The morning after.
I was spending two nights in London this time, and had I met up with my awesome friends at London Bridge and the Tower of London yesterday.
Sitting with my Gregg’s (yum!) pastry in the hostel breakfast room, I realized that I, very cleverly, hadn’t made a single plan for today. I knew I was getting the coach up to the midlands at 17:00 to visit my Dad, but no more than that.
I glanced up at the clock. Hmm, 10:00, how am I going to pass 7 hours by myself?! What a daft question. I’m in London, baby! The last time I was here I was (very happily) rushed around Leicester Square and Piccadilly. That was great, but I didn’t really want to do that again. I needed ideas!
That’s when I noticed the wall next to me (I’m a bit slow in the mornings) was covered in graffiti. Helpful graffiti for tourists, mind you. And I saw that at 11:15 every day there’s the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace. I have a fine collection of guards from various countries all in their traditional getup. I can’t get enough of it.
So with that, I gobbled up the rest of my pastry (I’m kidding, that sucker’s long gone) and I headed off to Earl’s Court tube station.
I admit, I had to ask a member of staff which ticket to buy if I wanted to go to more than one stop and I got an All Day ticket to every Zone. Most of what you’ll probably want to see will be in Zone 1, but if you want to venture into Camden then that’s in Zone 2 so this pass totally works for that.
Do not let anybody tell you that the London Underground is complicated and scary. It is not. This was my first time here by myself and I didn’t mess up once (and I’m blonde). If you need to change certain lines then all you have to do is check the map at every platform and follow the signs to your new line. And if you’re really struggling, the staff are more than willing to help you out. You’re not the first to ask, and definitely not the last!
Buckingham Palace & Westminster:
Now, Buckingham Palace itself is not the name of the station, nor does the train announcement tell you when it’s the stop. I got off at St. James’s Park, which is a nice walk through the park to the Palace, but you can also stop at Green Park or Victoria Station.
I was walking through St. James’s Park and (besides following the signs) I knew I was heading in the right direction because I could hear the Royal Band starting to play. I suddenly saw hundreds of people all along the gates along Birdcage Walk. That’s where the Guard’s Chapel and Museum is. This is where they start so if I were you, I would get there early, but if you want to see them when they’re in front of Buckingham Palace then you would really have to get there very, very early. I can confidently tell you that there were THOUSANDS of people in front of the Palace, eagerly awaiting the Royal Guards. I had just walked towards where I saw the first crowds of people so I waited there with everybody else until they began to march down the road towards the Palace. I got surprisingly near to the front but if you’re on the taller side, don’t expect people to let you in front of them! This is a great chance to take photos, not only of the Royal Guards in their bearskin “busbies” and the Queen’s home, but for the policemen controlling the crowds with horses and the Union Jack flags surrounding the Victoria Memorial. There is such a proud atmosphere here.
So then after about an hour and a half I made my way back to St. James’s Park Station. However, right before I went in I saw what looked like a sweet piece of architecture out of the corner of my eye so I told myself that I would peek around the corner and then be on my way to Big Ben. Well, had I not already bought a ticket I would’ve saved some money. As I rounded the corner I soon realized that this “sweet piece of architecture” was actually Westminster Abbey. Whoops-a-daisy! This shows you how little I know London.
I hung around Westminster Abbey for a good few minutes and then I walked on and found Big Ben and the House of Commons/Lords! And even more flags! It seemed every time I put my camera away something else very photo-worthy would pop up!
The tower of Big Ben was originally known as Clock Tower, but was renamed as Elizabeth Tower in 2012 to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. It is the second largest four-faced chiming clock in the world! I know you’re wondering so I’ll just tell you – Minneapolis City Hall is number one.
So I headed down the steps to Westminster Station and caught the tube up to Camden. Everybody has been telling me for years to check out Camden High Street and Market at the Lock. Don’t be fooled by the first “Camden Market” you see, the “real” one is further down the High Street.
I think I may have came across the coolest place on my travels so far!
The shops, the people, the atmosphere, the vibe, oh my god. Punks, goths, hipsters, you name it, they’re here and they’re owning it. And of course, this is home to the beautiful Amy Winehouse, who local artists have painted around the town, and erected a statue in Camden Market in her memory.
Camden Market attracts (approximately) 100,000 people every weekend. I think that speaks volumes as to how awesome it is here. The market itself is absolutely huge by the way, so it’s a good idea to give yourself landmarks because you think you know which way to turn and you find yourself somewhere completely new, again and again!
After finally dragging myself (and my wallet!) out of Camden, I raced as fast as I could to Victoria Coach Station for my bus to my Dad’s. I sat there feeling chiefly British, and kind of proud. What a strange effect London had on me!
And that, my friends, is how you “do” London in an afternoon!