Did you know that I was also planning to go to London around this time of the year? My former team lead used to work in Oracle and she was based in London. She knew how obsessed I was with the place and she was planning to invite us as tourists…. if I remembered it correctly, she mentioned something about paying for everything? *wink
Just imagine how excited I was!
The funny thing was, I didn’t tell her that I was applying for a visa because I was scared that I might get jinxed. So I was ho-hum about it, asking a few random questions until she finally asked me, “Are you going here?!” That’s when I only told her!
In the first weekend in UK, Jonai and I decided to meet up and tour London with her friend Sab (probably the best Google map user in the world).
From Leicester to London (Victoria Station)
I took the 4-hour trip by bus from Leicester’s St. Margarette Station to London Victoria where Jonai and Sab waited for me. They were coming from Leeds which travel time almost took 5-6hours depending on the bus schedule that you’d get. We could have taken the train, but the train costs a lot – unless you’re lucky enough to book yourselves first class in a very cheap price – which we were able to from London – Leicester.
You can download these apps for when you need to book tickets for trains (Virgin, East Mid, etc) or buses (National Express).
You can check National Rail’s website for discount cards or promos. How I wished we knew about it sooner. We could’ve visited a lot more places because of the discounts. We availed the Two-Together card that gives two named adults 1/3 off rail fares when they travel together by train. It costs 30GBP (15GBP each) and can be used as many times throughout the year. Train fares vary depending on the travel hours and days (off peak etc)
The National Express app can be used to book bus trips across the country. Watch out for promo fares! Last time, we only paid 7GBP from London to Leicester which normally costs 20GBP depending on the schedule. No comfort rooms in the bus and there are a limited number of stop-overs. The bus seat though is very comfortable and the views on the way are great.
Victoria Station is the second busiest station in London (and the UK) after Waterloo. The area around the station is an important interchange for other forms of transport: a local bus station is in the forecourt, and Victoria Coach Station for long-distance road coaches is nearby.
If it’s your first time to travel abroad, you’d be overwhelmed of how crowded this place is, or London as a whole.
Located in the West-district of London, it has become the epicentre of French community.
What to see: If you are a fan of museums, check out Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and Baden-Powell House. Other institutions such as the Royal Albert Hall, Imperial College London, the Royal Geographical Society, the Royal College of Art, the Royal College of Music can be found here.
After checking in the hotel (thank you Jonai and Sab), we went to a Chinese restaurant in South Kensington. Upon exiting the station, turn right and walked to Thurloe Square. There’s a small Chinese restaurant at the right side of the lane which serves the best Chinese dishes I’ve ever tasted so far, and for a cheap price… wait, there’s more – you can ask for another cup of rice for free (we only knew about the “unli rice” on the third time we ate there)!
From South Kensington, we decided to go to Oxford Street to do shopping as I needed to buy a coat. It was already spring but it was still pretty cold and I only brought a couple of light jackets. I didn’t expect it would still be that cold.
Piccadilly Circus is a busy square in the heart of London. It is famous for the fountain that was installed here at the end of the nineteenth century and for the neon advertising that turned the square into a miniature version of Times Square.
How to get here: Take the Bakerloo line from Oxford Circus Underground to Picadilly Circus Underground station. It’s only a stop away and would take a minute or so, or you can walk passing by SOHO.
What to see: Ripley’s Believe it or Not, M&M’s World, theaters (Les Miserables etc)
Harry Potter’s Platform 9 3/4
I realized I wouldn’t have the chance to visit the Harry Potter Studios as we need to be scheduled and most of the weekend schedules are full, so we decided to just visit whatever Harry Potter-ish that’s convenient for us and that was Platform 9 3/4 located in King’s Cross.
Tip: If it’s okay for you not to have a professional photographer to take your photo and print it with a want and a Harry Potter scarf, then drop by around 9PM onwards so you can hog and take a lot of photos however you want.
The next day, the sun was up in the sky shining and saying hi and everyone was simply out! It almost never happens in London so I was really thankful God gave us a sunny day so we can walk around and enjoy more.
It is the London residence and administrative headquarters of the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom. Located in the City of Westminster, the palace is often at the centre of state occasions and royal hospitality.
How to get here: You can get off in Victoria Underground, St. James Park Underground or Green Park Underground. Those three are the nearest stations to Buckingham.
What to see: Green Park or St. James Park, Buckingham Palace, the Changing of the Guards (google the schedule as it changes from time to time), Queen Victoria Memorial
From Buckingham Palace, you can walk to the Big Ben and London Eye
From Buckingham Palace, we decided to see the Big Ben and the London Eye again because obviously, I couldn’t get enough of it! So we walked from Buckingham Palace, passing through St. James Park to the Big Ben.
London in summary! Can we move the London Eye in the left side of this photo so it’s legit enough?
Portobello Road is a street in the Notting Hill district of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in west London. It runs almost the length of Notting Hill from south to north, roughly parallel with Ladbroke Grove.
How to get here: From Westminster Station, take the Circle Line and get off on Notting Hill Station. That would take you roughly around 15 minutes with 6 stops.
What to see: Antique shops, street markets with stalls offering everything from bread to pastries, the Blue Door and bookshop from the famous movie Notting Hill starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts.
It’s a really nice place to unwind, walk around and have coffee. On Saturday afternoons, I heard there’s a food market that’s cheap and everything tastes amazing!
Abbey Road – The Beatles
And last but not the least….
The Tower Bridge
I grew up believing the Tower Bridge is the famous London Bridge. Well, childhood ruined. Just kidding. The London Bridge is smaller compared to the Tower Bridge, much like the Brooklyn Bridge if you’ve seen it because I haven’t. Lol. The Tower Bridge though is probably London’s most famous bridge. If you search through Google about London, Tower Bridge will show up in almost every page.
How to get here: From Waterloo Underground, take the Northern line to Embankment Underground Station. From there, take the Circle/District Line to Tower Hill. You can also get off in the London Bridge Underground Station.
What to see: If you’re coming from Tower Hill Station, you can stroll or drop by the Tower of London. If you’re coming from London Bridge Station, you can see the real London Bridge and The Shard.
London at Night
I could still remember the feeling. This was the only time I was by myself and stared at the Big Ben in silence and in awe. I quietly scanned the area, still in disbelief that I was finally seeing it in flesh, that I was really finally in London! The wind was cold and people were rushing to go home. I quietly observed them and asked myself, wasn’t this the kind of life you’ve always wanted? Didn’t you want to live the dream? It was then and there I realized, you don’t know what you want until you get what you’ve thought you wanted.
I guess part of me was so excited to see London this early, and another part of me was willing to wait because I was scared I’d get disappointed or I wouldn’t like it the way I imagined I would. But I couldn’t be ungrateful could I? I am forever, utterly, absolutely grateful for this chance God has given me.
Now, whenever I see London photos, or news or movies, or friends talking about it, I don’t feel any pang of sadness or jealousy. I feel like I have no right to be jealous or greedy because I had my fair share of the British dream. 🙂