfortunately, it was time for Max and I to catch our flight. We caught the train to the bus to the hostel to a different train to the airport and at the end of it all our feet were aching terribly but we had Seen London.