Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Fall Break: London Calling

Hello London, are you there? It's me, Bonnie, your new best friend.

I don't know if it was the sheer joy of being in an English speaking country for the first time in two months or if it was the city all on it's own, but I absolutely fell for London. Like a who-needs-college-drop-everything-and-move-to-London kind of fall. But don't worry Dad, I'm not dropping out of college, but moving to London is now most certainly on my where-I-will-live list.

We arrived in London on a rainy and cold Monday afternoon and that right there was wonderful in itself. If you know me, you know that I thrive off of cold, rainy, and overcast days. Rainy days are my sunny days. So naturally, I adored the weather in London. By the time we actually made it to the hostel, it was already early evening and we were rather tired so we didn't embark into the city until Tuesday. Rather, we looked up good, cheap, local pubs and ended up finding one called Thornbury Castle. It was on a backstreet of London, tucked away in a cozy corner. Considering it was a Monday night, it wasn't very busy. The only customers besides ourselves were 8 or so local British men, bar regulars, discussing sports with the bartender while one of their sons sat on a bar stool playing Angry Birds on an iPad. We sat in a back corner table, listened to them talk, and watched as two ladies spread cobwebs for the upcoming Halloween celebration. It felt like we were ducking into these people's personal and everyday routine at the bar. A peek into the normal British evening. Oh. And did I mention? It was there that I had my first burger since I left the States. It was a glorious moment second only to that first sip of Starbucks. The heavens might not have opened up and sang in glory, but I'm convinced at least one angel did a cartwheel.

burger at Thornbury Castle

Tuesday morning we set out to delve into London. We started with Big Ben, then walked down the Thames to see the London Eye. Other major sites we visited included Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Starbucks, St. Paul's Cathedral, and Shakespeare's Globe. All of it was wonderful. As the day got dark, we even walked through some parks that were already decked out with Christmas lights! I just LOVE that Europeans and I are on the same page: you start celebrating Christmas as soon as possible, whether it's socially acceptable or not. You are irrational if you think you can tell me to consolidate my Christmas season to the month between Thanksgiving and December 25th. I start celebrating mid-October. And I start my Christmas countdown in early September. And no, I'm not kidding. Moving on, to finish off Tuesday, we walked for about 30 minutes on the hunt for a taste of home, namely, Chipotle. As my friend Beth can attest, Chipotle is one of my minor addictions (the others being coffee, books, and Christmas). So being able to sit down in an English speaking country and enjoy a burrito bowl almost convinced me I was back in the States. Only when I looked outside and saw double decker buses driving on the "wrong" side of the road was I reminded that London is not in fact in the States. And for those of you who are wondering, Chipotle is in fact better in the States than it is in London.

in an iconic London phonebooth

Big Ben

London Eye


Shakespeare's Globe. Dad, this is for you. Important people never have time to stop and smile for photos, right?

Buckingham Palace

 St. Paul's

British taxis are precious

Christmas lights!! Eeeeeeeeeeep!!

Now, teaching moment my friends: what day of the week comes after Tuesday? What? Say it louder! No, Timmy not Funsday. Yes! That's right, Wednesday! Wednesday in London was the best day. We started off the day by visiting Harrods - an extensive and magnificent London exclusive department store. But this was no ordinary department store. Oh no. It was one of those fairy-tale Christmas-movie department stores. Like Gimbles in Elf or Miracle on 34th Street style Macy's. There was a perfume room, a makeup room, a candy and confections room (where all the employees were wearing old style candy striped vests and straw hats), a pet accessory room (with puppies for sale), and even a Disney room. Let me expand on this Disney room a bit for you. Picture it: life-size Disney Princess figures, a Cinderella's Castle to try on shoes, magically lit trees lining the room, and a fairytale castle backdrop where little girls could dress up in princess costumes and tiaras and have their portrait done. I kid you not. It was a magical fairytale dream come true land for all girls. On top of all of this, Harrods was already decorated for Christmas, inside and out, which of course made it even more magical.

Cinderella at Harrods

Disney floor at Harrods

picture time!

I"ll give you one guess as to who this made me think of.

After Harrods, we walked through Hyde Park, one of the largest and most lovely parks in London, and enjoyed the piles of freshly fallen leaves (because there is a seriously concerning lack of fallen leaves in Rome) and made our way to Primark. Now, Primark is another one of London's greatest treasures. Lindsey had gone on and on about how wonderful it was, but I didn't truly believe it until I saw it with my own eyes. It is the size of Forever 21, with prices lower than H&M, and the selection of Gap, JCrew, and any other clothing store that is wonderful. Truly awe-some. If you're ever in London, you must go. After spending a good hour or so in there, we emerged back into the real world. To recoup, we got a wonder waffle (yet another amazing aspect of London) nearby and took some time to relax. Finally, we finished the day with a jaunt through the National Portrait Gallery, a walk along the Thames to the Tower Bridge, and dinner at another pub.

12 days of Christmas

from in front of the National Gallery

Tower Bridge

on the Tower Bridge

Thursday was our last full day in London. Such a sad day. I honestly did not want to leave. So what would you do with your morning if it was your last day in London? Go see the new James Bond movie? Ya, that's what I thought too. It only seemed appropriate! Lindsey and I both agreed that we missed the classic relaxing movie-in-a-theater experience, and figured we should take advantage of the English speaking country we were in. So we went and saw Skyfall! It was great to just sit and relax and enjoy it. And the real kick was we would see places in the movie that we had been to recently, or we would see places and say "ooh, I wish I could go there" and then remember...we can go there. It was like getting taken into this world of London by James Bond and then walking out of the theater and onto the set of the movie. Thankfully, we never got shot at or chased down the streets, but still. Pretty cool. After the movie, we met up with Karen at Kings Cross station to see, you guessed it, the famous Platform 9 3/4. If you don't know what that is, then you need to stop reading this right now and go buy the Harry Potter books, read them all, then go watch all of the movies. Seriously, stop reading and go do it. For those of you who are still here, you faithful Harry Potter fans, I'm sure you can understand my excitement at seeing this magical (haha, get it?) monument. We almost couldn't find it and I was getting quite excited about asking an employee "Can you tell me where I might find platform 9 3/4?" but alas, we actually found it and I lost my chance to show off my Harry Potter impression. After snapping more than our fair share of pictures, we left Kings Cross and headed for the London Eye; it seemed like the most fitting way to finish off our time in London. And of course we picked up some Starbucks on the way. Post London Eye, we closed off the day with yet another pub.

Platform 9 3/4

starting our trip on the London Eye

at the top

London from the London Eye

The next morning, our flight to Dublin was at 6:45 and the airport was about an hour outside of the city so we snagged just a few hours of sleep before catching our taxi at 3. am. And on top of that, since I had made a few acquisitions at Primark and was travelling with only an already filled-to-capacity backpack, my attire for the plane ride consisted of (I kid you not) leggings, boots, a t-shirt under a sweater dress under a pullover sweater under a button up sweater under a scarf under a coat. Hey, at least I was warm.

To catch up a bit with the present, this week has been a lovely mix of work and fun. Getting back into the swing of school has admittedly been a little rough, particularly because my three classes that have papers are all on the horizon now. And I really should be starting them. And I really don't want to be starting them. So you see my dilemma. Yes? But I've tried to manage the stress the best way I know: coping with a cooking class and a wine bar. Monday night we went to the RA's cooking class and learned how to make pasta carbonara (a personal favorite) and it is unjustly easy to make. So Mom, Dad, MC and Delilah: get your stomachs ready for some carbonara and some tiramisu. You too Beth. Italian party night in the apartment when I get there. (You think I'm kidding....but I'm not.) Tuesday night we went to this wine bar/restaurant that one of my roommates had read about. It was near Piazza Navona and was a precious little shabby chic lounge/cafe/restaurant made up entirely of an eclectic collection of couches, lounge chairs, and a few normal tables and chairs thrown in for good measure. We stayed there for three hours and simply relaxed and talked. It was most certainly in my top 10 favorite nights in Europe and we decided we would go back just once more, right before the end of the semester.

Now to address the elephant in the room (or I guess it's a donkey in the room): the election. I don't know what y'all did for the election last night, but because of the time difference, results didn't start coming in over here until around 2 am and the results finally posted around 5 or 6 this morning. So I'm sorry to say that I slept through most of the postings, but I did set an alarm for every hour and sat up to check the state of the polls. It made for a very interesting night of combination sleep and oddly political dreams. But hey, it was the least I could do.

And as for now, I've had classes and meetings all morning, took my lunch break and walked through a nearby park, and now am sitting in the school's computer lab writing this and listening to Michael Buble and Shania Twain sing "White Christmas." Aaaaaand I only have one more day of classes to get through before it's the weekend!! LOVE THAT.


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