First day in London!
London Travel Blog› entry 1 of 11 › view all entries
August 13th, 2005 – by: Vikram
In this entry, I've covered
1. My flight from Dallas Ft Worth to Gatwick
2. Earl's Court and YHA
3. Covent Garden and neighbourhoods
4. Tate Modern
Wow! It's just unbelievable, seems like yesterday I was asking the Trip Advisor London Forum (TALF) folks all sorts of questions.Here I am today - trip done and a bag full of memories and experiences. It's been 2 weeks since I got back, but I could never tell, it's like I just got back 2 hours ago. EVERY memory in my head is still so vivid!
1. My flight from Dallas Ft Worth to Gatwick
Everything started off on a nice note. I'm particularly nitpicky when it comes to American carriers (the whole costcutting thing, etc) but my American Airlines flight from DFW to LGW was nothing short of exceptional. Comfy seats, brilliant food and good service too. I'm a vegetarian. And on AA (till a few yrs ago at least), there was no concept of a veggie meal. It was just called "special meal" which clubbed the vege's, lactose intolerant, vegan, non-dairy, etc which means that besides a croissant and a Kelloggs cereal bar, there was precious little I'd get. But all that's changed. And I got a GOOD veggie meal. It's so important that your flight is good, in so many ways it sets the tone for your experience during your holiday.The crew were also pleasantly friendly. Thanks to those chiropractic neck rests and eyemasks, I got good sleep as well.
And then came daybreak, and there we were over those lush green English fields near Gatwick. We circled in the air forever, and finally landed. My impression of LGW is that the North Terminal, at least where the US planes land is quiet, spacious and clean. Only thing that bothers me being a Dallas bloke is the long walk in airports. And I don't just mean LGW, I even mean some local airports like SFO. Also seeing as I didn't check in anything, I had both my messenger bag and duffelbag in tow. The immigration line was huge. They really need to do sthg about this, get more Immi control. (Do they have 1 per terminal in LGW? Shame!) After all, unlike the US where they're doing fingerprinting and all, it's not like you need any special gadgetry or anything. For a bunch of people behind wooden tables asking questions, they could have a few more set up in each terminal I reckon.My immigration was cool - the lady just asked why I'm there, if I've been there before, etc and let me through.
Once I was OFFICIALLY in the UK, my first step was to get myself a SIM card for my fone. (OK, OK, truth be told, my first step was to find a Thortons when a lady said that it closed down in LGW). The SIM card job got done in Gatwick itself. The concept of "Top Up" was new for me. That man explained everything to me patiently. I was also starving by now...! Went to a Nero's in Gatwick itself, had a veg wrap and coffee and I was ready to take on the world.
Quickly headed to buy a 1 way Gatwick Express ticket and got on the Express. I liked Gatwick Express and given that the train takes you all the way from Gatwick to Victoria, you wouldn't think so as the train at times seemed to move slowly as it passed through diff railway stations although it didn't stop in any.Victoria Station is Victoria Station, what more can I say! Noisy and crowded, I started feeling the London vibe already. The thing that struck me about London is how multicultural the city is. I know parts of the US is too, but the US is a melting pot in that, many foreigners that come here tend to get Americanised. You can tell after a while in the US by the way people dress up the same, use the same lingo, etc. But London is so much more diverse. Lots of Europeans come here, and seem to retain their identity. I was pleasantly surprised. Forget Big Ben and London Eye, even a tube station like Victoria provides ample photo opportunity!
I proceeded to the counter and bought myself a 3 day Travel Card. Thanks to all those that advised against ordering a pass online. You were right! It's really not that difficult just buying one as soon as you land. I went to Earl's Court (or should I say Kangaroo Court) and it was quite a walk away to get to the YHA where I'd be staying for the next 2 nights.The checkin and all proceeded like a breeze.
2. Earl's Court and YHA
I'd never been to Earl's Court before so my 1st impression of the place is - wow, it's so lively yet tiny. The roads esp, so narrow. Yet it seemed so organised. There was an M&S nearby, so food wasn't a problem. It had everything basically. And looked very friendly and young. And yes, very Aussie!
Coming to the YHA, I liked my room - it was on the 3rd floor and had a good view overlooking a set of lovely old fashioned flats. Very quiet, very posh, the stuff you'd see in a Hugh Grant movie.I was really impressed by it. The only things that bothered me was the common bathroom areas. 1 of the bathrooms was leaking water and that had spread to all 4 common bathrooms on my side of town. I felt the rooms could've been maintained better. And there was this smell, I don't know how to describe it. Let's just say wet towels. That got me feeling a bit uncomfy. Another thing I realised with hostels is that, BRING EVERYTHING with you. They do provide stuff like a lock/key or a towel but for a price. The beds as such were comfy. And enough room for luggage. Read my review below.
3. Covent Garden and neighbourhoods
I settled in, had a quick shower. Everything done - headed out. My first stop was... OBVIOUSLY... Covent Garden! I got my 1st taste of British weather here itself.It was hot when I left Earl's Court so I just had a tee and jeans on, and got on the tube. Minutes later, I arrive in Covent Garden and it was FREEZING! How convenient for me that the 1st thing I see when I step out of the Covent Garden tube station is an FCUK store! And to make things better (or worse?!) there was a sale going on. So off I went, my first dose of shopping. And I was so cold, when that lady at the checkout counter was putting my newly purchased fleece into a bag, I was like - "um...do you mind removing the tag and, don't bother about the bag, I'm going to be wearing it now". :-)
I wandered around St.Neals Yard, pretty much the whole area. Window-shopped @ a few more stores, and went to the Piazza. I really really liked this area. Very lively, except for the drizzle. And after shopping, my next UK passion was Thortons'. The hunt began! I found a store there and packed myself up on those 90p Viennese bars.I have NO WORDS to describe their chocolates. All I'll say is, those of you that haven't eaten Thortons', you don't know what you're missing out on. Full stop.
It was already about 4pm, I went to London transport Museum (Can I just say that DK's Eyewitness Top 10 is a real handy and helpful book). This was my 1st disappointment of the trip. Not that it was dull, but I felt for the variety, the fee was a bit high. (I can hear a lot of you going "it's London for Pete's sake, what else is this dude expecting") but I felt a bit cheated on this. And I rarely complain on money when I'm on vacation. I am really interested in transport, seeing how the Tube evolved, the bus system, etc but I just felt there could've been more.
Got done with the museum, went into H&M and HMV stores for more window shopping and walked my way towards Leicester Square.That's the other thing that struck me about London - how close places are. In all my prior visits to London, it had never struck me cos I'd leave all the planning to my mum and dad. But this time, I did the planning which included looking @ the London city map again and again on DK. And when you actually are in the city, you realise that the map is obviously magnified, no wonder it makes distances look that big.
Leicester Square is, for lack of a better word - UNBELIEVABLE. The one thing I miss in Dallas are those pedestrian-only roads and areas like we have in parts of Covent and in Leicester Square. There was this beautiful Swiss commemorative statue (looked like a colourful collection of shields), a park, the works. I kept wandering, getting a bit hungry and guess what I run into - PRET A MANGER! I'd honestly never heard of this chain, but this is one of the few commonly repeated words on this forum. I couldn't wait to get it.I had started a sep. thread on how I found it a bit overrated, so I'm not going into that again. But suffice to say the wrap I had was good.
By the time I got done with P-A-M it was around 7pm. Thought to myself - I've been on plane all day, time to retire and get some rest. So I went back to the hostel and met my "roommates" for the next 2 nights. 2 very friendly Kiwi guys. (On a side note, may I proudly say I can now tell the diff between an Aussie and a Kiwi accent having been in the UK for 4 weeks). Chatted with them for a bit and thought I'd turn in for the night.
4. Tate Modern
But the MAGIC OF LONDON had taken over without my realising it - my stupid jetlag had disappeared, and I was left thinking "what next". So grabbed my DK book, and off I went to Tate Modern.
My instant screenshot memory of that night was it was drizzling, cold, and I was walking on a bridge from the Blackfriars' station (am I right?) to get to Tate when I dropped sthg from my pocket whilst walking, I bent to pick it up and LO and BEHOLD, I see this beautifully illuminated dome shaped building in front of me. It was St.Paul's. It was one of those defining moments in my life.... I've never felt that good about sthg that instantly. It's such a landmark in London, isn't it? It's beautiful. That whole feeling was surreal. The slight drizzle, the wind, me with my fleece, my iPod (and some ambient British pop playing at that time courtesy Frou Frou), I felt so exclusive like I was in a different world or sthg!
In a nutshell, I have no words to describe the Thames by night. Again, another experience best left unsaid and best experienced.
Tate Modern - well it's a nice concept although I'm not much of an arts junkie and I will admit, I wouldn't have gone if it weren't free. I did however like one slideshow they had about rotting fruits. Gross topic I know, but I liked how it was done. There was also some movie going on about diff people and wires around their faces, I thought it was a bit freaky. Oh well... :-)
I was there till Tate closed (I could see the boys coming to clean the toilets!) and I left. It was drizzling quite heavily now so no enjoying night views of the Thames. I just wanted to get back to the hostel asap. I tend to catch a cold easily if I get wet, so I didn't want to risk it on my 1st day itself with 30 days to go! So came back to the hostel. Oh yes, I started feeling peckish again. (I'm sure you've all worked it out by now I'm a big FOODIE). I went to M&S to grab sthg before I went to bed. And I grabbed the coolest Hazelnut yogurt.
I'm a bit upset now (and I want my fellow Americans to join in on my rant) - why don't we get this flavour in the US? or am I not looking hard enough in stores here??! It's simply DIVINE. Food is 1 thing I cannot get enough of, in the UK. So many things to choose from, Even those wafers and biscuits from Tesco's are a delight. Although I felt that UK manufacturers like to tag the word "Belgian" for everything, LOL! Belgian wafers, belgian chocolate, belgian hazelnut, etc etc... I was waiting to see if they sell Belgian Fish & Chips as well! ;-)
Ok, there I go digressing again.. (I pity those of you who read my entire report, I promise my other trip reports won't be this disorganised).
Got back to the hostel, spent some more time with Aussies, Kiwis and Canadians. That's one thing I love about youth hostels - everyone's so friendly and so open. Very socialising atmo. Surprisingly, I met VERY few American backpackers in the entire 30 day trip of mine. I was quite surprised, I thought London would be full of American tourists. Or my guess is that Americans come more as families and stay in hotels and not hostels.
I finally finally got into bed at 1am on Sun morning. And not cos I was tired but I told myself I need to get some rest.
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