Travelling to London was one of my best shore leave experience in my whole career as a seafarer! It was filled with uncertainty, excitement, fear, surprises and thrills. Mixed emotions were running around me but everything went perfectly well even if I only made a snap decision for this shore leave to happen. I went there THREE TIMES already; the first two being solo and the third one with my friend Jeiel. Jeiel was very ecstatic the moment he stepped out of the train and saw his old, long lost friend Big Ben.
It’s perfectly safe when travelling to London even if you are a first timer. UK has tight security especially in the capital. Their train station is packed with CCTVs and uniformed security guards. When you are in London, you can see more of them sometimes in patrol. Not to mention they have Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, M.I. 6 and Kingsman working in the shadows watching out for your safety.
Visa or Passport Requirements
As a seafarer, you don’t need special UK visa when you want to travel in their country as long as you call in their ports. But when you are going to UK from a place other than UK or UK territory (like Algeciras to Gibraltar), you will be blocked in the border control like what I experienced. I have a video of that incident here entitled The Shoreleave Project. Skip to the 2nd minute if you want to see it quickly.
You only need to bring your Passport or Seaman’s Book whichever the Agent says which. I remember taking my Seaman’s Book with me so I can be identified as a seafarer if authorities ask for it.
What to Pack
I expect you won’t spend the whole night there unless there are some special circumstance that permits you to do so. Just bring the normal things you always bring with you when going out. An extra jacket or anything for the cold is also helpful even on summer as the temperature dramatically drops during sunset.
It would be a sin to forget your fully charged phone, powerbanks and your latest camera so don’t get too much excited and leave those vital stuffs behind.
Internet connection is also a must. Don’t go travelling to London if you don’t have any internet connection in your phone. Your smartphone will serve as your radar when navigating through the streets. Without internet, you will be blind and deaf. Applications like Google Maps, Google Translate are important to your trips.
This is the United Kingdom and everything will be quite expensive. But I managed to spend €100.00 (converted to GBP) in two shoreleaves. But that’s far too less compared to your salary, latest iPhone or other folks who spend GBP 5,000.00 in their London vacation trip. It’s once in a lifetime experience. It’s worth to take a shot.
Now don’t be a lazy potato couch after your watch and create reasons for you not to go ashore. If you think that going for a shore leave is expensive, I created a post on providing Eight Tips to Have a Fantastic Shore Leave Without Spending Too Much to which most of the guides are already provided here. I also Busted the Myth on Costly City Excursion which basically tells you that an increased spending ashore is not always equal to increased happiness. It could be the opposite and filled with regrets.
I also created a post on reasons Why You Need to Go Ashore. Click on those links to find out more.
Seaman’s London Travel Guide
Where Your Port Should Be
Not all ports that you call in UK is favorable for a London travel. Grays and Purfleet are very nice. You must be in these ports to take advantage of it. Most of these ports are in the Thames River and the inner you go, the closer it gets you to London. But you must always check the train station nearest to your port.
We were in NuStar Terminal located in Grays which has shopping centers and a train station 20 minutes away from the ship. You are lucky if you dock here or other terminals close by like in Purfleet, Northfleet, Tibury and Greenhithe.
Choosing Your First Destinations
When we talk about travelling to London, we are talking about a lot of places. The Shard, St. Mary’s Axe, Big Ben, London Eye, London Bridge, Tower Bridge, Tower of London, Baker Street and many others. You can’t go to all these places in four or six hours including travel time or you’ll miss the enjoyment.
If you are in Thames River, Fenchurch District is the closest. Remember the bridge which is often seen in TV or movies with two towers in the middle of a river? Most people mistakenly call it the London Bridge. Actually, it’s called the Tower Bridge (for a very obvious reason!). Near that tourist spot are The Shard– a skyscraper which looked like an unfinished or broken glass tower on it’s apex, St Mary’s Axe– seen on Thor 2, Tower of London– castle-like structure which showcases 15th century history of the Kings and Queens of England, The Leadanhall Building, 20 Fenchurch Street AKA The ‘Walkie Talkie Building’, among others.
Here are a few pictures taken from my age-old Lenovo phone built in WWI era and my latest Oppo A37 phone. You can identify which ones are which. I’ll be sprinkling more of my London travels throughout this article.
Tower of London
Tower Bridge, The Shards and St. Mary’s Axe alone are more than enough to get you to cloud nine. But If you want the iconic Big Ben, Palace of Westminster or London Eye (a very huge Ferris Wheel), be sure you have another 15 to 20 minutes of travel time.
Travel time means the point from where you left a certain place to the point you arrived at your destination. This includes walking, riding with spaceships, or running with fellow aliens as long as you haven’t reached your arrival point.
Big fan of the best Consulting Detective in the world? You can also visit Sherlock Holmes Apartment/ (slash) Museum in 221B Baker Street. The place is packed with tourist crowding to go inside. Entrance is free on the ground floor but there is an admission ticket on the second floor.
The ground floor is filled with souvenir items including his famous hat, pipe, scarf and many others. I bought a keychain there and gave it to my sister.
Three stations for the three times I’ve been there. Every visit was unique and exciting. Whether I travel solo or with partners, I always fully enjoy my adventure.
Travelling Through Trains
Public trains connect UK to every city and town in the country. Now that you know which part of the country, or Thames River you are, your third step is finding the train station which leads you to London. I mentioned that London is a huge place so you have to plan the site that you want to visit.
Fenchurch District is only one ride from Grays NuStar Terminal. I already laid out which points of interest you should consider when in Fenchurch District. You must spend considerable time in visiting the tourist attractions there. They may be a walking distance away but if you chase the moments, you might find yourself wasting time by travelling too often.
Next to that is the Westminster Station. But to go there, you have to stop at Fenchurch District, transfer to Tower Hill Station (a few minutes away by foot), and ride another train going to Westminster Station. There are signs everywhere or you can ask the locals like fellow passengers for directions.
Baker Street Station is also accessible, only one ride from Tower Hill Station. It would look very complicated at first especially when you check the train maps and its layouts. You must always ask the security guards, ticketing counters or locals who know the place very well.
Ticket Price to London
Ticket price varies considerably throughout the year. My first and second trip from Grays train station going to London was only about GBP11.00. That was an unlimited ride for the whole day including those places I mentioned. The third time was quite expensive, about GBP17.00. It was summer so I think that caused its increase.
You should get the unlimited ride because it saves time lining up for a cue on every train transfer. Time here as a seaman is more than money.
Strikes and Train Re-routing
There were times the train didn’t go as exactly as what my helpmate (Google Maps) told me about. Even the locals wondered why the trains stopped on a certain station and did not proceeded as it should. This happened on my second London trip. It was worse when I went back to the ship as the schedule and routes got scrambled.
I asked the uniform guards and said there was an ongoing strike and the trains should be re-routed. He then told me which train station should I go to get back to Grays. I was two stations away from it and the train arrived really late. But I didn’t get nervous. My phone was still 40% charged and I have some spare cash with me in case I needed a taxi as last resort.
Imagine I started travelling back to the ship from Westminster Station at 1500H, reached the dressing room of our ship at 1805H and went straight to my watch until midnight. For some reasons, the Chief got so mad at me. Maybe because I was 5 minutes late. His first words when I came back was,
“This is not a passenger ship that you should always go ashore!”
He had his reasons but I didn’t care much about it because everything I did that day was freaking awesome! And I have my own reasons too.
What to Do When You Reach London
Seafarers have very different time frame than regular tourists. We are a quick tourist as I would say. We have time constraints behind us so we should use every moment that we have ashore to enjoy, have fun and make it a memorable one.
So bring out those cameras and take as much pictures as you can. Motion your proudest, loudest, funniest, craziest and awesomest (don’t wanna break the momentum) gestures with Big Ben, James Bond or Theresa May on the background. You can even do break dancing in a certain spot and get your partner shoot you with your camera. Do Facebook live, talk with fellow tourists, buy souvenir items, watch other tourists do crazy stuffs and take more pictures and videos of the place. You can do anything just make sure you won’t attract the police or it would be a very different story.
There are so many places that you get excited about when you reached a specific destination so you must take your time and enjoy the moment. Whenever I’m ashore, I don’t usually eat much or spend more of my time eating inside a restaurant. I prefer to have a light snack and bring it outside where I can have a very nice view of the city. Then after I have my fill, I go again roaming around the wonderful attractions.
Going Back to the Ship
Going back on board should be easier to do than travelling to London for the very first time. You just have to retrace your steps and voila, you’re home- or I should say home ship home. But to do this requires a very sharp and photographic memory. If you don’t have it (congratulations, you’re normal), your phone can help. It’s either you take pictures of relevant, conspicuous marks like a sexy billboard or you can use our old friend Google Maps. He will guide you back until you are safely on board.
I wish to see you in London one day.
May the winds be on your favor.