Okay, so I haven’t ACTUALLY seen France yet, but I’ll start off this post by announcing that I am OFFICIALLY going to France from December 21st through January 3rd over winter break this year! My French roommate, Marion, invited me to stay with her family in Normandy, so after flying into Paris, we’ll spend some time in Normandy with her family and then make our way to Brittany, followed by Paris (and who knows? maybe other places, too!)
But, we can talk about all that when the trip gets closer, because this post is devoted to
Since arriving in Spain, my first trip out of the country has been to England, and it was amazinggggg. It was the first trip I planned almost 100% by myself, so I feel pretty proud of myself for figuring everything out, including transportation, accomodation, and my game plan for when I was there 😀 After finding out I had Thursday, Friday, and the following Monday off of work (2 weeks ago… sorry, this post is SO OVERDUE), I made the decision to go somewhere and I narrowed my options down to Paris and London. I eventually decided on London because a) I speak the same language as the English, b) one of my American friends is studying and living in London this semester, and c) one of my friends is about 2 hours north of London and he said he’d come visit me if I chose London.
So, London it was!
Although my lovely mom was a bit freaked out to find out I’d be staying in a house in London with 4 college aged guys (and a girl), I used couchsurfing.com to find a group of people to host me (for FREE) during my stay in London. It was my first time couchsurfing, so I was pretty nervous! I’d never met these people before and didn’t know anyone who knew them. But, I’ve heard from a lot of people who’ve traveled abroad that couchsurfing is a great option, especially when hostels are really expensive, as they are in London. Plus, I had the opportunity to stay with people who knew the city well and who were interested in getting to know me and make my trip as enjoyable as possible! I was mainly in contact with a guy named Rupert and made sure the whole situation seemed safe before saying yes. And I made sure this would be possible:
When I got there, Rupert and his friend were playing Xbox like typical boys and Rupert invited me to go to a dinner party at his friends house in honor of Halloween. So, I went with him and met a bunch of English students around my age and it was a lot of fun! It was great to actually hang out with British kids in someone’s house and hang out with them rather than just spend all my time going to major tourist attractions.
At the party, one of the housemates was an amazing cook and he made pumpkin soup, sundried tomato and something-else bread, pasta with meat sauce, and key lime pie and chocolate cake with candy corn on top. What a feast! Rupert assured me that this was not the norm for England haha… I just happened to show up on a day when they were celebrating a fun holiday. We also played some Halloween games, like pumpkin carving and bobbing for apples — which was fun but gross at the same time haha (who wants to dunk their head into a bunch of water that eventually gets filled up with spit and facepaint? yuck!).
Anywhooo, we stayed pretty late and then went back to Rupert’s house where I slept on the couch. All the roommates made sure I was comfortable and I was so grateful 🙂 They gave me two comforters, two pillows, a towel, and told me I could help myself to food/coffee in the kitchen in the morning. SO MUCH BETTER THAN STAYING IN A HOSTEL ROOM WITH 10 OTHER PEOPLE!
The next day, I was “Super-Tourist” Allison and went on a double-decker tour bus by myself through the city. I woke up early so I could make the most out of my day and got on a bus with a live tour guide who was pretty entertaining. Butttttt, I realized after I got off the bus that I spent the majority of my time trying to get quality photos of important sites and I didn’t listen as closely as I would have liked to the tour guide. WOOPS! So, later on that day, I may or may not have gotten on the same bus again so that I could actually listen to the tour guide. Unfortunately, the guide was a different man on this bus and he was like 70 years old and spoke in the most monotononous voice imaginable. Sooooo, I got off the bus as soon as I could to avoid falling asleep 🙂 I also got to go on a Thames River cruise and it was nice to be able to see part of the city from another angle!
Among the places that I saw on my tour were: Big Ben & the Houses of Parliament, St. Paul’s Cathedral, The Tower Bridge, The Tower of London, London Bridge, Waterloo Bridge (and more bridges), Westminster Abbey, Fleet Street, The London Eye, the Monument to the Great Fire of London, the Shard, HMS Belfast, and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Here are some pick-chas:
The name “Big Ben” actually refers to the bell inside of “Elizabeth Tower”, the actual name for the famous clock tower in London. The bell rings every hour and weighs 15.5 tons. DAYUMMM. Another fun fact is the minute hand on the clock is 14 ft long.
The Palace of Westminster is in Parliament Square and is the meeting place of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, together commonly known as the Houses of Parliament. Since 1066, the seat of government (the supreme legislative body in the UK, British Crown dependencies, and British overseas territories) has been at Westminster Palace. Parliament first met at the palace in 1295 and continue their meetings here to this day. Along with being the home of Parliament, Westminster Palace serves as the seat of the Royal Courts of Justice (the highest civil law courts). For ceremonial purposes, the palace retains its original style and status as a royal residence — throughout the Medieval Period, Westminster Palace was the primary royal residence.
As for the London Eye, it was built for the new millennium celebrations (it was also referred to as the “Millennium Wheel”) and was only supposed to be up for 5 years, but it´s still up today. When it was erected in 1999, it was the tallest ferris wheel in Europe (not all that surprising) and can carry a max of 960 people at one time. I didn’t get a chance to go on it, but the views from it must be amazingggg. There are 32 capsules/pods total, representing the 32 burroughs of London (note: the city of London isn’t considered one of those burroughs; yet, the city of Westminster is one of the 32 burroughs).
FUN FACTS ABOUT LONDON’S HISTORY:
London is actually made up of two cities (Westminster and London). Londinium was a settlement established on the site of the current city of London by the Romans. They followed the Thames and arrived in 43 AD, built a bridge (the 1st “London Bridge”), and built a this settlement that would later be called the city of London. The settlement served as as a major commercial center for the Romans until it was abandoned in the 5th century. Remember that childhood song with the lyrics “London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down….”? Well, the lyrics are referring to this original London Bridge! Today there are over 30 bridges in London over the Thames River, with the best view from any bridge in the WORLD (supposedly) from the Waterloo Bridge, which was built in 1945 almost entirely by women (95% of the workers were female). Sidenote: Waterloo Bridge is named after the Battle of Waterloo (1815) which took place in Waterloo in present-day Belgium, which was at that time part of the UK. A French Army under the emperor Napoleon was defeated by an Anglo-allied army and this marked the end of Napoleon’s rule as Emperor of the French.
During the 2nd century, Londinium was in its “Golden Age”… many impressive public buildings were constructed around this time. Also, sometime between 190 and 225 AD, the Romans built the London Wall, which was a defensive wall around the landward side of the city — it was one of the largest construction projects carried out in Roman Britain. It was about 3 miles long, 20 ft high, and 8 ft thick. The wall survived another 1600 years and defined London’s city limits for centuries after being built. The current city lines are still roughly defined by the line of the ancient Roman Wall. Here’s a photo of a piece of the wall:
As for the other city in London, Westminster, it was founded by the Normans who invaded and conquered England in 1066, led by William, Duke of Normandy. William of Normandy was crowned William I on Christmas Day in 1066 at Westminster Abbey and now coronations are held there, as well as weddings and burials. Westminster Abbey is also the private church of the queen.
Below is St. Paul’s Cathedral, where Princess Diana and Prince Charles got married…
There has been a cathedral on this site since 604 AD, but the construction on the current St. Paul’s Cathedral’s began in 1679, to replace the ruins following the 1666 Great Fire of London destroyed the medieval cathedral. It was completed in 1710, and has survived even during the Blitz during WWII. With the help of firefighters and policemen, not one bomb was able to burn down the cathedral and destroy it. The cathedral rests 365 feet above ground.
Also, known simply as “The Monument”, the Monument to the Great Fire of London was built to commemorate the Great Fire of 1666. It stands at 202 ft, the highest single-stone column in the world.
This is the Tower Bridge which is seriously so beautiful, especially considering it’s just a bridge… Built in 1894, it is known as the “see-saw” bridge because it opens in the center to let ships go through. At certain points during the year, the bridge opens 20-30x a week.
As part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebration and in preparation for the London Olympics, the Tower of London shone in red, white and blue, lit up by 4,000 LED lights
After crossing the bridge, we made it to the Tower of London, located on the north bank of the River Thames. The Tower of London was founded towards the end of 1066 and started to be built in the early 1080s by William the Conqueror (William I). The fortress was added to during the reign of successive monarchs. The fortress has been used as a royal residence, surrounded by defensive walls and a moat. The Tower has also served as an armoury, a treasury, a menagerie, the home of the Royal Mint, a public records office, and the home of the Crown Jewels of the UK. The peak period of the castle’s use as a prison was the 16th and 17th centuries when many religious and political figures were locked away within its walls. Although the Tower of London is notoriously known as a place of torture and death, only seven people were actually executed within the Tower before WWI. Executions were more commonly held on the Tower Hill to the north of the castle, with 112 occurring there over a 400-year period. During WWI and WWII, the Tower was again used as a prison, and witnessed the executions of 12 men for espionage. Between 1540 and 1640, the peak of imprisonment at the Tower, there were 48 recorded cases of the use of torture. The three most common forms used were the infamous rack, the Scavenger’s daughter, and manacles.
The rack: A torture device consisting of a rectangular, usually wooden frame, slightly raised from the ground, with a roller at one or both ends. The victim’s ankles are fastened to one roller and the wrists are chained to the other. As the interrogation progresses, a handle and ratchet attached to the top roller are used to very gradually stepwise increase the tension on the chains, inducing excruciating pain. The ropes could be strained until the sufferer’s joints were dislocated and eventually separated. Additionally, if muscle fibres are stretched excessively, they lose their ability to contract, rendering them ineffective.<
The Scavenger’s Daughter: The Scavenger’s Daughter was conceived as the perfect complement to the rack because it compressed the body rather than stretching it.
Many prisoners of the Tudors entered the Tower of London through the Traitors’ Gate. The gate was built by Edward I to provide a water gate entrance to the Tower. The name Traitors’ Gate has been used since the early seventeenth century. Prisoners were brought by barge along the Thames, passing under London Bridge, where the heads of recently executed prisoners were displayed on pikes.
After going inside and getting back on the bus, I also saw:
HMS Belfast was a warship built in 1937 in Belfast, Ireland. It took part in the D-Day landing in 1944 and sunk there, but now rests on the Thames and serves as a museum.
After my long day of touring, I got to see my friend Allison from college who is studying/interning in London for a semester. I went to my first true English pub on my second night in London with the boys I was staying with and she joined us for some real English pub cider!
The next day, my friend Seb and I met up (he goes to uni like 2 hours north of London and came down for the weekend to hang out with me) and we hung out in Trafalgar Square, saw the changing of the guard and Buckingham Palace, went to Leicester Square and Covent Garden, then to Notting Hill to check out Portobello Market, then we went to see Kensington Palace, and finally we made it to a fireworks show.
CHANGING OF THE GUARD & BUCKINGHAM PALACE:
Funny story. The changing of the guard starts out with a band playing a couple of songs, and guess which songs they played? Can’t guess? They played “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey and “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond. This was right after the Red Sox won the world series AND an American from Boston was there, so maybe the Red Coats are fans of the Red Sox and don’t hate Boston after all! 😉
Buckingham Palace is the official London residence and workplace of the Queen. Originally known as Buckingham House, the building used to be a large townhouse built for the Duke of Buckinham in 1705. George III later acquired it to gift to his wife, as a private residence for her. It became the official royal palace of the British monarch in 1837 when Queen Victoria ascended to the throne — which explains why there is a giant statue devoted to Queen Victoria right in front of the palace). Every queen since Queen Victoria has lived there, but the current queen mostly sees it as an office and is only there about 50 days out of the entire year. Buckingham Palace is fully equipped with 775 rooms (the Queen only uses 9), an indoor swimming pool, and….. a lot more.
Next to the palace are the Royal Mews, the place where the Queen’s horses and state coaches and other ceremonial carriages are kept:
Covent Garden is a famous covered Piazza/market home to fashion and gift boutiques. There are tons of stalls in the covered market, selling jewelry, crafts, and antiques. There are also street performers outside the covered market, as well as in the market:
NOTTING HILL & PORTOBELLO RD. MARKET:
FIREWORKS for the 4th of July equivalent in England:
The carnival and fireworks display were there to commemorate the Gunpowder Treason Plot of 1605, which took place on November 5th and was when a group led by Robert Catesby almost succeeded in blowing up Parliament and assassinating the king, King James I. Luckily, they caught the guy right before he was about to light the fuse to set off the bomb, and now the English celebrate this holiday every year. It felt exactly like the 4th of July, although the 4th of July is obviously better :D.
The next day…
I went with Seb and his friend to Borough Market, which was closed, unfortunately, and then we went to Camden Town, which is by far my favoooooorite place in London! Camden Market is such a cool place. It is actually 5 connecting markets with shops selling all sorts of stuff (e.g. vintage clothing, cool trinkets, bank t-shirts, records, and hand-made crafts). There was also this really crazy neon goth store which was really strange but kind of cool haha. I didn’t buy anything but I certainly enjoyed looking around! (I wanted to take pictures but they would have charged me a fine 😦 )
Afterwardssssss, we went to…
PLATFORM 9 3/4! For all you Harry Potter fans, I made the trip to Kings’ Cross just so that I could pretend to be a witch and travel to Hogwarts for a few hours! Let me tell ya, Hogwarts is awesome. Hermione and Ron Weasley are great company.
After my time in the world of witches and wizards, we went to Westminster Abbey to see it up close and we also saw Westminster Cathedral. Finally, Seb and I took the tube to Harrod’s, the most insane, upscale department store I’ve ever stepped food in. It was like a museum. In the chocolate section, there was a platter of chocolates one might bring to a Christmas party and it cost friggin’ 370 pounds (a.k.a nearly $600). Chocolate is great and all, but I passed up on the opportunity to buy that…
Finallyyyyyy, Seb and I went to a pub to chill out before I had to leave for the bus station (I took a night bus to the airport because my flight left at 6 am on Monday morning). When we showed up at the pub, this guy and his brother invited us to sit with him, which was weird, but whatever… there weren’t any tables open, so we said “what the hell?” Then the guy bought us each a pint of cider each and ended up buying 6 pints total just for us. He was kind of weird, but we didn’t object. Then we ran into a bunch of Australians, and because the more the merrier (and because the guy was strange), we invited them to hang out with us at our big table. The more the merrier! They taught me some Australian phrases, so at least I learned something while drinking alcohol 🙂
SOOOOOO, I had a busy and fun-filled weekend in London and I LOVE THAT CITY SO MUCH. I want to go back ASAP. I wish I’d had a week there because there was so much I didn’t get to see and I had a blast while I was there! BAHH I wish I had an unlimited budget so I could travel for the rest of my life!