The Saturday after Thanksgiving, I finally got the opporunity to return to London again–I hadn’t gotten to go since IFSA Orientation in September! Due to the amount of course work waiting to be done, I could only afford to go for a single day. But it was a GREAT day, and I definitely want to return to London again someday.
The night before, that Friday night, I met up with my flatmate Molly in Cardiff City Centre for dinner. Instead of going to a restaurant, we decided to just walk around and get food from one of the stalls at the Christmas market! City Centre is really quite lovely at this time of year; in front of the National Museum there is Winter Wonderland with ice-skating, rides, and games, and then down in the actual center there’s the Christmas market and lights everywhere and small groups of musicians, and just a lot of holiday cheer in general!
We ended up getting something to eat from the German sausage stall!
We didn’t hang around for too long because we knew we’d have to get up early (for uni students) to catch the train in the morning, but it was still quite nice to just walk around and people-watch.
Anyway, we took the train out of Cardiff Central Station a little after 8am the next morning; on our way to the station we noticed that there was a film crew setting up in Bute Park. We’ve actually seen them a few times now, but have yet to figure out what exactly they are filming! In any case, it was an easy two hour train journey to Paddington Station; I’d brought a backpack with all my Welsh work in it, so I passed the time studying. I just love taking the train here; the carriages are so much nicer than the ones I am used to on the train to New York City.The whole time we were on the train I had the song “No Place Like London” from the musical Sweeney Todd stuck in my head.
After arriving in Paddington, we decided to get Single Day Travel Passes for the tube; it was seven pounds for the day, unlimited rides across zones, and included busses! And let me tell you–I love the tube. I just think it’s fantastic. I was really worried about getting lost and confused, but it’s really very clear and easy to follow, and even if you do get on the wrong train, it’s incredibly easy to hop off and just hop back onto the correct one. The circle line was closed for maintenance, so we had to figure out an alternate route, but like I said; clear signage makes a huge difference!
By 11:30 we were at the Tower of London, which was our only solid plan for the day. Given our limited time, we knew we couldn’t do a lot; both Molly and I had visited London previously and taken a walking tour to at least see the big things (Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, 10 Downing Street, Buckingham Palace, etc), so we didn’t feel as though we had to do that. Given my interest in British history and especially Henry VIII and his wives, I knew I couldn’t study abroad here without making it to the Tower. And since Molly wanted to see it, too, that’s just what we decided.
There was an ice-skating rink set up in the moat! A pretty cool place to be skating, I must say (although perhaps slightly less so when you remember that the moat was actually used as a cesspool for hundreds of years and wasn’t actually drained until Queen Victoria’s time). Atmospheric, none the less.
Molly’s cousin, who lives in London, planned to meet us at the Tower, so while waiting for her we decided to nose around the gift shop for a bit. I was extremely amused by this mug and seriously contemplated the purchase, but I am rather concerned about the amount of space I have in my suitcases and resisted the urge.
By the time we had met up with Molly’s cousin and purchased our tickets (the line was long; there were so many people there!), we were all starving, so we made a beeline for the Tower’s restaurant before even bothering to look at anything. The food there was actually excellent! I’d definitely recommend eating there to anyone visiting; just make sure you go to the one inside the castle grounds.
After lunch we decided to take the hour-long official tour with one of the “Beefeaters,” which gave a nice general overview of the castle; the Guardsman was also hilarious! The only downside to the tour was that there were about fifty other people on it so it was sometimes difficult to catch every word he was saying.
The Thames and London Bridge from the castle.
After taking the Yeoman’s tour, we decided to keep touring around by ourselves, following the path suggested by the Guardsman; basically it starts on the Thames side wall and you walk along the battlements from building to building and explore each one. The whole thing takes quite some time, but it’s all fascinating.
There was an enormous queue to see the Crown Jewels, so that is the only part of the Tower we didn’t do.
And of course, the infamous Tower Green; site of numerous private beheadings, including that of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard (Henry VIII’s wives two and five, respectively). It’s a horrible thing that happened there, really, but I couldn’t help but be excited as we walked around, and I did stop and have a little moment of silence at the Green:
After we’d seen all the outer parts of the castle, we headed for the White Tower in the center of the grounds, which was just as well because it had gotten very cloudy and was quite raw out. The interior of the White Tower is more of a traditional museum, with all sorts of collections, including a really cool one on armour (
We ended up staying at the Tower all afternoon! We left when the guards came round and told us they were closing in 15 minutes, at 5. So we said goodbye to the Tower and headed back to the tube. It was TOTALLY packed at that hour; we were packed like sardines! When we arrived at the stop we needed for Covent Garden the lines for the lifts were so long we decided to walk up the biggest spiral staircase I’ve ever seen in my life. It was super steep and tall, and so many people were having to stop halfway up and rest! It was a workout, but I appreciated all my gym sessions, because Molly & I made it to the top without stopping.
I tried to get some pictures around Covent Garden, which was very festive and buzzing, but alas, it was too dark and they are horribly blurred. We didn’t have a good map of Covent Garden, so we basically just wandered around until we realized we were starving and ended up going to the first restaurant we saw, which was a PizzaExpress. We had a long, leisurely dinner & dessert, and then somehow managed to find our way back to the tube without getting lost, which was rather a miracle given how many turns we’d made down random streets in our Covent Garden wanderings!
When we got on the train in Paddington (note: as soon as the platform number is posted, GO, or else you won’t get a seat!), we were happy to have seats at the back…although we had to share the space with a bunch of men who’d been in for the rugby (I think), and were very boisterous and spent the whole journey drinking more! Their conversations were very interesting (it’s not eavesdropping if the person is talking at the top of their voice a foot from your ear, right?).
Our train was going all the way to Swansea this time, so I was afraid to fall asleep in case we missed our stop! So I stayed awake and studied more Welsh, of course.
We got stuck for a while in Newport, and at around the two-and-a-half hour mark I got a little tired of inundating myself with Welsh vocabulary and took this picture:
So there you have it! One day in London, mostly spent at the Tower of London. There is just so much to see in the city, it was hard to have to pick and choose. But I really enjoyed it, as I said, and am eager to explore London further one day.
It was very interesting; I liked London, but visiting made me really appreciate the smaller size of Cardiff! It was also so weird to see signs without Welsh on them! I’ve gotten so used to seeing that here, it’s kind of a comfort now. In any case, it was really quite easy to get from Cardiff to London and then get around London; I frequently visit New York City when I am at home in the US (the train journey is also a little over two hours), but for some reason traveling felt much easier here, the only exception being that New York City is a lot easier to navigate, street-wise; London is just a big jumble! But charming in that way.
That’s enough for now–I have to go and do some revision for class tomorrow!