36 Hours in London: The Beginning of Our Epic Vacation

Back in May, we crossed the Atlantic and spent 10 splendid days in the UK and Ireland. And since I’m exceedingly narcissistic and love spending time reading old posts on my blog (and yes, laughing at the lame jokes I make), I want to document the vacation here. Our friends Cate and Jon are on a 12 week tour of Europe and are blogging all about it, and Cate’s entertaining posts are forcing me to get my rear in gear here before I forget the details of our trip. I’ll try to spice things up by sharing some of our expenses (we did this on a budget, so figuring out where to save and splurge was an interesting balance) and some weird pictures that should have gotten deleted immediately (ala our Honeymoon Outtakes)…

Our first stop was London where we would remain for a whopping 36 hours. We flew into Heathrow on a red-eye, leaving Grand Rapids on May 13 and arriving on the 14th at about 10am. I would totally do this flight again–we didn’t get a super good night of sleep on the plane, but that weird night on the plane+the time difference actually worked out well and neither of us experienced much jetlag. We were ready to go once we got to London! Unfortunately, the weather was meh (typical), cool and rainy. We figured out the tube, dropped our luggage at the hotel (a not-fancy Days Inn within walking distance to the Thames and Big Ben, etc.) and grabbed some lunch at a local pub.

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This is us: Ken the exceptionally photogenic supermodel and Anne the overexcited tourist.

Since it was rainy, we sought out an indoor activity as our first stop and headed over to the Churchill War Rooms.

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I was a little grumpy at first because on the walk over, I stepped in gum and had to peel it off my shoe with my bare fingers (gum was EVERYWHERE in the UK. I guess it is too much to ask that people throw their gum in the trashcan, so on the ground it goes).

Anyway, back to the War Rooms. This was an underground complex that was used during WWII by Churchill and other officials. The building was protected by “the slab,” which was something like 6 feet of concrete to protect from bombs.

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The above room was Churchill’s bedroom and office, and below is a desk of one of the workers. The hole punch on the desk was used because Churchill hated staples, so everyone would use hole punches and string to hold papers together instead.

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We were amused to find this asbestos-filled fire extinguisher and took this pic for my firefighter dad.

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One of the coolest (and most sobering) parts of the tour was seeing the walls and walls of maps with thumbtacks showing the battle fronts.

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Even after the war was over, these maps were left up and still show the battle lines from the last days of WWII.

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We grabbed dinner at a Mexican place that night after the restaurant we wanted to go to was too busy, and then we headed over to Westminster Abbey to catch the Ascension Day service (replacing that night’s Evensong). This was a great way to catch a glimpse of the inside of the building without having to pay admission (though we were herded in and out without much freedom to look around). It was cool to worship in a different way than we’re used to, but it was weird to be at such a formal service in jeans and dripping raincoats…

We stayed at a Day’s Inn that night (not fancy but cheap), and I guess the jet lag had affected me more than I’d thought–we were sitting on the bed watching a weird gardening show and I dozed off, only to wake up a few moments later in an utter panic, thinking I’d “missed” sleeping for the night (???) “Is it morning?!?” I asked, VERY confused. Ken had a good chuckle.

We circled back the next morning to grab some better (non-rainy) pictures. Westminster Abbey looked better in the sunshine.

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We stopped at a little cafe for breakfast and I ordered the “bacon breakfast sandwich” and Kenny ordered the sausage equivalent thinking it would be a nice hearty egg+meat+condiment+cheese on bread type of sandwich, which it definitely wasn’t. A “bacon breakfast sandwich” was two pieces of white bread with bacon on it and maaaaybe a dab of butter. Oh well, it filled us up and we headed out for an (almost) full day in London.

There were tons of people everywhere, so I prided myself on trying to take as many photos with as few people in them as possible. And we tried to better our selfie game and were only partially successful. It’s a good thing Ken’s forehead is so cute.

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After snapping some quick pics, we crossed the Thames and took the Queen’s Walk along the river toward the Tower of London.

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We were geekily excited to see this bridge that was in one of the Harry Potter movies.

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The walk was super nice and we got to see a lot of things I would consider “typically British” like these ornate lightposts.

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We finally got to the Tower of London after a much longer walk than we expected…that’s what we get for just setting out and not looking up the distance beforehand.

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After learning the Tower’s sordid history, we set out again (on foot, we don’t learn) and found St. Paul’s Cathedral after getting wildly lost. I think we walked more than 10 miles that day. It was super nice to be able to tune-in to the complimentary audioguides at the cathedral and collapse in a pew…

…except we couldn’t sit still long once we learned we could climb to the top of the dome. It was AWESOME. The ledge pictured below was just above the iconic dome, but we climbed another few flights of stairs to an even taller lookout.

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Model Ken made sure to take off his dorky audioguide headphones before I took this photo.

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After the Cathedral we headed back to grab our luggage from the Day’s Inn to begin our trek to King’s Cross Station and, eventually, York. We gave ourselves plenty of time, which was good, since we decided not to go to the closest Tube station to our hotel and walk to the second closest because it would mean one less transfer…however, the Elephant & Castle station was ridiculously hard for us to find and took us about an hour when it should have taken us 10 minutes. There was quite a misadventure when we followed signs for the Elephant & Castle “subway” only to find that the “subway” was just that–a walkway that went below the road.

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We finally found our station, made all the necessary transfers, and got to King’s Cross. We did see platform 9 3/4 but elected to get Mexican for dinner instead of waiting in line for a photo opportunity.

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I was rather amused/slightly disconcerted that they don’t list the platform your train leaves from until a few minutes before the train departs…as a planner, I like to be exactly sure where I am going way ahead of time. And once they do post the platform for your train, everyone SPRINTS to it which is very exciting and nerve wracking all at once. This was not the only train sprinting we did on this vacation…oh yes, there is more to come.

Here’s what our expenses looked like after the first few days of our vacation. All expenses are listed in USD. London was our most expensive city by a LOT (plus, we had to get there, etc.). And since everything is pounds there, it was easy to feel like we weren’t spending that much when in fact the opposite was true.

$114.20 Roundtrip airfare from GRR to LHR and from DUB to GRR using credit card frequent flyer miles (BOOM)

$205.98 1 night at Days Inn

$210.25 Meals, tips, misc.

$63.25 Tube fare

$52.83 Churchill War Rooms

$69.56 Tower of London

$56.91 St. Paul’s Cathedral

$118.15 Train from London to York

Total so far: $891.13 (includes airfare)

Our next stop: York! Stay tuned. If you don’t hear from me, I’ve died from exhaustion whilst going through our bajillion photos.

Please validate me by leaving a comment.