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Getting Oriented to London

Getting Oriented to London

The focus for today was getting oriented to London.  I love to visit tourist information centers when I travel, so one of the first things I wanted to do was visit the official City of London Tourist Information Centre near St. Paul’s Cathedral.  It’s about four miles from Teak Close.  I decided to walk so I could explore some of the city along the way.

I was planning to cross the Thames at Millennium Bridge, which links the South Bank with St. Paul’s.  I set off bright and early Monday morning in the general direction of Southwark, or at least what I thought was the general direction of Southwark.  Unfortunately, the Mapquest directions I was using were quite confusing.  There are a lot of curving roads in the area.  In order to keep me heading in a more or less straight line, Mapquest was giving me a continuous stream of instructions along the lines of “turn left, go 200 yards, turn right, go 100 yards, turn left, go 200 yards,” etc.  Street signs were in short supply and I’m not very good at conceptualizing distances, so it was hard to know if I was actually turning at the right places.

I’d been walking for almost an hour when I spotted a Tesco up ahead on the next block.  I was just thinking of going in to ask for directions when I realized it was the Surrey Quays Tesco.  I had walked in a big circle and was right back where I started.  Now you can see why I needed to spend the day getting oriented!

Needless to say, I gave up on the idea of walking and headed over to Canada Water station.  A very kind London Transport employee helped me buy an Oyster card and a travel pass from a temperamental ticket machine.  A seven-day travel pass costs £32 – about £4.50/day.  That’s a considerable savings compared to the Tube’s one-way cash fare of almost £5.  It’s even more of a bargain when you consider that it will take me almost anywhere I need to go in London.

The handy trip planner on the Transport for London website provided directions to St. Paul’s.  I had to take the Jubilee line from Canada Water to London Bridge, transfer to the Northern line, take the Northern line to Bank station, transfer to the Central line, and then take the Central line to St. Paul’s.  It sounds complicated, but it actually didn’t take that long.  I later realized that Bank and St. Paul’s stations are only a couple of blocks apart.  I would have saved myself the hassle of the second transfer by getting off at Bank and walking.

It was almost noon by the time I finally arrived.  The first order of business was to pick out a bench where I could eat my egg mayonnaise sandwich (only 85p from Tesco) while enjoying the view of St. Paul’s.  Egg mayonnaise is Brit-speak for egg salad.  When talking about a sandwich in the UK, “salad” usually refers to the lettuce on the sandwich.

After lunch I finally made it to the Information Centre.  I picked up dozens of travel brochures, along with schedules for all kinds of interesting lectures, walks, programs, and special events.  I also bought some great postcard stamps with pictures of London buses, taxis, and red phone boxes.  With luck, I’ll have the postcards in the mail by the end of the week.

I didn’t take the tour of St. Paul’s today; I’m saving it for another day.  I want to climb the 528 steps to the top of the dome, but I need to improve my aerobic capacity for that challenge.  A few more weeks of walking all over London should do it.  I did pop into the Cathedral’s gift shop.  I couldn’t resist buying a Christmas ornament of a robin sitting on top of a post box.  Robins are a popular Christmas symbol in Britain.  It seemed like an appropriate purchase since I’ll be spending Christmas in London.  The Cathedral’s restaurant was serving afternoon tea, and I decided that would be the perfect way to finish the day.  I opted for a cream tea (scones, jam, cream, and a pot of tea) instead of the full afternoon tea,  and I enjoyed every bite.

It was after 4 pm by the time I had drained the last drop of tea from the teapot.  I had to decide if I was brave enough to tackle the Tube at rush hour.  I decided to give it a go.  The first leg of the trip – from Bank to London Bridge – was crowded, but quick.  I was starting to think that riding the Tube at rush hour wasn’t so bad.  Then I arrived at the platform for the Jubilee line and found a sea of people.  One of the trains on the line had mechanical problems, which delayed everything coming along behind it.

At that point I could feel a panic attack coming on.  I knew it would be just as easy to panic on a crowded train as on a crowded train platform, so when the next train pulled in, I took a deep breath and launched myself into the nearest car.  There wasn’t more than a millimeter of space between the passengers, but it was only two stops to Canada Water.  I closed my eyes and tried to think pleasant thoughts until we got there.

My day of getting oriented to London was exhausting!  By the time I got back to Teak Close, I just wanted to put my feet up and watch my favorite British soap, Coronation Street.

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