After a series of longer intercity trips around Europe on Ryan Air, we were pumped with a capital P to be taking the Eurostar to transit from Paris to London. The remote airports, chaotic check-in and boarding, and low average age of the follow customers (yes...we are old now) really began to wear on us after three flights. It is safe to say we will probably avoid Ryan Air at all costs in the future. This time, however, we were traveling in style. City center to city center the ride from Paris to London takes just over two hours with the added bonus of gaining an hour traveling northward. The ride was uber-comfortable and was about 12 solid games of Tetris on our netbook long.
London was our first stop on this trip where we arrived without any hotel reservation. We got off the Tube at Victoria Station with a particular hotel in mind we had researched on the internet called the Wellington. However funny thing happened along the way...we found Warwick Way, an entire street lined with buildings labeled "hotel", "bed and breakfast", and "guesthouse". Our feeling at the time was probably akin to what Columbus felt when he discovered the New World...something along the lines of, "Well this really isn't what I was looking for...but this will certainly do." We made our way down the street inquiring at each reception desk until we found the right place. Elizabeth House offered us a small private room on the top floor, shared bath, breakfast and even free internet "because we were American," all for the price of 47 pounds.
After checking in and dropping off our bags, we took a scenic walk along the Thames to the Tate Modern. Unlike the Milan Modern Art Museum, the Tate is true to its name and we saw styles from Post-Impressionism to contemporary, including paintings, drawings, sculpture and film. Every piece had an extensive written description to accompany it, and some even had reflections from contemporary scholars and celebrities about the work. We were very impressed with the exhibits, as we were with the fact that entrance to this significant London museum is free.
We enjoyed another no-cost museum as well during our 24 hours in London, The Victoria and Albert houses, which offers a eclectic collection of art. Not that Katrina would know--she immediately found the fashion exhibition and spent the entire time there drooling over Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen, Armani, Versace, and more. The collection highlights both the history and evolution of fashion by theme (suits, sportswear, evening gowns, wedding dresses...) as well as examines the technique and construction of clothing. Patrick put in a solid minute at this exhibit before deciding to explore the rest of the museum which featured exhibits by artist such as Rafael and Rodin and one on photography that he particularly enjoyed. After that we roamed the nearby sprawling Kensington Gardens, including the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain and Kensington Palace grounds.Aside from sleeping and visiting these two museums, the rest of our time in London was spent walking. And walking. We were up and down the Thames, over to Charing Cross Road visiting the multitude of book stores, and then over to Oxford Circus and down to Picadilly Circus. We both enjoy roaming large cities very much but the sidewalks of London made us feel absolutely claustrophobic. There seems to be no order to the madness. No one seems sure what side of the sidewalk to walk on and add to that the street crossings are too small compounded by the fact that every tourist is confused by the direction traffic is coming.
Obviously all this walking worked up quite an appetite, and after an endless and ultimately failed search for a Japanese noodle house between Picadilly Circus and our hotel, we found ourselves at the right place at the right time... the local grocery store by Elizabeth House at 9pm. It turns out it is at this hour that the carriage becomes a pumpkin, or in this case the baked goods become really really cheap baked goods. We arrived just as a store employee was slapping reduced price stickers on every store-made baked good in sight. Patrick immediately pillaged the racks and ended up with donuts and a Thomas the Tank Engine cake for the combined price of 40 pence. The rest of the night was spent stuffing our faces with the sponge cake filled with a curious plum and rasberry jam and washing it down with the finest water the City of Westminster had to offer from our in-room sink two feet from our bed.
View more pictures from London here.