Hello from the UK! What an interesting 8 days it has been. Time has gone by both very quickly and very slowly. We have had 8 consecutive days of rain, but it is a light rain and has made for a very moody London. We would have asked for nothing less then the true London experience.
We left the Los Angeles airport on May 7th and spent most of the weekend before we left packing and repacking our backpacks. The initial layout was definitely a bit heavy and it took some work to trim it down to a realistic backpacking capacity. We were already starting to adjust our expectations of what we were going to want versus need, and for that matter carry. The final weigh in was Thomas carrying 52 lbs. and Kaitlin handling 45 lbs. Having said good-bye to more people than we can count, we were anxious to get on the road and start the journey.
As we flew away from American soil and watched familiar features like the Grand Canyon and the Rockies disappear underneath us, we started to realize the significance of the beginning of our journey. We didn't know what would lie ahead of us, who we would meet, or where we would stay, but it was sure to be an adventure. Although the flight was 10 hours, it went by in a flash and before we knew it, London was upon us. After a blur of subways, trains, buses, and taxis, we settled in to a small town called Waltham Cross in north London. Thanks to Michael & Allison Johnson for their connection to their family in Waltham Cross. Gary & Julia put us up in their flat for our first 10 days. It was lovely and probably spoiled us for the kinds of places we will find ourselves in. It was good to get a taste of a smaller town and a more local experience while being able to access everything London has to offer. We were most likely the only tourists there and enjoyed local bakeries, the open market, and the pub.
We made our way into London each day and the more time we spent there, the more we realized that there was an endless amount to see. It is impossible to see a place like London and not take in some of its dramatic history. As we wondered through places like Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, and the Royal Observatory in Greenwich on the Prime Meridian, you start to realize how many famous names have come from this place. For example, as we stood in Westminster Abbey and looked down on the floor, the graves of writers such as T.S. Elliott, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Henry James, and Lewis Carroll were among many others as a testimonial to how prolific this county has been for so many years. We also made it out to Windsor Castle, still in use today as the residence of the Queen, and were amazed at the most awesome castle we have ever seen, both from the outside structure and the priceless artifacts within the walls accumulated over centuries of royalty.
London is also filled with some of the best museums in the world. Both the British Museum and the National Gallery were packed with people of all ages and races who seem to make a habit of just coming to the museums to hang out. They are free thanks to the Queen, and it was refreshing to find students and families there wandering around. We also tried to get in as much theater as possible, managing to hook up seats for three shows only minutes before the performances. By the way, when you do this, you can often get upgraded seats during performances during the week. We were upgraded to the second row for "Chicago" even though we bought the cheapest seats. We also saw Othello at Shakespeare's Globe Theater and Monty Python's Spamalot, which was hysterical.
Overall we were able to get a fairly authentic London experience and avoid the stampedes of tourists, although there were a couple of times that we were surrounded by large groups of people intent on taking several pictures of squirrels in the park. It was also interesting to ride the Underground into the city each day. People really seem to keep to themselves and are not interested in striking up conversations. Everyone reads their tabloid newspapers and listens to their iPods as they make their way into the city. And, as we say goodbye to the city that sells a $28 movie theater ticket (seriously!) and overwhelmingly expensive food, we look forward to eating more than a pastry and a sandwich for our $30 a day budget.