We arrived at about 6:30 am in London(19th of March). We went to the hostel, but check-in was later at 12am. So we asked if we could store our luggage there to take a look around town. As soon as our heavy rucksacks were taken off our backs, we hit the town.
A slow walk through the Hyde Park, a little shopping trip through Primark (yes, a little girly stuff has to be there too.), then a stroll around the Regent's park where we watched birds and squirrels and ate a triple chocolate muffin! (Oh yeah - you heard me: triple chocolate: mokka or dark chocolate pieces, milk chocolate, white chocolate). After that we walked to Camden Town and I showed Johanna the Cyber Dog Store. It’s a clothing store for ravers and techno-house-lac and leather fans. But the inside looks so amazing. There are robots and everything glows in neon colours. In Camden Town there are so many food stands, we almost couldn’t decide what to eat. All nationalities are represented. I was interested in Ethiopian food, but then I chickened out because it looked a little weird. So we chose to eat something less unknown and less frightening. Empanadas, a Spanish pastry filled with meat or vegetables. I took the chicken filling, Veggie-Johanna took the one with vegetables. As it turned out, Johanna disliked hers pretty much, but mine wasn’t that bad. But in total the meal wasn't worth the 5 £ we payed for it. We were a little disappointed.
After lunch we decided to head back to check in our hostel (The Hyde Park Hostel) and the day took a really bad turn. We found out about the horror of this hostel: Our room was tiny and the 24 beds were stacked up to the ceiling. It looked like cages for laboratory rats. We were absolutely shocked. The bathrooms were disgusting and the whole building except for the reception seemed to fall apart. The toilet case was broken and the showers dirty. There were no covers for our blankets, only sheets which were by the way dirty also. The female blond receptionist was arrogant and absolutely ignorant to our complains. For example: When we asked her for the free wifi that was promised on the website, she answered us in a bitchy tone: "It said on the website that we have wifi, but it didn't say it was free." What a hag. Watch out! Everything about this hostel is unbearable. We booked a different hostel and checked-out as soon as humanly possible. (But in case you make the same mistake of booking there, because you were like us seduced by the cheap prices, wait until the receptionist changes to a man and complain again. He will give you the option of getting a new room, maybe you have better luck there. We didn't take that option, because we wanted to get the hell outta there.)
Tip of the Day: Read the reviews at hostelbookers. They help you if you don’t know what to expect of a hostel.
Our new hostel The St. Christopher’s Inn was a pleasant surprise. Clean, free wifi, comfy, friendly staff, great service (washing machines, dryer, roof terrace and included in the low price was a free breakfast). I can’t tell you enough how perfect this hostel is for backpackers. It has it all. Check it out!
Our journey ended with the Grim Reaper Tour ( 13€). A guide took us at night through London’s darkest corners and told us all about the dark times and bloody events in London’s History. Mostly about Jack the Ripper and Prostitutes, but also about the Tower of London. Traitors and criminals were held captive and tortured in the tower until they were executed. Torture methods like the Iron Maiden or a caged rat that was placed on your belly. The iron cage was slowly heated up, so that the only escape for the rat is to eat itself through your body. And when the heat gets unbearable for the rat, it surely will. If you were lucky enough the rat would choose to go up and chew maybe a main vessel or directly your heart kiling you fast, but if the rat chose the other direction the death would be slow and painful. We also were introduced to ghost stories around London which occurred inside the tower or in an underground station where back in the old days was a psychiatry.
Dark London is really interesting, but you should bring a scarf, thick jacket, gloves and maybe even hot tea. It gets really freezing! We were so freaking happy when we were back at our new hostel and slipped in our comfy soft beds and into long slumber.
The next day (20th of march) we decided to participate in the normal free walking tour around London and at first it seemed like a good idea, because we got a great overview about the main attractions in London, such as the Buckingham Palace, St. James Park, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey. But it was a huge group of tourists following the guide which made it a little hard to hear all the stories and enjoy the tour. But mostly the early tours at 10 or 11’o’clock are held in tinier groups.
My favourite story was about a homeless guy who broke into Buckingham Palace:
A few years ago a homeless guy snuck into the Buckingham Palace through an open window looking for shelter. At the time they changed the alarm system in the Buckingham Palace, so no one noticed that he was inside. He walked around for a while until he found a bottle of wine and drank half of it. He then left again without anyone knowing, but after a few weeks when he was looking for shelter again, he remembered the nice taste of the wine and simply decided to go there again. But this time, of course, the window was closed, so he broke the window and the alarm went off. But no one of the guards reacted, they all thought the alarm was acting up, because since the installation it didn’t work properly. The guards turned the alarm off without further investigation or at least checking on the queen who was in residence at the time. The homeless guy walked around the palace and at some point reached even the night chamber of the queen. The queen woke up frightened, because some drunk homeless man sat at her bedside and looked at her. She pushed her private emergency alarm, but the guards didn’t react either. After about 20 minutes that the queen and the homeless guy talked, finally the guards decided to show up and arrest the man. But he was only charged for drinking the queen’s wine, because by law the Buckingham Palace is public property accessible to all citizens of the UK.
After the tour we took the Piccadilly line to Piccadilly Circus. I was a little disappointed; they did street work on the centre of the square, so the whole first impression that I had when I was last in London was tainted. Johanna didn’t get to see what I had hoped to show her. But it didn’t matter we walked further to Soho, London’s Chinatown. There were so many Chinese stores and restaurants, but they all had dead (already grilled) birds in the windows. Johanna, the Veggie faction of our duo, found this barbaric and was disgusted. All I could think about was: Lucky that she wasn’t in a real Chinese market. It's far worse (or better if you like meat). We left Soho and exchanged it for good old BK where I ate a brownie with ice cream and she took a salad (I still think it's weird to order salad at a fast food restaurant, but what else do you order at BK when you're vegetarian?)
In the evening the cold gets far worse because of the wind, so we decided to go souvenir shopping. On our way we walked by Trafalgar Square and watched the usual craziness going on. We love the atmosphere of the city, so we just kept on walking through town. On our way we got the typical London stuff off our tourist list: Taking a picture in front of the typical red bus, inside a red telephone cell, trying to make one of the queen's guard laugh and getting a free newspaper while walking by to your next underground station. We realised what a great souvenir a newspaper or a magazine is for Interrail travellers. It’s light, you can stuff it anywhere and you get a bit more information about what’s going on in a city or country.
After such a long walking tour through London, we happily reunited with our bed again.
On Friday (21th of March) we took the train to Dover and set over to Calais with a P&O Ferry, not quite as luxurious as Stenaline, but it does the trick.