10 Days in London - Days 1 & 2

My wife, Ash, and I are embarking on a lengthy vacation to Europe - 130 days in total, 10 countries and 26 cities (with some smaller stops in between). We started dreaming up this trip around two years ago and after much planning, debate, leave approvals and ten draft itineraries later, it’s finally here.

It’s the morning of our flight and we’re busily triple and quadruple checking that we’ve got everything. Underwear, check. Passports, check. Cables for all the bloody devices we have, check. Band-aids, check. Everything in packing cubes, check (we’ve recently discovered these and Ash won’t stop going on about how awesome they are).

As we get to the airport, Ash turns up the nerves a few notches. Again, we check if we have our passports (we do). The check in process is made to seem more complicated than it actually is, but we get through it anyway. And I promise never to leave her side throughout the whole trip. That promise lasted a whole five minutes.

We go through passport control and immediately get separated. Ash goes through fine first, but my passport gets flagged for some reason. The security lady asks if I have two passports, to which I respond “No.” and I immediately get directed to a second queue on the other side of the hall. Ash has already moved onto the bag check, and is blissfully unaware of any of this.

The second queue has a few families with small children, and some loners like me. I wait for a bit and then get directed up to the customs officers desk. In the line I can overhear him talking with his colleagues about how it’s almost 2pm and they’re ready for break time. As I get to the desk, he looks at me, then at my passport and a stamp later I’m through and on my way to bag check. The whole process took maybe 15 minutes. Or 15 minutes too long, if you ask Ash.

I look at my phone after I pass baggage check, and there’s 2 missed calls and messages from Ash. She’s been calmly flipping out, just a little. I find her a few thousand heart palpitations later, and we make our way to the Qantas lounge to decompress before the flight.

Living in Australia and far away from every other part of the world, you think you get used to long flights. The truth is you never do though. Our plane left Sydney in the early evening, and it would be a full 24 hours before we arrived at London Heathrow.

The first leg of the journey was 8 hours to Singapore, and I was able to catch up on some of my movie queue. I got through A Star is Born, Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse, and Wreck it Ralph: Breaks the Internet.

We had an hour-ish layover in Singapore, and it was just enough time to freshen up before the longer, harder 14 hour flight to Heathrow. Re-boarding the plane, I was ready to go to sleep. It was 3am back in Australia, and the last time my body was up that early would have been for someone’s 21st - suffice to say, a long time ago.

We waited until the flight attendants brought around bottles of water and both took a sleeping pill to ensure we got some solid sleep. And we did - the most that both of us had ever slept on a flight.

Before long we were in London Heathrow.

Day 1 - Monday

Our plane landed shortly after 7am local time and we quickly disembarked. The immigration queue was looooooonnnnggg though, and we spent about an hour and a half waiting to clear immigration before collecting our bags and heading to the tube.

Pretending like we knew what we were doing, we jumped on the London Underground and proudly made our way to our accommodation without any hiccups.

It’s at this stage I realised how heavy my bag actually was. When we left Sydney,  the bag weighed in at 14.9kg. As I was walking from North Lambeth Station to our AirBnB, I felt that grow first to 30kg and then to 60kg - and my envy for Ash’s rolling bag was growing with each step. After some fumbling through various keys and doors, we entered our oh-so British flat and my bag landed with a loud thud of satisfaction.

For the rest of the day, the aim of the game was to stay awake as long as possible, which wasn’t too hard considering the brilliant weather London had put on for us. We hit the pavement for a stroll.

We walked past Victoria Tower seeing some blossoms in bloom, then onto Westminster Abbey, passing crowds of people protesting Brexit, up to Trafalgar Square, along the River Thames past Southbank before our feet and stomachs took us to Bourough Markets.

I devoured an amazing sticky cinnamon bun and a falafel wrap, while Ash tucked into some vegetable dumplings. Strolling through the markets we were both wide-eyed as everything looked so delicious. I could have easily eaten a cake and a loaf of bread as well.

We both made it to about 4pm before our eyelids started to become heavy. We ate soup with DELICIOUS sourdough bread rolls from the Borough Market, and were tucked into bed by 6pm local time.

Day 2 - Tuesday

I woke at 3:30am exactly. Oh how I love round numbers.

The flat we’re in has a tenant above and one below. And we’d noticed that, being in an old-ish flat, when moving around there are many creaks and noises that follow you about the room. So in bed, I lay wondering whether I should get up at 4am and make a coffee, have a shower etc. Or whether that would wake the whole neighbourhood.

At 5am, the first trains of the day started and we could hear them making their way across the tracks. ka-thud ka-thud. ka-thud ka-thud. I lay in bed, reading the news and researching more places for our itinerary. Then at 5:30am we made the call to get up and started getting ready for the day. Our first morning waking up on holidays. 

We left shortly after 9am and walked over the River Thames to Westminster Station, where we caught the train to Westbourne Park. We were on our way to the Portobello Markets, and the beautifully colourful houses around Notting Hill.  

The charm of the streets reminded me a lot of San Francisco. Everywhere you looked there were different shades of green, blue, yellow, purple and pink adorning the neighborhood.

After walking a few blocks from the train station, we arrived at St Lukes Mews - a charming little cobbled street, with the most fantastic of the colourful houses and many with beautiful accompanying gardens. I’m sure they’re worth a pretty penny too.

We then walked though the Portobello Markets, where we bought the largest blueberries I’ve ever seen - they were delicious!

As I walk through the streets my eyes and nose are frequently brought to the attention of the many local and beautiful bakeries of London. I suspect these may be my downfall at some point, but I’ve resisted them (for the most part) so far.

After a decent amount of walking we arrived at Hyde Park, near Kensington Palace. I’d been here 5 years ago on a work trip, but the size of the park still staggered me. It’s immense and amazing.

I just love seeing so many people outdoors having fun and enjoying the sunshine (a rarity I’ve heard for London). We spent a good amount of time sitting on a bench and watching all the cute doggos walk past. After catching some of the light morning sun, we continued walking through the Park, towards Royal Albert Hall and the Imperial College London.

Every Tuesday there’s a farmer’s market on the Queens Lawn at the Imperial College. That was our target for lunch and it did not disappoint!

To our surprise (and delight) the majority of the food there was vegetarian and vegan friendly. Of the few places we’ve been so far, we’re getting the sense that vegetarian food is a much more common part of the British diet, which is great for us.

There were vegan burgers, pizza, Indian, pasta, aranchini and assorted baked goods. We decided on the veggie shashouka, a beautiful pumpkin and cheddar tart, and apple cake for dessert. In total, about 13 pounds for three courses and all delicious.  

We strolled around the corner to the Natural History Museum. The building itself is magnificent, and another example of the history and heritage that London has to offer.

We visited a variety of exhibits including the dinosaurs, mammals and gemstones. The variety of gemstones was huge, and I spent a long time looking at the calcite, quartz and sulphites while Ash dazzled over the diamonds and opals.

At 3pm the wall of jet lag started to hit us hard. Having already done so much, we decided to catch the tube home and try to stay up as long as we could. I think we made it to 7:30pm...