London Day 1 – Morning – Kensington & British Museum
I landed at Heathrow, stashed my bag at the Left Luggage office – an expensive maneuver but I wanted to bring two suitcases home to the States without dragging both of them around the UK – and found my first AirBnb house stay in the royal borough of Kensington.
Travel Tip #1: Let’s be honest – London in the summer is expensive, the hotel rooms remind you of an attic in your aunt’s draughty house, and you may have to share a communal bathroom. AirBnb saved my proverbial buttocks this summer in terms of hotel expenses. For less than the first of a small hotel room each night, I scored a room in a Kensington house, with en-suite bathroom, and the room was huge. I had access to their gorgeous kitchen, the living room if I wanted, and space to keep and cook food.
Whilst Gloucester Road station has great restaurants, it’s expensive to eat out for all your meals, so my advice is – rent a room in a house, have access to a kitchen, and visit the supermarket like Waitrose (pricey), Tesco’s, Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer Food Hall, or any other small, local grocery shop. The space in the rooms can be bigger than hotels, and you also have some ready-made people to chat to. A big plus since I was traveling mostly on my own for three weeks.
I jumped on the Tube out to Gloucester Road station, and my first thoughts were a) damn, it’s cold here (after Hong Kong and Abu Dahbi with temps over 100+F), b) the Tube feels literally like a tube (I take for granted the spaciousness of Asian city metros), and c) I am wearing a bright red rain coat, and almost everyone else is in grey, black, or navy. I stick out like a sore thumb.
But, I find it impossible not to love the complex veins of the Tube. Nothing like riding on the world’s oldest subway to make you appreciate how it has changed over time.
It was spitting rain when I left the Tube station (no mention on the arm muscles I would develop on this trip from schleping luggage up and down Tube station stairs), but the cool air felt amazing after the stuffy airport and blazing hot desert air. I rolled down the sidewalks, past posh day schools and parked cars, to find the lovely house where I would be staying.
It could have been pouring and freezing cold, and I could have gotten lost a million times, but I couldn’t help but think, I’m finally here.
I may or may not have clapped my hands in glee upon seeing the first red telephone booth outside a historical pub.
There is no confirmation on that from my end.
Well, the pouring rain made an entrance the next morning.
With my tiny “packing size” (read: totally ineffective) umbrella, I kitted up in my rain coat, packed my items in zippy bags, and headed out into the rain, at least to get a coffee and a breakfast item.
Little did I know that a monsoon seemed to have followed me from Hong Kong.
By the time I reached the end of the block, I was wet from the feet up to my knees, as it was raining from the ground too. I slipped and slid into a Cafe Nero, nearly upsetting an occupied table where the person was sipping their tea peacefully until my ungraceful American presence bombarded them. I ended up sending a few umbrellas flying, which I had to quickly pick up as others stared.
Well, I just wanted people to know I was here.
After a hot flat white and a strawberry cream muffin, I picked up my crap umbrella from the stand and thought that I should try to get a bigger umbrella. Two doors down, I located a Boots shop, which, by some stroke of luck or marketing genius, had a rack of umbrellas by the front door. I carefully opened several of them – I must’ve been intent on cursing this trip with bad luck – to test out their “dry” radius. When I made my selection, the exchange with the clerk went like this:
“It’s raining hard,” I said as if he couldn’t sort that out for himself.
“But you already have an umbrella,” he pointed out.
“Yes, but as you can see, it’s the world’s worst umbrella,” I returned, dancing in a circle to show him how wet my pants and jacket were.
“The world’s worst umbrella would be one with holes. So yours isn’t too bad.”
“Well-played, Sir. But I would like this fine umbrella instead. Can I also get a bag for my other one?”
“Sure. It’s fifty pence, though.”
“That is a deal. Thank you.”
“I doubt this one will keep you any drier, but good luck.”
Such nice, logical people I have met in London already!
Since it was losing its mind raining, I opted for a dry day inside at the British Museum.
And so did everyone else. It seemed as if my good idea was copied by loads of other tourists and an inordinate amount of giggling schoolchildren. One teacher stopped to apologize for their middle-school age students acting as they were (like typical middle-schoolers), and I just nodded and said, “No need, I’m a middle school teacher myself. I get your pain.”
In that moment of empathy, we looked at each other, and we simply understood. No more words needed.
But I didn’t necessarily want to spend my jailbreak freedom from teaching with hanging out by students, so I checked my bag and multiple umbrellas and took off to the furthest reaches of the museum. Avoiding the Egyptian section seemed to be the best strategy.
The British Museum is free of charge, and it makes for a great outing when its pissing down rain. I wandered for hours in there, quite aimlessly, enjoying making up interesting titles for artifacts and art. I learned about mummified cats (for the fashionable Egyptian cat lady), cuneiform writing (slower form of texting with clay tablets), and that if someone leaves a bag unattended in the gift shop, it has to be evacuated until security comes in.
The best part of three hours of rain avoidance in the British Museum was leaving for lunch and being sprinkled with rays of sparkling sunshine upon my departure.
London is indeed the city of 180′ weather within an hour.
Lunch. So many options.
However, for the truly hungry (or hangry – at this point from too many shouting tourists in non-queues), I found the My Old Dutch outpost. The people sitting in the window probably thought I was an odd species, but I stared at bit at their massive pancake on the table and decided that all of life’s woes could be solved with a coffee and savory pancake.
My Old Dutch near the Holborn stop was an orange suit beacon of hope for lunch. I jostled in the doors, was seated immediately (being solo on a trip has its advantages to being in a group), and ordered a huge fizzy water, coffee, and the magnificent “Amsterdammer” pancake. Perhaps I just wanted to say “Amsterdammer”, but the toppings sounded delicious – apple and bacon and maple syrup, the trifecta of breakfast tastes.
I would actually like to have another pancake right now.