Sunday, November 7, 2010

Foreign Lands, Familiar Faces: London and Rome

This is the final installment of my three-part post of Fall Break adventures. Go here for part one and here for part two.

In the London airport, we had to go through customs. We had no trouble, but there was a Mexican girl, who was also studying in Florence, who was stopped and questioned. Apparently her visa had expired the week before, even though she was in school until December 7, and they told her that she was not guaranteed entry back into Italy. We had passed through customs by that point, so I don't know if they let her into England or not, or how she fared in Italy, but that was a little scary. We couldn't understand why she didn't have a visa that lasted the duration of her education abroad, but we never found out.

So we went to buy bus tickets, but of course, England uses the pound, not the euro, and they didn't take Visa at the counter. So we had to go and find an ATM to withdraw some pounds. As we were walking back with pounds in hand, we saw the gate close over the counter. It was 1:30 AM. Unsure of what to do, we went to the bus stop, hoping we could perhaps buy tickets on the bus, since clearly we couldn't buy them in the airport. We were also hoping that the buses still ran at this time. Luckily, there was an open ticket counter by the bus stop, and we purchased tickets there. We rode the bus to the nearest stop by our hostel, and walked up the road. The exterior was like a great Victorian house and when we checked in and walked into our room, we had four poster beds, with curtains, just like the ones at Hogwarts. I was too tired to be excited at that point, and we passed out, happy to be able to sleep.

I learned from Tony that the pedestrian crossings are helpful to blind people. There is a small thimble underneath the box that spins when the light turns green, so blind people are able to cross. It also beeps.

We woke up at 9 (although it was 8 in Italy), and went to breakfast. I sat with an Italian guy who was interning in London for architectural studies. I practiced my Italian, and he corrected me a lot, but was appreciative of my attempts. Then I took my second and final shower of the trip. It was not as drastic of a cleansing as the one in Barcelona, but it was still nice. We then planned our day. We got a day pass for the Tube and made our way to Baker Street to see Sherlock Holmes' house. Then we walked to Abbey Road (although we didn't find the intersection from the Beatles' album cover), and then walked down Fleet Street (where Sweeney Todd, the demon barber, lived and worked/murdered).

We found St. Paul's Cathedral, but the line was incredibly long to get in, and we had seen quite a few churches in our trip, so we weren't so disappointed that we didn't go in. We then stopped at a very classy, but inexpensive, restaurant, where we ordered fish and chips. I had never eaten it before, even an Americanized version, and I was very pleased with the experience. We also had delicious black tea.

We walked to London Bridge and took pictures of the much more impressive Tower Bridge, as well as the Millennium Bridge. The song "London Bridge is Falling Down" is still applicable today, as it is slowly sinking into the Thames River as were the previous versions of the London Bridge (according to a river tour guide that passed beneath us as we were discussing the song). We passed by The Monument, which, according to Wikipedia, is a monument to the Great Fire of London in 1666. There was no description around the monument that we could find, but Wikipedia also tells me that it is the tallest isolate column in the world. So there you go.

On the other side of the London Bridge, we walked to Southwark Cathedral, which is the resting place of William Shakespeare's brother Edmund, and Thomas Beckett preached at this cathedral. Southwark is the oldest cathedral in London, and stands at the oldest crossing point of the Thames, which was the only entrance point across the river into London for centuries.

We visited Shakespeare's Globe Theater, but were not allowed to go into the theater itself unless we purchased tickets for that night's show. Since my travelmates were uninterested in seeing a Shakespeare production, and none of us wanted to spend that much on a ticket, we regretfully passed up the chance to peek inside.

We then visited the Tate Modern, which is London's contemporary art museum. It was quite large, and very interesting. We saw a temporary exhibition called Sunflower Seeds, by Ai Weiwei. The exhibition was literally 100 million, hand-crafted, realistic, porcelain sunflower seeds. It was quite a sight to see.

The rest of the museum was filled with modern and contemporary artists. I loved it, but have rediscovered my phobia of video art, and spent much of my time there walking through rooms with my eyes shut, being led through by Veronika and Grace, because video art makes me physically sick and nauseous and I want to run away or destroy things. It's not a good feeling, and I don't know why I have that reaction. But I do.

We took the Tube to Harrod's, just to see the incredibly expensive things, but we also admired the Christmas decorations, because Florence has yet to start the holiday festivities. We actually saw someone spend £5000 on one item of clothing. It was an evening dress. I may not be the most fashionable person out there, but I saw nothing particularly special about the dress, and I don't know what would possess anyone to spend that kind of money on ONE clothing item. But I guess there are people who understand the philosophy, because Harrod's does well, as do other designer stores in the world.

It began raining as we left the mall, so we hurried back to the Tube and went to see the London Eye and Big Ben at night. They were beautiful with all the lights, but not so pleasant to observe in the rain, so we found a place to eat dinner on Bond Street. I looked for the MI6, but was unsuccessful. Instead, I ordered a delicious meat pie. In my head, the song "God, That's Good" (from the musical Sweeney Todd) kept playing on loop. We went back to the hostel, because it was too wet and our feet were incredibly sore. We had for last one more day of extreme tourism.
We woke up and ate breakfast and then bought our metro passes for the day. We hurried to the metro station to catch the subway and make it to a walking tour by 11. But as we got to the station, we discovered that Grace had left her pass at the hostel.

So we had to go back and get her pass. We were too late to make the tour, so we went to Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the guard. There were so many people there, and we couldn't get a good view, but it was fun. They played music, and the guards with their tall, fuzzy hats paraded around for 45 minutes.

We then went to St. James Park and got some sandwiches and walked to the Wellington Arch to try and catch the later tour. But there was no tour to be found. So we decided we would do the tour on our own.

We went to Hyde Park and walked around. There were so many people rollerblading. We reminisced about skate rinks in America and wished that skating hadn't gone out of style in the US. There were some really talented people skating around, too.

We then went to see Big Ben and the London Eye by day. We also walked around Parliament square and saw Westminster Abbey.

We went to Trafalgar Square and witnessed an NFL rally, because the San Francisco 49ers were playing there the next day. It was quite strange to see a bunch of American Football fans walking around.

We then had to search out a Starbucks, because Veronika was craving it and refused to continue on without it. So we found one and had some drinks. I also got some carrot cake that was delicious. Afterwards, we went to the National Gallery. We saw so many famous and beautiful works of art.

We then went to Piccadilly Circus, which was essentially a less impressive Times Square (in New York).

Then we took the metro to King's Cross Station, because we wanted to see Platform 9 3/4. As we got on the metro, they announced that due to overcrowding, no metro was stopping at King's Cross. So we got off a stop before and walked.We must have been in the wrong place, however, because we got all the way to platforms 9-11 and then were stopped by a ticket counter. But we were too tired to search out the plaque, so we just went back and bought some Cornish pasties for dinner. I got a traditional one, which was potato, onion, and beef. The other two got chicken and vegetable, which tasted like a chicken pot pie in calzone form.

We then went back to the hostel and ordered a sub-par creme brûlée, and Grace got a low quality beer that she couldn't finish, because she couldn't stand the taste. We found a place in the lounge to wait until it was time to catch our bus to the airport. That night was the daylight savings change in Europe, and we wanted to be on the bus before the change so we would be in the airport in case somehow they forgot about the change and left an hour early, but actually left around 2:10 (the second time we lived that time that night), because we didn't want to wait the extra hour at the airport, when the couches were so comfy. The bus and plane rides were easy and uneventful. We had made it back to Italy.

We got on a bus to the Rome train station. Then we stopped at a Conad grocery store to get some food, because we figured it would be better and cheaper than buying food at the train station restaurants. It certainly was cheaper, but the quality was terrible. Veronika couldn't finish her sandwich. Grace and I forced ours down because we were so hungry. I was glad to have eaten something, even if it was gross.

Our train was delayed, so when it finally pulled into the station, we piled on and found an empty compartment and fell asleep, assuming that the train would take us back home. We woke up about an hour later (around 12:30 PM), and realized that we were still in Rome, in the same spot where we'd fallen asleep. We looked outside to see what had happened, and saw that our train was scheduled to depart in 15 minutes. Upset that we wasted an hour, but not seeing what else we could do about it, we went back to sleep.

The train pulled out of the station and about an hour into the ride, an Italian guy comes into our compartment and tries to get us to buy his train ticket (he didn't have one when he got on the train). When we didn't do that, he questioned us about where we were from and what we were doing in Italy. He didn't speak much English, and our Italian was pretty horrendous. Luckily, he got off at the next stop, so we didn't have to endure him for long. We went back to sleep. The next time we woke up, we saw another Italian man pacing outside of our door, staring in creepily. He didn't come in, but we pretended to keep sleeping, in case he decided that our wakefulness was enough of an invitation to pester us.

We arrived back in Florence and made our way to our apartment around 2:30 PM. We had been traveling for 14 hours, and actually for the past 8 days. We were glad to be home, but we had such a great adventure. It was absolutely worth it.

No comments:

Post a Comment