Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Stamm Family Takes on London

The second half of my time with my Mom and Dad was spent in London staying in a flat in Red Lion Square. I hadn't yet spend that much time in London so I was excited to explore the city with them. I arrive via the X90 Bus straight into the heart of London at Marble Arch. I bought an Oyster card because without an Oyster the Tube is so expensive (£4.30) and with an Oyster it is only about £2. The actual card only costs £5 which you can actually get back if you give back the card when you are done with it, so you really only need to take the Tube three times for the Oyster to pay for itself. And I knew that in the next few days I'd be using the Tube a lot so it seemed like a worthy investment. When I got into Marble Arch I took the Central Line to Holborn where I met my parents. It felt very strange to meet up with my parents in a big city in a foreign country--I felt very grown up and independent. And that's the point of studying abroad, isn't it?

We wanted to explore the Tower of London that day and decided to walk there by way of St Paul's Cathedral. It was absolutely beautiful--made of white stone with gorgeous marble steps leading into the church. We looked around the free portion of church and then opted not to pay to continue. Can I just say that it really annoys me that they charge admissions to churches. It's God's house. What right do we as humans have to charge people for them to enter. What kind of sanctuary is it if you have to pay? But I digress. Walking down the steps and looking around at all the people and the birds, Feed the Birds from the musical Mary Poppins popped into my head. You know the scene in the movie where the woman is sitting on the steps of St Pauls and feeding all of the birds which flock towards here. That is my nightmare. Just saying. Birds swooping down and invading really freaks me out.

After St. Paul's we walked along the Thames towards the Tower of London. When we had left the flat it was relatively nice out so I opted to just stick with my blazer. Bad idea. It got really cold. I knew that the temperature was supposed to drop about 10 degrees (in Farenheit of course) but I didn't think that the cold front was coming in until that night. I clearly thought wrong. And it was even colder when walking along the Thames because it's always colder near water. Regardless of the temperature, while we walked down the river, we took in the beautiful sights and architecture that London had to offer us. Whilst doing so we noticed a strange building. At first we thought it was just so tall that the top was blocked by the fog and clouds, but after a few moments we found that the fog wasn't actually blocking anything--there wasn't any top to the building! So we figured, they just must not have finished it yet. Nope. It's called the Shard and has an open air observation deck at the top. Made entirely of glass, it is the tallest completed building in Europe! And it seemed that everywhere we went, we could see this building. Must be because it's so tall.

We finally made it to the Tower of London where we collected our tickets and headed in. It was actually a lot of fun--I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. We went on a Yaoman Warder guided tour where a Beefeater told us all about the history and importance of th eTower of London. Our guide was absolutely hilarious. He made a lot of jokes about Americans, especially about how we chose to leave England and it our own fault that we're missing out on everything Great Britain has to offer.
Yaoman Warder: "If you're from Great Britain on the count of three give me a Yahoo! One, two, three..."
Britons: "Yahoo!"
Yaoman Warder: "If you're from Canada or Australia or the Caribbean or pretty much any European country, you were once part of the British Empire. So, on the count of three you too give me a Yahoo. One, two, three..."
Nearly Everyone: "Yahoo!"
Yaoman Warder: "And if you're American, well you were once part of the British Empire, but you made the wrong decision and chose to leave didn't you? Your loss. So you all can just give me a YeeHaw. One, two, three..."
American: "Yeehaw!"
And he was full of gems like this. He pretty much took the piss out of us Americans every opportunity he got.  But it was all in good fun (hopefully) and was really quite funny. During the tour in addition to laughing, we learned all about the gory executions at the Tower of London and the sad stories of death and deceit. We were also able to see the Crown Jewels which, obviously, were breathtaking.

Also, in case you were wondering, which I'm sure you were, the Tower of London bathrooms have won a number of Loo of the Year awards. They had signs that said this all over the walls of the loo. Kind of a strange award to receive, but something to be proud of, I suppose. Although if I'm being completely honest I didn't really think the loo was really even that clean. But maybe they were having an off day?

After we were done at the Tower of London we stopped at a pub called "Hung, Drawn and Quartered" to warm up because at this point I was freezing to the bone. We had some drinks and a light lunch to tide us over until dinner. Can I just say that my parents were not very hip to the idea of having to go to the bar to order food at pubs. I kinda think it's efficient but they were not fans. After our snack we headed back to our flat to get ready for dinner.

We headed to Covent Garden for dinner which is a really cool area in the Theatre District where there is a market and a bunch of stores and a ton of restaurants. We ended up having Thai food, which I'd never had before, and I actually quite enjoyed it. Granted, I got the safest dish possible--Mom and I split some fried rice and Pad Thai--but I was still proud of myself for eating a type of food I'd never tried before. And Maureen's meal had Coconut Ice Cream for dessert that she didn't want that she gave to me and it was so good. I find it really interesting that Thai food frequently has coconut in it. I'm not sure why, but it really surprises me.

The next day we saw the Changing of the Guard and this time was a lot more enjoyable than last time. This time we started at St James Palace and watched the New Guard march out and followed them to Buckingham Palace. This was better for me because this time I could actually see them! We then watched the ceremony from the circle instead of right in front of the gates. My Dad actualyl saw a car that we are pretty sure was carrying the queen because of the hat she was wearing and generally the entire situation. We know that Queen Elizabeth left during the ceremony because they changed the flag from the Royal Standard (indicating she is in the palace) to the Union Jack. So that was pretty cool. Also, interestingly there was a man from CBS Sports filming the Changing of the Guard to use as "setting the scene" footage for the NFL game being played in London's Wembley Arena that weekend.

Already in the area, we walked down to Parliament and Big Ben as well as Westminster Abbey (which we didn't go in because you shouldn't have to pay to enter a church). We took tons of pictures, got a bite to eat and then headed back to the flat to get ready for the West End show my Mom and Dad and I were seeing. I've already devoted an entire blog post to this, so I won't go into it again.

On Sunday, Mom, Maureen and I decided to go to Notting Hill to explore Portobello Market. I have to say I was let down by Portobello Market. I had heard such great things abut it and in the end it was just way too big to even enjoy because you want to see everything and there were tons of people there. Everywhere you stepped you ran into another person and every time you wanted to look at a booth there was at least one head in the way. So it just didn't do much for, but I did get an awesome Union Jack scarf that my mom bartered down from £6 to £4 (I can't barter to save my life, I get too uncomfortable feeling). After that we went to the equally as crowded and extremely expensive Harrods because you have to go to Harrods at least once in your life once. I'm glad I got that experience out of the way because unless I wake up tomorrow as an heiress, I don't think I really need to go there again.

We had an excellent meal nearby to Harrods where Maureen got Chicken and Mushroom Pie and Mom got Steak and Ale Pie (and I got a Jacket Potato  surprise surprise). They were quite pleased with their very British meal choices. And then that evening we had Korean food (another first for me) which didn't really excite me, but the restaurant was really cool.

By the time the weekend was over I had seen, tried and experienced so many new things. I also learned how to use the Tube and now I'm pretty much a pro at it. I can walk into the Tube station like a woman on a mission and get down the escalator and onto the proper platform without faltering once. Maybe I am cut out of city life? Nah, I don't think so. But it was a lot of fun to explore new places with my parents, but also help them out with knowledge that I have acquired here, like why everyone was wearing poppies, the way pubs work and the money. Speaking of, they just loved to make fun of me every time I said fiver or quid. I'm pretty sure John jokingly said "Oh you know, just a few quid and a fiver" about three or four times that weekend. But I figure, at least they're making fun of me for something I know, not something I don't know. It was all in good fun and it was a great weekend!

No comments:

Post a Comment