I have been to London a few times and hope to go again. The things I love about London is that it feels like you're time traveling. The past is very present. You can see it and feel it. You can walk on it and touch it.
I also like how connected you feel to the rest of world when you're there.
It's pretty amusing traveling from a super casual place like Hawaii to a super proper place like London but that's part of the fun of traveling. You observe how people do things differently and realize there is no one right way of living.
When it comes to traveling the highs and lows are often extreme.
The first time I went to London I was around 20. I went with my boyfriend at the time to meet up with two of his friends that were traveling around Europe. We were only there for 4 days and it was an absolute nightmare. He had a nervous breakdown or something and we couldn't leave the hotel room. His friends kept calling the room until he took the phone off the hook. The staff would slip notes under the door telling us we had guests and that they're trying to get a hold of us. We flew the 11 hours home in complete silence. It's been over 20 years now and I still can't believe that I allowed myself to be held hostage like that. It was such a waste and one of my worst memories.
Now you know why I have no problem being on my own. The alternative is intolerable! Anyway that is a story for another post. This one is about travel!
The summer after that disaster, I signed up for a study abroad program to go back to London. This time I was on my own. I wasn't a student at the university that was hosting this program so I didn't know anyone. I didn't really make any connections. I did everything by myself. The living situation was rough. This was my first time living in a dorm. I hated it! Only 1 working toilet on a floor with about 30 girls! No TV no Wifi. Just a solitary cell alone with your thoughts.
This was the first time I was really on my own and it was in a different country. This trip was a life changer.
I went out and explored and I loved it. I was there for a month. On the weekends I'd take trips to Wales and Scotland. This experience laid the foundation for who I was to become. I wouldn't have done half the bold things I've done in my life had I not done this.
The third time I went to London was about 8 years later. I rented an apartment for a week. I'll never do that I again. Too many weird things and no one to help you. I prefer hotels. I had two friends visit for 2 of the days and showed them all of the sites we could fit it in 2 days which was a lot! No matter how many times you visit London you'll never see it all!
Twelve years later, I had high expectations around ringing in my 40th birthday because it is a milestone and also because I observed on social media (ugh) one by one as my friends and peers had thoughtful and elaborate 40th celebrations. Which of course led to utter disappointment when no one did shit for my birthday. Half of my family left on the day of my birthday to go on a road trip. I bought my own cake. I got depressed.
Comparison is the thief of joy. My life has never been remotely like anyone else's that I know. Sometimes during moments of wanting to be "normal" it can feel painful. Anyway shame on me for relying on other people. Happiness is an inside job. If I want to be celebrated I've got to celebrate myself.
So when 41 came around I was determined to take matters into my own hands and make up for the absolute nonevent that was my 40th. My favorite band in the world Rage Against the Machine was going to be kicking off their European tour in Scotland just days before my birthday. Two of my favorite things! What could be more epic?! I got a ticket to the concert and started planning my trip. I was going to start off in London.
The morning of my flight about a half hour before my taxi was scheduled to arrive, I got a text message from Ticketmaster telling me to check my email. The concert had been cancelled due to Zach de la Rocha's injury. He had torn his ACL while preforming a few weeks before and his doctors advised him not to travel to Europe.
I was in shock and then started laughing hysterically. I was about to fly across two oceans to see him.
His show was cancelled but my show went on and I got on the plane. I went from Maui to Phoenix and Phoenix directly to London. While checking in for my second flight I got an unexpected offer to upgrade to World Club, British Airways first class, on my 10 hour flight from Phoenix. Yes, please! It was worth every penny! And it was totally reasonable!
The plane was delayed. My seat was broken which quickly enraged me but luckily there was an open seat I was able to switch too. I sat in front of a lady that kept cussing to herself. I kept hearing, "this is fucking bullshit" and "son of a bitch." She was probably me in 20 years. She snored loud. Somehow I was still able to get some sleep in my little pod of a seat which was wonderful and so rare for me as I can never sleep on planes.
When I got off the plane I started following the signs to baggage claim. I was about to get on an escalator when an airport employee looked up from her phone and asked me, "are you sure you don't want to take the train?"
Me: To baggage claim? Her: Yep. Me: ok! Thanks angel lady.
I hadn't left the country in over a decade. Everything was so new and high tech. There were about 30 passport reading machines. You just scan your passport and the machine takes your picture.
What?! No stamp?!
I got my luggage and then tired to buy a subway ticket into the city. The machine wouldn't take my card 3 times. I panicked. Then I tried a different machine and it worked on the first time.
I rode the tube for an hour into Bloomsbury in central London.
It was pouring rain when I got there and I wasn't quite sure which direction to go when I got off the train. I couldn't remember and nothing looked familiar. It had been 20 years since I had gotten off at that tube station. But I made the right decision and found my hotel. It was nothing special but so much better than the dorm I lived in just down the street. I remember walking by this hotel dreaming I could stay just one night here. Finally I was doing it! It only took 20 years.
I ate at the hotel restaurant and then walked down to the little park across from my old dorm and shot this video. This is my first time to London with a website and a smartphone:
After that video I went to bed! My first night was rough with jetlag.
My first day I went to the British Museum because it was close by and because I had a few day tours planned that would be picking me up outside the gates there. So I wanted to know where the meet up spot was and how long it would take for me to walk there.
The British Museum is huge. You can spend more than one day looking at stuff. Oh, and it's free - I suppose so you can feel less guilty looking at all the stolen artifacts.
Next, I got on one of the double decker hop on off busses that takes you to all the major iconic sites. It's a total rip off but usually a good way to see a lot of stuff in a short amount of time without a lot of effort which is great when you're struggling with jet lag.
Transportation is my number one challenge when traveling.
Traffic was terrible and it was very hot. We mostly just sat in traffic baking in the sun until eventually there was an announcement that there was a traffic diversion and we had to get off. Figures.
I made my way to Buckingham Palace.
Twenty years ago I took a tour called Stones & Bones which went to Stonehenge, Glastonbury, and Avebury. I loved it. It was the first thing I wanted to do again. I wrote a separate post about the tour here.
After a long terrible night, I'm glad that I was able to drag myself out of bed bright and early and go on another organized tour with International Friends. (I'm not affiliated with them.) This time to the Cotswolds and Blenheim Palace.
This tour went so much more smoothly than the day before. Wow what a difference! I wrote a separate post about the Cotswolds here, I must go back to explore more! I loved it!
After lunch in the Cotswolds in Burford at the Lamb Inn, we visited the little churchyard where Winston Churchill is buried.
Then on to where he was born at Blenheim Palace.
Blenheim Palace is a site to behold it's so massive and beautiful. I can't believe that people still live here. This place wouldn't have even been on my radar if it wasn't a part of the Cotswolds tour. I'm glad it was.
I took so many photos that I've posted more Blenheim Palace pictures here.
I headed to Scotland for a few days. On my first day back in London I was pretty spent. As someone who is used to driving everywhere it's a shock to the system to all of a sudden be walking miles and miles each day. My legs, feet and back all ached. I was hobbling around by this point but you have no choice but to keep going and keep exploring.
I really wanted to eat at the Sherlock Homes pub but it was freaking closed.
The Tower of London.
St. Paul's Cathedral is jaw dropping inside.
I took another organized tour with International Friends to Warner Bros. Studios - The Making of Harry Potter & Oxford. OMG it was so much fun!!
I took the small group tour which is more expensive but worth every penny. I doubt there were even a dozen people on the coach. We were one of the first ones to the studio and watched coach after coach start to arrive fully loaded with people. I was able to whip around fairly easily and there was no line to get your Harry Potter video made. I read reviews where people wait hours to do this.
As a Potter Head this was a bucket list experience. So, so cool and everything you'd want it to be. I'd like to go again. I ran through it so fast because I knew there was a mob of people behind me. Next time I'll take my time.
After the most fun ever, we went on to Oxford. It made for another very long day. This was another almost 12 hour day. But I didn't travel all this way not to do and see as much as I could. Soak up the history.
I'm always so proud of myself when I get myself anywhere new on my own. This day I made it to Windsor. It was not without hiccups, confusion, mistakes, and aching legs but nevertheless I persisted!
I toured through the inside staterooms - no photos allowed. I really liked the gardens more than the inside. It costs extra. Only a couple of pounds. Well worth it. I met the elderly Gardner born and raised in Windsor. He pointed out a fish in the pond to me.
There's no pictures allowed inside St. James chapel on the grounds either. I was there just 2 weeks before the Queen died. She is now buried there with the rest of her family.
After this adventure, I headed back to the British Museum to check out their exhibition Feminine Power: the Divine to the Demonic which explores the significant role that goddesses, demons, witches, spirits and saints have played – and continue to play – in shaping our understanding of the world. Something right up my alley!
I visited the Natural History Museum to check out the dinosaurs. What another just massive place you can spend hours or days exploring. This place had a ton of little kids.
Afterwards I went to Watkins Bookstore one of the oldest independent bookstores with the biggest selection of esoteric books. I bought quite the heavy load to carry back with me. I have no will power to control my purchasing when it comes to books. This was only the first of two other bookstores I visited and bought books from. Good thing I brought an extra duffle bag! Seriously, I have a problem.
I also visited Treadwell's bookstore in Bloomsbury. An equally awesome occult bookstore near the British Museum. I left there with another bag books!
My last day was my 41st birthday and the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana's death. I went to Kensington Palace where she lived for 15 years. The gate was decorated in tribute to her memory.
I watched as news vans started rolling up with press from around the world. Not surprisingly there was no mention of the anniversary on the nightly news in London. I watched to see if I could see myself walking in the background. Nope.
In the palace café I was ecstatic to see a gorgeous fudgy chocolate cake. I bought a piece for my birthday treat and proceeded to walk around with it for a few miles looking for the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain on the other side of the park and then making my way back home which was problematic because Google Maps was taking me to streets that were blocked off. Luckily a lady who was trying to use the same street helped me get around the obstacle and back on track.
Who walks seven miles carrying chocolate cake?! I DO!!
It was so delicious.
When I touched down in Honolulu I turned my phone on to find multiple messages informing me that the Queen had died. Wow. That was stunning world changing news.
Nearly every place I had just visited closed for a 10 day period of mourning. I watched from 7,000 miles away basically a recap of my trip on TV. Very surreal.