London England 2010

London proper was founded by the Romans in 100 A.D., built on top of the city that had previously been sacked and burned to the ground. Originally a prehistoric settlement from circa 4500 B.C., it has prospered for now 2000 years through various changes in ownership and tragedies.

The Arrival

Background: Iceland was spewing ash and interrupting Europe's flights, flights in the USA were highly expensive, and my projects deployment in New Jersey was pushed out a week. All these factors combined led me to find a $402 ticket from JFK to London for the upcoming weekend. My insanely close friend Stewart (of Auckland trip fame) was living and working in London at the time, and we arranged to get drunk and wander about the entire weekend.

I drove into JFK starting at 3:00am from southern New Jersey, and parked at the long-term parking. I checked in, and was into the Flagship lounge at JFK (my first time there) around 5 AM. I enjoyed the food for a while and then went to the plane for my business class seat to London (I used special upgrades given to me by American for that international leg). It was a very nice flight and I might even write it up someday but I only have like 4 pictures from it, if that.

I landed in London around 8:00pm local time and proceeded to customs. The exchange went exactly like this, and I swear this is true.
Customs Agent (CA) "Length of your visit?"
Me "2 days".
CA "Purpose?"
Me "Drinking".
He stops, laughs, the agent next to him laughs, the couple at the station next to me laughs.
CA, Incredulous and still laughing "All weekend?!".
Me "Apparently so".
Passport stamp applied, CA "Welcome to England".

London

Stewart met me at the tube station in Heathrow and we headed to the hotel he got me on Cromwell Road. It was a strange location, a check-in at front, get your key, shared shower/bathroom type location and leave your key when you exit the property. I was a little unaccustomed to such things.

We went to a pub a block away to discuss our plans for the weekend which apparently encompassed Stewart's goal of showing me what America lost by rebelling 200 years ago.

Day one would start at Vauxhall tube station. He headed off home, and I headed back to the room where I did not sleep...

Day One

So I get to Vauxhall a little before the requested time and explored around a bit. It is a very pretty, residential Victorian area of London. I was surprised to find a beautifully landscaped garden in such a populous city, especially after seeing a swingers club embedded in the train viaduct (strange people).
Stewart shows up and texts me, and I make my way back to the tube. We exchange greetings and he gives me a layout of the area, adding that Benedict Arnold is buried there.

We begin walking north across Vauxhall bridge and he says "turn around". And there it is... MI6 headquarters. It is an imposing structure, and of course I had to snap a couple of shots of the building, despite his worry about me taking pictures of it.
Next, we proceeded vaguely east along the Thames, past the Tate Britain museum, MI5, and to Westminster.
Then past 10 Downing and off to see the Queen and her guards. Stewart told me on 9/11 he took off work early and came by the palace. He found that tons of Americans had congregated around the grounds, and the Queen had ordered her band to go out to play the Star Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful. I kinda love that old gal.
We walked over to Trafalgar Square (it's actually a circle) and the portrait gallery. This is where we had lunch and discussed more Brit things.
After lunch, we went into old London, the original square mile. He brought me to the fire monument from the 1666 great fire of London. I decided to climb it. Oh my, that was... a mistake as the climb totally kicked my ass, although the view was pretty darn good.
Onward to the Tower of London, which was King Henry the VIII's big F.U. to the economic powerhouse of the free city of London, and of course Tower Bridge.

This is also where the most visible area of remaining Roman construction in the city.
It was time for the end of the day after kicking around the Tate Modern and the Globe theater and getting pretty drunk in the Old City in a place I don't even remember now. Plans were made for meeting at Oxford Circus the next morning and while navigating the underground, I jumped a barricade and fell down hard, very inebriated and did a helluva number on my knee.

Day Two

I did finally fall asleep that night after limping home. I woke and headed out to Oxford. Stewart was unusually on time and we went off to the storehouse of the British Empire gains for the last forever, the British Museum! At this point, I'd seen a lot of London attractions but had stopped at just a few. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see the British Museum, so we spent some time here.
one of these guys killed the other one
Next, we headed to Regent Street, the big fancy shopping place now dominated by American stores with British taxes included! I did not shop.

I did visit Hamleys Toys, a store older than the United States. They were celebrating their 250th anniversary - that's pretty cool.
Afterwards we went drinking again around Regent Street, St. James and then off to the Victory monument made of melted down Napoleonic cannons . Nearby is Speakers' Corner, where once a week, you have free speech, for about 4 hours. Open-air public speaking, discussion, and debate are allowed (as long as the police consider their speeches lawful), and over the years, Speakers' Corner saw orators like Karl Marx, George Orwell, and Vladimir Lenin. I find it hard to fathom that one can only speak freely for a few hours a week in a specific location.
I want this!
It was then basically the end of my trip, so Stewart and I parted ways and promised to meet up again, and I went back to the hotel to get ready to leave the next morning.

Departure

I woke up, got ready and my flight was so early that the tube was not running. So I took a cab which cost... 50 freaking pounds. That was a lotta money back then.

Anyway, I get checked in, and up to the newly opened (I mean like 2 days before) Flagship lounge to wind down and a pop back across to NYC and work that day.

Summary

London has so much to do, and just never really stops. Soho is going all night, Chelsea, Mayfair and St. James are fancy. Everywhere is history and you never feel like anything would ruffle a feather by daring to be out of place or dangerous to you.

Tips: It's expensive. Everything. Save for it. Staying out in zone 6 on the public transport system is much cheaper. Buses are free to any zone if you have a travel card, but the Tube is by zone. Take a bus to zone 4 and use a zone 4 tube card then.