We only had three days in London. One was spent recuperating from the giant flight from Australia. One was spent walking around the Camden Markets on a Sunday, which was a great experience. But for our last day, before we would jet off to really start our world-tour in Nice, France, I wanted to see London in one day. We were going to be coming back near Christmas, to do the whole of the United Kingdom properly for about a month, but I still wanted to see as much of London as I could. In just one day. So, lucky for me, I had my trusty English-born girlfriend by my side and she was way-up for the challenge. We ventured down the road from Saint Christoper’s Inn and took to the underground at Camden Station.
First stop was Piccadilly Circus, which is basically a large shopping and entertainment area in the heart of the West End. It’s been around since 1819, so as you can imagine, it has grown into some sort of shopping-mecca. Piccadilly Circus is always as busy as hell and was a great introduction as my first real taste of London.
A five-minute walk down the road will get you to Trafalgar Square. Trafalgar square is bloody huge! They’ve got two giant waterfalls on-the-go and people scurry through the massive concrete square area at great speeds. It really gives you an insight into the massive-scale of London. For those of you fact-hungry travellers, Trafalgar Square is one of the most famous squares in the United Kingdom and the world. There’s a giant statue in the center of it all called Nelson’s Column, which is guarded by four giant lion statues.
It was at this point, while I was admiring the sheer size of the square itself and the amount of people that were using it, when my girlfriend grabbed my arm really hard and told me to stop taking so many photos of the water fountains and Nelson’s Column and to hurry up and come with her to see Westminster Abbey and then, the big guy…
Another ten minute walk down the road and you run into Westminster Abbey. This place is basically just a great-big, giant goth-looking church that was built in the mid-1500s. It’s amazing to look at the architecture and examine the tiny, dark, creatures that have been sculpted on the outer-walls. Over four hundred years, and they still give you the creeps.
On the way back from whence we’d come, we briefly crossed the road and took in the Household Cavalry Museum. Lucky for us it was 11 a.m. and we witnessed men on horses doing stuff. I was later told we had witnessed the “changing of the Queens life guard.” Like I said, get there at 11 a.m. if you’re interested.
For the second time that day, my lovely girlfriend grabbed my arm. This time it felt more like a Chinese-burn than a loving-pull toward a large bridge that crossed the river Thames that would reveal the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben; all in one great-big 360-degree moment of excitement.
We took the stairs down to the same level and same side as the London Eye and bought two sandwiches and coffees. We ate, drank and stared at Ben Ben and the Houses of Parliament. It was at this point I realized I had seen this image before.
“Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament are on HP sauce bottles, aren’t they!” I proclaimed.
“Yes. Yes they are,” my girlfriend replied.
After all that excitement it was time to take a break in the park behind Saint Paul’s Cathedral. We bought a coffee from the local shop and just relaxed in the park and stared at the clouds through the lush-green trees. There were at least 100 people relaxing in the park, some of them in business suits. For the record, this was, by all accounts, a work-day. It’s a great life for some.
Almost falling asleep in the awesome park behind Saint Paul’s, my arm started feeling as though hot water was being poured all over it. As I opened my eyes, preparing myself for the worst, I realized it was just my girlfriend again, informing me in her own special way, that nap-time was over.
I was dragged past London Bridge, which was an anti-climax for me. It’s basically just a short, flat, brown bridge. London Bridge is not falling down… It has fallen down. The next bridge however is called the Tower Bridge. This one is far prettier to look at. Just a little way back, toward boring-old London Bridge, you have the Tower of London.
The Tower of London is an old castle on the River Thames that you can find sitting between the London Bridge and the Tower Bridge on the north bank. Since 1100 it was used as a prison. As we walked past a large black gate, deep down under a bridge, in a dungeon-type area, I was told to take a picture.
“Do you know what used to happen if you entered that gate?” my girlfriend asked me.
“No,” I replied, hating the fact that she was again seeing living-proof that I didn’t know everything.
“Back in the 16th century, if you entered that gate, it was because you were being escorted in there by a whole lot of guards to be executed. You would never be coming back out,” she said. “The most famous of which was Anne Boleyn who in 1536 was beheaded because of apparent high treason against her husband, King Henry VIII.”
And it made me take another look. Imagine walking through that gate, back in the 16th century escorted by a bunch of nasty British guards… Then again, the people being walked into that place must have done some pretty evil stuff to have ended up in that position. However, many modern English people believe the case against Anne Boleyn was sketchy.
And on that somber thought we decided to walk toward the Tower Bridge and then to the nearest tube station to head back to Camden. It had been a massive day, a one-day tour of London, but we had done it! As we hopped on the train, deep beneath the city, I couldn’t help but get excited about the amount of ice I was going to wrap around my arm to help reduce the swelling.
Rob Kaay is an Australian author & musician
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