Sunday, June 12, 2011

Going Solo

It was a weekend of great company, trying to learn a new city while traveling by myself, and seeing some of the most well known structures in Europe. I finally made it to another country besides France. It was somewhat a spur of the moment decision, but I am so glad that I decided to go. Arriving in Britain took a little time since I took a bus from Paris to London, but it was pretty much the only "college budget" decision that was actually an option. If I ever do it again, the 2 and a half hour train is the way to go over the 8 plus hour bus drive. Instead of booking a hostel, my friend Travis graciously offered up his new flat to me as a place to stay. Arriving in London was the easy part. Navigating where I actually needed to go was a little more of a challenge. Struggling with 2 large bags and Travis' directions, I finally found where the London tube was, which is very similar to Paris' metro system. Being in an English speaking country definitely has its advantages when traveling alone. Everyone I asked questions was pleasant and helped me out. They probably felt pity for the poor American girl with bags and eyes looking completely blank from travel and the confusion of an unknown area. Well, I finally found my way and was very ready to just crash, after a beer that is. A block or two from the tube exit was the first pub. We sat outside under the heaters since there was a chill out, chatted some, and then made the short walk to the flat. I was planning on a long day tomorrow, and being prepared and ready was the goal. Well, the goal really wasn't met. The next morning I headed in early to the main area of the city, and I was completely lost. First, I had no pounds, only euros, and to exchange money at many stations, you need to have a "chip" in your credit card. Of course mine does not. After finally finding a place to take out money, I grabbed a cup of coffee and started walking through the city blindly. For some reason using a map frustrates me, and usually I have some sort of idea as to where I am going. Not here. I was interested in doing the London double decker bus tour, but could not find out where to buy tickets. I thought there was a central office of some sort, but you actually go to any of the bus stops (you hop on/off throughout the tour) and purchase tickets from the men at the stops. Easy enough, except I was still wandering around not knowing where I was going. A woman pointed me directly across the street to one of the bus stops, and I was on my way to finally tour London, after an hour later of wandering and a heavy beating to my feet from walking. I started the tour by passing under the Tower Bridge, with beautiful carvings taking over the archways. To the left of me was the Tower of London, known for being vital to the English speaking world and the battle of 1066, which I had already heard and learned about with my travel to Normandy. It was neat seeing the actual place that we had talked about, but of course did not see since it was in a very different area from Normandy. Getting pictures with the actual landmarks was a challenge, since I was by myself. I went up awkwardly to people, but I got my photos (and everyone else was a tourist as well) so that is all that really matters. We passed Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and many more sites. It was somewhat overwhelming, but it helped when I went back to the city the next day with direction and planning what I wanted to see and do. After a long day and enjoying my first serving of fish and chips, I headed back and waited for my friend to get back as well. We were planning on going for a run, and it turned out to be just as pretty as running in Paris, but a little more difficult. He lives close to part of the Thames River, so we ran about 5 miles along it. It was more trail than the sidewalks that I am used to, but the weather was perfect and the sights were amazing. We passed a crowd of sailboats with beautiful wood work perfect and shining one way, and after crossing an old bridge that was the "turn around", we ran into a group of rowers. Immediately I thought of how my brother would love being here. Apparently it is pretty common in the area since the sheds lining the river bank were filled with boats and oars. We got back, me being tired from a butt kicking, and got ready for a bite to eat. In the process, I introduced him to the "American" music that I had on my ipod shuffle. Well, if you know me I like rap, especially when I am running, so I really failed at letting him listen to good American music. Travis is from South Africa, and so he played some of his local music, a little different, more easy listening, and a lot better than my music choice. For dinner, he took me to a restaurant that was right on the river and a short walk from his place. It was a pub with a restaurant on the top floor, so you see the whole sight of the Thames River and get to watch the bridges light up at night. Experiencing things like that make it very difficult for me to leave Europe. The next day I was up early again. Today was the day I was going to see the changing of the guards! The area in front of Buckingham Palace becomes littered with all types of tourists. They put up fences and heavy security. A dangerous cloud was coming towards the area, and I was hoping the ceremony would start soon. The Irish guards came first, and then the British guards/soldiers marched in. It was neat seeing the synchronization in their movements and watching the tall palace gates open for their arrival. It started raining not too long into the ceremony, so everyone started running for shelter. Rain would define the rest of my day in London. After taking refuge in a cafe for a little, I headed for shopping for souvenirs at Harrod's, clothes at Topshop, then headed back. I met up with Travis in the city after he got off work, and we headed to his friend's bar called Pitcher and Piano. It was filled with "smart" looking business men, chandeliers from the ceiling, and some girl who seemed to have enjoyed happy hour a little too much. We planned to go to some of the pubs in Travis' area, so we grabbed food at an Asian restaurant, then headed back to get ready for my first real night out in London. Funny, but the scene is quite similar to how Athens is. The pubs are a little bigger, but there are people dancing and fun bartenders. It felt familiar, except for the amount of men versus women that are everywhere. Women are scarce, which is unusual for me and my area. The bartender took a fondness to me at one of the bars, and unfortunately that meant some tequila being passed my way. But, after avoiding more rain and dancing to some American and English music, it was time to head out. I had to say goodbye to London and Travis the next day. I wish I was able to stay longer and goodbyes are difficult, but it was another weekend to add to the list of ones I won't forget.

1 comment:

  1. Ah it sounds like you had a blast in London! I am glad! I love that city so much!
    Well I hope your enjoying Paris!!!! :)