It’s not a particularly sad story, but who doesn’t admire an amazing alliteration? I hope you find my account of the following to sound more humorous than depressing!
I guess our trip was doomed from the beginning. Not just from the moment we touched down in the hectic city, but from the very beginning when our visit was nothing more than a mere brainchild. Rob had cleverly used air miles to purchase a lovely date night for us consisting of a fancy dinner and tickets to a show in London’s West End. I had been looking forward to feigning a posh lifestyle for one night, not to mention FINALLY seeing Wicked. We figured we would use that voucher for our two-year anniversary celebration, which was in the end of July…the day after Danny Boyle’s hit opening ceremony and thus the beginning of “LONDON TWENTY TWELVE.” Tens of thousands of sports fans and tourists flocked to Her Majesty’s city. So we headed the other direction and ended up in Edinburgh instead.
Preparing to rebook our fancy evening for this trip, we sat down to reserve theater tickets only to find out that none were available until after we go to the states. That wouldn’t do so we redeemed them for a hotel room near our dive certification site, but that’s another story. No tickets = LETDOWN ONE.
London, we decided, would happen anyway so we purchased bus tickets from Liverpool, which is quite a long ride but ended up saving us lots of money (like £50 round-trip for two as opposed to train tickets at £40ish each way per traveller). Having woken early Sunday morning for the ride to the train to the bus to London, the promise of at least a few hours sleep along the way made the anticipation of a six-hour journey at least slightly bearable. Unfortunately due to poor timing, we got the last two seats next to each other…at the back of the bus. The riders were all so quiet save for the two sat directly behind us, whose FIVE-HOUR Portuguese conversation penetrated through my music-blasting headphones the entire ride. I couldn’t dig them into my ears deep enough to mute their ramblings. What could they possibly talk about for so long?! They were literally the only ones speaking on the entire bus. We’re so lucky. No sleep due to loud foreign conversations = LETDOWN TWO.
Finally our bus pulled into the Victoria Coach station and we left those crazies in the dust. Our miserable bus ride now in the past it was time to make up for it – we figured there would be last-minute tickets to a show that night for a fraction of the cost. After all, Wicked was sure to be playing on a Sunday night, right? LETDOWN THREE.
That wasn’t the end of the world. We would go to the Westminster Pier and use our vouchers for an evening boat ride on the Thames to Greenwich to finally make it to the Royal Observatory to see the Prime Meridian (we had previously attempted this feat twice, failing both times…). Well, it was too late to catch a boat all the way to Greenwich for that particular evening. LETDOWN FOUR.
So with everything we wanted to do closed on a Sunday evening we headed back to the hotel, drank a bottle of wine, watched pointless TV, and fell into a blissful night’s sleep. The next day we headed out to find a decent breakfast. Those don’t really exist to American standards in England. Rarely can you find a good French toast, stack of flapjacks, or even a fully cooked egg. This day was no exception. I did however stuff my face with an almond croissant that I told myself was fresh. LETDOWN FIVE.
One of our goals did come to fruition! We met our third Sandeman’s Tour just near Wellington Arch at Hyde Park after our quick breakfast (that we ate standing up outside the entrance to the café to avoid the ‘dining in charges’). That’s the one you see at the end of the tree-canvased drive up to Buckingham Palace that looks like a mini version of the Arch de Triomphe. Our guide slash actress, Rachel was fantastic, sharing entertaining and educational stories about the best, worst, and funniest parts of London’s vast history. I can attest that these walking tours never disappoint, although sometimes the weather does not always accommodate. Not bringing a jacket or umbrella on a 2.5 hour walking tour in the rain = LETDOWN SIX. We’ll call that one my fault. But shame on England for providing me with the wettest summer in 100 years.
We learned some really interesting bits from London’s past, but unfortunately we weren’t told nearly as many gory stories as Edinburgh’s tour – guess it has more gore to offer. I’d like to share one of those stories:
The Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 took place between the warships of England and France. Highly outnumbered, England proved victorious with their clever scheme to outsmart the French by engulfing their ships and wrapping around to shoot them from behind (in those times cannons didn’t aim off the back). Gladly it worked and as Lord Horatio Nelson, the one-eyed, one-armed, one-legged commander of the Royal Navy fleet came out to congratulate his men, he was struck by the bullet of a French sniper, killing him within three hours. As the story goes, Horatio’s body was placed into a cask of rum to preserve his corpse, or stiff, until the ships returned to England. Apparently, the sailors ran out of spirits on the long journey home and therefore tapped the cask that held their commander. Landing in England, Nelson’s remains were not as well preserved as had been anticipated, as there was significantly less ‘preservatives’ left in the cask. Herein lies the origin of the term ‘stiff drink.’ There is some debate as to the authenticity of this story, but I’m going to go ahead and believe it, being a sailor myself. The crew even these days couldn’t survive a crossing without their alcohol. At least that’s one story…
Tour accomplished, we headed to Camden town to meet a friend for drinks in the late afternoon. I love Camden for its eclectic, eccentric, and unique styles. It’s the perfect place for a mild hippie like me to embrace the organic, crafty lifestyle. I especially love browsing the stalls of Camden Market, constructed in historic horse stables and packed to the brim with stalls boasting art, antiques, crafts, clothes, food, and foreign treasures. Imagine my joy when told we were going there! But did I get a chance to wander the market? LETDOWN SEVEN. We did, however have LOTS of beer well into the evening and eventually made it back to our hotel safely.
The next morning wasn’t the smoothest rise and it definitely lacked shine. I, being the smarter half soaked up all of my beer the night before with two grotesquely large greasy slices of pizza. Poor Rob thought a precious falafel wrap would undo his five plus pints – not so much. Needless to say we didn’t get the earliest start, but we did make it to The Red Lion with five minutes left to order breakfast. Did I mention that I don’t love the breakfasts this country has to offer? All I wanted was French toast with syrup. Well I settled for pancakes but did I get to soak them in syrup? They only had honey – wouldn’t recommend the combo. LETDOWN EIGHT.
An amazing highlight that we did accomplish this day was meeting friends from our last ship. This vacation we have been fortunate enough to visit with seven different friends from throughout our contracts. This day we met three! We had a fairly short yet rewarding visit before splitting up to return to our site-seeing goals. Next up was our Thames boat ride to Greenwich where we learned that the term ‘Dutch courage’ is derived from the times of the Black Plague when the only nation to send help was the Netherlands. To this day Dutch ships are apparently still allowed to moor in the Thames for free.
Eager to see the Prime Meridian we set out to find the observatory for the third time, supposedly luck and charm were meant to be on our side. Unfortunately we overlooked a little something called the Paralympics, whose fences and stadiums successfully blocked our route. So much for avoiding visiting cities whilst they’re hosting major world events. Third time is not always the charm. LETDOWN NINE.
We spent our third night on the hardwood floor of a friend’s flat in Crouch End after checking out a viewpoint where you can see the London skyline. Well, there isn’t really much of a skyline in London. Its tallest building, known as the Shard, also happens to be the tallest one in all of the European Union at only 1,016 feet tall so there’s not much to see, but the moon was bright and the city’s lights were a shinin’.
The following day we woke up to find that our return ticket to Liverpool had been the victim of a computer glitch (surely it had nothing to do with user error…) that resulted in an expected return date that was now clearly in the past. LETDOWN TEN. Luckily I am thrilled to report that karma was on our side – our National Express attendant Ian directed his good deed of the day (or pity) in our favor and corrected our ticket date free of charge! Letdown number ten nullified!
Before setting off back to Liverpool we hit the Natural History Museum for a quick gander at the ancient fossil and dinosaur exhibit, meeting a surprise flash mob about halfway through our roam [check the video below!]. Being extremely busy throughout the museum we left after only a short time to meet another ship friend at the amazing Irish Pub of Waxy O’Connor’s in Piccadilly Circus. Delicious lunch paired with delicious conversation made for a lovely afternoon before returning to the train station.
Our train was due to leave at 5pm. You would think that with the Paralympics taking place in the same city the next day, London transportation authorities would have the capability to easily load two passengers in their wheelchairs. Unfortunately that was not the case. It took them until half an hour past our original departure time to sort the situation out and load the rest of us. Luckily for us the driver drove a bit fast so we made it back in time to catch the last train home from Liverpool.
This account of my minor letdowns turned out to be way longer than I had planned, so for that I do apologize. Please take note of everything we did wrong so that if and when you go to London you can plan way better than we did! And please note that while it doesn’t sound like it, I actually did very much so enjoy myself!