Honestly, 3 weeks in London. What an amazing experience. Trying to sum it up really is a challenge! I will try to hit the high points and avoid being a bore (sort of my hope for this blog in general).
The first point that comes to mind is to explain how we were able to stay in London (notorious for being expensive) for three weeks. We think we have hit the travel jack pot. We are house and pet sitting for the winter. We secured a spot at a wonderful four story Georgian terraced (attached) home in the East End neighbourhood of Mile End. We had two adorable cats to take care of and to keep us company.
This was the second time we had done a house sitting gig through the trustedhousesitters.com website where we show up at strangers’ homes and move in and they leave their homes and animals in our care. It worked very well in Canada, and this experience was fabulous, as well. In addition to the obvious financial advantage (free accommodations), we had the comfort of living in a home in a residential neighbourhood with the company of animals. We had a completely different experience than what would have been possible staying in a hotel or B&B.
Mile End is technically two miles from the City of London. The East End has, historically, been an impoverished area (close to Mile End is the neighbourhood of Poplar, made famous in the BBC drama, Call the Midwife based on Jennifer Worth’s memoirs). Things have changed a great deal since those days. The East End we encountered was an amazing mix of high end homes, a diverse population (quite shocking to this prairie girl – loved it!), and easy access to parks, markets, shops, and pubs.
Not only was our house sit in a very interesting area of the city, that we might never have seen otherwise, but it was only a few blocks from the tube station. We were easily and affordably able to reach any other area of London that we wanted to see.
Once we (and by we, I mostly mean Karen) figured out the routes and timetables for the underground, we were set!
And see things we did! Do a quick Google search for Free and Cheap in London and you will almost immediately see mention of the city’s museums and galleries. London has done a great thing by opening the doors to so many of these venues to the public completely free of charge. Residents and visitors alike are welcome to soak in the history, art, culture, science, and gift shops (come on, who doesn’t like a good gift shop?) at so many galleries and museums, we didn’t have a hope of getting to them all in our time. There are several that easily require two or three days in order to see everything. We did our best, we saw a lot, we were overwhelmed.
The Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew was one attraction that had long been on my must-see list for London. It was the only attraction for which we paid admission, and it was totally worth it! If I could, I would return a few times every season.
There are some things that pictures can’t capture. There was the experience of walking around Covent Garden for people watching, checking out the weird and wonderful buskers, and browsing in the shops. We enjoyed the fantastic city views from the Sky Gardens (another highly recommended freebie experience, by the way). We marveled at the London drivers at their very best: weaving in and around parked cars and politely waving on on-coming traffic as they passed on narrow streets. I loved hearing the assortment of accents (from around London, the UK, and the world). All of this while feeling completely safe and secure at all times in such a huge and bustling city (well, there are still times when forgetting which way to look first makes crossing the street a bit more dangerous than it should be).
London was incredible and we were very fortunate to be there for so long. Rather than the normal break-neck pace of touring, we were given the luxury of having time to simply walk around our borrowed neighbourhood, enjoy relaxing mornings playing with the cats, and plan our next outing at our leisure.
If I had had my stuff together and had this blog up and running before I left home, I would have been posting the whole time we were in London. I guess you are all the fortunate benefactors of my procrastinating ways and my general dislike of technology. Imagine how much more I’d have gone on and on and on…