Every time I write a new post about a new trip I've had, I tell myself that I ought to have written it closer to when said mini-vacaction actually transpired. At the same time, I realize that by spacing out the time in between each travel log, I can vicariously live through my past self's adventures, which in essence makes me a time traveler and therefore incredibly suave. Anyway, in these week's episode (which I write as a gift to myself for having competing exams), I will recount my voyage over the second week of Christmas break to the realm of Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II. I think it's safe to say that it's nearly impossible to think about the United Kingdom without employing the adjective "royal" in every situation whilst there ("Kingdom" kind of leads you to that line of linking, right?).
With that in mind, my "royal" Ryanair flight was jolly good without any of the hassels of the Dublin trip, as this one was a direct flight. My flight arrived at the Stansed airport just outside of London at approximately 4 pm on New Year's Eve, and I have to say, London may give Spokane a run for its money as far as early winter sunsets go. Based on how light it was when I left Santiago and how dark it was when I arrived, you would think I had flown around Europe a couple times. After getting through a surprisingly long line at the border check, I caught my easyBus (i.e. maybe a 10 passenger van) for the hour long drive to the heart of London. Though my traveling skills seem to exponentially improve each month save some exceptions, the one obvious thing I forgot to do was write down the address of my hostel (Note: Psych-like memory is not always full proof). Thankfully, I remembered that it was near Harrod's department store, and then after getting a map and directions from a Hilton, I was on my merry way. Although I was walking for a solid two hours through London to get to my hostel (not because I was lost, but because it was far away), oddly enough I never felt unsafe or nervous. Perhaps it was because I spoke English, or more likely because I was already wearing my trusty moneybelt again, so no hooligan could stop me. After checking into my hostel named "Meininger" (a German hostel chain), I went to the South Kensington Tube station to buy a ticket to Westminster, the closest stop to the fireworks, but because the ticket was pretty expensive and I didn't want to mess with a pass, I decided to walk, thinking it wasn't too far. Another solid hour of foot stomping later, I came to the general area where people were gathering, but unfortunately the specific "fireworks viewing areas" were already full. If you saw the highlights of fireworks from London on the tele that night, you may have seen more than I did, but I can still say I was there! I did see some over the buildings and compensated by watching the big screen in Trafalgar Square.
To go into as much detail as I did above with that I did and saw would require multiple posts. Thus, for now let me just list what I did day by day and then elaborate on some especially interesting moments.
Tuesday, Jan 1: British Museum attempt (closed, obviously), King's Cross Station (Harry Potter), Regent's Garden (the avian's parodise), St. Paul's Cathedral (from the outside), and the Tate Modern Art Museum (Giacometti, Calder, Pollock, Rothko and others).
Wednesday, Jan 2: Oxford! Knowing that Oxford was very beautiful and feeling a little ambitious, I booked a train ticket from Paddington Station and after an hour was in the town of England's first university. Not being very big, I basically walked around the whole town and took in all the breath-taking architecture. Also, I entered Christ's Church, one of the most well known parts of the Oxford campus, and I got to see the stairs used in the first Harry Potter as well as the inspiration for the Great Hall. Worth it!
Thursday, Jan 3: In the late morning, I did one of London's famous "Walks," where you just meet outside a Tube station and pay the guide when you get there. Being a sophisticated listener of fine music, I obviously chose to do the "Magical Mystery Walk" about The Beatles. We saw various sights of Beatle's significance including: Paul McCartney's music office, the studio where they recorded "Hey Jude," the building where they had their final rooftop concert (unexpected for London at the time), the Palladium (where Beatlemania started), Abbey Road Studios and of course, Abbey Road itself. When we got there, a bunch of people were already there trying to recreate the famous album cover. The funniest thing to me was that people have been doing this every since the album came up in 1969, and thus all the people who drive on Abbey Road have hated having to wait for people to take their photos ever since (sometimes I think they don't wait!). Our guide also told us that Sir Paul came to Abbey Road studios about three weeks before our tour, and went up behind some people and asked if they wanted help taking their picture. However, the people said "no thank you" and didn't turn around to see who it was! I'd be kicking myself for years to come . . . In the afternoon, I went to the British museum, which was both incredible and overwhelming. I'm one of those people who could literally spend days (as long as there is food and bathrooms nearby) in a museum looking at and reading about all the exhibits, but because there was SO MUCH, I had to move myself along. Not seeing everything, I went Saturday morning as well.
Friday, Jan 4: Tower of London (ridiculously expensive, even with the student discount, so I appreciated it from the outside), Tower Bridge, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey and St. Margaret's Church (the latter which I entered because it was free), Downing Street (where the Prime Minister lives), the mounted horse guards, and M16. At this building, which basically serves as the UK's CIA but was also featured in the latest James Bond film (Skyfall), I asked an older British lady to take my picture, and after she and the rest of her walking group struck up a conversation with me. They were very nice asking me about my studies in Spain and everything, and one of them mentioned that they wanted to travel in the western United States. Because we had been talking about the west as the "frontier," I jokingly remarked that we would get the wagons and horses all prepared for when they would come (slam dunk, lots of laughs all around). After I bid them adieu and started walking back towards the Tube station, I reassessed what we talked about and realized that they probably actually thought that the west still was frontier country, not changing since the Oregon trail! Maybe not to that extent, but they did ask me if we still did cattle drives in all seriousness. That night, and me admitting this will open myself up to jokes I'm sure, I went and saw The Hobbit in the cinema (as the British call it). Though I could have easily seen it in Spain, J.R.R. Tolkien had such a mastery of the English language that I just had to see it in English on a big screen. I have no regrets.
Saturday, Jan 5: I saw what I didn't get to see in the British museum in the morning, and then by the grace of God I got to meet up with my friends from Whitworth on their "Christianity in Great Britain" Jan Term trip! They were all very, very jet-lagged for obvious reasons, but it was still fun hanging out with them all. The title of this post, "Cobble-hopping," actually comes from that afternoon when Matthew Baker, my Resident Director from last year, and I were trying to come up with different British phrases for everything. Running across the street without the guide of the light, he brilliantly came up with "Cobble-hopping" to replace jay-walking. I approve :) We went to a cool sushi restaurant that night close to the London Eye, and after everyone else decided to go to bed at 7 pm (bad idea), Matthew, Mathew Eardley and took a good long stroll north of Hyde Park. Eventually, we found this homey tavern with the record as "the longest tavern in London." Upon entering, the sign was right, but I realize now that I should have taken the opportunity to pull an "Elf" and said "You did it! Great job, everyone, longest pub in London!" Already impressed at this architectural marvel, I think I fell in love when I took my first sip of pear cider. Once you've had good quality cider, there's no going back.
Sunday, Jan 6: Epiphany Mass (very traditional) in a beautiful church close to my hostel, a stroll through Hyde Park with the Whitworth group, Natural History Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum (amazing), dinner at Pizza Express, and then a contemporary worship service at the Holy Trinity Anglican church, literally just a few steps from the church I went to Mass at in the morning. Finally, Dr. Beebe, Matthew and Mathew sent me off at a different tavern, where we had some great pub conversation and said our goodbyes. When I arrived at the easyBus pick-up stop, I asked two people sitting there if it was the right place, and they said yes. A few moments later, they asked me, "¿Habla español?" With an enthusiastic "Sí," we then started talking a lot, which was very refreshing after a week of not speaking any Spanish. What tickled me more is that ambiguous ethnic identity (from the outside) won again! They obviously couldn't hear any Spanish accent in my voice when I asked them in English, so logically they must have thought I looked like someone who speaks Spanish (hopefully from Spain, though I'll take any country).
I'm glad I finally got all of this written down, as it definitely would have been easier to forget things had I waited longer to write. On a side note, yesterday I finished with my last exam for the month, and I can't express how happy I am that's over. Frankly, a month of just studying for exams and then doing your exams adds so much unneeded stress, not to mention the fact that so much of the final grade depends on it. Add to that the fact that it seems the majority of the Spanish and international students are worried about just passing the course, it just makes an unpleasant situation. Given the circumstances and trying to piece together what I'd learned over the semester, I can at least be happy with the fact that I gave my best effort. Plus, with second semester starting next week (¡Qué loco!) I am SO much more comfortable than at the beginning and now know how the whole academic game goes. Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (from the 21st) and please pray for forgiveness, compassion, and the conversion of the nation to one that's always open to life in this 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade decision.
Dios os bendiga,