Laps around London

Well  friends,
It is officially now my third day (well, it was when I was typing this, but in posting time it is my 5th day) in the UK. Yippee! A lot has been rolling around in my mind the past few days…but I’ll get to that later.
            My planes and connections couldn’t have gone smoother. Everything was on time, and generally early (I arrived in London about an hour ahead of schedule, which will prove providential later on). I sat next to a jolly Australian man on my plane from ORD to LHR. We talked about all sorts of things, travel, geography, Pangaea, Sylvester Stallone, cramped seating, alternative forms of energy, and oddly shaped croissants (they looked like rolls who at some point during their doughy transformation tried to become croissants, but finding this too difficult settled for a look that was oddly puckered at one end and said, “Sometimes, when life gives you lemons, its better to leave them as a fancy table decoration rather than play god by making lemonade”) all in all, it was a very nice flight.
            I went through immigration quickly, picked up both of my bags, and proceeded to catch the Heathrow Express to the Paddington Station (I realize I said I would go to Victoria, but that turned out to be on the other side of the city) and from Paddington went to Notting Hill. This whole process, when laid down to paper, looks rather simple and easy. Now, while it was simple, it was by no means easy. I found myself cursing my materialism as I lugged my two 40lb bags up and down and up and down and up and down and (well, I think you get the idea) stairs upon stairs upon stairs (now I’m done). so. many. stairs. Thankfully, I was doing this part of my transit from about 8am-9am on a Sunday morning, so, the rails were relatively free of people. Another reason why my early commute was providential, due to my flight being an hour early (which I told you I’d get back to), was because when I arrived in London there was a light and lovely falling of snow. While I romanticized this smattering of snow as reminiscent of a Dickens’ London narrative, it turns out this 1-2in falling of snow was deadly to London transportation including the underground and air travel. While others experienced multiple reroutings on the underground and a slurry of canceled flights in the afternoon, I merely had to worry about the capacity of my arms to muscle my way up three more flights of stairs when I arrived at my destination.


I found the study abroad office (which was two doors down from Stella McCartney’s home, Paul McCartney’s daughter, and just around the corner from the elementary school that Prince Harry and Prince William attended) and after being told mistakenly that my room was at the top of eight flights of stairs ( up which I then sweatily lugged my luggage) I was redirected to my hotel. I arrived in my room (which I shared with two other girls) where we said groggy hellos, and agreed to enter into pleasantries later and rest our exhausted bodies immediately. After a 5hr blackout nap, we got up and went to dinner with other ifsa-butler students at a pretty little French restaurant called Côte, where I had a succulent herb roasted chicken with French green beans, and for dessert a moist jiggly crème caramel which skipped easily off the spoon into my mouth as I savored every morsel. My roommates, Paige and Natalie (the only two girls going to Bristol with me out of a group of about 25) and I went back to our room and were dead asleep by 9pm.

We woke up nearly 12hrs later and went downstairs for our continental breakfast. Each morning (the past three mornings) I had a rich latte, plain yogurt, Swiss muesli, and a blueberry muffin (that’s a lie, I had a chocolate muffin on the second day, it wasn’t nearly as nice as the blueberry).

We then had a few orientation meetings, were warned about the frequency of petty theft (stay on guard!), and given our tickets for the Wednesday train to Bristol (on which I am currently typing this post). We then took the underground to a restaurant called Wagamama (such a fun name!) where I had a curry with sweet potato fritters and rice.

From Wagamama we went on a walking tour that took us past St. James’s palace (where Henry VIII first slept with Anne Boleyn), walked to Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey (shame we didn’t get to go inside. Also the place where Kate and William were married), and ended in Trafalgar square in front of the National gallery where there is a statue of George Washington which stands on VA soil (the story is here). We then had dinner at a restaurant that was rather unimpressive (we tried to watch the inauguration, but the pop music in the background kept us from hearing anything that was going on).  Our dinner consisted of half of a roasted chicken  (trying to make up in girth what it lacked for in taste) each and then a rather too peanut buttery cheesecake for dessert.

 

            We then went to see a musical called Spamalot in the West End. It was quite a fun production with very catchy songs. But, the story of King Arthur was rather different from what I had remembered, turns out the Lady of the Lake “made a man” (less like Mulan, more like Moulin Rouge) out of Sir Galahad before she married King Arthur and revealed her true name to be Guinevere. Also,  Sir Lancelot turned out to be gay (which I wonder how that will play out later on when he has a fling with Guinevere and destroys the community of the Round Table…) But all in all a very entertaining evening. From there I went back to my hotel room and conked out for the night.

Woke up, made a plan with my roommates, and we ventured forth into London. We went to the Tower of London first, which was fascinating! We got there just in time to catch the Yeoman Warder of “Beefeater” at the beginning of his tour. He was a energetic and jolly man. He told us garish tales of botched and successful decapitations, heads on stakes on London Bridge, love, hate, mysticism, betrayal, and murder. It is still hard to believe all the drama that occurred in a place that now seems so very docile. It is interesting to analyze myself and realize that while visiting a place such as Jerusalem or the Sea of Galilee has left a lasting impact on me, the Tower of London (while also historically significant) did little to spark my awe. But, it was nonetheless very very entertaining. We also visited the crown jewels, and they are so big and ornate they look fake! I guess since I have relatively little familiarity or fascination with fine jewels I don’t quite have the same appreciation for such goods as others. Another funny tiddly bit, the tower used to have a menagerie of exotic animals, and in memory of that time, there were tiny-large statues of baboons, elephants, bears, etc all around.

 

From there we walked across London Bridge and wandered for about an hour until we found a sandwich place. From there we took the underground to Trafalgar Square and went into the National Portrait Gallery. We spent a few hours looking around at the various eras and representations of famous people. It was very nice to be in out of the cold and have time to wander through the art. One rather odd sculpture was a self-portrait sculpted from the the frozen blood of the artist! It was kept in a case that was specially monitored to keep it in its frozen state. Very creepy!

Paige, Natalie, and I then went to a pub where I had a DELIGHTFUL cider, so yummy! I also ate a delicious bit of toasted bread and hummus. We stayed there until about 8:30, took the tube back to Notting Hill, and went to bed.

All in all, London was fantastic. But, I am very glad to be in Bristol now. Blog post about my room, my uni, and all that jazz will be coming soonish. My best to you all! Cheers! Enjoy this tiny snowman I found.