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London in 24 Hours (Part I)

  • London: St.Paul’s Cathedral (City View), Tower Bridge, Covent Garden (Neal’s Yard), Piccadilly Circus, King’s Cross, Cambridge, 221B Baker Street, Porterbello Street Market, Buckingham Palace, London Eye (from the Golden Jubilee bridges), Natural history museum, Victoria & Albert Museum, British Museum, Big Ben, Green Park 
  • Marrakech
  • Munich
  • Copenhagen
  • Mamlo

After 25 years, it’s about time I visited London! Especially when I’m surrounded by Brits in Hong Kong. Prior to going I actually don’t know much about London, and I probably still don’t know enough. All I knew was that the museums are free and amazing, the weather is for the most part shitty but summer time is great, and then there’s Nando’s. I’m also a fan of Harry Potter, The Apprentice (UK), and Downton Abbey if that counts. If I ever worked in London I’d want to be the royal dog walker for the queen’s Corgis. 

Initially I wasn’t planning to go to London for my trip. The main focus was Marrakesh for my birthday, and then Germany as I’ve been learning German for 1.5 years and wanted to put it to the test (it didn’t work out, I’ll get to it later in my blog about Munich). I am using London as a layover or gateway into Europe as Cathay Pacific, the Flag carrier of Hong Kong, has the best flight times. 

In total, I was in London for exactly 60hrs combined (or 2.5 days), but somehow I managed to squeeze a night out and all of the sites above. If you’ve been following me for a while, you’d know that I love traveling on trains. So I had to book a trip from King’s Cross to Cambridge just so I could take a train. The fact that I can fit all of this in, means that the transportation in London is very efficient. I’ve heard otherwise, perhaps compared to Hong Kong and other newer Asian cities, the London Tube isn’t exactly the one that stands out, but heck the tube began operating in 1863! It’s 154 years old. 

If I could sum up my impression of London:
  • The museums are really the best in the world, free, very large collection, very artistic layout that just flows. 
  • The diversity and accepting: I happened to be there on Gay Pride parade day, even if I wasn’t there’s people coming from different backgrounds hanging out together. I cannot feel any racism or separation for any other reason. Yes there are people from all over the world in New York City and Hong Kong but the racism is strong.
  • Pre-book everything: from the Gatwick Express, to Church and Palace entrance tickets, it’s better to pre-book, or else you’ll end up queuing in lines or not getting in at all 
  • Great Parks, amazing for summer time: picnic? Sunbathing? Not a problem at all, the parks are great 
  • Convenient transportation: cabs, trains, buses running everywhere all the time. The tube was so much more frequent than I thought
  • I have a serious Nando’s addiction problem 
I cannot tell you how much sh*t I got from my friends and colleague when I said I was going to be in London for 60 hrs. It was an accident that I’m even there at all, but it ended up being my favorite destination out of my entire trip and I’d love to live there at some point. I managed to book my stays right in the middle of London, one in Covent Garden and one near the Green Park Station. Thanks to Hotels.com rewards, I was able to redeem these pricey central London rooms for free. This allowed me to travel quickly to many destinations, which is how I managed to visit so many places. 



Departing Hong Kong
Luckily, I received my Cathay Pacific AMEX card and the Marco Polo club membership just before my trip, that means free Plaza Premium lounge access! My flight was at 1am, so I had lots of time to kill. I sat down with a beer and looked over my itinerary. The gate was right beside the lounge, so I went over just in time for boarding and walked straight to the priority boarding line for Marco Polo club members, very helpful on a long-haul flight to get on early so you have space to store your things in the overhead cabins directly above you. 

Yes, I was the annoying person that booked one of the two extra leg room seats next to each other on the right wing. Which means, unless there’s another single traveler, the seat is most likely empty. I’m not particularly tall, so extra leg room isn’t really a requirement, but I do get up and use the restrooms a lot. Last time I was on a Qatar flight to Doha, the guy next to me stared at me angrily when I asked him for the 3rd time about 5hrs into the flight to let me pass so I could go to the restroom. So, I thought I’d be nice and spare someone else, and just as I guessed, I got both extra leg room seats all to myself in the flight. 

Being tiny, I could pretty much lay down and sleep on both these seats. After dinner, I slept comfortably until breakfast was about to be served. I was sitting in front of the large rear cabin door, so I could get my luggage out, get out my makeup and do it and then put my luggage back up. 

I haven’t been so excited since my trip to the South Pacific Islands last Christmas, I can’t believe I’m actually back in Europe, and in London! 


 

Getting Into London – Gatwick Express

It was only 7:30am, but Gatwick airport was already bustling with travelers. With the confirmation code in my phone, I redeemed all of my Gatwick Express tickets from the ticket vending machine and headed down to the platform for the train to Victoria. 

*** The train to ??? is cancelled due to a shortage of drivers ***

WELCOME TO LONDON 

I laughed so hard at this announcement, I was definitely in London. I’ve never encountered this problem, and nor are other countries this honest about the reasoning. Just amazing. Thankfully the trains from Gatwick to Victoria were running full service and on time, and my train came within 5 minutes. It is really surprising how small-town the suburbs of London look, and how quickly it becomes dense in the city center. Walking into Victoria station was a full sensory overload of everything, shops, people, signs for every kind of transportation mode. I spotted the bright red and blue London Underground sign and head down. I bought the one day zone 1-6 tickets as I will be running around all over London, then I head to Embankment Station where my Hotel is close to. 



The Stay – The Strand Palace Hotel
It’s only 18C in London, something I’m not used to, slightly too cold for me. Hong Kong is almost always 30C in the summer, and summer means April to October. But walking up that hill from Embankment with a 40L Osprey backpack and another carry-on luggage had me sweating like it was 30C. I turned right on the Strand to head for my hotel. Wow, the Strand is very British, exactly how I imagined London to be like, the buildings, the red buses, the red phone booths, and the black cabs. I managed to snap my very first photo in London, and it looked picture perfect. 



The Strand Palace hotel had the slowest lift I’ve ever encountered in my life. Other than when I checked-in and checked-out, I took the stairs from the 6th floor. There were endless rooms on each floor and mine was just at the very back. The room was surprisingly small, with just a single bed, a small closet and a shower. The original price of this room was a pretty ridiculous £150 per night. I’m glad I could redeem it from Hotels.com, but let me save up some more rewards points before my next visit. 

St. Paul’s Cathedral
I was looking for a place with a stunning interior and a high up view of London city centre, and St. Paul’s Cathedral was the perfect place for it. There are many visitors so it’s good to arrive early but also to book tickets in advance online. Considering that all museums are free, £16 for a visit felt like someone was cutting my bank account open. Not to mention, no photos allowed inside (#1 way to annoy the sh*t out of a blogger/vlogger/instagrammer). 

St. Paul’s Cathedral is separated into several layers. From the ground floor, you can take about 250 steps up to the Whispering Gallery, that is halfway up the lower dome where you can see the Cathedral hall down below. It’s call the Whispering Gallery because if you are sitting directly opposite from someone, you can whisper into the wall and it’ll travel across the dome to the person across. 

Next layer up is 370 steps to the Stone Gallery. You can’t completely see the outside as most sections are blocked off and the stairs and walls get smaller and narrower as you proceed. Next is a 530 glass spiral steps up to the Golden Gallery. This is a bit scary for people scared of heights, but trust me once you get to the top it’ll all be worth it. At the top you can step outside and get a 360 degree view of London city center, including the London Eye, Palace of Westminster & the Big Ben, the various bridges along the river. 

Okay, and then you have to climb all those steps back down. I know, but still it’s worth it. 


 



Leadenhall Market
I’m surprised that not many people know this place as it is the very first scene of London that appeared in the Harry Potter movies! For those who don’t remember, when Hagrid picked Harry up, before heading to Hogwarts, he took Harry to go shopping for school supplies in Diagon alley. To get to Diagon alley, they walked into a pub in Leadenhall Market, and there was a secret wall in the back where you tap which opens up into Diagon alley. 

As Leadenhall Market is closed on the weekends, it’s perfect for pictures, there was barely anyone there. But wow, the architecture is just stunning. 



Tower Bridge & Lunch Outdoors
By this time I was starving. But the sky had cleared up, and there was a little outdoor food market just near Tower Bridge. I grabbed a burger and beer and sat under a tree just beside Tower Bridge. This is when I fell in love with London Summers. After dinner I went on a walk along the bridge, I was also able to see the bridge draw up to let boats through. 


 



Covent Garden & Piccadilly Circus 
I was planning to take the 3:44pm train up to Cambridge, but I still had some time to kill, so I decided to walk around Covent Garden and Piccadilly Circus. There was one place I book marked which I saw on Pinterest – Neal’s Yard. It was this small courtyard full of narrow brick houses covered in bright coloured paint where people sat outdoors for food and drinks. By the time I got there, it was early afternoon, and on a Saturday, which mean it was just about as crowded as Times Square New York. But I managed to take a few snaps and moved onto Piccadilly Circus. 

Piccadilly Circus is exactly how I’d expected it, but much more. There was so much going on, theater billboards, red buses and black cabs one after another, street performers and crowds of people standing around watching. I don’t remember exactly which road I took this picture at, but when I saw this place I felt, yes, this is London! This is so London.


 

 

 


King’s Cross Station
Prior to going to King’s Cross, my image of this station was from platform 9 ¾ in Harry Potter. I imagined the red brick walls and steam trains, trolleys everywhere. This is probably as ridiculous sounding as if someone told me that everyone is a cowboy in the states. But King’s Cross in 2017 is pretty modern, with a very large LED display board of the train arrivals and platform number, glass overpass and lifts taking you to the platforms, and of course the usual – ticket vending machines, food court, bookshops, and even a pub. 

I didn’t plan to visit platform 9 ¾ , but since I had loads of time to kill, and my platform number for my Cambridge bound train haven’t shown up yet, I decided to head towards platform 9 & 10.. Except, it isn’t actually there. Silly me. It was right inside the main hall of King’s Cross, where a long, long queue of people are standing. There’s also a Platform 9 ¾ Harry Potter souvenir shop right beside it. The queue was ridiculously long, and I’m really not a fan of queues, so I took a quick snap of the half trolley stuck to the wall of King’s Cross station main hall. 

The shop was pretty packed as well, catering to fans of all houses. You could get jumpers, scarfs, wands, tickets for the Hogwarts express, chocolate frogs, even Hermionie’s time travel gadget. I really wanted to buy a wand, but I honestly don’t know when I’d use it. I figured I will buy the entire outfit when I visit a Harry Potter theme park. 





 



Cambridge University
I booked my tickets online in advance, and the return was just £16.90 (about the same price as the cost to get into St. Paul’s can you believe it). The Great Northern Expressed departed King Cross right on time, and took no stops between there and Cambridge Station. I was there within 45 minutes, passing by the suburbs of north London. It was 4:30pm, but the sun was shining down as if it was noon. It was that time where Jet Lag might hit me in the face really hard, so I stopped by at Starbucks to pick up a Mocha Frappuccino. 

I had a few items on my agenda, and one was go up to Great St. Mary’s church, and I wanted to see Trinity College, King’s College (chapel), Queen’s College (bridge), and Christ’s College (Charles Darwin’s room). The thing is, everything was closed. I later found out from my friend who went to Cambridge that it was either exams week or summer holidays so everything is closed. I get it that students live and study here, and I’m very respectful about being quiet and not running around like a loud excited tourist. So Christ College let me up to the gate for a picture after I asked politely. Trinity college though were absolute a**hats. Maybe I was just unlucky because there were other tourists before me, or maybe the staff who spoke to me was an absolute prick. I don’t know, either way unfortunately no photos of Trinity College. 

I decided to just wander along the river, or places I could see the river so I can get a view of “Punting”. To me that was the #1 thing that shouts Cambridge. It was pretty hilarious because I caught this very drunken girl who decided to jump off the boat she was on to another one, and the poor guy rowing the boat didn’t know what to do. After she somehow made it back on board, she was being silly and then proceeded to tease the guy. So difficult to make money these days right? I’m sure he had a story to tell his friends at dinner later, and it probably began with “And this mental chick ……”

I was having to much fun wandering around and people watching, that I missed my train. I wished I had more time to enjoy Cambridge properly, but like I said, me even being in England was an accident and I only had 60 hours in total. This was more like a, let’s get a highlight of what London is like, and I can either visit a second time or move here. 





 

Nando’s
I got back finally to London around 8:30pm. I was too tired to find a restaurant, and I ran into a Nando’s on my way back to the hotel in Covent Garden! All of my colleagues who are British or who have lived in London always raved on about Nando’s. I tried it one time back in Kuala Lumpur airport, but that was a while ago. I’m glad I could get my hands back onto Nando’s, and this is not the only time on my trip I’ll be having them. The creamy smash sides though, absolutely amazing. I got takeaway and enjoyed it back at my hotel before passing out just around 9:30pm. 


The following day is a 9am flight to Marrakech, the main purpose of flying across the world. I’ll be back in London at the end of the trip, so I’ll wrap up the other places I’ve visited in London after I finish the series for Marrakech, Munich, Copenhagen, and Malmo. 

Cheers,


Follow my instagram @ariel.land for more photos from my trip! 






 





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