It took us a couple hours to find the perfect flight to London. We wanted to fly American (for the miles and the low price), without actually flying American (because they kind of suck). British Airways is a One-World partner. Sadly, most “British Airways” flights to London are operated by American. But our persistence paid off, and we had the perfect round-trip flight.
Therefore, it was with a great deal of sadness that we discovered our flight to Chicago was already delayed due to “weather” when we arrived at the airport two hours early. After some frantic rebooking by the ticket agent, we would be flying out of Dallas, thankfully still on a British Airways flight.
Side note: British Airways kicks ass.
We tried to sleep, but the most we could manage was a couple hours of dozing. It’s hard to sleep at 35,000 feet with 400 of your closest friends jammed around you.
We figured out the Underground and made it to the hotel with a minimum of getting lost. Some nice gentleman did point us in the right direction when we were standing around looking confused.
Dustin worked for two days then we had our first sightseeing weekend. We spent the entire day, from open to close (almost seven hours) at the British Museum. Since the British Empire spanned the globe, they managed to collect artifacts from around the world. I think they may have more Egyptian artifacts than Egypt does.
Saturday night, we ate at the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a pub that was rebuilt in 1667. The pub has been in business longer than the U.S. has been a country.
On Sunday, we went to Kew Gardens and Hampton Court Palace. Kew Garden was beautiful. We had perfect weather to spend a day outside. There were these amazing glass greenhouses that were built in the 1840s with wrought iron and hand-blown glass panels.
Hampton Court Palace was everything you’d expect from a former royal residence: huge, extravagant, and ornate. In short, it was awesome. We spent several hours wandering around gawking at the sheer amount of wealth it would’ve taken to build such a building. We also successfully completed the hedge maze, which was built in 1690 and is still surviving.
Dustin went back to work for a week, then we had our second sightseeing weekend. On Saturday, we visited Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and St. Paul’s Cathedral. Both churches were completely awe-inspiring. Neither allowed pictures inside, so I couldn’t capture the magic to share.
At St. Paul’s, we climbed to the middle level of the dome. The first level is open to the inside (and completely terrifying because you can see the floor 90 feet down as well as the top of the dome when you look up). The first level is 257 fairly easy steps up. It’s a nice wide spiral staircase and the steps are short, making the ascent easier.
The next level requires another 119 steps and these are much less fun. It is still a spiral staircase, but it is so small they made the passage one-way (once you start, you can’t back out). It’s narrow and the stairs are steep, but every so often there is a landing with a bench carved into the wall, so it’s possible to stop and rest.
Once you reach the second level, you are outside with an amazing view of London. Even if you are scared of heights (like me!) it is worth the climb. We stopped at the second level, but you could continue on to the third level. Our guidebook said if you are claustrophobic it might not be a good idea, though, so I decided I had faced my fears as much as I was going to for one day and skipped it.
On Sunday we visited the Tower of London. The London Marathon course ran right past the Tower and there were tons and tons of spectators. We got there in time to see some of the elite men run past the ~20 mile mark.
The tower famously holds the Crown Jewels, though no photography is allowed inside. The jewels are pretty much what you’d expect–completely, ridiculously, over-the-top. There are so many diamonds and other gems that it all begins to look like glass, because no one could really have that many diamonds, right? Wrong, apparently.
On Monday, when Dustin had to go back to work, I did some exploring on my own. The Queen’s birthday was on Sunday, so in belated celebration they did on gun salute on Monday. It was awesome. There was a marching band. They played the Indiana Jones music and the Death March from Star Wars (no one can say they don’t have a sense of humor). There were six teams of horses pulling cannons and they ran in at a very fast clip. I expected sedate horses, but I think they found only the crazy, high-strung ones.
They shot off 41 rounds (a 21-round standard salute, plus an extra 20 rounds because it was in a royal park… I have no idea why that matters). Note: cannons are loud. I took a video and you can see me jump and squeak when the first shot went off.
On Tuesday night, right before our Underground passes ran out, we had beautiful, warm weather. We decided a picnic in the Hyde Park was required. It was perfect. We walked around the lake as the sun set. Fun fact: Hyde Park has sandy horse-riding trails, though I didn’t see any horses.
Overall, we had an amazing time in London. Stay tuned for my recap of our time in York and Scotland…