Tuesday, April 17, 2012

mind the gap! in La-La-London

London is nothing like I expected. When I hear London I picture dreary weather and lots of clouds and fish and chips.

Stephanie, Kelsey, and I decided to break off from the guys for a 2 day excursion to London while the boys would stay behind in Amsterdam. We're actually saving money by leaving Amsterdam because the Flying Pig Hostel is incredibly expensive. So, we're saving money by seeing another country. I think we're winning. This girl-trip came at the absolute perfect time. We were all getting a little tense from being travel weary and from mixing different priorities and schedules and whatnot. So breaking off from the boys was a supremely good idea.

The bus ride was jolty and despite taking a couple Nyquil, I did not sleep soundly. I let Steph and Kelsey sit together and my bus passenger was a kind 30-ish-year-old French man who is currently living in London. Within ten minutes of exchanging the typical bus-conversation-initial-pleasantries he came out and told me he was bi-polar. Whoa there turbo. I was a little alarmed but not severely. I was just a little taken aback that within 10 minutes of knowing me he felt it was necessary to share such information with his bus passenger. To be honest, this is not the first time something like this has happened to me, but I still was a little on edge during that 8 hour bus ride.

We arrived in London and had absolutely no difficulties finding our hostel. We caught the tram and then found our hostel within ten minutes. Easy peasy. It was eight in the morning when we arrived at our hostel and we couldn't check in until 11 and the wouldn't let us chill in the lobby until 9:30 so we found a currency-exchange place for Kelsey and an ATM for Stephanie and me and then we got ham and cheese croissants and tea at a little nook n' cranny breakfast shop called Cafe Roma. Naturally, I spilled half of my tea on my lap and across the table. Luckily the tea dodged everyone else and our food but it still spilled. I believe this is the third time I've had a massive spill on this trip. Number one was in Rome when rolled a red-sauced-gnocchi down my pink blouse and number two was when I was in Rome and dripped pizza Greece down my teal top. I'm on quite the winning streak here.

After the croissants and tea, we still had some time to kill so we bought some post cards from a souvenir shop and wandered into a coffee shop where I got a latte and we had some solid conversation. Our girl-talk got more intense than I thought delving into our childhood and our relationships with our siblings and other interesting topics as such. It was perfect. Just what I needed, some good girl talk.

Our hostel is in a super nice area of town, surrounded by big white buildings and lots of little coffee shops and restaurants. We have our own bathroom in our hostel and only one random woman in our room. It's wonderful not to be surrounded by random people, to have a 6 person room almost to ourselves.

London is a push and pull of modern and historical architecture. There are castles and tall Greek inspired churches and lots of red brick classic buildings. But turn around and you see the Swiss egg and the shard and lots of glass sky scrapers. It's an interesting blend that compliments each other quite well. So Kelsey, Stephanie, and I had a day that was full of seeing the sites. We saw the Swiss Egg, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Tate Modern, Millennium Bridge, Saint Paul's Cathedral, the Shard, and Borough Market. The Swiss egg was captivating. It wasn't even part of our "to-do" list but the metro dropped us off right around there and when I saw it I was drawn to it. I had to walk closer to it to check it out. It's a stunning piece of architecture and art, it's twisting movements of glass it beautiful. After we got close enough that I was satisfied we decided to try to find lunch. We were in the business district and every restaurant we looked at was filled with men in suits. We decided to walk a little farther and we stumbled into a little fish and chips place that was also filled with men in suits but it was much more quaint. The girls got fish and chips and I got a corned beef sandwich. It was cool to be in this little "you'd never found it if you looked for it" restaurant surrounded by English people. Not a single tourist was in the place and I doubt they ever really go there unless they stumble in there like us. I didn't particularly like my food but the girls were happy to get their fish n' chips-- a London tradition.

The Tower Bridge reminded me of a Disneyland bridge. It was more colorful than normal bridges and was ornate and pretty. I didn't think it quite fit with the whole classy-london-feel but I still thought it was cool. On our walk to it, we were serenaded by a little high school orchestra in the park. How cute. 

After the bridge, we got a little turned around but we finally found our way to the Borough Market. All the aromas were tantalizing and we immediately regretted not having our lunch there at the market. We indulged in some sweets though, I got a slab of carrot cake and Kelsey and Steph split a piece of "Lemington" cake which apparently is an Australian recipe. They guys who were working the sweet booth were both very interested in learning our thoughts on London and if we were enjoying our stay. It's great to meet people who are genuinely interested in "tourists," they don't just brush them under the rug or stick their noses up to them. It's frustrating that some countries have zero interest in meeting people who are visiting their countries. All I want to do when I travel is meet people from the county I'm in and getting to know about their culture, traditions, and mannerisms from an actual local. How can you feel as if you've truly BEEN to a country if you don't meet any locals?

After the market we went to Tate Modern which was I-N-C-R-E-D-I-B-L-E. I love modern art so so so much. It's just... mind blowing. Admission was free into the Tate and there was floor after floor of great paintings and installations. I'll let the photographs speak for themselves.
red stairs room at Tate
installation at the Tate
Sculpture at the Tate

Millennium bridge has a really progressive, artistic, modern design which makes perfect sense since it leads to and from the Tate. We took in and walked to Saint Pauls Cathedral which was pretty, but nothing as astounding as the churchs in Italy. We sat on the cathedral's steps for a bit and enjoyed some sun. We then grabbed smoothies and some free wi-fi and then meandered back to our hostel area to grab dinner. We got Thai food which was fairly crappy and tasted like Chinese food but it was still good to get some different flavors and spices than we normally get. After that we went back to the hostel and crashed because we were all drained from a busy day.

millenium bridge

St. Pauls Cathedral

red curry!
We woke up fairly early and grabbed a free breakfast downstairs of toast and jam and terrible coffee which I took 2 sips of and then threw out. We packed up and stored our bags and headed out for our final day in London. We saw the London Eye, Abbey Road, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and the Kensington Gardens. The London Eye was even bigger than I imagined. It cost about 30 euros to ride it so we weren't willing to thrown down that kind of cash, so we just took pictures of it. Abbey Road was a trip! We got there pretty early in the morning so it wasn't swarming with tourists yet. We tried to take the classic Beatle's photo multiple times but it was a huge struggle because traffic was a little thick and dodging cars was a wee bit terrifying. Kelsey almost got destroyed by a bus. We got a fairly decent photo though. We took some time looking at the "graffiti wall" in front of Abbey Records and took some artsy photos with the graffiti art.

We also got to go to Platform 9 3/4. I felt like such a Harry Potter nerd and I LOVED every minute of it! One ticket on the Hogwarts Express please!

Buckingham palace was disappointing. We were all a little taken aback at how lack-luster it was compared to all the other incredible buildings we've seen so far. The coolest part of it was the guards and the gate, but other than that the building was fairly bland. Big Ben was gorgeous and huge and all it's cracked up to be. The Palace of Westminster added to the beauty of course. Now that's what's up.

The Kensington gardens were pretty, Steph is obsessed with flowers so she was oohing-and-ahhing the entire time. I actually think I find leaves to be more beautiful than flowers. Flowers have the kind of beauty that is expected. We assume flowers are beautiful simply because they are flowers. Leaves stun us with their beauty. Every leaf is bursting with an individualized beauty that is much more difficult to be captured in painting. Every rose resembles just about every other rose out there, but I find much more specific beauty in leaves. Anyways, random tangent...

StephKels, and I all got Lunch at a typical "London Pub" and I ordered a huge hamburger which was incredibly satisfying. After lunch Steph was craving a good shopping trip and we WERE in the area so she convinced me and Kels to go with her. We both resisted the idea at first because we weren't in the mood and because the Pound is so so much more expensive than the Euro or the dollar. We just didn't want to have to deal with that terrible conversion rate. But we went with her. And we ended up buying more things than she did! We both found cute headbands at the first store on sale for 1 pound, so we grabbed one each. Then at the next store, Primark, we went crazy. The store itself was like Walmart on Black Friday. It was SWARMING with bodies. Every square foot of the 2 story store had at least 2 bodies in it. It was terrifying. I felt like I couldn't breathe in there. There were lots of cheap and cute stuff (similar to Forever 21) but we were too intimidated to try anything on so Kels and I went up to shoes and I don't know if I've ever had a more synchronized shopping buddy. I would go and grab a few shoes to try on while she was trying on some shoes at our little "chair" area, so we would take turns sitting in the chair and going to get shoes. If she needed something in a different size I'd go get it for her on my shoe-run and vice versa. It was like shoe magic. I ended up buying 4 pairs of shoes and Kels got 3. I got 1 pair of gold gladiators, 1 pair of shower flip flops, 1 pair of tribal print shoes to walk around in, and 1 pair of linen and lace slip-ons that will be perfect for summer days. I got all 4 shoes for only 18 pounds. Now that is what I call winning.

Shopping was a blast and we all felt so accomplished and satisfied after it. We went back to our hostel area so we could be closer to home for our 7 pm curfew so we could catch our bus in time. We grabbed apple pie and chocolate truffle ice cream and sat outside the shop for awhile. We then walked down the road in search of a restaurant and stumbled into a second hand store. We got lost in the books and I felt so drawn to literature because buying books in a second-hand bookstore just feels so... classy and classic London.  I bought two books, Girl with the Pearl Earring and Death of a Salesman.

It was only 5 pm and we had two more hours to kill so we went into Whiskie's, a traditional London pub, and sat in a back booth for the full two hours going over our life stories over English Steak and Ale pies and a big pitcher of Pimms. After a long dinner, we grabbed our stuff from the hostel and caught the bus back to Amsterdam. 

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