As I have told many of my friends and family, I wanted 2011 to be a year of getting stuff done. I’m exercising. I’m blogging. I also wanted to make good use of my vacation time.
On January 25, I booked myself a spot on a Contiki London and Paris (plus Paris extension) trip! (If you’ve never heard of Contiki, they do tours exclusively for 18-35-year-olds.) It would be my first trip to Europe and over a week almost entirely off the grid! I literally jumped for joy after I clicked submit!
The trip was for early June and arrived before I knew it.
On Friday, June 10, 2011, I boarded a Boeing 777 – American Airlines # 106 – bound for Heathrow. As I took my center seat on the widebody aircraft, I was still in disbelief looking at the big map showing my destination. ‘I’m actually going do London!!!!!’ I kept thinking to myself. The flight was scheduled for departure at 11:05 p.m. but we didn’t get off the ground until after midnight, following the removal of a sick passenger’s luggage and our departure runway being changed. Our pilot got on the PA and actually said “If it seems like we’ve taxied around the entire airport, it’s because we have.” Though the delay didn’t really bother me.
Of course, I traveled with my iPod and spectacular Bose QuietComfort 15 noise cancelling headphones (if you don’t have a pair and plan to travel more than an hour, buy them. They’re well worth the price). But to be honest, I never turned on my iPod. I used my headphones to watch some of the movie and some TV shows on the in-flight entertainment system and I used the headphones not connected to anything so I could sleep (well, more like doze off – come on, it’s center seat coach class on a 777). As we came in for a landing, we all started to wake up and I chatted a bit with the two passengers to my left. When I got off the plane at Heathrow around 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 11, 2011, I was still in disbelief.
I got through customs, picked up my suitcase, and headed for the Underground. Contiki had already sent me a one-way pass to get me from the airport to my hotel.
It was a decent length ride on the Picadilly Line. At nearly every station, there was an announcement that this was Picadilly Line service and the name of the terminating station was given. That station is Cockfosters. Yes, I giggled. So too did a Canadian couple sitting next to me (to my right).
Eventually, I arrived at my station – Russell Square.
The actual tracks are so far underground that the most practical way to get to the surface is via massive elevators. When I got outside, I was greeted by a beautiful street, looking both ways.
I then found a map and proceeded to my hotel, passing this along the way. Yes, that says “The Horse Hospital.”
My hotel was the Imperial Hotel.
Here is my adorable room. There is, of course, a full bathroom. I simply neglected to photograph it.
Here is the view from my room.
I checked into my hotel around 1:30 p.m and since I had been going since literally Friday morning when I got up for work, I felt kind of gross. So, I took a nice refreshing shower. Now our first group meeting to go over housekeeping items was not until 6 p.m. So, since the weather could barely have been any better, I decided I would wander around London. I went out with no map or destination. I just wandered. Since I spoke a version of the language, I knew getting back to Russell Square wouldn’t be such a challenge. I started with the park across the street. There are parks everywhere in London! It’s one the great things about the city.
Along the way, I, of course, took photos of cool buildings. Some, like the Hotel Russell, were clearly identified. Others were not. So, if you can identify a building I did not, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom. 🙂
Here is an obligatory shot of a red London telephone box.
As I wandered around London, I had this giddy smile across my face and in my head I kept saying, “I’m actually wandering around LONDON!!!”
London, and its mayor, Boris Johnson, are big on the whole bike thing. New York City plans to begin a bike sharing program soon.
I go all the way to Great Britain and I still can’t get away from CBS. Hehe.
Look! It’s the BT Tower. I’d seen that in photos before.
There was my first view of the London Eye.
Here is an obligatory shot of a London double-decker bus.
Here is the British Museum. It’s free. Had I known that, I would have popped in for a few minutes. It’s one of the the few things I really wish I had seen while in London.
When I got back to the hotel, I took a cat nap before our meeting. When I got downstairs for the meeting, I saw a table with two people sitting at it and two empty chairs. I asked to join the two people – a man and a woman. They introduced themselves as Kat and Mike (husband and wife). I introduced myself and asked where they were from. They said New Jersey. I asked where, in that ‘please be more specific’ way. They said Bergen County. Again, I asked where. They said Fair Lawn. The first two people I met on my tour in London were not only from only about 15 minutes from me, but from my parents’ hometown! How awesome is that!
After the meeting, I went upstairs to drop some of my newly acquired papers off in my room and look what I saw out my window – a rainbow!
I then went back downstairs for one of our two included dinners. It was food. I’ll leave it at that. After dinner, we headed out for drinks at a bar in Covent Garden.
After drinks (I tried Pimm’s), four of us decided to see if we could squeeze ourselves into a telephone box.
As you can see, the answer was yes.
It was an exciting first day in Europe and more excitement was to come. Expect entries about that in the days and weeks ahead.
– Evan Bindelglass