[27 Jun.] London, Day 1
London is an absolutely wonderful place. It has an amazing mixture of modern sharpness and rush and historic remnants. Since I fell asleep around 9:30pm the previous night, I woke up at 5:30am feeling refreshed and energized. I immediately proceeded to planning an itinerary for the day's trip. My Airbnb host Susan helped me revise and provided me with suggestions. As lively as she could be, Susan looked up ticket prices and Underground tube routes for me. (Have I already mentioned what an amazing person she is? She's always so cheerful, and she is such a generous and open individual!) I cooked instant noodles in the morning for breakfast, and I left the house at around 9:45am to catch the 9:55am tube. By the time I left, Susan had already left for work.
My first stop was Buckingham Palace. My tube route took me from Norwood Junction station to London Victoria station, a bustling and immensely crowded station. From there, I embarked on a fifteen minute walk to the Palace. On the way, I noticed a police officer riding a horse (instead of being in/on a metal vehicle). (I would later notice that nearly all police officers, perhaps excluding Scotland Yard, patrol by riding on horses.) I also saw a couple chariots (?) driven by folks in long, fancy red garments. Looks like royalty to me!
I strived to arrive in Buckingham Palace by 10:45am in order to get a good spot for myself for Changing of the Guard, a relatively short ceremony where the Old Guard hands over responsibility for protecting Buckingham Palace and St. James's Palace to the New Guard. The official ceremony would begin at 11:15am, and I got there around 10:40am. It was already so crammed! There was only one police officer guiding the human traffic in front of the gates of the Palace. Poor bloke.
The ceremony featured a serious of marching band parades, with guards in different uniforms. They would all enter through the middle gate of the Buckingham Palace and stand in a formation. I couldn't take plenty of photos because it was simply too crammed. I could only see bits and pieces myself through gaps. I could, however, clearly hear the marching band's songs. I only knew one song they played, though, and it was. Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe."
Also, half way through the ceremony, it started downpouring! However, I sacrificed getting myself a little bit wet in order to record a couple videos on my phone. At the end of the ceremony, the fancy carriage people went through the gate as well!
Buckingham Palace is big and magnificent. Sad that I didn't get a chance to see the Queen! (She lives there.) Also, I couldn't go in either since it's closed due to the Queen's current residency.
After Buckingham Palace, I made a quick stop in the neighboring Green Park. The park truly lives up to its name: Everything is green. The trees are green, the grass is green, everything is green. It's very cool and relaxing walking under the shades of the tall trees. There is a little cafe stand nearby, and two police officers were having coffee with their horses!
Then, I moved to the park adjacent to Green Park: St. James's Park. While their sizes are similar, St. James's Park offers more than just walking paths and tall trees' shades. There is a huge pond (more like a lake, actually) in the center filled with ducks and geese! They literally flocked to everyone who offered them bread crumbs. Around the lake-pond, many people were having picnics under trees. In addition, many people in business suits ate their lunches (presumably) on the park benches. It was amusing to see the different types of business people walking around trying to find spots for lunch. I walked all the way across St. James's Park. Near the end of the park, there's a small house built in the mid-nineteenth century for the park's birdkeepers, who also studied ornithology.
After exploring this beautiful park, I kept walking until I saw normal streets again. At the opposite side of the street, there was a collection of buildings that appeared to be like castles. I thought I had stumbled on a castle in the middle of London!
Turns out, it was the outskirts of 10 Downing Street, the building where the Prime Minister lives!
There, after a thirty-minute wait in line, I went to the Churchill War Rooms, a museum situated in the then-secret planning complex of the British government during World War II, spearheaded by then-Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The secret complex is located below 10 Downing Street. Churchill's achievements, life, ambitions, and process of how he came to be were both magnificent and often controversial.
The tour showed the working culture, the tense environment of wartime, different officers and secretaries' rooms, and an entire exhibition hall dedicated to Churchill's life. The museum provided many perspectives on his life, ranging from close friends to his estranged family to rivaling world leaders.
After the tour, I walked briskly to Westminster, and there, I finally saw the famous and enigmatic Westminster Abbey. Even though it's a bit tinier than I thought, the details of the gothic design were breathtakingly intricate nonetheless. Unfortunately, I did not have a chance to enter the building as I came after closing time. I shall try again sometime this week.
Directly behind the Westminster Abbey is St. Margaret's Church. I also did not enter the place.
At this point, I was bummed out from walking for about five hours. However, I always remembered how great Westminster is according to people, so I decided to walk through Westminster to Westminster Bridge, where the Big Ben, Palace of Westminster (which holds the Houses of Parliament), and London Eye are. True to what people have told me, Westminster has a spectacular array of gothic-style structures.
As I walked just one street down, lo and behold, the Big Ben stood before me.
(The second photo looks disgusting for some reason? 😭)
From behind, parts of the Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster were (are) under repair. However, when I slowly walked across the Westminster Bridge, the London Eye and the front panoramic view of the Palace of Westminster opened up to me. It was a breathtaking view because never in my life could I imagine a building so wide and tall at the same time. Even though I have seen the Palace of Westminster in movies and TV shows before, seeing it in physical form is incomparable.
Also, *CUES SHERLOCK OPENING*
I walked across the bridge to under the London Eye. There's a lively pier similar to Santa Monica Pier in California, but built with concrete instead of wood. Even though I really wanted to ride the London Eye, I didn't really want to ride it by myself because I didn't want to appear as a sad and lonely child. As I gazed at tourist families running around in joy and waiting in queue for the Eye, I stared at the white sky and contemplated about my life's purpose. Not really, but I was kind of at a loss of what to do there. The London Aquarium is right next to the pier, so I promised to go there sometime this week because I loooooove aquariums and science museums/exhibits.
And that's my first day journey in London. When I arrived back in my Airbnb home through the tube, it was already 7pm. I went to a fish & chips shop across the street and made the mistake of ordering a large cod. It was HUGE! (How dare I forget to save a picture!) In America, when you order fish & chips (say at Farmer Boy's), you're likely to get the fish in a few pieces. However, in the UK, the fish is in whole. The fish, in my opinion, was better cooked than those in the US. In the US, the fish appeared to be like generic fish filets. Here, the fish had its skin and some loose bones, thus appearing fresher.
After my meal, I talked with Susan for about an hour. I asked for her recommendations on places to go and her experiences dealing with American lingo. I bombarded her with questions regarding London, but she was extremely patient with me. I am glad that I picked this place to stay!
Also, I think I might be allergic to Susan's dog, Jasper. *sigh*