Sunday, July 3, 2011

London - Please Mind the Gap

I haven't been staying up to date on blogging about this trip. Finding time to write and an internet connection were both difficult at times. So instead, as they say on the London tube, "please mind the gap". You can read about the second half of the trip all at once now though! And old posts have been updated with photos from a real camera, not just the dark ones from a camera phone.

June 26-29

London was another great city. I'm going to stop saying "it's my favorite city!", because I have about 5 favorites by now. London is huge and I didn't get to do barely half the things I wanted to.  After a month in the EU, I found myself automatically reading the last paragraph on any sign (which is usually the English one). Oh wait, everything is in English here again! It does look a little strange now. They also automatically give you plastic bags for your groceries here, something else I'd forgotten about. I never quite got used to London traffic patterns though. To help out tourists like me, they tell you which direction to look when crossing the street.

We arrived in London during a break in the downpours they'd been having, just in time for a heat wave. Since our hostel near Hyde Park wasn't ready for us when we arrived, we went for a walk around the city and stopped to play frisbee in the Buckingham Palace gardens. The queen was unfortunately not at home, so she couldn't play with us. After putting our feet in the fountain outside of Buckingham Palace to cool off, we walked along the Thames to see the London Eye, Big Ben, and have a picnic outside Westminster Abbey.

Triangle sandwiches from Tesco quickly became a staple meal in London. Walking across the Tower Bridge was our last adventure in London that evening. After waking up at 2am, running around the park, and then walking through London in the 32 degree weather, we were sufficiently worn out at the end of the night.

The next morning I said goodbye to Gerst, Noah, Nick and Chelsea who headed back to the States, and then ventured off to explore London on my own for 2 more days.  Because the free walking tour I went on in Berlin was so good, I decided to try the London one run by the same company. We started by watching the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. Or rather, I watched the band and the guards march into the palace grounds, and the cavalry rode by, but then I could not see over the heads people in front of the fence who had arrived 2 hours earlier than me. Though being short makes it difficult to see in crowds, it still gives me enough other advantages while travelling.

Our tour guide, Dave, told us there are several ways to get into Buckingham Palace. First, you can marry into the family (Kate did it, so it isn't impossible). Second, you can visit 20 of the 700+ rooms in August that the Queen opens up while she goes on holiday. Third, you can do something really awesome and be invited for tea and perhaps be knighted. But the easiest way is probably just to break in. In the 80's an Irishman named Michael Fagin broke into the palace. Twice. He triggered so many alarms with one window, that the security guard thought the system had malfunctioned, and turned it off. After drinking a bottle of expensive wine, Fagin found his way into the queen's bedroom, where they chatted for awhile. When he asked for a cigarette, she was able to tell him that she didn't smoke, but believed her footman did, and then was finally able to alert the footman that there was an intruder in the palace. The palace was public property at the time, so Fagin could only be charged for the wine, not trespassing. Another story was about a group of German tourists who wanted to go camping in Hyde Park. They were a little bit lost and pitched a tent on the grounds of Buckingham palace instead. In 2004 a protestor dressed as Batman broke into the palace and perched on the balcony for a few hours before police were able to convince him to come down. The rest of the tour was full of other fun stories like these.

Many things in London are expensive to visit. For example, it costs 19£ to visit the Tower of London. With the poor value of the dollar right now, thats roughly $30 to visit a museum. For another 15£, I could go inside Westminster Abbey. Instead, I decided to go to an evening church service in Westminster. I may not have been able to spend as much time exploring the abbey as I'd like, but I heard a beautiful choir service, and still saw many of the famous tombs there (such as Sir Isaac Newton's).  Luckily many of the museums in London are also free, like the Victoria and Albert museum, where I spent my last afternoon in London, avoiding the rain.

I watched a ballet school performance outside St. Paul's Cathedral earlier in the day (I didn't get to feed the birds on the steps of St. Pauls because all the people and impending rain seemed to scare away the birds).

Just as I was heading back to the tube station, it began to pour. So one of my souvenirs from London is a new umbrella.

The area around Covent Garden, Leicester Square, and Trafalgar Square was one of my favorite areas to explore.

There are so many nice little shops there. I managed to stumble across one street that was only filled with bookstores! There were many art galleries (I've been purchasing pieces of art in each country visited on this trip to decorate my new apartment) and the Covent Garden Market was filled with antiques the day I went.

I also found the Lush store there (they sell locally made soaps and bath products) and Lush and Moosejaw are two stores that always have the best employees, so of course I had to stop in. They have a new product out called tooth tabs, a type of solid toothpaste. The flavor I tried is called ultrablast - mint, lavender, and wasabi. The description was too interesting not to try it. Lush is an especially nice place to visit after walking around on a hot day, because they wash your hands with all sorts of bath salts and soaps and then insist that you try their lotions. I walked out feeling and smelling refreshed.  In search of the TKTS booth and a bathroom, I also stumbled across Kings College, where my best friend will be studying next year. I'm sufficiently jealous.

London newspapers are all about the Olympics, Wimbledon, and the royal family right now. There is a Metro newspaper published twice daily for you to read on the morning and evening commutes.

Many Londoners are quite upset about the recent round of olympic ticket distributions, claiming the lack of a live computer system as applications are being processed is unfair. A good portion of the tube is under construction at the moment to improve the transportation network before next year, and the popular opinion polls in the papers all say they don't believe the transportation network will be able to handle the influx of visitors anyway.  Kate and Wills made a surprise appearance in the Royal Box at Wimbledon to watch Andy Murray play on the second day I was in London. That was the big news of the evening. Had I known how to get Wimbledon tickets, I probably would have been there too.  If Murray had made it to the finals, he would have been the first British man to do so in 73 years. (Since I'm writing this on the day of the Wimbledon finals, I can tell you that he is not playing today).

On my last night in London, I went to see a West End show. I tried to get tickets for War Horse and Les Mis, but since War Horse is the most popular show in London right now, and Les Mis has a new cast, both are sold out for the next three weeks. So I saw Billy Elliot, and was very impressed.  It was a great last evening in Europe.

See you back on the other side of the pond!

1 comment:

  1. YAY! I am slightly jealous you saw Billy Elliot ! I want to see that show!