Carpe Diem: Eurotrip 2016

The Day it Rained, Literally and Figuratively

We began London Day 2 with coffees and pastries at Café Nero, which appeared to be like a European Starbucks. From there we headed to Russell Square station, which at this point began to feel like home. Our first goal of the day was to head to Westminster Abbey, because we knew it closed early on Saturdays. On our way we picked up a handful of souvenirs. I bought a couple of postcards, a little metal Big Ben figurine and a tacky t-shirt that says “Mind the Gap” on it, because I loved the Tube (and its little catchphrase) that much. We got off at Waterloo station and walked past the Eye again on our way. We crossed over Westminster Bridge which offered a very picturesque view of Big Ben and Parliament. We snapped some pictures on the far end of the bridge and then crossed. It seems every other tourist in the city was on the other end taking pictures, as we had to wade through them to get to Westminster.

I’ve got a couple of things to say about Westminster Abbey. The building itself is absolutely gorgeous. It reminded me a lot of Notre Dame on the outside: masculine stone architecture softened by painted glass windows. The inside is dark and sprawling with detail and artistry in every panel of wood, stone tile, and metal rail. In one section of the abbey there was a corridor decorated by flags of different houses and suits of armor bearing the sigils of these houses. It was just like Game of Thrones! Another cool thing was seeing the tombs of many dead kings, queens, lords, and soldiers. We weren’t allowed to take pictures, so unfortunately I only have one, which I snuck.

The thing that kind of sucked about Westminster Abbey was how uptight everyone was in there. First of all I tried to use my student ID to get a discount (I KNOW I’m not in college anymore, but hey, my ID doesn’t have a date on it so I’m going to keep using it until I don’t look like my picture anymore) and she wouldn’t give it to me because I had a gym sticker on the back dated 2013. It was for 2 pounds off, lady, just give it to me. Then we got yelled at for holding our phones and taking pictures AND for walking the wrong way. I get that the place is a national treasure but people could have calmed down a little bit about every little rule.

After a stroll around the Abbey (which really was beautiful despite grouchy church people) we headed over to the Churchill War Rooms for some World War II nerdiness. On our way in we met another nice British man who was in a bit of a panic about the recent British exit from the EU. We bonded over our nervousness for world politics and then he sent us on our way into the museum. We got to see the actual rooms where Churchill and the other members of Parliament directed the British Army during the Blitz of Britain. Basically while Britain was getting pummeled by the Luftwaffe, Churchill and friends were kicking ass from this basement. My favorite part was the Map Room. You can still see the pinholes from their battle strategy conferences. Really cool stuff.

Although we had passed Buckingham Palace on our cab ride yesterday, we had not yet seen it up close, so that was our next stop. From the Churchill War Rooms we headed through St. James Park, passing by manicured landscapes, little ponds plentiful with ducks, and the largest pelicans I have ever seen. On the other side of the park we came across the Palace itself in all its glory. There’s so much gold plating on one building. We saw the guards march a little bit and then resettle in their posts. Unfortunately they were wearing much more casual uniforms than the famous red jackets and fluffy hats, but they were still cool nonetheless. According to the flag rule, the Queen was not home when we visited. That might have explained the lack of security. We only saw six guards, two of the formal guards in front of the building and four standing to the side much more casually.

Our next goals were to hit up the Globe Theater and the HMS Belfast, the WWII ship we had seen on the boat tour a day earlier. After that we planned to head over to Madame Tussauds and redeem our misfortunes for the day before. We took the Tube down to the River and got a bit lost on the way to it. On our way we passed through some quiet residential neighborhoods and ate some delicious sandwiches from a café. By the time we reached the river, the HMS Belfast wasn’t accessible from the portion we were on, so we walked in the opposite direction and I popped over to Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. I tried to see if I could see inside it from the gift shop. I could not. It was still cool from the outside.

Here’s where our tale gets a bit treacherous. We decided to take a cab to the Belfast rather than navigate our way down there ourselves. Our cab driver was nice, and we got to our destination just fine. It was only when we began walking towards the Belfast that we realized that we had misplaced some of our property in the cab and it was far gone by that point. Long story short, it was found later that night and there are plans for it to be sent back to us, so the story will hopefully have a happy ending. Nothing too important was lost, which is good, however a portion of what was lost was admission to the Belfast as well as Madame Tussaud’s, so those plans were shot.

As we headed back to our hotel to replenish funds, it began pouring rain. I’m not talking a sprinkle, I’m talking soaked-through, puddles on the ground, using my souvenir bag as a crappy makeshift umbrella, Florida-style monsoon. Complete with thunder. We trudged through the hurricane towards the closest tube station, heads hung, still a bit miffed about our recent troubles. By the time we were in the station we were soaking wet. However, we must have looked at least partially reliable, considering a British woman approached us and asked us if she was in the right place to catch the Brighton train. Of course we had no idea, but we looked put-together enough to know that type of information! I’ll take it as a compliment.

The last thing I wanted to do before heading back was to take a picture at Platform 9 3/4, the entrance to the fictional Hogwarts Express! Well, we got there and the LINE, that’s right LINE was 10000 people long, so I just took a picture in front of other people actually getting a professional photo taken. No regrets. Seen it, done. Nerd goal partially accomplished.

Once back at the hotel, we had some time to kill before our mandatory trip meeting, so, after a couple of phone calls, clothing changes, and general deflating, we headed down to the hotel pub to get a drink, watch the Euro Cup, and for me to write yesterday’s blog. Yes, I know, I’m a day behind. Don’t rush me.

After that we headed to our mandatory meeting. They gave us some basic information about the coaches, times, basic safety rules, and the like. After that, they put up the signs for three tours, European Adventure, Paris to Athens, and European Quest. Considering we had signed up for “European Magic” we assumed something was fishy. We approached the director and asked where we should meet for “European Magic.” His response was, “Oh, that one was at 6:00.” Since they had just announced that the departure times for all the tours was at 6am, we, for a moment, believed that our tour had left that morning without us. I almost fainted. After a few questions we realized that he meant our tour MEETING had been at 6:00pm, and we had attended the 7:00 one on accident. After a few deep breaths, we calmed down and found out we didn’t miss too much at the meeting, just some passport checks that we were able to do in the morning. No harm done. Heart attack avoided.

On the suggestion of our work friend Jim, who had studied abroad in London in his college days, our next adventure was to check out the Queens Arms pub. Back to our Russell Square home station, back on the Tube. The pub was much further out of the city center than we’d been before. We stayed on the Tube for a little longer than usual, and witnessed a primary school tour group attempting to navigate the tour. There were four 8-ish year old girls on our train car who were in awe of their experience. They were wicked cute. Soon after we disembarked and found ourselves in Kensington, which is apparently a very classy neighborhood of London. Our path was lined by white columned buildings, the kinds like the Banks’s home in Mary Poppins. It was so quiet and calm, very different from the beaten path of London tourism. We also passed embassies of other nations: France, Yemen, Thailand, Bangladesh… It was a really random assortment.

The pub itself was an excellent suggestion. It was situated on a cute little corner of a London neighborhood with windows on two sides. It was full of locals crowded around a flat screen tv watching the Croatia/Portugal game. We grabbed a seat at the bar and ordered two local beers, an appetizer of chips, gravy, and cheese (or as I thought of it, British poutine), and two orders of fish and chips. Now, I went into London not sure about fish and chips. I’ve gotten it before in the US and have been sorely disappointed because at the end of the day, I don’t like fish. It’s slimy and it tastes like seawater. Even if you have hatred of fish, do not ignore the fish and chips in London. I don’t know how they do it there, but they do it RIGHT. The fish didn’t taste fishy at all! The batter was sweet and the fish was so good it almost tasted more like lobster, which I do enjoy. Bravo, England. Now I get the draw. Thanks for the suggestion, Jim!

Our last item on our London agenda was to see the city at night. Back to the Tube we went, got off at Westminster and made our way to the Thames. From the north side we took photos of Big Ben and the Eye, all lit up in their evening finery. The Eye was decorated in rainbow lights, as we had come to London the week of the British Pride festival. Yay equality! Both were really pretty reflecting on the water. After one more stroll past the Eye, we headed back to our hotel and closed out the night.

That ends the London chapter of our story. Overall, I loved London, and I wasn’t expecting to be completely thrilled with it. I mean yeah I was excited to go there, but I did not expect to love it as much as I did. It was such a classy, clean, and friendly city. I’m contemplating coming back to the US with a British accent I liked it so much. Y’know, like Madonna. Haha. Alright I’m done. Peace out, London. Off to Amsterdam.

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