In 2014 I had a quick business trip to London and did some touristing. Here are a few highlights beyond the usual sights, from an email I sent to a friend who was visiting a few weeks after me:
Fat Tire Bike Tour – highly recommended. You end up hitting a ton of sites in a few hours and then you can decide which of those merit a return visit.
Camden Town — it’s a busy chaotic market that goes on forever. You can get lost in there. I liked it in a small dose and then went back to quieter locations. Be sure to go to the real Camden Market and not the rip-off one closest to the subway stop.
There’s an LDS Visitors Center near Hyde Park that was fun to visit — a bunch of BYU Study Abroad students were there while their normal building is being renovated. https://www.lds.org/locations/hyde-park-chapel — it’s in a cool location by many of the Embassies and the science museum.
One other place that was fun for a quick evening visit was Piccadilly Circus — kind of a Times Square vibe (with many of the same stores, including the M&Ms Store). It’s packed with tourists and I only stayed for a few minutes, but it was cool to see once. That and Trafalgar Square are good for street performers.
If you’re a Shakespeare fan, it was fun to see the Globe Theatre replica. You can also see a First Folio in the British Library.
If you like Harry Potter, King’s Cross station has Platform 9 3/4 where you can pay big bucks to take a photo. I just took photos of people taking photos.
You can also hit 221B Baker Street if you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan.
I highly recommend Rick Steves London tour book — I had a couple of other books and his was by far the most useful. If you like his style (more opinionated than the usual “here’s everything you can possibly do” books) you might want to download his free podcasts with walking tours and museum tours. I listened to his British Library tour (30 minutes) while I was there and enjoyed it, although some of his jokes are painful. He has an iPhone app, but it’s poorly designed and probably works better as a podcast.
St. Paul’s Cathedral, London
It is an offence to damage this sign – The Royal Parks
Katharina Fritsch’s “Hahn/Cock”, an ultramarine cockerel meant to symbolize male-dominated Britain. Trafalgar Square
Jellicoe Fountain in Trafalgar Square
at Buckingham Palace
by Jacob Epstein
The use of shampoo and gel is prohibited in this area
Any article attached to these railings will be removed
Park bench dedication
Outside Hyde Park
Home of Sherlock Holmes
City of Westminster
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Graffiti near Abbey Road Studios.
Fun combined mutual activity last night – each class built a boat out of only cardboard, caulk, tape, and some paint. Each vessel had to hold at least one person. The Beehive Ark (marked “Made by Beehives” in quiet protest of the other boats that had more outside help) lasted quite a bit longer than anyone expected and it took 2nd place among the young women.
Guy approaching me on the street with a ragged bouquet of flowers: “Hey, buy some flowers for your wife?”
Me: “No, thanks. She’s 3,000 miles away.”
Guy: “That’s cool – I just pulled these out of a dumpster.”
That was 10 years ago in Seattle. I talked to him for a while and he told me he used to be able to make a decent living as a street performer, but no one carries cash anymore, just cards. The florists usually destroy the flowers before dumping them, but sometimes he could salvage a few.
He’s just one of the Seattle characters I remember from my three months there in 2005. I had just left the soon-to-be-bankrupt Delta Air Lines and started work for a little software company in Pioneer Square, Seattle. I was going to be their first remote (non-Sales) employee, so they had me come out for three months of training to play it safe.
I flew home to Atlanta every other weekend to see my family. It’s one of those things we look back on and can’t believe we had the energy for it. But it set me up for an alternating dream-nightmare (usually dream) job for the past 10 years and I now only remember the fun parts of my 90 days in a strange land.
The company put me up in a cheap furnished apartment in Belltown, about a mile from the office. It was called Marvin Gardens, after the Monopoly square, and it has since been replaced by high-rise apartments. It was across the street from what the locals called “Crack Park” due to its history of drug deals. They were trying to turn it into a dog park. I met many of my neighbors when the fire alarm went off at 3am. They were interesting folks, but I guess we all are at that hour.
Buses were free in the downtown area, but I preferred to walk the mile to and from work. I rotated through a different avenue each day and got to the point where I could time my pace to catch nearly every Walk signal at the crosswalks. I got to know some of the regulars on the streets: The Guy Who Yells At Traffic Lights, The Guy Who Yells At Trash Cans (my wife met him when she visited), and The Guy Who Yelled At Me, “Why. . .are you . . . so . . . BAAAAALD?!”
I survived on canned soup and yogurt from Rite Aid and Ralph’s, went to a couple of Seattle Symphony performances, saw Flight of the Conchords in concert, and visited every possible tourist spot at least twice.
I tipped a whole lot of street performers:
Accordion and guitar
Ragtime in Pike Place area, Seattle
Drummer by Macy’s
Singing some Bob Dylan
Jake and Annie – Slim Pickens
Johnny Hahn would like to impeach Bush through his lyrics
Joe Fulton of the Ballard Ave Jug Buskers
Bro. Willie and the Market Crew in front of Starbucks
One of the fun people hanging out at Pike Place Market
Street magician at Pike and Pine
Singing some Neil Young
Father and son street musicians
Weird puppet show at Seattle Center
Serious balloon hat at Pike Place Market
The Cat Whisperer’s Advice
Seatlle street performer on accordion
Street dancer near the mall in Seattle
The Seattle library was a frequent stop, mostly to get classical music cds from their huge collection.
I hosted a co-worker from India for a weekend in Seattle and took him to Specialty’s Cafe for [seriously the most amazing] cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate, The Daily Dozen for powdered donuts, Grand Central Bakery for pastries, the Seattle Center for beignets, and Le Panier for an authentic pain au chocolat. I didn’t realize the theme until he remarked, “You really like sugar bread, don’t you?”
Mae Phim Thai was a little restaurant not far from the office and we ate there at least 50% of the time for lunch. Their cashew nut chicken is pretty much the best thing ever. The servers got to know me as the guy who always ordered “zero stars” (no hot spice). Even zero stars got my armpits tingling, but it was a good hurt.
I knew it was time to head home when the Christmas decorations started going up on the buildings and I quit being able to see the Space Needle through the rain and fog.
Seattleites are sensitive and defensive about their weather. If you complain about it, they’re likely to express gratitude that it keeps people (implied: people like you) away. I was there as more than a tourist but less than a local. I like the place. Better than Portland, anyway. 😉