April 04, 2014

Destination: London

"Go where we may, rest where we will,
Eternal London haunts us still."
-Thomas Moore


It's been four weeks since I returned from a whirlwind weekend trip to London, a place that has been on my top five list for years, and most days I can't believe I was actually there.  But considering I was only on British soil for a little over 48 hours, it's somewhat understandable that the whole experience has taken on dream-like dimensions!

Big Ben
(c) Thrifty Gypsy
In late January, Mr. Gypsy learned that his company would be sending him to London to provide IT support for a summit.  After I finished turning green with envy, I began to conspire how to get myself to London, too!  The only catch was that all my vacation hours (plus some) have been earmarked for our three week trip to Italy and Germany in July, so asking for time off to squeeze in another Europe trip seemed out of the question.  Besides, Mr. Gypsy's company kept oscillating on how long they'd be sending him, what the exact dates would be, whether it would fall over a weekend, etc, that buying tickets to London was not only impractical, but impossible.  By the time his company had finalized all plans, his departure date was in two weeks, and the price of tickets listed on Orbitz were in the $1600 range.  Way out of my budget.  So I resigned myself (rather despondently) to being a bachelorette for two weeks while Mr. Gypsy was gallivanting around at one of my dream destinations.

But I couldn't give up just like that.

View down Gracechurch street towards
the Monument
(c) Thrifty Gypsy
So I started digging around on the internet and found my pot of gold: StudentUniverse.com.  I plugged in my travel dates and voila! round-trip tickets for $880.  A far cry better than all the other websites!  But still I hesitated - that was a lot of money to arrive on a Friday morning and fly out by 5pm on Sunday.  Ultimately my travel fever won out; I bought the tickets on a Wednesday, and twenty-four hours later I was speeding north to make my flight out of Dulles International.  By morning, I was on the tube about to start my 48-hour adventure.

I met Mr. Gypsy in the heart of the city just a few blocks away from St. Paul's, and he let me into his hotel room at the Club Quarters on Gracechurch Street before returning to work.  A quick shower and a shot of 5-Hour Energy Drink later, I was ready to hit the pavement.  In the space of an afternoon, I viewed Parliament, the London Eye, the Thames, Westminster Abbey, Parliament Square, St. James's Park, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery, and spent an hour or so in the British Museum before returning to the hotel at seven for a fish and chips dinner with Mr. Gypsy in Bishopsgate.  After dinner we enjoyed a stroll just soaking up the atmosphere and liveliness of London's nightlife.

Saturday was the big "money-maker" in terms of sight-seeing.  We got up early and walked along the Thames in front of Parliament for an hour.  The weather could not have been more perfect; sunny with temperatures hitting 50° by the afternoon - certainly a rarity for late February in London!  Mr. Gypsy was particularly thrilled when a speedboat raced by Parliament as it reminded him of his beloved James Bond movies.

Westminster Abbey
(c) Thrifty Gypsy
By 9:15 we joined the queue at Westminster Abbey.  The entrance fee is rather steep, but worth it in my opinion.  I had calculated that we'd have exactly an hour to spend in the Abbey before power-walking our way to Buckingham Palace in time for the changing of the guard (during the winter, they only have the ceremony every other day).  Sadly, one hour isn't nearly enough time to spend in Westminster, but I made do with what precious time I had.  Photos are not permitted inside the abbey, but the sight of the coronation chair, the medieval mosaic on the floor, and Chaucer's and Queen Elizabeth's tombs will be forever engraved in my memory.

Keeping to schedule, we practically sprinted towards Buckingham Palace, stopping briefly for a delicious, albeit expensive (from an American standpoint, anyway) £4.50 hot dog in a sweet, waffle-like bun at a vendor stand in St James's Park, but we still arrived in time to get a good spot on the steps of the Victoria Memorial to view the changing of the guard.  It was a splendid ceremony!  The bobbies were especially hilarious with their spiel about minding your purses, bags, and small children against the wiles of the not-so-mythical creatures known as the pick-pocket; the bobbies were so much fun that it made me wonder if a sense of humor is a requirement for the job!

Afterwards we wandered around exchanging cameras with other tourists to get in a few pictures before meandering up the mall towards Trafalgar Square.  We took the traditional picture with the lions around Nelson's column, gawked at a few floating street performers, applauded a rousing bagpiper, and then walked a few more blocks north to get a peek of Piccadilly Circus before hopping the tube back to our hotel for a change of shoes (heels were certainly not the best choice for me that day!).

With comfy sneakers on, we walked to St. Paul's Cathedral, grabbing a few cookies and Cokes at Sainsbury's first.  One of Mr. Gypsy's colleagues had provided passes into the cathedral, so we were able to skip the queue (saving us £16.50 each).  The Cathedral is amazing!  And the iPod audio guides were very informative.  Mr. Gypsy convinced me to brave the climb up the 259 steps to the Whispering Gallery (heights are NOT my friend), and then dragged me all the way to the Golden Gallery at the top of St. Paul's.  That's a total of 528 steps.  I was quite queasy by that time, but the views more than made up for the acrophobia!
View of the London Eye from the top of St. Paul's
(c) Thrifty Gypsy
It was already 5pm at this point, but our day was not yet done!  We then met my aunt and uncle at Tottenham Court for bangers and mash at Garfunkel's before hunting down 27A Wimpole Street.  Sadly, neither Eliza Doolittle nor Professor Higgins were taking visitors.

Tower of London at night
(c) Thrifty Gypsy
But I soon forgot all that when we returned to the City and walked along the Thames to the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London - quite a beautiful sight when lit up!  On Sunday morning, we returned to the Tower for a tour.  We eagerly waited for a guided tour by a Beefeater, which is what the Tower Guards are called.  He was a riot; I think we laughed through most of the tour, even when he was talking about beheadings and murders and tortures - he was just that hilarious.  After his tour, we viewed the Crown Jewels, walked the walls, stalked a few Tower ravens, and marveled at the collection of armor in the Tower itself.

Tower Green
(c) Thrifty Gypsy
By half past noon, it was time for me to return to the hotel, pack up my luggage, and catch the 1.5-hour tube ride back to Heathrow.  It was painful prying myself away from London, but I'm so thankful for the opportunity to visit and to save money by not having a hotel bill, thanks to Mr. Gypsy's company.

I am by no means a city person, having lived most of my life in the countryside, but London has effectively stolen my heart, and I cannot wait to return - preferably for a longer visit!

~ Just a Thrifty Gypsy

Have you been to London?  What were your favorite places there?


  1. Ok first let me tell u...U have such a beautiful face! I loved this blog..way to go.
    Trafalgar Square is definitely my fav palce in London. It's always bustling with activities.

    1. Thank you! Trafalgar was amazing. So many people to watch and the street performers were so interesting!


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