Saying Hello: A Day in London - Part 1

It's really hard to believe, but it has been nearly two months since we began this new phase of our lives, and that means our day in London was also that long ago! I meant to write this post a couple of weeks ago, but life in this strange new place got ahead of me and I just plain didn't make the time. I'm going to try to remedy that and post more often, as we have already experienced so many things in our short time here that I want to document, but we'll see if that happens... hah. As for now, though, London will have to suffice.

To say that London is magical is probably doing the city a disservice. London is everything I hoped it would be and more, and it stole my heart from the minute I looked out the window of the airplane at the sprawling English metropolitan city. It is vast, complex, and completely marvelous. It is beautiful from every angle, and photos can never truly capture the magnificence in its entirety. The man we talked to on Tower Bridge said that this is the greatest city in the world, and I'd have to say that it would be tough to argue with his statement. We fell in love with London from the get-go, and I am aching to go back and explore it in more depth, for we only got a teeny taste of what the city has to offer. For now, I'll have to be content with the day we spent - the three of us worn-out American travelers - in the greatest city on Earth.

Getting off the airplane and through the airport is kind of a blur, but oh how I can recall with great detail (and pain) the woes of trying to get our 50-pound suitcases to and fro, up, up, UP... oh my gosh, I get flustered just THINKING about the mess that it was! Good heavens.  I'm extremely glad that we brought all that we did (especially after only having those items in our possession for our first month of living due to our unforeseen apartment nightmare), but moving to a different continent via suitcases is so not the ideal situation. Especially when stairs are involved. Lots of stairs. Vertical ascent plus 50 pounds. Oof.

Best to start at the beginning, though. We were still on the airplane in my last post!

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We hadn't had much sleep due to a lot of reasons, excitement being one of them, uncomfortable sleeping accommodations being another (see my previous post and that bloody man in front of us for the majority of that discomfort). After we ate our in-flight breakfast, we were given our customs form and instructed on arrival procedures. Really, a lot of that morning is a blur, but I suppose we ended up in the right place somehow because we were in a massive line that snaked through an even larger room - oh, sorry, I guess I'm supposed to call that a queue now. So we queued up and waited to be intimidated by the terrifying customs officers. The scariest part about that is being separated from your loved ones, praying that one of you doesn't say something wrong or have the wrong visa or something. A worry-wart like me tends to have all sorts of bad scenarios running through her head when it comes to stuff like this. Anyway, the lady who interviewed me was not very pleasant, but she didn't detain me so I wasn't all that upset about our cold meeting.

After retrieving our luggage, stretching our cramped and over-tired bodies, and taking a few deep breaths, we decided that we should probably get going toward finding our hotel. Ugh. Those suitcases... sooo heavvvvyyyyy for those tired little travelers! You would think that finding your way around an airport that resides in a country that speaks your native language wouldn't be that difficult, but you would be wrong. Haha. We had the hardest time of it, but with the help of a couple of locals we found our way to the tube that left the airport.

Now, I have some beef with the tube. This glorious mode of public transportation seemed so simple and easy when we got on, but what we failed to realize was that we were traveling into the city during the beginning of rush hour; the longer we rode, the later it got and the further into London we went, and the more people got on. More people. More people. Then some more. Oh, there's no room? No worries, ten more people will fit above your head and under your feet. Maybe you can let someone sit on your suitcase, eh? Sigh. NO.

(However frustrating this crowded bit of traveling was, though, it was nothing compared to the following day when we left London for Birmingham. But that's another nightmare for another day, my dear.)

Seriously, there were so many people, and trying to get our bloody luggage through the - I don't even know what they're called - bars that take people's cards and tickets and let them through, now that was tough. The floods of people had to move around us like fish move around rocks in a stream, and approximately at that rate. These people don't stop for anything. After we managed our escape (with the help of a very nice Londoner or two to help with the fight our luggage put up against the stairs) and were no longer held captive by the underground, we were still technically underground - we had to find our way to the city streets. We could see it. But it was UP. Waaaaaayyyy up. The sunshine gleamed off the city buildings and down into the tunnel of stairs like a beacon of hope that we wanted to reach out and grab, but our hands were full. WITH LUGGAGE. And to our dismay, there was no lift (aka elevator) that we could find. A very kind female police officer tried to help us find out where we were supposed to go, but I'm pretty sure she was dead wrong despite her best efforts. I won't begrudge her, though, because we had no earthly idea either and we looked like a bunch of American fools with our loads of luggage and deer-in-headlights looks plastered across our faces.

I feel really bad for my lack of patience during stressful moments of travel, and I definitely bit off the heads of my mom and husband more than a couple of times each. My stress level increases exponentially with the increase in number of people surrounding me, and that just gets worse with suitcases, not knowing where I am, and lack of sleep - that's without taking into account the fact that we were in the process of moving to our new home. Oy.

Eventually, we figured out the general direction in which we needed to go to get to our hotel in Westminster... and by general direction, that is exactly what I mean. We had no clue where we were, where we were going, or how to get there, but we knew we were heading in the right direction... hah! We were most certainly lost on the streets of Westminster, but we weren't too sad about it because it was freaking gorgeous everywhere we turned.

The streets were serenely quiet and beautiful in the soft morning light, but the "clunk, clunk, clunk" of our rolling suitcases on the stone sidewalks echoed, the noise bouncing off one building and on to the next. It was painful to listen to, really. Patrick was quite distressed at the noise we were making and how tired he was of carrying those suitcases, but I pretended to be blissfully ignorant of the echoes and my aching arms. The city was new and exciting, the neighborhood exquisite in its beauty, and it was almost a pleasure to be lost in this area of Westminster.

By the grace of God, we made it to our hotel somewhere around 9:30am with only a couple of wrong turns and "Do you know how to get to blah blah blah" under our belts. We checked in and were given fresh, warm cookies upon arrival, but that didn't mean that we could go to our room - it was far too early.

As the lobby filled with more and more people (I'm sensing a theme here...), we sat on the ginormous ottomans and guarded our hoard of luggage, not the least bit concerned with how much room we took up. That was one instance when I was perfectly okay with embracing the American-traveler stereotypes. The three of us then took turns going to the bathroom and freshening up. This took a while because we were all excruciatingly slow due to exhaustion, and we certainly took our time after the rush of the morning's travels. Good heavens, I have never been so glad to wash my face and brush my teeth! Despite how severely tired I was, the ability to put myself together was quite refreshing and gave me a second wave of energy. Or was I on the fifth wave by now?

Once that was all said and done, we begrudgingly gave our precious cargo to the less-than-enthusiastic hotel employee and left for a day of sightseeing in the greatest city in the world. We definitely had a list of things we wanted to see, as any good tourist does. The Tower of London, the Tower Bridge, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, the River Thames, and so much more were waiting to be explored and adored!