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London! [Nov. 14th, 2006|01:46 pm]
This weekend, I went to London. Mary and I left very early Friday morning, and due to the time difference, we arrived in London a little after 8am. Then we had to take the train in from the airport and find our hostel. We managed everything, and a very nice gentleman even told us when to get off the bus without us even needing to ask. The hostel check-in was the fastest we’ve done and we were out the door at about 10:30 to go off exploring. The first order of business was to get some breakfast. We went to a café around the corner and I had bap (which is basically a soft roll) with a fried egg and bacon (that was much more like Canadian bacon than American). Then we walked down the Thames, taking many pictures, to get to the Tower of London. We went on a Yeoman Warder (Beefeater) tour of the grounds, which was very informative, because we learned things we wouldn’t have known about. The cottage that King Henry VII built for Anne Boleyn is the only remaining Tudor building in London because the rest were burned in the great fire. We saw the Crown Jewels which were amazingly gorgeous and debated the pros and cons of marrying one of the Princes. Then we walked around the armory and the old living quarters of Edward V and saw the place where Anne Boleyn was beheaded (along with many of Henry’s other wives). After we had finished at the Tower, we went back to the hostel to have a rest. Then we went searching for dinner. The hostel is located near St. Paul’s Cathedral which is also a business district, so there wasn’t much in the way of restaurants. We finally went into a pub and were dismayed to find out that they stopped serving food at 5pm (?) but they took pity on us and gave us some dinner. Then we walked along the Strand which is where many of the Theaters are. I wish I had looked more into discount theater tickets, because they had some good shows on. We walked all along until we found ourselves in Trafalgar Square. Then we realized that we were near Buckingham Palace and decided to walk there and see it before turning back. The walk was a little longer than we had thought, and then after we saw the Palace we had a hard time finding a nearby Tube station and had to walk around in the rain for a bit.

Saturday morning we woke up bright and early, had the decent continental (free) breakfast buffet at the hostel and then headed out. Our first stop was the British Museum to see the Rosetta Stone, the Elgin Marbles and the Portland Vase. And that was what we saw. The museum was so huge, you could have spent and entire day there, so we just saw those three things and whatever was along the way. I had to convince Mary that the marbles were the real ones from the Parthenon and not copies (same with the Crown Jewels); I think she is still skeptical. Then we hustled to get to Buckingham Palace (again) by 11:30 to see the changing of the guard. Of course when we got there at exactly 11:30 there was a crowed 5 deep along the fence. But somehow we managed to squeeze in for a better view. There was a lot of pomp, but it moved a lot more slowly than I expected. It was quite a surprise to hear the guard band playing the Mission Impossible theme song and a Beatles medley instead of marching music. Then we went and had some Cornish Pasties for lunch which were delicious along with the first Dr. Pepper I’ve seen in Europe. After lunch, we caught the tube down to Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament. Parliament and Big Ben (which is the name of the bell inside and not the actual building btw) were even more impressive in person than they are in pictures. We got into Westminster about 20 minutes before the last entrance, so we were glad we hadn’t gone somewhere else first. It was really incredible to see all the graves of so many important people all in one place. The biggest surprise for me was that Elizabeth I and Mary Tudor were buried in the same grave. Since it was Armistice Day they had all these little remembrance crosses out on the lawn of the church and everyone was wearing poppy buttonholes. After Westminster, Mary headed back to the hostel to rest and I went to the Victoria (it was so weird for me in London to see my name plastered all over everything) and Albert Museum to see the fashion collection. They had a special exhibit of Sixties Swinging fashion which was really cool, they even had a Twiggy mannequin and paper dresses! The permanent fashion collection was really neat too. I probably could have looked around the museum more after that because it looked really interesting, but I was so tired I just wanted to get off my feet. So I went back to the hostel where we couldn’t find anything open except Subway, so that’s what we had for dinner. Then we fell asleep really early.

Sunday was another early day. We bought tickets for the London Eye at the hostel to avoid the heinous lines and then headed over to ride it. The line wasn’t too bad, but you could see where they had more snake-line sections for the busier times of the year. The London Eye is the giant Ferris wheel that they built for the Millennium celebrations. I think they said it was like 460 feet tall. It doesn’t even stop as you get on; you have to slip into the large glass gondolas as they glide past. It was neat to get such great views of London (and I had fun figuring out which buildings were what), but it was a little over hyped and definitely not worth the 12 pounds for the half hour ride. Then we went to Piccadilly Circus to walk around and look for souvenirs. After that, we went to Trafalgar Square to go the National Gallery. We were both very tired and footsore, so we did a very fast highlight tour, but I can’t wait to go back and look at everything properly. They had a great collection of Titian. They had a whole room of Rembrandt which I took some time with since I will be taking a whole course on him next semester. We saw Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks. They had a special exhibit of Impressionists/Postimpressionists and it was like a recap of the class I took last semester. It a fabulous collection of stuff and I saw many things I recognized. They had an important Seurat piece and one of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. As we were walking down the steps, I tripped and banged my knee and my shopping bag into the cement, shattering the awesome Union Jack shot glass that I had bought. Since it was the end of our trip, I didn’t see another and had to buy a far inferior one at the hostel. Then we went and had an early dinner before heading back to the hostel to rest our feet before the Jack the Ripper walking tour that was being given for free by a hostel volunteer. The Ripper tour was pretty interesting; we got to see a different kind of London neighborhood even if it was a little creepy. The guide wasn’t very good, he was mostly reading from his notes, but I’m pretty familiar with the Ripper stuff, so it was interesting just to see the sites (not that there’s much to them). The only problem with the tour was that it was supposed to be 2- 2 ½ hours and ended up being 3 ½ which was a little on the long side. We got back to the hostel at around 11 and ordered our cab and went to bed.

I was worried about making our flight, so I didn’t really sleep at all, just listened to the St. Paul’s bells chime. I woke Mary at 2:30 and we got ready quickly and went downstairs where the cab was waiting to take us to the train station. We thought it would be one of the cool cabs, but it wasn’t so it was a little sketchy, but since the hostel had called the cab company for us and they guy had been inside talking to the security guard, we figured it was safe. He dropped us off at the train station and then we tried to find the place where the bus would come. The trains don’t run that early in the morning, so they have a bus service instead. The whole train station was locked up, so we didn’t know where to go. If we had read the sign on the door in the first place, we would have been better off, but we didn’t. So we wandered around the outside of the station looking for where the bus would come, but we didn’t see anything that looked promising. Finally we saw some people with luggage who looked like they knew what they were doing, so we followed them. Back to the spot in front of the station where the cab let us off. Then I saw the sign that said wait here for buses to the airport and smacked my head. The bus came a few minutes later and we were at the airport in about an hour. Then the real fun began. We got in line to get our boarding passes and I needed to check a bag because of the stricter restrictions on liquids. But I hadn’t paid for it in advance so the lady at the counter said I had to go to another counter, pay and then come back to get my boarding pass. So that took forever because the line was really long. Then we only had about 10 minutes before our flight was supposed to start boarding. Then it took about 15 minutes to get through security and we ended up running to our gate (the farthest away of course) to find that it hadn’t even started boarding yet. Then we get on the plane, got seats and then the plane was delayed for almost two hours because of fog in Rome. After that the flight was fine and we got into Rome safe and sound and exhausted.