Tag Archives: UK

the united kingdom. part II.

this is about 6 months overdue but here is the story of the last day of my trip to the united kingdom.

we flew into dublin about 5 or 6 in the evening as far as i can remember. looking out the window of the plane i remember thinking the irish weren’t exaggerating about their country; it is green. everywhere. the country side was gorgeous. we got into the airport and through customs and tried to grab a bus into the downtown area to find our hostel. i’m sure we looked confused by the bus system and buying tickets because two separate irish guys asked us if they could help. they were both very helpful and super friendly and their accents were really thick. awesome. we took a double decker downtown and obviously we rode on the top, what a thrill.

riding from the airport to the city center (where our hostel was located) was really cool. the neighborhoods we drove through actually didn’t feel much different than the states. we passed a gas station, a mall, restaurants. the biggest difference was that a lot of houses had crazy colored doors and all the restaurants were named “o’brien’s” or “o’malley’s” or “sheehan’s” or “mccann’s” or “kennedy’s” or “quinn’s” or some other obviously irish name.

we pulled into the city center and immediately saw this thingnot really sure what the story is behind this thing, it’s just a big pointy needle right in the middle of downtown. weird. but it’s construction is pretty cool, it underwent shot peening so it reflects light in a really cool way; throughout the day it changes color from a dark steel to reflecting the colors of dusk.

the rest of downtown was a lot of hustle and bustle, mainly pedestrians walking around, shopping, errands, doing whatever. there was a lot of brick everywhere, especially on the streets. we walked around just taking everything in, and then eventually found our hostel. we checked in and got to our room, and yikes. it was a huge room with about 18 other people. there were only two extra beds open, on opposite sides of the room, so sean grabbed one and i grabbed the other. mine was one of the bottoms of a set of two bunks, and the other three were occupied by these three guys from northern england. they were rambunctious to say the least. they introduced themselves and right away offered me a beer. i declined, telling them i was waiting until i got dinner. they thought that was weird but were nice enough about it.

sean and i got what we needed out of our bags and headed out into town to do some real exploring. we walked across the river liffey and ended up finding trinity college, which, along with the university of dublin (they’re like sister schools i think), make up the oldest university in ireland. the campus was incredibly beautiful. it was sunday night, so we probably saw like five people total on campus. the sun was setting as we walked around, and it really gave the whole place a gorgeous feel. the campus was old. everything felt super old, but not musty or stuffy. it was very old-fashioned; every building looked ancient. and then dusk really set in and this is what we saw.

after walking around the campus for an hour or so, we walked on through the downtown city streets. by chance, we ran into the temple bar area of downtown, the area dublin is famous for. i really don’t know why this is though. a guy who studied in spain with us had been to dublin for st. patrick’s day, and he said that temple bar was the best and we had to visit it, and that he thought it was really famous because it was the first bar to be called a “bar”. like the guy’s name who started it was temple bar, like that was his first and last name. unfortunately, none of that is true. it’s certainly not the first bar to be called a bar, and the name might’ve been derived from the temple family, who lived in the area in the 1600s, but certainly not from a guy who’s name was temple bar.

the area was really exciting though. even on a sunday night, the streets were completely packed with pedestrians, partyers, street performers, etc. just so much hustle and bustle. here is a picture of the actual “temple bar”. it was a really pretty building, actually all the buildings in dublin were pretty. but there was quite an air about this neighborhood; it felt so old but really vibrant. so many different kinds of people were out, mostly just street walkers, but also a fair amount of buskers and other street performers too. the whole neighborhood just felt really energetic. one of the weirdest performers we saw was this guy who was standing on a metal bucket. he was dressed like a crazy person, like a person literally crazy, and he had a chain around his neck attached to like a fake wicket close by. his clothes were all black and he looked really goth-like, and he just stood on his bucket with his head down, not moving or making any noise, but whenever a passer-by would come up to throw some change into his change bucket, he would freak out and growl like an animal like he was some kind of mutant or something. it was weird and gross. we also saw a lot of awesome buskers out playing guitar and stuff. pretty happening place.

so after walking around a bit, sean did want to go inside temple bar and check it out, so we pushed our way inside (it was outrageously packed in there) and found a little nook where we could drink in peace. sean ordered us two beers and we just drank and observed the crowd. we also got our picture taken by a friendly irish guy which was nice.

it was a cool bar, very hip and irish, but i’m not sure why it has such a prestigious reputation.

we finished our beers, pushed our way back out onto the street and decided to continue walking. we walked down the block and took a turn down a little alleyway when we saw a bunch of people standing at the end of it watching something cool. the crowd opened up onto this really big courtyard, and out of one corner we heard this great 40s and 50s music blaring out of a boombox, frank sinatra and the like, and there were about 9 or 10 couples dancing to it! they had lots of spectators and eventually a lot of people joined in. sean and i jumped on a ledge on the sidelines and watched everybody have a good time.

we talked and watched the dancing for about half an hour and then decided to keep walking. we ended up finding christ church cathedral. with all the commotion we had seen, evening had managed to settle without our noticing. so when we stumbled upon christ church cathedral, my goodness it was an impressive site.

what a foreboding building. this picture is really a small fraction of what the building actually looked like, we didn’t get a good far away picture so it was much bigger than this photo portrays. but we walked around the building, impressed and a little anxious (me anyway), and decided to call it a night. we walked on towards the river liffey, hit the riverfront and walked awhile until we came upon the ha’penny bridge. to be fair, we didn’t really know any of these landmarks we were hitting, we just kept walking, always making sure we were heading back towards the spire. but this is the river liffey at night. the river was really pretty, as it is in this picture, but if you looked along the banks, it was actually pretty filthy. lots of trash and oily grime. but otherwise gorgeous.

we finally made it back to our hostel after crossing the river, and hit the hay relatively early, wanting to get up for church the next morning. sleep went well until our english roommates returned from their night out. man were they loud. yet it was interesting that even brits find late-night farting giggle-worthy.

sean and i woke up the next morning, showered, had breakfast provided at the hostel, then headed off into town to see some churches. our first stop was st. patrick’s cathedral, one of the two prominent cathedral’s in dublin. unfortunately, as it was under construction, the tower was surrounded by scaffolding so we couldn’t really get a good picture representative of the true beauty that this place possessed. but it was still a gorgeous church. one sucky thing though, we had to pay to get in and look around. lame, it is a house of God, but no big deal. we got in and the place was like a museum. very suspiciously organized almost more like an actual museum than a church building. clearly loads of tourists frequent this place. on either side of the main sanctuary-like aisle there were exhibits of old relics and things from the church’s history, lots of really interesting stuff. and the architecture of the place was astoundingly beautiful. gigantic stained-glass windows, elaborate wall frescoes, even the floor was ornately designed. the whole place was lovely. we wanted to do mass at christ church cathedral however, so we decided to head on over for that. one old irish codger at st. patrick’s told us their mass was better, but we went against his advice and picked christ church.

seeing christ church the night before was a little haunting and creepy. seeing it late morning was far better. the church is just beautiful. i don’t really have any pictures that do it any kind of justice. go check it out on wikipedia if you want. here’s one of sean’s though.

so we went in (for free) and sat down for mass. now sean is catholic, so he knew about mass and what you do and all that. i think i’d been to one or two other masses in my life before that, so i was a tiny bit intimidated by the immense amount of liturgy i encountered. but it was all so cool. it was sean’s first mass in english in like 5 months too so that was cool. and the choir, whoo boy the choir was incredible. it was like 14 men and women who filled the cathedral with their voices so pitch-perfect and beautiful that i thought they were going to leave by flying back to heaven on their angel wings. turned out they just walked out like the the rest of us. the other great thing about the service was communion. obviously, growing up in church i’ve taken communion countless times, but this was way different. i probably shouldn’t have taken communion not being catholic and all, but the priest said it was open which i take to mean any believer can take part, so i went for it. instead of passing a plate around like every evangelical church i’d ever been to, we all went up to the front. how it worked was there was a row where a certain number of people could kneel on this cushion type thing and put their hands out and the priest came along and put a wafer into their hand and they’d eat it. with the wine, a priest came along with a goblet of wine which he would hand to us and we’d take a sip and then he’d wipe it off with a towel and hand it to the next person. it was a very visceral experience; i’d never walked up and knelt to receive the communion from a man of the cloth. it was like i was actually kneeling before God or something, a very emotional and real thing. so cool.

after the service ended, we headed downstairs for some refreshments. the basement was a crypt-like place slash museum. they had some crazy old artifacts and the whole place just looked like a medieval prison. they even had gallows. so we walked around a bit until they started handing out refreshments and then we got a few cookies and some irish tea while we talked to an irishman about our trip and the rest of our day. we asked him a few questions about where to go and he recommended heading to howth, a little town outside of dublin on the coast. we thanked him and headed off to our next destination.

our next destination was the guinness storehouse. there was a second where we laughed at us drinking communion wine and then immediately going off to have a pint at the storehouse. this place was awesome but also a little disappointing. i was hoping we would see the real brewing of guinness beer, but instead the place was set up like a science center, you walk through this marked off paths and they had exhibits of old guinness family artifacts and signs, videos, and pictures that show how guinness beer is brewed, but we didn’t see any real brewing going on. still though, the place was super sweet and i’d totally recommend going. one sweet artifact was the original lease that alec guinness signed for the property that the guinness storehouse is located on nowadays. the incredible thing is that the lease is for nine thousand years. yes. NINE THOUSAND YEARS. he really wanted to make sure he’d have that place locked down. the other awesome thing about the storehouse is that with your entry ticket you get a free pint of guinness beer up in this super sweet bar area called the gravity bar. this little bar area is just a circular room with windows on all sides, overlooking the city. gorgeous views and you get to enjoy a guinness. this was my first taste of this beer, and it was pretty sweet. i had always heard it was super heavy and really bad but as far as beer goes, it was strong but not horrible. i thought it was gonna have like a milkshake consistency and it wasn’t nearly anything like that. it just had a really strong beer flavor, just a bigger kick in the mouth than a normal beer. but still good. look at how sweet our pints look too.

so sean and i downed our pints while we looked out over the city and then decided to head back down.

back out on the street we walked through the city back to our hostel, packed up our stuff, and signed out. luckily we were able to keep our packs in the lockers of the hostel so we didn’t have to drag them around the countryside. we stopped by tesco’s first to grab some lunch, i think i ended up with some cookies and chocolate milk, and then we headed off to the train station to grab a ride out to the coast.

the train ride out to howth was about half an hour or so. and gorgeous. as we sat and talked and watched the scenery go by, we saw small cathedral-looking churches, soccer fields, parks, i even saw a golf course. the suburbs were really pretty. and then as we got out into countryside, all we could see was green. after ten or fifteen minutes we finally spotted a beach-like area, and the ocean wasn’t far off. we pulled into the train station at this little fishing town called howth and immediately started exploring.

talk about picturesque. this town was straight out of a thomas kincade painting. there was a port area with a bunch of fishing boats, like old-time type fishing boats. the port looked like it was the setting of a thousand piece puzzle. check it. there was a farmer’s market type deal going on in the plaza/park area right next to the dock, people out walking dogs, one or two mildly posh restaurants and then a few smaller, cheaper looking pubs lining the road, just a very small-town feel all over. the beach was less sand and more rocks, and inland the landscape was at a much higher altitude than the coast was. we were sort of on a corner of the coast, at least the summit area we climbed around on wasn’t just a straight coast line, it was really jagged and we hiked around on a corner-like part of the coast. jutting out from the coast was this really long concrete pier, and straight out from the pier off the coast was this really big green island with a little island right behind it. it was, without a doubt, the most beautiful coast i’ve ever seen.

since sean and i had no itinerary, we just decided to hike up the coast and see what we could find, so we started up the coast hill. it was really pretty; lots of houses we passed had really vibrant colored doors that are characteristic of ireland, and the landscape was just gorgeous. dark green, with patches of yellow from these flowering bushes. it was so pretty. the higher we got, the more the scenery blew us away.

it was so good to see green again, to get real fresh air from the country. that’s one thing i didn’t get a lot of in spain, lots of nature time. so much time was spent in the city that the few times we took trips out felt so good, and this was the best sojourn away from society that i went on the whole five months. the air was so cool, fresh, pristine. just crisp. the sound of waves on jagged rocks. seagulls talking. passing the occasional irish couple out walking and saying hi. it all just felt so good. i wouldn’t say sean and i felt at home, but i felt more comfortable there than i had for a really long time. it felt so good to be there.

once we had gotten to the top of the hillside more or less, sean and i both just wanted to enjoy our few hours there. we walked slowly around the hillside, saying hi to passersby, climbing around in an old abandoned stone house, splitting up and enjoying the environment by ourselves, throwing rocks off into the ocean, finding a lighthouse, getting lost, finding our way back to the coastal part of town. it was so great to walk around and take everything in, hillside, the sea, the sunset, the people, the architecture. it was all so pleasant. and the whole time we walked sean had his little pack on and i was carrying our tesco bag. for some reason that will be a special memory in my head for a long time.

after the sun had set, we had gotten lost and subsequently found our way back into town, we stopped at a little seafood restaurant on the coast. it was a long john silver’s type place, except everything was fresh. so fresh in fact, that they were out of most of their combo deals because their daily supply had run out. we got some genuine seaside fish and chips and ate them in the park area where the farmer’s market was earlier in the day. it was awesome just hanging out with my friend, listening to the surf, watching people pass, eating our seafood. it was dark by this time so after we finished up our food we had about an hour left before the train headed back into dublin, so we stopped at the bar underneath the train station, the bloody stream, and ordered two straight jameson’s on ice. jameson is a famous whiskey made in ireland and we thought it would cap our ireland experience. here are our two drinks.

man were they bad. whiskey on ice is a pretty rough drink. but it was a lot of fun to sit there in a pub, football on tv, irish people all around, drinking our whiskey.

our hour was up so we headed upstairs to wait for the dart to pull into the station. by this time it’s about 11 pm and we are both exhausted, so we rested on the ride back to dublin and then headed back to our hostel to figure out how to get back to the airport for our early morning flight. there was a computer in the hostel lobby so we were able to kill a few hours there on the internet, writing emails to loved ones, checking the news, etc. we tried to decide whether it would be worth it to take a taxi back to the airport, cause the bus ride from the airport to downtown took about twenty or thirty minutes, and a taxi ride that long would cost us each around ten or fifteen euros. we toyed around with walking a ways and then just grabbing a taxi when we got tired. so we google mapped our route back to the airport, memorized the few turns we would have to take, grabbed our packs and headed off into the night. this was around 2 am.

and we walked. and walked. and kept walking. we saw so much city, and every time a car passed us, it was a taxi, and we always said to each other, “nah. let’s keep walking.” the city was really quiet, aside from the occasional taxi that passed us every ten minutes or so, you couldn’t really hear a sound. and it was a night, so it was a little chilly, a little creepy, but good to walk and just digest the weekend with sean and sometimes we would just walk in silence and reflect on all the stuff we saw internally. it was a healthy walk. and it took us almost two and a half hours, but we made it all the way to the dublin international airport. that last half an hour was one of the hardest walking experiences of my life; i could barely lift my feet to keep going. i still can’t believe we walked that entire way. here’s our google map route. according to the map, we walked 7.0 miles. crazy. reaching the airport was such a relief.

we caught our plane back to santander, our bus back to oviedo, and that was our weekend to the united kingdom. without a doubt, it was the best weekend i spent on my whole trip. no serious mishaps, we saw loads of incredible things, saw some old friends and made some new ones, and got out of our day-to-day existence in oviedo. such a memorable trip for me. london was a place i’ve dreamed of for years, and it was just as i had expected it. and ireland held so much beauty that i hadn’t really expected. i couldn’t have asked for a more fulfilling weekend.

-jon

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Filed under Spain, Travel

the united kingdom. part I.

i’m sorry this is so late. the last few weeks have been decently busy and obviously this took me a long time to write. so here we go.

a few weekends ago my good friend sean and i visited the united kingdom. we left on thursday and returned on monday. without a doubt, it was the best weekend i’ve spent in europe. there are so many reasons why, but a huge one is just the fact that i’m very intrigued by london culture. english culture in general, but the idea of london is so romanticized in my head, probably thanks to hollywood or american pop culture’s idea of it. it’s idealized like paris is idealized. but i also am a big fan of some british tv/movies, and the music definitely. my favorite show business entertainer is english (that’s gonna be a fun Top 5 list breakdown.), and i’ve learned a ton about english culture just from listening to his stand up, tv shows, podcasts, etc. i know a fair amount of english slang. i can understand their accents really well. i just love the culture, or at least the culture that was idealized in my head. little things, like the fact that i knew the garbage men are called “bin men” in london made me so excited to see london. and then dublin was just icing on the cake for me. and nothing disappointed me. so weird, i went with gigantic expectations and everything surpassed them. so many good memories. makes me wonder why the heck i decided to study in spain.

so anyway, here’s how it all went down. we left for santander on the bus around 11:30 in the morning. this was great, cause it gave me time to get up, pack, eat breakfast, shower, all that stuff at a nice slow pace. we met at the bus station, hopped the bus and then spent the two hour ride talking in spanish and then in english. it was fun talking to sean in english for a change. he’s the only person around here who actually has any desire to learn the language like me, so when we’re together, even if we’re around other americans, we speak in spanish together. but at one point one of us told the other a complex story in english, and we just stuck to english after that.

we got to the airport in santander and hung out for an hour or two until our flight left. while we were queueing up (queue = line in english, bit o’ slang for you.), these three cute spanish kids in front of us were playing tag. they grabbed onto their dad’s leg as base, and then they yelled “casa”. so cute. this was my first time flying with the cheap company ryanair. hopefully it’s my last. the company is so illlegit (it’s sweet to spell that word with three L’s.), they clearly don’t use computers, as you can see from this photo. look closely, our names are written on the tickets in pen.

how bogus is that? whatevs, they give cheap flights and you get what you pay for. the insides of the plane too are just hideous. bright yellow slash blue. a good mix for a college sports team maybe but not for the inside of a plane.

so we got on the plane, and i sat next to this sweet old english dude named terry in the emergency exit door row. the stewardess told us we could only sit in the emergency row if we spoke english in case of an actual emergency, and we told her we did, and then terry joked us that if we were from the states we didn’t speak english. good one terr. but he was cool, he told us he was from newcastle and a few things to stay away from in london and dublin cause they were tourist traps (we ended up seeing them anyway). coolest thing about sitting next to him: as soon as our plane touched the ground, he said to me, “welcome to england.” what a great way to start my visit.

we proceeded to meet the girls in the airport. sean was way excited to see them; he kept saying he hadn’t gotten a real hug this whole semester. the two girls, hannah and caitlin, are studying in the university of hull (northern london) this semester, and sean knows them from uni. they are super fun girls, perfect london companions. they had been to the city like four or five times so they knew it really well. amazing. you have no idea how much that can affect a trip until you’ve been on one without a tour guide and/or someone who knows the city even a little. madrid sucked when i went because we just wandered, hoping to find something great. paris sucked until we met up with a frenchman. and london wouldn’t have been nearly as great had we not had friends who knew it better than we did. the first thing we did was grab the train into town, about a half hour ride. super great, as we were coming into town i started seeing things that just matched up perfectly with london in my head. rows of identical brick houses with chimneys, a la the rooftop scene in mary poppins when bert describes the rooftops of london as a “endless jungle, just waitin’ to be explored.” and then the camera goes to this shot of the rooftop chimneys. another thing i noticed: garbage. the city, by no means, is a clean city. there was loads of litter everywhere. for some reason though, it didn’t bother me at all. it didn’t even gross me out. it just seemed to fit. so my first impression was exactly as i had hoped, dirty and reminiscent of mary poppins.

the first thing we did was visit king’s cross. we took the tube, or the london underground, the metropolitan subway system. it was a normal metro system, just like paris has, or like we rode in valencia, or any major european city that doesn’t use cars as their main form of transportation. i was mainly excited to ride it because i knew londoners call it “the tube”, and that there is a recorded voice that plays almost every time you pull into a station; it says “mind the gap”, referring to the small gap between the train and the platform that could be potentially dangerous for a person getting off the tube if they weren’t careful. i knew about this little piece of london culture from the ricky gervais podcasts; his friend/writing partner/also extremely hilarious working partner stephen merchant tells this story about a funny t-shirt he saw on the tube, and they mention the whole “mind the gap” voice. i don’t know why, i guess the fact that i knew a little extra about the culture made me more excited to experience it. and it was great. there is a lady voice that says “please mind the gap”, but there is a far cooler man voice that says “mind the gap”, and i was really excited when i heard the man voice for the first time.

so we took the tube to king’s cross train station, most famously depicted in the harry potter series. thanks to the popularity of the series, there is a little hole in the wall part of the station that houses platform 9 3/4, the platform that takes new students to hogwarts school of witchcraft and wizardry in the series. in the books, the platform is hidden by a wall through which you have to run. in the real king’s cross, away from the main platform area, they have a sign that says platform 9 3/4 and half a luggage cart in the wall. awesome. check that picture out though. on my way to hogwarts.

our second stop on the tube was covent garden. on the train ride into town the four of us decided which musical we were going to see the next night. it was a toss-up between wicked and the lion king. as much as wicked would’ve been great, the lion king grabbed sean and me right away, and the girls were cool with it so we headed to the lyceum theater in covent garden, which is actually the original theater where the lion king had its london debut. the box office was closed so we headed across the street to snack time, a little food shop that sold food like gas stations do in the states. i got a cheeseburger, some doritos (cause they only have tex-mex flavor in spain. tex-mex? what even is that? a terrible flavor, that’s what.), and a real cherry coke. they also had dr. pepper, the first we’d seen in four months, but i went with the cherry coke. i bought a cadbury creme egg as well. it was lovely (they use lovely in england like we use great/nice/pretty/etc. it can mean different things).

after that we decided to head to paul stanley’s flat. paul stanley was our couch surfing host for the weekend. let me explain a bit about couch surfing. it’s this community of world travelers that want to travel for cheap. you make a profile on this website and offer up your couch (or floor or spare room or whatever) to whoever is part of the community, and you can request to stay at other people’s places too. and it’s all free. it’s meant to further the idea of a world traveling community; experiencing new things, seeing new places, meeting new people, and this is a great way to do it for a lot cheaper. people stay on other people’s couches for free. i was a bit wary of it at first, i mean you stay in the home of a complete stranger? no thanks. but the website has legit safety measures: a references system, where you’re more trustworthy as people reference you, and especially if people who are already well-referenced reference you. so kind of the good guys vouching for the new good guys, the more vouches you have the better off your profile is. so the girls suggested this to sean before our trip began and we made up a profile and found this guy who lived in london, paul stanley (two first names, you can’t go wrong with a guy with two first names.), and we messaged him and he gave us the thumbs up. so thursday night after convent garden we headed to p.s.’s place. it was a bit weird at first, just cause for couch surfing newbies like us, we felt kind of bad just crashing this guy’s small flat. but he was way cool. he hosts loads of travelers, sometimes every weekend. so the five of us just hung out and talked for awhile and watched the telly (=tv). it was cool, we watched jonathan ross, england’s jay leno, with a legit londoner. a simple experience, but very cool and very memorable for me. we asked him things about london, stuff to go see, stuff like that. i did make a fool of myself at one point though. i once saw this cool interview with mark ronson, sweet london music producer, and he was talking about this song by lily allen called LDN and he said the song was really visual, when he heard it it sounded like “that road”. i took it to mean there was a road called LDN, when in reality he was talking about portabello road, the road on which he was giving the interview. he also talks about the road having lots of cool record shops, being a hip shopping district type place so i was interested in seeing if we could find it. i asked paul about it, and he had no idea what i was talking about. turns out LDN is just an abbreviation for london. way to go jon. it’s like going to new york and asking about the NYC district. good work.

so paul went to bed and the rest of us stayed up for a bit and just hung out. it was a really pleasant time. it was cool cause the girls were different than the girls we see a lot here. they just seemed more my type, closer to who i would be friends with back in the states. so it was a treat to spend time with them and sean. it was finally a group of friends who were more interested in spending quality time together and making fun memories than drinking and partying, etc. it was really good to experience that again; i’ve missed it so much since i’ve been here and to have a taste of good community again, even with people i’ve just met, was really good for my heart. so that was a lot of fun.

we woke up the next morning, got ready, and headed out to conquer the city. it was an absolutely magnificent day. i was decently nervous about london being rainy or dreary; nothing of the sort. it was perfect weather, a few clouds, mainly blue sky, a fair amount of sun, just the right temperature. i was perfect in a sweater. we headed off to covent garden to buy our tickets for later that evening, and then just started walking from lyceum theater. we were all pretty hungry so the girls suggested tesco. exciting for me. tesco is another weird piece of english culture that i was aware of, and it was so cool to actually experience it rather than just hear about it. tesco is just a grocery store, a bit like walgreens minus the other non-food items. we got our breakfast there: i got chips, a small sub, a big double chocolate chip muffin and a pint or so of milk. i was so excited about the milk when i saw it. i had completely forgotten that we were going to be outside of spain, and the possibility of me getting real milk was there. when i saw those beautiful pints of cold, white as snow milk, i flipped. and let me tell you, as soon as we got outside, i opened it up and took a big gulp. such a great moment in my life. the first gulp of milk i’d had in four months. so good.

so we walked and ate, taking in the feel of the city, the buildings, the atmosphere. it’s got a really great flavor to it; the buildings look really old, but it’s a completely different kind of old than spain has. it just felt so much more like home to me, like i recognized it or something. i’m not english. i’m american. but i’m also certainly not spanish so maybe the commonalities i had with england drew me to it more. we walked until we came onto trafalgar square, which houses the national gallery and also a huge statue surrounded by four big lion statues.

it was a really cool looking courtyard area. we got our picture taken on the lion and walked on towards big ben. on the way we ran into a crowd of people taking pictures of the classic london royal guards. i don’t even know what they were guarding; we hadn’t gotten to buckingham palace yet. they were pretty legit though, it would’ve been unbearably hot in these uniforms but this guy didn’t move at all, other than his eyes. i did tell him “you do good work” and thanks after our pictures were snapped. i got no reply.

we walked on down the street until we came upon big ben. ironically, it was smaller than i thought it was going to be. or maybe it was its location; i think we saw it from a different angle or street than from where it’s famously pictured, and so it just seemed smaller or different or something. but its still a really impressive, cool-looking clock tower. it’s part of the parliament building, which the whole is just impressive on its own. and we saw it right as it struck 12 noon, which made for some sweet pictures. also, the clock face is made up of roman numerals like normal, but the numeral 4 is actually IIII rather than IV. fun fact for you. here’s another one. big ben is actually the name of the huge bell inside the clock tower, rather than the name of the tower itself, as most people call it, including myself until the girls told me otherwise. it was a cool thing to see.

just across the street sits westminster abbey. it’s a really impressive building, just massive. it’s nearly 1000 years old, which is pretty cool that it’s sat there for so long. we didn’t go inside cause it cost and there was a crazy long line, but we did go into the little church right next to it, st. margaret’s. it’s totally dwarfed by westminster, but it’s still a fairly big building. those were both really cool architectural sites to visit.

we headed off towards buckingham palace next. it was not as huge as i had expected, but still really cool. it’s weird, with most of the big sites we saw, most of them looked different in my head, i think cause a lot of pictures i’ve seen are aerial views or from some different angle. the palace was still really gorgeous. the flag was up which i guess means the queen was home. awesome. and the courtyard area outside of the palace gate was great. there is a big park in front of the palace, past the big open courtyard. it’s really picturesque so we walked through there a bit and then found a place on the grass and sat and ate what snacks we had left. it was really relaxing, sitting on the grass in this english park outside of the royal palace, drinking milk, watching people walk, seeing parents play with toddlers. what a great time. plus i saw a family of hasidic jews, cool.

we walked on through the park but it started to rain so we rocked the umbrellas (good thinking sean and me) when we heard a band playing. we followed the music and ended up seeing the royal band practicing for the queen’s birthday. and it really started to rain too, these guys were hardcore. they marched in form, dressed in royal clothes, playing huge instruments, all in the rain. very cool.

after the rain stopped, we decided to walk on and took the huge street alongside the palace. it was really cool, there is a gorgeous park on the right and the huge palace wall on the right. look at how hardcore this wall looks.

they are not messing around. at the end of the street we walked into this nicely sized park area that had a big arch like the arc de triomph in paris but smaller, and there was this really sweet war memorial dedicated to the english and australian soldiers who have died in the line of duty together. a very cool memorial.

we took the tube to the tower of london and as soon as walked out it was right in front of us. check this out. so weird, walking up into daylight and seeing an ancient looking castle in the middle of a modern city. but it was very cool. we walked past the tower and directly in front of us was the tower bridge. it’s a really impressive looking bridge, and it’s got a great view overlooking the river thames. after we crossed the bridge, we walked along the riverbank for awhile, stopping to shop at a little market for a bit, and then we saw the infamous london bridge, which was super lame compared to tower bridge, and grabbed the tube again.

our next destination was camden market. this is a sweet huge street market. where we started, there was one long street lined with shops, and then we got into this back area which was just like a maze of alleys all lined with huts that sold all sorts of stuff. seriously, everything under the sun is sold at camden. clothes, hats, shoes, dvds, cds, records, jewelry, bric-a-brac, knick-knacks, and all other sorts of goods. it is a very eccentric place, with loads of freaks. normal people too, but man we saw tons of weirdos. all manner of dress, huge heeled boots, every shade of colored hair you could think of. it was crazy. for example, in one little hut/shop we stopped in (they had fedoras that we wanted to try on), look what we found in the back.

yup. that’s weed. not even hidden or anything. it was a weird and awesome place. at one point we passed by this sweet record shop and sean/hannah/caitlin did me a huge favor and let me look around for like fifteen minutes. i ended up finding this sweet bootleg live stevie ray vaughan dvd, which i was pretty excited about.

around now we were getting really hungry, so we decided on some chinese food from one of the street vendors. it ended up being one of the best decisions we made on the whole trip. it was only 2 pounds, or 4 dollars, and it was the most filling meal i had the whole weekend. awesome. we ate in this little outdoor eating area right in the middle of the alley maze, and there were only a few seats that weren’t wet from the rain the city had gotten earlier, so we ended up sharing with this awesome older english couple. they were probably in their 50s, and they were super cool. the guy’s hair looked like a cross between the quaker oats man and benjamin franklin. but they were both really nice, and the woman said things like “oh you’ll love the lion king, it’s brilliant.” i was so happy to hear a legitimate english lady use brilliant as an adjective.

our next stop was abbey road. the time was running low before we needed to be back at the lyceum theater for the lion king, but we decided to try and find abbey road since someone had told us it was pretty close to camden. we hopped a bus and rode it for awhile. i found it odd, all together we must’ve asked like 10 english people how to get to abbey road. i think one person knew where we wanted to get to, and how exactly to get there. i understand it’s a huge tourist attraction so lots of londoners don’t care about it, but come on, it’s like the most famous album cover in history, have a bit of pride people. whatever, we rode the bus and caitlin asked the bus driver which stop would take us to abbey road. apparently he took this as “shout at the americans when we came to the stop.” the bus was packed too, full of londoners, and when we finally came to the stop, the driver shouted out “stop for abbey road! abbey road right here!” yeah, we’re foreign, thanks for telling everyone. we got off the bus and we were on abbey road. but nowhere near the famous crosswalk. not knowing exactly where to go, we headed off down the road, but in the wrong direction. sweet. after about ten minutes of walking, sean and hannah, God bless them, stopped another pedestrian and asked us how to get to the famous crosswalk cause our time was really starting to run out. we took off in the other direction at a very brisk walking pace, ended up grabbing a bus going down the road, ended up going too far, getting out, and walking BACK in the other direction. at one point we stopped a guy and before we even had any words out of our mouth, he told us two more blocks, if we were getting a picture of us walking across, the beatles started on the left hand side and walked across to the right. awesome. this guy knew exactly what we were after. so we finally found the crosswalk and the famous music studios where the beatles recorded abbey road and where loads of awesome musicians have recorded since, including pink floyd, radiohead, u2, kanye west, gnarls barkley, and john mayer. if we had a lot more time i would’ve tried to get into the studios somehow. but as it was, we had like thirty seconds to take our picture and find a tube station. so we signed the wall outside the studios (i signed mine with a little message to george harrison) and had a pedestrian take our picture walking across like the beatles. here is the result of our hour of searching.

it’s not perfect, the angle is a bit off, but it’s as good as anyone can get nowadays. notice i’m in george’s spot. awesome.

so at this point, we’re worn out from walking around, and we have like thirty minutes before the lion king starts. we were in serious trouble. we ended up running through the abbey road neighborhood to the nearest tube station, hopped on and got to the theater like five minutes before the show started. lucky us.

so we saw the lion king. i’m not even sure what to say about this. the lion king in london. an incredible experience. a highlight of the trip for me, and probably of my life too. i’d never been to a legit musical production put on by a real acting company in a real city, and it was such a cool thing. we had seats up in the balcony, but we could still see really well. it was so awesome to hear that first african cry that kicks off circle of life. the imagination that has been put into this show is absolutely amazing. it’s based on the disney movie, and translating animals into actors has been done in such an inventive way. the actors on the stage not only play the main roles, but they play all the background animals and even the scenery. the way in which everything was done gave off such a feeling of life and energy. it felt like everything was in motion, every part of the theater and stage was a part of the natural world which was being portrayed. it was breath-taking. this video does a far better job of describing things visually and sonically than i can with words. make sure to pay attention to all the costumes. some of the coolest things i’ve ever seen in my life. right at 2:00 you can see how they did timon. awesome. but other than just him, the costume design in this show is just outstanding. the first pride rock scene where mufasa and sarabi have rafiki introduce baby simba to the pridelands was unforgettable. there are so many different animal costumes on stage; the whole place seems alive. so cool. ok now the video.

here is another killer video that showcases the originality of the whole show even better.

amazing. the music is so powerful too. i’ve seen the lion king movie loads of times, and i’ve never been moved like i was when i heard these characters sing. one of my first purchases back in the states will be the soundtrack. there was this song called he lives in you that was not in the original movie that was just staggering. mufasa sings it to simba in the first act and then later simba and rafiki sing it before simba goes back to the pridelands to reclaim them from scar. there was such an intense energy in the theater during the reprise of the song. so so good.

so the lion king was amazing. we didn’t even know exactly what to do after such an superb experience so we decided to hit picadilly circus quick before heading back to p.s.’s place. picadilly circus was alright. it’s one of the most famous tourist spots in london but i didn’t really understand why. it’s kind of like london’s version of time square; there are some huge neon signs and lots of touristy shops. actually to be honest i don’t even remember seeing a lot of shops. there were two souvenir shops that i remember and also a mcdonalds. nothing special. we decided to head back to make it an early night; the girls had to be up way early the next morning to catch a train to another english town. we grabbed the tube back to p.s.’s and got ready for bed. we put the movie independence day in as we were falling asleep slash talking. what a great movie. mainly because jeff goldblum was in it.

the next morning the girls woke up really early and got their stuff all packed up. it was so weird. i had met these girls less than two days before and i was really sad to see them go. maybe it was cause they were different americans than the same ones i’ve been interacting with for the last five months. or cause they made our london experience so great. probably just cause they were really fun girls. spending time with them and sean felt like being back home. it was so refreshing to be around kids my age who weren’t preoccupied with where they were gonna get their alcohol or where the best bar would be to go. they were very mellow, go with the flow type girls who made the trip really fun, easy, and relaxing. so thank you to hannah and caitlin. you guys were great.

sean and i slept a bit longer after the girls left, then we got up and showered and talked to paul for awhile. whew that guy was a talker. sean finally interrupted him with the “we’d better get going” almost midsentence, but it was necessary or we might never have left. so sean and i started off into old london town with nothing but ourselves and our backpacks. no guides or anything. we took the tube to the train station that would take us to the luton airport and then we walked around the neighborhood since we had an hour or two to kill. we found tesco’s and decided to grab some lunch there. i got a box of cereal (crunchy nut feast, excellent choice) and sean got carrots and a little sub and doritos. we ate our food in this nice little courtyard outside a real restaurant until it was time to grab our train.

our train to luton was a bit late and so we got to the airport with still a bit of time to spare. we got extremely lucky though. the closing time for our check-in desk for ryanair was 3:45; neither of us realized this until like 3:47 and sean went and asked the lady behind the desk what was up. she actually had to make a call to ask if she could check us in. ridiculous ryanair. so we got checked in and then went through security. unfortunately our gate was like an hour’s walk away so we headed off in it’s direction. again, we got way lucky because as we walked up to the gate we heard the last call go out for it; the second time we just barely missed our flight. yikes. and then we got on the plane and flew to ireland. more on that later.

-jon

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preview.

i’m back from the united kingdom. three of the coolest days of my life. more to come, as soon as i get time to write. hopefully soon, but i’ve got loads of homework coming up before next week (my finals week). we’ll see how soon i get posts up.

-jon

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united kingdom.

i’m nervous. in three days i leave on a bus and then plane to fly to the united kingdom. my friend sean and i are arriving first in london on thursday night, staying there all day friday and then on saturday, mid-afternoon, we take another plane to dublin and stay there until early monday morning.

i’m more excited about this trip than i think i have been about any trip i’ve taken yet this semester. so why am i nervous? i’m not sure. maybe because i have a strong feeling i’m going to arrive in london, spend a day falling in love with the city, and then have to leave. i’ve never been obsessed with english culture, but england, and especially london, has such a special history in terms of society and culture, music, films, books, religion, etc. it’s an extremely important place in our world and i’m way excited to see it. but in a day and a half? i don’t think so. i’m gonna see about 1% of what i want to see and then i’m gonna have to go. bum deal. but it’ll be great. we’re meeting two good girl friends of sean’s from uni who are studying at the university of hull for the semester and hang out with them for our time in london. it’s cool too, the girls have been to london a few times so they have a feel for the city and know their way around better than we do, obviously. we don’t really know yet what we’re gonna do, but one thing for sure we have planned, a musical. YES. when i searched online what musicals were playing, a long list of the greatest musicals ever came up. phantom of the opera. wizard of oz. les mis. wicked. grease. hairspray. the lion king. loads more. immediately the first one that grabbed my attention was les mis, but the girls have already seen it so we’re gonna see wicked instead. wicked in london. so awesome.

other london things i want to see. maybe the royal palace? not a huge deal to me, if we make it there that’d be cool, but i’m not dying to see it. i would really like to see the actual london, more than just the tourist trap. i’m gonna try to have us stay away from places like picadilly circus if we can. i’ve read it’s clogged with nothing but tourists and the like, which does not sound good. i’d love to go find an area like camden market and go shopping in some authentic london stores, clothes, records, whatever. also, although i’m not a huge beatles fan, just for the history and sake of it, i’d love to see abbey road and the music studios right there. we’ll see what the girls and sean are up for. but i’m way excited.

saturday afternoon sean and i take a plane to dublin. i’m not as excited for this as london, but this is still gonna be incredible. i think because i’m not 100% irish, i don’t have a serious jones to visit it. it seems to me like almost more than any other ancestry or heritage, irish people always want to go see their motherland. maybe not but that’s just what i’ve noticed. so sean is extremely psyched about this and i’m about 75% as excited as he is. i am glad we’re agreed on what we want to do while we’re there. neither of us know much about dublin, so we are gonna have a guiness at the world famous guiness storehouse, maybe visit Christchurch cathedral, and then after that, we both just want to hit the countryside. we want to see the green that ireland is famous for. so for one day we’re gonna get out of the city and see as much of the country as we can. it’s ambitious but i’m really excited about it. and we only have a hostel there for one night, saturday night, so early sunday morning we can check out of the hostel, head to the guiness storehouse, have our beer, then head off to the countryside with our backpacks and explore as much as we possibly can. how exciting. it will be awesome. and then early monday morning we catch a plane back to spain just in time to miss almost all our classes. awesome.

like most of the trips i’ve taken here, i think it’ll be just long enough to whet my appetite and make me want to come back one day. oh well. it’ll be fun though, a long weekend with american friends in an english speaking country. sort of like a reinitiation into english speaking culture before i actually arrive back in the states. fish and chips, here i come.

-jon

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