After spending 4 days in the serene and unbelievable Iceland, we headed to the bustling London where I admit it took me a while to get back to the fast pace metropolis. I originally booked the full week in Iceland to drive around the full loop of the island on the Ring Road but since my brother, cousin, and best friend tagged along the trip, I need to balance out the rural and city life. Our flight was at 6:45 AM, we returned our rental car right when they open at 5 AM and then walk across the street to the airport. I was shocked how pack the airport was in early in the morning! WOW Air and Icelandair somehow scheduled tons of flights around the same time in the early morning hours! I don’t think the airport has the capacity to handle this much customers at once, they already break up each check-in counter according to the flight but still long queue! We barely made it to the final boarding call of our flight, the bus was waiting for us to shuttle us to the aircraft. We thought we were the last few passengers to board, nope, we waited for few more buses afterwards due to the check-in queue. You may think Iceland Airport is small so won’t take much time to check-in especially in the early morning…wrong!!! Be there early!!!
Our flight landed London Gatwick at around 11 AM and going through passport control was a nightmare! Many flights landed around the same time as well which made the situation even worst…the line moved like snail! There is a form to fill out and people were literally writing while walking. I always bring a few pens with me when travel internationally to prepare to fill out those forms! The immigration officer asked many questions and even asked for proof of our return flight as well as accommodation booking confirmation. I never been asked so many questions entering a European country! My best friend even worst she felt like they think she’ll be an illegal immigrant LOL! It took over an hour to go through passport control and then pick up our luggage…by then I was starving! Once we headed out of the arrival hall, we followed sign to Gatwick Express. I got in line to purchase our Gatwick Express return tickets as well as oyster card for our public transportation. We were traveling in groups of 5 so we had a discount on the Gatwick Express at £104.70 for 5 of us so around $32 USD return ticket each. If you are not traveling in group, there are less expensive options to get to the center of London. You can check out the prices at: http://tickets.southernrailway.com/sn/en/JourneyPlanning/MixingDeck
I also got the oyster card and loaded with 10 pounds each. We received a cute cardholder for our train tickets and oyster card!
Remember to hold on to your “OUT” ticket as you’ll need to insert that to get out at Victoria. Also the Gatwick Express return ticket qualifies for the “2 For 1” offer, 2 admission tickets for the price of 1 for many London sights, you’ll need to print the vouchers at http://www.daysoutguide.co.uk/2for1-london along with your train tickets for proof.
Stepping out of the platform into Victoria train station, it was huge, and my first impression: UK flags and the floor. There were impressive lines on the floor leading you to the metro (tube), Gatwick Express, etc!
We walked down to take the Victoria line to Piccadilly Circus via Green Park, first time taking the famous Tube, it was extremely clean and comfortable! We finally reached Piccadilly Circus where I rented an apartment from AirBnB. I originally booked the Holiday Inn at Victoria because of its convenient to be close to Victoria train station but my cousin joined us last minute; it was impossible to find a hotel to accommodate 5 people! I had no choice but to look for apartment (they called it flat). The ones I found in my favorite site booking.com are either expensive or budget ones are very old looking so I gave AirBnB a try! I found this apartment modern looking and very close to Chinatown for $1134 for 4 nights (London is expensive)….I heard there are lots of excellent and inexpensive Chinese restaurants in London!
As soon as we walked out of Piccadilly Circus tube station, we felt like we are in the middle of New York Times Square but with beautiful renaissance buildings and much much much more cleaner!
It was like a maze where many streets joined at the square…took us a while to figure out which direction to go!
We managed to find our way to the apartment and give a call to the host- Henry, he came to meet us right away; he lives across the street. The apartment listing in AirBnB is: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/7068139, you can sign up for AirBnB using our referral link to give us credit and you’ll also receive a credit of $25 for your first stay 🙂 I was a little wary booking places at AirBnB but our first experience totally changed my mind.
My rule of thumb when booking via AirBnB is make sure the pictures are “verified” so what you see will be what you get, contact the host to see how responsive he/she is, read the reviews (you can only write reviews on places you have actually booked and stayed), understand the total price (sometimes there’s cleaning fees) and cancellation policy, and if you have issue call AirBnB right away when you first check-in. AirBnB hold your payment and release to the host 24 hours after arrival so if you have any issue call right away!
Henry showed us the apartment, it’s perfect for 5 people! There are 1 sofa bed and one queen bed in the living room:
And an open kitchen with washer and dryer (2 in 1), it definitely helps with our packing light this time since we had to pay for check our luggage!
Inside the bedroom, there’s a queen bed and a beautiful bathroom:
We were all starving so as soon as we put our luggage in the house, we headed out to Chinatown which is only a block away for lunch. We went to Noodle Bar, great reviews for handmade Lanzhou “pull” noodle, we don’t have that in Boston!
One of the chef making Lanzhou noodle:
The tiny restaurant is packed; we got a table where 5 of us squeezed in a corner; it was very Asia feel! 3 of us into this small area haha!
Yay our soup noodles! The noodle is definitely tasted like freshly made in clear broth with beef delicious!
We also ordered bbq fish balls and beef skewers, yummy!
One of us ordered wonton noodle to try it out, the wontons were okay, I made it better at home 😛
5 bowls of soup noodle plus the appetizers for $79.7, average $16 per person included tips (15% tips). I paid with my credit card and the lady at the cashier was like you don’t have cash? Nope! She gave me a look but oh well!
One interesting difference of London’s Chinatown is that it has mostly restaurants and hardly any souvenir store; usually Chinatown is the best place for cheap souvenirs!
There are a lot of interesting named restaurants…for those of you who can read Chinese:
We got snacks and drinks in a Chinese supermarket and my credit card didn’t go through not sure why it worked everywhere except that supermarket….I had to walk to the nearest ATM to get money out of my Bank of America debit card, at least it worked! We went back to the grocery store to pay for our food and then dropped them off at our apartment since it’s so close. Sightseeing start now!
We walked from Piccadilly Circus headed to the Big Ben direction, on the way, we stopped for photos (you know me)!
We saw a handsome officer riding on a horse, doesn’t he has the “prince” feel? haha!!!
The beautiful Admiralty Arch:
One advantage of traveling in group is we can easily get photos of two of us 🙂
I usually good with sense of direction but London blew me off, the streets are mostly circle-ish and curvy that somehow we ended up at The National Gallery. A lot street performers there!
The sky cleared up a bit to see the blue sky! At each street crossing, it is well marked to remind you to look left or right…remember UK drives on the left!
Being a huge metropolitan city, I was amazed on how clean it is even in Chinatown!
Beauty and the Beast?
We walked pass many beautiful architectural buildings, we marching along as I snapped photos here and there!
A very grand cafe, look at those chandeliers!!! I am a huge fan of chandeliers….I wondered how much they charge a cup of coffee in there?
We passed the Women of WWII Memorial:
And here we are at the House of Parliament and Ben Big! Love the symbolic red double decker bus with Big Ben on thebackground!
Many tourists on the street to aim for the best angle of capturing the famous clock tower!
The sky was just perfect, I hardly had such luck!
We walked onto the Westminster Bridge for photos of the London Eye and the river…the river urg…the color doesn’t look great at all!
I read to be cautious about people (scammers) on the bridge, when someone tried to give you something just say no and walk away! We didn’t see anyone of those scammers when we were there, good thing!
We saw this lady beggar with her huge dog!
We walked back to the Palace of Westminster and I got a photo with a friendly palace guard 😀 Hey I am a tourist so I also do what tourists do too hehe!!!
The magnificent Palace of Westminster:
The place is heavily guarded! You can visit the palace but hefty admission fee of 18 pounds, around $27 (not applicable for 2 in 1)! I am happy to just photograph the outside!
Next, we walked across to Westminster Abbey, the famous church where many British royalties get married at.
It was so hard to get a full picture of the church front entrance because it was crowded with tourists and people trying to sell you stuff! By then it was cloudy too! The admission fee to the abbey is £20 that’s $30 even with 2 for 1 it’s $15 per person! Only hubby and I are architecture people in our group and we don’t mind to pay to go inside if just two of us and after I found out during my vacation planning that NO photography inside…no thanks! I really don’t get why most of the London sights do not allow taking photos inside consider how much they are charging people, I understand flash is prohibited because it damages paintings, but absolutely no photos allowed? I had been to many great cathedrals and museums (Notre Dame and Louvre in Paris, St. Peter’s in Rome, and recently Milan Cathedral) and they all allow photography so why London why???
My eyes were lured to the building on the right of it instead…..wow it’s very castle-like mixed with German architectural shapes!
The shades of yellow of the wall and the craved out outlines made it really stand out!
and the iconic red telephone booth!
And then all suddenly it poured and we didn’t have an umbrella with us. Yikes we get to experienced the London rain! We ran to the nearest area with cover to wait for the passing rain. After 10 minutes or so it stopped and the sun sneaked out! London after the rain:
Double rainbows too!
We chased the rainbow to the river….
The London Eye on the back…the rainbows were like stacking on top of each other and the colors were so vivid!
Rain wasn’t so bad after all for photos like this:
Instead of phone booth, wifi booth hahaha!
We walked back to Piccadilly Circus!
We went back to our apartment to rest a bit before heading out for dinner. We went to Café TPT in Chinatown for dinner!
We ordered like crazy! Cantonese style pan fried flat noodle with beef and vegetable, it was good but not the best we ever had.
The spicy pan fried crab for hubby, it was tasty!
A curry-base noodle:
Our favorite dish – the fried tofu:
I picked Cafe TPT because I saw photos of the desserts in cute tofu pudding buckets!
Red bean with tofu pudding:
Aren’t they cute?
Coconut milk tapioca:
Mango with grass jelly:
They were all so good! The total for our filling dinner: $122 for 5 of us included 15% tips not bad for London 🙂
Chinatown at night:
After dinner, the rest of our crowd went back to the apartment – lazy people! Hubby and I took a walk to the nearby Coventry Street for photos of London at night! The old architectures lit up by modern LED lighting added colors to the colorful night life of London.
The W Hotel:
Are we in Germany?
Casinos along that street!
I found London is one of those few places that are very photographic at night! That was our first day in London – plenty to see and eat!
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