London was not in my travel plans for this year or even the coming years. My original plan was just to go to Iceland to lead a group of people on a yoga/sight-seeing retreat with my friend Eva, the owner of Heal and Soul Yoga Studios in LA. I had bought a cheap roundtrip ticket from LA to Reykjavik on WOW Air and about three weeks before the departure date the airline emailed to advise that my departing flight had been cancelled. I called them to see if I could change it to another date but they pretty much just asked me to take a full refund and fly with another airline. Tickets had gone up dramatically in price by December so I decided to use my AA miles and find other flights to any city in Europe where I could connect to Reykjavik. This is how London came into the plan. American was offering flights in January to London for only 22,000 miles. I ended up buying the connecting flight from London to Reykjavik on Easyjet.
Since I had to go through London, then I thought, why not spend a few days there.
London turned out to be more beautiful than I’d imagined. As far as the weather, visiting at the end of January can be a bit uncomfortable as it can get really windy, cold and rainy at any moment. On the bright side, there are far less tourists in the city during the winter months and hotel prices are very reasonable. You can find a nice budget clean hotel room for around 39 pounds in a good central location (like the City View Hotel). If you want to save even more money on accommodation there is always the option to stay in shared hotels or home-stays through airbnb or find a local offering a room for free through Couch-surfing. Both of these can provide great cultural exchange opportunities.
It is very easy and affordable to navigate through London using the Tube system. At the tube station nearest the Heathrow airport, I purchased the Oyster card which you can fill up with as much money as you want and refill as needed from your phone on the app. This is a great way to avoid the sometimes long lines to purchase a ticket every time you want to go somewhere.
Food can be expensive in Europe but if you are just focusing on the sight-seeing and spending your money on tickets to enter the famous landmarks and museums, then you can just find places to eat that are simple, healthy and cheap. Places like “Eat”, “Wasabi” and “Pret A Manger” are found all throughout the city and offer really great food for around 10 to 12 pounds per meal.
London is as beautiful at night as it is during the day. On my first night in the city I took a stroll in the freezing cold from the City View Hotel to the South Bank of the Thames. It was a huge effort to stay up until 10:00 pm as I was just beginning my long jet-lag recovery.
I had made plans to stay with a Londoner couch-surfer for the following four nights but Andrea wrote me on FB and asked me to cancel my couch-surfing plans and stay with her. I had met Andrea a couple of years back on Facebook while she was traveling around the world. A friend of ours had put us in contact as we were both on similar trips. I had kept in touch with Andrea and followed her on FB and on her blog. I remembered seeing a recent post from London but it had not crossed my mind that she could be living in the city. Luckily she saw one of my photos from my night stroll and contacted me on my fist morning. I ended up staying in her house for the next four nights. I was not only fortunate to keep my expenses in London low by staying with Andrea but I have also gained, what I hope to be, a new friend for life. She is not only a fantastic host but also a great cook! I got to experience some of her wonderful culinary creations everyday. She took such a great care of me, she even made me a lunch box when I went on a day trip to Stonehenge and Bath. Andrea is currently taking a long break from her world travels to obtain her second Master’s Degree in Child Development while working for a family as their “House Manager”. Her employer is kind enough to let her host friends in their beautiful Hampstead home. Lucky me!
Everyday while Andrea was hard at work, I took the tube into the city and did a lot of sight-seeing. I managed to cover most of the major highlights and had a great time walking around the city and practicing Photography.
I wanted to take a day trip to see some of the countryside of England so I opted for a guided tour of Stonehenge and Bath. I booked my tour with Premium Tours on Trip Advisor. The tour lasted a total of 11 hours and included the transportation of around 5 hours (London-Stonehenge, Stonehenge-Bath and Bath-London). Stonehenge turned out to be a very interesting place. It is located in the middle of the Salisbury grassy plain with not much around it. What makes Stonehenge so attractive to visitors is that it is made of very ancient stones that are believed to have been transported for 150 miles from the Preseli mountains in Wales. No one knows exactly what the structure’s purpose was but it was and still is commonly used for religious and spiritual ceremonies. The first parts of Stonehenge were built around 3100 BC and the complex continued to be expanded until 1500BC. The site and its surroundings were added to the UNESCO list of protected sites in 1986 and it is one of the most popular ancient wonders of the world. Usually tours to the area only provide about an hour in Stonehenge as they combine it with Bath and Windsor Castle. Because our tour only included Stonehenge and Bath, we were able to stay at the site for 90 minutes. I took my time getting different photos.
Bath was definitely the highlight of this day trip for me. A beautiful town known for its natural hot springs and 18th-century Georgian architecture style houses built with honey stone. Most buildings are of uniform height which makes the town aesthetically pleasing to the eye. It definitely caters to tourists offering many restaurant options including tea houses and tons of shopping. There are some beautiful parks and churches that you can visit, including the famous Bath Abbey. Bath is the only city in the UK designated as a UNESCO Heritage Site. The most visited place in town is the complex that contains the ruins of the Roman Baths. This was a very important complex where the Aquae Sulis people bathed and socialized during the Roman times, around 70AD. I would recommend adding the entry cost to your Bath Tour to avoid the long lines as tour groups have entry priority.
One of Andrea’s friends, Matt, whom she had met during her trip around the world joined us at the house for my last two nights there. Andrea took us on a walking tour of Hampstead and Camden. The rain did not stop us from having a great time exploring these beautiful suburbs. We ended the night at Wembley to try some authentic Indian food before going back to the house to enjoy some delicious PadThai made by our personal Chef Andrea.
London is now one of my favorite cities in the world. I loved its architecture, diversity, great food options, easy transportation system, and beautiful parks. And of course my friend Andrea made this visit even more special by being an awesome host and tour guide. I will definitely go back and explore more of London and the UK in the very near future. Thank you WOW Air for cancelling my flight and leading me to visit London sooner than I expected. Stay Calm and Go to London!