Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Taking Advantage of a Long Layover in London

When British Airways canceled part of my flight to the US, they booked a very early flight from Venice to London Gatwick to remedy the situation. This left me with 9 hours from when I arrived until my flight to Chicago from London Heathrow. Since I had to transport myself from one airport to the other and had so much time, I decided to take advantage!

I took the Gatwick Express to Victoria Station and stowed my luggage. Victoria is conveniently located a short 5 minute walk to Buckingham Palace. I was able to pick up the red line for the famous hop on, hop off buses here. These are great since the ticket is valid for 24 hours and you can hop on and off at any of the stops as often as you like. To stay on and complete the loop takes a little more than 2 hours.

My first stop was Hyde Park and the Marble Arch. The Marble Arch was originally designed in 1827 as the main entrance to Buckingham Palace but was moved in 1851 because it was too narrow for the grandest coaches. Next I was off to the London Eye by way of Oxford Street and Trafalgar Square. The London Eye is a 443 feet high observation wheel that looks like an enclosed Ferris wheel, which was built in 2000 as part of London's millennium celebrations. It takes 30 minutes round trip and on a clear day, which this was not, you should be able to see for about 25 miles!

Waterloo Bridge offers what Londoners will tell you is one of the best views of London. You will see the London Eye framing Big Ben. The Thames River divides the two parts, the City of London and Westminster, which make up London.

St. Paul's Cathedral was completely rebuilt about the Great Fire of London in 1666. The 360 feet high dome is the second largest in the world, only after St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. The tomb of Florence Nightingale rests inside.

The Tower Bridge was completed in 1894 and is raised for large ships to pass through. The machinery that raises the bridge was powered by steam until 1976. Even though it is a bridge, it is insured by the famous Llyod's of London as a ship. Just past the Tower Bridge lies the Tower of London, which has served as a fortress, palace, and prison. The Crown Jewels are housed in The Jewel House and the White Tower, dating from 1070 stands tall in the middle of the fortress.

I learned that Big Ben is not the name of the world-famous, four faced clock but rather the 14-ton bell inside the tower. Big Ben stands proudly next to the Houses of Parliament, which are the largest in the world. The clock has continuously kept the exact time for the UK since it was set in motion in 1859. The famous Westminster Abbey is the resting place of many of Britain's great monarchs and is half church, hald museum.

Completing a whirlwind tour of London in just a few hours, I was happy to enjoy Starbucks and a quick lunch while people watching in Victoria. I definitely want to go back!