I have been trying to come up with a way to summarize our trip to England, and for lack of a better word, it was amazing. Every aspect of our vacation was exciting, fun and totally worth it.
For two weeks we were on the go, doing something, walking to a new area and experiencing the sights. We may have taken the tourist approach to London, seeing the things everyone else does, but since this was our first time to Europe we made sure to see all of them. I immediately fell in love with London. From their 150 year old Underground system, to the old and new mashup of items in their skyline, everything about the city I romanticized and fell head first into.
Over the trip we amassed 1,200 photos and a few stories. It would be too much to write about the trip, touch on some memorable moments (from London, Brighton, Cambridge and Marseille) and post a few select photos in a single post so I have decided to split the review up into several. I will cover England in two posts and Marseille in another, so without further adieu, let’s begin with some quick commentary before going into the trip.
- We didn’t have a pedometer for this trip, but if we did our mileage would have shocked us. We walked everywhere. I brought two pairs of walking shoes and both were not up for the task for walking. After a week of pain and multiple blisters I bought new shoes, and experienced a pain free walk for the remainder of the trip.
- On the topic of shoes… oh my bank account, the shoes. I never thought I would be a shoe guy but the styles, colours and patterns of their shoes were miles ahead of what is available in Edmonton. I only bought shoes out of necessity but I dragged Jenna into many shoe stores in Cambridge, London and Brighton in the quest for the perfect sole.
- The people in London were never cold, but they stuck to themselves. We did encounter a friendly local the day we went to Piccadilly Circus. She saw our map and ‘London A-Z’ book and asked if we were lost, as if it wasn’t immediately obvious, and kindly pointed us in the right direction. Even though people were rushed and always late to get somewhere they would say ‘sorry’ if they got in your way or brushed up against you. The exception was on public transit, where it was a mad dash to get on or off the carriage but for the most part I found people courteous.
- No trucks. There was no obnoxious half tonne truck with metal testicles hanging from its trailer hitch. Instead we got a healthy does of Porsche’s, a single (and sexy) Audi R8, several Maserati’s, a lot of Bentley’s and one Rolls-Royce. Top Gear told me everything I knew about England, and their appreciation of expensive and fast cars did not disappoint. Even motorcycles were less annoying here, and moped’s were definitely more common.
- Crossing the road as a pedestrian was one of the biggest challenges. At some crosses there would be a ‘look right’ or a ‘look left’ (or both) , but if those were absent and there was no crossing light it was a gamble every time you stepped off the curb. Near the end of the trip we got the hang of which direction to look but it was definitely a challenge.
- The fashion was an obvious change from Edmonton. Dress shoes and pants were the norm. Shirts were always a button up and may have been complented with a tie. The females had a noticeable fashion sense and brand names like LV, D&G, Coach or Chanel were present in every area. The clothes and labels were a way of life and even females in stockings would complete their look with an expensive hand bag.
- I didn’t mind the CCTV presence everywhere. I understand the world we live in has changed during the last decade, and England has been the subject of its own attacks but it was good to know that Big Brother was watching. Perhaps I would feel different if I lived there and the novelty wore off but I appreciated the fact that the cameras can be used for good and not evil.
- English accents sound much better on girls than their male counterparts.
Our flight left Thursday afternoon, but we didn’t really begin our trip until Saturday. We landed in London at 7AM London time, or midnight our time and had a long day ahead of us. Once we were collected at Gatwick Airport we began our pilgrimage to Bishop’s Stortford. The trip to our temporary home was difficult. We wanted to appreciate the city around us, but were exhausted from the trip and our luggage was being a burden in the big city. Something as simple as buying a rail ticket from a self-serve kiosk was overwhelming to us. You mix in the mid afternoon crowd at London Bridge and Liverpool Street Station and we just wanted the sanctuary of a smaller, and much quieter place. The rest of Friday was uneventful. No matter what happened on our trip we were able to say “It wasn’t as bad as our first day here”, which is a testament to how knackered we were on Friday and not the tough situations we found ourselves in.
On Saturday we had a large breakfast and headed up the rail to Cambridge. The weekend crowd made the city extremely busy and crowded, especially in the market and Kings College area, but it was nice to be out and exploring what England had to offer. Kings College was gorgeous, and the Chapel area was really breathtaking. We went into a lot of cathedrals in these two weeks, and perhaps it was because we saw Kings College first, but the enormity of it stood out amongst the other ones we saw. Being in a school that is celebrating its 800th birthday is quite a feeling, especially when the University of Alberta made so much fanfare about its centennial last year. Kings College wasn’t the only area we visited, we took a tour of St. John’s College.
It was in Cambridge that we got to experience what England was all about: going to the local pub and having a few pints with your mates. After a long day of walking we settled down at the cities oldest pub, which was located alongside the waterway, and drank the afternoon away. The crowd around us started to thin out and the sun began to set so we packed it in and returned home.
On Sunday we returned to London () and were introduced to the Underground system () for the first time in the trip. I have a lot of great things to say about London and their public transit (), especially the Tube. Locals may loathe the system but I was in awe of it the whole time. Originally I was confused by all of the lines and stations but it was the most effective way of transporting us around the city and thought it was a great system. However, being on a carriage that is chock-a-block is a very unpleasant feeling and we often avoided it when the work day ended.
But back to London…our sightseeing took us to St. Paul’s Cathedral. We were able to go inside the chapel for free, but because of mass occurring our movements were limited. However, being there when others were worshiping added to the experience. Our trip continued down the Millennium Bridge and into the Tate Modern Museum. From here we continued along the Queen’s Walk along the Southbank and came across the Southbank Skate Park. The atmosphere along Southbank was contagious, people were out enjoying the beautiful weather and there were street performers on the walk. We stopped by Trafalgar Square, but the hoards of people prevented us from fully appreciating it. Since it is “one of the most famous squares in the United Kingdom and the world” we wondered if we missed out but felt good saying we were there and never felt the need to return.
Monday would be our first unchaperoned test into the city and our chance to become intimate with public transit (). It may not seem like much but visiting platform 9 3/4 () was an exceptional moment for me. Finding the magical platform was a little tricky and when we were clearly in the wrong area a helpful station worker asked “Are you looking for Harry Potter?” and I bashfully said “Yes”. He gave us some basic directions and we were on our way to Hogwartz (). Jenna thought it was a dorky thing to do (), but eventually got in on the ‘cart pushing’ moment (). We made our way back to Southbank and experienced a much quitter area than the day before, but noticed that there were still some street performers trying to cash in on the tourists in this area. Even though it was overcast the London Eye was a really cool experience and gave us an appreciation for how large the city really was. We would spend most of our time in London by the Thames but when you see how far the city sprawls it puts things into perspective.
To cap the day off we did the walk to Big Ben, Parliament and Westimster Abbey. Westminster Abbey was a huge surprise. I am not a religious person, but it was very powerful experience to be in hallowed grounds like the Abbey. We were literally walking over historic people, those that shaped the past were beneath our feet. I was particularly moved at the Royal Air Force Chapel section of the Abbey. This was a footnote amongst all of the other Chapels in the Abbey but this stopped me in my tracks the longest while touring the Abbey. We probably would have benefited from having an audio guide with us, but it was still helpful to stop and read any posted information boards.
Our educational journey in London continued the next day at the British Museum, which again was free. Some may come to the museum to see the Rosetta Stone but I came to see the covered roof in the Great Room (). Of course the Egyptian and Greece exhibits were amazing, especially the sculptures area where we saw the marble statue of Aphrodite (). I could have spent more time at the British Museum, and would consider returning if we found ourselves in that area again.
Once we were done with knowledge we changed gears completely and went from the old and historic to the busy and expensive as we ventured towards Harrods to buy some gifts. Handbags that were several thousand Pounds were the norm and security was present at every ‘section’. Like a kid in a candy store, we were over stimulated, bought what we came for and got out of there, and headed back to the comfort of Bishop’s Stortford.
As this is nearing 2,000 words I will stop the post here. We still have the strangest and most bizarre experience we went through on Tower Bridge coming up, our mini-Beatles pilgrimage, the day Sean was searched at Gatwick and Calgary airport while scoring a ‘perfect score’ on packing the luggage, days away from heading to Marseille without a hotel booked and, of course, the Marseille trip itself.