Day 1 - Arrival!

Back when Kelli was a high school freshman, neither of us had yet to travel outside of the United States. And a short trip into Canada while visiting Niagara Falls when I was younger doesn't qualify. So I made a deal with her. As a graduation gift, she could pick anywhere in the world for a vacation and that's where we would go. Over the years, her destination selection changed numerous times. First it was France. Then it was Italy. Then Japan. As she entered her senior year, I put on my Regis Philbin hat and told her that she was going to have to come up with her "final answer", since I would soon have to begin buying plane tickets and mapping out our plans. Finally, she decided upon Great Britain. That sounded great to me, if at least because we'd be able to understand and speak the native language. So we bought ourselves a copy of Rick Steves' Guide to Great Britain and London, and started planning our itinerary. We decided to spend our first five days in the London area, and our final five days in other parts of the U.K. We would have prefered to stay longer abroad, but our budget was not unlimited, and we knew we'd be facing a big college bill just a few months after our return as well. So ten days was all we felt we could reasonably afford. We researched our guide book, and I spent many countless hours scouring the Internet for sight-seeing tips, hotel suggestions, and transportation. I decided early on that I did not want to drive in Great Britain (driving on the left-hand side is just plain wrong, man!), so we would have to use public transportation (subways, trains, buses, taxis) in order to get to places outside walking distance. Eventually, after many months of work, our tickets were purchased, our hotels confirmed, and it was time to make some lasting memories together!

As much as I would have preferred to fly out of BWI (it's just fifteen minutes away), there weren't any direct flights to London from that airport. Therefore, we were forced to fly out of Dulles International instead. I wasn't keen on paying the ten-bucks-per-day fee for overnight airport parking, so I called up a buddy of mine who lives in Reston, and worked out a plan for me to park my car at his house during our trip. That saved us over a hundred bucks right there!

Kelli decided she wanted it to be daytime when we landed in London, which meant taking the red-eye at 9:45pm. Flight time was just over seven hours, but with the five hour time difference, it meant we would arrive at 10:00am London time (although it would still feel like 5am to us). And did it ever. Neither of us were able to sleep on the plane that much, so we were both pretty tired upon landing.

We quickly got our luggage off the baggage belt, and headed down to the airport's TI booth. A month earlier, I had signed Kelli up for a special 16+ Oyster photo card, which would give her special discounted rates on all the Tube and Light Rail transportation fares. Even though I had a confirmation number, I was worried that they might not have her in the system due to some "we're from America" overseas snafu. However, they found her card right away, and after I purchased an Oyster travel card for myself, we were ready to head to London.

I decided early on that we would stay at Bed & Breakfast hotels rather than more expensive mainstream ones. This was done primarily to keep lodging costs down, and also to hopefully give our stay a more personal touch. I chose one in central London called Cherry Court Hotel that had been given good reviews online. Its website had already told us which tube line we should get on to take us to the station nearest the hotel. Unlike the D.C. metro system (which has the train drivers speaking nearly unintelligable stop and destination information), the London Underground has a pleasant pre-recorded British woman's voice telling us clearly that "This is the District Line, with passage to Cockfosters", and our personal favorite, "Mind the gap!".


Victoria Station

Victoria Station in downtown London


Our journey to Victoria Station in downtown London took about 40 minutes. Since we weren't sure how far the hotel was from that station and didn't want to wheel our luggage for ten blocks, we took a taxi rather than walk. As it turned out, the hotel was conveniently quite close -- well within walking distance. We had trouble finding it at first, because unbeknowest to us, the hotel had taken down their hanging sign temporarily. Thankfully, they had another sign lower to the ground which Kelli managed to spot.

Our home for the next five days

Kelli at our London hotel


We checked into our hotel room (which was naturally on the top floor, which meant climbing three flights of extremely narrow stairs), and immediately found that space is at a premium in downtown London. This meant small rooms and even smaller bathrooms. The shower stall was so tiny that I banged my elbows against the enclosure numerous times while trying to turn around. I also managed to accidentally bump the shower handle from hot to cold a few times. That'll wake you up in the morning, let me tell ya. Oh well, we wouldn't be spending that much time in the room anyway.

Kevin chillin' in the hotel
Kevin chillin' in the hotel
   Kelli's very small bed
Kelli's very small bed


Kevin surveying the tiny bathroom
Kevin pondering how he'll fit in the shower


Since we were both tired and a little grungy, we each took a quick shower to freshen (and wake us) up, and then we headed out for some sightseeing. First we needed to fuel up with some lunch, so Kelli recommended a nearby restaurant she had researched called Jenny Lo's Teahouse. We finally found it (after walking down the wrong Eccleston Street) and shared a meal of pork rice. I wasn't too impressed with the food, but we were both so hungry that we cleaned our plates anyway.

Dining at Jenny Lo's Teahouse
Dining at Jenny Lo's Teahouse, our first meal in London!


After lunch, we took the Tube one stop to Westminster Station, and when we ascended the exit stairs, we were immediately greeted with the sight of Big Ben and the Parliament Building. That's when it hit us that we really were in London! We had finally made it!!

Kelli and the London Eye
Kelli on Westminster Bridge, with the London Eye behind her


We took some pictures of each other with various London landmarks in the background. We had planned to actually take a ride on the London Eye at night on our last evening in London, but we just ran out of time. Plus, tickets were rather on the expensive side. So perhaps we'll take a ride next time we visit.


The Clock Tower containing Big Ben
Big Ben (well, actually the tower than contains Big Ben)
We got to hear it chime at 2 o'clock! It was loud!


We thought about calling home right when Big Ben was about to chime, just to make people jealous. It did sound impressive. And, as Londoner's were wont to remind we tourists, Big Ben is "not the clock, nor the tower, but the bell that chimes the hour.".


Street Directions
Hmmmm. Which way should we go? Let's go left!


We definitely wanted to see the great cathedral of Westminster Abbey. Sadly, no photography is allowed inside the church (although we were able to take some pictures from within the College Garden). The building is quite large, and it took us nearly two hours to see everything inside. We got to see many of the tombs of various royalty buried there (e.g. Elizabeth I, Henry V).


Westminster Abbey
This cathedral is monstrously HUGE! Look at all the tiny people!


Westminster Abbey
Getting ready to enter Westminster Abbey


Westminster Abbey
Check out the carvings above the main entrace door. Simply magnificent!


Westminster Abbey
"One day, I shall build a house such as this!!"
Lack of sleep has made Kelli delusional while in the College Garden


By now, we were pretty much running on empty. I had planned to walk all the way to Trafalgar Square and then back to the hotel via Buckingham Palace, but Kelli was ready to call it quits. So we took the tube back to Victoria Place Shopping Centre and enjoyed a meal in the mall at a restaurant called Garfunkel's, which was not unlike Ruby Tuesday's.

Before turning in for the night, I checked the weather forecast for the next few days on the hotel's internet kiosk. Thursday looked okay, but they were calling for light rain on Friday. I had originally planned to do the Tate Museum of Modern Art on Thursday and our boat trip to Greenwich on Friday; however, with the threat of a Friday rain, I decided to switch the two days. Hooray for flexibility!

Goofy side note — As I have slowly advanced in my years, I've been told that I tend to snore. To assist in drowning out the noise so that Kelli could get a decent sleep, I had purchased not only earplugs, but a white noise generator as well. This device gave a nice fan-like air sound that would hopefully mask out my sawing of wood. So I plug it in, flip it on, and head to the bathroom while Kelli starts to settle in for the night. Thirty seconds later I hear Kelli telling me that it stopped working. I come out, inspect the unit, and sure enough – I had forgotten to check if the device was rated for UK power use. Sadly, it was rated up to 110v, and Great Britain used 220v. I had only brought power plug adapters, not voltage converters. So basically I had fried my white noise machine. Not good. I eventually bought some nose sleep strips that seemed to help a little, but Kelli told me numerous times that my snoring kept her awake. Stupid voltage irregularities!! Can't we just all get along!?

Day Two