Stepping off the plane on my very first solo international adventure, I found myself in a very familiar looking place – London, England. The city seemed like a pretty logical place to start my love for international travel as, outside of Canada and a few Caribbean cruises, I hadn’t really been anywhere before. With a four week trip around ten European countries laid out before me, I started the trip out with a destination that is not unlike many cities I have visited countless times before. With a museum and metro pass in hand and nothing more than a short list of highlights to see, I was looking for the true spirit of adventure. As it turns out, even in a city that you have heard so much about there are even more surprises lurking in the shadows.
The First Adventure
With all of the excitement of being in the first European city on my first solo trip abroad, I dropped my bag off at the hotel and began walking. After a few blocks I reached the metro station and kept walking, hoping to explore the beautiful city on foot for the first part of the day. For anyone who has been to London, you can imagine what came next; I got lost. 20 minutes in a new city and I am already asking for directions to the nearest underground station, which was quite some distance away from where I thought I was at. Once I got my bearings, I realized that London is probably not the best city to try and explore on foot. From there onward there were no issues, and London was mine to explore.
Lesson from the Walk – Green Space Everywhere!
The one thing that I did notice while lost in the streets of London is that the entire city is covered with green spaces. It seemed as if every few blocks had a small park or green space for locals to gather, relax, and play. Then there are the big green spaces such as Regent’s Park, Hyde Park, and Kensington Gardens that sit right in the middle of the city and would require a whole day of exploring in their own right.
The perk about getting lost is that had I jumped on the subway right at the beginning, I probably would not have taken the time to notice this great feature of the city. Sometimes a nice stroll taking it all in is the best way to get a feel for a city, and walking past these beautiful parks and gorgeous hotels such as the hotel Earls Court and the famous Covent Garden hotels really showed me a side to London I was not planning on exploring. By comparison, the dark walls of the underground are not nearly as pretty.
Harrods Department Store
No visit to London is complete without doing a little shopping, and my first instinct was to head over to the world famous Harrods department store to get my shopping fill. It was at this point that I learned one valuable lesson: Harrods is not your conventional department store. If anything, Harrods should be equivalent to a standard department store that has been on steroids for the last few decades with no regard for those around it. Sure, there are the conventional clothing, jewelry, and grocery shopping departments, but this is where the similarities between traditional stores and Harrods ends. (Photo “Harrods” by Sokkk y)
The dozens of other departments at the store are those truly worth exploring. Want a mammoth tusk? Will only cost you about 2,000 Pounds in their archaeology section. Looking for a meteorite? A few more thousand Pounds on top of that. Looking for a new piano? They have a few dozen in their piano room. Mountain biking? Walls of all styles lined in their bike room. Since most of these big ticket items cost more than my entire trip budget, I had to settle for a cheap shot glass and got out quick before those ancient artifacts caught my eye.
If I ever become a millionaire, a shopping spree at Harrods will be on my list. But for now, a few hours exploring their odd departments was quite the highlight I did not expect to have while visiting.
Shakespeare’s Globe Theater
Prior to visiting Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, I was not convinced that the London Museum Pass was providing much of a value for what I was seeing. While the attractions that are included were a lot of fun to visit, many of the notable highlights of London, such as Westminster Abbey, were not free with the pass. But in order to get my moneys worth, I went to several attractions that were not on my original must see list just because I could. Shakespeare’s Globe Theater was one of these spots, and ended up being my favorite experience in the entire city.
The Globe Theater that is currently standing in London is not the original that Shakespeare worked in so many centuries ago. After the original burned down in 1614, the rebuilt Globe Theater only lasted another 30 years before being permanently closed. After three centuries of waiting, the rebuilt Globe Theater opened in 1997 just a few hundred feed down the road and has been delighting audiences ever since.
While I do not consider myself a Shakespeare fan in the slightest, I figured it would be doing myself a disservice to not visit one of the city’s biggest attractions; especially when it was free with the museum pass. After a short tour of the museum we were guided into the empty arena where we learned about the history of the performances and a little about the upcoming show that would be opening the following weekend. To our surprise, just as the tour guide was finishing the description of the show, a few actors filed out on stage and began rehearsing a scene in the upcoming show right before our eyes. As this is a regular occurrence in the theater during touring hours, our guide let us stay a bit longer and take it all in.
Sadly, I did not make it to opening night.
My first international trip abroad was quite the adventure between all corners of Western Europe. Starting my first solo experience abroad in London was a great choice as the city is quite similar to many cities I have visited at home. But in not having much to expect and letting the city take me where it pleased, I was rewarded with a few unexpected highlights that ended up being some of my top experiences of the entire trip. Looking back on it, I realize that these experiences led to the formation of my long-standing travel rule that I highly recommend for all travelers: go with the flow.
Looking to get out on a day trip from London? Check out our review of the Windsor, Salisbury, and Stonehenge tour here!