Day 13: June 10
Our overnight coach from Edinburgh to London pulled into Victoria Coach Station around 6:30am, and the Tube ride to the St. Paul’s exit took less than half an hour; hence I’m guessing that it may have been coming on 7:00am when we arrived at our hostel, looking and feeling a bit worse for wear. I wasn't exactly paying strict attention to times, what with the general difficulty I seemed to be having keeping my feet going.
“We’re here to check in,” I informed the desk worker once we'd arrived at the front desk of the youth hostel - just in case he had any doubt as to the purpose of our arrival - giving my name while considering how lovely it would be to rest my head on the counter.
“You’re a bit early,” the attendant pointed out dryly, referring to the the standard 3:00pm check-in time, but as we’d booked a private room, and it blessedly had been unoccupied the night before, we qualified for early check-in. I have rarely ever been so happy about anything in my life.
A shower and a nap apiece did much to bring us back up to snuff; although considering how all I'd been thinking about the past night on the coach had been how wonderful it would be to finally stretch out and lie down, my sleep turned out to be less restful than I expected. For one thing, the bells of St. Pauls kept bonging, reminding me that we lay literally within only a few hundred yards of all that (as yet unseen) glory: the marble, the mosaics, the underground tombs, the Whispering Gallery, The Light of the World...
For another thing, although my body needed rest, my mind knew we were burning precious daylight at the tail end of our trip.
Around 11:00am, we rolled out of our bunks and stumbled around the corner from the hostel to the Pizza Express that we’d spied earlier on our trek in. Pizza Express had become one of Bethany’s new favorites. (That and the Underground.) We’d obviously beat the lunch rush, as we found ourselves the only people in the restaurant and had our choice of tables in the deserted dining room. We chose one near the window with an impressive view of St. Paul’s and happily tucked in to some quality pasta dishes.
Our plan had been to see St. Paul’s, but a fortuitous peek at my guidebook reminded us that as the Royal Mews would be closed Friday, that day would be the only day available for us to visit -- which of course we promptly did.
I found an adorable group of preschool girls on a field trip, holding hands by twos and chattering excitedly, much more fascinating than the coaches and carriages:
Since we were in that part of the city, we also walked up to the Wellington Arch and took a tour inside.
We'd considered stopping in at Apsley House, where Wellington himself had lived for a time, but since rain clouds seemed to be building over Hyde Park, we thought it a good time to take the Underground elsewhere. (Besides, we couldn't very well see everything on our very first London trip. If we did, what would be the point in coming back?)
Beef had been wanting to buy a few trinkets and gifts at a stall she’d seen over by Tower Bridge, so a quick stop there rounded out our afternoon. We just beat the evening rush back on the Tubes, arriving back at St. Pauls just as dribbles of rain started to fall. I put up my rain hood and waited on the steps of the cathedral while Bethany dipped over to Marks & Spencer to forage for supplies.
We sat on the steps sharing fruit, nacho chips, and Coke. We really do owe the steps of St. Paul's a huge Thank You because they provided some excellent fodder for people watching: groups of schoolchildren, with harassed-looking adults attempting to corral them; shiny young women posing for pictures in a slightly inappropriate manner, considering that they were on the steps of a church; young couples who surely must be newlyweds, clutching hands and looking up at the dome; an Indian family sitting down nearby, the dad quietly unpacking a tasty-looking lunch packed in Tupperware; an older man with a young Asian wife, obviously living the dream.
And dearest of all, a set of students giving oral research reports right there on the steps. I swelled with pride at the thought of all the awesome teachers everywhere who work hard to make their students' educational experiences meaningful and exciting.
It was also at that point that Bethany noticed that someone had decorated a nearby statue with bagels.
Both of us still a bit tired from the previous night's journey, we decided on a quiet evening in. Books, photo uploads, and a bit of laundry seemed just the thing, especially since the weather - in true London fashion - seemed less that sprightly.
Thus we found ourselves on the eve of our final full day in London, having seen neither the inside of St. Paul's Cathedral or Shakespeare's rebuilt Globe Theater. "We really have to be smart about how we use our time tomorrow," I spoke in the general direction of Bethany's bunk, but found my admonition greeted with silence.
She was already asleep. I flicked off the light, shrugged myself down under the covers, and listened to the bells of St. Paul's as I dropped off to sleep.