london day 9

Our last day in London wasn’t a full day, but almost.  We started out with breakfast on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral.  We bought a variety of (terribly unhealthy and un-vegan) breakfast pastries (four mini jam-filled donuts to share, a lemon filled muffin and croissant for me, and a cinnamon roll for Danny) at M & S Simply Food across the street from St. Paul’s and ate them on the front steps.  We were the only ones there at that early hour of the morning, and we didn’t even have to fight off any pigeons…you could say it was a major success.

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After breakfast we went inside and did some of the audio guide tour and wandered around the cathedral for an hour before our 10am guided tour.  Our guided tour took a little over an hour and a half and one of the perks was that we were able to snap a few photos, while most visitors are not allowed to do so.  The inside of St. Paul’s is much different from Westminster Abbey, which is probably London’s most famous church, and although I’m sure a list a mile long could be made with the differences between the two, the one that I noticed the most is the lighting.  St. Paul’s is flooded with light and it’s (primarily) white walls/ceilings/etc. really help as well.  Our tour also took us to see a staircase that was used in the Harry Potter movies, which means very little to me, but was interesting for Danny (and basically everyone else on our tour).

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After the guided tour, we took the stairs up to the gallery and the two upper levels of the dome.  It was a hazy day in London, but if you look hard, you can see some of the most well-known landmarks of London’s skyline, in particular the Tate Modern, the Millennium Bridge, the Shard, and the London Eye.

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When we finished up at St. Paul’s, it was much more crowded than when we arrived.  One thing that I realized on our trip was the huge benefits of going early or going late to popular attractions.  I just find places much more enjoyable when there aren’t throngs of people all over, and St. Paul’s was no exception.

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Since our breakfast was so successful (both tasty and inexpensive), we went back to M & S Simply Food for lunch and carried our goodies across the Thames on the Millennium Bridge to eat outside the Tate Modern.  It was a busy area with lots of pigeons vying for our crumbs and people for our seats, but fun too – lots of street performers and interesting people to watch and entertain us while we ate.

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After lunch we walked along the Thames one last time to get back to our room and snuck in one last look at the London Eye as well.  We packed our bags, which took longer than anticipated, and chatted with Irene, our host, for a bit before we headed out.  I mailed a few postcards, and we took the tube from Waterloo to King’s Cross, where we transferred to St. Pancras and waited for the Eurostar to Paris.

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I think my expectations for the Eurostar were a bit high.  I mean, our first disappointment came as we waited for the train and there was only one restaurant for the entire Eurostar waiting area.  Plus, the train just seemed to have seen better days, the food onboard was sub par (and expensive) and we never really knew what was going on – communication between staff and passengers was nonexistent.  We boarded the train at 5:15pm and in less than an hour, we were in France.  It was obvious, not because we could tell we had just come out from underneath the English Channel (we couldn’t), but because it just looked different.  It was beautiful – the sky was a pretty shade of light pink and the countryside was charming.  The train was going so fast, though, that taking (decent) pictures was impossible.  We shared a mushroom risotto and fruit couscous onboard, but mostly we looked out the window and read magazines and newspapers.

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DSC09942Two hours after we left London, we were in Paris.  The Eurostar may not have ‘wowed’ us, but all we really needed was a way to get from one place to another, and it certainly did that.  We waited in line for a taxi for about an hour, and eventually made it to our next humble abode and met Etienne, whose apartment we’d be staying at for the next five nights.  He showed us around, we unpacked a little, put some laundry in the washer, and went to bed.  Unfortunately, the washer woke us up repeatedly throughout the night with its bizarre alarm feature and ended up breaking completely…but that’s a story for another time.

DSC09949All things considered, day 9 was pretty good.  We saw one of London’s most famous churches, walked along the Thames, and ate our first reasonably priced breakfast and lunch.  Packing up and traveling to Paris was not my favorite – anytime I’m hauling a suitcase up stairs (oh wait, Danny did that, not me) and on a subway and through throngs of people more skilled at packing light than me, I’m stressed.  But we made it to Paris without too many complications and once we got to our apartment and found that it was just as the pictures had portrayed it, it was worth it.  Seeing some neat things plus traveling to another country and not running into much trouble…I’d say it was a successful day.

Check out day 1, day 2, day 3, day 4, day 5, day 6, day 7, and day 8 of our time in London, too.

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london day 5

After seeing how tired we were on Saturday night, we decided to take it easy on Sunday…although now that I look back on what we did, it seems that we stayed just as busy as usual!  We slept in…or tried to, and researched a place for breakfast.  We wanted to break out of the ‘toast and a banana’ routine for breakfast, so we went to Giraffe, the place we had those tasty desserts on day 3.  We were happy to find that they had a vegetarian English breakfast, complete with toast, baked beans, mushrooms, vegetarian sausage, potato wedges, and avocado slices.    Hands down, the best breakfast of our trip.

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After our delicious (and hearty!) breakfast, we walked along the Thames to the City Cruises dock at the London Eye.  We took the boat all the way to the Tower of London, where we stopped to pick up and drop off some folks, and onto Greenwich.  My Aunt Becky had recommended Greenwich to us, plus I was looking for any way to stay on a boat for as long as possible, so we decided to give Greenwich a try.   We’re so glad we did.  On the way there, it was kind of like a boat tour of everything we’d done the day before, which was fun…

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DSC09416We arrived in Greenwich about an hour after leaving the London Eye, and we started out by wandering around a little bit – we saw the Cutty Sark (only from the outside), some cute Greenwich streets, and (accidentally) found the Greenwich Market.  I got lasagna and Danny got stuffed eggplant from a lady who makes and sells fancy (and delicious!) vegan food from her booth at the market.  We also came across some amazing looking desserts and lo and behold, they were ALL vegan.  I died.  We both got a slice of Victoria sponge cake and a treat for later – a peanut butter cupcake for me and a brownie for Danny.

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As we ate our dessert, we walked around the Old Royal Naval College.  We also took a tour of the Painted Hall, which was amazing – the ceiling alone took 19 years to paint.  We also checked out the chapel across the way, which was neat, but not quite as show-stopping as the Great Hall.

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We went back to the market real quick because I decided I wanted to buy a few scarves I had seen while wandering around earlier, and then we ran (literally) back to the boat so we could catch the 3:00pm boat back to the London Eye.  This time, we rode on the top of the boat (on the way there we sat on the inside and only went outside when the boat stopped at the Tower of London), as it was much less crowded, and it seemed warmer as well.

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We hurried back from Greenwich because in the morning we bought two tickets for the London Eye – one to be used before 4:30pm, and one to be used between 4:30pm and closing.  We got on the Eye a little after 4pm, and spent the next thirty minutes oohing and aahing at London from the sky.  The London Eye is expensive, but in my mind, it’s worth it.  Especially the way we did it – two rides is only five pounds more than a single ride.  And, I just realized that 90% of my London Eye pictures are of Big Ben/Houses of Parliament.  Oops…

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After our (first) trip on the London Eye, we walked to Trafalgar Square and finished seeing the National Portrait Gallery before they closed at 6pm.  We stopped for a few pictures outside by the lions before walking to Pret-a-manger across the street for some sustenance – an avocado wrap for Danny and a berry smoothie for me.  We ate/drank while walking down The Mall towards Buckingham Palace, and then cutting into St. James Park where we walked from bench to bench, enjoying that beautiful time of day right before the sun sets, as well as some little critters.

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From St. James Park we walked by Buckingham Palace and into Green Park.  Green Park was peaceful and quiet and felt so removed from the busyness that is London.  I especially loved the tree-lined walkway that cut through the middle of the park.

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We walked back the London Eye via St. James Park (I just can’t get enough of that place) and took our second ride of the day over London.  We probably should have gotten on about 15 – 30 minutes earlier if we wanted to catch the sunset from the Eye, but it was lovely anyways.  Not a lot of pictures to share because I discovered that I’m not skilled at getting clear photos at night, especially not from a glass capsule.

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DSC09584After the Eye, we ate the treats we’d saved from the Greenwich Market along the Southbank, and got back to our apartment by 9pm…quite early for us on this trip.  We planned for the next day and hit the hay.

Day 5 was one of my very favorite days in London.  Taking a boat to Greenwich and back was relaxing and a great way to see London, and learn along the way as well, as we had humorous and informative tour guides on both legs of the trip.  We absolutely loved Greenwich and Danny promised me that someday we’d go back.  Next time we’re in London, I might actually stay in Greenwich for part (or all!) of our trip, it was just that charming, and there’s so much to do there, too.  And, of course, I love the London Eye.  We had a fairly cloudy day, but hey, it’s London.  And honestly, one of the best parts of the whole day was the food.  From breakfast to lunch to all of the desserts and snacks in between, we really ate well.  I’d do this day all over again tomorrow if I could.

Check out day 1, day 2, day 3, and day 4 of our time in London, if you’d like.

 

 

london day 4

On Saturday, our fourth day in London, we made it to the Tower of London around 9:30am.  I had really been looking forward to going to the Tower of London not necessarily to see the Tower itself, but to see the poppies.  If you’ve been around these parts for any length of time, you know I’m a fan of our girl Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, which is how I knew about the poppies (she visited with William and Harry back in August). DSC09315 Between August 5th and November 11th, 888,246 ceramic poppies will be planted in the Tower of London’s moat to mark 100 years since Britain’s involvement in World War I.  Each poppy represents a British life that was lost during the war.   After November 11th, the poppies will be sold to raise money for service-oriented charities.  The installation is truly a sight to behold and a beautiful way to commemorate such a horrific loss of life.  If you want, you can read more on the Tower Poppies here. I was so excited that we would be in London while the poppies were/are at the Tower, and I wasn’t disappointed.  It was a stunning display – and it’s not even completed yet. DSC09317We got on the 10am Beefeater tour, and it was definitely a highlight of our visit to the Tower.  Our beefeater, Simon, was charismatic and LOUD, which was good, since our group was large – probably between 50 and 75 people (I’m bad at estimating though). DSC09326 We also did some exploring of the Tower on our own.  We saw the Crown Jewels, a display of torture devices, armor worn by various kings, and more.  My favorite part, besides the poppies, was just walking around the ancient fortress – it’s really grand. DSC09319 DSC09321 DSC09330 DSC09331 DSC09332 DSC09334 After we finished up at the Tower, we went to Tower Bridge, and took the elevator up to the top, where we got to walk across the Thames from the top of the bridge.  It was one of those things that we probably wouldn’t have paid for and done on our own, but since it was included in our London Pass and we had time, we decided to do it.  It was pretty cool to hear about the making of Tower Bridge, and then get to go to the top as well. DSC09335 DSC09337 DSC09344 DSC09346 After crossing the bridge, we walked along the Thames in an attempt to find Borough Market.  I’d heard about Borough Market not only from my guide books, but also from friends who have spent time in London, which meant that it was probably worth checking out.  We finally found it, but it was so crowded, we almost gave up on the spot.  We stood in a long line for veggie burgers, only to find out that they didn’t have any buns left, and since we’re not especially carb-conscious, we kept looking and settled on a spicy lentil fajita and pumpkin tortellini, which we ate at the base of the Shard.  And, in the interest of full transparency, I was a little grumpy at this point.  I wrote in my notes that I made about the day, so I figure I should be honest and mention it.  I mean, in my defense, it was around 3pm that we were finally eating lunch, but then again, Danny was still in good spirits, so I had no excuse.  Just thought you should know that our trip wasn’t all laughs and smiles ;) DSC09353 DSC09354 DSC09355 After regaining some positivity (and full bellies), we headed to the HMS Belfast, where we started things out on a good note with some lemon cake from the cafe.  We did a good portion of the audio guide as we took a self-guided tour of the HMS Belfast, a Royal Navy light cruiser that was launched in 1938 and decommissioned in 1963.  I’ve always enjoyed touring ships, and have such fond memories of touring the USS Midway with my family in San Diego a few years ago, so I knew that if we had time, I wanted to check out the Belfast.  We had great views of the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London, as well as all of the activity that happens on and along the Thames.  I really enjoyed seeing the areas for the crew: where they slept, ate, saw the doctor, sent their mail, etc.  The HMS Belfast was another place I had read negative reviews for, and considered skipping it because of them, but I’m glad we went.  It was one of the least crowded places we visited (major plus) and it was fun to explore and learn together. DSC09356 DSC09360 DSC09361 DSC09362 DSC09365 DSC09367 DSC09368 DSC09370After seeing all we wanted to at the Belfast, we rushed along the Thames, across a bridge, and then jogged for a few blocks so we could reach the Monument before 4:30pm – the time of their last admission.  We climbed the 311 steps to the top, where we took in the view and enjoyed the benefits of being some of the last people in – no crowds.  Formally called The Monument to the Great Fire of London, the Monument is just that – a memorial made to commemorate the Great Fire of London that happened in 1666.  The Monument was built between 1671 and 1677, on the site of the first church to burn down in the fire.  It’s not the best view you’ll get of London, that’s for sure, but it is neat to be not so high up that everything just looks like toys.  We were low enough to not only see but appreciate rooftop gardens, but high enough that the noise of the streets couldn’t reach us. DSC09371 DSC09375 DSC09378We decided to walk back to the Tower of London after the Monument closed because I wanted to get a picture of the two of us in front of the poppies, something we hadn’t done in the morning.  Upon arrival, though, we came upon large crowds being held back by barricades and a host of important looking individuals.  Rumors spread that Prince Harry was coming, and/or ‘a VIP from another country,’ and then it was decided that it was just some people from the Invictus Games, but after doing a bit of reconnaissance work, I now know it was Jill Biden.  Well.  What a bummer that we couldn’t identify her at the time, but pretty neat that we were there visiting the poppies at the same time.  And, once we gave up on seeing Prince Harry, (“there aren’t enough people with guns here for a royal,” said one member of the crowd), we got our photo. DSC09387 DSC09385 We ate dinner next door at Wagamama, where we found bad service and ridiculous prices.  We had two (appetizer) orders of fried dumplings and two bowls of fried rice (also from the appetizer menu) for $28.  I had such a good experience at Wagamama the last time I was in London, but now that I’m paying and not just enjoying, I pay more attention to prices and value and so on and so forth, and I know Wagamama’s not worth it.   After dinner we walked along the Thames to the Tate Modern.  Danny was really looking forward to the Tate, so we visited all three floors and saw basically everything in only about an hour and a half.  Frankly, though, we weren’t impressed.  I guess modern art’s just not our thing. DSC09388 DSC09389 We walked back to our room along the Thames, feeling so exhausted.  We stopped for an almond torta at Cafe Nero right as they were closing, so we ate outside.  This would be a good time to mention how much I loved the Southbank, especially the area near Festival Hall, the Southbank Center, and the London Eye.  I might have said it before, but the combination of fun restaurants, street performers, and the Thames is just perfect.  We couldn’t get enough. DSC09391 All in all, day four was good.  It wasn’t my favorite, and I’m not proud of getting grumpy around lunchtime, but we saw some neat things and spent almost all day along the Thames. And in case you missed day 1, day 2, or day 3, feel free to check them out too!

london day 3

We started day 3 with a 30-minute train ride to Hampton Court.  We spent the morning at Hampton Court Palace, and you can read all about our time at Hampton Court here.  I did a separate post on it because 1) it took up a good chunk of the day, 2) there are enough pictures that would make this post a beast to scroll through, and 3) it’s Hampton Court Palace!  Totally deserving of its own post.

We arrived back at Waterloo Station from Hampton Court around 1:30pm and took the tube to Warwick Avenue, and then walked to Little Venice, where we got in line for Jason’s Original Canal Boat tour.  When we were thinking about buying a London Pass, I looked through everything it included, and was especially interested in anything that included water.  I knew that if we bought the London Pass, I’d try as hard as possible to take advantage of the canal boat trip and the Thames river cruise.  In the end, we were able to do both, and they were definitely highlights of the trip for me.  A few pictures aboard the boat…

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…and our trip through the canal…

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We went through tunnels, floated by beautiful homes and houseboats, saw the London Zoo, passed under bridges, enjoyed some fall colors…it was really the best.  My apologizes for the excessive amount of photos, but it was just the best.  And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the couple in front of us who had lots of comments to make about our tour guide who was a little…funny.  I felt like we could definitely be friends with them and I got a lot of laughs while overhearing their commentary about our ride, the guide, and everything in between.

Forty-five minutes later, we arrived in Camden, and got off the boat.  We hadn’t eaten lunch at this point, and yes, it was past 3pm.  I know.  Bad choice.  BUT, it was okay because we found some amazing, delicious food immediately and sat down and ate it next to the canal.  Without a doubt, THE BEST falafel I have ever had.  It didn’t even remotely taste like the falafel I’ve been eating and ‘enjoying’ for so many years.  Where have you been my whole life, delicious falafel?!  At Camden Market, that’s where.

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We then walked through the market – SO MUCH TO SEE – and came across some pretty paintings we liked.  The indecisive part of me was really on the fence about buying art on the second day of our trip, but the part of me that often misses out because of being indecisive said to go for it.  So we did.  We bought a beautiful painting of London that is in need of a frame but already has a spot on the living room wall reserved for it.  And, we cheated a little and bought a painting of Paris as well, because, well, if we were in a semi-decisive mood we figured we’d better take advantage of it.  The entire ‘shop’ was made up of artwork by art students at a nearby college, which we really loved being able to support.

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We also stopped for some squeezed-on-the-spot orange juice on our way to the tube, which we took to the British Museum.

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We visited the British Museum until they closed at 8pm, and we saw some neat things, but overall we weren’t impressed.  I know, tough crowd.  I can’t pinpoint what it was, but the next day we both overcame the guilt we felt and admitted it – we wouldn’t go back to the British Museum.  Maybe there’s just so much to see that it’s overwhelming, maybe it was because it was the end of the day and we were a bit tired, I don’t know.  But like I said, we did see some pretty cool things, like the Rosette Stone, an Easter Island head, Egyptian mummies, and various other things the British have stolen from less powerful countries around the world.

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After seeing everything we wanted to see at the British Museum, we took the tube back to Waterloo, got some pasties for dinner at the station (we had really horrible eating schedules on this trip) and crashed in our room for about thirty minutes before we reminded ourselves, WE ARE ONLY IN LONDON FOR SIX MORE DAYS LET’S GET OUT AND ENJOY.  So we did.  We walked across Westminster Bridge to Big Ben, along the Thames, back across to ‘our side’ of the river, and along the Thames some more before we stopped at Giraffe for some dessert.  It was supposed to be appetizers and dessert (fourth meal, anyone?), but then we saw the dessert menu and it became just dessert.  We shared an apple and cherry crumble and a banana split, and it was one of the best decisions we made all trip.

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So there you have it…day 3 of our time in London.  One of my very favorites.

Check out day 1 and day 2 of our trip to London if you missed them.

london day 2

On our first full day in London, we left our room around 8:30am after having toast and fruit for breakfast.  We walked across Westminster Bridge to the Westminster underground station…seeing Big Ben never gets old, does it?… DSC09077 …and took the tube to High Street Kensington.  It wasn’t long before we found Kensington Gardens, which we walked around for a while before Kensington Palace opened to the public. DSC09082 DSC09083It was a chilly, overcast morning, so thankfully it wasn’t long before 10am hit and we could tour Kensington Palace.  I was (obviously) pretty excited about doing so, since Kensington Palace is the London home of Prince William, Kate, and George. DSC09080 I knew we’d really gotten into the personal spaces of the palace when we found this hanging on the wall… DSC09084 No, but really, we were confined to the state rooms, where we saw exhibits on the Glorious Georges, Queen Victoria, and the fashion of The Queen, Princess Margaret, and Princess Diana.  I had heard pretty dismal reviews about visiting Kensington Palace, but we quite enjoyed it. DSC09086 DSC09092 DSC09095 DSC09097 Afterwards we walked across the street and grabbed lunch (a sandwich for me, a wrap for Danny) from Crussh, which we ate back in Kensington Gardens. DSC09100 DSC09102 We walked through the gardens to the Royal Albert Hall, and onto the Natural History Museum, where we spent around an hour.  I wanted to go to the Natural History Museum mostly because of pictures I’d seen of the inside of the building.  It just looked stunning.  And it was.  Someday we’ll go back and explore more of the museum, but this time we were happy seeing the massive Sequoia tree trunk (should our next trip be to northern California? I think so), the dinosaur fossils, and the Treasures gallery. DSC09105 DSC09107 DSC09115 DSC09111 DSC09116 We took the tube at South Kensington to Bayswater, and walked around the corner to La Suite West, a hotel that has a restaurant called Raw that offers afternoon tea – vegan style.  While planning our trip, I knew that I definitely wanted to go to afternoon tea at least once, but was hoping that we would find something vegan.  I did quite a bit of research and settled on La Suite West as it was fairly centrally located, reasonably priced, and totally vegan.  I was excited for scones and cream, as that’s really all I require out of an afternoon tea, and we weren’t disappointed.  It was such a peaceful, relaxing afternoon, and the food was delicious.  Oh, and if all my pictures look like they were taken in a dark basement, they weren’t, the lighting was just a bit dim in the restaurant.  And for some reason, when I asked the waitress to take a picture of us, she went to the other side of the room, so that’s why the picture of the two of us looks like it was taken at a distance.  Ultimately, though, the food was some of the best we had on our trip.  Thanks, Mom and Dad, for the special treat!  It was a perfect afternoon. DSC09120 DSC09121 DSC09122 DSC09126 DSC09134 DSC09140After I had finished off three pots of tea (!!!), we took the tube back to South Kensington and went to the Victoria and Albert Museum until they kicked us out (not to due our behavior, but to their closing time).  Definitely somewhere we’d like to get more time at next time we’re in London. DSC09151 DSC09149 From the Victoria & Albert we walked to Harrod’s and wandered around the store for a while.  I started losing interest about the time Danny really got into it – the toys, the $6,000 lamps, the toys, the Christmas section, the toys, the curved televisions, and did I mention toys?  We could easily spend an afternoon there just browsing. DSC09155We took the underground at Knightsbridge to Piccadilly Circus and walked from there to Chinatown, where we tried to find somewhere to eat dinner, but since I couldn’t be talked into a Chinese buffet, we kept walking to Leicester Square where Danny got fish and chips, and then onto the National Portrait Gallery where we saw the top two floors of the museum before they closed at 9pm.  I was especially intrigued by the paintings that were started but not finished, and it was a perfect time to be at the gallery, too – we often found ourselves with entire rooms to ourselves – it was so peaceful and quiet. DSC09157 DSC09160 DSC09161 DSC09164 DSC09169 DSC09170 We took the tube home but decided to go for a walk along the Thames and walked back to where we got on the tube in the first place!  Whoops!  Oh well.  We ended up walking along the Thames every single night we were in London – the Southbank (where we were staying) is so alive and fun!  It was a great second day, very busy, but worth it because we really saw a lot!  We made it to bed around 11pm, ready for jet lag to wake us up at 3:30pm ;)

And if you missed it, you can check out day 1 here.