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I'm a 21-year-old journalism student. I spent last semester living in Florence, Italy. These are my adventures.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Welcome to London!

Thursday evening I landed in London Gatwick Airport around 8 p.m. My parents and I would be staying with my mom’s friend from college, Jay. I called his house to let them know I landed, and would be heading into town on the train.
I exchanged some euros to pounds, crying internally at the exchange rate, and followed a maze of signs to the Gatwick Express.
The train was surprisingly nice with big plush seats. I couldn’t complain. I arrived in Victoria Station about half an hour later and shuffled along toward the exit with the crowd. I saw my dad beyond the gate craning his head to find me. I worked my way through the turnstile to see Jay and my mom nearby.
It was so great to see them again. After many hugs and an introduction to Jay — who I apparently met when I was younger — we headed outside.
Jay caught a taxi for us. He leaned in the left window of the car to talk to the driver. I thought to myself, he’s getting pretty close if he’s leaning through the window. It wasn’t until I climbed into the back of the cab that I remembered being in England meant the driver sits on the right side.
Wait. I’m in England. I’M IN LONDON.
After a few hours in airports and a plane, I hadn’t really thought about where I was going. I got excited all over again.
The taxi ride was short, and we were inside Jay’s beautiful home within about 15 minutes. We never ended up getting to meet his partner, who was in the hospital sick all weekend. Next time I’m in London.
I put my backpack in what would be my room for the next couple of nights, and settled into the couch. Jay brought my parents and I cheese and wine, both of which were delicious, while he made us dinner.
Even though Greece had given me a week-long break from Italian food, it still wasn’t enough. Jay’s dinner of baked potatoes, asparagus and mushrooms was perfect. I wish I could cook that well — or well at all.
We talked for a little while, but my parents, who were still pretty jet-lagged, headed to bed early. I followed shortly. It had been a long day for me too.

Friday morning we woke up to a wonderful breakfast from Jay.
Coffee, fruit, juice, pastries — all delicious and fresh.

It was a good start to the day. We walked out of his flat, and I saw for the first time where I really was. The rows of apartments were exactly how I pictured England. 

We walked through the quiet street to a “tube” station (the metro for those who aren’t up on British lingo). My dad bought us day passes, and we were on our way!
We started off in Trafalgar Square, which I realized was the location of three of my mom’s pictures. I was able to get two while my parents stretched and prepared for our day of walking. Good thing I was off taking pictures. I didn’t have to be associated with this nonsense:

We crossed the street to take the final one. I kept running back and forth from one side to the other, but couldn’t figure out where she took the picture. I’m convinced she was in the middle of the street. I did my best, and we moved on. 
We walked under Admiralty Arch toward Buckingham Palace.

There were several of mumsie's London pictures I just couldn't decipher.
It was fun making her help me figure it out. Gave her a taste of what she
put me through with her strange pictures. Plus it's just nice to have help!

We had time before the Changing of the Guards, so we took our time walking down The Mall — the road that leads to Buckingham. The red road was lined with trees and Union Jack flags. It was picturesque of castles, queens and London.

St. James Park sprawls to the left of The Mall. We meandered through there for a bit. It was more green than I had seen in weeks. Everything was so vibrant, and despite the other people milling about, peaceful.

We headed up to Buckingham and pushed through crowds. My mom and I found a place up at the gates with a good view just in time. A huge group swarmed in and closed in the space behind us. A few minutes later my dad, who had gone to find coffee, found his way toward us. It turns out the Guard Change wouldn’t be happening. It was only every other day during the off-season, and we were there on the wrong day.
Oh well, I still saw Buckingham.

I snapped a quick picture of the guard and squeezed out of the clueless crowd. 

We walked farther past the palace along several streets. I had no idea where we were but didn’t mind.
We ducked into a small café for coffee and tea. I stuck with cappuccino but promised myself I’d try English tea before I left.
By then, we decided it was time to find a double-decker bus tour. We walked a few more blocks until we found a stop for the appropriately named Big Bus Tour. We climbed to the top level and sat in the sun. We listened to a tour guide through headphones plugged into individual radios on the back of all the seats. Each of the eight channels gave the same pre-recorded information about the city in a different language. I tried to listen in Italian a few times throughout the tour, but I wasn’t really getting anything out of it. I still wish I could be bilingual.

We rode up and down streets all full of incredible architecture. I couldn’t tell you the names of any of the countless styles we passed, but they were all beautiful and different from the last.
It turned out to be a great way to see the city. It was the most "touristy" thing I've done here, but there's no way I would have been able to see even a third of what I did if we were walking. Although it was a little cold on top of the bus, I didn't mind.

Marble Arch.

After about an hour and a half, we got off the bus to find more coffee for my dad. It was a hop on/hop off tour, so we’d just catch the next one with our same ticket. We crossed the with the help of reminders written on every intersection telling us which way to look. I hadn’t really thought about the fact that opposite traffic changes where pedestrians need to look. Although we laughed at the signs, they came in handy.

My dad got his coffee — Starbucks of course — and we split a cookie before getting back on the bus. It was a quick, but much-needed pit stop.

We got back on the bus and continued to explore London. Because we saw each place so quickly as we passed, most of what we saw blurred together for me to create one glorious image of London.I wasn't too concerned about separating them in my mind because we were going to be returning to a lot of the key places the following day. 
But we saw just about everything from on top of that bus. Hyde Park, Green Park, Regents Park. Piccadilly Circus, Madame Tussaud's, Victoria and Albert Museum. The BBC, Royal Courts of Justice, the Bank of England. St. Paul's Cathedral, the London Eye, Parliament. Everything.

Royal Courts of Justice
St. Paul's Cathedral
Bank of England
Royal Exchange

We crossed Tower Bridge and got off the bus at Tower of London around 3 p.m. As luck will have it, my mom also had a few pictures here. When my dad asked me what to do here Thursday night, I said if I made an itinerary it would be roughly based on my mom's pictures. We didn't really focus on that too much Friday, but it worked out pretty well anyway!
We bought some souvenirs and Ben & Jerry's ice cream and walked around outside the Tower of London. I wanted to go inside, but we needed to be heading back by 4:30 p.m. to make our dinner reservation. We decided we'd come back the next day to go inside. If there's on thing I love it's castles. Castles and climbing.

We took the tube to Jay's neighborhood and walked back. We freshened up and fancied up for the evening. We went out with Jay for a nice dinner. I got fried courgettes and that's all, if I recall correctly. I do remember they were absolutely delicious. We got blood orange meringue for dessert. It was very different, but still good. I love blood oranges.
After dinner, Jay escorted us to the theater where we were to go see "The King's Speech." I was so excited to see a play. I haven't in ages. I never saw the movie in its entirety. I sadly fell asleep after the first half (I'll chalk it up to a long day). I enjoyed the play. The set was simple and clean, but very effective and the lead actor was great.
Unfortunately, it looks like the play will close early due to poor ticket sales. Sad.

All in all, it was an excellent first day. Not only as it wonderful to see my parents again, but I was so excited for them to get to see London and for my dad to be in Europe for the first time!
It was also a great change of pace to hear English again. My good friend Nick studied here last spring. He kept telling me I'd need a breath of fresh air and some English by around month three. "Save London for the last month or so. You'll need it." 
I insisted that wouldn't happen to me. He was right, I was wrong. I was overjoyed. Not only was I getting to speak English again, but I got to hear it constantly with an accent. What's not to love? I'll give you this one, Nick.

When the play was over, we walked around for a little bit, but mumsie's feet hurt, and we were pretty exhausted. We headed home and relaxed before going to sleep.

I swear I fall in love with every city I visit.

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