Today was an exceptionally long day, mainly because I got up at 3am, and have now been awake for nearly 20 and a half consecutive hours. For some reason London for me equates to a massive loss of sleep. I was extremely excited to go to London, not just because of its rich history and many attractions, but also because I truly love the city and it holds quite a bit of sentiment for me. I traveled to London in October of 2006 with a group from my high school, and that’s what really kicked off the whole idea that I wanted to study abroad someday. Those 4 days without sleep running around London, Windsor, Stonehenge, and Bath when I was 16 years old are the reason I’m sitting in Dublin right now writing a travel blog.
Kelsey, Libby, Rob, and I arrived at Stansted airport at about 7:30am, and after an uncomfortable cab ride, we made it to Libby’s friend Julie’s house in South Woodford where we’re staying. We took the tube into city center, and from there we hit up a tourist information center where we got the London Pass.
If you’re planning on traveling to London in the future, I would absolutely recommend purchasing the London Pass. It costs about £50, which seems a little steep, but it gets you into as many tourist attractions as you care to visit in two days for no charge. It also gets you a lot of shopping and restaurant discounts around the city.
Once we were fully equipped with our passes and various maps, we first went to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, St. Paul’s is an Anglican cathedral that almost wasn’t built because of its resemblance to St. Peter’s in Rome, and England’s wish for separation from all things Catholic in the 1600s. Being Catholic, as well as a moderate history buff, I’ve seen a lot of churches before. However, St. Paul’s is hand’s down the most beautiful church I have ever stepped foot in.
Between admiring the hand-painted ceilings and many memorials, various chapels, climbing up to the whispering gallery, and visiting the crypt, we spent nearly two hours in the cathedral. It’s the seat of the Bishop of London, and is the venue of many important events including the Queen’s birthday and jubilee celebrations and funerals for heads of state like Sir Winston Churchill. St. Paul’s will not be the site of the royal wedding in April, however. The only royal weddings to have taken place at St. Paul’s were Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s in 1981, and Prince Arthur and Katherine of Aragon in 1501. Considering those were two of the most disastrous marriages in British history, William and Kate may be on to something.
After St. Paul’s we crossed the River Thames on the Millennium Bridge (which can be seen getting attacked by Death Eaters in the opening scene of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince), and went to Shakespeare’s Globe, where we learned all about the history of the Globe, both past and present. As an avid Shakespeare nerd, I absolutely loved it.
The original Globe burned down in 1613, and while the new Globe isn’t on the exact site of the original (it’s about 200 metres off, I’m told), it is the only building in London that has a thatched roof. After the Great Fire of 1666 the law that forbade the use of excessively flammable construction materials was actually enforced, so Sam Wanamaker had to get special permission from the city when reconstruction began in 1995.
After our tour and a quick lunch, we walked along the Thames all the way to Tower Bridge (recently repainted in preparation for the 2012 Summer Olympics), which we crossed whilst taking copious amounts of photographs.
We had planned to do the Tower of London next, but it was starting to get late so we decided to postpone that until tomorrow. Instead we rode the tube to Piccadilly, wandered for a bit, and returned to South Woodford. After a quick dinner, Julie and her roommates took us out to their favorite bar, where we hung out and heard all about life for the locals. It was a wonderful day, and we’ve got tons of plans for tomorrow, so I should get some sleep!