After a couple days in Barcelona, we hopped a flight and arrived at Heathrow airport, where we got a taste of good, British uprightness in the form of border control. The immigration officer, quite simply, didn't love the fact that we had no solid plans for leaving the UK. We assured him that we could support ourselves and weren't seeking jobs, and eventually he gave us the stamp of approval, but not before my nerves had been shaken. Lesson learned: next time I'll make sure to have more documentation on hand!
We grabbed our luggage and jumped on the tube for an hour-long ride to our digs in Islington, a neighborhood in the northeast part of the city near Kings Cross. Another Airbnb rental, it was a room in a beautiful, modern flat with an American couple that moved to London a year ago. They ended up being very cool, and on our last night there, we stayed up late chatting. Perhaps best of all - after two nights of bad sleep, plus the drag of traveling, and an hour time change - our bed may have been the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in.
On that theme, we kept it relatively local for our first night in London, exploring by foot to the south, west, and north of the neighborhood. We had a delicious dinner from a place called The Easton that does a modern take on traditional British fare. Here, we had our first run-in with our American accent not being understood - on trying to order Scotch Eggs, we managed to get instead a glass full of what they called "scratchings" and turned out to be homemade pork rinds.
To cap the night, we explored north to Camden Town, a funky, raucous part of the city known for its music scene.
Day 2 was our big London sightseeing day. Both Brendan and I feel that we, quite oddly, know very little about London, and we didn't exactly know what it was we wanted to see or do. Our hosts had made a couple recommendations that gave us a starting point, though. First - take buses instead of the tube. They are sometimes even faster than taking the tube, they often get you closer to your destination, and on the way you get to see the city. Second - they had mentioned the nearby neighborhood of Shoreditch as a place to find restaurants. So we downloaded their recommended app, CityMapper, and hopped on a bus to Shoreditch to find some breakfast.
We ended up loving this neighborhood - in some ways, it reminded us of Brooklyn. We had a nice breakfast at the Curious Yellow Kafe, and then found Brendan a barber shop (much needed since he had waited to have a guarantee of an English-speaking barber).
From there we walked all the way down to the Thames, spotting various landmark buildings along the way. We crossed London Bridge for a nice view down the river to Tower Bridge and the Tower of London (which Brendan was rather displeased to find isn't much of a tower).
On the other bank, we wandered through various markets and outdoor restaurant scenes until we found Shakespeare's Globe. We considered buying tickets for a play, but realized it would eat up the rest of our daylight, so opted instead to head on - across the Millennium Bridge, by St. Paul's Cathedral, and then to lunch at a pub.
After lunch, we hit one of the highlights that had stuck in my mind when looking at what to do in London - the British Museum. It is an awesome museum, along the lines of the Met, with an unbelievable Egyptian collection, including the Rosetta Stone. I didn't take any photos inside (I honestly can't remember if they weren't allowed, or if I just didn't want to be that person), but here are a couple from the exterior.
By this point we were, once again, pooped. We decided to try to find a place to watch the new Bond movie (what better place to watch it than in London!), but managed to end up in London's equivalent of Times Square - Leicester Square. Not really a place you (if you're like us) want to go to see a movie. So instead we hopped on a bus to explore more of the city.
We made it as far into the West End as South Kensington, where we turned around and headed for Westminster. The West End is very chichi compared to the eastern part we had explored in the morning, and seemed like a good area to be if your thing is high-end department stores.
In Westminster, we were pleasantly surprised to find that London has conveniently bunched several of its major tourist attractions into one tiny area. Big Ben is actually attached to the Parliament building. Turn around and there's Westminster Abbey. Walk toward the abbey and turn around again, and there's the London Eye peeking out behind Big Ben.
We wrapped up with dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant (after valiantly trying and failing to find a specific Indian restaurant with two dead phones and no more knowledge than its name and neighborhood), and headed home.
In the morning, we caught a train out of Kings Cross, making our journey from Arles to Edinburgh a train-plane-train sandwich. The train ride, though over 4 hours long, was so pleasant and civilized, I would absolutely recommend it. We watched the landscape change from London suburbs to the flat, green pastures of England, and then to the more rugged slopes of Scotland and glimpses of the deep blue ocean.
Complete that picture with wifi and an attendant who wheels around a cart with snacks and beverages - what a way to travel!