24 MORE HOURS IN LONDON
“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” -Samuel Johnson.
I have no idea who Samuel Johnson is, but I love this quote because London rules and is good and rad and cool and fun and awesome. It seems like every time we go to London (3 times so far), we only stay a day or 2. Honestly, though, I feel like that’s enough. There’s so much of the world to see and it’s fun to hit different places every time we go to London. Plus, SLC has a direct flight there so I have a feeling we’ll be there a few more times over this crazy lifetime.
So this time, en route to Croatia, we had a little over a day in London, and we made the bloody most of it we did.
Eh, by this point, you know the drill. We love our Chase card and Amex card because they make so much of our travel cheap or free. The flight TO London was seriously $6 plus SkyMiles. Coming home from Zurich was like $200 plus SkyMiles. So round trip to Europe for $206 each from SLC is not freakin bad. The flight was Delta, they spoiled us with 2 meals, hot towels, and heaps of entertainment. My only complaint (and seriously, we are such divas in this society) is the Wi-Fi was out. T-Mobile is cool and lets you have a free hour of browsing and then unlimited texting, and I was excited to harass friends and family at 3am since I can’t sleep on planes. But alas, my life is so hard.
HEATHROW TO WESTMINSTER ABBEY…GET AN OYSTER CARD
OK, just listen to me. Get T-Mobile because data and texting are free, hence no getting lost in big cities like we did in 2011. Get the app Citymapper. Use Google Maps to find public transport. Thank me later. Oh, and GET THE BLOODY OYSTER CARD IN LONDON FOR THE BLOODY TUBE MATE! We are dumb and not smart and uncool and we paid some weird pass thinking we were saving money on the tube. Nope, we got DESTROYEDDDDDDDDDDDD for the tube. We paid for buses, tube rides, it was awful. I think we spent like 40+ pounds in a day. Just do the Oyster card and call it good, OK? There’s a deposit you can get back and it caps at a certain amount so you don’t get charged nonstop like we did. Just do it. I love public transport. London is a place where it just doesn’t make sense to rent a car since you can get everywhere so easily on the tube, so we were off to Westminster with almost zero downtime.
Westminster is a place we’ve meant to go multiple times but always miss, so this time I booked tickets ahead online. You choose a date and time and even though the line wasn’t super crazy, it’s nice to bypass it a little bit.
I don’t need to give you the down low on Westminster, Wikipedia can do that. Suffice it to say it’s pretty incredible to go inside and immerse yourself in the history. So many cool things have happened there that it’s worth visiting just to learn more about the history. I don’t feel the urge to go back, or at least not anytime soon, but it was worth doing once. What wasn’t worth doing? The upper rooms, or “Queen’s Jubilee,” or something. We paid like 7 pounds extra to go up, and it was pretty meh. Just some statues and lots of reading, it was cool but after the immensity of Westminster Abbey itself it felt like a bit of a letdown. All in all, we spent about 2.5 hours doing the Abbey and the top and I felt like it was a perfect amount of time. No hurries, no worries.
One note: Westminster does NOT have a bag drop or bag check, so we got to the front of the line and we thought they were going to send us away since we had our bags. Luckily, we could take them inside, but we had to carry them, and 2 weeks of clothes on your back for 2 hours kinda sucks. It might be worth it to store the bags at the train station or your flat if possible. In our case, it wasn’t possible because checkin wasn’t for another few hours. Whatever.
And now, the real reason we went to London: Indian food!
I don’t know how we got it in our heads how amazing Dishoom was or would be. I think when we went to London 2 years ago and visited Morgan and Melissa, they had either gone and loved it or heard it was amazing. We went with them and our friends Nick and Carley on the night we were all together and it was INSANE lines outside. I think the hostess told us 2 hours or something, so we passed. Eventually Morgan and Melissa went and said it was life-changing, so Caitlin and I basically booked a trip to London because we love Indian food. And my friends, Dishoom does not disappoint.
Morgan told me the St. Martin’s Dishoom is the busy one, so after Westminster we hopped a bus to the Carnaby location. Maybe it was just because it was lunchtime instead of dinner but there was no wait and we were immediately seated.
One weird thing is we’d heard Dishoom was pricey, but the menu looked cheap-ish. Granted, after Iceland, anything feels cheap and since we’d just been there maybe I was still on Icelandic currency brain. Still, I was happy thinking we’d only spend like 30 pounds…but no. Our waitress told us they recommend like 3-4 entrees plus rice and bread and we were hungry and ready for the experience so we went for it. (Once again, American Express came through for us. We use a cash back card with no annual fees for daily expenses, and we had $80 in rewards ready to go…so Dishoom was paid for 100% by Amex).
We ended up getting a couple chicken curries and a lamb dish that is supposed to be their specialty as well as KILLER garlic naan and a couple things of rice. It was delicious. It was phenomenal. It was transcendent. It was everything we’d hoped. We cried. We wept. We loved it.
My ONLY Dishoom complaint is it was way spicy. Like, I’m not a total baby with hot stuff, but I was getting a bit of a runny nose from the food. I had never thought it might be spicy so I didn’t ask for it to be mild, but once we got the food I wish I had. I have no idea if you can get dishes milder there, but if so I would suggest it unless you like pretty spicy stuff. Still, amazing!
London: Westminster Abbey plus Queen’s Jubilee, Deshoom Carnaby, Walk around Parliament, Big Ben covered up, Buckingham at night, meal deal British Museum next day, flat was OK but right next to bus, do the Oyster card because we got screwed.
BIG BEN WAS LAME AND SAD
Luckily, we’ve seen Big Ben a couple times (humblebrag but it is true) but I can only imagine if this was our first time to London we’d have been pretty bummed. Just like the Steelers quarterback Big Ben, the clock, the icon of London, the symbol of England, was banged up and bandaged. There was heaps of scaffolding all over him so we basically could see the clock and nothing else. Caitlin and I sent a funny photo with the caption, “Caitlin with the icon of London, Big Ben!” to her family…I don’t think they got it. We thought it was funny since it was just a big scaffolding…see, look:
BUT THAT AREA RULES ANYWAYS
That area of London, right by Big Ben and the Parliament building, is just bloody rad. From Big Ben to Parliament and just hanging out on Westminster Bridge, it’s probably my favorite area to hang in London at night. There’s a ton of street vendors selling souvenirs and food and bike taxis and it’s just a fun place to soak in London. It’s super pretty at night, and it’s fun just looking down at the River Thames. I always like to imagine the crazy history of London and just dig the fact I’m there. So that was a fun night, even though we technically didn’t do anything but sit on the bridge and walk around. I love London, so sue me, OK? We also walked through St. James’s Park to Buckingham Palace, which is pretty at night with the fountain all lit up outside. We just hung around and marveled about the Queen, wondering if she was in there, but it was fun
BY THE WAY, THE SANDWICH MEALS RULE TOO
So I’m not sure if it was just the fact that we’d been in Iceland a week earlier, but England seemed much cheaper than I remember. Particularly the amazing sandwich deals. Basically you get a sandwich, drink, and snack or fruit for £3 or sometimes £4. Not joking, in Iceland you’re lucky to get a gross sandwich for like $7 and then a coke (or Red Bull) and fruit would make it pretty easily $12-15. So getting a full meal for £3 is pretty much life changing. The sandwiches aren’t incredible but they’re decent and the snack (chocolate) and drink (Red Bull) make an amazing deal. Just do it and thank me later. Aside from Dishoom, we weren’t really in London to eat, so whatever we could save on food we could spend elsewhere which is a win to me.
WHERE WE STAYED
You know what’s not cheap in London? Anything. So once again, we figured since we weren’t going to London to sit in a hotel room, we would go cheap and spend money on more fun stuff. So as usual, we used AirBnb (use this link and you’ll get $40 off your booking…full disclosure, if you book a trip, I get $20 credit). The flat we stayed in was by far the cheapest we found in London, and it is literally RIGHT next to a bus stop so it’s incredibly easy to get to and from. The owners speak Spanish and not much English, but the bed is super comfortable and the room is quiet. It’s a small flat, so if you don’t like shared it might not be for you. My only complaint is the girls staying in the other room seemed to spend hours in the bathroom (it was probably like 1.5 hours but felt longer), so having to share with other couples can be not as fun, but we knew that going in. They had a fridge for my Red Bull and all was well.
DAY 2: THE BRITISH MUSEUM
We had been to the British Museum twice before but seriously, I can’t get enough mummies and stuff stolen from Greece, so we spent our morning there. Again, you don’t need me to give a recap of what’s there, but it’s so cool. Seeing the Rosetta Stone in real life is just cool every time. Seeing real mummies is cool and scary and weird and makes me contemplate life and mortality and death but it’s cool. Plus, the British Museum is free which is ridiculous because it’s so cool. Once again, like Westminster Abbey, they didn’t have a bag check so we carried around our packs again. There’s heaps of benches to sit around the museum, so it wasn’t super bad, but just something to note. Even the building of the British Museum is amazing, so it’s worth checking out, even if for just an hour.
I HAVE SEEN HELL AND IT IS STANSTED AIRPORT
As mentioned, we got killed with transportation, and I don’t know the right way to get to Stansted. I think if you book the Stansted Express ahead of time, it can be decently cheap. As usual, I figured we’d get to London and wing it, and it was really expensive. Like about $40 total for a 40 minute train ride. Whatever, what choice did we have? A cab would have been more and slower so we paid the train and went, but I was not prepared for the Dante’s Inferno-like misery that awaited us.
I mean does anyone like super crowded areas? Aside from the frat bros moshing super hard at shows, I think most humans like at least 6 inches space from strangers…which Stansted did not provide on this day. I have never seen an airport even remotely close to as crowded and chaotic as Stansted was…and it’s not even close. I saw almost no open chairs, and the ones that were open were usually crammed between two large people. Luckily, as I’ve said a million times before, our Chase card gives us Priority Pass lounge entrance, and Stansted has a lounge. Unluckily, the lounge had a sign saying WE ARE FULL—WITHOUT A RESERVATION YOU CAN’T COME IN. So a bunch of people saw that sign and turned around but me, dear reader, did I let a sign stop me? No I did not. (By the way, still not clear how to get a reservation at a lounge, can someone help me?).
Actually the staff at the lounge was great. They were super stressed but when I told them we only had 1.5 hours until our flight, they let us come in and sit at a reserved table as long as we promised to be gone by the time the dude showed up. The food was actually decent but just to be out of the madding crowd was incredible. It felt like a different planet compared to the chaos outside, and that made the Chase card feel worth it all over again. The bad part is they don’t have bathrooms (the first lounge I’ve seen that doesn’t), do you have to do your business with the unwashed masses out in the public john…and it’s not pretty. But alas, the lounge was amazing.
OK RYANAIR, YOU JUST MADE THE LIST
Actually, despite it being known as the, “School bus of the Sky,” (shoutout Jeff Denison) we’ve never had a bad experience with Ryanair. They’re cheap and we travel light so whatever, right? This was the first bummer we’ve had with them, but it happens everywhere: Delay after delay.
It started as a long line at the gate and nothing happened as the flight time got closer and closer then passed. Then, a voice from above said we were going to be delayed (duh) and that we would be getting a new gate, so the crowd stampeded towards wherever it was. Then, a different voice told everyone to go back to the old gate, which was funny because we were still there. The last shall be first, ya know? We went from literally last in line to pretty much first on…which only means longer sitting time in those tiny seats, but it was still funny. (By the way, Ryanair wants you to pay MORE to board first…really? People WANT to sit there longer by choice? Whatever).
So a couple hours late we hit the air and were stoked for the next stop: Croatia.