Europe: Day 2

Although we were pretty tired, we couldn’t waste any sightseeing time. There was an introduction London walking tour at 1:45 that we were determined to catch. By 12:45, we were out of the airport and took the Heathrow Express from the airport to our hotel. It was actually quite convenient. The Heathrow Express had 2 stops. Airport and Paddington Station. Our hotel, the Hilton London Paddington was built into the Paddington Train station, so it was a few minute walk from the train to the reception desk. We noticed vendors selling Paddington Bears. They must have originated in this area.

By 1:30, we had checked into our room and we have 15 minutes to take the Tube (London Subway) to the walking tour meeting spot. We ran out to the tube stop and figured out that there were 11 stops between Paddington and Tower Hill stop. Aggressive, but not impossible. The next 15 minutes was a mixture of exhilaration (when the train zipped through the stops) and frustration (when the train would stop for no reason between stops and taunt us). By 1:45, we still had 4 more stops to go. We had resigned and started discussing alternative plans. Since we were almost there, we decided to get to the Tower Hill stop and look around to see if we could chase down the tour group. When we emerged from the subway, we found an enormous group of over 60 people and an overwhelmed tour lady trying to manage the herd. We didn’t end up leaving for another 10 minutes after we got there.

The tour was 9 Pounds each, and I suppose you get what you pay for. 80% of the content of the tour was about crossing the street. She would go on and on about how we should be careful crossing the street. She talked very slowly as if she was talking to a group of 60 people off the short school bus. The slow, condescending speech combined with long, drawn out instructions on crossing the street started some fairly open editorials among the group about their feelings for the tour lady. She was indeed eccentric. But, perhaps she was a normal Brit, I’m not sure. She rolled her R’s and gave grandiose gestures as she talked, much like a Shakespearean actor. All of this would have been bearable, except most of the time, it was about crosswalk safety.

After 15 minutes of preparing us to cross the street, we finally crossed the street, and got on to a Ferry on the River Thames. It was a wonderful ride. We got a quick glimpse of many London highlights – Eye of London, Tower of London, Big Ben, Parliament, series of bridges spanning the Thames, the HMS Belfast, etc. There was a crew member on the Ferry that picked up the microphone and emphasized that he was merely a member of the crew, but if the audience wanted, he’d be happy to give some commentary as we floated down the river. The audience gave a rousing, “Yes”, and he started on his “commentary.” He had a non-English accent. Perhaps Scottish or Irish? We couldn’t quite place it, but he reminded us of Ewan McGregor. His commentary was quite colorful. It was certainly not accurate, and he readily admitted that it was not, but it was funny enough not to matter. He humbly asked for a tip at the end, and admittedly he deserved one. Getting off the boat, we figured out the guy was making some serious loot. There were over 300 people on that Ferry, and more than half dropped a pound or two in his tip bucket. Not too shabby for a 30 minute Ferry ride.

Once we were off the boat, we got another 15 minute lecture on crossing the street, then we were whisked by Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, St. James Park, Buckingham Palace, White Hall, St. James Palace, then finally ended up in Trafalgar Square. It was a reasonable orientation, but we went by everything pretty quick. We’ll likely hit these landmarks again, when we have some time to appreciate them.

Before we came to London, we were told by everyone that English food was absolutely the worst. We saw quite a few restaurants, and were resolved to prove them all wrong. After looking over several menus at various restaurants (including the Sherlock Holmes pub), we decided on the Princess of Wales Pub. Tenille had fish and chips (which was recommended by our friends as a safe bet), and I had sausages and mash. Both of us quite enjoyed our food. Tenille’s fish and chips were a bit unusual thought because it actually looked like a whole fish that was just deep fried. Aside from the unusual appearance, it tasted quite fabulous. Perhaps, our friends commentary was made because food tastes even better in other countries? Or, it could just be that Tenille is eating food of her people (she has English ancestry), and I just love sausages.

After dinner, we strolled North to Leicester square to see if we could get cheap show tickets. Leicester Sq. was a happening spot. It reminded us of Times Square in NY with all the billboards and digital screens. We found out we could only get tickets for the same day. The lack of sleep was hitting us pretty hard at this point. I was way over the grumpy threshold, and we took the Tube back to the Hotel to crash for the night. We stopped at a small grocery store in the Paddington train station for meals on Sunday, then crashed for the night.

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