London, England

Sister and I woke up early, packed up, and headed downstairs, where much of our group was already waiting. We loaded onto the bus and began the drive to the airport. On the way, I was struck by the immense beauty of the countryside. This wasn’t a commercialized tourist destination; it hadn’t been overhyped or advertised to me. It was just raw, natural beauty that I couldn’t possibly capture with my camera.

The airport was stressful, but unlike many others, we were lucky enough to get tickets on the flight we wanted. By the time we made it through security and walked all the way to the international gate, Sister and I were starved. We hadn’t gotten any Icelandic money yet, so Sister stepped over to the ATM to withdraw some. We picked out an apple for me, an orange for Sister, and a water to share. It rang up to 10 kronas, and Sister handed over the money.
“What type of money is this?” the cashier asked in an Icelandic accent.

“Uh, yours?” Sister replied. “Kronas?”

It turns out they had never seen this type of currency before, but they accepted it and gave us Icelandic money back as change. We’re guessing, after some research, that it was Danish kronas, but why the Icelandic ATM gave us that instead of their own currency is a mystery.

We lined up and had our tickets swiped, but we boarded a bus instead of a plane. The whole flight was carted over far away, looking for our plane. It was no where to be spotted. Everyone stood around impatiently, grumbling and wondering where it could be. Our luggage came out on a cart, just to sit next to us. When someone finally knocked on the glass and yelled to the driver, “What’s going on?” he simply replied in a thick accent , “There’s no plane!” Finally, our bright purple WOW plane arrived, and they boarded us quickly. Normally, I’m not able to sleep on planes, but I was in and out for the whole two and a half hour flight.

When we landed around noon, I was exhausted, but so ready to start the adventure. Customs took forever, but once we were through, we quickly found our bags and met up with Alex (she used to live in our town and worked with our mother; she moved to England a few months ago with her military husband, but hadn’t yet gone to London, so she was glad to tour around and stay with us). Sister and I exchanged our (possibly) Danish kronas for the equivalent in pounds, and then we bought some lunch (a wrap and eclairs for me!). Sister, Alex, and I then found our train and hopped aboard, talking and laughing and not paying any attention. We seated ourselves at a table, ate, and admired the view. The ticket checker came by, scanned our tickets, and said, “This is first class, but you’ve got a standard ticket” all British-like. We hadn’t even noticed the words “FIRST CLASS” plastered on the walls and seats, but the ticket man laughed it off and told us we could stay because standard was too crowded anyway. Lucky us!

We arrived at Victoria Station not much later. Our hotel was only a ten minute walk away, and Sister and I were thrilled to get to experience a taste of the streets. Because of our delay in Iceland, Alex had already stayed there one night without us. She had purchased the “hop on/off” bus tour with Big Bus, which gives you the ability to quickly visit other destinations around the city you’re interested in. Alex had enjoyed the night tour she took last night but was also excited to have some company. Sister and I were also super excited to head out after dropping our giant bags and freshening up. First stop: the typical British phone booths down the street from our hotel. They were adorable, as long as you ignored the smell of urine.

Our little group walked back to Victoria Station (much easier without the thirty pound backpacks) to board the Big Bug. We all sat on top and got an incredible opportunity to look at the city. We decided to just hop off wherever we wanted to, but I also just enjoyed getting to look at everything that went by and all the people.

We all decided to de-board at the London Eye stop, which turned out to be really gr8. I don’t know how we managed it, but we got there at the perfect time. The line to buy the tickets (where we also bought a ticket for the “London Dungeon” at a discounted price) was short, but not even as short as the line to get on the Eye. We frantically stepped into one of the moving cars, along with lots of other people from different countries. The views of the city were spectacular, although sometimes difficult to see or photograph due to other people around.

Alex, Sister, and I then wandered around a bit, and we found a side street full of restaurants. It’s really helpful that all the restaurants post their menus outside, so we scoped out an Italian place that all of us seemed to enjoy. I’m a little embarrassed that we had Italian food in England when we’re about to go to Italy, but it was so delicious! After eating, we decided to get on the River Thames part of the tour. It was chilly on the top level of the boat, and even though the announcements said to remain seated, a whole family of tourists was standing, leaning, and taking pictures. However, I still had good views of classic London. The Globe Theater was impressive, and it was straight from Mr. Thaxton’s English class. We spotted the Ladies’ Bridge (built by women during World War 2), the bridge, and the Tower of London. At the Tower, we got off and walked all the way around the grounds. It had already closed for the day, but it was stunning. The Queen uses it to store the royal jewels—just a personal palace closet built around 1200.

We were all pretty tired and started to wind down, hopping back on a bus to cruise around until we got back to our station. A quick walk home (or the teeny tiny hotel room) and we were ready to tuck ourselves into bed.

The next morning, Sister, Alex, and I grabbed breakfast at a little cafe.
We then took a twenty minute walk over to Buckingham Palace. The city is just so beautiful. The mix of old architecture, new buildings, and greenery is captivating. The big guards in the funny hats weren’t in front of Buckingham Palace, but we thought they could be in front of St. James’ Palace, so we began a stroll over there. While taking a picture of my feet,

a friendly man approached me and asked where we going and what’s good in the city. I laughed—like I had any idea? I told him we were headed to St. James’, and he decided he was tagging along. He told us he was on his way somewhere from Denmark, but his plane had been delayed here in London and had 24 hours to see the city. The four of us walked through the park trying to navigate our way with poor maps to the palace. We found it, but it was plain-looking and had no guards at all. My friend from Denmark disagreed and thought the palace was somewhere else, so he left us politely. Sister, Alex, and I walked to one of the bus stops and got on one heading back over towards the London Eye, where the “London Dungeon” is also located. They didn’t open until 11, so we had time to browse around for a minute, use the toilets for 50 pence,
and then get in line. The London Dungeon was promised to be 110 minute of the dark history of London; it was basically a haunted house. The concept was interesting and fairly well executed. We walked room to room, hearing stories of Jack the Ripper, Sweeney Todd, The Great Fire, and the Bubonic Plague, all the while on our way to be “executed” by the King for treason. There were funny parts, clever parts, spooky parts, and two different fun rides. By the end, I was sick of people bumping into me and ready for fresh air. The last part was our “hanging,” and we got to drop 10 meters on a fun little ride.

We finally got out, and I watched a street performer who is actually a world record holder for fitting himself into the smallest space. He was doing tricks; folding himself in half through a tube, balancing on his hands and pretzeling his legs, etc. I was impressed and amused but also starving, so we headed to the Udderbelly Festival area (probably should research what that is—we just knew there were food stands in there). Sister had chicken and waffles and I had waffles a la mode from Waffle On.
Back on the bus, we headed for the hotel to freshen up and take a nap. We’d done a lot of walking, and all our legs were hurting.

Next, we finally got to ride the tube! It was quite an adventure to figure out where to go and how to get our tickets, but we managed to get on the Victoria Line heading to Kings Cross Station. We were wondering where it could be when we stumbled upon Platform 9 3/4. It was a tourist trap, of course, but Sister and I had to take a picture.

After I illegally took a picture of the screen displaying the professional pictures they took, we headed out to find a place to eat. We wandered in the wrong direction towards fancy, expensive restaurants before we searched for a classic pub. Sister found a place that sounded gr8, so we headed back the way we had came. When we finally got over there, the pub was closed for a private event. I know I was, and I think everyone else was, irritated from being so hungry. We finally just decided on a whim to eat at the place right down the street, Honest Burger. It turned out to be an amazing meal. Burger and chips, but they were amazing and naturally- and organically-made.

Finally, the part I had been waiting for all day: In The Heights at Kings Cross Theater! I picked up the tickets I had bought online at will call, and we headed inside. The whole theater was amazingly decorated for the show, a grungy New York theme. I had bought the cheapest tickets possible, but our seats were actually gr8! The stage was in the middle, with a section of seats on each side, so everyone was fairly close to the stage. I absolutely adored the show. It was relatable, funny, and overall entertaining—I highly recommend you see it.

Everyone loved the show, and we happily headed back to the hotel. We practiced our “peak hour” walk in the underground tunnel: swing your arms like crazy, walk quickly but aimlessly, get in as many people’s ways as possible, and pretend you’re smoking a cigarette, just like natural London people. We had a jolly time and went straight to bed when we got back to the hotel.

The next morning we awoke and packed all our bags up before we headed to a cafe for a delicious breakfast of croissants with strawberry preserves. Alex had to head off earlier to get her car from the airport, so Sister and I relaxed until around 10:30 when we realized the bathroom ceiling had a leak; water was pouring in from the ceiling. It was obvious that it had water damage, and we put a towel down to collect the water. We agreed to gather our things and go let the desk know when we checked out, but by the time we left, the leak had stopped. Sister checked us out quickly, and we walked to the nearest underground station. Two backpacks each, we were classic backpackers. We took the underground to St. Pancras Station, and then started working our way towards the international branch. We grabbed some lunch to go and went through the train security. It was basically the same as airplane security, and they checked our passports. Waiting, waiting until our platform was announced. Everyone boarded quickly, and we bolted off to Paris.

London, England