Day 17 (May 7th, 2011)
Itinerary: Pack for the flight to London, fly to London.
After a late night of bar-hopping in Dublin searching out traditional music players we were tired and like all good procrastinators packing in the morning sounded much better than packing last night. Since we’re traveling light we were able to shower, pack, and have a leisurely breakfast before our 11:30 flight from Dublin to London.
We dutifully arrived 90min early per airport recommendations using the Dublin City bus system, but it only took 9 minutes to get from the bus stop through checked luggage drop off and security. This is was a rather nice and painless airport travel. With the extra time we dropped off our receipts the VAT refunds and poked around in the airport stores on the way to our gate. Mark finally found a Nintendo 3DS to play around on. They have remarkably few demo models to play around with in Algeria. The demo system had no games of course, but we had fun taking pictures of the cute puppies on the Nintendo dogs poster using the 3D camera.
The Ryanair flight uses first-come first-served seating like Southwest used to, but our fellow passengers weren’t interested in queuing early like we used for Southwest. It was only about five to ten minutes before they opened the gate when we moved to stand in line and we were second and third in line. The flight was quick and the transit through London Gatwick was easy as flights from the Republic of Ireland don’t need to pass through passport control. There were three lines, UK/EU passports, non-UK/EU passports, and then hidden in the corner were the Irish flights which skipped passport control altogether. So no new stamp on our passports for this flight. After a quick train ride and a short walk we were back at the same hotel we used on the way to Ireland. It was rather relaxing to land in a new country and already know where your hotel is and how to easily get there. Almost like being at home again.
After a quick unpacking session we headed out for a late lunch in a nearby cafe. On the plane we only had a rather unhealthy, but tasty, lunch of gummi bears and cheesy Doritos. 😀 We found a nice little cafe to eat lunch at 4 in the afternoon. London is so different from small-town Ireland as we can pretty much find food at any time of day! It seems as if the locals dine here and we weren’t surrounded by tourists. We’ve been tourists for 2 weeks now and it’s time to mix with the locals for a while.
Our next stop was at the underground ticket station to get some 7-day passes. We are only here for 5 days, but there isn’t a 5 day pass. As it turns out, we might not have even needed 7-day passes because later we will walk almost everywhere instead of taking the tube. With no destination in mind, we boarding the District line headed towards the Thames River. Apparently the track was closed after the Embankment stop (we were going to continue to the Tower of London stop), so we ended up getting off at Embankment. We poked our heads above ground to find ourselves across the river from the London Eye.
We chose a direction to walk and just meandered about. Eventually we found ourselves in some sort of South Bank Festival. The festival held a mix of tourists and locals alike. Along the shore was a small sand beach, complete with children building sand castles. We also found a huge model of a fox built out of straw on top of a building. Lining the festival walk were several little huts each housing a different exhibit having to do with South Bank. One of the huts described several machines located at some other South Bank location probably on a boardwalk of some sort that were the old style coin-op types. For instance there was a coin-op machine with giant robot arms in oven mitts that would frisk you. Our favorite was the dog walking machine. You walk on a treadmill with a machine dog. In front of you was a video screen showing where you were walking and down below was one that showed what the dog was looking at.
Then, we found the giant purple cow. This giant purple cow, or the utter belly, was lying on her back, feet and utters in the air above the tree line. It is a tent with stage hosting various events over the course of the festival. We went ahead and purchased tickets to the Comedy Store improve show tonight. It will be very similar to Whose Line is it Anyway?
With 2 hours to kill before the show, we continued to wander aimlessly. We crossed the river again and found Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and several other nice looking buildings. For dinner we ate in the beer garden outside the utter belly and had some good Mediterranean style food. The Comedy Store act inside the giant purple cow was hilarious. If there was room, we might have been rolling on the floor laughing. The place seemed to be full of locals, too, so we felt satisfied we were staying off the tourist path.
We managed to walk all the walk back to our hotel, even though it wasn’t the most direct path. On the way, we saw that Trafalgar Square held a large countdown clock to the 2012 Olympics. We plan to be back for that. I was also surprised to see that our roundabout walk took us to Buckingham Palace. This is how I knew we weren’t taking the most direct route, but it was neat to see it lit at night. Unfortunately, I did not bring my camera gear and tripod with me tonight, so no good night photos for me. The grounds of the Palace have been stripped of all the flower beds I saw 2 weeks ago when I visited before the Royal Wedding! That is a little disappointing. In any case, from here I knew my way back without the map and soon we were back in the room staying up too late to try and catch up on blogging.
Maybe tomorrow we’ll figure out what we want to do in London. Or maybe we’ll just take another day off from vacation and be a local for a day again.