So the last stop on my Euro trip was London. Possibly surprising to most, but this was actually my first ever visit to this well known city. It was just never really a “must see” in my book, because of kinda the same way I feel about Australia… to me it was just a place where South Africans all move to for better/other work opportunities.
I figured that because I was gonna be in the area in any case, I might as well pop in and see what all the fuss was about. Plus I had heard that the shopping there is amazing. So that, I will be honest, was a big drawcard.
I landed at Gatwick Airport, which is a bit further from the centre of London than Heathrow, but it’s still pretty simple to get into the city by train. They will try sell you the Gatwick Express option which takes 30min, BUT what I learnt online before arriving at Gatwick is that the standard southern rail line only takes 5min longer than the Gatwick Express and it’s about 5 pounds cheaper. Now 5 pounds doesn’t sound like too much of a saving, but at the ZAR exchange rate of 15.5 at the time, it equated to R77.50. And a saving is a saving in my book. So I took the Southern Line to the Victoria Station and then from there I crossed over to the London Underground’s Circle Line to get to Paddington station.
My hotel was the Shaftesbury Premier London Paddington (booked through Booking.com) which was just around the corner from the Paddington station and very close to the Bayswater area.
Location wise I was very happy. It was pretty easy to get to pretty much anywhere I wanted to go, either by bus or the underground, and the hotel was situated in a quiet side street, lined with pretty trees, which was lovely and calming.
It was a 4 star hotel, but I had booked a single room at a pretty good price compared to other hotels in the area (£393.36 for 5 nights), so I was expecting my room to be quite small. Exactly how small, I wasn’t quite prepared for… Plus my room was on the basement level, so it didn’t really have a window, more just a pane of glass looking out on well, the basement. But I will say, even though it was tiny and all that, it was definitely the most luxurious room from all the hotels I had stayed in prior to that point, so I was quite happy & comfortable there.
Now the really nice thing about London was that I knew a few folks who had moved over there from Cape Town. This meant that I was totally spoilt on the tour guide front and I finally had someone to have dinner with again. (solo dinners definitely get a bit lonely after a while)
On my first night there, my friend Brad (who I used to work with when I first moved to Cape Town), ensured that I ticked off quite a few things on my London to do list, and in pretty quick succession to boot:
- Making a call from a red telephone box… check:
- Spotting black cabs… check:
- Spotting a regte egte English pub… check:
- Checking out Trafalgar square & attempting to climb a HUGE lion… check & check:
- Visiting Mr Cameron at 10 Downing Street… well this one is kinda a check:
- Checking out that famous clock, Big Ben… check:
- Checking out the London eye & the beautiful surrounding area… check (however I did decide that my £19.20 would be better spent at the shops, so I didn’t actually go for a ride on the Eye):
- Discovering that Piccadilly Circus isn’t actually a circus… check:
- And that Covent Garden actually isn’t a garden at all (these Brits really like to make things complicated, don’t they)… but anyways, this was a check:
You see what I mean, we covered quite a bit in just one evening. And to top things off we settled at a very cool cocktail bar slash pizzeria in the trendy Soho area, called B-SOHO for a mean pizza and a few rounds of drinks:
This was an amazing kick off to my London experience and it got me very excited for the days still to come. I actually kicked myself a little for underestimating London as a travel destination for soooo long… And I finally got why people ended up staying here, even though the weather (let’s face it) really is pretty crappy, even in summer.
But ja… I was very happy to finally be there. And there was still so much to do & see…