Y’all, I have so many wonderful things to tell you about my trip and so many race reports, I don’t even know where to begin! Actually, I do, because doing things out of chronological order gives me hives. I’m back from England and playing catch up on life, which I’m apparently terrible at. Oh well.
I landed at Heathrow Airport early Friday morning after a long flight where I did not sleep at all – I’m not the best at sleeping on long flights, but short ones are fine, for some reason. Anyway, I hit the ground running and hopped right on the Tube (subway) and headed straight to downtown London to meet my friend Lisa’s husband, who would be giving a tour of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office where he works. Now, Lisa and Graham had given me lots of helpful tips on how to get there and where I could store my luggage at the station. Obviously, I promptly forgot this and walked straight out of the station without stowing anything. I guess I looked lost, because a very nice man immediately asked me if he could help me find anything. When I told him where I was going, he was totally perplexed and had never heard of it, but still pulled it up on his phone and then proceeded to walk me across the street in the correct direction before sending me on my way. As we were walking, I realized I was now doomed to carry my backpack for the rest of the walk, but would have felt too awkward to turn around after he so kindly walked me in the right direction, so I accepted my fate. As luck would have it, the walk took me literally straight to Big Ben and past Westminster Abbey, the British Parliament, and then 10 Downing Street (where the Prime Minister lives).
I eventually found the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and headed in to meet Graham and go on the tour! The building is not open to the public, so I felt pretty cool getting to walk around and see it. It’s the equivalent of the U.S. State Department, and back in the day, it was where all of the different colonies were managed. They have excellent (and, by their own admission, hilarious) murals inside with a rather…rosy view of British history. For example, there’s one where America gets its freedom and then apparently becomes an ally of the UK with a parting handshake. If I remember correctly, it was more like a parting 5-year long war, but I guess that’s close enough. I couldn’t take any pictures inside for obvious reasons, but just know that it was cool.
After my tour, I headed out to wander the streets of London in search of all of the touristy things I could cram into half a day while I waited for Graham to get off of work. Fortunately, his office is right near many of the main sights, so I was able to see Big Ben and go into Westminster Abbey…which also doesn’t allow pictures.
Although the admission fee is 20 pounds (about $30, which seemed ridiculous), I reasoned that even when AJ and I come back one day, he will not care about going into a “church” and therefore this was my best shot (I checked with him about this when I got home and he confirmed that he has no interest in visiting any church, let alone one that costs $30). I have to say, it was kind of worth it. For one, nearly all of the British kings and queens are buried there, plus Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, C.S. Lewis, and more. They have erected these massive tombs and chapels to the kings and queens, so you’re kind of in a chapel within a giant church, if that makes sense. In true obnoxious American fashion, though, my favorite part was getting to walk on the black and white tiled aisle where William and Kate walked when they got married a few years ago. A picture of them is on the brochure that I was carrying around, and I literally got goosebumps when I realized I was standing on the spot they were standing on in the picture. Given that the British monarchy does not impact my life and/or tax dollars in any way aside from giving me something to ooh and aah over, I am pleased to declare myself staunchly in support of the Royal Family after this event.
Now, I should probably mention that it was raining the entire time I was walking around. I had attempted to prepare for this by bringing an umbrella with me, wearing a water-resistant jacket, making sure to use my backpack cover, and wearing boots instead of TOMS or some other footwear, and mostly, it worked out OK. I guess it’s true what they say about London weather, and I did get to see a lot of Union Jack umbrellas, which I thought was so far past kitsch as to actually be cool. I sort of regretted bringing an umbrella from home because it meant I had no viable reason to purchase one that featured the British flag.
As always, I didn’t let the rain deter me and kept up with my walking tour of the city. I walked over to the ferris wheel (but did not ride it because it cost the equivalent of about $40 US…LONDON, STAHP) and walked all over and down to Trafalgar Square and through the side streets over near the Thames.
Finally, I stopped into the Red Lion pub right across from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and 10 Downing Street. I was looking for an authentic British pub and wasn’t sure I’d get one so close to all the tourist sights, but as it turns out, every prime minister until very recently has been a regular in that place. I ended up talking to a Scottish guy who used to live in Maryland and actually played soccer in the town I lived in! Such a small world – I love experiences like that.
Eventually it was time to meet up with Graham and begin the walk/subway/tram/walk home. Seriously, the UK’s public transportation system is amazing. You don’t have to own a car to go basically anywhere, and everything runs on time. It’s amazing! We walked right past Buckingham Palace, which is not nearly as palace-y as I expected. Why did I think it was a castle?
It was about an hour door-to-door back to Lisa and Graham’s house, which is absolutely beautiful and has one of those amazing modern-yet-cozy interiors that you see in magazines but can never successfully duplicate in person. Lisa had thoughtfully hung flags for each of her international visitors – the United States, Italy, and the Czech Republic! I’m not sure I’ve ever been so enthusiastically welcomed, and it was wonderful to see her and meet everyone else! The excitement was palpable as we spent the next few hours laughing, eating, and getting ready for our very early morning – her 100th marathon was the next day!