Country #42 - United Kingdom Day 1

The Favorite City

Today I flew from Huntsville to DC, DC to Raleigh, and Raleigh to London, United Kingdom! I had to fly to DC to pick up my second passport from the Afghanistan Embassy as I needed other visas in that passport for this trip. Yes, I have two passports! It is not hard to have two, honestly, as long as you explain your reasoning when applying. It is really helpful for me to have two passports because it means that I can be sending one off for visas while traveling with the other, or I can use one visa for countries that sometimes other countries don’t like for you to have in your passport (i.e. Israel).

I was fine with having to pick mine up, though, because it meant I was able to grab lunch with my good friend Martha! We met at GCDC, an awesome grilled cheese spot, and then walked across the street to see the White House. It was so nice to be able to see her! After a great, though short, visit I took the Metro back to Regan airport and headed to Raleigh. I love DC for a lot of reasons but the Metro is definitely one of them.

Once I got to Raleigh it wasn’t too long of a wait before boarding for London. I actually ended up lucking out and getting business class because I flew on an American Airlines family pass. It is always the luck of the draw (you might have read about me having to spend the night in the Rome airport) but sometimes, like today, it is amazing! I had a great meal with an ice cream sundae and even slept on the flight.

One of the best perks of the flight came afterward, though, because I was able to use fast track security and then take advantage of the American Airlines arrivals lounge in Heathrow which was so nice! I’ve never used an arrivals lounge before but it was pretty cool. You could take a shower if you wanted (I decided not to but kind of wish I had) and can have a great breakfast! I had made to order pancakes and fruit. The best part of the lounge was having a comfortable place to sit for a few hours because the flight landed at almost 6:00am meaning very little was open yet in London. After a relaxing morning, I headed to the Tube for the trip into London. I have taken this specific ride into London so many times now it would be impossible to count, but it makes Heathrow my favorite airport simply by having great Tube access.

All I have to say is it is so great to be back in my favorite city! There is so much about London that I absolutely love and I tried to do as many of my favorite things as possible in my one short day in town. When I arrived in the heart city I headed straight to one of my favorite places and my favorite museum in London - Tate Modern! Though the National Gallery in London is a very close second Tate Modern can’t be beat. I loved it when I studied abroad in London and was so excited for today to see the new expansion building that had opened since my last visit. It definitely exceeded my expectations, especially the new rooftop lookout spot.

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All of my favorite installations were as good as ever (my favorite is the tower of radios and my least favorite is the room of hair) and I really enjoyed the new exhibits as well. What was really helpful was being able to check in my small suitcase at the coat check at Tate as it saved me a ton of time! After gathering my bag and walking along the Bankside I made my way across the Harry Potter bridge (real name Millennium Bridge - it’s the one the Death Eaters destroy in the opening credits) to St. Paul’s. I wasn’t stopping for a visit (though I highly recommend it, it’s an amazing church) but actually taking the metro from there to my hotel. As this trip to London was very last minute I was unable to find a sponsor but I lucked out and found a cute little place to stay near Hyde Park (and actually near where I had lived in London) called 72QT. It was small but just what I needed. I was exhausted and accidentally fell asleep for an hour or two.

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I wasn’t stopping for a visit (though I highly recommend it, it’s an amazing church) but actually taking the metro from there to my hotel. As this trip to London was very last minute I was unable to find a sponsor but I lucked out and found a cute little place to stay near Hyde Park (and actually near where I had lived in London) called 72QT. It was small but just what I needed. I was exhausted and accidentally fell asleep for an hour or two.

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After a much-needed rest, I made my way to my favorite food spot in London, Mac Factory! Mac Factory is/was a food stall at Camden Lock Market (which you should definitely check out - it goes on forever and ever but the food stalls section is to die for). However, since my time in London they have actually opened a new restaurant literally across the street from where I went to school, University College London (UCL). It’s probably a good thing it wasn’t here or I would have eaten it every day! It is the best macaroni in the world and I don’t feel like that’s an exaggeration. I have had so much macaroni and Mac Factory’s is the best. It’s so cheesy and the breadcrumbs on top just make the meal.

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After dinner, I just started walking as I knew exactly where I was and where I wanted to go. That’s one of my favorite things about London now is how well I know my way around the city. I headed from UCL to Covent Garden. It’s a really enjoyable walk along London’s streets, even at night, as it takes you through some of the most idyllic parts of the city. I called my brother on the walk and before I knew it I was in Covent Garden. I know it’s a touristy area, and frankly, I just don’t care. I think it is a really cool spot and no matter the tourists I will always go back and I definitely recommend a visit if you have never been before. It is such an interesting mix of high street shops, cool architecture in the structure itself, and markets during the week. One of my favorite things, which wasn’t happening tonight, is when there is a violin or opera performance going on in the evening to enjoy whether eating or walking through.

After walking through for a bit I then made my way to Trafalgar Square. I love how easy it is to get around London - walking is often the easiest option but the Tube and excellent bus system are there when you need them. I walked through the infamous Trafalgar Square where I passed the (unfortunately closed) National Gallery and could see Big Ben all lit up at the end of the street. From Trafalgar Square I made my way to Picadilly Circus less because I wanted to see Picadilly Circus (it’s fine - kinda like a mini London version of Times Square but the screens were actually under construction when I was there) and more because I wanted to take a bus up Regent and Oxford streets back to my hotel.

This route was one of my favorites when I lived here because you can see the incredible buildings on these high streets and it goes exactly where I needed to go. Riding a real Transport for London (TfL) double-decker bus is something everyone should experience in London. I actually use them for transportation around the city and find them super easy and sometimes more convenient than the Tube. Also, always make sure you ride up top for the full experience! Truly it is amazing that they don’t crash into things because it always feels like you’re about to.

After returning back to my hotel I took a very refreshing shower and fell asleep instantly after such a long day. It was so great to be back in the city that exploded my love for travel and where I spent an amazing five months. I love London and the UK so much (if you can’t tell) and can’t wait to be back soon (hopefully for longer than one day)!

42 countries down, 155 to go.

Read about my second day in the United Kingdom here.