Growing up in Canada, my earliest memory of England was the Thames television logo. The iconic tower bridge was what I associated with London. Though that said until 2006, I mistakenly believed Tower Bridge was in fact London Bridge. London Bridge is decidedly less beautiful. Regardless, I believed London was tower bridge, old pubs, and tea and obviously the Queen.It is but also so so so much more than that. Planning this first trip to Europe in 2006, I was surprise surprise more focused on Paris, leaving @benton8tor to do most of the planning for England.
We took an overnight flight and arrived in London the next afternoon. Ben’s cousin Claire met us at the airport as we were staying with her and her husband for the first few days. Claire is a teacher but if she ever tired of that she would have a very lucrative career as a tour guide. She not only knows London well, but has an in depth knowledge of its history, the same could be said for every place she took us in England. She was the perfect guide. The very first night she also planned the perfect introduction. We went to a pub that had been in some sort of services for at least 900 years ( I finally understood why Europeans do not think of the 1600s as old).
This pub was used as a stopping point for pilgrims on their way to Canterbury. You could see the old horse cart tracks in the outdoor patio. The pub was fabulous, though i must admit I still don’t get the appeal of dipping your chips in aioli. My word of warning…Don’t order large wines until you have had a least one night’s sleep.
The next day we detoured into the Suffolk countryside for tea, made it back to London for a whirlwind tour (The Tower, Monument, Buckingham Palace, St Pauls, Westminster, the Ritz, Picadilly, Trafalgar, ect….) Settling on Soho, we had dinner in London’s Chinatown, followed by lunch with Ben’s cousin Teresa at the Westminster Arms the next day.
https://www.westminsterarms.co.uk Westminster Arms is a pub close to Westminster, the seat of parliament. As a result the pub serves many of the staff including MPs. My favourite was the bell that rang to remind the MPs when it was time to go back and vote. We met Teresa for lunch and a bottle of champagne. Yes a bottle. The lunch was fun, like Teresa herself, I and also a little hazy. In fact all I remember at the end was thinking, ‘Oh no I am going to be drunk in Harrods’. And yes I was. The next day we were going to explore on our own.
Away we went, using the tube system and feeling like a pro, we thought we’d start with Covent Garden. I am sure Covent Garden is amazing but unfortunately the 2 times I tried to go there I haven’t been able to actually make it into to Covent Garden. I am absolutely terrified of pigeons.(I have learned to cope as my love of Europe outweighs the fear) and Covent Garden is full of pigeons. It is probably full of lots of other amazing things as well but I wouldn’t know. Pigeons didn’t fly away as you approached either like other birds so Covent Garden was a wash. On the plus side, we did discover Seven Dials, a shopping area close by but less crowded but quite amazing.
We then left for St Pauls, the Cathedral built by Sir Christopher Wren.https://www.stpauls.co.uk/history-collections/history It is indeed stunning. There are also tons of pigeons but we got inside (somehow) and it didn’t disappoint. After leaving, Ben wanted to take my picture in the garden which had, you guessed it pigeons. I seemed to be the only person whose pictures at St Paul’s look like I am under extreme duress. At this point Ben was thinking the trip was lost, but we decided to head for the Tower of London anyhow. Unfortunately the Tower was closed by the time we got there but even better, there it was Tower Bridge. That iconic first memory of London, and I was finally seeing it in person. For the first time, I truly truly felt like I was in Europe. The picture of me standing in the rain on Tower Bridge was the start of my love affair with Europe.
And like the pilgrims we finally did make it to Canterbury. The town itself, is bigger than I thought, quaint, quite beautiful
But its crowning glory is the Canterbury Cathedralhttps://www.canterbury-cathedral.org/.
The Cathedral, Head of the Anglican Church has a long history. Its catacombs are legendary and rather than doing a tour we arrived at the time the choir was practicing. That was a gift for which I am forever grateful. Often with churches such as Canterbury, it is easy to forget they are not just a tourist attraction but actually in use. The choir in that Cathedral sounded beautiful. Standing in one of side chapel and reading the names of bishops dating back farther than I could imagine, I was stunned. I was standing in the very place that saw the murder of Thomas Beckett (Murder in the Cathedral), was the main player in the Reformation, and so many other historical moments. I was a long way from Canada.
I have been back to London many times (7 to be exact) and it doesn’t disappoint, there is far more to do than Tower Bridge but that is for another blog. Though I would recommend going off the tourist path if you visit more than once. London was my first introduction to Europe and it started a travel lifestyle for me and for that I will be forever grateful, pigeons and all . Well maybe not the pigeons.