A Travellerspoint blog

England

Wrapping up Destination #1

sunny
View Post-College Eurotrip on atbrady's travel map.

At this point Hunter and I departed. I had offered to come along with him, but he refused saying that I would just be sitting around there was nothing I could do to help anyways. He assured me that it wasn't especially urgent but that he wanted to get it looked at in an English speaking country. With that I went to the Museum of London which traces London’s history. It was interesting to hear of their native people and also of their occupation by Rome at the height of the Roman Empire. I would highly recommend it. By the time I left, it was around 5 and I didn’t have time for the imperial war museum, so I decided to stroll through London. At one point I got a banana at a market stand and it was not until I was done and holding onto the peal for upwards of 30 minutes that I realized that there are very few trash cans in London and yet they keep it surprisingly clean. On my trek I was able to see vastly different parts of London, from Jubilee market, a fun square filled with merchants to Leicester Square which basically mimicked Times Square, complete with billboards for shows and people badgering you a bout buying comedy tickets. Passing through a touristy part of town, Covent Garden, I noticed many I heart London shirts. Really London, Had to copy NYC? You could have done better.

When I made it back to the hostel, I eventually met up with hunter who had already eaten dinner. He also told me that the doctor told him he needed to get checked out by a specialist so it looks like his trip is going to be cut short. Luckily I heard from Kristine this morning that she’ll be meeting up with me in Rome, so I wont have to spend any time alone and she can take over Hunter’s hotel reservation. I feel awful for Hunter and hope we can make the best of our last stop together in paris. I also feel terrible about the extra money that was wasted on plane tickets to Rome and to Frankfurt where he was departing from as well as on cancellation fees. Nevertheless he came out with me to grab a quick bite at a nice little restaurant. Along the way we noticed various pubs with signs showing them to be “sport free zones” and telling patrons they could not wear their (team) colors. From watching Green street hooligans, one of my favorite movies, I assumed that this meant that they would not play soccer games to keep from having any trouble starting. The Brits sure do love their futbol. As we walked up to our room, Hunter joked about asking a few girls if they wanted to come up to the room right about the Generator Bar because it was almost just as loud. Good thing we brought earplugs!

Now that our stay in London comes to a close, my only regret is never going to Stonehenge. There were some (relatively) cheap tours for around 30 pounds, but there just wasn’t time. I may have gone to bath as well since there were many day trips to Stonehenge and Bath. I guess that leaves me a reason to come back. On a return trip, I also might visit St. Pauls cathedral, with the second largest dome in the world, (second only to St. Peters Basilica in Rome). However, I am proud to say that I never patronized a chain restaurant or any of the hundreds of fast food, American or Italian restaurants. It was fun to keep it authentic. On a final note, London is a very pricey city. I spent about $300 in 72 hours, not including the 72 pounds (about 120 spent on the hostel). We certainly ate and slept inexpensively, but many of the attractions were pretty expensive. Overall, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. IT was an absolutely incredible experience. I was sad to be leaving but once Hunter and I started planning for Paris before we went to bed, I became excited for the next adventure that lies ahead.

Posted by atbrady 12:40 Archived in England Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Last Morning in London

The Plot Thickens?

sunny
View Post-College Eurotrip on atbrady's travel map.

One thing I meant to mention last night was the culture in London where EVERYONE seems to go out for drinks after work EVERY day of the week. Just around the time Hunter and I are getting dinner, pubs are filled with businesspeople and even overflowing with many drinking just outside the pub. While this may be standard fare back at home on a Friday, keep in mind that this has been on a Monday and Tuesday night. Also, as Hunter and I have been busy most of the day, we don’t usually start looking for a place for dinner until as late as 9 or 10 o clock. Much of London is starting to shut down by then. Now again, I realize it’s a weeknight, but even in the most tourist-filled locations, I have yet to find a place that serves dinner past 10, with many closing their kitchen before that.

Well anyways last night we had quite the roommate turnover. Three of the six beds in our room had new occupants, excluding Hunter, myself and you guessed it, the old snorer. In the shower last night I also got to thinking about what a cash cow the hostel business is. At first, I figured there wasn’t much money to be made, but when you think about it, we’re paying the equivalent of $35 a night sleep in a room with six other people. If all the beds are filled, which has been the case in our room, that’s over $200 a night, the equivalent of a pretty decent hotel, except the rooms in a hotel with that cost would have to be larger. Also, they don’t have to provide any of the amenities of such a hotel. So a larger quantity of smaller rooms packed into a hostel with no spending on amenities.

This morning we woke up early to another great breakfast of bran cereal. Just to mix things up, today I skipped the bread. One thing to note is that it is our third day in a row of fantastic weather in London, how lucky! It is sunny and warm, but far from uncomfortably hot. We hopped on the tour bus from yesterday because our tickets were good for 24 hours to get a free ride to the tower of London. The tower was one of the last stops on the loop, so it ended up being a mixed bag. On one hand, it was nice to be able to sit through the entire tour that we had just seen for bits and pieces. On the other, since it was one of the last stops on the loop, it took almost two hours of our last day. In retrospect, we probably would have hopped on the metro to save some time, but being on an open top tour bus on a beautiful day in London isn’t so bad. Plus, we picked up some new facts that we missed on yesterdays tour. For example, we learned that pubs in London have been going through tough times since smoking was outlawed in them. Our guide said that 50 pubs close each week because this law has kept so many Londoners from frequenting the pubs. Apparently their love of smoking trumps their love of beer. Also, after seeing so many pubs that I thought we’re packed, as I mentioned before, I can’t imagine what they would have been like before. If this trend continues, you may no longer see a pub or (5) on every corner in London. We also saw two statues we hadn’t expected, of both Washington and Lincoln. Because Washington had famously sworn that he would never again set foot on British soil, American soil was given to London along with the statue which was a gift from the state of Virginia. Finally we noticed that in Britain, yellow lights are not only used to warn of a red light, but also turn on just before the green light comes back on. A useless fact but one that is nonetheless interesting.

On the way to the tower, Hunter told me about how he tore a muscle in his upper leg a while back and how he had an outpatient procedure a few weeks ago to treat it since such injuries are slow to heal since the muscle never gets rest. With all the walking we’ve been doing the last few days, its been flaring up on him so he’s unfortunately going to have to head to the hospital this afternoon to get it checked out. So, I’ll be on my own for the afternoon. Once we got to the Tower of London, which has been used for such varied purposes as housing prisoners, munitions and even the Crown Jewels. The price tag of 17 pounds was the highest of any attraction we had been to in London. According to our tour guide, this is the most popular attraction in London, so the two are probably related. Maybe I’m growing tired of museums or maybe I expected more from this price tag, but the Tower wasn’t all it was hyped to be. I think part of the reason is that the museum piece that houses armor and ammunition from the last 1000 years of London’s history made up a big part of our visit. While interesting, you can only look at so many suits of armor before they all start to blend together. The other half of the visit was centered on the crown jewels, their origins and meanings. Basically, you sat in line waiting to see the best in the collection but you could at least be entertained by videos and plaques along the way. This was one attraction I know Kristine would have loved. The flawless diamond on the staff used at coronations is a whopping 530.2 karats! It was cut from the largest flawless diamond ever found, the so called “First star of Africa”, which was over 1000 karats. Seeing the various crowns from over the years was also interesting.

Afterward we went to a nearby sandwich shop. On the way, Hunter had to stop at McDonalds to see whether they called their fries chips. They didn’t. We also noticed that runners in London tend to wear backpacks. At first we thought they might be fellow backpackers in a hurry but soon realized that the bast majority of runners were wearing similar packs.

Posted by atbrady 12:32 Archived in England Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Day 2 in London

Cramming more tourist attractions into a day than I ever thought possible!

sunny
View Post-College Eurotrip on atbrady's travel map.

We woke up this morning at 8am, or what we thought was 8am. Sleeping in a room with 6 people wasn't as bad as I expected. There is one old guy in our room that snores pretty loudly, but I luckily remembered to bring earplugs which allowed for perfect silence. Hunter said that the music from the bar downstairs was pretty loud, but I didn't notice that either with the help of the earplugs. Honestly, the worst thing was going in at night trying to look around in the dark for my shower stuff and trying to minimize the obnoxious creak when I have to pry open my locker. I fell asleep pretty quickly and didn't wake up until my alarm went off. Apparently my cell phone clock is messed up because its not on the Verizon network and is somehow 40 minutes late (an hour plus or minus I might understand, but 40 minutes? go figure). Anyways, breakfast at the hostel was basic to say the least. Maybe I should have expected 10 breakfast cereals and a few loaves of bread with jelly, but I was holding out hope for some eggs (I'd even settle for the mass produced, tasteless scrambled eggs from the Cornell dining halls). Anyways, a few breakfast cereals and bread is all we got.

I also noticed that there were a ton of young kids down at breakfast at the hostel. I'm talking like 12-15 year old kids in groups of 5-10, with no adults in sight. I'm not sure whether I just didn't see the adults with them, but it seemed to be the norm for a bunch of groups. They seemed to be Europeans and I realize that a trip to London isn't the same for them as it is for Americans, but it was still an interesting sight.

We walked to one of the stops of The Original London Sightseeing Tour to hop on the bus for our extremely touristy day. I was a bit skeptical, but at the very least, we were prepaying for transportation to all the major sights. Our first stop was Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guards ceremony. Basically, it was an hour of pomp and circumstance with a band and the funny little guys with huge fuzzy black hats. It was ridiculously crowded and hard to get a view. Had I read my guidebook a bit closer, I would have seen that they rated it as one of the most overrated attractions in London, but I was nonetheless glad to go. After all, I wasn't going to leave without seeing Buckingham Palace and when better to go that when they are putting on this huge show. Hunter talked about how boring it must get for the band to do this every day, which prompted some Brit to tell us that one of the guys in the band was his son and that this was his last performance because his commitment to the Royal Airforce was up. He didn't seem offended but it was awkward/funny. Anyway, by talking to our little buddy, we found out that the band does these hour long ceremonies every day for two weeks then has two weeks off. And that's ALL they do. Free housing in the nearby barracks included. Not a bad way to make a living. It was cool to see all the different dress uniforms for the guards and ultimately left me wondering how much all of this traditional monarchy stuff costs to keep up. Between that and wondering with hunter where funny yet iconic police helmets originated. We agreed that if nothing else, at least you could count on the Brits to stick to their traditions. Overall, it was an overly touristy experience but one that everyone should probably experience. We then hopped back on the buses and drove around to a bunch of the sights for about a half hour before our next stop at Westminster Abbey. It was at this point that I realized that my camera battery died. Normally no big deal because I have a backup, but for whatever reason, the backup wasn't in my bag and must have been left in my hostel locker. Luckily, I had charged up my phone the previous night, which has a pretty good camera, but its really annoying to upload all the pictures one-by-one so that will have to wait for another day. Hunter also had a camera but is not as trigger happy with his camera as I tend to be.

Westminster Abbey was absolutely fantastic. The amount of tombs, stories and history there is unlike anywhere I have ever been before. We were given hand-held, phone-like devices where you could listen to a recording of a guided tour. Basically you followed a path on a map you were given and when you got to certain points, you would press the button of your stop to listen to the significance of whatever you were standing in front of. There was also supplemental things you could listen to if you keyed in and wanted more information. I ended up listening to almost all the supplemental stuff as well as reading almost all of the plaques. The building is enormous, with huge vaulted ceilings and countless rooms and chapels. And yet every inch is decorated with intricate details of ornate architecture, sculptures, and the like. Many of England's Kings and Queens are buried here as well as other famous Brits. Its also where coronations take place. This place was so old that it was teeming with cool stories and things important historical significance of the last 1000 years of England's history. Well worth the somewhat high price of admission (15 pounds/20+ dollars). Once I upload pictures I can get more in detail about everything that is packed into the Abbey.

Right next door is the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. Like the abbey, they are very ornate and look ancient, but are actually only built in the 19th century (practically brand new in London). Big Ben just may be my favorite building in the world. It is trimmed with gold all over that shines in the sun and is really much more impressive to see in person that any photo I had ever seen. With all that gold, it was amazing to see that they were able to keep it immaculate. I half expected to see someone coming down from having just cleaned it. There was some scaffolding on the buildings around Big Ben, but it was an amazing sight nonetheless and even surpassed the hype in my eyes. Unfortunately, the visiting hours are limited to Saturdays and a few other random times throughout the year, so we weren't able to go inside.

Afterward, we were feeling the effects of a minimalist breakfast and grabbed lunch at a funny little deli called pickles. Hunter asked for wheat bread and the guy said "you mean this brown bread?" It looked and tasted like wheat, but I guess they're not as health conscious over here. I had a Chicken Tikka sub. I'm still not sure how to pronounce Tikka but I had to try it as I had contemplated getting a some Tikka dish at dinner last night. It was basically similar to a BBQ sauce and it was pretty good. We ate in a huge nearby park which are seemingly everywhere. Then we went to the Churchill War Rooms which was the HQ for Churchill and his War Cabinet during WW2. It was also a pretty cool museum, especially for war buffs. It was basically a secret underground barracks that was lucky to never have been bombed during the multiple air raids by the Germans as it's ceilings weren't even bomb proof for the first few years of the war. Had Hitler ever been tipped off as to it's location, it could have had a huge impact on both Britain and the outcome of the war. This place also had hand-held audio tour guides which work out pretty well. You could see the original maps that were used to plot locations of troops and ships and could see the pinholes from heavy battlegrounds and common shipping lanes. It was pretty cool to learn about WWII from a non-American perspective. At some point while walking around I also discovered that it was not just in Bourne movies that European cops drive BMWs, they actually do! Hunter and I found that pretty entertaining

After leaving the War Rooms, we walked to Westminster docks where there was a free tour by boat included with our bus tour. It took us down the River Thames (apparently its pronounced Temms) to see a bunch of cool sights from the water. We saw the London eye, various other monuments (which are EVERYWHERE in London) and saw the new London Bridge (they even mentioned the American guy who bought the old bridge for 1 million pounds and had it taken apart stone by stone and rebuilt in Lake Havasu, AZ - I had to fight the urge to yell out that I had been there!) and also the Tower Bridge which is the bridge most people think of as London Bridge. It enabled us to get a few cool pictures from different angles of the major landmarks and was well worth doing since it was included free.

Back at Westminster pier, we hopped back on one of the last buses and rode around for the rest of the tour that we hadn't been on for another 45 minutes or so. By the end I was convinced that this had been a great investment. I had been resistant to a bus tour thinking we wouldn't get to see the sights but close, but not only were we able to hop off the buses at any stop we wanted to check out the sights, but then a bus would be at every stop about every 10 minutes to hop back on without any wasted time. We also learned about more monuments and buildings than I ever would have known existed. You probably could have bought a day long pass on the tube to get to all the sights for much cheaper (it cost a whopping 25 pounds, almost 40 bucks), but the commentary was actually pretty interesting and it took you right to the sights you wanted to see, rather than to the nearest tube station. It was also on the tour that we were informed that London was actually two cities in one, Westminster (in you guessed it, the West) and London (in the East). They run pretty much seamlessly into one another except for a couple landmarks erected to mark the spot. We hopped off at Trafalgar Square where we wandered around for a second night trying to find the restaurants recommended by Hunter's guidebook. It was pretty late by then, so we ended up having to search out about 4 places before we fine a winner, but wandering around the square was pretty enjoyable. We ended up once again going to a place not in a guidebook after 3 failed tries with guidebook restaurants and had a great authentic British meal anyways(will we ever learn?) Hunter had some British sausage and had to ask what "Toad in the Hole" meant when it came to preparing it. He found out that it was when the sausage and sides were put into Yorkshire pudding shaped into a bowl at which point he had to ask what Yorkshire pudding was (similar to a pancake mixture). I had Gammon steak which had a side of eggs. Not until I got the meal did I figure out that Gammon meant ham (I'm guessing) but it was enjoyable nonetheless. I also became one of those people that took pictures of our food since both were so authentic looking (again, to be uploaded soon). We had London's Pride with dinner which our waiter recommended. True to British form, it was only slightly cold and was somewhere between last night's bitter and Sam Adams.

After I stopped at a few trinket shops to get a Union Jack flag and a mini Big Ben, it was about 10:30pm. We walked around the square bit and decided that we would walk home. At one point, we passed a gay bar and some sex toy shops in Soho and also saw our first hooker. Did I mention that there is CCTV (Closed Circuit TV) everywhere in London? They have cameras and signs pointing to the cameras everywhere. I wondered how prostitutes got away with anything with all the cameras around and wondered whether prostitution was legal here. (Don't worry, I wouldn't be using their services either way). A quick Google search when I got home showed that prostitution is in fact legal but soliciting in public is not, so CCTV operators must not be paying very close attention. It was around that point when Hunter said "as the Brits would say, I think we're in a bit of a dodgy neighborhood," which I thoroughly enjoyed. Even so, I never felt unsafe in the area or anywhere on our long walk home. I love walking around a new city to get a feel for the areas tourists usually wouldn't see. By the time we got home, we had spent about 16 hours around London (8am-12pm) and had packed just about as much touristy things into one day as possible.

Now we're in the common room of our hostel planning tomorrow's adventures. Our tour-bus pass is good for 24 hours, so we're going to get up early enough to catch a ride to the Tower of London where they keep the crown jewels. Apparently its good to get there early and avoid lines. Then we think we'll hit the London Museum and the Imperial War Museum both of which are free and sound interesting (Hunter really likes the War stuff). While I'm writing this, a bunch of people just came in. They must have closed the bar. I can't believe why anyone would be in London and want to spend time at a hostel bar when there are authentic pubs on every corner, but hundreds of kids do. On the plus side, it gives them a chance to interact with each other more, which Hunter and I really haven't had much of an opportunity to do since we basically are never here except to sleep. There's a group of Spanish girls trying to teach a couple American guys Spanish and another group of various Europeans playing music that is as varied as the countries they are probably from. Maybe we'll be able to work on that at our next stop as the cultural exchange is also a cool part of the experience.

I think its safe to say that London is my favorite city in the world. It might be a bit premature as I haven't been to all that many big cities and I expect there will be a few contenders on the next few stops of this trip, but in comparison to NYC, I think I like it even more. There are far more open spaces, from open squares with monuments and fountains like Trafalgar Square to the various parks both big and small throughout the city (better than I expected even though the guidebooks said it was the best park system of any major city). Also because the buildings aren't nearly as high, it lets much more light in. However, the main reason is that this city is so filled with history. Every corner has a story, a pub and probably a monument. Off to bed for now!

Posted by atbrady 18:18 Archived in England Tagged tourist_sites Comments (3)

First Night in London

Just when we thought there would be no culture shock...

sunny
View Post-College Eurotrip on atbrady's travel map.

No sooner had Hunter mentioned his surprise at feeling a lack of culture shock that we headed off to dinner and had a few interesting incidents. First, we should have expected trouble when we planned to hit Porter's English Restaurant, Nag's Head Pub and the Red Lion in Covent Garden and halfway into our walk there we realized that we remembered the names of both pubs but could not remember the name of the restaurant we wanted to go to. We decided to wing it and had an interesting time zig-zaging the streets of Covent Garden which turned out to be chock-full of restaurants, pubs, shopping and theaters. It reminded me of what I expected Paris to look like, with a huge cobblestone square surrounded by patio restaurants and plenty of shopping. I was able to recall the name Porter's, but couldn't remember the street it was on, so we eventually settled on The Sussex that boasted traditional English Pub food, which was essentially what we were after.

We stood at the entrance for about 10 minutes waiting for a hostess before deciding to ask the bartender if we could still order food. Apparently the way that it works here is that you order your food at the bar and tell them your table number to bring it out to. Hunter paid the bill in advance at the bar and because of the unfamiliarity of the situation didn't tip. We left a small tip on the table when we left, but we were pretty sure that we contributed to European's distaste for Americans. Hunter felt compelled to get fish and chips, which had an interesting side that he determined to be mashed peas. I had blackened salmon which came with a mysterious brown sauce that was fantastic and made the dish. I was immediately struck by the size of the portions compared to our Americanized versions (the salmon was about half the size I was expecting). Afterward, we decided to go to a traditional pub mentioned in the guidebook, the Nag's head. We ordered a couple pints of "bitter" which I had heard was a common type of English beer. It was definitely bitter and took getting used to, but it was fun to try. We were surprised to see how many people were out on a Saturday night, many of them locals as this was not a touristy pub.

We then headed home and thought we were we could make it back without maps. We were clearly looking lost and pulled out our maps when a nice English guy came up to help us with his iPhone. He gave us a hard time for calling streets by their first names only "typical Americans" since our hostel is off Tavistock Place and apparently there is also a Tavistock Ave. and Tavistock Street all in completely different places in the city (go figure-I guess they ran out of ideas?). We stopped at the bar in our hostel which we ultimately decided we didn't have energy for. We went back to our room to grab our computers to plan the day tomorrow and had our first experience trying to go in our rooms without waking our roommates. Makes me glad I brought earplugs and kept the sleep mask from the plane (you can also kind of hear the bar/club downstairs). We'll be buying a ticket for the bus tours which are cool because they run continuously throughout the day and you can hop on and off at the various sights along the way. It seems like the quickest way to hit all the major stops (Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guard, the tower of London and the crown jewels, Parliament, Big Ben, etc.) Hopefully this will give us freedom for our third and final full day in London to be doing less touristy things. Hunter is in the shower now, and now that I'm done with this, I'll be doing the same before heading to sleep. The mattresses are about an inch thick, but weren't too bad during my nap. Usually I can sleep on anything so we'll see. We'll be up at 8am to take advantage of our free continental breakfast before the tour tomorrow. Can't wait! Even after just a day, I can tell that this trip is going to be everything I dreamed of and more. We had so much fun today despite a relatively calm agenda and I can't wait for all that lies ahead!

Posted by atbrady 16:38 Archived in England Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

First Day

British Museum and Getting Acclamated

sunny
View Post-College Eurotrip on atbrady's travel map.

Soon after arrival, we decided to hit up the British Museum, because it was within walking distance of our hostel. I'm not much of a museum guy, but I really enjoyed it because it was centered on ancient history (Egypt, Greece, Rome, Mesopotamia). It had great exhibits on mummification and burial rituals in Egypt and an unbelievable amount of sculptures from Greece and Rome. It was cool because it showed you the time period pieces were created and what was going on elsewhere in the world during that time. Part of the exhibit was on stones and sculptures taken from the Parthenon in the 1800's, a moral issue that is still debated today as over 1/2 of the Parthenon's artifacts are in the British Museum rather than in Athens or at least in Greece. It was amazing to see how massive some of the stones were and how they were somehow extracted from walls in multi-ton pieces. On our way home, we stopped at Sicilian Square, a nice little restaurant alley with architecture that looked hundreds of years old (see picture), for a sandwich. We then headed back to our hostel for a nap for an hour (to recover from jet-lag and lack of sleep on the plane). Hunter met a couple of our roommates, friends from California, while I was down in the common room on the computer. We're now headed out for dinner and plan to hit Porters English Restaurant and the Nag's Head Pub in Covent Garden, all of which was recommended in my guidebook. The weather is a bit cooler than at home, but very pleasant and better than we were expecting for London.

Posted by atbrady 16:17 Archived in England Tagged food Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 6) Page [1] 2 » Next