If there is one thing that you should know about me is that I hate having to travel fast. I’m a lazy adventurer. People tell me their travel plans and it’s always two days here and then two days there. While that’s not a bad way to spend your vacation, I just enjoy being lazy and not feeling rushed. Traveling often becomes a lot cheaper too when you stay in a place longer. However, there often comes times when you land a 17-hour layover in the Gatwick airport (UK) and you have nothing better else to do but spend 7 of those hours exploring a new city.
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This is by no means a travel guide to London. Most of my first visits to a city include three hours of being lost. London was no different. I spent more than enough hours Googling what to do during this time before the flight, but no amount of planning could’ve helped me more than just a map. I’m so stubborn to try and grab one, let alone screenshot something from Google Maps off my phone. This led me to pass directly in front of the Buckingham Palace, my first intended destination, and continue miles and miles past.
I finally asked another tourist who I saw sporting that unique thing called a map. With her help, I learned I just needed to backtrack a few blocks for a short cut. Hallelujah! However, I didn’t take a picture of the actual map she held. So you can imagine my disappointment when thirty minutes later I still had not arrived at this palace, which you would think would be better marked. Instead, I found Hyde Park and couldn’t have asked for anything better. I’m a sucker for a lovely park. Lying on grass in a foreign country with no care in the world is what I live for. It’s the simple things, people.
I spent a good three hours here and would’ve spent more if I weren’t so hardheaded in seeing something the British are well-known for. My absolute favorite part (besides the nap on the lawn) was their rose garden. I was hesitant before because it was late August and didn’t know how many flowers would still be in bloom. But it didn’t disappoint. There’s a sculpture with a fish and boy in the middle of the gardens with benches all around. This is the moment where you take time to smell the roses. A random stranger next to me mentioned something about incense. That was my second hallelujah moment: a deep breath through my nose. I was practically back in church with these praises.
I finally brought myself to buckle down and pass in front of the Buckingham Palace. It didn’t really impress me to be completely honest. The gates weren’t open, and, because I got lost many times before, the changing of the guards had long happened. There’s no way in hell I could let my first trip to London end on such a negative note. I had to find another map to discover where Big Ben and the Parliament was. “Oh, the train station had free wi-fi,” I miraculously thought. The problem with the thought was I had no idea where the damn Victoria train station was.
When it would take a normal person 10 minutes to walk from the palace to the station, it took me 40 minutes. I wanted to desperately see these two icons before nightfall, but time was slowly slipping away. I finally rushed into the station and logged on as a random hotel guest. The connection ended up being weak. I refreshed my map app on my phone repeatedly in hopes directions to Big Ben would pop up. Nothing. But my screen kept focusing a little bit to the right of my blue dot. I knew the general direction to walk in. My second stupid thought of the day was, “Let’s do it.”
Thankfully all you have to do is basically follow Victoria Street going east. Eventually, you’re bound to run into some historic buildings. When I turned the corner off of Victoria, the long-awaited clock tower suddenly came into view. My third and final hallelujah came out of my mouth. This was it. The big reveal and it was definitely worth it. With every step I took, more and more of the historic clock tower and parliament revealed itself. It was a successful way to end the night. The architecture was stunning with the details. Everything I studied about in art history classes came to life. This was Britain.
I could go back to the airport now satisfied. Hopefully, I could get back in a reasonable time to catch some z’s and relax for a bit. Nope. It was now nighttime and silly me took an early left turn. I’m surprised my mom didn’t lose me more as a child. Another hour passed, and I finally emerged back by my destination. With the purchase of a ticket and the help of a friendly metro worker, I got to the train and finally got to relax.
7 hours was great in London especially when you have nothing else to do. I’m sure my sore feet would’ve enjoyed it a lot better if I had a map though. A week of vacation here would definitely work in the future. But I crave the tackiest of tours while I’m there: Harry Potter tour, Jack the Ripper ghost hunt, and an excursion to see where Downton Abbey was filmed.
What would you do if you had only an afternoon in London?