England 2012: Day 1-Exploring!

I arrived in London very late, it was past midnight local time which made it even later to me due to time change differences. I took a bus from Stansted Airport into the city, stopping at Liverpool station. That was so disorienting – arriving in a bustling city, after midnight, on a Friday evening. To make matters worse, my phone wasn’t working properly and my brother was late. But we sorted it out and all worked out in the end.

London Stansted

The next day, we set out early in search of tickets to see a musical in the West End. The plan was to purchase half price day of tickets to a production. I met up with a friend from home who is now living in London. There wasn’t anything interesting to watch that day, but we ended up buying tickets for the Phantom of the Opera later that week.

Because the ticket offices were just on the outskirts of Chinatown, we decided to explore that area first. The Chinatown in London is fairly small for a city of its size. Its about 3-4 streets filled with Chinese restaurants and supermarkets. Much smaller than the Chinatown in Vancouver, but it still had all the necessary things, complete with a Chinatown gate:


My first meal in London was of course, Chinese food! You have no idea how excited I was for this meal. It was cold and a bit rainy so I order some noodle soup with fish balls and beef brisket from a Hong Kong Style Cafe.


That meal was so worth it! It was everything that I remembered it was like (and now that I’m writing this a month later, I’m salivating thinking about how good that bowl of noodles was). I hadn’t had any Chinese food like that in so long. Too good!

Fed and satisfied, we headed back out into the rain and made our way to Buckingham Palace via Piccadilly Circus. To be honest, Piccadilly Circus wasn’t all that impressive., there was no focal point. It was a small circle in the middle of these buildings. Maybe it was because I had just arrived, but I had problems focusing on just one thing. There were so many people and so many things to look at, yet none of it was very impressive.

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Then it was off to Buckingham Palace. We took a wrong turn going there and instead of walking up to it straight on, we came from behind the building. I didn’t even know we were there until it was literally right in front of me. This palace is the official London residence and workplace of the British monarch. The main part of the building was built in 1705, with updates to the building in the 19th century. The last major renovations were made in the 20th century with the addition of the balcony where the Royal Family traditionally greet the crowds outside the palace.

The palace in general isn’t all that impressive (to me). There are definitely nicer looking palaces and castles in Europe. But the whole time I was there, I was imagining Kate Middleton and Prince William on the balcony waving to the crowds after their wedding. It was so surreal that I was actually there.



We continued our wander to Westminster Abbey and Parliament area. As we were walking, it just started pouring and pouring. Thankfully I was smart and brought along my umbrella, but my feet were getting soaked.

From a distance, you can see Big Ben looming over the horizon. The tower itself is called the Clock Tower, but it will be renamed to the Elizabeth Tower in honour of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee this year. Big Ben is the nickname given to the bell at the top of the tower, but most people use the name to refer to the whole tower itself. The clock tower holds the largest four-faced chiming clock in the world and is the third-tallest free-standing clock tower. I was really looking forward to seeing this English landmark. I don’t think I truly believed I was in London until I saw the tower.


Next up was Trafalgar Square which was, what looked like, a short distance away, walking. But really, it was quite the distance. This area was formerly known as Charing Cross (yay! hurray for Harry Potter references). In the center of the square is Nelson’s Column which was built to commemorate Admiral Horatio Nelson who died at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Surrounding the square  is the National Gallery (which I visit later) and the St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church (which I also visit later). The Olympic clock is also located here. You can see it ticking away below. The day that I was there, marked 90 days before the opening ceremonies.


It was cold and my feet were wet. My brother was exhausted and went home for a nap while my friend and I headed to the famous Harrods. Currently, the department store is owned by a Qatari which I found pretty interesting (SELTI has some operations in Qatar). Other than knowing that this was a big department store, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

I found the whole experience to be rather disorienting. The ceilings are very low and there isn’t much open space. There were so many people too! It was hard just getting around the building. There are so many floors filled with merchandise – anything you can think of: shoes, clothing, accessories, pet area, and kids section. Of course, my favourite area was the food stalls located on the bottom of the building. There were so many delicious treats and savoury items available for sale. It was difficult to not pull out my wallet and buy the whole store.


 L: Some of the food options available; R: So many people!


 Harrods from the outside

After a bit of shopping (whee!), we met up with my brother for a dinner of fish and chips. How could a visit to London be complete without a meal of fish and chips? i don’t remember the exactly restaurant we went to, but it was right by the Waterloo tube station.  To be honest, it was okay – not the best that I’ve had. The fish was very tender, and very flaky, but lacked any flavour. The chips were really bad, too much starch. I’ve had better fish and chips in Victoria, BC.


By the end of the day I was utterly exhausted from walking and walking. Despite things looking close together on the map, in reality, things are fairly spread out. Not to mention the massive downpour we were caught in. My shoes were soaked – not fun at all.

It looks like Europe, it feels like Europe, but its not the Europe I know. Its like stepping back into life in Vancouver – very materialistic, very fast paced, but with way more people,  and they all speak with funny accents.