London is truly amazing.
Instead of landing in Heathrow I landed in Gatwick which was a good choice. Downtown London was a 30 minute train ride that whisked me through beautiful English countryside and through sleepy little towns. It probably took about 10 minutes before I saw any real signs of life other than a team of horses (had to look that term up). It looked pretty much as I always imagined rural England would look. Lots of green. Green leaves, green grass and green bushes punctuated with brown bricks and earthy brown tones.
Passing over the Thames was an odd thrill. Before this trip my travel has been confined to North America and a select few beaches in the Caribbean. Passing over the Thames really sunk in the fact that I really am on a different continent and one which has such a rich history.
I’ve basically spent the day in London just wandering around. Tomorrow I fly to Madrid and I am coming back to London in about a month so I figured I would leave the museums and other paid sights for when I come back. But honestly, without spending any money on attractions (unless you count breakfast as an attraction), this has so far been one of the best days of my life. Just wandering around aimlessly consistently leads you to amazing new sights. I stumbled upon St. James park overflowing with people proudly displaying the Union Jack. While I have no particular love for over-the-top patriotism nor for the monarchy, it was still an unforgettable sight.
After wandering around a little more I stumbled upon the Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey. I was not expecting to find either so visually stunning and I’m pretty sure I nearly got hit by a car while staring at the ornate architecture rather than looking at the road. I never bothered to walk down to Buckingham Palace largely because I figured it would be impossible to get to with the Jubilee going on. But I will be back.
The transportation infrastructure in London is really good. If the Top Gear presenters are at all accurate, the highways might always be gridlocked but the “tube” is just immensely bigger than Vancouver’s Skytrain system (the only system I can really compare it to). According to Wikipedia, London has 402 km of track, of which slightly less than half is underground. Vancouver has about 70 km of track. That doesn’t even tell the full story however as train stations litter London and serve similar purposes to the main metro lines. Vancouver does have the West Coast Express but comparatively that is tiny. After I visit a few more European cities I might write a post on how much easier it is to get around in Europe than in North America.
I’m excited to go to Madrid tomorrow. I think it will be a strong contrast to London (even if only due to the dramatic differences in weather). I think I am going to take a cue from what I have learnt here in London and spend a good chunk of the day just wandering. Also according to a book I just read that I think I will write about soon, Madrid has lots of great Latin American restaurants that are really cheap. Hopefully I stumble upon something good.
I am taking a lot more photos which I will probably post on Google+ at some point so google me if you would like to see more.