london part 2: literally walking right out of my shoes

When we last saw our hero, she was getting ready for Day 3 in London…

Saturday: Since I missed the East End Tour on Friday, I decided to go on Saturday instead! The tour started at Liverpool Street Station, so I headed there first thing. Luckily, there is a Starbucks in the station so I was able to get a few messages out to Joey suggesting a few places to meet for tea later in the day. The tour was smaller than the first I’d taken… it was me, a family of 4, two college-age students from Australia, and an English dad and his son, all led by our tour guide, who had a fantastic mustache.

Starting the tour with some German flair... this monument thanks the English, on behalf of the international Jewish community, for sheltering thousands of Jewish children from central and eastern Europe who came to London via Liverpool Street Station during WWII.

Starting the tour with some German flair… this monument thanks the English, on behalf of the international Jewish community, for sheltering thousands of Jewish children from central and eastern Europe who came to London via Liverpool Street Station during WWII.

Now, I wasn’t incredibly crazy about this tour, but we did get to learn some interesting history: apparently the Liverpool Street Station was originally Bethlehem Mental Hospital (colloquially called “Bedlam,” which is where we got the phrase meaning “madness”) back in the days when mental hospitals weren’t incredibly common. Then, apparently, the wonders of capitalism opened up the hospital for tourism! What an awful thought.

We walked into the actual city of London, which is really a tiny, tiny area governed entirely by banks. The bankers do apparently have a disturbing amount of power in Parliament. We saw Old Spitalfield Market, which was cool because I actually learned about Victorian London food systems in a class I took last year, as well as some really, really old ruins of the burial grounds that used to surround the hospital that Spitalfield was named for. And we learned as much as we could about Jack the Ripper, which really isn’t much because no one really knows anything about him.

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Then we saw some street art, which I guess was cool but isn’t really my jam. I’d say my main takeaway from this tour was the general feel I got for the East End, past and present: a real melting pot of immigrants, lower-class people figuring out how to get by in such a huge, international, at times incredibly unsafe city. The danger comes from many places: poverty, violence, fire, raw sewage flowing down your street… I got to see parts of the city I wouldn’t have otherwise seen, or known what to make of, or wouldn’t have probably felt comfortable walking through all alone.

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I then made my way back to Starbucks to see what kind of plan Joey had formed in my absence. Not a great one, it turned out, since we had decided on an even worse meeting place than the previous day’s… the Tube stop in the neighborhood where we’d be having tea. It turns out that a Tube stop is actually the worst place to meet someone if you won’t be able to call each other and you aren’t exactly sure what time you will arrive. But we finally found each other and walked to the cutest little tea place.

This is probably my biggest concrete endorsement for things to do in London: GO TO THE MUFFIN MAN TEA SHOP IN KENSINGTON. There are lots of walking tours, and I’m sure they’re all great; there are lots of museums, and I know they’re all great. But seriously, if you are on a budget and you want to experience a quaint, delicious, affordable tea, this is the place you need to go. It was adorable. Their carrot cake was probably the best I’ve ever had (sorry, Mom and Ms. Lynn). The clotted cream I stole from Joey was delicious. And you can have a decent English high tea for 5-7 £. (At this point, my camera decided to die, so Joey has all the pictures.)

As we enjoyed our tea, scones, and cake, Joey and I conversed about our common UT experience, our study abroad experience, and other random life things. It was nice and relaxed. However, during this time I was also fiddling with my shoe and actually loosened the heel such that it was definitely about to come off. I figured I could get through the next day and then get them repaired in Dresden.

After tea, we walked around in the incredibly posh surrounding neighborhoods of Chelsea, Kensington, and Notting Hill. If you wanted to go into a really cute book shop or antique shop or something, I guess this is where you’d do it. I think this is the area Princess Diana is from, and of course it’s where the cinema classic Notting Hill took place so you know it’s legit.

At this point, I think we headed to the British Museum with the intent of actually seeing a few exhibits, but by the time we got there, it was just closing, so we changed our plan a little bit. We walked over to the nearby Piccadilly Circus to see what all the fuss was about. From what I could tell, it’s like London’s version of Time’s Square… some big screens around, lots of big commercial things like Ripley’s Believe It Or Not and some theaters… we decided it would be best to find a pub somewhere and sit down with a beer.

Trafalgar Square by night

Trafalgar Square by night

Figuring that most places in this area would be super expensive, we were very choosy and ended up finding a Pret first and getting a sandwich.  Pret is weird in that they charge you more for your food if you’re planning to eat in the restaurant, so we took our food outside. We ended up getting really cold and just going into the nearest bar, which was actually a great decision, because the beer was delicious and very affordable! So we enjoyed our beer and some more great conversation, casually observing everyone else’s ridiculous Halloween costumes. Then we headed back to our respective homes after deciding on a sane and reasonable meeting place for the next day: the church next to my hostel.

Sunday: As it turned out, my hostel was actually right next door to an apparently well known Anglican Use Church. I had never been to an Anglican Use Mass before, but a friend of mine wrote his Plan II thesis about Anglican Use in Texas, so I knew a little about it, and because it was so close by (to me, not to Joey at all), it was the natural option for Sunday Mass. It was really beautiful (despite the interesting use of space in the church, haha). They used wonderful music and the visiting priest gave a great homily.

Afterwards, we stayed for tea and biscuits with some of the parishioners. One very friendly guy told us all about Our Lady of Walsingham, an apparition of Mary very important to the Anglo-Catholic Church, and introduced us to the organist, who promptly made it weird by asking if we were visiting the church because we wanted to get married there. After uncomfortably laughing our way through the explanation that we are just friends from college, we decided to leave and get some lunch, which was not as easy as I had expected because all the restaurants on the main street in Battersea were apparently closed for Sunday lunch. So we ended up going into town, where I made things difficult by being incredibly indecisive… we ended up getting deciding on an Asian fast food place, of sorts.

Then, we finally made it to the British Museum, where we perused their Europe exhibit, which was simultaneously interesting and disappointing. For instance, they had a whole room devoted to clocks and watches through the years, and then a room half the size devoted to the entire 20th century, which mainly included Russian plates and cutlery that looked like it was from Ikea (and which did not reference either of the World Wars). There was one big room displaying items from Europe between 1400-1800 and William Shakespeare didn’t get a single mention. It was odd.

Meanwhile, I admired some teapots.

Meanwhile, I admired some teapots.

We then bopped around north central London for a bit, walking through a couple of parks on our way to King’s Cross Station, which it turns out isn’t really near anything, but any self-respecting Harry Potter fan needs to go to take the touristy picture near Platform 9 3/4, so that’s what we did! We waited in a line filled with children and their parents, proudly donned our chosen House’s scarves (Ravenclaw all the way!), and posed for professional photographs we were too cheap to pay for while also forgetting to turn on the flash of our own cameras, rendering our personal photos entirely too blurry. But, alas, it happened and we were very excited.

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Then we walked around the surrounding neighborhood for about 25 minutes (it seemed like an eternity because my feet were absolutely killing me!) looking for somewhere that would sell us dessert. Joey had a craving for a chocolate souffle, of all things, and while that request may have been entirely unrealistic, we didn’t find a single (open) place that even served food. So we headed back to the station and ate there. I had a strawberry tart and some tea and it was glorious.

However, during this time I also realized that during our trek through London, the heel of my boot (like, the bottom rubber-y part, not the entire heel) had entirely fallen off. So that was a bummer, but I was leaving the next morning, so I guess it wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened. (I did take the boots to a cobbler yesterday, and it was surprisingly affordable to fix BOTH shoes, as it looks like the other heel is about to go, as well. So no worries, I won’t be without my black boots this winter!)

As it started to get late, I realized that I should probably figure out how I would go about getting to the airport in the morning. Luckily, as we were at King’s Cross, I could buy a train ticket to the airport right there, so I did, and we slowly made our way back home. It was really great to spend some time with a friend from home, and Joey was a great host in his new city. It’s a lot of fun to travel solo and explore a new city on your own, but it is a different kind of fun to share it with a friend.

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(And I suppose it’s worth mentioning that at my hostel gave a half-price drink ticket to all guests, and I made the fantastic decision to have a Lynchburg Lemonade before I went to bed. Whiskey makes everything better.)

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4.5 days in london, or: now that i’m broke, i’ll have more time to blog

We had Thursday off for Reformation Day (yay for eastern Germany…), and since I don’t have class on Fridays or Mondays (yay for being done with my degree already), I decided that this would be my chance for once nice, long trip to somewhere of my choosing.DSC03734

I chose London. I’d never been there before, but I’d heard amazing things about the city from almost everyone I know who has been there. Also, my friend Joey is in London studying abroad until December, so if I wanted to see the city and see a friend from home, this was my opportunity! I spent 4 full days in the city and did a LOT during that time, so I’ll break it down by day 🙂

Thursday: To skip over some ridiculous hurdles I encountered during the planning process, I arrived in London on Wednesday around midnight. My hostel for that first night was, just by chance, right in the middle of the action… only a 15 minute walk (not counting getting lost, of course) from Westminster Abbey. Bright and early, I grabbed a trusty tourist map from the hostel and headed out to see the sights on my own before catching a free walking tour at 11.

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I saw Westminster Abbey (from the outside only), cruised past the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben (which I’ll admit was not quite as big as I had expected), walked across the Waterloo Bridge to see the London Eye from up close before heading back across the Thames to the Whitehall neighborhood near Charing Cross. Then I (eventually, after getting a little turned around) walked to Trafalgar Square, which is the first place I really realized, “Whoa! I’m in London!” Why that didn’t occur to me while looking at Big Ben or literally gazing out over the Thames, I’m not sure, but Trafalgar Square is bustling with double-decker buses, you’re surrounded by huge, impressive buildings and statues (and currently one ridiculous blue chicken), and in the rush of all the activity, I could hardly believe I was actually there!

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From there, I walked down Pall Mall past St James’ Palace and Park, which then led me past Buckingham Palace. At this point, it was about 10:30 and the tourists were swarming in for the Changing of the Guard an hour later. However, I kept walking through the Green Park to where my walking tour would soon begin! I found the tour group, which included several other Americans, a few people from France, some native Englanders (is that what they’re called?), and maybe some other people thrown in there. Our guide was a native Londoner, and he showed us around the major sights with a perfect combination of informative-ness and humor. We saw all the stuff I had already seen that morning, as well as the Athenaeum Gentlemen’s Club (so many famous members! It’s crazy), Horse Guard’s Parade, and some parts of the Houses of Parliament complex I’d missed. And probably some others I’m forgetting right now. It was great to actually hear some of the history behind the sites rather than just walking around and looking at buildings, as I normally do 😉

Outside Prince Charles' residence

Outside Prince Charles’ residence

Horse Guards Parade, aka the site of the 2012 Olympics Beach Volleyball! I don't know why that fact blew my mind more than anything haha.

Horse Guards Parade, aka the site of the 2012 Olympics Beach Volleyball! I don’t know why that fact blew my mind more than anything haha.

After the tour, a group of us grabbed lunch at a pub. It was really interesting hearing about everyone else’s travels… what brought them to London, where they’ve been before, where they’re going next.

My next stop was the Churchill War Rooms, an underground exhibit in a bunker near the Houses of Parliament where Winston Churchill and his War Cabinet would work and (mostly) live during the Battle of London and the rest of the war. Despite all the other (free) museums, I really, really wanted to see this one, and it did not disappoint. It was incredible to see the rooms from which Winston Churchill commanded the progress of the war–and many of them were in their original condition, as in at the end of the war, the workers turned off the lights, locked the door, and left, and then it got turned into a museum. As an amateur WWII buff, it was absolutely fascinating to see the maritime maps, the BBC radio broadcast center, the scrambled phone from which Churchill could directly call Roosevelt or Truman, the Churchills’ private dining room… it was just awesome.

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By the time I was done at the museum, it was already getting dark, and I had to pick up my bag from my hostel and move down to my new hostel in Battersea, where I’d be staying for the rest of my trip. I was glad that I decided to finish up my sightseeing in the city before heading down there, because it ended up being quite a haul. However, my hostel had an absolutely charming bar and free wifi, so it was a great place to relax before going to bed every night. (Actually, it was mostly a bar… you walked into the bar, and then you could continue back towards the rooms. Kind of like the Leaky Cauldron! Awesome!)

Friday: After my absolutely delightful first day, I worked hard to put together a perfect plan for Day 2. I wanted to see the East End, as I’d spent the previous day all on the west side. Because I’d bought the East End Tour ticket, I figured I’d take the tour at 11 and then spend the rest of the day at some other East End sites: the Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Globe Theater, maybe check out some of the markets… and of course because this was November 1, aka All Saints Day, I would start by going to Mass. So I found a Mass scheduled for 9:30 right near Tower Hill.

However, my first experience with London public transit was not smooth sailing. I got on my first bus headed the wrong direction, and then because the hostel WiFi had stopped working on my phone (since I wasn’t in the hostel anymore, obviously), I didn’t really have a contingency plan. So I saw a bus going to London Bridge and hopped on it. After about an hour (the buses stop approximately every 3 seconds), I wasn’t even halfway to London Bridge, which was not even my eventual destination. So the first chance I got to disembark and hop on the Tube, I took it.

The Tube is wonderful, but why must it be so expensive??

The Tube is wonderful, but why must it be so expensive?? However, the alternative is the bus… it took about an hour to get from Clapham Junction to Elephant & Castle. Gag.

At this point, I had 10 minutes before Mass was supposed to start. So I got on the Northern line and then changed to the District line, sprinted to the church, got there at 9:39, decided that it was worth it to still go, and then realized that the church was totally empty. Apparently because the parish school was on holiday, they only had masses at 12 and 1. So I made the snap decision to skip the tour (my ticket wasn’t bound to a particular day, so I could always go Saturday or Sunday) and spend a few hours at the nearby Tower of London until Mass.

The Tower Bridge

The Tower Bridge

The tower itself!

The tower itself!

The Tower of London was my one big splurge for the week. It cost 18 pounds, but I knew I’d regret it if I came all the way to London and didn’t even see the Tower. Because, you see, as much as I am a WWII buff, I am probably an even bigger Tudor England enthusiast. I have read countless books about Elizabeth I, Anne Boleyn and King Henry’s other wives, and even though the Tower is kind of a gruesome place, it was totally cool to actually BE there. I went on a tour guided by one of the yeomen who lives at and takes care of the Tower, and once again was glad to hear the history behind the places I was seeing. There have been some very famous prisoners at the tower… Sir Walter Raleigh, who is even more hated in England for his introduction of line dancing from the States than he is for bringing tobacco here; William Penn, who was released from imprisonment on the condition that he leave England, which he did and shortly founded Pennsylvania; Rudolf Hess, the deputy leader of Nazi Germany; and of course Anne Boleyn, Jane Boleyn, Katherine Howard, and even future-Queen Elizabeth herself!

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And, not to mention, the Tower is now the home of the Crown Jewels. I couldn’t take a picture of them, of course, but you can imagine that there was some intense diamond action going on in there.

After getting my fill of Tudor history, I headed to Mass at the Roman Catholic Church of the English Martyrs. It’s always so refreshing to go to Mass in English! 🙂

During my post-Mass Wifi sesh at Starbucks (seriously, God bless Starbucks for their free Wifi on every corner!), I finally got a response from my friend Joey saying that he was free to meet up later that evening after his lab! We decided to meet at the British Museum, so in the meantime, I headed back to the West End.

My first order of business was to find somewhere to eat, so luckily I stumbled upon a delicious Thai restaurant whose spicy Pad Thai and hot peppermint tea helped me overcome the fact that I had slept horribly the night before. Seriously, I think I will dream of that Pad Thai until August, when I can get back to Thai Cottage 😉

The restaurant was right across the street from the Natural History Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum. I chose the latter and treated myself to a few hours of (free) museum time learning about Britain from 1600-1900. I always immediately regret committing large chunks of time to a museum, because inevitably, my feet will start hurting and my main objective will become trying to find a bench to sit on instead of actually enjoying the museum. However, I never learn my lesson. But at least this museum was free!

The gorgeous lobby of the V&A Museum

The gorgeous lobby of the V&A Museum

Then, I made the near-fatal decision to get on the tube at 5:15, which I can only assume is actually rush hour, and it was terrible. I did make it to the British Museum, though a little late, and immediately realized that it was a terrible choice of a meeting place for 2 people unable to contact each other via cell phone. It’s huge and there are people everywhere. However, after about 15 minutes of frantic searching and trying to borrow someone’s phone, I finally found Joey!

A bit about Joey, in case my readership ever expands and people are curious.

This is me and Joey near the George Washington statue on UT's campus. We love freedom, clearly.

This is me and Joey near the George Washington statue on UT’s campus. We love freedom, clearly. (And Mary. And America.)

 

Joey is my brother’s age, a 3rd year at UT. I met him after he went on Longhorn Awakening his freshman year, but actually the first thing I knew about him was that he had a class with my brother! Small world. Joey is a Plan II major, so he is currently holding down the Plan II/Catholic fort after all of us graduated last year. Except he’s in England now. In any case, he is a rockstar Biochemistry/Pre-Med kinda guy, which means he knows way more science than me and he has to do things like go to labs on Friday afternoon. After we finally connected, we got to spend the weekend doing fun London-y things, gossiping about our mutual friends (I mean, what?), and being our sassy selves.

At this point, I was really tired of museum-ing so we decided to get something to eat and then just walk around for a bit. Joey introduced me to the wonders of Pret, a ubiquitous, affordable organic-y eatery on every block. With our sandwiches in tow, we headed to his university plaza, where we ate, avoided fire jugglers, and talked about our abroad experiences. It’s always nice to talk to people going through the same thing as you! (I always make it sound like I’m at war or something, don’t I? I don’t mean to be dramatic.)

Since I knew I had quite the trek to make back to my hostel, the night ended there, but not before we made plans to go to High Tea together the next day!

To be continued, since you’re a rockstar if you’ve even made it this far!