Sunday, March 6, 2011

london calling!

heyyyy everyone.

first off, sorry for the ridiculous delay. i had a complete blast in london, with little time to stop and blog! but, i'm back home to franceland now. so.. buckle up. here's part 1 of my week in london town. :)

the few days before departure were normal. i did laundry, pre-packed, did homework, hung out with people.. the usual. a bunch of us went to a student party on campus thursday night -- the best part was when the dj put on 'cotton eyed joe', which made jessie and me FREAK out. hilarious. we stayed out too late though. friday, the night before we left, i had shane check out my backpack to make sure it would clear the luggage restrictions on ryanair. clear for takeoff!

saturday, 26 february.

i woke up and did some final preparations before meeting rachel at the bus stop. we headed to the train station around 10am, and arrived at 10:30 for our 11:30 train. she got a snack, and we waited for our train to nantes. once we got on the train, it was a quick jaunt southward, and we arrived at the station before we even realized it. we got off the train to a beautiful, sunny day. it made for a pleasant start to the trip! the shuttle to the airport was just outside, so we only had to wait for a few minutes. the ride was quick, and soon we were at the nantes airport. it wasn't anything special, but still pretty big! we found our gate and checked in. no problems! we got lunch at the cafe past the check in counter, because we had a bunch of time to kill before our 3:30 flight. at 2:30, we headed to security. i got through without a problem, but rachel got patted down AND her bag was searched! weird. we got through eventually, and headed to customs. i got my passport stamped (yay!) and talked to the guy in french for a bit. we only had to sit at the gate for a few minutes before they started boarding procedures. the weird thing was that everyone lined up and had boarding passes/passports checked just to go sit on the skybridge and wait for the plane to arrive. whatevs. it finally got there, and we walked out to the little jet. as we boarded, there was classical music playing! neat. i was expecting a total crap airline, because everyone has always told me "you get what you pay for" with ryanair (the tickets are pretty cheap). but it was actually quite nice! and the flight was crazy short. by the time the flight attendants finished going up and down the aisle selling their various wares (food, drinks, smokeless cigarettes ((what??)), phone cards, magazines...), we were beginning our descent to east midlands airport in nottingham. yeesh! the east midlands airport was nice.. the customs man stamped my passport and gave us lots of good transportation advice in his think accent. rachel couldn't understand him.. haha. we made our way to the taxi stand and got a cab to the train station. the cabbie was very nice! i love cabs. anyway, we got to the train station just a fewwww minutes too late to catch the early train, so we waited for about 45 minutes and hopped on the train to LONDONNN. rachel napped while i pored over our big map for the 1.5 hour trip. we arrived around 7pm local time at st. pancras station, in central london. wow. i had directions to our hosts' flat, so we got on the tube and made our way to bethnal green in east london. it's always nice to be able to navigate a completely new place. we arrived at the flat and met our incredibly wonderful and lovely hosts.

let me explain what i'm talking about for a second. last december, i joined the couchsurfing community. i spent hours looking through profiles of people all over the world, getting more and more excited to start my travels. this past month, i sent out several couch requests to potential hosts in london. a week before we left, i finally got a 'yes'! we are staying with 3 people - one guy and two girls. tristan, the guy, is the couchsurfer who confirmed our stay. alex is also a surfer (who i had actually requested before tristan!), and then there's susie. they are some of the nicest human beings on the planet. tristan immediately calmed my nerves about staying with next-to-strangers when he sent the following at the end of a CS message: 

"Ok, don't worry about anything short of finding my flat. We can take care of every thing else once you're here. We do open our house fully to surfers - you're a part of the family while you're staying... don't forget that. Treating my fellow man with respect, kindness and dignity is very important to me. We evolved as social creatures and over the past 100,000 years have learnt to thrive in communities... While we've kinda lost our way in recent Millennia, I still believe in human nature."

yeah, couchsurfing is awesome. the place is amazing, too! the flat is huge, with 3 bedrooms downstairs, and a big living room upstairs. rachel and i shared the living room with two other surfers from poland for the first two nights - adam and ola. they were awesome. once they left, we had the whole room to ourselves! i've been sleeping on a double mattress with two big duvets, and rachel has this big, wide couch with duvets as well. we received a set of keys upon our arrival, and we've shared several great meals with our new friends. there is a computer in the room, and they even have a CS sim card for cell phones! i've never felt so at home while traveling.. it's the best. :)

anyway - we arrived at the flat around 8pm with no problem. they immediately welcomed us inside and sat us down with some tea and chicken sandwiches. as the hours passed, more friends came to join the party. by 10, there was a group of about 9 or 10 people.. and such an array of nationalities, personalities, etc! we had american, polish, british, swiss, canadian, new zealander, welsh.. it was amazing. again, i love couchsurfing! we had a blast and didn't get to bed until 3 or 4 in the morning. 

sunday, 27 february.
thanks to a late night, we slept in a bit. tristan made us tea for breakfast, and we headed out to start our day around noon. i have a friend who is studying in york this semester, in northern england. he was down in london for the weekend, so we met up on sunday to hang out! it was great to see him and hear about his study-abroad experience. we met up around 1pm at picadilly circus, which is like an older, smaller times square. lots of traffic and theatres and big flashing billboards. there was this awesome street performer doing soccer ball juggling tricks near the fountain.. so entertaining. cameron showed up just as it stared raining, so we hurried down the street to leicester square to find a place for lunch. we decided on a beautiful pub called the brewmaster. rachel and i split a burger, which was DELICIOUS. after lunch, we headed to an indoors attraction, as it was still raining a bit. we took a small detour to find diagon alley (yep!) and then made our way to the national portrait gallery. it's a big museum filled with portraits of loads of famous people from british history. we walked around and saw portraits of the bronte sisters, loads of british politicians and cardinals, and some more recent celebs (princess di). there was even a warhol print of the queen! awesome. photography wasn't allowed, but i snuck a few good shots. ;) once we'd toured all of the galleries, we headed back outside for a bit of a walking tour. the rain had gone, leaving a tentative sun peeking out from the clouds. it was really quite pleasant. we walked from the national gallery through trafalger square, down whitehall ave (the main drag, where the calvary museum and the prime minister's house are), and down to the houses of parliament / westminster abbey. it was such a british moment! we took pictures in the red phonebooths, with big ben in the background -- win! our plan had been to go to the free organ concert at westminster abbey at 5:45. otherwise, the admission fees are crazy! due to a small clock-reading confusion (my phone was still on france time), we found ourselves with an extra hour. so we walked across the westminster and hungerford bridges, took lots more pictures, and stopped for tea/cake in a little brasserie. yum. :) we made it back to westminster with plenty of time, and walked straight in. the abbey was founded in 960 AD, over 1,000 years ago. snap. the inside of the abbey is AMAZING.. and indescribable. i snuck some more illegal pictures. :) i'm so glad we got to go. the organ concert was epic, too. the first number was a high, trilly number.. but the second one loud and filled the whole nave with the deep, resounding tones of the organ. a great experience, to say the least. we left the abbey and took some fun night-time pictures of big ben before hopping on the tube back home. we said bye to cameron at his stop, and continued back to ours. our hosts had ordered pizza, so we ate that. i had the brilliant idea to get ice cream, so we walked down the street to the store to get some. yum. we spent the rest of the night talking, and i did some more research on tourist-y things. after a long day, we fell into bed.

monday, 28 february.

our main goal on monday was go to see a ‘west end’ show – london’s equivalent of nyc’s broadway. after considering a few options, we settled on ‘chicago’.  we went into the center of town around 11 to find a half-price ticket booth. the first few places told us that tickets for monday night were between 30 and 40 pounds. pretty steep, considering the pound is almost two dollars. we kept looking, and finally found a place that had tickets for 19.50. definitely do-able! we purchased three – two for us, and one for alex (one of our hosts). then we walked down to covent garden market and looked at an incredible amount of flea market fare. it was pretty awesome. we took a (red, double decker) bus to oxford circus and found a pub for lunch. i had hearty vegetable soup, and it was AMAZING. it rained for a while after lunch, so we spent the afternoon running from store to store on oxford street.. h&m, zara, primark, etc. it was fun! primark is HUGE and very stressful, though. it’s like if walmart and forever21 had a giant baby. cheap clothes, TONS of people, long lines, crowded.. we ended up trying on skirts over our clothes in the shoe department, as the line for the fitting rooms was like 70 people long. it was good though, i got a skirt and some cute oxfords for like 18 pounds. yay! after primark, we took a bus back to covent garden area, because we were supposed to meet alex outside her tube stop around 5:30. rachel and i ended up sitting in a cafĂ© and drinking tea for like an hour and a half. we had a great conversation about loads of different subjects, from family history to my wardrobe. it was lovely. :) around 5:15, we walked up to the holburn stop to meet alex. she showed up, and we hopped on the tube back to the flat to get ready for the show.
 we were only home for a short while – enough time to change clothes and clean up – before we had to leave again. we left the flat at 7:20.. and the show started at 8. it takes a while to get into london on the tube (it’s a busy place!), so we were a little pressed. once we got off the tube, we scurried down the street to the theatre, rushing in at about 7:58. the man at the door saw me holding all three of our tickets, and asked “are you three together? stop by the box office and they’ll give you an upgrade.” ..what? awesome. i handed the lady behind the counter our tickets and sure enough, she scratched out the “upper tier, row J” and wrote “o/s, row g”. we walked past the ticket taker, and he directed us down the aisle. when we got to our seats, i couldn’t believe it. we went from the back row of the upper tier to the 7th row from the stage! talk about lucky!! i ended up chatting with the woman beside me (a fashion-industry buyer who had just arrived from singapore earlier in the evening), and she said they paid 80 pounds for their seats. soooo.. WIN. and on top of all that, the show was amazing!! we had a wonderful time. it was funny to hear british people doing american accents.. from the 20’s chicago accent to a southern girl. they were pretty good – there were just a few times where i heard a phrase and thought to myself, “where do they think they’re from again?” all in all, it was an incredible experience. we took a few pictures outside the theatre and then headed home. after such an exhausting day, we were in bed pretty quickly.

ok, this entry is long enough. stay tuned for parts 2 and 3! :)


1 comment:

  1. Jilly, I'm so glad you finally got to see London and all of its beauty!
    Can't wait to read about the rest of your week!