Road to Rome, Day 1: Arriving in London

We couldn’t wait to land in London and begin our European adventure! Our flight from Boston was about 6 1/2 hours and we arrived at Heathrow International Airport around 7:45 a.m. local time.  The airport has definitely seen better days but with an average of 75 million passengers moving through each year, Heathrow was surprisingly organized. Going through customs was quick and efficient and our luggage was waiting for us when we arrived at the carousel.

Heading toward the exit, we noticed a smartly dressed gentleman holding a sign with my last name on it. Transfers to and from the airport were included in our tour package, but we weren’t expecting to be picked up in a late model Mercedes! With two other Americans, we hopped in the “taxi” and headed to the hotel. It was wild watching all the cars zip through the streets on the opposite side of the road!

Our hotel for both nights was the Park Plaza Victoria Hotel. Situated in the heart of London, this four-star hotel is adjacent to Victoria Station and within walking distance to most of the city’s major attractions. We weren’t sure if our room was going to be ready when we arrived and we were pleased to find that it was. The desk person explained that most rooms had twin beds and she offered us a room with a Queen, but we would have to wait to check in. Since we were itching to get moving, we accepted the twins. When we arrived at the room, we found the beds pushed together, which worked out great.  Twenty minutes later, we were unpacked, refreshed and walking out the door.

Our first destination was Evan Evans Tours, which fortunately, was very close to the hotel. This is the company we pre-booked our Stonehenge tour with and we wanted to see what else they had to offer. The place was pretty busy when we arrived, so we grabbed a couple of brochures and sat down. Evan Evans is a one stop shop for all of the best tours and day trips in London but we only had a couple of days, so we had to choose wisely.

Just before we left the hotel, I e-mailed our tour director, Ruth, to confirm the departure time for the London sightseeing tour scheduled the following morning. While we were waiting, we discussed the possibility that we wouldn’t finish the sightseeing tour in time to catch the bus for Stonehenge. One of the brochures we grabbed was for the London Big Bus, which is a hop on/hop off sightseeing bus that drives loop routes to all the big attractions in London. We decided we couldn’t chance missing Stonehenge so we were just going to stay up for as long as possible and see everything we could! We were able to get tickets for the Big Bus with Evan Evans, and also purchased tickets for the London Tower and Tower Bridge. Tower Bridge London

Leaving the tour company, we noticed the sky had grown darker and knew we would be seeing some of that infamous London rain. We walked around Victoria Station to get to the closest Big Bus pick-up stop and as we walked, several of London’s iconic black cabs and red buses navigated through the city traffic. Our bus arrived and we jumped on, making our way to the second, open level for better viewing. For the first hour, we stayed on the bus and just took it all in. We drove through several famous London neighborhoods, such a Trafalgar Square & Notting Hill , and watched the amalgam of people walking the city.  Soon, a light rain began to fall, and the traffic seemed to get thicker by the minute. The bus had come to a stop and didn’t move for what seemed like a very long time. We were just about to get up when a man boarded and announced that everyone would have to get off because it had a flat tire. Now we were dealing with a true J&J adventure!

Fortunately, another bus had arrived to rescue us and we were soon on our way again. It seemed to take forever to get to the London Tower, but we finally arrived just before 3 p.m. The London Tower is situated on the River Thames and is home to the Royal Mint and the Crown Jewels of England. In spite of its gruesome history, this famous landmark is one of London’s top attractions. The rain had stopped and the sun made the grounds around the tower appear quite medieval. We observed the Yeomen Warders, popularly known as the “Beefeaters”, carry out their ceremonial duties as guards of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace, and also visited the Crown Jewels.

Crown Jewels Guard "Beefeater"By this time, we had been up for nearly 27 hours and were starting to feel it! Exiting the Crown Jewels exhibit, we remembered that the gal at Evan Evans said that the Tower Bridge Closed at 5:30 p.m. It was now ten to five and we had no idea where we were in relation to our next destination. Suddenly, we began running and the adrenaline rush gave us a second wind. We made it to the Tower Bridge with plenty of time to spare and joined the line at the entrance.

The Tower Bridge is a cool suspension bridge that crosses the River Thames. Two towers support the bridge, with corresponding glass floor walkways to delight visitors young and old. It’s super freaky looking 140 feet straight down into the river but have no fear; the walkways consist of 6 560 (1234 pound) kilogram glass panels! Nevertheless, we cautiously walked across to the spiral staircase that leads to the ground level and small gift shop.

Enjoy the photos below and check back soon to read more about our London adventure!

Tower Bridge London

 

 

riverthamesskyline

 

 

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