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This blog is a compilation of my journal I kept while on the fantastic trip, as well as a few sample photos and videos I took while there. I edited the dates I actually added it to the blog so that they would be in this specific order, click on “older posts” at the bottom to continue on to the later days. Click on the pictures to see a larger version.

Enjoy!

We landed. England surrounded us from all four sides.

It was a great landing, and an exciting moment, doubly so for the thought of being done with an eight hour flight. It was a long walk through the airport. The first thing I got to notice that was different between England and the U.S. was the universal signs for men and women for the public toilets (at least at the airport). The woman has a puffy dress instead of a straight diagonal dress. Unfortunately I have not seen a woman here with a puffy dress, but I’ll be on the lookout.

Going through customs wasn’t too bad other than it being a long line. We filled out a little form. Who we were, our address, how long we’d be staying. The man that did our passport stamping was a good natured British man, who (after finding out we were brothers) started to sing a line from a song “He’s not heavy, he’s my brother.”

While going through the airport we got instructions of how to get places from several other people with lovely accents. Though the currency exchange guy tried to up-sell me to do another $500 for a .02 conversion difference. I said no, but after getting only 540 pounds for $1,000, and spending 300 pounds for the first day (unlimited use for two oyster cards for a week and the hostel balance paid) I’m thinking we are going to need more cash than originally expected. I’m sure there is going to be more underestimations of costs still to come. Haha.

We got on the Underground, as it is titled (I also heard it was The Tube), and we more or less went as efficiently as we could to our hostel from the airport. Okay, so, maybe I directed us to use the wrong train, but it didn’t take long to fix my error. Which I am now thinking the unlimited use of the oyster cards is going to come in handy.

By the end of the day I had misdirected us three times on unnecessary trains, but fortunately they have all been quick fixes, and I think I am getting the hang of how to navigate them.

Video – The Underground London Train Car: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mxiwEB8dPFw

So we got to the hostel, and they said the room wasn’t ready yet. We’d need to come back after 2pm. It was 10ish at the time. We were able to leave our bags and I pulled out my camera and we set off to go to Westminster Abbey. I found it helpful for orientating myself that the streets around the hostel looked a lot like the streetview option from Google.

I would highly recommend using streetview before going to a new city. It was nice to be able to see and mentally map out our home base ahead of time.

Getting off at Westminster station, and climbing those steps from the underground to the street corner by the Thames and Big Ben was nothing short of awesome. It’s like someone splashing you with a big bucket of London imagery all at once, especially from the minimalism of London we had seen up to that point. Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and all those equally impressive (yet less well known) buildings in that area are really beautiful to see in person. They stood out in a way I didn’t imagine. Mesmerizing to me, like the time a child sees his first laser hologram. Gazing at it, shifting back and forth to see how it moves and commenting “It looks so real!”

Yes, I am proud to confirm, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey look very realistic.

The Thames definitely looks dirty, but other than the color, it fits in very aesthetically with all the great buildings wrapping along with it at each bend. The London Eye still just looks like a big Ferris Wheel. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about the Eye though as we are scheduled to ride on it at the end of our all day tour tomorrow.

Walking from the Tube station to Westminster Abbey was interesting. It was very busy and crowded, but that also made it easier to figure out the crosswalks and traffic. A lady came up to me and was trying to put a flower in my shirt somehow (I think she was going for my collar, or perhaps she was just trying to stake my vampiric paleness with a flower stem and protect Queen and country). She was evidently giving me a flower if I would give her a donation “for the children”. I was quick to say no, having been hassled already too much in my life in big cities to give money to the overly insistent on the street. I’m not against giving to charity, or even to street performers. But if it is supposed to be for charity, I want to be more assured about the majority of the donation actually going to the intended targets. So I backed away from the lady and she retracted her flower (or was simply disappointed on unsuccessfully staking me).

I looked back and saw another lady offering plastic flowers and gypsy blessings in exchange for donations to Johnathon. I was interested to see in how he handled it and I sat back and watched. Johnathon stood there listening to her with a polite and slightly embarrassed smile on his face. It took over a minute for her to lose steam and his apologies of not being able to help before she backed off from him. This is not before the vampire slaying gypsy went over to team up on my brother, however.

We got away from them though, Johnathon being sincere about not being able to help as he wasn’t holding any of our money, and then we pressed on to the Abbey.

I very much enjoyed looking at the exterior and sitting on the grass on the grounds surrounding it. So were a hundred other people too, but it was a big lawn. Even on an unimportant day in mid May, on an unassuming day of the week, there was still a river of tourists like me and Johnathon flooding the area. It was amazing to glimpse just how big the tourism industry is for London.

Video – Exterior of Westminster Abbey: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EH8K1yhz5Xs

I’ve decided on a goal for this trip, I’m going to try and take at least fifty pictures of other tourists that are in the middle of taking a picture. I’ve had a nice start already.

I almost forgot, Johnathon got accosted by another flower & luck selling gypsy wanting donations for the children. (Who they might mean by “the children” is entirely debatable, as they offered no details on organization or even a name of their supposed charity.) It took about the same amount of time for Johnathon’s polite patience to tire another gypsy. While I don’t know if they are real gypsies or not, the one that bounced from me to Johnathon called herself a gypsy saying “It isn’t good saying ‘no’ to a gypsy.”

I guess they take his smiling patience as a chance to test their guilt inducing persuasion. But I just watch, laughing a little as another gypsy succumbs to Johnathon’s patience.

We decided to go into the Abbey after a while, paying sixteen pounds per person, and a three dollar discount being offered for my international student ID card I picked up before the trip. We got inside and it was overwhelming. So many classically styled sculptures, statues, and beyond intricate details fit into every available corner. I pull out my camera, take a picture backwards and up, showing the stained glass above, getting things squared behind me before taking on the task of photographing the overwhelming room in front of me.

I wished I had taken a picture forward, showing the big expanse of the room, the crowd of people and the greeting statues, but at this point I am approached by an old gentlemen in a green priestly garment and speaking with a fantastically polite and regal British tone, that he is sorry, but photography is not permitted inside the Abbey. I was powerless to defy his politeness. Though I still wish I snuck one or two pictures.

Westminster Abbey is overwhelming. It is more to me like a museum of tombs and monuments than it is a church. It is very segmented and each segment boasts an incredibly rich history of monarchy and religion represented by sculpture and architecture. You’re given this handheld phone looking thing to hang on your neck from a lanyard. As you walk around you see a section with a sign displaying a number, you put that number into the device and hit play. It gives you recordings of an audio guide giving tidbits of information about  the names and events that surround the artwork and tombs. It is an amazing place.

While out in the cloisters photography was allowed and I took pictures there.

Video – Example of Westminster Abbey Tour: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ce0D5YEVzA

After the Abbey we went in search of bottles of water. Both I and especially Johnathon were feeling the effects of fatigue and aching from subsisting on such a small amount of uncomfortable sleep on the plane. We sat with our water for awhile. Then went off in search of Trafalgar square.

Before getting to Trafalgar square, me and Johnathon walked by a little restaurant that advertised traditional British food. The place was called Geronimo (isn’t that originally a Native American name?) We went in and ordered The Ploughman’s Bread from a tiny waitress with a thick British accent. (I’m still digging the accent.) I then stole one of the paper menus (because it’s cool) and I did the horribly embarrassing tourist thing, I took a picture of the meal when it was brought out to us.

It was an assembly of sandwich stuff but not put together. At least I think it was sandwich stuff (it was listed on the menu in the sandwich section) I tried to assemble it into a sandwich but gave up and ate the assortment individually. It was an odd meal, which was perfect in my eye, I wanted an unfamiliar meal. Half of it was alright, fairly simple, kind of bland, and the other half was… odd and made me laugh after trying it.

Some basic stuff like a couple hunks of bread, ham, a boiled egg, celery, apple slices, cheese (I liked the cheese a lot). Also these little things that look like olive sized onions, and soaked in some sort of vinegar(?). They were amazingly tart and… weird tasting. Johnathon made a fantastic face when he tried one. Then this sort of mashed fruit thing in a cup. It was maybe some sort of combination with figs and apricots, I’m not sure. It looked like it had little chunks of diced onion in it. I got ham with my Ploughman’s Bread, while Johnathon got a small pork pie. I tried some of the pork pie, it was a thick bland bread with a chunk of very dry pork inside. This definitely needed some sauce, something for more flavor and ease back the dryness. Johnathon didn’t finish it.

Yet, it was great. I ate my meal smiling, loving the novelty of the experience.

Then we went to Trafalgar square. It is a good sized square with lots of people. Huge lion sculptures that people draped themselves over while their friends or family took pictures of them. I of course got several pictures of the people taking pictures.

Video – Trafalgar Square & Lions: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GyX243mlBQo

There were some Busckers (street entertainers) break dancing right outside of The National Gallery, as well as a living statue guy (painted as a gun wearing soldier/pirate in gold), and a musician playing the violin.

The National Gallery is free and holds an amazing amount of artwork that culturally goes over our collective heads. But there was no picture taking. I recognized a few pieces from my intro to art class. We didn’t stop at any picture, just kept a steady pace. We didn’t have much time and we were feeling majorly jet lagged and hurting by this point. The place is huge, the size and scope of the gallery is incredible. I’d need to get a degree in art history to begin to appreciate most of it. It was sort of like watching a video that shows you several different amazing and historical pieces of art every second. After ten minutes of that you are just flooded with images that seem to blur together and loose identity.

We crawled back to the hostel and spoke with a very friendly man who gave us our key. The room is small but sufficient. It doesn’t have AC but the window was left open and it is a pleasantly cool day. There don’t seem to be any bugs yet, even 8 hours of having the window open. The bathrooms are small and not very inviting, but that doesn’t really bother me. We have a great location, and there seems to be a good energy here.

We went over to the hotel where we were supposed to get picked up for the all day tour. The bus to pick us up wasn’t showing up at the appointed time. This worried me a bit, especially since some reviews on tripadvisor mentioned that they had the tour company flake out on them. I asked the staff behind the desk at the hotel if they knew anything about it. They didn’t offer much assistance. I tried to use a payphone, couldn’t figure it out and lost twenty pence while the staff still wouldn’t explain to me how to use the phone. The bus did come, but it was a half hour late.

We were taken to this bus station with several terminals, and I’m impressed by this because it seems to be only used by the touring company. I could easily be wrong but it was a whole bus station for one touring company. Lots of people were there, many of them confused and scrambling around to make sure they were in the right spot. We WERE in the right spot, because we rock… and we had asked for assistance. The tour guide was great. A very historically educated guy, and equipped with some good solid jokes.

Our first stop was Tower of London.

I liked the Tower of London. We got to listen to one of the red uniformed Yeoman Warders, he was fairly good, he was interesting and made us laugh. Talked about the Tower’s history of course. It went through many different uses throughout its history, and it currently houses and feeds several ravens. The saying goes that whenever The Tower no longer has at least 5 ravens, then the monarchy will fall. The Yeoman said that historically, there actually wasn’t that much torture at The Tower, as only important people were imprisoned there, but Guy Fawkes was indeed tortured there.

Video – Yeoman Warder Tour Guide: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIzdZr0nt1o

I took a video of a spot that use to be used for gallows, and I tried imagining shifting back in time and seeing something like a hanging or beheading going on in that space. It’s wild when history can almost feel tangible.

Video – Tower of London Gallows Area & Raven: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IxxBHNM1yFc

I also took a short video of one of the Royal Guards guarding(?) a door.

Video – Tower of London Guard: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYNC-H6j63Q

 

We saw the crown jewels and other high valued treasures from royals long past. They were of course extravagant and fantastic, but I couldn’t escape the thought of how terrible it was that the royalty was so very full of themselves. Their greed was gluttonous. And their obsession with appearance was about as absurd as any could manage in that era.

We also saw lots of arms and armory, always neat to see.

Cool dragon, eh?

We finished up and went on a boat ride up the Thames river at low tide. I got a chance to see the river again later in the day and it is really amazing how much of a difference there is from low to high tide. The top of the green algae in the pictures and video shows how high the water rises during high tide.

We drove under London Bridge but not Tower Bridge. Johnathon said he liked his first ever boat ride. I was glad for that. The thing had a lot of kick, and it sped up quickly when leaving the ports it stopped at.

 

Video – Boat Ride on the Thames: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4J7S-iD8hU

 

We got onto a bus and went to go watch the Changing of the Guard.

Meh.

It was a great area, being in front of Buckingham Palace and all. There was a ton of people, but I’m not really sure why there were so many people there for the changing of the guard. It’s a tall fuzzy hat marching band, lead by a guy on a horse, and a small group of stomping fuzzy hats to replace them. Maybe there were that many people there for the same reason I was there, because it is a thing that people do in London. The main reason why anyone does it is because there have been a lot other people that did it. That sort of circular logic is great for the economics of the city, but I guess it takes a while to fabricate that sort of thing. Then again, it could just be that I have a cold, callused heart when it comes to a handful of stomping fuzzy hatted people playing music.

Video – Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=olZGM6sg_Ak

 

Then we went to St. Paul’s Cathedral. St Paul’s is magnificent. It is not like Westminster Abbey. Westminster is like an ornament that hasn’t been left alone, as more and more lavishness gets added that eventually the whole interior of the Abbey became saturated to the point that it is almost gaudy. But not St. Paul’s.

St. Paul’s has a more clear design, a grand experience that it is trying to convey. It does it very well. It is huge, the ceiling is both distant and gorgeous. And boy is it a tall building. Johnathon and I not only went up to the whispering deck, where the curved dome acts as an acoustic device, but also up to the highest point the public can go. A narrow, one person walkway just under its highest spire. And we only used stairs… Let’s just say I didn’t know what I was getting into. I can say I did it though, and we were hurried so we did it quickly, but it was rough.

While up there we had a superb view of the city. I didn’t have my camera anymore though. Well, I had it but the battery went out and my spare was a dude. (I later was back in the hostel and tried charging it again. It showed it was fully charged in only 30 seconds, which it obviously wasn’t when I tried it again so that one went in the trash. At least I have 4 more.) So I took a few pictures with my phone, which will have to suffice. Plus we didn’t have much time. So we ran back down, looked for 60 seconds at the crypt, then went outside to meet back up with our guide.

After St. Paul’s we went to the London Eye. The big Ferris Wheel didn’t turn out to scare me, which I am very happy about. It is about a 35 minute ride. Everyone just kind of wanders around the pod that they are in. There were about 10 to 12 people in our pod.

The Eye is close to The Houses of Parliament so you get a great view of that. Alas, I was only able to take pictures with my phone. The Eye was overall alright, I probably won’t do it again, but I’d recommend it to most people if you can get a deal on it.

We also went and watched a 4 minute 3d movie that shows off the Eye in as many fancy ways as it could. I enjoyed the video because they also released white fluffy pieces into the air along with the 3d snow you watch while showing the Eye during Christmas time. It was a neat effect.

We wanted to head back to the hostel and rest a bit, also we wanted to go to the Café Rogue that we had planned on going to but skipped on the first day. So off to the Cafe we went.

Dinner was great. It seemed very French. The waitress and host didn’t smile and were not friendly. The food I got was excellent. So yeah, it seemed to live up the the French stereotype. Haha.

(Just kidding, I kind of hate accepting stereotypes. I’ve had non-french waiters and waitresses who were not friendly, and perhaps this one lady was having an off day. She did however give a short but genuine smile to me when I gave her a tip.)

I got a small plate of mushrooms in cream sauce covering two small croissants. Then I got a Crème Brulee. I had never had one before. It was just wonderful. I loved it. So delightful with the caramelized top and subtly sweet vanilla pudding underneath (I’m guessing that’s what it was). Johnathon got a steak that came with a small salad. The meat was kind of plain, but there was a dipping sauce that seemed really nice. Overall though Johnathon said he liked it but not a ton. That he’d be happier with sandwiches instead. (He really likes the sandwiches we can get from the market here.)

After that we went back to the Hostel for awhile, then we went out again to see Hyde Park.

It was already night though and it turned out that the park was closed. Instead we took a couple funny pictures of us posing in those famous red phone booths, and we bought four candy bars that we had never heard of before.

We went back to the Hostel, jumped up onto the top bunk, and filmed ourselves eating the foreign candy bars.

Video – Chocolate Bar Ramblings 1 of 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=caYbbbLatY8

Video – Chocolate Bar Ramblings 2of 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vi7KwJQU9Yk

Looking forward to Windsor and the Lion King tomorrow.

So we got up, grabbed some sandwiches and croissants- I’m really loving those market croissants. Then we walked to Paddington station. Paddington station is huge. It is a big train station as well as the underground subway. We walked into the wrong doors, and asked silly questions about directions and how to do things, but overall got our tickets and onto the right train. Windsor station has a nice string of shops along it as you walk out, and the castle is just outside looming on a hill. We got to the castle about a half hour before they opened. So it turned out we were the first in line (for non groups).

I’d just like to say we have been very lucky with the weather. It has only been slightly warm, or slightly cold or drizzly at times but none of those have lasted long. I feel very fortunate about it so far.

Being the first ones onto the grounds was nice. Things were very peaceful for a while.

Video – Windsor Castle Entrance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJBwPgBLp4s

 

We listened attentively to our audio tour and strolled along slowly. It is very much what you’d expect of an operating and somewhat modern castle. It looks like a castle, no doubt. It isn’t like the ruins of a castle or the old stone walls with moss in the crevices. While the outer walls are stone they are very well kept.

Inside it was more like a palace, beautiful walls, perfect furnishings and everything lavishly decorated. It is supposed to be 900 years old, but the old girl is looking good. I wasn’t able to take pictures of the inside, which was another sad moment in the history of Joe. I really would have loved too. You know all those movies about kings and queens in the most decorated and fancy of settings? That’s what it looked like inside. Huge rooms, one with a dining table long enough to feed over a hundred people. Ornamental swords and shields along the walls showing off the crests of the knights of the kingdom. King’s bedrooms looking like you’d imagine. Big and with expensive bed canopies. There was a Garter room with a throne at one end and two rows of seats facing each other, or anyone walking up the isle between them. It was the official room for knighting an individual. Huge paintings and ceilings throughout the interior. Everything was expertly crafted. It was impressive. Though Johnathon said he didn’t like the state rooms as much as I did. Silly brother.

We also watched a bit of the changing of the guard at Windsor. It was slightly more interesting in my opinion than at Buckingham. Some of the stomping guards walked directly past us as we were wondering around.

Video – Changing of the Guards at Windsor 1 of 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lyNQLsR1kQ

Video – Changing of the Guards at Windsor 2 of 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uICRQH0OCuA

We also checked out St. George’s Chapel while we were there. It really is great, but from recently comparing it to Westminster and St. Paul’s it seems like it barely met standards of magnificence.

We left Windsor earlier than I was expecting and had some extra time, so we decided to go to the British Library before going to the theater to watch The Lion King.

The British Library seems like a very modern Library, and I say this because it doesn’t seem to be designed primarily to have just rows of books for people. It seems to be built a bit more like an attraction. It is a wonderful space, with neat designs. It has leather-bound railings in the style of books which gave me a laugh, it has a big café with an even bigger seating area, and apparently offering free wi-fi to the masses of laptop wielding people sitting there. It has admirable collections (more on that in a moment). It also has an educational section with interactive terminals on how they preserve books. The café seating area surrounds a 30 foot diameter square pillar that is made of glass and looks to be packed with the most beautiful large and old books, like you would see in a Victorian library. But they are just for decoration. Up front the library is everything book related without actually having any normal books available. This is why I call it a modern library. While it does have normal books, they are past all of the fanfare and you can only walk around there if you have a library card.

What we got to see was the “Treasures” collection, and what a collection it is. They had a darkly lit expansive room with a low ceiling and many beautifully glass cases illuminating the books inside. There was no photography unfortunately, but if there was and I had brought my camera, people would have heard the clapping shutter sound from my camera many times. They had original volumes of Shakespeare, first editions and even personal notes of several famous composer’s sheet music (they looked like they would be crazy hard to play for how unformatted, and condensed they were). They had hand written manuscripts from Jane Austin. They had a huge and gorgeously decorated original collection of Canterbury Tales. They had the oldest most complete new testament (4th century). They had old copies of the Koran, writings from Lao Tzu (Taoism). They had some of those species cataloging books with amazingly well done drawings on the inside showing off different species of fish or plants. They had a little room to the side displaying The Magna Carte. They had a row of books and scrolls of the Vedas for Hinduism, and old scrolls talking about the life of Buddha- complete with pictures. They had old prayer books owned by kings past, and ledger books keeping record of knight’s families. And they also had some pieces from Leonardo Da Vinci, pages open up to one that looked like a poem, and another like schematics for some sort of device (I’d guess it was some sort of pulley).

So I’d say that collection was adequately named “Treasures”. Amazing stuff. Johnathon even pointed out a book that showed off very similar art style as The Book Kells, I believe it said it was inspired by the Book of Kells.

It was well worth our time to go and visit.

After the British Library we went out and bought a couple bananas and then a couple kebabs for ourselves. They were messy and mediocre, but I was starving and loved the location. I’ve enjoyed every meal I’ve had here so far, even when it didn’t taste good (though you should NOT get the Chicken Salad sandwich. Blah!), if for no other reason than the novelty of the experiences.

After the food we went to the Lyceum Theater. We were about an hour early and sat around for it to open. I wanted to check down one of the streets and look around better and Johnathon wanted to sit and rest, so he sat and I went. I walked by The Somerset House. I don’t know anything about it, but it was another interesting and beautiful building (London seems to be full of them).

I made it as far as the river and I turned back. When I got back to Johnathon, one of the elementary school field trip groups had invaded his location. Side note, there seem to be massive amounts of school field trips going on in the city at all times. I laughed because Johnathon wanted a secluded space to rest, but he had to hang out there because I didn’t know where else to look for him if he moved.

The Lyceum Theater opened and we went inside.

I was sort of disappointed to find out that photography WAS allowed in this theater, until the show starts anyway, but I had left my camera back at the hostel. It was a grand old theater, and I tried to take some pictures, but my phone has terrible quality when it comes to low light. Tis okay though. We sat on the first balcony, called The Royal, and we were right in front. It was a great view, I was very happy about that. We made small chat with the theater enthusiastic ladies sitting beside us and then the Lion King began. It is a very well done and impressive play. A lot of neat ideas on how to convey certain scenes. All the actors did wonderfully, and the music was top notch. I was curious if they would speak with a British accent, but they did not. They tried to imitate the Disney experience as exactly as they could. I looked over at Johnathon and caught him smiling in appreciation multiple times. He really enjoyed it, he said he couldn’t see how anyone could walk out of the play not enjoying it.

After the play we were walking back to The Underground station and I was looking to my right and it was a packed street with buildings right alongside each other and what appeared to be a type of hotel. It had open gates for cars to drive in, and down the little driveway opened up to a big and well lit courtyard. It seemed like there were extra lights over that way, and a big fountain in the center, so I stopped Johnathon and said we should check it out real quick. So we did, there was a lot of people in the car part area right in front of the garden and grassy courtyard beyond. They seemed to be standing around waiting for their rides or something, I wasn’t really paying attention. One lady was telling these two guys to walk along “this direction” and to look over “that way”. A couple of girls gave us a funny look, but I have become use to that. I usually have a camera case hanging around my neck and Johnathon is one of the only non baseball hat wearing people in the city. Me and Johnathon got to the fountain and I pulled out my phone to take pictures, but this is when me and Johnathon realized that they were filming a movie at that location. We were on a movie set.

Everyone started walking around, including the two young men and then they stopped and went back to their original positions. Me and Johnathon were trapped though. We were by the fountain and couldn’t walk away from it without getting more where they were filming. It was exciting and awkward. So we just tried to chill, and act like the sightseers we were. After a few times of them doing the same short bland scene of those two guys walking 40 feet we decided to make a break for it. We got away without anyone being upset with us. I don’t think most of them knew we had wandered on. I thought it was really cool to realize what we had stepped into. I tried to take a picture of the guys as we finished our escape.

I didn’t recognize the two guys at all. I wonder what they were filming…

Then we got home and slept. I’m proud to say I’ve got a fairly good handle on The Underground now, so there wasn’t any extra excitement that night. Tomorrow is museum day!

I woke up feeling a little rough. I had a bit of a sore throat. So I got some juice from the market. We’ve been sticking to a mostly sandwich diet and staying on the cheap for the most part.

We got to the Victoria & Albert museum but they hadn’t opened yet. We had twenty minutes to kill, so we hung out in the tunnel that led to V&A’s back entrance. We were relaxing and listening to a saxophone player a ways down the tunnel.

Video – Outside V&A Museum: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0UxHPGWZ68

 

We got inside the museum and it was impressive from the start, lots of great statue sculptures. Lots of nice classical work.

Video – Sample of V&A Museum: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CxoyJOqlclA

 

The V&A describes itself as a museum of craft and design (or something similar) but really, it is just a general purpose museum. They had furniture, ceramics, blown-glass art, tons of sculptures and general stone work. They have paintings, rugs, garments, historic photography, weapons, recreated royal vintage rooms, just a ton of stuff. It was a lot bigger than I had expected, it kept going on and on.

Video – Sample of V&A Museum # 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nb5G-KDZ1n0

Video – Sample of V&A Museum # 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iB6u5CjCbMU

I definitely lost steam for both taking pictures and even wandering and seeing any more by the end of it. It was a huge place and I wasn’t feeling up to snuff for too much more.  It really was great though, I enjoyed it. I did have a bit of a tiff with Johnathon, it involved my patience (as a person, sometimes I suck, I know) and how long he took to take photographs. Stupid I know, but at some point everyone’s patience would be spent, whether mine was too short is hard to know and I’m sure feeling like I was getting sick was not helping. Also my low back started hurting for the first time, in like, years. So we had ourselves an appropriate squabble to remember that we are still siblings, but before long we made up nicely and continued on.

After the V&A we decided to go to the Natural History Museum because it was right across the street and looked so big and glorious (truly).

We decided to adjust our plans a little bit and go to the British Museum tomorrow, since we have since shied away from the plan to go to Hampton Court. While Hampton Court would be neat. It was a ways a way, it was. :)

Also it would cost 30 pounds per person, and would supposedly be similar to the insides of Windsor Castle (Johnathon didn’t get too much out of them), and while it would have a big nice manicured courtyard, we had a nice visit planned for something similar in Ireland. So no Hampton Court.

The Natural Museum was wonderful I really liked the dinosaur section, but I really wasn’t feeling great by this time.

Video – Animatronic Dinosaur: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lUUW6ZMzo7A

Video – Animatronic Dinosaur #2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b88NIDg-Q0Q

While we were there a lady asked me to take a picture with her camera of her and a disembodied dinosaur head hovering behind her. It was a large crowd, so if I were to guess why she picked me to ask I would say it was because I had a camera of my own. Though I will grudgingly admit her camera was spiffier than mine. Overall that sort of thing made me happy, being selected and helping someone out. So much so that on our walk back to our hostel after the natural history museum I snatched some money from a ladies purse, threw it on the ground, picked it up and ran after her to return it to her and get a warm thank you. Okay, so maybe I didn’t pull out the money and throw it on the ground, but I didn’t need to, it did that itself. It was five pounds, which is the smallest bill they have here in London (1 pound or 2 pounds are only in the form of coins), but she still seemed very thankful.

Once we got home I didn’t feel like doing anything. So we looked at the pictures and videos we took and then I crashed. Johnathon went online to try and look up things to do tomorrow. I got a wonderful sort of nap that rejuvenated me immensely. My throat and my back were no longer sore.

Not sure actually what our plans for tomorrow will be other than probably British Museum and Covent Garden. Johnathon mentioned wanting to go listen to a choir from one of the big fancy churches.

Well we still had about half a day after my nap actually, so we went to Hyde Park to walk around.

Video – Walking in Hyde Park: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_wCjeIsZ5M

It is one of the biggest ones here in London. It is really nice, big open flat area with trees scattered about. Ponds, monuments, and the like. What was really special though was one tree looked particularly inviting to sit under. It had beautiful leaves hanging from branches at just the right height. Also the grass wasn’t cut there, so it was a bit higher and soft. I took several pictures of the tree and the surrounding area. I particularly liked the position of the sun for the shots.

I chilled out under the tree while Johnathon was going around the pond.

Video – Time Under the Tree: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p8FgCYMtYrw

 

Johnathon later took some pictures of the setting sun from around the pound. They really are great pictures.

I don’t really know how to say enough about this little space under the tree. It was just profoundly beautiful and peaceful to sit there.

I laid down and stared up at the trees until the sun set.

I thought of life mostly, the past and future, and how great the present was. I felt that place was similar to childhood imagery I hold inside when I want to think of nostalgic beauty. Just of me as a kid playing around in some trees, back when I was young enough that the whole world consisted of just my immediate surroundings.

Anyway, under the tree, laying down and looking up… It was such a simple and pure slice of life that I hope I never forget it (and doubt I will).

Johnathon joined me and laid down too. He really enjoyed it as well, even possibly more than me. He talked about physical surroundings and what they can mean to him and how important it is to him to find these places that are just right.

Again, the weather is still remaining fantastic. It was perfect all day, an even temperature, partly cloudy, a nice warm breeze, but it got a little bit colder as the light faded. We had our jackets which kept out the chill when it dropped a couple degrees.

So a deep twilight came and we decided to walk around the park more. It went dark within a few minutes and we got to see more of the lovely park. A small police van drove up to us on the small roadway thingy in the park and told us it was closed and we needed to leave.

It was a great night, I’m interested to see how tomorrow goes.

It is Saturday today, and the hostel is very lively. Lots of people showering and making you panic you’re not going to get a chance to use the bathrooms. Sticking to our lovely local market for cheap breakfasts I spotted a Pasty in the market and decided to give it a try instead of a sandwich. It’s basically a hand held beef pot pie. British author Nail Gaiman had wrote about them in his book American Gods, so it caught my eye and it was pretty good and filling. We then set off to Westminster Cathedral. The Cathedral was nice, it was more like St. Paul’s Cathedral then it was Westminster Abbey.

We got there during mass and the choir was singing. I asked the desk lady and she said I could take pictures once mass ended. We sat down in the chairs and watched the service while listening to the singing. These sorts of places were definitely built with acoustics in mind. Whole seconds for an echo to disappear, and the chanting and singing is slow, which in my opinion is deliberate to avoid sound piling up on itself with such powerful echoes. We watched the people receive communion. I asked if Johnathon wanted to get in line for that as well, but he declined.

After that I got a chance to finally take a picture inside one of these fancy churches, but I didn’t take many because I was self conscious of my camera’s shutter sound.

Then we were off to Covent Garden.

Covent Garden is a nice big tourist space. Vehicle-less streets and of course tons of shops (it’s not actually a garden… who knew?). There were lots of street performers there. After a couple living statue people we got a good spot to see this street magician’s performance. Very funny guy with good crowd participation and he had a great finish. We gave him a few quid and moved on. We got a couple Starbucks drinks in those glass containers and sat and listened to a man playing some Asian music.

Video – Covent Garden: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0lqREpVNm6U

We wandered around a little bit more and came up to this escape artist. While he would technically be an escape artist, for the most part he didn’t do very much of that, the main thing he was doing was comedy.

Then we were off to the British Museum. The museums exterior was as I expected. Magnificent. They have SO many pretty buildings in London. We took a little break and then went inside.

I was able to take pictures here and certainly did so.

They had a lot of great sections. Their collections seem to be more history based, while the V&A was more craft based. Not exactly different a lot of the times (both had old crafted items), but maybe you get the idea.

Video – British Museum Sample: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMIAxiI8IXw

Johnathon was starting to wear out, so after we saw The Rosetta Stone and some statues that looked like the guardians in Never Ending Story we went out and had another break.

Video – Clock at British Museum: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xy1lqsaU5x8

We then went to The Fryer’s Delight, because they have a good reputation for Fish N’ Chips and we had yet to try them. I wasn’t sure what kind of fish to get so I asked for the one that was most like salmon. Do salmon only live near North America? I thought about that question afterward. So, I got Rock fish while Johnathon got Haddock.

We tried each other’s, and Johnathon’s was a little bit more flavorful then mine. Overall the fish was… alright. The chips (French fries) were… alright, but I didn’t really enjoy the meal that much. The chips were as bland of a potato you could get, and thick, so basically you are eating ketchup if anything with them. And the breading around the fried fish was breading for breading sake. It had very little flavor. I think KFC should make Fish N’ Chips here, they know how to fry things. Of course we are talking about fried food and no one should be eating this stuff, but if you are, you should be enjoying it. This is obviously just my opinion, but there it is. And the big hunk of fish vertebrae I had to eat around was kind of off putting.

Johnathon ate most of his (while I did not) and he said he enjoyed it.

Off to the Jack the Ripper tour. We had time so we walked around a bit and eventually got to the station that the tour starts at.

I had checked online and all you do is show up at the location and pay when you get there and go on the tour. There was no advance booking. We waited an hour for it to be 7:30, trying to find the sign for the tour. Couldn’t find a sign, but I asked three different people working in the area and they all said it started in the same place so we waited there. (The first two didn’t seem too sure, so that’s why I asked the others).

Then someone must have moved away because there were a couple big obvious signs where I had been looking and it said that the tour starts at 7:30 on all days but Saturday. On Saturday it starts at 3pm.

So we missed it.

I was bummed, but Johnathon said he wasn’t disappointed. He wanted to go back to Hyde Park if we could. So that’s what we did.

We went to a different section of Hyde Park and took pictures of the fountain/pond area and just walked around the park.

Allergies, I am sad to admit, have started affecting me here. Which is a shame. It was getting dark and we went to leave. We walked barefoot for awhile, holding onto our shoes until my baby soft feet made me wuss out from the roughness and the cold (mostly the cold). It is a nice area, and parks and the outdoors seem to really be Johnathon’s thing, which is cool. We went and picked up a milkshake from Tinseltown, an American Dinner & Milkshake Bar. We both were very pleased with our milkshakes and then we got back to the hostel.

Whew.

More or less that is our trip to London.

Johnathon said he had a good birthday, so far he said he liked yesterday (the 20th) better though.

Tomorrow we will have an unrushed breakfast and then head to Gatwick airport, which will take us to Shannon, Ireland. We’ll pick up a rental car and drive to the cottage I have booked from Mike and Olive Mahony. We should be getting there around 7pm. (Both England and Ireland are in the same time-zone I believe.)

I’ve enjoyed my London vacation a great deal. It actually feels like a big and full trip. I could imagine that this was the end of the vacation and I would be going home now. But it is exciting to know that we still have another 11 days. I’m looking forward to having a bigger place to stay. I have not been comfortable doing a lot of showering here, and I need to do laundry. Plus having a fridge and stove will be excellent.

I’ve loved the structure and shape of London. It obviously has a great history. I’m thankful to be able to fill in with my mind a greater context with English history by having been here and seen many of the places. The people seem reasonably friendly. Some crabby ones, some sweet ones. Just like anywhere else. I could see myself moving to England, but I can see myself moving to many places, much of the world fascinates me. Even so, I am greatly looking forward to Ireland.

Not much to say about the transit. We got on a subway train, then a bus, then an airplane, then a car and finally arrived at the cabin. If only we could have thrown in a boat somehow… There isn’t much to comment on until we got to Ireland.

Shannon airport felt almost deserted, which was fun for me. It is small, and a lot less busy then O’Hare, Heathrow, or Gatwick. It was nice being small and unpopulated.

I love the British accent, but I find the Irish one to be prettier, or maybe just more exotic. I got to speak with a couple people to get the money conversion worked out and find the car rental place. I picked up the car, with the little Garmin GPS unit and went outside.

We got to our little roomy two door coupe, and I hesitantly slipped in on the right side of the vehicle. Took a minute to figure out the GPS unit, to look at all the controls and to decide it was time to try and drive.

The single most difficult thing about driving in Ireland that I’ve encountered so far is the stick shift in the car. Not only do I have to figure out how to do it with my left hand, which is new, but the format of where the individual gears are slightly different. So the whole unfamiliar car part turned out to be more difficult than using the left side of the road. Though I have pulled out to the wrong lane for a few seconds a couple times, thankfully not many people were around.

Driving itself was very exhilarating. Especially getting a chance to see the countryside for the first time. I was a little stunned for a moment when Ireland actually looked like how you’d imagine Ireland to look. I expected having to go and search for those little romantically idealized spots, but they were there right alongside the highway heading north from Shannon. The weather and sky themselves were amazing, which is always uncertain. We had huge beautiful clouds passing past and in front of the sun. A nice cool breeze sweeping over rolling hills scattered with trees and fields. There were stone walled pastures with sheep and horses grazing, also Ireland is indeed as green as it is reputed to be.

Just gorgeous.

Video – First Time in Ireland: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogbGX9bk2U4

 

After getting off the highway (and our GPS abandoning us, believing that there was no road underneath us) we got onto N66 and started heading through villages on a narrow road. It had traffic both ways, but was one lane each, and a small lane at that. There were stone walls and many stone houses and cottages along either side, and the road itself would bend this way and that all the while being reasonably bumpy. I gripped the steering wheel tight, and I tried to keep up in speed with the traffic in front of me. Most of the way we did 80 kmh. Which is 49.7 mph. Johnathon kept his window down and the fresh cool breeze coming in, which made the ride very enlivening, and kept me wide awake and sharp.

We didn’t have an accurate address, only a “generally over here” address. I didn’t fully realize that until I tried to put it into the GPS and couldn’t, and then made it to a gas stop and asked for help. County Galway (that part is simple), then Loughrea (“Lock-Ray”) is the main city near where we were headed, Kilchreest is the village that as even closer, and Ballymullen is the sort of rural neighborhood that the gas station guy didn’t know about. Like starting with a large circle and drawing smaller circles inside of it. I later found out that once you get to that point then the directions are “The stone cottage for rent along this road.”

So I had to backtrack a little bit.

I got back to Kilchreest center (which is basically just a graveyard and two businesses) and then I stopped to ask for directions. One of the businesses was a little place titled “Village Inn” so I went there.

Inside on the first of two floors was a small restaurant with a bar. My first thought was that this place is like a tavern/inn from dungeons and dragons! Cool! There were no sword wearing vagabonds though. It was about 6 or 7 older men and women (it was not a young crowd). The lady of the Inn got up from sitting at the table with the patrons and asked what I’d like, while speaking with a thick accent. I was asking for help with directions, and to possibly use a phone. I had my paper with the “address” on it and the instructions. The Inn lady took a look as I tried to point out the address, but she apparently started reading the rest of it. On the paper I mention the cabin owner’s name that I was trying to reach. The innkeeper said “I know Olive, yeah she isn’t far down the road.” We tried calling her but that didn’t work. So the innkeeper gave me directions, “It’s about a mile down the road.” I asked her what it was in kilometers, because of the odometer was in km in the car.

“About 1.7 km. You go right until you pass the school, then you go along a bend to the right, then there is a straight bit.” She turns to a patron, “Isn’t that right?”

The man pipes in with barely understood words due to his slurring accent, speaking fast and adding in a lot more words then seemed necessary.

The innkeeper turns back to me. “That’s right, just after it goes straight for a bit she’ll be there right on the right.”

I’ll note here that the whole freaking road she pointed down is almost constantly bending around. So I stuck to the idea of about a mile and looking out for a school.

More or less I found it, after some concern about going too far and it happening to be about 3 kilometers down the road I barely spotted it behind a stone wall and trees to my right. I couldn’t find where to drive into it as there was a fence in the way. So I managed a parking spot to the left and decided I would walk up there and she if I could find Olive.

I found a driveway and a way in, while on foot, and went up to the door. Well, it was a door that said Falco Electronics beside it. The lights were out inside and no one came to the door. The whole area was a bit odd, there was 5 or 6 separate structures on the property, so I kept trying doors. No answer, so I went to the cottage that I recognized from the website. There was light inside but no one was in. I was running out of doors to try so I thought I might just see if the cottage was locked. We were late from when we were supposed to arrive, and maybe she left the area (which might have just been shops and such, and their actual home might have been elsewhere), and maybe there was a note inside for me? The door was unlocked but no note or anything. So I left and went around the oddly laid out grounds looking for someone. I found another door, close to the front but further off to the left. It had a doorbell and when I rang it a dog barked. Olive popped up a second later.

She is a nice lady in her fifties and wearing a levi jacket and levi skirt. I went and got the car and drove up to our cottage.

She guided us in and although I had a glimpse of it before, it was still amazing. It is beautiful wood and stone interior, and wonderfully decorated. It’s probably bigger than my apartment altogether.

Wooden floors, leather seats, a nice hardy dining table with plenty of chairs. Stone walls, stove and burners, coffee maker, fridge set behind a wooden cupboard, bedroom with twin beds, mirror, cabinets, bedroom with queen sized bed, little funny fake candle on a fake book that flickers like a flame, shower, tv, towels, fireplace. In the next little structure beside ours is a washer/dryer, freezer, dishwasher, bigger shower, miniature sauna. Other then the great accommodations of this place, there is also some little touches she added. There was a fire already going in the fireplace, there is milk, bread, butter, eggs, sausage, and bacon already purchased for us. Coffee, tea, soap, movie DVDs, stereo with CDs, utensils, pots & pans, paper towels, dishwashing soap, cooking oil, and the crown jewel… Wi-Fi.

Amazing place. Very reasonably priced at 400 Euro’s for a week.

Video – Ireland Cottage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGzF5MuaZqM

 

Also there is a walking path right up the little hill beside us (they called it a mountain, but being from the Rocky Mountains in the U.S. I found it hard to give it that distinction), where we can see ruins of a castle, horses on the grounds. They said we could ride one of the horses. His name is Sam, he is an Irish Draft, and they figure that letting us ride him will help give him exercise so they said we could ride him for free!

We love the place.

We decided to go for dinner at the Village Inn (I want to point out here that this is not the franchise, this is just a little inn that they titled themselves), Olive said they would take care of us well there because they know we are Olive’s guests.

We arrived on a scene of a different 6 or 7 old seniors gathered at the Inn, but the kitchen was closed, they were just drinking beer.

We will drop by another night.

We headed to the grocery store in Loughrea and found it without too much trouble.

It was called Supervalu. We had 5 minutes before it closed, but we didn’t know that ahead of time. We ended up only having time to pick up some apples and an apple pie. The apple pie is good, it tastes different, not sure how to describe it, just subtlety different bread and pie filling.

That was about it for us, we headed back to the cottage. Listened to some music from a CD (Bryan Adams I think) and soon went to bed. I took the smaller twin bed in the ground floor bedroom, while Johnathon took the queen sized bed in the top bedroom. Plan is to switch off half way through our stay. Tomorrow is the cliffs!

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