Friday, December 21, 2012

London: Days 1-2

Well hello there!

I attended my last class on November 28th, and promptly left the city with my friends Ahlam and Victoria for a whirlwind six-day trip to London! I had never been to Britain's capital city before then, and I can now officially say that I am in love! (As much if not more than Edinburgh, dare I say it!) We managed to pack an exhausting amount of traveling into our week-long adventure, so for the sake of my readers' sanity, I have divided the trip into multiple blog posts. Feel free to read them (or browse, or not read them at all!) at your leisure.

On Thursday, November 28th, we took an early-afternoon train from Waverley Station to London King's Cross. Needless to say, the speed of the choo choo, the beautiful views from the windows, and our ultimate destination all contributed to the collective feeling that we were taking the Hogwarts Express direct to our favorite wizarding school! Victoria had never been on a train before, and she was so excited to ride the train. It was really cute. Nothing particularly significant happened during our train ride, with the exception of two encounters. The first was with a chatty guy named Lee who boarded the train about halfway through our journey and, while charming at first, would not stop talking and quickly became quite a nuisance. The second was a group of three middle-aged women who brought with them onto the train a picnic for approximately 20 persons, proceeded to eat all of it within 90 minutes, and also consumed 4 bottles of wine. Much like Lee, they also didn't shut up, though they were considerably gigglier than he was.

When we arrived at King's Cross Station, we immediately searched for Platform 9 3/4. And we found it! It was a giddy moment, and, like the geeks we are, we proceeded to take about 25 pictures. So magical. :)

After satisfying our Harry Potter craving, we bought our Oyster Cards and took our first tube ride to Upton Park, the station nearest the flat we rented for the trip. Ahlam booked us an amazingly cheap room 40 minutes outside of central London, but she never did any preliminary research about the area in which the flat is located. Imagine our surprise, then, to exit the station only to find that we managed to book ourselves a flat smack dab in one of London's most densely-populated Indian communities! The food markets, the clothing shops, the storefronts-- so colorful but such an initial shock! We totally acclimated to the area by the end of the week (though we stuck out like sore thumbs any time we walked through town, and we endured a lot of catcalling that I for one didn't care for much), but needless to say our jaws dropped a bit when we first arrived, at 10:30 p.m., in such foreign territory. Our flat itself was nice--some weird, unsociable landlords, but tidy and neat with SUCH a comfortable bed. We slept like babies the entire trip! The most unusual thing about our flat would have to be the strobe light faucets installed in all of the sinks. Washing our hands became something of a sanitary disco!

We went back out into the city for a late-night dinner at a cute little pub called the Swiss Cottage, where we ate delicious food and imbibed some hearty cider. On our tube ride home, we had our first of several awesome "people of London" encounters with a man who overheard my pronunciation of "potato" and proceeded to teasingly correct me. He then engaged in a cheerful rendition of the "Potato, Tomato" song, during which he managed to coerce the passenger next to him to join in. It was hilarious and we laughed so hard. After he got off, the woman sitting across from us, who had joined him in song, informed us quietly that he told her he had just been diagnosed with a very serious illness and was so happy to be able to cheer himself up by talking with us. This obviously took us by complete surprise; while the moment was bittersweet, it completely warmed my heart to know that a man in such a fragile state could be so friendly and happy.

We accidentally woke up two and a half hours later than we meant to on Friday morning, causing us to postpone our visit to the Globe Theatre for another day--whoops! After eating breakfast, we hopped the tube to Portobello Market and spent a few hours shopping the stalls. Portobello Market is amazing--so colorful, such interesting wares on display, so many cool people, so much yummy food! Though it was really cold, we had a lot of fun scouring tables of eclectic jewelry to find the perfect pieces and rummaging through rack upon rack of vintage clothing.

Victoria and Ahlam with a really cool piece of street art right outside of Portobello Station.

We grabbed lunch in a cute little pub where we proceeded to consume disgusting amounts of ketchup. Two tough "biker dudes" were also in the bar having a pint, but the best part was that each man had a froufy pomeranian sitting on his lap, complete with dog sweaters. Adorable.

We spent the majority of our afternoon exploring the British Museum, though we would never have found it without the help of a kind elderly gentleman who happened to be walking in the same direction as our destination! He looked a lot like Santa Claus with his white bear and puffy red coat. So thank you, Santa Claus, for saving us from being eternally lost in a foreign city.

The British Museum is AMAZING! It's huge and there is so much to see, like the ROSETTA STONE. We saw the Rosetta Stone. IT WAS AWESOME. I also particularly loved the ancient Egyptian exhibit with its huge, colossal statues. (There were also mummies, which is always cool...gotta love dead things!) The African exhibit was perhaps my favorite part of the museum, though--an interesting mix of modern sculptures and art pieces mixed with older works. Stand-out pieces included a metal sculpture of a gorilla and the "Tree of Life," made out of rusting pieces of weaponry from African warfare. My favorite individual piece, however, was an amazing installation called "Cradle to Grave," which tracks the lives of one woman and one man--from birth to death--through the pills they take. Completely brilliant.

With the Rosetta Stone!

Our last stop of the day was to the famous department store, Harrods! We indulged in our materialist society by browsing the store for an hour or so, though we spent the majority of our time not in the women's clothing section but in the Toy Kingdom! (Where else would you rather be when in Harrods, though?) IT WAS SO MUCH FUN. There were giraffes everywhere (my favorite!) and so many cool toys and it was so colorful and the dollhouses and the legos and the candy and OHMYGOODNESS I LOVED IT. We fooled around like five-year-olds and had an absolute ball. After finally prying ourselves away from the toy department, we moved on to home furnishings and happily pretended to live in a huge life-sized millionaire's dollhouse. (We did, however, elicit some unfriendly glares from the stuffy security guards on the floor...whoops!)

Thanks for sticking with me. For more of our adventures, keep reading in "London: Days 3-4"!

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