We moved from Ireland last June, 2011. It was hard, especially because when I moved there, I held nothing back and worked hard to make it my home. Now that we’re settling into life in Spain and Gibraltar, I’m approaching our situation with the same mentality. It’s a waste of time worrying that you may eventually have to leave the friends you are making, because then it’s impossible to enjoy your experiences in the moment. Besides, when you leave a home, you can always go back to visit.
And that is exactly what I did last week! Matt had work to do in London, and since my new job gives me a lot of flexibility, I decided to tag along. I flew up to London with Matt last Tuesday, did a bit of sightseeing on Wednesday, and then hopped over to Dublin on Thursday to spend a few days visiting friends and my old stomping grounds. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. I’ll break up the trip into a couple of blog posts, sharing the sights of London I didn’t see the first time we went through, and the best first trip back to my initial European home.
We flew out of Gibraltar on Tuesday last week to London, leaving behind warm weather and sunny skies. The flight is only about 2 hours and 10 minutes, so we arrived in London around 4:30 in the afternoon. Our hotel was in the city with direct views to the Tower of London and an underground stop just meters away. Matt had to immediately get ready and head out for a dinner, so I prepared to go it alone for the evening. Prior to the trip, I’d only planned my activities for the following day, so I picked an underground stop that seemed close to the action, hopped on the tube, and hoped for the best. Well, luck was on my side, because I ended up on the Strand, one of the historical streets in London. Tourist fate led me to Trafalgar Square for a nighttime picture and I wandered around just enjoying the scenery. When my stomach finally started to rumble, I picked a Mexican restaurant called Lupita and enjoyed the best Mexican cuisine I’ve tasted since moving abroad. My burrito was reminiscent of Chipotle and was amazing! Eating alone never tasted so good. That was where my evening ended, though, because I had a full schedule of activities planned for the next day that I wanted to be fully rested for.
I awoke rather early the next day thanks to the one hour time difference. Since we were just across the street from the Tower of London, I made that my first stop. I bought my ticket, but before heading in I grabbed a sandwich from the shop next door and a cup of coffee. Simple things like this aren’t so easy to do in our neck of the woods; as a Subway and Panera Bread lover, I’ve noticed that sandwich shops are far and few between down here. I took my bag lunch and sat outside of the tower, watching the rest of the tourists go about their day. Around noon I made my way into the historic site and tagged along with the guided tour. Now, guided tours aren’t something that Matt and I regularly do. We much prefer to grab leaflets and a travel book, and lazily make our own way around an attraction. But the tour guide was so animated and informative that I just had to join up. He took us around for about 30 minutes telling of the famous executions and imprisonments that occured throughout history (Anne Boleyn), pointing out historic parts of the castle, and then led us into the old church to tell of it’s construction and the history behind it’s significance. According to our guide, every British royal has, at one time or another, worshipped in this church.
After the tour, I strolled through the tower, since almost every area is open to tourists who’ve paid entry. Between my tour and my wanderings, I learned quite a few things. The grounds were at one point used as a Royal Menagerie, housing exotic animals. The Royal Jewels are kept at the Tower of London. Torture at the Tower of London occured mainly in the 16th and 17th centuries, and though the numbers of those tortured were low, imprisonment and torture became the dominate idea of what the Tower was used for. Ravens are caged and kept at the Tower of London, because according to legend, the Kingdom of England will fall if the resident ravens are removed. Unfortunately, while I was there I read that they clip the ravens wings so that they cannot fly away. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of that, but then again, I’ve never been in favor of keeping a bird as a pet for this reason. And finally, one of the more entertaining parts of my tour was when I wandered into a recreation of Edward I’s bedchamber in St. Thomas’ Tower. A school group was touring the castle and the kids were much younger. A man dressed as a guard or knight was telling them stories in character. As a former teacher, the kids had me giggling because they were giving the knight such a hard time. Their questions were genuine, but kids can be so inadvertantly funny and he was doing his best to stay in character and entertain them.
After what felt like hours, I forced myself to leave, because I had much more exploring on my agenda. My next stop was Westminster Abbey, so I hopped on the tube and headed west. When Matt and I were in London last, we saw the outside of the famous church. On this trip, I decided I wanted to see the inside. I paid a whopping £16 and did another thing I don’t typically do on trips – I picked up my audio tour, included in the price. I am a bit of a germaphobe when it comes to audio tours; I’m convinced they don’t clean the audio wands and the thought of putting something to my ear that’s touched hundreds of others is scary. However, I had on my wool hat, so I held it on top and listened through the fabric. It was well-worth the step outside of my comfort zone, because the audio tour was fascinating. In different parts of the church there would be a number, which you punched into your audio guide to hear the history and facts.
I started out my tour just admiring the Gothic architecture. The church is so massive and intricate, much like the Notre Dame in Paris or the Duomo in Milan. The difference here was the ornate gold found in every corner and the endless tombs. I saw Queen Elizabeth I’s tomb, where she was buried on top of her half-sister, the Catholic Bloody Mary. She famously disliked Elizabeth and imprisoned her in the Tower of London for her Protestant ideals. As a writer, my favorite part of the church was Poet’s Corner, where Geoffrey Chaucer (Cantebury Tales) is buried. Shrines and plaques surround this area in memory of authors like William Blake, William Shakespeare, and my favorite, Lewis Carroll. In true tourist fashion, I walked down the aisle – inconspicuously of course – to get a feel for Kate Middleton’s long procession into royalty. And to finish off my visit, I did what I always do when I have the amazing opportunity to see these churches: I left a little donation, lit a candle, and said a prayer for my family and friends, both alive and deceased.
Next stop on my solo tour of London was Harrods, followed by dinner with a friend. My intentions were to just walk through and take it all in, but I ended up buying an assortment of chocolates in the confectionary section and I enjoyed them with a glass of champagne in the seafood hall. Dinner was at a Japanese restaurant off of Oxford Street with an Irish friend who splits her time between Dublin and London. Let’s just say that it was an eclectic occasion; we were joined late by her Bulgarian/contortionist/acrobat friend with a fierce attitude!
I fell into bed that evening with aching feet, but at a reasonable hour. My flight the next morning would put me on the tube at approximately 5:45 in the morning. This blogger hasn’t seen that time of the morning since she was teaching! Dublin was awaiting, and I was ready to visit my first European home for the first time since our move.
***Disclaimer: This post was meant to go up much earlier this week. Due to a nasty bout of the flu, I’ve been quarantined to bed with tissues, Advil, water, and television shows. Now that I’m starting to feel like myself again, happy February, and happy blogging!