Thursday, January 6, 2011

London, England

"I even saw TWO hooligans!"

Okay, so London is incredible. But getting there, not so much. Let me tell you a tale.

Chelsea and I originally wanted to take the Chunnel to London from Brussels, but we waited too long to buy tickets and the price went up like crazy! So we found an overnight bus for €35 less than the train and figured we'd save money on a hostel that night, as we would sleep on the bus. We assumed that the bus went under the Channel as the train does. We were wrong. We assumed that a "7-hour bus ride" meant that it would be moving for seven hours. We were wrong. Here's how it went down:

On the night of 28th, we barely made it to the bus station in Brussels on time. We got a little lost at the actual station and the bus driver made it seem like they had been waiting for us before departure. Um? We still got there ten minutes before departure time, so get off your high horse, pal. Then, of course, there were no two seats next to each other so none of us got to sit together. Which sucks because trying to sleep next to a stranger is always awkward. So the bus moved for about an hour and a half then made a stop to let people off and take on new passengers. Then it moved for another hour or so and by 2 a.m. all the bloody lights came on in the bus, blinding me. Everyone was getting off. Confused and exhausted, I asked aloud, "Are we taking a pit stop?" A British gentlemen heard me and kindly answered, "No, this is border control. You need your passport." GREAT. It's 20 degrees outside and I have to get out (I've already removed all of my layers) and wait in line. It gets worse.

We waited in line with our passports and Spanish residency cards, as our student visas stapled in our passports have expired. When we finally got up to the front a Brit grabbed Chelsea's passport and said, "You're a Caldwell? Have you ever met another Caldwell?" She responded, "No, just my family." "Well, now you have!" So we thought this Brit was going to be all nice and funny. Nope. Then the questions began. Mind you, during all of this, a Portuguese man was being denied entry at the table next to us. We could see the guard looking at his passport then at the man and saying, pointblank, "This isn't you." So we were a little concerned. The man then drilled us and here's how it went (to the best of my memory):

"Where are you from?"
"Why are you coming to England from France, then? Why not from America?"
-"Well, we were in France, then Belgium and now we're entering from here."
"Why are you traveling?"
-"Because we're students and it's Christmas break."
"How are you paying for this?"
-"Well, we study in Spain so we can kind of afford to travel around Europe because it's cheaper than flying from the States TO Europe."
"You didn't answer my question."
-"Um. Student loans. Financial Aid. Our parent's love." (I made the mistake of joking with him.)
"Fine. Read up on their documents."

We then realized he was training the new guy at the table and he let us in after examining our papers. As we were leaving, I heard the Caldwell fellow tell the newbie, "You see, it all paints a picture. You've got to ask the right questions." Brilliant. Then we had to wait another two hours at a rest stop area (indoors, thank God) for the fairy to be ready to take the bus on board. Then, we had to get back on the bus for 5 minutes to get off the bus to ride the fairy for an hour. We were beyond exhausted and grumpy as hell. Once the fairy landed, we re-boarded the bus and drove for another hour into London. By 8:30 a.m. we were at the bus station in London and just wanted to die in our hostel beds. We had to wait until 11 a.m. to check-in once at the hostel and we napped for a good two hours. Well, they napped. I fought off the worst cough I've had in a while, but I got some medicine and it helped for the rest of the trip. We explored a bit that night...

I was sure to stop at every single World War II monument or memorial (even though it's all British) to take a picture for Papa Moke. When I stumbled upon the Women of WWII monument, I got really teary eyed. Chelsea saw and said, "Oh! Do you want me to take a picture of you in front of it?" "Please!" I am such a spaz sometimes.

Then we walked to Buckingham Palace and took that in at nighttime:

This picture is pretty sweet, if I do say so myself:

We were all pretty much dead and decided to go back to the hostel and cook dinner there. To save money (knowing how bad the conversion rate from dollars to UK Sterling was) we bought pasta and sauce in Brussels to cook at the London hostel, which we did that night. Us about to play some Tres in the hostel (which Arisa and I later taught to some folks we met, also from California):

The next day, we all went our separate ways to explore. I had a lovely morning at a Starbucks where I read the New York Times IN PAPER and caught up on my American life a bit. Then I walked up to the Camden Town Markets and had a field day. I didn't know going into it, that you can bargain for everything. So once a guy tried to lower a price to get me to buy something, it was all over. I am the Queen of Bargain Hunting in the States, as we all know. So I somehow made it out of Camden town with a pair of boots for ₤15 instead of ₤30. A shirt for ₤10 instead of ₤12. And a vintage belt for ₤8 instead of ₤10. (I could talk about this belt for an hour, but it's a white, waist belt with a glazed ceramic white and gold butterfly buckle modeled after those made by Chanel in the 1960s. It's amazing.) I was so proud of myself. The belt I found at a place called St. Cyre (pronounced like the word "sincere"--very cute). That was all vintage clothing and of very good quality. It was family owned by this adorable older couple who gave me tips for the rest of my time in Camden Town. Just awesome. Here are some shots from the day, including the inside of this one store that I am going to model my closet and/or bedroom after one day:

Later that day, we made it over the Imperial War Museum, which I had been DYING to go to for some time. It did not disappoint, but again, pictures of that will come in the "museum blog entry." The following day was our last full day in London all together (Arisa and I stayed a day longer than Alex and Chelsea) so as usual, we got as much sights in as possible. First we went to Hyde Park/Kensington Park to see the Peter Pan statue and have a picnic in front of it. We also saw a beautiful monument for something else on the way, but didn't have time to go and read the inscription:

Museum of Natural History:

The London Tower and the Tower Bridge were breath-taking. They found lion skulls behind the gates of the Tower, so if you somehow made it past the archers and moat, you got eaten alive. Awesome.

Then, we crossed the London Bridge to go see the London Eye and Big Ben during the day. The London Bridge is a big old disappointment as the real bridge is in ARIZONA first of all. Secondly, the fake bridge that is there now is not very pretty or extravagant. But I crossed it! And it did not fall down. I saw a special on the London Eye on some travel channel when I was a little girl and have always wanted to go up and drink champagne and view the city, but it's, like, ₤25 just to go! ₤25 that I didn't have, nor did the rest of us. So we took pictures of it and the lovely Big Ben during the daytime. One day, when I am filthy rich, I'll come back and do it all:

On our way to TATE, the London Museum of Modern Art, we stumbled upon this naval museum and monument for Sir Francis Drake. We had to laugh, because he is so revered in England. But back in Spain, he is a bastard pirate that is punished in every Spanish history book. So interesting to me.

I loved London. A lot. I could easily see myself living here one day. More so than any other place I've been ... except maybe Amsterdam. I love Amsterdam, too. Anyway. Aside from the stressful entrance, London was incredible. Arisa and I survived the overnight trek home only to arrive to the dozens of changes I mentioned in the Casa, Casa Dulce entry.

Keep your eyes peeled for the Museum entry when I have the energy to blog again!

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