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.