Today was a day full of walking, exploring, and at times truly wandering throughout the city. If you really want to see a city from side to side and everything in between, that’s the way to do it. There’s so much more to cities than even the best tour guide will ever tell you. And we had a really good tour guide today.
But more on that later.
My day started with a search for coffee, as usual. Today was a bank holiday in England, so I knew most stores, cafes and businesses would be closed, but I figured at least a Pret a Manger (similar to Au Bon Pain, for a reference point) or something would be open. So I took a stroll down a block to a bigger road and looked for signs of life in any of the shops. I asked a local if he knew where the closest and fastest place for coffee was. He said my best bets were Pret, which was farther down the road, or McDonald’s.
I looked at my watch. It was 8:55 am, and I had to meet my group at 9:15 to catch the 8-bus to our meeting place in the city. Pret would have been a mile walk there and back, and I can’t run very well in Sperry’s (or with a cup of coffee in my hand). If I hadn’t been on a time crunch, I would have taken the long walk down to Pret. But no matter how I tried to justify it to myself, I just couldn’t risk being late and giving the professors and other students a bad impression. So, regrettably, McDonald’s it was.
I walked in and looked for my options on the menu board. Along with the usual mixed coffee drinks, this place had “black” coffee and “white” coffee. I assumed “black” coffee was just regular, plain coffee with nothing added into it, but I wasn’t sure what “white” coffee entailed, so I asked the man at the counter. He had a very thick Indian accent and spoke quickly, so I ended up asking him to repeat a time or two until I finally understood that “white” coffee is “just milky coffee” and not as strong as black coffee. Probably something I could have figured out on my own, now that I think about it, but it was early and I’d never seen it before. I ordered my black coffee, added a packet of sweetener and took a sip. I remembered that European coffee is much stronger than what I drink in America, but wow that was strong. I probably could have ordered a white coffee and it would have been drinkable with one packet of sweetener. It took three packets until my black coffee was drinkable.
And I still drank every drop of it. When you need coffee, you need coffee. That probably made me sound like a huge addict, but y’all already knew that.
After my morning coffee adventure, the group took the 8-bus to “The Monument” in London to meet with our Blue Badge tour guide, Warren. Two things before I go on:
1. The bus system in London is labeled by numbers; certain numbers take certain routes. The 8-bus is the route most convenient to our flats, so that’s what we take most often.
2. “Blue Badge” is a very high certification for London tour guides. They’re extremely knowledgeable about every little tiny thing about the city, its past, present and future, and everything in between. They get the name from the blue badges they wear on their jackets.
“The Monument” (left) is a landmark in London that signifies the Great Fire of 1666. It’s a tall, thin structure with a carving at the bottom and a gold “fire ball” at the top. It stands over 300 feet high, and you can climb to the top and get a great view of the city.
Side note: I don’t do well in short, narrow stairwells with tight spiral staircases. But the view at the top was totally worth testing my near claustrophobia.
Warren took us to so many different places and sights that I can’t even remember them all. All I know if, after our tour today, I can’t wait for our open-air coach tour with him next week. If I can’t walk around London, the next best thing is an open-air double-decker bus!
Our tour ended at a shopping mall, where we split off into smaller groups for lunch and separate activities. My group had a quick lunch at a cafe called Eat, which also reminded me a lot of Au Bon Pain. I had a ham, brie and cranberry baguette sandwich and it was tasty. But one guy in my group had a “steak and ale pie” with mashed potatoes–simply called “mash” over here–and it looked and smelled incredible. I’ll have to try that next time.
After our lunch, the five of us went exploring. We walked outside the mall, picked a direction, and walked that way until we found something interesting. If we came to a crossroads, we picked another direction and walked onward. Sometimes being arbitrary like that leads to the best discoveries and coolest sights. Even though it was closed, we discovered Borough Market and plan to go back when it’s open. Next to the market was a little bakery with empanadas and “dulce de leche” pastries. Even though I’m not a huge caramel person, I couldn’t pass up a croissant filled with dulce de leche. Delicious.
We wandered farther and farther, but eventually ended up back at the Monument, where we caught the tube and made it back to the flats. My feet are still dying, but I’m totally ready to go back out tonight–it’s only a quarter til 8 pm right now–and keep exploring.
We were blessed with incredibly weather today, but unfortunately it’s supposed to be gray and rainy tomorrow. Tomorrow is our first day of class, though, so we won’t be outside all that much, so it works out anyway.
And now for the day’s pictures…
|We encountered a Chinese (I think) drum ensemble in a market!|
|St. Paul’s as seen from the viewing deck at the shopping mall|
|Globe Theatre! Will be seeing a few plays here. So excited!|
|Me, Laurabess and Mariel with the Tower Bridge (way) behind us|
|Tower Bridge, as seen from the top of the Monument|