I arrived in London this morning just after 6am. We had a delay out of Jo'berg last night because we would have arrived before the airport opened! The flight was very comfortable - I worked on my summary report from the trip to South Africa, had dinner, and went to sleep. By the time I woke up, I had breakfast, watched a little TV, and then we landed. It's just over 10 hours from Johannesburg to London.
I arranged for a car to pick me up at the airport and he was right on time. After making it through passport control and collecting my luggage, we left for the Hilton Green Park in London. The drive was a short 45 minutes and I had my eyes wide open the whole time, trying to take it all in. It was very gray this morning - overcast - on the cool side, and no sun. I arrived at my hotel shortly after 7:30. The receptionist was able to upgrade my room to a King suite at no charge and even get me in early - which was great! It is interesting to note that their "suites" are smaller than our regular rooms. But it was very nicely appointed and comfortable.
After a much appreciated shower and change of clothes, I excitedly headed out to check out London, camera in hand. First stop - STARBUCKS! There is no Starbucks in South Africa (Belinda's husband thought there might be one in Jo'berg but thinks it's a "home brew." - not officially sanctioned!) It never tasted better!
The hotel is right across the street from Green Park. A short walk through the park ends at Buckingham Palace. The guards are there, just like in the movies - walking in synchronization. Very cool...
St. James Park is between Buckingham Palace and the Parade grounds. The park is beautiful and has gone through many renovations over the past 500 years. There are many species of exotic birds here which have been given over the years by various countries.Everything in the park is so green and colorful. There are lots of flowering trees currently in bloom. Most of the trees don't have their leaves yet but the buds are on and I can only imagine what it will look like in a few more weeks.
After walking through the parade grounds, I got my first glimpse of Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. They are breathtaking! I couldn't stop taking photographs! I love perspective and looking at things differently so I kept trying different angles - I'll only include one of my favorites...
From here I walked across the Westminster Bridge to the London Eye. I went back and forth as to whether or not I wanted to go up but finally decided that I would. It was a great ride. The entire trip around the wheel takes about 30 minutes and provides some of the best views of the city. While I was in line for the the ride, I used my blackberry to download a London walking trail from the internet. It was surprising to me how relatively close things are. The tour guide would give clear walking directions and then provide historic and cultural references for everything you could see at the prescribed stopping points. It was good fun, interesting, and kept me from getting lost. The good news was that I always had the River Thames to get my bearings.
After riding the London Eye, I continued walking along the South Bank and had lunch at a great little pub - Doggett's. The "football" game was on, I had fish and chips and a pint of English beer - It doesn't get any more English than that!
The next stop on my journey was The Globe - actually the reconstruction of The Globe - Shakespeare's Theatre. One of the problems was that the theatre was rebuilt on what was thought to be the original site; however, there was no account taking for the fact that the river has shifted over the past several centuries, and the original location was actually a couple of blocks away from the water today! This was discovered in the late 1980's after the reproduction was built and apartments were in place on the original site.
There was so much to see today, and I took SO MANY pictures, that I'll need to share more with you when we're together in person. I know that I only scratched the surface of London today but I've got aching feet and sore calf muscles that say I made a solid dent! Other areas I saw were The National Theatre, The Rose Theatre (where Shakespeare was an actor), The Golde Hinde (a replica of Sir Francis Drake's "round the world" vessel), Southwark Cathedral (dating to 1200AD)... On a side note, I've got lots of the pictures of Southwark because after I snapped a photo, one of the workers told me I needed a permit to take pictures (which cost $4) so I needed to make sure I got my money's worth! - Then on to London Bridge (which is not falling down - and the original, oddly enough, is in Arizona) - Then The Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, Theatre District, Trafalgar Square, Picadilly Circus, back to Buckingham, and return to the hotel.
Southwark Cathedral c1200AD
Tower of London c1066AD
St. Paul's Cathedral
I made a quick souvenir hunting trip into the Theatre district tonight and found London to be very safe compared to other major cities I've been to.
Tomorrow is Palm Sunday and I'm planning on making it to a London church in the morning. Stuart MacRorie and his family are joining me in the afternoon for lunch and some siteseeing. Stuart offered to take me to the next hotel which is closer to the Cytyc UK office in Crawley. I'm looking forward to seeing Stuart tomorrow and getting some more insight into life in the UK.