Sunday, June 21, 2009

Day Two:....I Think...London, England

My days and nights are STILL messed up as I type this entry. There is a six hour time difference between Texas, and London (7 hours difference with the rest of Continental Europe), so we left at 3:30 PM (Central Time), and arrived mid-morning in London (about 1 am back home). As predicted, I was way too busy to sleep on the plane....or much of the weeks prior to this trip-wrapping up a school year, getting ready for the trip, dealing with daily life, and life as a night owl, in an earlybird profession, but I have to say I was exhausted upon arrival. I was so excited to be in the midst of the trip I had been planning forever, and yet, I literally could NOT keep my eyes open as we were driven to the hotel from the airport. I've never been that tired. I had heard the best way to get over jet lag, is to just 'keep going' until it's your new location's time for some sleep. So, this whole 'first'/or second (depending on where this is being written/read) day, I was completely fine if I was moving, but the second I sat on a van/metro etc, I started to drift. Our hotel was located across from the British Library.

The company we traveled with (more on this later) booked all the hotels, they were all in safe locations, clean, included breakfast (and sometimes dinner), and had private bathrooms, and relatively good sized rooms (these are all pluses for European travel). There is a chain of hotels called Novotel in Europe, and we stayed in two of these, including one in London, and they were very nice, and I'd try to stay there again if I traveled on my own. We checked in, dropped off our luggage, and went out to complete the wish list for the day. We started out by walking to the British Museum. It was about a mile from the hotel, and I got my first 'feel' for the city. All the buildings are so elaborate, yet tidy. Each door is painted black, red, or blue.

All the iron fences are black (this traditon began years ago when a previous queen was mourning her husband's death, I don't remember much more than that....but my brain is crammed full of historical facts that then got tossed up, and shuffled out of order over the last two weeks), and the buildings are all made of stone with molding everywhere, and they are all very 'chunky,' and old. England has the vibe of New York City-busy, alive, fast paced, BUT it is much cleaner, and the parts we were in felt 'safer' in many ways in comparison (I still love NYC, this is just my best comparison.). The taxis are black, and the red double deckers line the streets, and even demands are given in a more polite wording than the typical American instruction: "Mind the Gap" is repeated as you step off the Metro (again, it's very clean, and easier to maneuver than some big city transportation lines). Since we were going for an 'authentic' experience, of course, it was drizzling in England most of the time we were there, and cold-I actually wore a jacket, which is almost as newsworthy as me wearing shoes in the a coat if you visit. We finally made it to the British Museum. Admission is free to many of their museums, so we sort of made a quick sweep to see the things we absolutely knew we wanted to see. Since England has had such a big hand in the world, this place is enormous, with some pretty impressive attractions. The main draw for me was the Rosetta Stone. (We saw a lot more, and I have more pictures, but I'm just going to put them on shutterfly and post them all later.)

The one thing I'm not used to is that I saw people actually reaching out and touching some of the stone pieces (I doubt this was 'allowed,' but it wasn't monitored as closely as it would be in the US), and every gallery allowed pictures to be taken of almost all their pieces, no warnings about flashes etc. Next, we caught the Metro to Harrod's. As we exited, we came face to face with fur protesters camped outside the store. We entered, and true to the description, that store is enormous...and overpriced. I can't begin to describe the size. There are tons of floors, all very elaborately designed, there is a monument to Princess Di, and the son of the store's owner, the famous Egyptian elevators (a nod to the owner's heritage). As we traveled up and through each level, there was an opera singer, singing from a balcony in the fur department, a rock band playing in the junior's department, and there is an enormous gourmet food section, and all the servers wear straw hats, and all the employees in the store wear red, carnation boutonnieres.

Nothing drew my eye (or rather, my monthly paycheck), but we did decide to utilize the number of restaurants offered. What was our first meal on foreign soil? How about an American, 50's Diner? It tasted about as good as any food does outside of it's place of origin, next time, I'll stick to local cuisine, and the price tag was outrageous. I'm going to be honest, the most impressive thing about the store....were the prices. I tried a cupcake, and it was dry, and that pretty much covered the highlights. I'd say-see it once, but I doubt I'd return. After lunch, we headed on...the next stop was the London Eye, and our first glimpse of the Thames, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey. We walked down the Thames from our Metro stop, and across the Queen's new Jubilee bridge, and bought our tickets to the Eye. The line for tickets was long, and then you take the ticket over and hop in line for the Eye, which was not long at all (you can buy tickets in advance, which I would recommend if you have several days in town). About 20 people fit into each capsule, the rotation takes 30 minutes, and the view is great.

I thought I would be nervous, I'm not I huge fan of 'dangling' heights,' but the ride was so smooth, and the capsule was so large, it was no problem! We then headed back across the bridge where warm nuts were being toasted by vendors (kinda cool), and back to the hotel for an early night!

Just FYI: You can exchange money without any fee in Post Offices in England, I didn't know this in advance.


Msheepers said...

I spent a quick weekend in London back when I was studying abroad. I LOVED it and would defintely go back (although it was CRAZY expensive).

I didn't know about Harrod's; it sounds interesting. Wish I would have tried out the London Eye and had known about exchanging money at post offices!