London - Day 1
Hello there!! I know it's been ages since I have written anything here, so I will dive right in. I'm so excited to be writing again, and sharing about our fun trip!
Alright, so it was Valentines Day Weekend, and Nick and I decided back in November to take some time out of our busy lives for a nice city break. London is huge, so we actually thought a least a little bit about what were the things we wanted to do. I'll run through our days and chat about the experience! With a little help from Wikipedia, hopefully I can give you a great glimpse of this city!
We got an early Ryanair Flight to Gatwick, meant to land at 9:30. However, there a "delay" because of some "fog" so we didn't land until noon. It was fine though because the weather was brilliant and we still had plenty of time left in the day to enjoy the city. To get from Gatwick to the city, we took a Southern Line train instead of the Gatwick Express. This saved us a good chunk of pounds that could be spent elsewhere, and it was still a convenient option. There were only a few stops, The Gatwick Express train is around £33 for one adult return, whereas, using our Visitor Oyster Cards (more about that here) it was less than half of that.
We stayed at a Hub by Premier Inn in Westminster and it was PERFECT. The location was fabulous because we were right in the city, very close to St. James's Park, and Victoria train stations. The hotel itself was perfect for a city break. It was clean, comfortable, welcoming and perfect for travelling on a budget in a city that is notorious for being expensive.
Once we dropped out bags and checked in, we went to explore right away! First we walked up to Trafalgar Square. It was a short walk and I greatly enjoyed just strolling around. Westminster area was quite easy to navigate.
In the square is Nelson's Column. On top is this guy Nelson, who died in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The column is massive and glorious to look at on a sunny day. Fun fact, there also used to be a Nelson's Pillar on O'Connell Street in Dublin, but it was blown up during the troubles. I'll leave it to the reader to explore more about that.
The square is open and has a large fountain in the centre as well. It's also the location of the National Gallery. As you can see, it was so sunny! We were extremely lucky with the weather all weekend. Nick was clearly regretting his forgotten sunglasses.
We then made our way on our little walk to Buckingham Palace. I really wanted to see the palace since it's so famous. The palace is the residence of the Queen of England, and is a working facility for all things royal.
As you can see, it's big! We didn't know this at the time, but apparently you can go into the State Rooms inside to explore some treasures of the Queen during the summer times. If that's something you'd be interested in doing, click here. I think next time we go to London, it could be worth a look. Something else that's really neat is that there is a changing of the guard ceremony on most days there at the palace. The Changing of Guards weren't on when we were there. I found the palace to be a little impressive, but I was more interested in the statues across the way.
From this area, you could see the London Eye and the adjacent gardens. The people watching around here was also excellent! Nick and I just relaxed on the steps for a while an enjoyed the sunshine. The statue is actually a monument for Queen Victoria, aka the Victoria Memorial. It was unveiled in 1911, and contains figures that are meant to represent the greatness of Queen Victoria (feel free to click on the pictures to see them larger).
After roaming about, we made our way back to Trafalgar Square. The absolute number one thing I wanted to do on this trip was to explore the National Gallery. For those who don't know, I absolutely love art history. I minored in it at UNH and galleries are always my number one thing to do in any city I visit. Mind you, this gallery is massive and I knew that going into it. You could spend years and years inside trying to see everything. I picked a few works of art that are homed in the Gallery that I really wanted to see. It's free to explore, though a donation is suggested.
For those Caravaggio fanboys and fangirls out there, the National Gallery has a three of his pieces. My favourite of them was Boy bitten by a Lizard, 1595. The drama, the expression and play with light and shadow is so lovely to see in person.
Another one of the paintings I wanted to see was The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck, 1434. From the Northern Renaissance, this painting is quirky and had long been of interest by art scholars because of how mysterious it it. This article from Artstor gives a good summary about the Arnolfini Portrait.
Some other paintings I enjoyed seeing in person was Venus and Mars by Sandro Botticelli, 1485. It's such a playful painting that suggests love conquers all. How fitting for Valentine's Day huh? It was lovely to be able to admire it up close. I love the expressions on the little satyrs faces.
I think the painting I most wanted to see was Bacchus and Ariadne by Titian, 1520-3. This painting is more vibrant than I could have imagined. The blues are so gorgeous and the painting itself stands out beautifully from the rest in the room.
Overall the National Gallery has an incredible selection of art for all interests. I was particularly impressed with their collection of pre-renaissance paintings in the Byzantine style. They also had a great selection of more modern, important pieces such as some Van Gogh paintings. I think that this Gallery is something you could roam through every single time you visit London, yet see something new and brilliant each time. When we come again, we will definitely stop by the National Gallery once more, as well as the Portrait Gallery next door!
After visiting the National Gallery, we strolled back to the hotel, making sure to stop by Parliament, aka the Palace of Westminster. You can't miss it really. Big Ben is attached (though currently covered up under refurbishment so if you really want to see it, perhaps wait to visit) and the building is very big and old looking.
I didn't know this while we were there, but apparently UK citizens can take tours inside parliament! That is something that would be very interesting, and more information about that can be found here.
Speaking of Brexit...the protests going on are fierce and mighty, right outside the building. There were some "leave" protesters, and far more people from the "remain" camp. There were so many clever posters and coordinated fashions among all the people protesting.
Parliament is where The House of Commons and the House of Lords meet to govern the UK. The bones have been around for centuries, but it was largely constructed during the 1800s. It has many rooms and lobbies for several purposes, and has survived a large fire, as well as World War II.
Next to parliament is a large Oliver Cromwell statue, which earned a sneer from Nick of course. All around the building was hectic and very busy with people. I was really glad to walk down and see all the protests as Brexit is a very serious issue. To see people out and about expressing themselves so intensely was impactful for the both of us I think.
Our hotel was very close to Parliament, as well as Westminster Abbey. The church is equally as daunting and beautiful on the outside. We didn't have time this weekend to go in, but it was lovely to walk by it each day. For more information about touring Westminster Abbey, click here. It costs £20 online, £22 at the door. They also do late Wednesdays apparently, which I imagine would be so lovely and probably less crowded.
With a last glance at Westminster Abbey, we made our way back to the hotel to change and get ready for Valentine's Dinner.
We dined at Bill's Covent Garden Restaurant which was lovely! We hadn't a reservation, but they were happy to arrange a table for us and the service was perfect.
After the first day, I have my thoughts for next time!
- National Gallery (again)
- Portrait Gallery
- Westminster Abbey
These are the things I will do next time.
All in all it was a great first day in the city! Especially since it ended on a high note.
Stay tuned for the rest of my London posts throughout the week. I'm happy to finally have something written again after so long.
Thanks for reading!