30 Hours in London

We have all read those New York Times travel articles on 36 hours in . Ok, maybe you haven’t. But I’ve read them. And the “Three Days in” in whatever airline magazine you are reading these days. Last month it was three days in Gibraltar in the Qantas magazine. A few years ago, it was Chennai, India in the American Airlines magazine, and who knows where else in all of the other in flight magazines I have read.

And then, sort of randomly, I found myself with 30 hours in London. I hadn’t really planned anything or called any friends, so I was left to my own devices. For the first time in a while I was a solo tourist in London. And what a city it is. Armed with only a tourist map (no GPS for me! – that week anyway), I was going to explore!

After taking the train in from Cambridge, I left my fellow conference attendees at Kings Cross and set out on my own. Now, a side note, I really do love traveling with my family and my friends, but I also like walking quickly, stopping randomly, and seeing what I want to see. So that’s what I did. I checked into my hotel room near the station (I’m pretty sure it was the last room in London that Saturday night), then started walking. It was about 1PM.

My goal for the afternoon was the Tate Modern, so my first direction was towards Bloomsbury. I had never seen the University of London campus, so I cut through Russell Square:

In case I forgot I was in London, these were here to remind me.

In case I forgot I was in London, these were here to remind me. No phones in any of them, so I guess they are for decoration?


It was a perfect late-summer day – not too hot, sunny, and just all around pleasant. The campus was ok. But then I had just come from Cambridge and I don’t know what I was expecting. Since the British museum is right next to the U of L campus, I decided to pop in and say hi to the Rosetta Stone.

Old meets new at the British Museum. Architecturally, anyway.

Old meets new at the British Museum. Architecturally, anyway.

Of the many wonderful aspects of the museums of London, one of the best is their cost – free with suggested donations of a few pounds. This isn’t MoMA, where entry is $20 so you feel like you have to stay all day when all you really wanted to see was that one sculpture on your lunch break. I saw the Lewis Chessmen, the statues from the Parthenon, the famous Caryatid on the stairs, the clock room, the Rosetta Stone, and a bunch of other things. It was pretty crowded, and a perfect day outside, so I moved on.

So much to see! Such a big crowd!

So much to see! Such a big crowd!

I made my way to Waterloo Bridge to cross over to Southbank. There was a street festival happening along the river so I walked through throngs of people past the National Theatre, etc. It crossed my mind to check if there were tickets for a show that night, but it was after three and I didn’t know what time the Tate Modern closed. When you only have 36 hours in a city, doubling back to a museum just isn’t recommended.

The view from Waterloo Bridge is probably better than the view from Waterloo.  Instagram makes fluffy clouds really dramatic.

The view from Waterloo Bridge is probably better than the view from Waterloo. Instagram makes fluffy clouds really dramatic.

The Tate Modern is not as large as the British Museum, but still pretty big. I decided to start with something I knew – Picasso. I was standing in front of one of the many works by him when Creepy Museum Man entered. Now, Creepy Museum Man wasn’t creepy straight out. He made some comment about the depth of the painting and how it looks like you could travel through it to other dimensions. I made polite noises. He invaded my personal space. As in, stood so close to me, I would have hit his face if I turned around. I moved on to another Picasso in the next room. He followed. And yet again invaded my personal space. He grabbed my arm to lead me to another painting. I said I had to go meet friends and hid in the loo for a bit. These sorts of incidents are not taken into account in the 36 hours (and are the downside of traveling on one’s own). Needless to say, my time in the Tate Modern was significantly shorter than I had intended.

I had planned on spending more time in the Tate and then heading back to Kings Cross, finding a quick dinner, and catching up on some of the sleep that I had lost to air travel, ground travel, jet lag, and conference schedules. Instead, as it was still light (yay summer!!!), I checked my map and saw that the Tower Bridge was not too far away. I must have seen the Tower Bridge before – I had been to the Tower of London right next to it years ago – but I couldn’t remember. So I turned right and headed to the bridge. I hadn’t made it very far, though, when I found Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (the new one – not the one from the 1600s).

Shakespeare's Globe is the Globe Theatre that Shakespeare didn't act in. Explain that one.

Shakespeare’s Globe is the Globe Theatre that Shakespeare didn’t act in. Explain that one.

It was after five so tours were done for the day, but I saw there was a performance of Midsummer Night’s Dream that night. It was sold out, but ticket returns might be available after 6, if I would queue nicely outside. About an hour and five pounds later, I had a standing room ticket to the theatre. But night was falling – the Globe is open air and all I had was a light sweater. Oh and it’s a three hour show and I had already walked about 5 miles. But this was a good idea, right?

Note how I'm smiling at the start...

Note how I’m smiling at the start…

Luckily (and predictably), the show was amazing and I was completely distracted from any discomfort from being cold or having sore feet. Having been in two versions of this play and having seen I don’t know how many more other renditions, I was really excited to see it in its “native habitat”. Totally worth it.

The show ended at 10:45, and the crowds started flowing to the nearest tube stations. I hadn’t taken the tube yet that day, but I decided walking back to Kings Cross area alone, at night, was, well, dumb. So I followed the crowds. But as they streamed into London Bridge Station, I realized I could walk just a little further (famous last words, I know) and see the Tower Bridge lit up at night.

Tower Bridge at night looks like Christmas.

Tower Bridge at night looks like Christmas.

I walked across the bridge and hopped (or hobbled at this point) on the tube back to my hotel. 12 hours down, 22 to go.

Sunday was a bit less ambitious. Breakfast was included at the hotel, so for the nth day in a row I had my English baked beans on toast, eggs, and roasted tomato. My feet were hurting from Saturday, so I decided to get the day pass for the tube and see as much as I could. I checked out of the hotel, stored my bags, and set off on my merry way by about 10.

Today’s goal was the Victoria and Albert Museum, which I had somehow missed in all of my previous London trips. It’s one of my mom’s favorite museums, so I wanted to see it. I hopped on the tube, and, in a rash decision, hopped off two stops early – at Hyde Park Corner. I got out of the tube, and walked into the park to see the Wellington Arch. I turned to go back to Hyde Park and make my way to the museum, when a bunch of men in shiny uniforms on horses paraded by.

Not just shiny - these breastplates were blinding in the sun.

Not just shiny – these breastplates were blinding in the sun.

I don’t know what was going on there, but they looked official and a little bit silly with the whole feather-in-the-helmet thing. But I own three fascinators, so who am I do judge, really?

Through Hyde Park with beautiful flowers in bloom, along the Serpentine with more swans than any river really needs, and down to the museum I went. Yet again, I was face to face with an amazing museum. I had to triage a bit – there was no way I could see everything. I decided to skip all of the 2D art. I focused instead on the costume exhibit, the metal work, the glass (historic and contemporary), and, most sparkly, the jewellery. And wow, was that amazing. Even only looking at such a small portion of what was on display kept me occupied for hours.

The V&A - a little like your great aunt's attic. If your great aunt was Queen Victoria.

The V&A – a little like your great aunt’s attic. If your great aunt was Queen Victoria.

Finally I decided I needed to get something to eat – breakfast had been several hours ago. A quick perusal of the prices in the cafe convinced me that I should head somewhere else. So I hopped back on the tube and went over to Picadilly Circus. As I emerged from the underground, the rain hit. And it hit hard. Alas, poor sunny day – I knew ye well. As fate (or capitalism, whichever) would have it, there was a souvenir stand not five feet from the subway – a stand where I could purchase my choice of plain black, union jack, or london city-scape styled umbrellas. As much as I wanted the union jack, I decided to go with the significantly more understated city-scape. The conference gift had also been an umbrella, but as this one collapses down and fits in my purse, it is far more practical.

A quick lunch then a meander around London’s legendary shopping district. I couldn’t be in this neighbourhood and not visit the most colorful room in the city – the scarf room at Liberty of London.

Liberty of London - known for their amazing fabrics and other things too (I'm sure).

Liberty of London – known for their amazing fabrics and other things too (I’m sure).

The thought of actually shopping made me tired – and I was already carrying about as much luggage back to Melbourne as I wanted to. What I really wanted to do was sit down. I wandered over to Covent Garden, but there wasn’t really a place to sit that didn’t involve getting more food. I wasn’t hungry, so I moved on. To the National Gallery. The National Gallery has many things going for it – over 2000 amazing paintings, free entry, historical architecture, and, most importantly for me, lots of couches to sit on and from which admire the paintings. So I did. And sitting felt really really good.

The museum closed at six and the heavens opened up again.

It wouldn't be England without rain.

It wouldn’t be England without rain.

So I took the tube back to Kings Cross, gathered my bags, and headed off to Heathrow. 20-something hours on a plane was more than enough rest for my feet and I’m almost over the jet lag. I dare any travel article to suggest this itinerary.

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~ by Genevieve on September 15, 2013.

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