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London, England

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

Obviously, my blogs of past travels aren’t really in order, just the order I feel like remembering them in. London was the first stop on the trip (after driving to to the Charlotte airport and flying to Newark), but I don’t know if that first stop actually counts as a stop.

We flew into Gatwick airport (and walked right through customs with no one stopping us. I don’t think we were stopped by customs once the entire trip), got on the Gatwick Express train into London proper, and then pretty much immediately hopped on a train to Birmingham, followed by a taxi to…Well, that’s another blog (I would have liked to stop in Birmingham, but we never did).

After a week in a canal boat wandering around the vicinity of Tamworth (which was amazing, but that’s another story), we went back to London. We had a day and a half to make the most of an amazing city that I really hope to return to one day.

First, we checked into our hotel, which I can’t actually remember the name of, only that it was on a lovely little square a supposed “fifteen-minute walk” from Victoria station (obviously the people who wrote that didn’t count in that we had tons of luggage–that was a big lesson I learned on that trip: how to pack light!). It was quite a bit longer than that, quite tiring after a day of travelling! IThe staff was nice, and the hotel what is to be expected if you want cheap-ish accomodation in the middle of London (about 40 dollars per person, per night, three of us. We were on the third floor (no elevator), and it was my first experience sharing bathrooms, but it was all very clean and nice. There was a window that opened out on to the square. It was quite lovely, really. It was some kind of old house or something, creaky and twisty and turny, but that just made it interesting. There was a coke machine downstairs in the dark, which was kind of funny because, well, it was dark.
That first night, we first went to see the play Fame, for which my grandfather had gotten cheap tickets online. The theater was small and very nice, and I absolutely loved the play. It’s a musical about some kids in a New York high school for the Performing Arts, based on some TV show I’d never heard of. The cast was amazing, the music great, and the story itself quite good. If I find the brochure, I’ll definitely post some more information about that; it was great.

The next day was our only full day in London. It was the Queen’s birthday, so we couldn’t go to Parliament, but we did get to see some of the festivities (although we did not queue up the night before to see the Queen and the parade like some people). We started out in Westminster Abbey (not of my choosing; in fact, I found the place incredibly creepy–dead people in the floor and walls and everywhere. Though it was also interesting. And creepy.), and outside of it ran into an American, twenty-something woman, who was teaching in England, and so was quite helpful.

Then, we took a boat ride down the Thames, from about Parliament to the Tower of London (we didn’t go into that, either), which I highly reccomend. I found London to be a lovely city. After that, we wandered a bit (I found the Underground quite easy to navigate, thankfully. If you go, you’ve got to get the Oyster card, which saved us quite a bit of money on the underground), and, on the advice of the teacher, visited Covent Garden and the market, which actually reminded me quite a bit of my hometown, Asheville. Lots of interesting street performers, and gorgeous (but expensive) crafts being sold. I also found a nice discount bookshop, owned by The Works (which appears to be an English chain of discount bookshops, and I spent a good forty pounds at one in Tamworth–I would have spent more except that my luggage was overweight as it was and I had to leave some books behind. I’m a huge reader! I read a good twenty-five novels on the three week trip, and don’t feel like I missed anything as it was all on trains, at night before bed, etc.), but with a different name that I can’t remember. Something about bannanas. I love discount bookstores; very random, but with good deals! There are some I’ve been to here in the states, too, but sadly none near where I live.
Also in London, we visited Harrod’s, which was certainly an experience. Huge and random and quite interesting. Department of lighter repairs?? The Egytian escalator was cool, too. Also had to restrain myself from buying more books in the Waterstone’s inside Harrod’s. I think that books by English authors should always be read with the English spelling, grammar, etc., but that’s hard to find in the US! And kind of a weird way to think, I guess, but I like it that way. Anyway, Harrod’s was impressive, but I didn’t find it much more impressive than the Corte Ingles department store in Madrid. Corte Ingles is…Well, that’s an experience, too. It is a department store with a supermarket inside. It’s also a chain, and which departments they put in their smaller stores appears to be a pretty random decision, too. I went to one with home furnishings and a supermarket. But, that’s another story.

London impressed me. It’s a city I’d love to spend more time in, as I only got the smallest taste of it, with just a day and a half. It’s also pretty much the only stop on this trip where I did absolutely no solo wandering, which also makes a difference. I kept seeing things I wanted to see more of, but that’s hard travelling with other people! I can’t wait to go back on my own. London is full of contrasts. Old and new, British and also very international, lovely parks and grimy side streets (both of which I love)….I guess that’s true of a lot of big cities, to an extent, but something about London really appealed to me. Perhaps I could put my finger on it better with more time there.