Monday, September 5, 2011

A Very Belated Spring Break Post Part 4: I Love London!

(This is exactly what it sounds like...Part 4 of my VERY LATE blog posts about the best two weeks in my life, Spring Break 2010. It's a little hard to express the same excitement when writing about events that happened more than a year ago, but I tried. Enjoy!)

Last Time: Unfortunate timing/a less-than-helpful receptionist at the Tiber Hostel And Camping made me think I was going to miss my flight to London, but I eventually ended up making it to the airport in time.

For all my crying on the Roman metro because I was leaving, I was honestly REALLY excited about London. In 2005, my parents took my brother and I during Spring Break and it was the best trip ever. I could have gone back and done exactly what we had done then in the same order and I would have been happy. Plus, I was fortunate to be able to stay with my cousin Kayla (who goes to NYU), who was spending this same semester at the London NYU campus. How many other people are lucky enough to say that ALL the young women in their family are currently in Europe?

My Ryan Air trip was fine, and I found the Standstead Express, which Kayla had already given me careful directions about. In about 40 minutes she met me at King’s Cross Station, presented me with my very own oyster card for the subway, and our joint adventure began! This was going to be my first day in an English-speaking country in four months, which was a very strange feeling. The other strange thing about the day was that it was ridiculously humid – even on the one hot day in Rome was nothing as humid as this.

In addition to it being humid outside, it was also disgusting on the Underground, which we were on for a while because the construction causing lines to be closed caused us to end up at the same station multiple times. Soon enough, though, we were near her place near King’s Cross. This was also my first extended trip in a while to a city with a real underground....Bordeaux has above ground trams, and Rome's Metro isn't as extensive because there's too much old stuff buried in the ground for them to create more Metro stops!).

We went to Nido, the student housing building where Kayla was living with about 300 other NYU students. That was what was going to make this part of my vacation different than everywhere I had been so far – I had always either been at my homestay, with my French family, or in a hostel or hotel with my friends. Here, we were with 40 of Kayla’s best friends 24/7. Kayla definitely liked this set up (my best friend/roommate at UCI lived in the same circumstances during her semester in Israel and loved it too), but I was definitely happy to be living with a family in France. I didn’t have a problem with it during my 5 days in London, but it would have been too much like my Freshman dorm for my tastes if I had lived in that situation any longer.

Nido was very nice, however. Because I am me, the one thing that I noticed as soon as I touched down was that London is a VERY coffee-friendly town. On the lobby level of Nido, there was a mini Starbucks (!!!!!!!), and two flights of stairs up, where Kayla lived, there was ANOTHER. I was already feeling at home. As soon as Kayla and I left Nido to walk around near King’s Cross, my thoughts were confirmed. There were so many American-esque cafes advertising sweeet, precious filtered coffee, that I wouldn’t have been able to try all of them even if I was having three cups of coffee a day. London is my kind of place. You have to remember that I was having SERIOUS filtered coffee withdrawals because France is too cool for anything but espresso, so this little fact about London was terribly exciting.

Also, I should add, while at the risk of blaspheming, that the pains aux chocolates were...gasp!...better in London than in Paris. They weighed three times as much as Parisian ones, if that's any hint as to the amount of butter they contained.

Just in to clarify, in case it doesn’t shine through in my writing, London is the greatest city in the whole world. No matter how much I love where I am living, I will ALWAYS be jealous of people who are living in London. One of the things that characterized this trip was that my brain was constantly almost exploding from all of the Super Important Things that I kept running into. Even though I had just returned from Rome (which, obviously, had its own share of Super Important Things that I got to see, i.e., The Pope, the waiter who was a close personal friend of Ray Stevenson, etc), I feel more of a connection with London, so these occurrences felt even more amazing.

Kayla gave me a tour of the area, and I met all of her friends. We planned out what our schedule was for the next four days, and eventually met up with Kayla’s best friends Ed and Jenny (who’s birthday it was) for Italian food at a nearby restaurant.

Kayla insisted on going to class when I was visiting her, but I used that time to explore the things she had already seen.

First Stop: The British Museum.

This place was relatively amazing. Even things like mummies, which I didn’t think I would be find interesting, were interesting. And boy does the British Museum have a LOT of them. My favorite part of the museum was the jewelry, however, which inspired me to build up my own collection.

I also really liked seeing this “East India Sugar: Not Made By SLAVES” jar, which is definitely the type of abolitionist product we had been discussing in my British Unification class only a few months before.

That night after dinner, Kayla told me she had somewhere to take me, but wouldn’t tell me where. We ended up at King’s Cross, near her dorm, and I was still very confused about why we were in a train station, until I realized she was looking for the area between two specific platforms….

The next day was my big Westminster Abbey day. I’ve definitely been before, but Westminster Abbey is my favorite place in the whole wide world, so I figured it was worth the price of admission to go back, five years after my first visit. After a muggy walk to the Abbey from the metro (and after my visit to the closest Starbucks!) I was in!

It’s basically definitely the greatest place ever. 90% of the World’s Coolest People, all buried in one place – what more could you want? Not surprisingly, it hadn’t changed much since my last visit.

After spending more than two hours there, and sampling their coffee, I said goodbye and headed out. I heard some Americans who were my age on their way in, and as I asked them to take my photo in front of the building, our convo went exactly like this:

Me: Hi! Would you mind taking my picture?

Other girl: No problem! ::click:

Me: Where are you from?

Other girl: Southern California.

Me: OMGMetoo. I’m from Burbank.

Other girl: OMG what high school did you go to?

Me: Jon Burroughs!

Other girl: OMG that’s where my mom went!

Both of us: OMG!

After Wesminster Abbey, I decided to skip Saint Paul’s (where I wanted to go but where I had been last time) in favor of places I had yet to visit.

First up: The National Gallery, which was obviously amazing. And who’s cafĂ© was also amazing. I had a pink cupcake.

Then: The National Portrait Gallery! EXCELLENT, and filled with about a million portraits I had seen pictures of in every European History class ever, but I didn’t have time to finish because I Kayla and I had agreed to meet up at a certain time, and I didn’t have a cell phone in order to tell her I would be late. I’ll simply have to save the rest of the gallery for next time I visit J

That night continued our streak of amazingness with…..our tickets to see a production of Macbeth at the Globe (was this seriously the best trip ever or what?). It was a good show, even though we were sitting off to the side. At the intermission, we drank cider and walked on the banks of the Thames (because we could). Also, fun fact: In Burbank, a few months after I returned home, and was watching the miniseries Lost in Austen, and I realized that Mr. Darcy was the actor who played Macbeth, a fact which I found to be suuuuper awwwesome.

The next day was our British Library day, which ended up being even more interesting than the British Museum (Jane Austen’s writing desk, anyone??). Plus, we ate churros and drank cappucinos for breakfast that morning, which makes for a good start to any day.

The next day was good too, because we went to Portabello Road, ate gelato, and I bought two scarves.

Other highlights of the trip included Camden Market (where I consumed a piece of pizza, a vegetarian samosa, a small bottle of orange juice, and the best donut and I have ever tasted, all within an hour), and St. Pancras’ Churchyard.

This cemetery in particular was memorable because it was one of places that we realized upon arriving was more special than your average, plopped-down-in-the-middle-of-a-huge-city cemetery. FIRST OF ALL, it has this tree that’s strategically surrounded by flat headstones that had been dug up (to make room for the future railroad) and placed there in a cool way, which is cool looking as it is, but which also becomes even cooler when you find out that the person in charge of this little bit of decoration was a young Thomas Hardy!

ALSO, Kayla and freaked out when we discovered by accident the tomb of Mary Wollstonecraft, which is kind of just chilling there with no big indication (I found out later her body isn’t actualllly there anymore, but I still think it’s cool).

AND, following the same literary theme we’ve been on, St. Pancras’ Churchyard is even mentioned in A Tale of Two Cities! It was beautiful, quiet and green, and Kayla and I spent a long time exploring. It’s only a short walk from St. Pancras Station, and I highly recommend it!

Something else interesting about London during this trip, in addition to all of these literary adventures and coffee, was the election for Prime Minister which was only days away when I arrived. I spent much of my downtime reading newspapers that talked about governmental policies that I didn’t understand, but which were interesting anyway (and, most important, in English). It's a weird feeling to be a visitor in a a country during a very tense a few days like these were, because everything everywhere was centered about the election.

Sigh. It’s hard to express in words how much of a connection I feel with London, especially since I’m writing this more than a year after this adventure took place. One thing’s for sure though: after being deprived of real coffee for so long in France, all of my memories of London come complete with the taste of coffee in my mouth. I seriously couldn’t have asked for a better trip.

Next time: Even bigger adventures in Scotland (involving active volcanoes and the birthplace of Harry Potter!)

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