Mixed Feelings Regarding Our Visit to London During Our First Trip to Europe

Let us start by saying that we hope to visit London once again in the future as it is a wonderful city with an amazing history. During our first trip to Europe, many years ago now, we spent several days in London before going on to Stratford-upon-Avon and Manchester. We rented a flat on Kings Road and enjoyed getting around and visiting the major sites in London such as Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the Tower of London, and Tower Bridge. Although we did have a wonderful time, when we look back on it after many, many trips since that time, we aren’t sure that we made the most of our time in London.

Westminster Abbey
Touring the Tower of London
Tower Bridge

One of the things that was very different about our time in London compared to other places that we have visited is that we took the tube (underground railway) to get from one location to another. It was quick and convenient and who can’t quote what is aired over the intercom as the doors start to close, “mind the gap”. In hindsight, we felt like gophers who popped up from one hole here to see something and then popped up in another hole there to see something. Walking the streets gives you a much better sense of a city than just seeing a small section at a time.

Big Ben at Dusk
Tower of London
Gates at Buckingham Palace

We do have wonderful memories of our time in London. We went to the famous West End to see the play Wicked and the tour of Tower of London was quite fascinating. We also watched the pomp and pageantry of the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace and had some blue skies overhead as we walked around the Victoria Memorial in the roundabout just across from the palace. Certainly no visit to London would be complete without going to Westminster Abbey with all of the memorials to the historical figures of science, literature, and politics. Seeing the iconic clock tower at the Westminster Palace, commonly referred to as Big Ben is certainly a must as well.

Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford-Upon-Avon
The Manor at Warwick Castle
Enjoying a Professional Football Match

After spending a few days in our flat in London, we continued on to historic Stratford-upon-Avon where we had the opportunity to have mulled wine and see the locals celebrate the start of the holiday season as it was late November when we arrived. Being the birthplace of Shakespeare, there is certainly plenty of history and we also enjoyed seeing Warwick Castle nearby town of Warwick. After a couple of nights, we took a train north to the city of Manchester where we would enjoy a murder mystery at a local manor house and then go to watch a football (soccer) game, which was a highlight for us.

Victoria’s Memorial in London
Changing of the Guards
Buckingham Palace

As previously mentioned, we definitely have revisiting London on our list of places to go and will likely go back there in the relatively near future. We were actually fairly fortunate as far as the weather goes with our trip having been in November, but a visit during the summer months would definitely be a plus. Since we are more seasoned travelers now as compared to our original visit, we will likely do it quite differently and we would certainly take more photographs than we did back then.

What is the Most “Touristy” Thing That You’ve Done?

When traveling, we always try to have the most authentic experiences as possible. There are times, however, when a tour that we take includes something that is there just for tourists. They are often photo opportunities that locals believe that the people visiting want to take home with them, but often they aren’t realistic to the actual culture. More often than not, when we end up doing one of those types of things, we literally cringe when we see what we’re about to do. It doesn’t mean that we don’t enjoy them, it is just that we realize that it is a staged activity done just for tourists.

Led by a Rope in Egypt
Pirate Ship Show
Blurry Dungeon in Prague

We have actually ridden camels twice, once in Morocco and then again in Egypt. It wasn’t as if we were riding a camel to get from one place to another, it was just us on a camel while someone walked us around. It wasn’t as if we saw people riding camels, although we know that they do in the desert, so it is just something that people have come to expect to do when they visit those countries. Another thing that we did when in Morocco was to see a snake charmer. Interesting as it was, it was still just a planned stop along the tour for us to take photos and tip the snake charmer in order for him to make a living.

Swimming with Dolphins 2
Swimming with Dolphins
Snake Charmer
Torture Chamber

When we were in Prague, at the end of the tour, we went to what was supposed to be a medieval restaurant, complete with cobwebs on the ceiling and waiters dressed in garments from the period. Having a meal at a wooden table in a dungeon, while fun, is probably not the way it would have been hundreds of years ago. When we visited Warwick Castle in England, one of the towers was set up as a torture chamber. It was basically a haunted house experience with people jumping out at you. Again, fun, but not anything representative of turn of the century Europe.

Riding Camels on the Beach in Morocco
Tail Down the Back
Guard at the Haunted Tower

When we were in Cabo, we swam with dolphins in a large aquarium. It would be quite fascinating to swim in the wild with dolphins, but that would be a completely different experience than swimming with a dolphin that has been trained to do tricks. We took a cruise on a pirate ship in Puerto Vallarta where they put on a show and entertained the guests throughout the tour. Clearly these activities are a little different, but still very touristy. Obviously it is hard to completely avoid all of these types of activities, so when they happen it is best to just role with it and have fun. The camel rides were probably the most touristy of all of the activities that we’ve done. What is the most touristy thing that you’ve done when traveling?

Beer and Wine in the Dungeon
Putting Hats on in Egypt During Lunch

Seeing the Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace

Seeing the changing of the Queen’s Guards at Buckingham Palace is truly a memorable experience. The iconic ceremony draws hundreds of people to see the not only the guards, but the marching band that marches its way around the Victoria Memorial to the entrance of the palace. Buckingham Palace serves as the residency of the Royal Family as well as the administrative headquarters of the monarch.

Watching the Marching Band
Ornate Gates of the Palace
Guards Marching in the Courtyard
Buckingham Palace

Although the ceremony has been put on hold due to the number of people that it draws to the location, when it resumes it is well worth taking the time to see if you are in London. We were fortunate enough to have a mostly sunny day to watch the guards march in front of the palace entrances. Even if you don’t make it to the changing of the guard, simply seeing the palace is worth the visit. If you do go to the changing of the guards, be sure to go early if you want to get a good view as people line up early to see the ceremony.

A Sense of the Crowds
The Band Approaching
Victoria Memorial with Crowds Below
The Unicorn on the Gate
The Palace After the Crowds Disperse