The Grand European Adventure: London Calling

Our adventure began and ended in London- but before I begin the epic that is England, let me give you an idea about my feelings for London:

I have, as souvenirs, obtained a London Underground mouse pad, coffee mug, and poster, a union jack scarf, English yarn from English sheep, English candy, and Many Many Pictures Of Everything.

So, you can imagine my excitement when London finally happened.

 

London was an adventure in three parts: the first section, the day we flew in, was that my sister Lillian and her friend Billy the British Paratrooper were going to pick us up from the airport. Heathrow has this big Arrivals hall where everyone comes out after passing through customs, and someone famous must have been flying in because there were all these teenage girls everywhere- a bunch of them yelled that they like my hair, which was pretty funny. We met up with Lill and Billy the British Paratrooper, and took off for the University of East Anglia, where they are studying. We never made it to school because there was an accident on the M11 involving a lorry, three cars, and a ‘horse box’ – and after being stuck in traffic for 3 hours the police told us to turn around on the highway and drive [on the American side of the road!!!] back the way we came. All the other ways to get back were blocked as well, so we gave up, exhausted and hungry but having had a good lesson on the colloquial differences between American English and British English- and also on the Cockney accent- and Billy the British Paratrooper was kind enough to show us around Essex, (a traditional carvery dinner, a pub, and some sheep painted on the ceiling of an underpass!!) and then let us crash in his house- but not before making us tea the authentic British way!

THERE ARE SHEEP ON THE CEILING. England is the coolest. #sheep #essex #europe #adventure #england #selfie

A post shared by Kat Klebenow (@katklebenow) on

(Sorry that’s the grainiest photo known to man… selfies in the dark tend not to end well, but SHEEP.)

Not only was Billy kind enough to let us stay in his house and eat his breakfast, he also drove us back to the airport the next morning at 4am to catch our flight to Ireland. Because Billy is the best.

After Ireland, which I told you about in the previous post (If you haven’t read it, at least go back and look at the pictures, because Ireland is so beautiful and so green!), we flew back to London to continue our adventure there.

We took the tube from the airport to our hostel, which was about two blocks from King’s Cross station. The automated voice said ‘mind the gap’, and I had a Huge Nerd Moment about that- you can ask Aric, I was probably embarrassing. That is why I was giggling like a mad woman every time the doors opened and closed…

The first full day was another bus trip- this time to see Stonehenge and Bath:

Stonehenge- which is not, we were told, an actual henge...

Stonehenge- which is not, we were told, an actual henge…

Stonehenge is technically an archaeological site- so we couldn’t go all the way up to it- can’t disturb the fragile earth. Also I guess they’ve had problems with graffiti in the past. It is, however, kind of located on a hill, so it was easy to take pictures of just the stones and crop out most of the tourists surrounding them.

(I am also not ashamed of the number of selfies that happened at stonehenge)

(I am also not ashamed of the number of selfies that happened at Stonehenge)

It was surrounded by pastures full of sheep, and I consider it one of the greatest disappointments of my career as a photographer that I was not able to get both the sheep and Stonehenge in the same picture. I tried, though. Oh, how I tried. Also, my souvenir from Stonehenge is an eraser that just has the word ‘ROCKS’ on it in a huge point size- which I feel is an accurate description of what we saw there.

These English sheep have a wonderful view of Stonehenge.

These English sheep have a wonderful view of Stonehenge.

After not-an-actual-henge (actual henges have some kind of ditch dug around them that this one doesn’t have…I think), we continued on to Bath, where there is a cathedral that is built tall because the angels needed to climb down the ladders from heaven.

Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey

D’you see the ladders? With the little stone angels climbing down? Also, check out those flying buttresses! The building there on the right is the entrance to the Roman Baths, which I’m getting to, I promise.

Another view of those flying buttresses, because they're awesome

Another view of those flying buttresses, because they’re awesome

After exploring the city a bit, and having lunch at a place that boasted the city’s best baguettes, (they were really good… also we met a gentleman who wrote for the New York Times there, and he and his wife were hilarious) we took a tour of the Roman Baths.

This cool chandelier is not Roman, but it was there, and it was pretty...

This cool chandelier is not Roman, but it was there, and it was pretty…

The neat thing about the Baths, is that the museum lets you explore what’s left of the original Roman architecture, and gives you a pretty good idea of what it would have looked like back in the day. Check out this still-functioning drain, for example:

Roman architecture!

Roman architecture!

It still carries the leftover water from where it overflows from the baths into a very complex drainage system. How cool is that!

IMG_0845The main area had a lot of tourists crawling all over it, but this secondary area was empty. The baths aren’t in use anymore, but there is a spa nearby that still uses the spring water for treatments. At the end of the museum, there’s a fountain where you can try the water fresh from the spring. They really played up how it didn’t taste like normal water, and it was gross and all that- but I tried it and it wasn’t actually that bad. Just a very slight aftertaste, but nothing anyone shouldn’t be able to handle. Since the Romans thought it had magical healing properties (and maybe it does- it has a lot of very good for you minerals in it), I also tried washing my hands in it. There were no immediate changes, but apparently it takes a few days to take effect.. plus, I didn’t sacrifice anything to the Gods. It has, however, been two and a half weeks and my hands are behaving normally- so maybe there’s something to it after all.

IMG_0854Almost all of the buildings in Bath are built from this same kind of stone, but this was the only one we saw with a porous version of it- part of the process that the water goes through before it emerges from the hot spring, is that it is filtered through porous rock like this deep in the ground. It was really cool to see it used in the buildings as well, since it is so integral to the city.

After not enough time at all, we were on the bus headed back to London. It was a beautiful day, and we both agreed that five hours was not enough time for Bath. We would like to go back and spend a week or so there- it’s very laid back, and every inch is beautiful.

I'm very jealous of the view these sheep have. They don't even know how lucky they are.

I’m very jealous of the view these sheep have. They don’t even know how lucky they are.

We got back into London around 7 that evening, explored the portion of the Thames along which lies the London Eye, Big Ben, and Parliament.

IMG_0955

I cannot even explain to you how much I want to live here..

Going up in the Eye is expensive, but I think it’s just as pretty from the ground anyways.

Big Ben!

Big Ben!

We decided to stick around and watch the sun set over Big Ben and Parliament, because I knew that Big Ben would be lit at night, and I sort of assumed that Parliament would be too.

It is lit a little, I guess

It is lit a little, I guess…

It’s a lot darker than I expected. Maybe because we light the White House so intensely here, I was expecting the same of such an important British building. We didn’t get a chance to go see Buckingham Palace, so I don’t know how that is lit at night. Big Ben was beautiful anyways, though.

(And I didn't do half bad for not having a tripod with me...)

(And I didn’t do half bad for not having a tripod with me…)

The next day, we headed off to see the Tower of London- which is perhaps the biggest misnomer in British History. The Tower of London is a castle. Inside some walls, surrounded by a dry moat. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it is very cool, and an excellent museum with lots of cool stuff- but a tower? A tower, it is not.

The Tower of London

The Tower of London

There are soldiers stationed at the Tower still, but it has mostly been converted into a museum.

Tall Hats! We got to witness a changing of the guard. These guys are serious. I took a lot of photos, but most of them are crawling with tourists.

Tall Hats! We got to witness a changing of the guard. These guys are serious. I took a lot of photos, but most of them are crawling with tourists.

Rather than one big tour, it is separated up into multiple sections, where you can learn about such things as the Kings that lived and ruled there, the history of English currency, conquests, armor and weapons- and, of course, the crown jewels. The benefit of this is that you can pick and choose what you see- the problem is that you have to try really hard to make sure you don’t miss anything. We spent almost an entire day there. The crown jewels were awesome- even if they do put you on a people-conveyor so that you can’t stand around them…and even if they don’t let you take photos.

If not a tower, the walls were tall regardless

If not a tower, the walls were tall regardless

 

Tower Bridge (which is London Bridge if you’re actually from London) was right outside the Tower walls

 

Look! Not falling down!

Look! Not falling down!

There was a little exhibit up inside there, but we heard it wasn’t all that great, so we just took pictures instead. Many pictures.

To be fair, we weren't the only ones partaking in Epic Selfies.

To be fair, we weren’t the only ones partaking in Epic Bridge Selfies.

That day was also an interesting day for pink hair and fashion sense: I actually don’t know if it was the hair or the thigh-high argyle socks I was wearing, but I was glad I felt pretty okay with how I looked because people were staring. A lot. More than usual. Maybe it’s because that area is really touristy, but whatever it was, it was weird. I did observe a distinct lack of tall socks in England, though, and that’s not something I’m willing to give up. People are just going to have to stare, I guess.

If you’re ever in London, I highly suggest you spend a day at the British Museum: entrance is free, and it has the biggest collection of …stuff… that I have ever seen in one place. They have the Rosetta stone, rooms and rooms on ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Americas. As Billy puts it, “It’s a bunch of stuff that we stole!”- and that’s accurate. We stayed until close the first day, and then went back the day after.

Here’s my story about the British Museum, though- I was wandering around one of the Egypt rooms- looking at this really cool beaded burial shroud that included a description of the restoration process that it went through before it was displayed because that’s just the kind of nerd I am…. and this 12 or so year old kid walks up to me (right up to me. 3 feet away or so)- and he holds up his phone, and takes a picture of me! Flash and everything, it was completely the opposite of subtle. So I was just standing there, with my ‘this is really interesting museum face’ on, (my mouth was probably a little open, and there was probably a bit of Resting Bitch Face involved, because that is a thing that I do)- and the kid runs back to his group of perhaps 10 or 11 friends, and he holds up his phone and points at me! So of course, all his friends hold up their phones and start taking photos of me too! Flashes and everything. I wasn’t aware that my pink hair was going to make me part of the Egypt exhibit, but there are now a dozen British schoolchildren with most likely terrible photos of me on their phones, and they’re probably also on Facebook. It’s like being famous, but with none of the perks.

Anyways, pink hair adventures aside, the next stop was Abbey Road, so we could do The Walk…

The Abbey Road Crossing!

The Abbey Road Crossing!

This turned out to be a hilarious train wreck, because there were a bunch of other people there, and at zebra crossings it’s illegal to drive through if you even so much as see someone who might want to cross the road. So basically, all these people are standing with their toes in the crosswalk waiting for the cars to go by so they could do their walks, and all the cars are stopped, waiting for people to walk. It was a mess, but we timed our walks with lulls in the traffic, so there weren’t too many cars. In order for the photo to be from the right angle though, the photographer has to be out in the road as well- so although we did the walk, the photos aren’t quite right.

IMG_1212

Aric and Abbey Road

We also went and found both 221B Baker Streets- first the one on Baker Street, home of Sherlock Holmes, and now the Sherlock Holmes Museum,- and second, the one that is the filming location of BBC Sherlock- which is not on Baker Street at all. It is, however, really and actually the home of Speedy’s restaurant and cafe, where we had breakfast!

IMG_1164

It was a really tasty breakfast, too- Sherlock and John are so lucky.

We didn’t actually go into the Holmes museum, because it was expensive and I heard that it wasn’t all that great. It’s a huge admission of my nerd-dom that I can say with fair certainty that I probably already know everything that the Holmes museum had to tell anyways. Fact of the day: 221B Baker Street didn’t actually exist when Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his stories- the street didn’t yet go down that far, so it was a made up address. Kind of like using 555- numbers in TV shows, I guess.

check out that constable too!

check out that constable too!

Also, here is a Very Important Picture of me knitting a recreation of Granny’s baby blanket on the London Underground at the Baker Street station:

and for this photo, I get the Golden Tourist Award. Case closed.

and for this photo, I get the Golden Tourist Award. Case closed.

And some Sherlocks:

The Baker Street tube station is covered in tiny Sherlock Holmeses. Some of them even make up bigger Sherlock Holmeses!

These grainy photos do not even begin to establish how excited I was about Baker Street- I don’t believe the words actually exist.

Everything about London in one photo, right here.

Everything about London in one photo, right here.

We found these phone booths on the way to the Transport Museum, which was awesome, especially since the history of London Transport is so interesting. Happy 151sth anniversary to the London Underground, wheee! I’m especially happy about the Underground sign in the background. The Transport Museum’s gift shop is where I got the aforementioned mousepad, mug, and poster. They also sold things made from the fabric that the seats on the tube trains are upholstered with- it’s called Moquette. Each line has its own unique pattern- my favorite was the Bakerloo line, which is kind of geometric honeycomb-esque. Aric said he’s more of a Central Line man, although it is distinctly possible that he was being facetious. Here’s a link if you want to check out the fabrics.

 

So that was London. After four short days there, we were on our way to Amsterdam. I wasn’t happy to leave, but I definitely plan to go back. There is one part left to the London Adventure that I’m going to include with Berlin, because it didn’t happen until the end of our trip. There have been negative opinions about the weather there, but it seems to me like the weather is specifically designed for fair skinned, easily-burnt people such as myself- plus it’s cool, and distinctly lacking in humidity. The accents are wonderful, the people are great. People-watching on the tube is second to none. Plus, they have great television. The tea is excellent, and scones there are much better than the scones anywhere else. Basically, London is the best, and I want to go back.

Watch this space for the Adventures in Amsterdam with Pink Hair.

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