Friday, July 28

A Jolly Good Time in England

It's really is like they say "there's no place like home". I've been at home for the past couple of days. Sorry I haven't posted earlier, but it's hard to do the computer when to get the internet you have to borrow the neighbor's wireless by holding up the laptop by the ceiling with one hand. As you know, I was in England for the final part of my trip.

To get to Paris, we had another 5 hour ride on the TGV. The part of the car in which we rode had four groups of four seats facing each other. There were 7 of us sitting in the two groups closer to the centre of the car. We were just hanging out and talking about leaving France and stuff, then this old French lady who was sitting facing me on the opposite side of the aisle next to the door got up and walked over to us. She asked us in French if any of us spoke French; we just looked at her. I can't tell what she said after that, but I could tell that it was something bad because she said it very angrily. She then turned around and sat back down. Jack referred to her as the b-word and the 8th person sitting with us, a Frenchman, laughed.

Normally, I try to be considerate and blend in where I am, but I don't think we cared because in another couple of hours, we'd be out of France for a while. Besides, whenever the sliding glass door, which happened to be next to her, opened, she got angry and flustered. Anywho, we nonchalently pulled into Paris, just another view of the Eiffel Tower. We had about 60 minutes to get to the opposite side of the city to the train station from which the Eurostar departs because our train was late. We hauled buns like a bakery truck down into the Metro and then nearly 20 stops later, up out again. To guarantee your seat, even with a ticket, you must get to the Eurostar at least a half an hour ahead of time because you go through British customs there at the train station. I think we made it with about 10 minutes left. Our final European train ride was uneventful. After leaving the station, the Paris very rapidly melted away into countryside within about 10 minutes. It was funny to hear the French conductor say "Chunnel Tunnel" on the speakers with a French accent. Before we went through, he'd announce in French and then English, after emerging, he spoke in English first.

It was glorious to be in England, once again. Looking out the windows, the cars were on the wrong side of the road, the landscape was green, and all of the signs were completely and instantly understandable. We arrived at the train station, not le gare, and did a little converting. I had it planned out and didn't have any euros to change, but with the student cards, the currency exchange places waive the flat cost of the exchange. I withdrew some money from the machine and got to fill my wallet with my favorite currency, the pound.

I had quite a different expierence, this time, with the pound. Before, I thought it had the coolest currency symbol, but now, I know, they really mean "pound of gold" because when you go, everything costs a ton of money, not in pounds, but in dollars. For instance, the admission to St. Paul's Cathedral was £8 for students, with the current exchange rate, that's more than $14! But it was worth it.

So, we went to the hostel and dropped off our luggage, measured in pounds, not kg. I certainly had enough of it. Then we ventured out to eat some sterotypical English food, fish and chips. After consulting the London book I had, which was infinity times better than Frommers (may you burn), we determined a fine chippery and set off. Ironically, we retraced our tube ride back to the train station, did a little walking and arrived. Fish and chips is awesome. For about £6 you get a big plate of fries and a big piece of delicious fried fish. We all were stuffed. Leave it to the Brits to figure out how to eat. We then wandered at night from Big Ben up past 10 Downing Street through Trafalgar Square up to Piccadilly Circus.

The next day, we set out to see the sights.

Big Ben, it's not as big as you imagine it
on the next block away from the river Thames (pronounced like the letter 'M' with a 'T' sound on the front and an 'S' on the end) is Westminster Abbey, started in 1066. It's neater than Notre Dame because in it is buried everyone who's anyone in British history. (Look out for the long lines and steep prices)
After a walk through the park, we arrived at Buckingham Palace, where the weather decided to start raining on us.
We scurried into the tube and rode it east to the centre of the city and stopped by St. Paul's Cathedral. Look out for the prices! I think it is pretty much the only building resembling an American capitol building in Europe. We climbed up the 500+ stairs to the top of the dome to look at the city. Here, down the hill and across Milenium Bridge, is the Globe Theatre to the left and the Tate Modern behind and to the right
St. Paul's from the front. Tuppence! Tuppence!
Walking towards the river, the dome of St. Paul's
We then went to the Tate Modern. It's an modern art museum. The nice thing about England is although the things cost an arm and 2 legs and an ear, all of the main museums are free. We walked in and viewed the art. Saddly (and I was hoping to give it the benefit of the doubt), it confirmed my theory that all modern "art" is crap. That's right, good art starts after the Renaissance, and ends with Picasso, Dali, Lichtenstein, and Worhol. Future people, if Blogger is still around, don't think we're all crazy because our art is. Art seems to be a reflection of the times and all modern art seems to be about out doing everyone else, hence giant chunks of metal scattered about the floor, a single neon light, a giant spinning mirror in a dark room, and canvases painted one solid color, like gray or pink. I've seen it all with my own eyes. You know, thinking about it; perhaps it does represent us, everyone trying to out do everyone else.

Anyway, after getting our minds blown by modernity, we decided to do something random and head east to Greenwich. It wouldn't be too remarkable except that's the point from which all of east and west are defined. After riding the subway, we went on the DLR, which was a little sketchy since we weren't sure if we had to buy tickets. We then found the park in Greenwich (pronounced GREN-itch) and walked up the hill to the Royal Observatory. Unfortunately, we arrived 5 minutes before it closed so we couldn't get in. But we found a spot where the prime meridian was marked on the ground and took the classic 'I'm standing in the east and west' pictures.
From the hill, looking northwest, downtown London is a couple of miles away
After that, we found another London food to eat, Sausage and Mash. It was really good, too. Two bratwurst served on mashed potatoes and brown gravey.

The next day, Sunday, we headed out to beat the crowds to the Tower of London. It's a midieval fortress started in the 11th century.
The White Tower, the central thing. Someone pointed out that the Tower of London isn't very tall, but then I made the point that the Eiffel Tower only has 3 floors, too.
Right behind (or is it in front of?) the Tower of London is the Tower Bridge. We walked across it
We then headed back to Trafalgar Square to go to the National Gallery, Britain's primier art gallery. We saw some good art, but unfortunately, the Van Gogh room was closed.
Piccadilly Circus by day
Later, we stopped by the British Museum and checked out the Rosetta Stone, which was used to decipher the ancient Egyptian's hierglyphics
Perhaps this is familiar?We went there.
I felt a little dorky. Oh, well it's the Beatles. The consant stream of tourists must be annoying for people that have to drive that road everyday.

On Monday, we hired a car and went on a Magical Mystery Tour (the trip of a lifetime). We ended up naming the car Winston. It was Ford Focus, with the steering wheel on the wrong side. We also gave ourselves English names. I was Nigel, we also had a Pembroke, a Judith, and one Reginald Q. Withersby.

After swinging by Windsor Castle, we went to Stonehenge.
Then we popped into the Roman Baths at Bath
Then, for no particular reason, we stopped by the ocean. Wales is on the horizon to the right. The tide was coming in and this river was flowing backwards.
then we swung by Oxford
The classic 'the steering wheel's on the wrong side!' picture. Reginald did all the driving because it was a stick shift, also one must be 21 in Europe to rent a car (25 in the US). I was the navigator. We did about 300 miles of driving total and made 3 right turns. Gas was about one pound per liter so it was the equivalent of about $6.50 per gallon, whereas in France, it was more like $4 per gallon.
On Tuesday, we flew back. It's about an hour from our stop to Heathrow on the Underground. It was about 23 stops, methinks. We made it out and got in line for Air India. A lady came around and pulled out the Chicago bound people. We then got to stand in the special 10 person Chicago line for an hour. Going over the list, my passport needed to be taken and run through some checks or something, which was a little unnerving. Eventually we made it; it helped that the plane had arrived late, it originated in India, stopped in England, and continued to the U.S. The flight back was way better than the flight over. I spoke a little to the guy next to me, he was coming to the U.S. for the first time to go to grad school in Missouri. I wished him luck. And finally, it's nice to be a citizen because at O'Hare, although all the counters were open, the foreigners' lines were huge, whereas there was a short line that moved quickly for citizens.

As my trip is over and I'm back to my normal, boring life, I see a few more posts on my travels in Europe. I then plan to take a break before starting again in September. From there I plan on bloging local UW and Madison events and news.

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