London Calling: My Solo Trip to the UK

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

In April, as the end of the fiscal year approached, my boss reminded me that I hadn't taken all my paid time off & that I had to do so by the end of June or else lose it all. I asked for a week off that I planned to use as a staycation, but when I remembered that I work from home & would probably end up spending any staycation time, well, working from home, I started looking into possible travel destinations.

That's how I found myself in London in mid-June, spending five days visiting my younger cousin Emily, who's been living there for the last nine months or so. She had to work most of the time I was there, but we got a weekend together & some quality time in the evenings. I spent my days wandering the Square Mile on my own - no real plans or itinerary, just looking. Here, 25 short takeaways from my first - but surely not last - trip to England.
  1. We may all speak English, but it sure doesn't all sound the same. The meaning of this menu board in Borough Market, for example, is almost wholly lost on me. Bacon & cheese? OK, got that much, but... what is this thing, actually?

  2. I'm a sucker for kitschy souvenirs.

  3. Public transportation is about the same everywhere, or at least everywhere I can understand the language. Move quickly, look like you know where you're going, carry a map in your pocket, & don't ask people for directions if they look like they're in a hurry.

  4. The British are serious about this tea thing. This picture, for example, was taken in a neighborhood pub.

  5. The British are also serious about bizarre flavors of potato chips. This isn't even the weirdest one I spotted! These are on par with Canadian ketchup chips & "all dressed" chips. Except than I got back to the States & found steak-flavored chips, so maybe we're catching up?
  6. Starbucks is reliable everywhere. And I am predictable everywhere.
  7. The queen really is looking great these days.

  8. Three people asked me if I was Canadian. I suppose this is because some Americans are identifiable as such no matter where they go, & others blend in slightly better.
  9. You've never seen true bling.
  10. London's Tower Bridge is, fortunately, not falling down. In fact, Tower Bridge appears quite sturdy. Also, there's nowhere to go if you get caught in the rain while crossing a bridge.

  11. Every Chinatown is the same. I assume that no Chinatown is anything like China, but I do appreciate the consistency.
  12. Remember how the steering wheel is on the opposite side of the car in British vehicles? Yeah, I didn't remember that, either, & I probably would've been flattened by a bus or seven if the streets of London hadn't been kind enough to remind me which way traffic was coming.
  13. If "Beefeater" is not the absolute best job title, I sure don't know what is.

  14. Gummy candy in America does not matter. I've always considered myself a bit of a gummy candy connoisseur, but when I tried Britain's offerings in this culinary category, it was like I'd never had a piece of gummy candy in my life. Rowntree's Randoms are the work of some sort of fantastical taste bud magician, I swear to you.
  15. It's easy to think you won't be like every other tourist. It's even easier to be like every other tourist. 
  16. Foreign money is hard. And mathy. Luckily, if you pick a slow time when there isn't a line (sorry, a "queue") piling up behind you, most cashiers are willing to help you figure it out. If I got ripped off, at least it was done to me with a friendly smile.
  17. Buckingham Palace is sort of underwhelming. Also, gaudy. Like, it was pretty cool to be at Buckingham Palace, but... man, it was a little bit of a letdown. White House me any day - though I do appreciate this solid fencing.
  18. Day drinking is more delicious when your beverage comes with a colorful bendy straw.
  19. Forget Disneyland. THIS IS THE HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH. I'm going to devote a whole post to it, I think, but for now, suffice it to say that this was one of the most exciting places I've ever been & even if I hadn't seen anything else while I was in London, this alone would've made it worth the trip.
  20. Christianity gets all the coolest sites, you know? Gimme a historic church over an historic synagogue any day. Sorry, my fellow members of the tribe, but this one is what it is.
  21. Urban art: It's not just for Brooklyn!
  22. I couldn't figure out how to get into the Ministry of Magic, damn it.
  23. Big Ben is situated stupidly. It's right outside a tube stop, such that when you come up from the subway, OH, HEY, THERE'S BIG BEN. The result is a lot of rubbernecking tourists clogging up the street, the sidewalk, the escalator out of the tube. Not that fun. I took this picture, wandered down the road to snap a photo of the London Eye, & then immediately exited this part of the city for an area less overwhelmingly crowded.
  24. Seeing London & all of its famous sites in person was incredible - but spending time with my cousin, who I've never been particularly close to but have a surprising amount in common with, was infinitely more important to me than any building or landmark.

  25. Not checking my work email for an entire week is simultaneously the most stressful & most freeing thing in the word. I should definitely do this more often.

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