Last October, after I finished the Fantastic 3 Workshop with Nik Pekridis, Keda.Z, and Johnson Wee, I embarked on the vacation of a lifetime. I stayed an additional 17 days touring through six other European countries after leaving Scotland. I visited the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and France.
[I planned this whole trip on my own using Route Perfect, Ryan Air, Easy Jet and Euro Rail’s web sites.]
After sitting on the tarmac for a full hour before being cleared for takeoff out of Glasgow, the vacation part of my trip officially began. The delay spoiled my plans to arrive simultaneously with my best friend in London. Since she was flying in from the states and I was flying in from Scotland, I had scheduled our flights to arrive within 15 minutes of each other. London was pretty much perfect after this.
European Tour: London Review
We were in London for three full days. London was my second most favorite stop on the tour. There was something so peaceful about the city. I didn’t feel the presence of Jack the Ripper at all, and that included a three-mile late night walk in the rain down lonely streets and narrow alleyways back to the hotel when we lost track of our bus stop after visiting Buckingham Palace.
I particularly enjoyed how the younger crowd would gather on the streets just outside a bar’s front door in the early evening hours. There would sometimes be 20, 40 or 60 people standing around talking, having an ale and enjoying each other’s company after a day of work. As I would walk past these bars, the conversation would become so loud, I couldn’t even hear myself think. It was nice to see people engaged with each other and not engaged with a device.
By far, the best investment in each city was the hop on/hop off bus. For just a few Euros a day, you can get around to all the main attractions easily. However, there were so many things to see in London, we were only able to complete one route (out of three or four). And, we didn’t figure out where to purchase tickets (at any bus stop) until our second day here.
We walked more in this city than any other city, and if I remember correctly, logged nearly 28 miles in London. The main attractions we visited were:
Westminster Abbey/Big Ben—The church was closed during our stay, so we could only see it from the outside, but it was beautiful. Big Ben was also under construction and had scaffolding nearly all the way to the top. The south gardens were so serene and peaceful. They reminded me a lot of Central Park… although much, much smaller.
Tower Bridge—I don’t know why they sing about London Bridge, this one is so much prettier… maybe because London Bridge fell down. Actually, it’s still there, I saw it, though it’s been replaced three times if memory serves me correctly. Tower Bridge is majestic. We actually visited the bridge on two separate days and crossed it multiple times, both on foot and on bus. We didn’t go inside, however, and we never saw the bridge draw open. In fact, we didn’t get to witness any of London’s bridges drawing open.
The Tower of London—We spent the better part of a day walking through the grounds and buildings of the Tower. The castle was built in 1078. The most interesting part was the Crown Jewels. I’d love to show you some pictures, but photography was not allowed and strictly enforced. The tower and crown jewels are protected by foot guards. They were really interesting to watch. In fact, I might have become a bit obsessed with watching them. As a veteran, I had to pull guard a lot of times, but never quite like this. I can’t even imagine the discipline these soldiers must have to stand guard, motionless for most of the shift, for hours on end. Also, the resident ravens at the castle were huge and all I could think about was sending a raven to Daenerys Targaryen to come save us.
The Shard—This 95-story building is the tallest building in the UK and the fourth tallest building in Europe and only five-years old. Like most skyscrapers, there is a viewing tower at the top. There are two floors for observation and one of them was open. When we visited, it was freezing… especially 1,106 feet in the air.
Monument to the Great Fire of London—I personally climbed the memorial to donate the €5 or €10 it cost to enter AND to earn my certificate for reaching the viewing platform. Inside the fluted column is a winding staircase comprised of 311 steps. Despite not having made it to the gym in over a year, I made it to the top in under four minutes. Built between 1671 and 1677, it was built on the site of St. Margaret’s, the first church to be burnt down by the Great Fire.
Buckingham Palace—I have to preface our trip to Buckingham Palace with the fact that I was a bit nervous about the possibility of terrorism on this trip. Before we ever left the states, Yolanda, my best friend, and I discussed at length the safety measures we should take while abroad. We would always stay together. We would speak Spanish while we were in public. We wouldn’t wear any clothing that could easily identify us as Americans. We wouldn’t flash money or passports in public. We would stay behind barricades any time they were available. If there was a commotion of any kind, we would leave the area immediately… and so on. I wanted to live to see another day. I wanted to come home… alive.
Well, I was admiring all the royalness of the palace. I was taking pictures and Yolanda was standing behind me. Suddenly, we heard sirens and BAM Yolanda was gone. I scanned the crowd with my eyes to try and find her, scared to move for fear she wouldn’t know where to find me. I kept scanning and scanning. The sirens got closer and closer. The crowd started to migrate toward the rod iron fence surrounding the palace. I glanced up and saw a young woman trying to scale the fence, but still no Yolanda.
Our plan was to vacate, but we were supposed to do that together. After all, this woman could be a suicide bomber. It could be a distraction for something else to come. The London police could open fire any minute. Still no Yolanda. I might have been close to panicking. I finally unlocked my feet and allowed myself to move toward the crowd in hopes of grabbing Yolanda and making a beeline out of here. I wanted to get away. I wanted a safe distance between myself and this pandemonium.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of searching all the screaming faces in this crowd, I found her… front and center. She was so close to the action, she could have been mistaken for being an accomplice. She was disregarding 100% of our safety protocol.
Because I was legitimately concerned with my personal safety, I did not take any pictures of the actual incident. However, you can see Yolanda in action in the video on this page. She appears in the lower right-hand corner of the screen (wearing all black and ponytail) wielding her cell phone to take video for SnapChat® at the 37-second mark.
Here is one after my safety was restored. There is Yolanda finalizing her Snap update. Thankfully, we both lived to tell this story.
The London Eye—Even though this ferris wheel is a very popular tourist stop in London, we never rode it. Instead, we opted to go 663 higher above the city in The Shard (see above). When this ferris wheel opened to the public in 2000, it was the world’s tallest. It is now the world’s fourth tallest ferris wheel; however, it is still Europe’s tallest. If I want to ride the world’s tallest, I’ll do that in Vegas on the High Roller.
Here is an image of our hotel room control panel. Our door key had to be inserted or else nothing in our room would function. We when left and took our room key, it automatically shut off all electricity in our room. Europeans are always the best at conservation and being green and saving our planet. We could really learn a lot from them.
My only London regret is that I did have a failed attempt to meet up with Guy Swarbrick. He’s a professional cycling photographer from the UK who I reached out to about a year ago to help me establish an FTP connection between my WT-5 and Android phone. I had been trying unsuccessfully for a few years. Over a phone call and within minutes, he had my camera transmitting images to my phone so that I could post DSLR images to social media on location. I wanted to thank him in person, but that plan didn’t quite pan out.
Here are some more of my favorite images and memories of London:
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