London in a Nutshell (Part II – Of Course)

Then I ran across some souvenir stores but couldn’t decide which one of those quazillion “I Love London mugs” to purchase so I ended up not buying any at all. The M&M store is quite unimpressive but the chaos at Piccadilly was enjoyable. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many ghetto German tourists at one spot outside of Germany. Before I feared of being transformed back home, I fled to a spot called Camden: An artsy area easily accessible via Piccadilly line off the Camden Town stop. Here you can find unusual useless things such as a fish pedicure (little fish nibble away the skin on your soles, supposedly it only tickles) and stumble across many creative items at the Camden Stables. The Brit had said I should check it out for an hour or two, but I ended up getting lost in its colorful jungle for well over 5 hours! As the myth goes the late Amy Winehouse had her house here, but I wasn’t really in search for that. I did manage to get annoyed with one Muslim cashier who I had thought gave me the wrong amount of change until half an hour later I discovered my own stupidity of not being able to distinguish between the 20pence and 10pence piece. Sorry love, won’t happen again (as you will only reluctantly serve people with an American accent in the future, I am sure!).

Fish pedicure, anyone?
Camden souvenir magic

I even had the desire to stray off the beaten paths and stumbled across Brit-cops who were arresting teenagers for something I couldn’t figure out. After running past some graffiti walls and an unexciting church I decided to finally take on my night-tour at dark and headed back to Green Park. And this I can truly recommend! If you want to see the pure magic of this city, the parts that might be hidden to you when you walk around, and the time of day you will obtain the best impressions, discover London at night! On a bus, safe and sound, and with a British tour guide! It adds to the feeling of originality. And be sure to tip the guy, as people in UK are struggling from the financial crisis, too. This guide took us past the Hyde Park, the Museum of Natural History, the illuminated Harrods’, past the Big Ben, London Eye, and Theater, over the Tower Bridge towards the Waterloo Station back over the London Bridge to the old part of town. And the history behind this old part is simply amazing, I can’t wait to read or hear more about it. One day I will walk those streets and see what they are about during day light.

With the bus tour being such a high success I was eager to cash in my second ticket I had purchased at the hostel: A ride with the London Eye! And this I did the day after.

But first, on my second day in this wonderful historical city, I went to Hyde Park, enjoyed watching the true Brits pass me by on horses and in a carriage (this has so much more flair than the touristy carriages in Central Park!), continued on to Green Park and eventually ended up at Buckingham Palace. Here my ultimate luck came into play, as it was the day of the guard change (this only happens every other day), and at 11 AM the first parade came marching down the street: Red uniformed guys with huge black bear fur hats, playing the trumpet while kicking their legs up in the air. What an act! I didn’t want to lose too many minutes, so I regretfully continued my journey after 20 minutes of watching. It was a spectacle, nevertheless. On my way to Westminster Bridge I passed through the business district of London, or so it felt. Fancy stores and shops advertising overpriced clothes; women and men in costumes and suits hectically walking past the tourist with the over-sized camera.
Then Westminster Abbey with the one and only Big Ben. Street performers impersonating the Queen on the bridge. And finally: the London Eye!

Carriage in Hyde Park

The ultimate tourist in front of Buckingham Palace

Despite the warnings my hostel attendant had issued the lines weren’t too bad. I passed some small groups and went to the express lane, which I had bought a ticket for at the hostel but it hadn’t cost me any extra. Before you enter the cubicles, they lead you into a 4D theater (sorry, cinema!) and for 5 minutes you get to see the an animated film about how great the Eye looks during all seasons year-round. I really liked the New Year’s Eve shot as it adds a nice touch to stand close to an illuminated blue wheel when fireworks go off above the city.

The London Eye offers an amazing view, I have to say. I recommend doing this but once you’ve done it there aren’t really too many reasons to do it twice. Unlike the Empire State Building platform you cannot choose how long to stay but your cubicle is in constant move and you have to adjust to all the new sites in front of you. London is expansive and it looked beautiful on that particular day. I enjoyed spending 20 minutes above the roofs of the city but also considered them a bit short.

After being the ultimate tourist, I checked out the Sherlock Holmes museum at tada Baker Street and went inside their cute souvenir store. Old-style phones and statues with magnifying glasses – definitely going to need those in real life!

Regent’s Park is right around the corner and worth the walk. I assume the Queen Mary’s gardens with flower beds are nice to look at during the (cold?) summer months. My last sight for that day was the historic St. Paul’s church: A piece of jewelry made out of stone and decorated with Roman style figures disguised as fountains in front. Gorgeous! The spot seems to be popular for old-school-Londoners taking in their lunch or reading the Evening Standard, as I spotted a few on the steps.

My last night out was a whirl of barhopping: A 30-people-bar on our way to Soho. Great for cocktails. A gay bar in Soho. Great for gay men. An Asian fusion restaurant around Picadilly. Great for fast food. A beer at a bar filled with drunks. Great for making fun of Brits. A walk past Hyde Park and back. Great for choosing which Lamborghini you want. And a last drink (whiskey and ginger ale!) at the only bar open at such a “late”hour: 24-hour-hotels! The Brit and I made it until 2 AM. Good-bye’s are always so sad!

On my last morning I managed to pack my stuff without forgetting a single thing in the room and scooped in one hour at the British Museum. Now one hour is pathetic for so much history at one spot, but I still got some nice shots and I also saw the ultimate goddess among the antiques: Rosetta Stone! Boy, was I proud of myself!

Venus hiding from the eyes of an intruder

The return to Germany is blurry, as I remember stepping on a dozen British feet when hurrying along busy tube tunnels to fetch my bus at Victoria Station. One lady got very mad with me as she heightened her voice and pointed out that this had been the third person already I had shoved out of my way. I think I failed to accurately respond and correct the number upwards.
The shuttle to Stansted took us almost 2 hours, which well over one was spent in London. I guess it can take a long time to get out of this city. And the flight, well, the flight… Ryanair is a different story, to be told in a different post!

Things never to forget:
The mean brush that had almost made me cry when it wrapped itself around my hair and I almost considered having it cut off before the nice Asian British girl stepped in and helped me detangle it. Thank you!
The high amount of French (fast) food found on practically every street corner: Pret-a-manger and crêpes being among the British favorites. Yummy crêpes at the Camden Stables being among my favorites. They might have a weak spot for French food, the English.
The oyster card I lost on my last day and the 5 pound deposit I had to pay when obtaining a new one. Of course I never had the necessary time to return it and actually get my money back, as the run to the bus was too hectic.
The nice employee at the British Museum who took my suitcase considered “overweight” by the garderobe department and stored it in the kids’ department for one pound only.
Other things are best kept in London…