At the end of my European adventure through Contiki’s ‘Winter Wanderer‘ tour I had at most half a day to make my way through London before heading back to Heathrow Airport to make the 20+ hour journey home.
We arrived back to the hotel at around 6pm London time for what was the end of our tour. Driving all the way from Amsterdam, hopping on the ferry at Calais and making our way from Dover back to central London proved exhausting despite the opportunity to sleep on the bus all day. I think that after a month of non-stop travel and excitement, the combined lack of sleep and constant cold caught up with me, meaning that as soon as we arrived in the hotel I indulged in a hot bath, consumed a considerable about of the Milka chocolate I had bought, and watched several re-runs of How I Met Your Mother. During this time I considered why I don’t do such activities more often at home as it was a rather enjoyable evening, then making the obligatory call to my parents and heading to bed (not before trying to understand the city’s underground system through a tiny map on my phone).
The next morning was rise and shine, I walked to a local cafe and ate my croissant and hot chocolate while people watching through the window. After this I stopped by the closest underground station to purchase an all day ticket to ensure I could make it around the city and back to the airport later tonight. After 10am hit, I checked out of my hotel and dumped my luggage at the Contiki basement then made my way to Leicester Square. Popping up out of the underground station I was surprised that despite the freezing weather and overcast sky (classic London weather, really) the streets were packed with people. After a bit of a walk around I decided to take a hop-on-hop off bus tour, because what else do tourists do in London, to get the most out of my short time in the city.
The tour was long, but the guide was amazing, highlighting the important facts but filling the gaps with interesting stories that made me want to know more and more about London. Despite the spots of rain at one point, I sat on the top deck of the bus and did the whole city loop to make sure I didn’t miss anything. The architecture alone was enough to make me fall in love with the city and part of the reason I am determined to return (at a warmer time of year) to walk the streets and find hidden gems. Obviously I got to take in the big ticket items, Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, and Big Ben, which was far smaller than I was led to believe, before returning full circle to Leicester Square. By the time I got back I had enough time to grab lunch and head back to the Contiki basement to change into some long-haul travel appropriate clothes before catching the train to the airport.
On my way to the station for the second time that day, I was mistaken for a local (twice) and had some other Australian’s ask me for directions. They realised as soon as I opened my mouth that I would be of no help as the only nearby landmarks I could point out were the cafe with the good croissants and the hotel. However, as I was leaving I gave them my map and wished them luck. After a dreadful walk down to the subway platform filled with far to many stairs I was on my way home.
Like I had said, my time in London was brief, half a day at the most. But the unique charm of the city and the lure of better weather have ensure that London remains high on my list of places to see. The cheesy fries at Shake Shack are also a good incentive…
A video snapshot of my Winter Wanderer tour: here!