LONDON -- My four-month visit to the United Kingdom and several other European countries is officially underway. Let the travel stories begin.
For starters, I arrived at 11:45 a.m. London time on Monday after more than 10 hours of flight time from Spokane to Seattle to Reyjkavik and then to Gatwick airport. There were no fights or ugly scenes. My loved ones are relieved.
At the advice of a good friend who is also my favorite bartender, I've been staying for the first time in a hostel. I'm sharing a room with three other travelers, including an Argentinian musician and a German art student. The nightly rate of $34 is a bargain and well worth any inconveniences. As luck would have it, I was assigned to the top bunk bed.
My first afternoon in London was a disaster, to be blunt. I dropped my iPhone in the toilet. The 12-hour bath in a bowl of rice failed to work so the first item of business on Tuesday was to make my way to an Apple Store to buy a new phone. I learned the store is Apple's second largest in the world, behind the one in Tokyo. At least an Apple rock star was able to rescue the data on the SIM card. More than $400 later and slightly relieved by the data rescue, I ventured out for my first sightseeing. I made my way to see Big Ben and the huge buildings housing Parliament. Later, I topped off the day with dinner at a Lebanese restaurant, where I had Armenian sausage (lamb) served in an excellent tomato sauce.
Wednesday was a much better and more stress-free day. I survived a 45-minute wait in line to purchase a ticket for the David Hockney exhibit at the Tate Britain. Yes, that is the name of the museum. I'm not known for my patience, so I considered my Europe Tour 2017 vow to become more tolerant a rousing success. Besides, I had nearly four hours to kill while waiting for my tour to commence. I made my way to Buckingham Palace, home of the world's most well-known royal bigwig. I took a tour of the Royal Mews (stables) were horses are kept for the gilded carriages used by the Queen and others. The tour was far more interesting than you might think.
Thursday was another rewarding day. The morning started at the Charles Dickens Museum, housed in a house at 48 Doughty Street, where Dickens and his family lived from 1837 to 1839. I saw one of his first work desks, furniture, personal effects and more. Each room contained concise fact sheets about his work and career. I hadn't known that he began as an investigative reporter and later edited a weekly magazine. My next stop was St. Paul's Church, built in 1633 and known as the Actors Church because of its long association with the theatre community. The church was impressive, as was the lush and well-used garden frequented by a large lunchtime crowd.
The sightseeing for the day ended in glorious fashion. I happened to walk by the National Gallery and saw that a Michelangelo and Sebastiano exhibit was getting top billing, so once again I got in line and demonstrated my newfound patience. It was so worth it. I'm not very knowledgeable about art, but I'm always eager to take advantage of special opportunities such as this. I'd never heard of Sebastiano, but now I have an appreciation for the collaboration of the two artists. Those guys could paint a scene.
Friday will be moving day as I pack up and catch a train to Canterbury, about 55 minutes from London. I'll be visiting a former Spokane family for the weekend and then head to Bath for a day or two. On Thursday I will fly to Athens.
I'm trying to budget wisely, but I've learned this adventure is likely going to cost more than I had planned. Of course, dropping a phone in the loo is no way to start. Pro tip: the museum admissions are running about $20 to $25, even with my senior discount. Start saving up. And please follow along as I experience all manner of travel treats, triumphs and rookie mistakes.