The beginning of an incredible adventure started in London, England. In the summer of 2007, my friend, Teresa, and I spent ten weeks traveling throughout Europe – and London was our official starting point. And London became one of my favorite cities. Although it didn’t start out that way – after my first day there I was regretting the decision to spend an entire week in this city!
Our first day in London started after a sleepless flight across the great expanse of water known as the Atlantic Ocean. I so wish I could sleep on planes but I don’t foresee myself acquiring that glorious ability any time soon. Unfortunately.
We flew into Gatwick Airport, arriving in the early morning. After going through Customs, picking up our luggage, and stopping by an ATM to get some cash (£200 = $400!!! The UK was not kind to us in the exchange rate department…), we hopped on the Gatwick Express for our ride into the city.
We got off at Victoria Station and spent the next few minutes wandering around this huge and somewhat crazy place trying to figure out which exit/street to take as none of them matched the directions I had to our accommodations. We finally found a map and were able to figure out where to go.
The walk to our hostel was easy but a bit longer than we were expecting. One thing we quickly learned on this trip was the importance of packing light! Which, of course, neither of us had done. But the lesson has now been learned! (I think…)
We couldn’t check into our hostel until 2:00pm so we left our luggage there and went back out to explore a bit. (More on our accommodations at the end of this post)
We walked back to Victoria Station where we took the Big Bus Tour of the city. I find that these hop-on, hop-off bus tours really help with getting my bearings in new cities. We sat at the top of the double-decker bus as it toured London and was narrated by a guide.
We were so hungry that we only stayed on the bus for about 15 minutes then got off near Picadilly Circus to grab a bite to eat and visit the Britain & London Tourist Office.
Back on the bus and continuing on with our tour we struggled to stay awake. The weather had been pretty dreary and chilly all day and as we drove through the city I felt very overwhelmed by the vastness of it. For some reason I wasn’t expecting London to be so, well, city-like! Ridiculous, I know. With the dreary weather, the jet-lag, and the “grayness” of everything, I was pretty disappointed that we were going to be “wasting” so much of our time here. I obviously don’t do very well when I haven’t had adequate sleep. 😉
Our tour took us past many famous sites and attractions but we really didn’t remember much of it. Then halfway through it started to rain so we moved to the covered seating where the views weren’t quite as good.
Back at Victoria Station we headed toward our hostel again, stopping along the way to pick up some food from a grocery store. We checked into our room, settled in a bit, and managed to stay up until around 8:30. 🙂
Stay tuned for more on this city that turned my initial frown upside down. 🙂
Accommodations Info & Tips
During our week in London we stayed at the Astor Victoria Hostel. Neither of us had stayed at a hostel before and I think we were both a little nervous. We had reserved two beds in a 6-bed female dorm. Although I had done much research and read many reviews of every place we had reservations for, I was still a bit wary of staying here.
But all was good! Our room was very small but still contained three bunk beds, a large bookcase, a sink, and a shower. Yes, a small shower…in the room. Full bathrooms were down the hall.
Anyway, our first experience staying in a hostel was not too bad! You certainly can’t beat the price! The location of this hostel was great and in what seemed like a pretty nice neighborhood. It was within walking distance of Victoria Station, and even closer to Pimlico Station (which we discovered later).
Breakfast is included in the price as well as free wi-fi (and a free map of London!). All in all it was a decent start to our foray into hostel life. We definitely stayed in nicer ones on our trip, and this was the smallest room we encountered, but it was perfect for us (and our budgets!). 🙂 Current rates start at around £24 per person.
Many hostels have age restrictions (usually 18-35) but usually aren’t too firm in their enforcement of those restrictions. And others don’t have any and welcome families and people of all ages! You should probably check websites prior to booking a bed to see if there are any age policies.
Bus tours are a great way to quickly get oriented with a new city. In London, the Big Bus Tour Company, takes you past all of London’s famous landmarks while sharing some of it’s history. Current rates are £22 per person which includes 24 hours of hop-on, hop-off privileges.