I finally saw some of London! It’s a four day weekend here in the UK with offices being closed for Good Friday and Easter Monday. I ended up sleeping through most of Friday in a failed attempt to shake this nasty cold. My cough and my voice are worse than ever, but at least I felt well rested. Ran some errands and then went out for the night to celebrate the birthday of a girl in the program. We went to Piccadilly Institute, which was a really cool club! We spent most of the night in the 90’s room dancing to Spice Girls, Destiny’s Child, and I think even one S Club 7 song.
Saturday was my tourist day. Had such a wonderful time exploring the city! My roommate and I decided to go to the National Gallery, which is in Trafalgar Square. Luckily, I had my handy Rick Steves’ Pocket Guide from my former colleagues. The book outlined a walking tour that ended at Trafalgar Square, so we ended up taking the longest possible walk to get to the museum. The walk took us across the South Bank of the Thames River, which is basically a carnival. There were food vendors and street performers all over the place. We saw dance crews, fire jugglers, Darth Vader and Captain Jack Sparrow impersonators—all sorts of stuff. There was a guy playing guitar in the Thames, a sand sculptor on the beach, and a giant used book sale. We walked right past the London Eye (which I will be doing at some point in the future after I’ve been paid). From the South Bank, you get your first glimpse of Big Ben. It’s so iconic that seeing it finally made me feel like I’m here, truly living in London.
We walked down the South Bank to Westminster Bridge and came across the Thames right in front of Big Ben. Fun fact, the name Big Ben officially applies to the Bell inside the clock tower. Since the bell isn’t visible, the whole tower and the clock itself sort of adopted the name Big Ben. Now you know.
We passed by Big Ben, caught a glimpse of Westminster Abbey, then turned down Parliament St. to see a lot of the official buildings. We got to walk past the Banqueting Hall and #10 Downing Street where the Prime Minister lives and the Horse Guard that ceremoniously guards the old entrance to Buckingham Palace.
(For any Doctor Who fans who have seen the latest episode, the walk I took is pretty much the same path the Doctor and Clara ride on the motorbike. The TARDIS shows up on the South Bank and from there they cross the Westminster Bridge and go through Trafalgar Square. It was so cool to see that on the show just a few short hours after I’d been there in person!)
When we finally got to Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery was directly in front of us. It’s a gorgeous building with huge stone lions and fountains out front and a grand staircase up to the front of the building. At that very moment, the sun came out for the first (and only) time all day. The pictures make it look like it’s very gloomy out, but I swear in that one moment it felt warm enough to stay outside all day.
The gallery itself is really impressive. We spent three hours there, which for me was just the right amount of time. My roommate and I spent the first hour or so looking at our favorite works in the collection—a lot of Degas, Monet, van Gogh and other similar artists. The rest of the rooms we moved through a bit more quickly. We did get to see some works by DaVinci and Michelangelo. There were rooms upon rooms of religious art, so after a while a lot of it looked similar to me. There is absolutely no photography allowed in the gallery, so I don’t have any pics to share from that part of the adventure.
After a nice browse through the gift shop, we took a ride on a very crowded tube to make it back to the flat in time to watch Doctor Who. As I mentioned above, the episode featured a lot of the locations we had just visited, so of course I loved the episode. The show is on at 6:15 here, so I see it several hours ahead of those of you who watch on BBC America. I’ll be sure to avoid posting any spoilers here or elsewhere when new episodes come out.
It feels good to do the touristy bits here in London. Work got started so quickly after we arrived and then moving into the flat on our first weekend here made it easy to fall into the day-to-day routine, but getting the chance to see some sights makes me appreciate this opportunity all the more.
More updates soon on the rest of my extended weekend, or as I like to call it, Adventures on the Tube.