Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Hello London!

I really enjoyed my first visit outside of Ireland.  London is an amazing city, and I certainly did not have a lack of things to pack in to my three day trip on the second weekend of October.  Fortunately, I was able to arrive and stay with two friends from Boston College over the duration of my time in the city, each with a place right in the center of the city near King's Cross Station! With their initial help, I really found it quite easy to navigate and by the end of the trip was decently adept in using the underground Metro system.  Looking back, the best bang for your buck is definitely to purchase an all day pass for about nine pounds, especially if you are going to fill each day with visits throughout the city like I did.

My flight landed in Stansted airport on time, and I proceeded to purchase a train ticket from the airport into the city.  Ryanair does not fly into Heathrow, London's largest and centrally located airport, which I found to be somewhat cumbersome.  Herein lies my second lesson with the budget airline (the first was printing your ticket and checking in ahead of time to avoid fees as high as the cost of the ticket itself): be conscious of the transport cost from the airport into the major city you're visiting.  The round-trip train ticket was a little inconvenient and a hefty 32 pounds, and almost made me wish I had looked elsewhere for a flight.  Nonetheless, that night I made it into the city and eventually to my friend Vinern's apartment to prepare for a fantastically busy few days!

First Ryanair flight, the go-to budget European airline
After waking up nice and early, Vinern showed me around the London School of Economics where he is studying.  It is a smaller campus than I expected, but encompasses one of my favorite things I saw during my time in the city.  The Old Curiosity Shop is likely the oldest shop in central London, dating back to the 16th century.  I'm a big history fan, and the fact that this building managed to survive the Great Fire of 1666 and the bombs of Second World War, and remains open for business today, is really cool.  I think it is often something that is missed by many visiting the city, so definitely check it out if you get the chance!

"The Old Curiosity Shop Immortalized by Charles Dickens"

Engulfed by modern architectural constructions

I continued on to a few other, more well known sites while Vinern had class, exploring the city along the way.  The National Gallery and Trafalgar Square were great first stops - the Gallery had more amazing works of art than I have ever seen, from Van Gogh to Da Vinci. 

National Gallery
Monet's Water Lily Pond (1899)
An interesting scene
Van Gogh's Chair
Van Gogh's Sunflowers (1888)
Seurat's Bathers at Asinères (1884)
Leonardo Da Vinci - (1499-1500)
Literally too many amazing paintings to post

Trafalgar Square

Continuing down the street, I came across the very end of a ceremony with several soldiers and their horses.  I'm still not exactly sure what it was (see first picture below), please comment if you happen to know! I soon passed Downing Street, home to the British Prime Minister, and finally made it to the iconic Big Ben clock tower and Parliament buildings.
Some areas were fenced off

As the day progressed, I met back up with Vinern and he showed me around Buckingham Palace (where I unfortunately just missed the last Changing of the Guard of the weekend - oh well, next time!) and Oxford Street.  We then managed to make it over to the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, and of course, Harry Potter's Platform 9 and 3/4.  Many, including myself, initially confuse Tower Bridge with London Bridge - London Bridge is actually nothing special, whereas Tower Bridge has the well-known combined bascule and suspension bridge structure.  When we got to the Tower of London, we were surprised (and amazed) to see a sea of 888,246 hand made, red ceramic poppy flowers to honor each British military soldier who died during the First World War.  We were very lucky to catch this, as they are only there temporarily.
Oxford Street

London Tower
Flowers flowing from the Tower window

This was even more spectacular in person

I concluded the evening by meeting up with my friend Aash, who I stayed with for the next two days (another Eagle, #WeAreBC), to go see a comedy show called Forbidden Broadway.  It was definitely funny, but it would have probably been a lot better had I seen the majority of the famous Broadway plays they were imitating!
After a very successful first day, Aash and I continued with some great visits on day two.  I was able to check out Portobello Road Market, which had a great deal of interesting vendors with things ranging from delicious pastries to antique maps.  Following the market, I experienced some phenomenal views of London thanks to a ride up The London Eye.
Good looking cupcakes?...try soap
Delicious pineapple smoothie

When I got off The London Eye, it turned out to be perfect timing for a walk down the River Thames (I've included a few pictures of some interesting sites along the way) to Shakespeare's Globe Theater to get one of the last seven tickets to the year's final evening showing of Julius Caesar.  It was actually the last weekend that the Globe was open, as it closes during the winter, so be sure to visit during the warmer months if you would like to see a show there.  I have to say that the play was one of my favorite things I did in London - all of the actors were phenomenal, it was very realistic and authentic in terms of the use of the venue (and costumes, etc), and there was a special conclusion since it was the season's final show.  
'Home Made...Please Put Money in Letter Box'

A reconstructed Globe Theater, the original is long gone, destroyed by a fire in 1613
I was in the front of the standing room section - the pit as it was called
What a show.
On my walk back - a view of Tower Bridge
My stay in England concluded with something I can now cross off of my bucket list - a visit to Stonehenge, a UNESCO World Heritage site.  It was about two hours away from London in the middle of nowhere, but I still really enjoyed it - again you may see the history nerd coming out in me here.  I'm sure it's not a visit for everyone, but if the historical significance and mystery behind the iconic monument is something that at all interests you, it is certainly a must see.

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