As the last blog mentioned, the first few weeks were pretty stressful after getting to London. We tried to give ourselves a bit of a break in between sorting all of the life stuff out to get out and explore our new city.
When we arrived into London, we came at the start of a bad spell of weather (raining and freezing every single day – goodbye summer holiday). Everyone who we talked to in our first weeks kept commenting on how we should have gotten to London a few weeks earlier because the weather was amazing. My standard response was “well, we would have been in Tuscany and the weather would have been better there, I am sure.” One grey (but not rainy for once) afternoon, we decided to get out and see some of Central London.
The first stop was Buckingham Palace. It was truly an impressive place. I would never have thought a place could feel so … regal … for lack of a better description. It is a completely different thing to see a huge building such as this in use the way that it would have been for centuries. Unfortunately we have not yet been able to see the changing of the guard, but had a great time staring at the guards, waiting for one of them to move. They didn’t, so we headed off down The Mall to see what else we could find.
Since autumn was upon us, the leaves were starting to fall from the trees lining The Mall in St James Park, helping us feel that our summer holiday had well and truly come to a close. At the end of The Mall, we spied a lineup of soldiers on horses, flanked by some Cops on horses. This was the first time that we had seen the mounted police officers. Really, I think it worked quite well having them on horses in crowd control situations as they are well above the crowds and seem a lot more intimidating. What we got to see was the Changing of the Horseman’s Guard. Basically this is where two lines of guards dressed up in old fashioned riding uniforms trot around for a bit then one group heads back up to Buckingham Palace. Quite a cool thing to get to see, especially since we did not know about it, just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
After the show, we were not really sure what else we wanted to see, so we just walked down the edge of the park. One street caught our eye as heavily armed police were flanking the entrance. Only after we got home and looked at our map did we realize we had passed Downing Street.
Once we turned onto the bustling Great George St, the recognizable sights came thick and fast. First we set our eyes on Big Ben. It was every bit as iconic as I had imagined. Right outside there are two red telephone boxes, so obviously we stopped to take a few pictures. Getting decent pictures was a task in itself as London was crazy busy given that it was 4pm on a week day. The amount of people everywhere is something that we are still coming to terms with as we get to know the city. Other sights we managed to see once we moved onto Westminster Bridge for a better look down the Thames included the London Eye.
The crazy thing about London is that there is so much to see all across the city. This city unlike most that we have been to does not really have a natural ‘heart’ or centre, with different, important parts lying in neighbourhoods all over the city. This made exploring and seeing the sights a lot longer of a process, and one that happened incidentally a lot of the time.
When we were interviewing for jobs we would have to travel all across the city, so we both took this as a good opportunity to see the sights of that particular neighbourhood. One morning I hopped off the tube at London Bridge and stumbled across Borough Markets when I came out of the station. Borough Markets was something that was high on my to-do list since I had seen the programme Market Kitchen and thought it looked amazing. I loved what I saw. This was the kind of food market I had been waiting for the whole of our trip around Europe. For England this is great because it is mostly under cover so you can still go when the weather is miserable. Hint for your own travels, having been to the markets on a weekday and back (multiple times in the weekend with Alex), it is well worth either getting there early on the weekend or going in the week. It is packed around lunchtime in the weekends, so much so that sometimes it is actually impossible to walk anywhere and you just have to stand still. Anyhow, after the markets, I went exploring further and found the Shard, a permanently docked old sailing ship, Tower Bridge, London Bridge (which is absolutely nothing special), and an old battle ship turned museum. And this was all in an hour before my meeting.
One time I had a meeting near the Bank station, and Alex decided to come along for the journey as he had nothing on that morning. He went for a wander and found St Pauls Cathedral, a seriously impressive building. He said that he went inside to have a look and found the first church that charges for tourist entrance that we have seen on our whole trip, and it was not a small charge either, £16 or some equally extortionate amount. Fair to say he did not pay to go inside, particularly as that is a lot of money when you are still converting back to NZD.
Another time we had a bank appointment near the Green Park tube station. If you do not know, this is a very swanky area of town, lined with expensive hotels. After our meeting we decided to have a bit more of a look around. If you walk down the road, you end up at Piccadilly Circus, a humming tourist hub with a giant M&M World on the corner. We had to go in. I think the dream was better than the reality as although the walls are lined with tubes filled with M&Ms all the colours of the rainbow, the prices that they were charging you for 100g of pick and mix was through the roof. No purchases were made that day.
One of the places that we had to go as part of the job-hunting process was to Covent Garden. I have been told multiple times by my aunt and uncle that there is a pub there that Captain Cook (the British discoverer of New Zealand) used to drink called the Lamb and Flag. Since we were both in the neighbourhood we ducked in for a nosey. This place has been mentioned in a number of guidebooks as a must-see, although they do mention that most people who go to Covent Garden visit there and claim it as their cool London ‘discovery’. It was so cute, very authentic, extremely low doors, and old time fittings. Very worth a visit.
Before we got properly settled in, we felt like we still made a really good effort to see some of the sights of our new city. This is definitely just scratching the surface.