At the end of March, Chelsea and I took our first true long distance relationship holiday. The original goal was to meet in the middle, so that we each travelled half the distance. However, we were unable to find anywhere between the UK & USA that could be called the middle. So, instead our plans changed to a two week long trip across Europe – visiting Greece, Italy and the UK.
This article is the last of our three part Eurotrip series, make sure you read the other two before this one. To read more about our time in Greece click here, or to read about our travels in Italy click here.
Sightseeing in London
Once again, we arrived into London in the evening. It was already 7pm before we made it to Acton Town (the borough of London in which we were staying). So by the time we had checked in to our room, we were already extremely tired. Fortunately we didn’t arrive so late that there was nowhere to eat, and we had a quick meal at KFC to soothe our hunger. Then it was off to bed, to prepare ourselves for another couple of busy days of sightseeing.
On our first full day in the UK, we took the Underground to Piccadilly Circus. From here we made the short walk to some of London’s most famous spaces – Trafalgar Square, and Buckingham Palace. As we approached Buckingham Palace, we noticed huge crowds gathering around the gates and a very large police force surrounding it. Curious to know what was going on, we made our way to the gates.
As it turned out, we had unknowingly arrived just in time to see the Changing of the Guard. This short parade occurs at 11:30am each morning between April and July. The Royal Guards march with their band from the Guardhouse to the Buckingham Palace compound, and the previous day’s guards leave.
We stayed for a portion of the ceremony, but not the whole of it. We thought that if we left early, most tourists would remain, which would give us a chance to see Westminster Palace while it was still relatively peaceful. But we were very wrong. As we walked towards the Parliament Square, it was still nearly impossible to move due to the crowds. But we were at least able to find an empty phone box beside which to take this quick picture.
Eventually we managed to push our way to the front of the crowds, and got a great view of the Palace. The huge, sprawling gothic structure is a fantastic piece of architecture. It looks grand and magnificent, rivalled only by Westminster Abbey, just across the street. We eyeballed Westminster Abbey, wondering whether we should go inside. But, at the price of £10 each we decided against it (as we doubted it could rival the size & scale of St Peter’s Basilica which we had seen just days before).
Walking to the side of Westminster Palace, gave us the opportunity to take photos on the bridge, and even get Big Ben in the background too. We both took turns posing on the railings (which are wider than they appear in this picture). It was great to see the Houses of Parliament & Big Ben from a different angle, even if we hadn’t quite escaped the crowds like we had hoped.
Next we took a quick detour on our way to the British Museum at Covent Garden Market. This is an Open Air Market famous for its fresh fruit & vegetables, as well as the luxury stores that surround it. We took a few minutes wandering through the stalls and shops, absorbing the atmosphere, before stopping to take a couple of photos and continuing on our way to the museum.
Lots of Museums
Originally, we had planned to visit quite a few museums during our time in the UK. Unlike many in continental Europe, most in the UK are free of entry. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to visit quite as many as we had originally planned. But nonetheless, we were still happy with everything we had the opportunity to see.
The first museum we visited was The British Museum. This grand building houses some of the most precious artefacts of the British Empire, including the original Magna Carta, and the Parthenon Marbles. It was strange to see the marble carvings that once adorned the Greek Parthenon in their new home, in the middle of London. It was only a week prior that we had been standing at the Acropolis itself, so to see how part of a once great empire was displayed hundreds of miles away.
We began our second day in London at another museum, this time the Natural History Museum. There was yet another huge queue to get in, and we hadn’t quite recovered from the queue fatigue we experienced in Italy. But fortunately, it moved fast and we were only waiting for about 40 minutes. Inside however, it was nearly impossible to move. There were hundreds of people exploring the museum, ultimately taking a lot of the fun out of it. We were able to explore a couple of the exhibits before leaving though.
One such exhibit was the Earth exhibit, which took us on a journey from the formation of the earth to the present day. It was clear the a lot of the exhibits are aimed at encouraging a younger audience to take an interest, but we were still able to see some interesting artefacts – including the stegosaurus skeleton pictured above.
Our plan was to visit the Science Museum next, but with another long queue outside, we decided against this. Instead we explored the streets of London, eventually stumbling upon the Borough of Chelsea, which provided an opportunity for us to take this picture. From here we walked towards the world famous department store – Harrods.
A department store may not seem like much of a tourist attraction, but Harrods attracts thousands of visitors each year for its unique experience. Each room is themed, depending on what is sold. The chocolate department is akin to a luxury confectioners, which the butcher’s is styled like a Victorian meat market. Upstairs are rooms full of home furnishings, clothes, toys and more. There’s even an opulent Egyptian themed escalator.
Outside, Harrods is just as impressive. It towers above the surrounding buildings, taking up hundreds of feet of prime retail space in the centre of London. It’s easy to see how this has become not only a department store, but a tourist attraction in its own right. It even has a gift shop within its walls!
Hyde Park & Sherlock Holmes
After the hustle and bustle of London, Chelsea and I sought out somewhere a little quieter. We made the short walk from Kensington High Street, to the vast open fields of Hyde Park. Here we were able to relax a little, soak in the atmosphere, enjoy each other’s company and feed a few ducks too.
Considering how densely packed London can be, Hyde Park is a huge area of land, but one that breaks up the imposing city skyline. Chelsea and I took a slow walk along the lake, known locally as The Long Water. On the water were couples in pedalos, but we were happy to just walk along the waterfront, and watch the vast array of wildlife.
Of course, despite all of the wet & park land wildlife around us, from herons to rabbits, the one animal we couldn’t resist taking a photo of were the mallard ducks. Chelsea has a particular soft spot for mallard ducks, and we spent a good few minutes feeding as many of them as we could.
At the end of The Long Water were the Italian Gardens, a small fenced area full of fountains. In fact there were very few gardens in here at all. Had the weather been more favourable, we are sure this would have been a photogenic spot. Unfortunately, we were not as lucky in London as we had been in Rome. But we were still able to get this snap of the Renaissance style park, before calling it a day and heading home for the night.
We took our last day in London much slower. This was not only our last day in the UK together, but also the last day of our trip. We only had one item on our itinerary for the day – The Sherlock Holmes Museum. When we arrived, there was already a huge queue outside, and not one that we particularly wanted to wait in. So we took a couple photos outside, and watched a tour of the museum online instead.
Outside the museum was stationed this friendly police officer who seemed happy to pose with people in the queue, and pretty much anyone who wanted a photo. This isn’t how all police look in the UK, in fact most are a lot more noticeable with their high visibility jackets and black & white caps, but in the Victorian setting of Sherlock Holmes, this one fits right in.
Finally, we stopped inside the gift shop of the museum, which there was fortunately no queue for. We wandered around, and cringed at the staff’s overly enunciated British accents. But it was still an enjoyable experience. After the museum we went home to spend our last hours enjoying each other’s company, rather than trying to pack even more sightseeing into what had already been a busy trip.
The next morning, with a heavy heart, I dropped Chelsea off at Heathrow Airport. I waited with her until she had to go through security, clutching to the last few minutes we had together. It had been an amazing, exciting, eventful trip and I wanted it to last forever. Still, for now I had to say goodbye. But I did it in the knowledge that in just three months Chelsea would be visiting again, to celebrate my graduation with me. And that is what keeps me going as I wait (impatiently) until next time.