Walking London

June 19th, 2014

Today was my see as much of London as utterly possible day. I had the general idea to walk along the Thames, but couldn’t figure out what sights were my priority or what I wanted to wait and do with Dad and how long any of this might take.

I ended up getting off at the wrong underground stop anyway. Good thing I’m bad at planning.

And that’s the thing about London or really any big city: I essentially took a day long hike but instead of playing in the woods, I magically stumbled across iconic landmarks. I had never heard of the Victoria and Albert museum, but it was near the tube stop and free and there you go. (If you have a spare 12 pounds (I decided I didn’t) the museum has a royal wedding dress exhibit (but why waste your time in there when you could be searching for Prince Harry) (I’m kidding (but really…)) …did I miss a parenthesis?)

I walked along Exhibition Road, tearing myself away from the science museums to continue on with the morning, creepily stalked the empty Royal Geographic Society (why weren’t there more tourists? I was really excited when I saw that on the map!…maybe that’s me) and finally found myself at the edge of Hyde Park. It was a perfectly overcast English day – not too cold or blustery, not raining, but absolutely no sun to be found. Nevertheless people were out in droves: taking naps, on a picnic date, resting on a bench, being tourists like me, whipping across the paths on bikes, or in gargantuan giggling grammar-school groups. It felt like an English central park. Because you were definitely reminded it was British: an ornate Prince Albert Memorial gleamed despite the lack of sunlight, children splashed in a memorial fountain for Princess Diana, and a café on the lake advertised their afternoon tea.

Next I stopped at Buckingham Palace, the British flag flying high over the building, and watched the guards march stoically back and forth. A rainbow of people lined the steps looking onto the palace – dressed in all colors and speaking more languages than I could keep track of. A group of guys sat on the Queen Victoria Memorial overlooking the whole scene, their posture mirrored a couple statues nearby leaning casually against each other. One of the signs pointed toward The Royal Mews, which immediately intrigued me. The coffee shop in Swem library at William and Mary was called Mews, which I had always just assumed was W&M trying to be clever and spell Swem backwards, but here was a royal one! I wandered along Buckingham Palace’s outer wall, picturing a royal coffee shop filled with my friends in victorian outfits and not stressed out by exams. Alas, it’s apparently where the queen keeps her horses. I was honestly a little disappointed. I really wanted coffee.

I had ambled so slowly through all of these, that I found myself at the foot of Westminster Abbey at 4pm – just in time to get in line for the 5pm daily service. Which was actually perfect; instead of paying 18 pounds to get in, I got in for free and sat next to the choir for an entire hour-long service. If I had had that seat for the royal wedding, I would have had a perfect view of everything. No pictures are allowed in the Abbey, so I just watched and listened (and tried not to fall asleep during the sermon). On the way out, I lit a candle and listened to the bells reverberate through the building.

Afterward, I admired Big Ben and the London Eye from Westminster bridge. I had taken this route the previous evening, so it was nice to see what changes daylight brought. I continued to walk along the edge of the Thames; most museums and things were closed by then, but the waterside restaurants, skateboard parks, and random musicians were still active. I was halfway across the Millennium Bridge toward St Paul’s when I decided to turn around and see Shakespeare’s Globe theater instead. Hordes of students in tour groups were outside so I didn’t even try and get a ticket, but it was still nice to see.

At 8pm, it started to get darker and chilly. I was determined to make it to the Tower Bridge, but I was desperately searching for a secluded coffee shop to hide away in for a bit. Instead, I found a pub. A really cool looking pub called “The Anchor” with a sign that read:

“The brewery site, upon which this present building stands, has a rich and varied past. Throughout history “The Anchor” has been used as a tavern, a brothel, a chapel, a brewery, a ship’s chandlers, and has entertained a wealth of notable patrons. The first official record of “The Anchor” was not made until 1822, however other records state that as well as being the site of a Roman grave, the locality was used for Plague pits during 1603 and old maps show bear and bull baiting pits within the site…Many other London pubs claim Shakespeare as a patron, however we can be fairly sure he enjoyed an Ale or two within these walls.”

I was hooked. Plus the England vs Uruguay match was on and the pub was filled. I got carded getting my beer (the drinking age is 18, how sad is that?), and soon found a spot near the back where every now and then I could see the screen and what was happening. But I could follow the game pretty closely by the reactions around me – most would yell or hang their heads, but the group of guys behind me would talk loudly through most of the match and then cheer for a moment whenever England made a bad play or Uruguay scored. So naturally I began talking with the outcasts of the bar. They were three programmers working at the bank down the street – two from Scotland and one from India – and thus were rooting for anyone playing against England. When the match ended in England’s defeat and the bar became deserted, the four of us plus whoever we met along the way began an extensive pub crawl of the area. It wasn’t really supposed to be extensive, but pubs close whenever they want and often very early at night here, so by the time we reached a new place they were already on last call – not even at like 2am but 10pm. It was awesome to see the town through the eyes of locals – they boasted about their salaries and importance within the bank and then complained about taxes; they rotated who was buying what round;  the Indian guy lamented how he wanted to marry this girl back home but they were in different castes; one of the Scottish guys confessed cancer had made him bald but celebrated that he had been in remission for 5 years; the other Scottish guy flitted from girl to girl unsuccessfully. At the end of our pub crawl I finally made it to the place I had been walking toward all day long: Tower Bridge!

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