I hysterically attempted to wake up in time for breakfast. (Spoiler alert: did not work out too well)
I did wake up in time to say goodbye to Emma. She sat near the bar with a cute overnight bag. Truly adorable compared to my hulking suitcase. I hugged her. “Stay in touch, you magical creature? Please, okay?”
“Of course! And maybe we can meet up – I have a few days between cities when the cruise ship docks,” said Emma, nonchalantly as fuck.
“UM. Yes please,” said me – the opposite of nonchalant. With that, we bid each other goodbye. I headed for my room and went back to sleep. When I regained consciousness at like 1pm (oops), I headed down to the front desk and forked over €10 for a shower towel. Fortunately, it was just a deposit – I got €8 back and headed off for a solo adventure on the town.
The adventure started with takeaway lunch from a Chinese restaurant. “I’ll take the spring rolls?”
“We’re out,” they said.
This adventure was off to a great start. “I’ll take the dumplings?”
“We’re out,” they said.
“We have gyoza,” I was informed. I went with that and a hearty scoop of cashew nut chicken over white rice. I brought my lunch into the underground with me and popped it open on a bench in central London. It was one of the most disappointing meals of my life probably. The meat was weird and chewy, the sauce, which was also weird, completely drowned the rice – and there was only one entire cashew in the entire box. Honestly, I was convinced they’d given me another dish by accident, until I found the cashew.
I must confess I didn’t have any solid sightseeing plans – so I resolved to just explore and see where I ended up. First stop: an abandoned Subway that had suffered a mysterious fire incident??!
There were lots of impressive buildings of this structure all over London. I never actually went inside any of them – just took pictures from afar and continued on my solo venture.
I happened upon an Armoury House completely by accident, as well as a castle-like old building with some very groovy lions. There were quite a few places that had some amazing figures and insignias attached to them – the key was looking up!
I stumbled upon the Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, one of the most celebrated historical burial grounds in England. The name Bunhill is supposedly derived from “Bonehill,” since rumor has it that this burial site was used for over one thousand years. By the time it was closed for business in 1854, about 123,000 people had been buried there.
Bunhill Fields is prominent for its Nonconformist connections, dating from the 18th and 19th centuries, and the burial of prominent people including William Blake, Daniel Defoe, John Bunyan, and Susannah Wesley. Bunhill was allegedly the largest and longest established of London’s eighteenth century “suburban graveyards.” Yeah, that’s right, “suburban graveyards…”
Just across the street from the suburban graveyard was Wesley’s Chapel, built by John Wesley in 1778, also home to the Museum of Methodism. Probably convenient for all those burials…
After all that seriousness, it was time for a little carefree touristic wandering. I still had absolutely no idea where I was going. But that was absolutely okay.
It seemed like school had just gotten out, judging by the schoolboys in Harry Potter-esque uniforms running all over the place. I also spotted a policeman. It made my heart happy.
It’s funny, I’m done with school now and probably forever (maybe), and sometimes I forget that school is still a thing, even if it’s not for me anymore. So weird.
A crosswalk sign had a compliment for me (see below).
Stacks of newspapers proudly proclaimed Kate’s “baby no 3.” This was apparently very big news.
I found the sign (below) plastered to the front of a doughnut shop absolutely charming.
I thought that maybe if I took a picture of a street sign, it would give me a clearer idea of where I was. I resolved to keep walking until I found the underground. This would’ve been a good idea if I’d headed deeper into the city, which was littered with metro stops. I didn’t do that. Instead, I discovered Ping-Pong bars and American-esque chains and an actual school – Royal Oak Court.
There were definitely no tourists in this part of town. If there were, they were very good at blending in. Where I was, wherever I was, felt like very organic London life.
As per usual, I was enchanted by street signage, boarded up shops, and mermaids.
A lot of these places were abandoned. I imagine that in summer the scene would be quite different. Schoolboys continued to flood the streets, however.
Now I’m pretty sure I had wandered my way into Shoreditch, the London neighborhood with the artsy reputation. For one thing – that column above was erected by a guy named Shoreditch (coincidence?!) For another – there was art literally everywhere. Majority of it was huge and visually intense, gleaming off the sides of buildings or sprayed onto walls, demanding attention.
Is that Oswald?!! I was absolutely obsessed with these circle-faced stick figure people, living their lives on not one but two different buildings.
Amongst all this art was a traditional Mexican restaurant with hilarious signs. I did not eat there (and will be regretting that decision probably forever).
I was pretty good about saving my money and not going into shops. I did, however, get drawn into one. I didn’t end up buying anything, but I fell in love with this tee shirt (it cost about €90 but the picture was free).
Speaking of shops, I found a men’s sports store with terrifying mannequins lined up in the window and an equally interesting mascot in the entrance. See for yourself!
As I wandered back towards the city, I was awestruck by all the art pieces of Shoreditch. Please enjoy some of my favorites below! 🙂
Finally, I found myself approaching the city once again. Skyscrapers carved into the clouds and businessmen streamed over the sidewalks. I was back. But downtown was not without its own touch of artistic presence.
I spotted my very first black (yes, you read right) black telephone box, a bright red Royal Mail van, and a building that I can only assume had something to do with the Queen (most things in England did, after all), with statues memorializing the officers who served in the Great War.
All of a sudden – I remembered that the tour bus receipt stub in my purse was also good for a river cruise. I pulled the little paper out and read that the last boat left the docks at 5:15pm. It was almost 5!!!! I dashed for the nearest underground and just made it.
The river cruise was so worth it. The guide was British, hilarious, and adorable. I got to see the London Eye up close. I learned about the Shard (that pointy cone in the middle) which, it turns out, is a 95-story skyscraper designed by an Italian architect. I found out where Daniel Radcliffe went to school (before Hogwarts). I saw the London Bridge opening, which our guide told us only happens about 1000x a year – which sounds like a lot, but really isn’t!
The trip was a one-way and ended at the Tower of London. We were strongly encouraged to cross the bridge and check out the other side on foot, and I did exactly that!
Traitor’s Gate (pictured above), reportedly a watery tomb where prisoners were thrown in the old days…and seemingly still fully functioning so you better watch out!
The familiar logo of everyone’s favorite coffee spot looms from beyond the medieval gate. “That’s what’s great about being from Seattle,” I would often joke to my international friends, “a piece of home wherever I go!”
A shot of an undoubtedly very expensive hotel hugging Tower Bridge. I just liked the aesthetic of the two birds who had decided to call it home.
And here we are at Tower Bridge. This thing was massive and majestic and crowded with tourists, commuters, bikers, dog walkers, even cars – all fighting for a way across the tremendous structure in the sky. The tour guide spoke about how traffic was before this bridge came to be – I shudder to think of it.
It had been a long day of aimless wandering and river cruising. I could tell because my legs were actually dying. On the plus side, this must mean that when I return to the United States, I will be the proud owner of two very strong and nicely toned legs (hopefully??!!) As I grabbed a late dinner and made my way back to St. Christopher’s, I happened upon two funny and very British signs. Hope you enjoy them as much as I did… Until next time!