Sunday, March 30, 2014

London: Day 1 - Wimbledon & Shopping, Day 2 - Bike Tour & The Tower of London

Day 1 - Wimbledon & Shopping
We knew we wanted to go to London at some point while we were living in Stockholm.  I had been there once before about 12 years ago on a high school trip but we were only there for about a day and a half. Three years ago Jake was in London for about 24 hours on his way home from a work trip in Germany.  It was fun to go back and see things together that we both saw on our separate trips.

We flew to London on Saturday, March 22nd at 7:00 am.  Our early flight wasn't much fun to get up for but it meant we had an almost full day in London which was great.  We did have to plan when we were going to leave for the airport a little more than we usually would since the metro doesn't run as often that early in the morning.  And even after we planned Jake forgot something and had to run back to get it which meant we missed the first metro and had to wait for the second one but we caught the Flygbussarna (Airport Buses) in enough time before it left.  Recently we have been taking the Flygbussarna to get to the airport.  It is about a 10 minute metro ride to the Flygbuss stop and then a 40 minute bus ride to the airport.  The bus is about $15 per person and it has free wifi if you want to surf the web and don't have internet on your phone.

From the time our bus dropped us off we had about an hour until our flight left which was plenty of time since we packed in backpacks for this trip and didn't have to check any bags!  I have a feeling we will be packing in backpacks whenever it is possible because it is so easy to get around without having to drag luggage behind us.

Our first stop once we landed was to hop on a train to see Wimbledon.  Jake has always loved watching the major tennis matches and since we were so close to Wimbledon we thought we would take a tour.  It was a lot of fun walking around and seeing the tennis courts and behind the scenes of Wimbledon.  The tour was about an hour and a half and then we had time to visit the tennis museum.  There are 19 courts total including Number 1 Court and Center Court which is where they play the championship match during Wimbledon.  The facilities are actually called the All England Club Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club but they have the Wimbledon Championship there every year which is the oldest tennis tournament in the world.  There are about 500 members of the club that can play tennis there when the weather is nice enough to allow them to play outside but the main use for the facilities is the 2 week tennis tournament every June.
Apparently you are supposed to eat strawberries and cream at Wimbledon so we had some for lunch :).
After the tour we headed all the way into London to check into our hotel and then do a little exploring and shopping.  We walked by Abbey Road Studios and saw lots of people trying to get hit by cars getting their pictures taken across that famous crosswalk.
We decided to just take a picture of other people and then Jake took a picture of me walking across.
We took a public double decker bus downtown while we watched all the red buses zooming around and of course we stopped to take a cheesy picture in a red telephone booth :). 

We grabbed dinner at a Mexican restaurant all so I could enjoy some chips and queso!  While we were walking around we stumbled upon the Icebar London which is run by the same company that started the Ice Hotel that we stayed at last month.  We did a little bit of shopping on Saturday night.  I was really excited because London has a Uniqlo store which is the same store I found lots of great things at in Taiwan.  Unfortunately, I didn't find much this time but it was still fun.  It was strange walking around seeing stores that I'm used to shopping at in Olathe (Gap, Banana Republic) right next to stores I'm used to seeing now when I shop in Stockholm (Gant, H&M).  I will say London has many more choices than Stockholm but I was really only interested in going to Uniqlo and finding some Hunter boot cleaning spray to bring back to clean my rain boots.  We walked through Piccadilly Circus which I remember from my trip to London 12 years ago.

On our first night we stayed at a Marriott, in maybe not the best part of town.  I felt safe in the hotel but walking around at night made me a little nervous.  We stayed there because we could earn one night free in a Marriott for every two nights we stay at a different Marriott so we decided to stay in one our first night even though it was a little bit further away from the city.  (I feel like we sound cheap but with all of the traveling we are hoping to do this year on a mostly one income budget we just have to be practical.)

Day 2 - Bike Tour and the Tower of London
We packed up our backpacks and grabbed some breakfast at Raffles on our way to our next hotel.  The next hotel was The Blakemore at Hyde Park.  It was a cute little hotel in a better part of town that had free breakfast and free wifi.  What more could you ask for?  We dropped off our backpacks and headed to our bike tour.

I have really enjoyed taking Segway tours in new cities because they are fun, you get to see a lot in a short amount of time and you learn more than you would just walking around on your own.  I was sad to learn that London doesn't allow Segways so we opted for a bicycle tour.  It was a great tour.  Our guide was funny and really nice.  There were 8 people on the tour plus the guide.  We saw most of the major landmarks in the city and a few other places.
We started our tour in a graffiti tunnel where local artists can legally display their work.  The tunnel was covered in hot pink a few weeks ago for International Women's Day but has since been painted over.  On Saturdays you can get graffiti lessons here.

The London Eye.  We thought about going on this but it was pretty expensive for a 30 minute ride.  Each one of those capsules holds about 25 people and there is a VIP one that is orange that you can reserve for 500 pounds or $830 for 30 minutes.  There are 32 capsules for the 32 boroughs in London.
Houses of Parliament

Big Ben with a red double decker bus on the bridge.  Ben is actually the name of the bell in the tower.

Westminster Abbey
Looking super cool in our bike helmets in front of Westminster Abbey. The picture on the right is of a building next to Westminster that has a sign that says "Not the Sanctuary."  I thought it was funny that they would need a sign to let people know that but I guess it could be confusing that the small building next to Westminster could be the sanctuary :).
We didn't go inside Westminster Abbey on the bike tour but we were already planning on going there either later that afternoon or the next day.

Buckingham Palace
When I was in London 12 years ago we went to Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the guards.  We thought about trying to see that again this time but decided to pass.
We stopped by Benjamin Franklin's house and a fancy hotel.  The hotel had lots of security and barriers in front of it so our guide asked if someone famous was stopping by to see if we should wait.  When he came back we found out that the Mum of the Year awards were taking place at that hotel so we decided to continue on with the tour :).

About halfway through the tour we stopped for a 45 minute break.  We had some really good muffins at Muffinski's and watched some street performers.  Then we stopped by a wig shop that also makes all the royal robes.  We went through Gough Square to see the house of Samuel Johnson, who wrote one of the first English dictionaries. He apparently had a cat that he loved and fed oysters to so there was a statue in the square honoring him with a cat sitting on a dictionary with an oyster shell on top. (Gough is the last name of one of my friends who was in London with me 12 years ago so I took a picture of the sign.)

St. Paul's Cathedral
Our next stop was St. Paul's Cathedral which is where Prince Charles and Princess Diana were married.

Our last stop was the Millennium Bridge.
The bridge was supposed to be open during the new millennium and technically it was but after 3 days of being open they closed it to make it sturdier because it wobbled while people were walking on it.  It didn't reopen until February of 2002 which was about a month before I went to London for the first time.  I remember people being really excited about this bridge and we drove by it then but I don't think we walked on it.  It was also the bridge that was destroyed in one of the Harry Potter movies.
Jake recorded our bike tour on his Garmin watch.  Here is the track but if you would like to see more info click here.
After the tour we grabbed some lunch at the King's Arms.  We had a traditional Sunday roast which was really good.

We decided since it was sunny and not raining we would go see the Tower of London since it has several parts to see outside and it was such a nice day.  Jake went to the Tower of London a few years ago but I hadn't been there.

The Tower of London has been a royal palace, prison, zoo, armory, home of the Royal Mint and where the Crown Jewels are currently housed.  There are 20 towers making up the Tower of London.  We went on a tour with one of the Yeomen Warders who lives at the Tower of London with his family.  At the end of the tour we were in the chapel and I noticed there were several other Yeomen Warders there watching our guide speak.  After he finished speaking we found out that it was his last tour he would ever give because he was retiring.  His boss spoke and he said a few words as well.  It was really touching to be a part of his last tour.

We walked through a few of the tours and saw the Crown Jewels before we left.  One of my favorite things to see while we were there was the Tower Bridge.  I couldn't take enough pictures of it.  Maybe it was the cloudy sky and the sunset that contributed but I loved looking at the Tower Bridge.
Our tour guide from our bike tour that morning told us about taking a Thames Clipper boat to Greenwich to see the Greenwich Meridian (0° longitude line) and to enjoy the boat ride down the River Thames.  We just barely missed the first boat and waited about 20 minutes before the next one.  We left at sunset and it was a really pretty 30 minute boat ride to Greenwich.

Unfortunately, once we got there it was getting pretty dark and by the time we figured out how to get to the Greenwich Meridian it was dark and the area they have marked was closed.  We still walked through the park and up the hill to the line even though the park was closing in less than 10 minutes and I was paranoid about being locked in overnight.  They had a green laser beam marking the line in the sky.
We walked down the hill and out of the park before they closed the gates and then headed to dinner.  It was hard to find a place that was open late on a Sunday night but we ended up at a Japanese restaurant that actually got great reviews on Trip Advisor. (We always download the Trip Advisor app for each city we visit because you can use it to find great places to eat and visit without using data.)  It was a very small, hole in the wall place and we didn't have a reservation but they had one two person table left in the hallway between the kitchen and the bathroom so we took it.  The table was decorated with fake flowers and a white table cloth which was nice but we could see into the back of the kitchen and into the rest of the restaurant.  We were also sitting next to stacks of pop but it work and we were thankful for a place to eat.

We took the ferry back to downtown London before taking the tube to our hotel.  We decided to take the ferry as far as we could so we could see London at night and it was beautiful.
So I might have a small obsession with the Tower Bridge but look at it.
Top Picture: Tower of London and the Tower Bridge, Bottom left: St. Paul's Cathedral, Bottom Right: The London Eye

Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament

If you have been reading this blog long enough you know I love public transportation.  Strange I know, but have you met me?  Here are a few pictures of the tube and the ferry we took to Greenwich.  I liked that on the tube platforms they had this nice list of stops.  We have that in Stockholm as well but it isn't on the wall of the metro like this one was.   London also has several more tube lines than Stockholm.  They have 13 lines and Stockholm has 3.
When we got back to our hotel we picked up our backpacks that they held for us since our room wasn't ready when we checked in that morning and then we got our room keys.  We found out we were upgraded to a nicer room which was awesome.  There was a TV in the shower.  We didn't end up using it but we both took a bath since we don't have a bathtub in our apartment in Stockholm and after a long day of walking and being cold it was so nice to warm up before heading to bed.

If you want to read about our last two days in London which includes our tour of The Making of Harry Potter which was awesome click here!


  1. Great pictures and so fun reading about your adventures. You guys are such good travelers!

  2. You kinda made me feel like I went on this trip with you. Which is nice because I'm pretty sure I'll never make it to London. Thanks for taking me along!! =)

    You're so right about the bridge...BEAUTIFUL!

    1. The question is . . . will you make it to Stockholm :). Glad you enjoyed 'going' on the trip with us!


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