“Go back?” he thought. “No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!”
-Bilbo Baggins, The Hobbit
By design, Kristen and I only had one day in the hectic, fast-paced, distracted and distracting metropolis that is London, England. Neither of us are huge fans of big cities and we were anxious to get out into the glorious English countryside.
As we stepped out of the dimly lit tube station into the afternoon light we blinked in surprise at how green it was. This was London right? The big, cold city we had been determined to spend as little time in as possible?
I had somehow forgotten in the intervening 4 years since my last visit to the city how gorgeous it really is – if you know where to look or, in our case, if you stumbled upon one of the right spots.
And we had arrived at one of the city’s most beautiful haunts, in my opinion (but what is this blog if not my opinion) – right at the southeastern corner of Hyde Park.
Even when the sky, inevitably, clouded over and a slight drizzle filled the dense air, the walk through the park was still spectacular. It couldn’t have been so breathtaking without the very rain that was determinedly trying to soak us through, after all.
We purposely struck out on a northward path that took us along the famous Serpentine and Long Water.
Fun Historical Fact #1
I hope you like historical trivia. If you don’t, you probably shouldn’t be reading my blog.
The Serpentine, since 1864, has been the site of the annual Peter Pan Cup created by J.M. Barrie himself. Contrary to what the name might suggest, entirely the opposite in fact, it’s a swimming race held on Christmas Day every year. That’s right, a swimming competition named after a boy who could fly. Go figure.
At any rate, we did do Pete the courtesy of visiting his statue, but not for long. We were just so tired. And I was close to chucking my bag, clothing and all, in the calm, cool waters as an offering to the boy who never grew up (I would have kept the books, I’m sure the lost boys wouldn’t have minded).
After several quick breaks to rest our shoulders, cleverly disguised as photo stops (oh! Look at that weird graffiti bird! We don’t have those back home!) we finally made it to the north end of the deceptively large park and then, finally, to the ornate front steps of our Georgian-style hostel.
So relieved to reach the building that housed our beds, I didn’t note it’s age until it was too late to steel myself for yet more weight lifting.
Probably unnecessary piece of information – Georgians didn’t have elevators.
“Yes, your room is ready. It’s 3 floors up, on your right.”
3 floors. OK. Not the worst by far (anyone who had an office in Paterson Hall at Carleton University will tell me to shut up here) but cut me some slack. No sleep, lugging bags around for over an hour now, very little if anything in our stomachs, and now a hike up 3 stories. For the love of…
I admit I may have chucked my bag none-too-gently when we got to the room. Although, I’m not sure if it can be deemed a full-fledged chuck as the tiny room was crammed with 3 sets of bunk beds. If you ever want to try and get over a slight case of claustrophobia, try a few nights in a hostel. Same theory applies for shyness, personal space issues and lack of appreciation for home & loved ones – Hostels: The European Cure-All (I can see the billboards now).
And then, dear internet, my sister and I did the responsible thing and headed to bed – The End.
Ha. Right. Did you really think that was the end? That would have been the shortest post in the even shorter history of this blog.
Actually, once I had caught my breath and stretched my muscles a little (OK OK and checked Facebook…), I took out a map of London and had a sudden stroke of genius.
While I had wandered my way around this tangled web of a city multiple times, Kristen had only been here as a baby. It’s common knowledge that once we reach the age of speech we not only forget all the secrets of the universe but, alas, our own personal memories as well (reference: the super kitschy ‘Baby Geniuses’ films, duh). She clearly needed a refresher.
You know what that means! No? Well, fine, I’ll tell you. I decided to use that map to show my dear sister all of London’s most over-photographed tourist sites in one afternoon. AND, to sweeten the deal even more (I know what you’re thinking – how could you possibly make this idea any better, right?) we were going to do it entirely on foot.
Brilliant. Let’s go!
It was still drizzling when we set out bravely on our great journey. I regret to inform you that I was in no fit state during our inordinately long trek through the city to make this one coherent story. So instead, for your reading pleasure, here are some quaint vignettes:
10 Miles to Go
Measurements are not entirely accurate.
We made it about two blocks. I swear at that moment our stomachs grumbled in unison. It was almost musical. Food, for the love of all that is holy, we needed food.
Into the pub we went to fill our suddenly-empty fuel tanks. Yes, the food was good but, more importantly, the beer was fantastic. Free tip: When you’re planning a 10-mile walk on little to no sleep, beer can only help numb the pain and improve your mood simultaneously. Please drink responsibly.
Warmed by the slightly over-priced yet delicious food and drink we finally headed out properly on our first adventure.
9.9 Miles to Go
We had both recently devoured Arthur Conan Doyle’s brilliant detective stories so the first stop was Baker Street to catch a glimpse of Sherlock Holmes’…erm…home. We photographed the place, bobby-and-all, but in what became the modus operandi of our trip we didn’t even attempt to go inside.
All of London. In one afternoon. No time to allow the museum walk to set in.
8 Miles to Go
Next on the list was a stroll through Regent’s Park. Due to an excruciating combination of sore feet, cramped legs and delirious exhaustion, a ‘leisurely stroll’ was already an unattainable level of grace for us. I don’t think I exaggerate when I say that passing observers may have thought they had mistakenly stumbled into the ‘Meet the Monkeys’ portion of the London Zoo. OK. I’ll speak for myself, I was channeling my inner orangutan, I’m pretty sure my knuckles grazed the ground once or twice. And here I was thinking my spirit animal was a heron – I think the expression on the face of this actual heron pretty much sums up his thoughts on that subject.
My memory of Regent’s Park is also, entertainingly or otherwise, stubbornly set to the soundtrack of Mary Poppins (I wish I could keep the monkey-reference going here…Mary Poppins was Disney – so was The Jungle Book – The Jungle Book had an orangutan – oh forget it). More specifically, I think I hummed ‘Feed the Birds’ all the way through the park.
Let me explain. At the entrance to the park there was a man armed with an umbrella holding a bag of bread. Within moments he was literally covered in birds of all shapes and sizes. So many that I’m not entirely certain he was ever seen again on this earth. This may be the last photo of him ever taken. If you are reading this, sir, please be more careful when you feed those greedy feathered beasts from now on. Thank You.
7 Miles to Go
Somewhat reluctantly leaving the quiet of the park for the insanity of the roads, we headed down towards the British Museum. Despite having spent hours upon hours of my ‘young’ life gazing up in awe at its treasure-filled walls, I couldn’t find the bloody building for the life of me.
So, instead, we took some not-so-sneaky pictures of blatantly nude statues doubling as a confusingly illustrated war memorial on the University grounds (because we are artistic and hip) and made our way down to Fleet Street and the glories of Saint Paul’s.
6 Miles to Go
By this point, I’m pretty sure we were entirely delirious. We never actually made it to Saint Paul’s. Kristen was, rather determinedly, snapping photos left and right to prove she had seen all that was ‘must see’ but neither of us were much in the mood to explore anything in-depth. No matter how excited you are, no matter how awesome an adventure is, no matter how much caffeine you ingest, sometimes exhaustion is impossible to overcome.
5 Miles to Go
“OK! We can head to the Tower now! You’ll just love it! It’s so cool and right by London Bridge and…”
We were walking over the Millennium Bridge in a daze, though the rather violent wind should have snapped us out of all but the deepest of reveries.
“Is that it over there? That big castle-like building?”
*snaps a photo* “Done. Next?”
“The Globe Theatre.”
*snaps photo* “Stunning.”
It was so past time to go to bed.
4 Miles to Go
As we walked across Westminster Bridge towards Big Ben I thought seriously about how much collective energy we had left. There was still Westminster Abbey (hidden from view by Parliament), Buckingham Palace and the Kensington Gardens we had skipped on our first pass through Hyde Park. Was that too much?
3-2-1 – Why am I counting again?
Yes. Yes it was. To anyone who is judging our inability to complete our walk as we resigned ourselves to hopping the tube at Westminster Station – it is literally impossible to see all of London in a day. On foot. If you don’t believe me – wait, you’ve never even tried it have you?! You can’t fool me, internet. I have a Master’s degree.
We finally collapsed into our beds after what seemed like the longest day in the history of days. Considering all the excitement, I wasn’t sure I would even be able to sleep…
…I spent the next 13 hours in what was probably the deepest sleep of my life.
Welcome to the UK, you crazy canucks.
I seriously considered calling this post “The Birds” but I was afraid of copyright infringement. Please enjoy my bird-photos, Mr. Hitchcock.
Tá an saol go hálainn