Again, this is long, but I don’t expect you to read all of it. There are pictures at the bottom. :)
DAY 1-Arrival and Getting Lost
We arrived at Stansted airport around 11:30pm. We found where we needed to buy bus tickets but weren’t really sure which direction we were headed so we decided to just show the guy selling bus tickets the address we needed. He looked at it, looked at something on his computer, then reported to us that the closest we could get to that address is Baker Street, but the street that we need is just a couple streets over. We were ok with that.
Found the bus. It was full. It was smelly. The heat was on, and we were melting! Someone finally yelled from the back of the bus to the bus driver to turn the heat off. We made it to Baker Street and promptly realized that we were not even close to the right place. We had shown an address to go to Edgeware (an area outside of London), and they had sent us to Edgeware Road in the middle of London. We decided to walk around and see if we could find WiFi anywhere. We really wanted to get ahold of our CouchSurfing host and let him know we were in London. Since it was nearly 1am, we had no luck. We just started looking for a cheap hotel/hostel.
We ended up stopping in this Asian massage place…or something. The lady spoke English and let us in. We asked her if she knew where a hotel or hostel was anywhere nearby. It took her a little while to understand what we were asking. She eventually pointed us in a direction and said that it might be pricey. We walked past it…and we did not even stop. There was a huge lobby with a giant chandelier, and it looked super fancy.
We saw this Middle Eastern guy walking down the road. We asked him if he spoke English. He shrugged his shoulders and motioned like he might understand something we said. We asked him if he knew where a nearby hotel would be. He said no and kept walking. A couple minutes later he stopped and motioned that there was a hotel up the road a little bit. “Hilton” is all he said as he pointed. We walked about a mile more before we saw it knowing it would be way out of our price range. We went in anyway and asked how much their cheapest room was. £150. NOPE! So we asked them if they could point us in the direction of some cheaper hotels. They told us that 2 streets down, on the right, that there are a bunch of budget hotels. We thanked them and headed in the direction they pointed us.
We continued walking, passed a hookah bar, saw a lot of Middle Eastern men, noticed that everything was in Arabic. We kept walking. So, 2 streets down, on the right, we see a building with a long row of hotels. We started at the 1st one and asked how much then worked our way down until we found a guy that gave us a pretty good deal. £70. 2am. The room was tiny as was the bathroom, but it was a safe place to stay.
We realized the next morning that all the decorations in the hotel were Egyptian, so we’re guessing the people who owned it were Egyptian. They didn’t speak English very well, and José actually had better luck speaking Spanish with the guy at the desk!
DAY 2-Meeting Daniel and Zsazsa & Seeing London for the First Time
Once we woke up the next morning, we got all our things together and went on a search for free WiFi. We ended up at a McDonalds. We tried to connect…blah blah blah…it required the company to send an SMS containing a code to your phone. Well that wouldn’t work because we didn’t have international plans on our phones. Thankfully a kind worker at McDonalds helped us by sending the code to her phone then giving it to us.
José got on Google Maps and got directions to our host’s home. We messaged him to let him know that we were in London and headed to his home. No reply. We found the Tube, took it as far as we could, then walked to his address. We got to the building, rang the intercom, no answer. So we were talking about what we were going to do. We could sit there and wait or we could head back into town and find something to do. This guy walked up behind us and asked in a Russian accent, “Are you staying with Daniel?” We told him we were. He said he had been at the bus stop and seen us walking this way. Daniel had told him that he had 2 more couch surfers coming today. We introduced ourselves to Vladmir, and he let us in the apartment and showed us around.
We put our things down and found some food (Daniel had told us to make ourselves at home, and Vladmir had shown us where we could find food). We sat down at the table and about half an hour later Daniel and his girlfriend, Zsazsa, returned home. We talked with them for quite a while and rested a bit. They needed to go into town later and invited us to go along with them.
First, Daniel and Zsazsa took us to see a Sikh (Hindu) Temple. We were able to go inside but couldn’t take photos inside. There are some of the outside. It was phenomenal. Absolutely gorgeous. Wooden and marble. We had to take off our shoes, and those who wore shorts had to wear coverings. I was wearing pants that day. This Sikh Temple is the largest Sikh Temple outside of India. After that, we had dinner at a little restaurant, found some interesting places, got our 1st glimpse of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament across the River Thames.
We met back up with Daniel and Zsazsa a couple hours later and went back home. Once we got there we met the other couch surfers staying there. A couple from Argentina, Martin and Adriana. We visited with them for a while and made plans for dinner the next night. Martin and Adriana were going to make empanadas.
DAY 3-The National Museum of History, Hyde Park, and Primark
Vladmir left early in the morning. We slept in and took our time getting ready. We were still very tired. We left the apartment around noon and headed to the National Museum of History(which is free, by the way!). I have to admit that I wasn’t super excited about this, but José was so we went. I am so glad we did. We went in and spent about 4 hours exploring the Earth Science section of the museum. It was really neat. It had different sections for Geology, Earthquakes, Volcanos, Erosion…very fascinating. We left right at closing time and thought we’d seen the whole museum except for the last part we rushed through. We ended up in the *huge* lobby/entry way and discovered we’d come in a side entrance and that we’d only seen about 1/3 of the museum. We decided to go back the next day.
We walked around for quite a while through Hyde Park. This park is gigantic and gorgeous. I thought we would never make it to the other side! We were on our way to Primark to shop. Vladmir told us about it the night before and we heard that they have really good prices on things. We looked around quite a bit and found both of us a pair of sunglasses. I took my Vera Wang sunglasses and they had an unfortunate meeting with an emery board in my purse. I put them to rest in London. The prices there were very low, but some of the stuff didn’t seem very high quality. One of those you get what you pay for kind of things. Their clothes looked nice…I guess it was mostly the shoes that looked really cheap up close-nice from far away. After we shopped, we decided to head back to the apartment for dinner.
Martin and Adriana had just returned and were about to start dinner. Daniel and Zsazsa had gone to a concert in Hyde Park and weren’t sure if they’d make it back in time for dinner, but they did. The empanadas were amazing! Martin and Adriana made the shell it was in which was so flaky, and the filling inside them was amazing too! I think I ate like 5 or 6 of them.
DAY 4-National Museum of History, Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, & Westminster Abbey
We finished up at the National Museum of History and were not even a bit disappointed with the dinosaur exhibit. It was so stinking cool! We walked through some of the other exhibits but weren’t as interested in them. We spent several more hours there before deciding to visit some of the bigger tourist attractions in London.
First we visited Buckingham Palace. It was beautiful, but I was a little disappointed to find the guard so far inside the gate. We couldn’t even really get a good look at them. My camera has a great zoom though, so I got some good pics. The fountain/monument just in front of the palace is beautiful as well. We sat there for a while and rested before heading to see Big Ben.
We went to Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. It was beautiful! Right next to them, in the same square, is Westminster Abbey. It was just as gorgeous as all the pictures I’ve seen. There were tons of people there, but we got some really good pictures.
We headed back toward the apartment, and on our way stopped by the grocery store to buy some things for dinner. Since it was the 4th of July, we decided to make an American meal for everyone at the apartment. We got back and met the 3 Hungarian girls that would be staying for the next few days: Anna, Viki, and Laura. We made burgers and french fries, and everyone loved it! It was fun to get to make a meal for everyone and celebrate our Independence Day a little.
DAY 5-Camden Town Market & Electroworkz
Martin and Adriana left today. They were doing a European tour as well, and I think they went to Amsterdam from London.
We decided to visit Camden Town Market today. It was huge. We got lost and ended up walking a couple of circles before we actually went anywhere in the market. There were tons of little shops and tents where you could bargain for what you want.
We saw this giant robot outside one store and decided we wanted to go in there. We were very glad we did. It was a rave store, and it had everything one could ever want for a rave. So many neat things. We didn’t buy anything because it was ridiculously expensive, but it was neat to look around. 3 levels…one of them was 18 and older so you can decide for yourself what was on that level.
We did buy 1 thing there. Tickets to a rave. It was at a place called Electroworkz, and it was for tonight. We decided to take a nap before we went to the rave, so we went back to the apartment and napped for a few hours then had dinner before we went.
The rave didn’t start until 10pm. We arrived around midnight. They had several different DJ’s playing…ummmm…lots of different styles of electronic music. José can elaborate on that in his blog. It was a very different atmosphere for me. Lots of very drunk people. Lots of high people. Lots of people wanting to be high and asking for drugs. We were kinda standing in the back watching and listening, and I noticed this girl kept looking at me. I gave her a polite smile and carried on with what I was doing. Then this guy came over and was talking to José. I assumed he was looking for drugs as we had been asked a couple of times. They talked for a minute or 2, and when he walked away, José said to me, “I don’t think kissing a British girl was on your bucket list, was it?” I said no. Apparently she had sent her boyfriend over to ask if I would be interested in her. It was weird.
We stayed for a few hours before deciding to head back to the apartment around 3 or 4am. We had gotten our bed ready before we left so we could just go to sleep as soon as we got back.
DAY 6-Leicester Square & Trafalgar Square
Today we went to Leicester Square (pronounced Lester). It has a fountain in the middle where we had fun watching kids play and chase the pigeons. It was like they had never had so much fun in their lives! Around the square are lots of different stores. One of which is an M&M Store. It was really cool. So. Many. M&M’s! Also *very* overpriced. Very neat, nonetheless.
We checked out Trafalgar Square, and it was really pretty as well. It was one of the areas where they were having a huge Tour de France gathering. There was a giant screen where you could watch, and there were live bands. We didn’t stay long because it was really crowded and it was about time to head back to the apartment for dinner.
We went back to the apartment and met the Spanish family that was staying with Daniel for a few days. We really enjoyed visiting with them. Xavi, his wife, and their twin daughters Elisa, and Laura. The Hungarian girls made dinner for us. It was a sour cream based sauce over chicken and homemade pasta. It was delicious!
DAY 7-Changing of the Guard (or not), Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, Tour de France, Tower Bridge, Tower of London
Today we got up and left a little earlier. We were determined to get to Buckingham Palace in time to watch the changing of the guard. We got there just in time to see it start…if they had been doing it that day. Thanks to the Tour de France they had cancelled the changing of the guard for that day since Buckingham Palace was the ending place for the race that day. I was pretty disappointed.
We went on to see Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and were again disappointed in what it has become. It was very modernized and you could hardly see the outside of the theater for all the shops and restaurants around it. Next time I think we will visit Stratford upon Avon to get a better Shakespearean experience.
From there, we went to see the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.
But before we made it, there was a large crowd gathered over a small bridge. We stopped to see what was going on, and they were waiting for the Tour de France to pass through. We decided to stop and watch since we were there. It rained on us, and we waited about 15 minutes before the race got to us. It passed in about 1 minute, but it was really neat to see it. How many people can say they’ve seen the Tour de France in real life!? Well, probably millions, but I don’t know anyone personally (besides José) that has seen it.
The Tower Bridge is gorgeous. We saw it from further away then made our way to the Tower of London and to the bridge. The Tower of London was really neat to see, and we would have loved to go in and see the Crown Jewels, but it was too expensive. There was a lot of really neat history outside the Tower of London about when it was built and how it has changed. We spent some time walking around the area. We walked across the Tower Bridge then made our way back to the apartment for Daniel’s Irish Stew for dinner.
It was a great last meal in London! We had a blast visiting with everyone. We got most of our things packed and got ready to head to Paris tomorrow.
London was wonderful. It is huge! We saw so much while we were there yet there were still so many things that we didn’t get to see. I am glad that we took our time. I feel like it would have been very stressful to fit in everything. We just decided it gives us a reason to go back. Besides seeing Daniel and Zsazsa again. :) They were wonderful hosts, and we thoroughly enjoyed our time with them and getting to know them.
It rained a lot, so we were thankful for our umbrella. Get a credit card with a chip. It makes life so much easier in Europe. Just do it. Get one. I wish I had listened to all the other bloggers that shared this information with me. Get a credit card with a chip.
Also, check out José’s blog for more pictures and stories from Europe!