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Posts Tagged ‘England’

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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