Trip Start Nov 25, 2010
17Trip End Feb 23, 2011
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Yes, the thought of twenty-four hours from one side of the globe to the other is a remarkable concept, but in practice it’s far less glamorous and a rather remarkable pain in the ass. Having to walk through business class on our way down to economy was ridiculously cruel of Cathay Pacific, considering just how much better their business class appears to be than any other I’ve seen. The amount of space and creature comforts these guys had was insane. Instead, we simply gazed in despair, eyes wide as we were marched out to our lowly, tiny peasant-seats at the back - like cattle to a slaughter house. My only solace is that Rachael drew the short straw and had to sit in the middle beside an Asian lady with a bad case of motion sickness. After watching the only two films available that I wanted to see, the in-flight entertainment ran thin rather quickly, as did the leg room situation. It’s not that we haven’t experienced this before, nor that Cathay Pacific is a worse airline - quite the contrary, in fact - it’s just that sometimes you find yourself more adept at coping in these kinds of situations than others. It didn’t help matters that we were delayed due to weather mid-flight and arrived an hour-and-a-half late.
All was forgiven, however, as we first set our sights upon London from above, the lights of the vibrant metropolis nestled snugly amidst the glorious green of England’s rolling hills that seemed to stretch on forever to either side. After passing through immigration, collecting our bags and catching the Heathrow Express into central London, it was already dark - and time for everyone to head home from work. The London Underground was particularly overcrowded, moreso even than New York City, and, unfortunately for us - after having skipped the first train for not being able to squeeze ourselves on board - it seems a collision ahead on the line was cause for some major delays. Yet after what seemed an eternity, we finally hit street level - all weariness and bitterness instantly giving way to elation as it finally sunk in; we were in London. A short walk later and we were standing before our hostel - English pub next door, Starbucks to the other side, mini-mart not far and a McDonalds down the street. Everything I need. We spruced ourselves up after check-in and immediately attempted to sniff out some good eats in the area, settling upon the very near Pizza Express which, despite the crappy fast food chain sounding name, was actually rather suave inside and provided one amazing Romana-style pizza with feta and caramalized onion.
Waking to the sounds of London from our hostel, feeling the crispness of the cold winters air as we open a window, we got our first look of the city by daylight
Strolling about the back of the Houses of Parliament, we came to settle out front of Westminster Abbey; the simply enormous Gothic church that serves as traditional place of coronation and burial of British monarchs
Leaving the Abbey, we spent the remainder of the day exploring London on foot, following the roads north-east toward Trafalgar Square. As we passed the heavily guarded 10 Downing Street along the way, home to the British Prime Minister, we noticed road workers desperately attempting to remove graffiti from the previous night - the phrase ‘REVOLUTION’ in bold red - as passers by snapped photos. Meanwhile, London’s finest stood by, assault rifles in hand, ready to defend if necessary; British style, bitch. Once at Trafalgar Square we took a brief dip into the National gallery to admire some Van Gogh and some large painting of a horse, before relaxing in the hub of London. We resisted the urge to ride the giant lion statues resting proudly over the square, between its iconic fountains, for fear we’d look as stupid as the rest of the tourists doing the same thing.
Finally, we headed toward Covent Garden, a large, open-air market surrounded by cobblestone, where we stopped for lunch in a British Pub after perusing the local wares. A shank of slow-roasted beef, mushrooms, chips, peas and a jug of gravy with some warm, mulled wine to wash it down with, rich in spices; is there anything finer than some London pub grub? I tend to think not. I’d frequent far more pubs back home if this was the kind of food I could expect. Suffice to say, it hit the spot, warming our bellies and lifting our spirits for the remainder of our evening in London. We strolled through parks where the squirrels roamed, the brisk air thick with pigeons and a duck on every corner. We spied the guards from the gates of Buckingham Palace and we searched desperately for public toilets in times of crisis. All in all, it was a fantastic little days tour of London, a city I can’t wait to explore further
And thus it is with heavy hearts that we must leave this place, to return for further exploration at a later date. For now, however, we set a course for Brussels, capital of Belgium and home of EU headquarters, where our great European tour shall truly begin. I think what will prove to be most striking about this trip is how different Europe is to any other place I’ve journeyed so far; the sheer density of vastly different countries and cultures packed together in such a comparatively small space. The fact that tomorrow we’ll be going from breakfast in London to lunch in Belgium is simply amazing to me. One thing’s for sure though; it’s going to be a fun three month ride.
Overly-long obligatory introductory post complete.