Cities / Towns Visited: 1
Countries Visited: 1
Steps Taken Today: 26,205
Steps Taken Around the World: 76,434
What can I say about my first hostel experience? It really wasn’t nearly as bad as I was expecting. After hearing and reading horror stories of other peoples experiences, I was tentative about our choice to elect two beds in a sixteen bed dorm for the first week of our trip. Our selection was based mainly on the fact that it was the only accommodation in the heart of London that was even remotely within our price range. When we were first shown through to our beds they had managed to put us on the bottom beds of 2 separate sets of bunks, a slight annoyance as when we booked we made a point of asking to be placed together on one set, mainly so we didn’t have to risk being woken up by restless or annoying bunk buddies. The lady was lovely though, and scurried off to try and fix the issue, and she managed to do just that. In the end we were put in, what is in my mind, prime position within the room. In the corner, away from any of the entrance or shower room doors, with our heads facing the corner, room at the head of the bunks to tuck our suitcases and bags away in the alcove (as they wouldn’t fit in the lockable cages below the beds), and with a heater running along the wall beside my bunk (although I will say it seems somewhat hazardous to have a heater hard up against something covered in flammable material). Also to our pleasant surprise, continental breakfast was included in our room price. See, booking so far in advance can have its advantages; we scored ourselves two beds with breakfast in the heart of Soho for AU$25 per person per night. All seems well so far, our roommates are all quiet, an keep to themselves, and no drunk shenanigans so far, so my sleep was really only interrupted by snoring (which I just countered by turning up the thunderstorms I was listening to on headphones), and my own highly confused body clock. I will leave my final judgement for the end of the week.
So I’ll be honest, this may be a lengthy blog. Today was action packed from start to finish, and what better place to begin than at the start. After rising early and strategically eating our way through all of the breakfast options, we stepped out into the crisp morning air, and trotted off to see the exterior of Buckingham Palace. Later in the year we have tickets to view the state rooms, as they are only open for a brief season in the summer, but for now we just wanted to see the outside; and what an outside it was. Walking down the road towards it, through St James Park, is quite an imposing view, with its grandeur and symmetry. Of course, once we looked at the park map and saw that the side entrance to the front area was through the Australia gate, we made a beeline through the park. Now unfortunately there was no scheduled changing of the guard today, but you could still view the Beefeaters standing stoically at their posts through the gate. In saying that, its a sad state of affairs that their rifles and bayonets are no longer sufficient protection in this day and age, so the picture perfect view through the front gate is marred by a barrier to prevent anyone ramming the gates with a vehicle, and the Beefeaters have a supporting cast of machine gun toting police officers. Setting security matters aside, it was another thing ticked off my bucket list.
Once we had sufficiently basked in enough royal residency glory, we moved on to our second stop for the day, Westminster Abbey. Buckingham palace may look imposing, but it pales in comparison to the grandeur and towering nature of the spires of the Abbey. Now, it is known to those who have met me, that I am not a religious person. Despite being baptised as a child, I am in fact an atheist. Not an angry one, I respect all of those who follow religions, provided they do so without imposing their beliefs onto others, and I can see the value in believing in a higher power, I simply do not. Setting this aside, the abbey still calls to me as a place to visit, with its stunning architecture, enthralling history, and countless influential and inspiring people interred within its walls. We wandered for a good two hours, listening to our audioguide run us through all of the stories that make the building the attraction it is. It was all beautiful, and seeing the humble looking throne on which almost every British monarch has been crowned for nigh on a millennia was quite something to behold. I must say, however, that my highlights would have to be the graves and memorials including: some of my favourite authors, like Oscar Wilde, Shakespeare, the Bronte sisters, and Jane Austin; scientific greats Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin; and of course generation after generation of the royal bloodline; I think it all just comes down to my deep fascination and love of cemeteries and the stories of the dead. In the end though, my favourite part was something I didn’t even know resided there, Britain’s oldest surviving wooden door, at almost 1000 years old. In a city that was brought to its knees less than 400 years ago by fire, destroying almost every wooden structure, it is incredible to see this unassuming door, that has seen such changes in history; so many comings and goings. To all those who venture to London, religious or not, I implore you to visit Westminster Abbey.
After a quick bite to eat, we continued our adventure, and in keeping with the royal theme for the day we continued on to the Royal Mews. Fun fact: they are called ‘mews’ as they were originally a place for the royal hawks to be kept when they were mewing (shedding their feathers and temporarily unable to hunt), and although there are no longer any birds of prey in residence, the name has stuck. I have always wagered that if I were to become eccentrically rich I would have myself a horse-drawn carriage with a dapper British coach driver in top hat and tails named Jonathan (mainly because its a great name to call out ‘Jonathan, bring me my hansome!’). Keeping this in mind, it was with great joy that I meandered through, audioguide at play, ogling the royal coaches with all of their gilding and pomp,and fantasizing of my unlikely future.
After our long day of grandeur, we settled on going out for a nice meal, and found a little restaurant, actually in a basement which used to be a former brothel, called Blacklock (a restaurant specialising in chops).We settled on their share plate so we could, funnily enough, share. We did snicker at the ingrained sexism of giving the cocktail to me, and the cider to Benny, despite the fact we had not specifically ordered a drink each, but aside from this the experience and food were top notch, and although pricey (as everything in London seemingly is), I would happily venture there again.
Our last, and personally my most highly anticipated event for the day, was a West End show we had promised ourselves as an early Anniversary gift (in keeping with our yearly tradition of seeing something at the theatre). Phantom of the Opera, an oldie but a goodie, and although it was one I have seen before I was excited to take Benny to see it for the first time. It was playing, coincidentally, at Her Majesty’s Theatre, its name the same as the theatre I originally saw it in years ago in Melbourne, despite being much older and smaller than its Australian cousin. The show was fantastic, just as spectacular, and grandiose as I remember, with entrancing vocals, breathtaking sets, and live orchestral music that reverberates through your very being.
Today was hectic, and jam packed with things to do, but despite going to bed exhausted, just as the music of the opera does, today reverberated though me, all the way to my soul. It was a perfect example of everything I have being dreaming of, planning and wishing for. The start of my life goal coming to fruition.