24 Hours in… London: A Travelogue

True, the clock was against them. But our writers had a free place to stay in London and a 40-euro plane ticket. So they did what any student would do.
A view of London Bridge.
A view of London Bridge.
Ashlan Wilburn
The writers, Lilla Orban (left) and Ashlan Wilburn (right), pose before a view of the London Bridge.
Is 24 hours enough time?

We had a free place to stay in London and a 40-euro, round-trip ticket on Ryanair, but what we didn’t have was time: only 24 hours. But Ashlan was graduating and neither of us had ever been to London. So we camped at Lilla’s sister’s apartment and tried our best to see the sites. From the window of our free lodging in trendy Shoreditch, in East London, we felt as though we could see our futures – the future of us agreeing on the fact that a 24-hour trip can never be as satisfying as a longer one would have been. We took turns writing this travelogue.

The writers, Lilla Orban (left) and Ashlan Wilburn (right), pose before a view of the London Bridge. (Lilla Orban)
View from the Tower of London, where the writers learned about bloody executions.
Confusion at the gate, ice cream for breakfast and an interactive tour

9:46 p.m. The airport.  We finally found the gate after the third attempt. Do not be fooled by just any flight to London on the Barajas departures screens: there are various London airports, we eventually learned. At one point, we were so distracted by our own conversation that we realized we were standing in line to board a flight to Shanghai. 

11:31 p.m. The flight.  We flew Ryanair and went with “random seat allocation.” When I went to briefly visit Ashlan’s seat, I ended up having to cram myself halfway onto her lap to allow a beverage cart to get through the narrow aisle. The flight attendant pushing the cart had not waited for me to pass but instead almost shoved the cart into me. I tried to maintain my balance as customers in other rows—and finally, Ashlan—ordered.  Ashlan ordered a mini bottle of rosè which cost about seven euros. When arriving, we reminded each other not to step in the trampled food and other mysterious substances splattered on the ground. But at least we had a clean view of the London skyline.  London seemed like a combination of New York and Madrid, with modern skyscrapers and European-style cobblestone streets and architecture.

11 a.m. Expensive breakfast. We found breakfast near our pre-booked tour for the Tower of London. I ordered a traditional apple pie accompanied by vanilla ice cream and cream sauce. We did not have time to stop by a money exchange, so I paid 9.95 pounds with a credit card. Ashlan ordered a breakfast bun and a coffee for 13.85 pounds. The staff were  friendly and attentive. Seated at the table next to us, a man and woman were complaining about getting jobs and visas, which reminded us of our earlier conversation about Brexit.

11:34 a.m. Tower of London tour. We arrived four minutes late to the Tower of London tour. Thankfully they still accepted us. The 27.70-pound, pre-ordered ticket was probably worth it. We had expected the tour to be like walking through IKEA, unable to freely roam. But we were wrong. The tour was interactive with volunteers, British locals, and a wide age range from children to elderly participants. We learned about what was considered the “bloodiest execution in British history.” The person executed was James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth, who was dealt multiple blows of the executioner’s ax before his death at Tower Hill. We both agreed that we would recommend the tour. We then took pictures at the Tower bridge and, surprised to overhear the conversation of a small Hungarian family nearby, I offered to take photos for them. Throughout the trip I heard the Hungarian language in at least four instances in different parts of the city, which was surprising for just one day. 

View from the Tower of London, where the writers learned about bloody executions. (Ashlan Wilburn)
Inside the British Museum. The writers were disappointed that it didn’t contain paintings, but they enjoyed the Rosetta Stone. (Ashlan Wilburn)
Disappointment: It’s not like the Louvre

3:33 p.m. British Museum. I was disappointed by the British museum. At least the entry was free. We believed it would be comparable in size and variety to the Louvre,  but we soon discovered that paintings are housed elsewhere,  in the National Gallery. An interesting find was the Rosetta Stone, though it was in a crowded area right near the entrance of the museum. On leaving, we stopped by souvenir shops and took pictures in front of the red telephone booths. We enjoyed the convenient tap- to-pay access for “the tube” compared to the Metro machines in Madrid, though there was a lot of sudden braking and screeching while riding the rail. 

Right before the doors closed, a family of seven entered the crowded Underground car with a stroller, and one of the standing children slapped a sibling. We couldn’t help chuckling in surprise and muttering to ourselves that our parents would have likely slapped us back for such behavior at that age. When we reached our stop, we passed a man with bagpipes at the station, loudly blasting away at a fast pace to the tired-looking  locals. 

Big Ben in London. The writers were surprised to see it immediately on leaving the Tube.
The monumental Big Ben sparks memories of… Cars 2?

4:28 p.m. We wanted to briefly see Big Ben, officially named the “Elizabeth Tower,” so we took the tube to the Westminster Station. I had expected to walk for a few minutes after leaving the underground—to see it from afar before getting a good view of it—but it was already looming impressively over us. I had no time to process the shock from seeing this iconic landmark in real life as many people, mostly other tourists trying to take photos, bustled around us. The first thing that popped into my head while staring at Big Ben was the scene in Disney’s Cars 2  where a spy has some harrowing experience inside the clock tower. It was an odd moment for me – seeing Big Ben for the first time at age 21 and my first thought is – what? – a Disney movie?  (Ok, I admit Cars and Cars 2 were among my favorite movies as a kid. I watched both films an obnoxious number of times and had crushes on various characters including Finn McMissle, the Aston Martin secret agent, whose action figure married and subsequently divorced several of my Barbies).

5:15 p.m. After gawking at and taking photos of Big Ben, we walked to a vintage clothing shop about 25 minutes away even though my phone was low on battery and Lilla’s had already died. We didn’t buy anything at the first shop, and we had not had a meal since morning, so we decided to find food. We found a place within about two minutes of leaving the clothing shop. We were looking at the menu of a small restaurant when a late-middle-aged man with gray hair came out and gently asked us if we were hungry. We both slightly hesitated before saying yes, and I asked him, “Would it be possible for us to charge our phones, do you mind?” He said. “Yes, no problem,” and that settled it. In we went. The Mediterranean Café & Restaurant had posters of musicals and renaissance paintings all over the walls. I had to squeeze past a man practically cooking in the tiny hallway to get to the restroom. Next to our table, we could see into one of the kitchens. We both ordered pasta and found it very tasty.

Big Ben in London. The writers were surprised to see it immediately on leaving the Tube. (Ashlan Wilburn)
A London street.
So it wasn’t exactly Madrid nightlife…

8:40 p.m. On our walk home, most of the restaurants were closed. The rooftop bar we wanted to visit did not accept reservations anymore. As I looked up, I pointed out a blow-up of Shrek in someone’s apartment window, which we laughed at while waiting to cross the street.

A London street. (Ashlan Wilburn)
Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The NewSLU Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *