One of our biggest factors when deciding to accept a housesit, besides location, is usually length of the sit. Since we drive from sit to sit with everything we own in our car, we typically like to only accept jobs that last for a couple months or more. We are also happy to string together a few sits that are in the same general vicinity, but we really try to avoid repeated intensive travel for a short sit. Moving quickly from place to place takes a toll on our car, our finances and our sanity which means that our way of traveling and seeing the sites is pretty slow. Like really, really slow. Like so slow that we don’t take vacations or trips, we just go and live places.
Our slow method of travel means we have loads of time to explore the surrounding area and to see it from a “local” point of view. We don’t feel any pressure to hurry up and see all there is to see in an area because we typically have plenty of time to do so. This works really well for us as well since we’re working as we travel, and sometimes we have to work intensely for days or weeks at a time. And then of course there are the days when where we’re feeling incredibly lazy and antisocial and never make it beyond our couch or change out of our pajamas. These days are critically important to our mental health and we cherish them (Editor’s Note: This in no way means that questions about our mental health have ended).
Our recent trip to Europe was a different animal altogether – just a two week housesit in Copenhagen with a few days in London tacked on to the end. Where normally we have months to see the sights, this trip meant we only had a few days and this certainly didn’t leave us much time to see everything and still be lazy sloths for a day or two. Our game was thrown off quite a bit and it meant that I had to do some research, brush up on my knowledge of London beyond knowing when the appropriate time is to say cheerio, blimey, bollocks and jolly good (FYI – the answer is never) and figure out what we were going to see and do during our short time there. Just thinking about all of it raised my anxiety levels to all new heights.
Here’s an incredibly helpful tidbit for you that I’m sure you didn’t know. London is big. Huge. Massive. And it’s full of centuries worth of historical sites, museums and art galleries. Come to find out, you can spend months there and still never see everything that you should see. So after a brief moment of intimidation and thinking ‘there’s no way we can see everything anyway so we should just head back to the couch’ we realized that we could just go back to our old standby – the hop on/hop off bus tour.
Terribly touristy I know, but it’s also one of the cheapest and easiest ways to see some things and get oriented to a city, so we use them whenever available. In fact, it’s usually how we spend our first day in a new city. It gives us the layout of the land which helps us plan out what parts we want to go back and visit, typically gives us at least a glimpse of all the famous sites and provides a tremendous amount of information. We don’t have to drive. We don’t have to navigate a map or subway system and one fee covers our transportation costs for the day. The London ticket was good for two days, was on an iconic double-decker red bus and included a boat trip down the Thames River. We hopped off (and back on) all over London at so, so many cool places including Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, The London Eye, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower Bridge. And that was all just in day one.
While the London Eye was a bit out of our price range, we did find out that there was an observation deck at the top of Tower Bridge that promised some spectacular views and was much more affordable, so Jason temporarily put aside his fear of heights and up we went.
One of the places we decided to splurge and actually take our time to go through was the Tower of London. The place is gigantic so we pretty much had to take our time to see it all. It’s full of history and tradition, amazing architecture and stories about Henry the VIII hacking off his wives’ heads. I mean come on, London is one of the oldest and most storied cities of Europe and the Tower is basically where it got its start. If you’re not a history nerd or fan of domestic beheadings, go anyway, because one of the perks of building your house first is that you get the best real estate and hence, the best views. If you find yourself in London, we’d rank it up there as a must see.
Tours of the Tower of London are given for free (unfortunately the only free thing there) by Yeoman Warders, otherwise known as Beefeaters. While I was excited to meet an icon from my favorite kind of gin, Jason was more excited to meet one of these guys because – “history nerd.” Plus, these guys are pretty much badasses no matter who you ask. They are members of the Royal Bodyguard and in order to even be considered for a position at the Tower of London they have to be a decorated veteran with at least 22 years in her majesty’s armed forces, have an impeccable record and have achieved at least the rank of Warrant Officer.
Our Warder had been a Royal Commando for 25 years, seen action in Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia, had some advanced degrees and could even make history jokes funny (at least Jason thought so). This is a pretty unique skill set. So unique, in fact, that over the last 500 years more people have been to space than have become Yeoman Warders. That’s right, these guys are more scarce than astronauts. So yeah, respect. We also learned that these guys actually live at the Tower of London with their families. Can you imagine being a kid growing up inside this place? There’s even a pub onsite for all the Warders and their families. Unfortunately, this is one pub we weren’t able to visit. One of the few.
We weren’t able to visit the pub at the Tower of London, but good news. Besides an abundance of historical sites, London is also full of pubs. No joke, one on every corner. Sometimes two. And they fill those pubs up with really good beer. Since we happen to like pubs and we also happen to like beer, we made it our mission to try them all. Mission failed, of course, but not for lack of effort.
Not only was there great beer but great food as well. Forget your preconceived notions about English food and think about this – London has been a cultural and trade crossroads for hundreds of years and has culinary influences from just about everywhere. Oh yes, food from all over the world. With all of those choices we were a bit overwhelmed and while we had some great meals, we also made some poor decisions.
Thankfully, a couple of fellow housesitters we had befriended along our travels were back in London while we were there and they showed us some “local” aspects of their hometown. The touristy parts of London are fantastic but heading down to their neighborhood pub for the Quiz (we’d call it Trivia Night in the States), a shepard’s pie and loads more beer was just our speed and a nice break.
A couple of nights later they took us out for an unbelievably fantastic Bangladeshi dinner that knocked our socks off. Not literally – it was way too cold for that. But it was one of those places that we never would have found on our own and our trip would have been a lesser experience if we hadn’t made it there. We ate, we drank, we laughed, we caught up with each other. Honestly? One of the best nights, and definitely the best meal, of our trip.
Not once did we worry about running off to see another museum or statue or bridge during the evenings we spent with our friends. And while we will always love to do some of the touristy ‘must see’ things, it was a really good reminder for us that what we shouldn’t do is constantly worry about missing out on something. What we value most in our travels are the connections we make, the friendships we forge and the conversations that we share.
And it also means that London? Well, London there’s a lot more left of you to explore and we shall be seeing you again someday. Someday when we can take it nice and slow.