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Archive for the ‘England’ Category

7/1/10: London, England

Today is a sad day. LeBron is no longer a Cavalier. (Well, at least for the time being.)

Oh, and it’s the last full day on our honeymoon. I’ve told myself that there will be plenty of time to reminisce in the coming days and weeks, so I’m going to try to avoid doing that here. But, wow, what a ten months we’ve had! On September 10, 2009 we slept overnight in London Heathrow to kick off our trip. Today, July 1, 2010, we returned.

This Giraffe Juice and Coffee Bar marks the beginning and end of our trip.

Our very first night.

And we're back one more time.

Although our trip has come full circle, we would be fools if we didn’t learn something along the way. Our very first night was cold, it was loud, it was uncomfortable. It just wouldn’t make sense to sleep in the same spot again. Today we slept with the other seasoned travelers:

Long benches in warm hallways are the way to go.

But that’s the last of the reminiscing, for now. We had a big day today: we saw Stonehenge!

I’m a big fan of the idea of Stonehenge, but a very small fan of how it has been set up for tourists. Thousands of tourists shuffle around an ovular track that never comes closer than 30 feet from the rocks themselves, and it appears that every single tourist takes the exact same pictures. Audio guides are handed out, but you never really get the full feel of the site. Apparently up until the late 1800s most visitors actually chipped off parts of the rocks as souvenirs, and up until the past few years tourists abused the privilege of walking through the site by touching the stones. Thus, there we were in the mob of folks walking dutifully around the track.

Following Stonehenge our bus took us to our very last touristy spot of the trip: the historical town of Bath.

The famous Roman baths, with a tiny Zhou in the background.

Georgian architecture.

The River Avon.

Flowers adorned almost every single building and lamppost.

One of the many lions scattered about town in a charity art exhibit.

Bath was a beautiful city – the nicest city beginning with ‘B’ that we’ve visited on this trip – and a great way to end our stay in England. What we had heard was a gloomy, rainy, overcast country never lived up to the hype. We didn’t see a drop of rain or even a hint of a dark cloud. It must have been the travel gods way of saying, “You guys had a great trip, and we thank you for not following the stereotypical obnoxious American way.” Because as soon as we arrived in Heathrow for the night, the skies opened up and it rained.
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Ohio Picture: Our final O H I O was our toughest – it took me way too long to track down people to help us out, and after all that you can’t see Stonehenge very well anyway.

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Picture of the Day: As if visiting the Sherlock Holmes Museum and Harry Potter’s platform 9 3/4, Zhou found one more of her heroes: Jane Austen.

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6/29/10 – 6/30/10: London, England

Fact: As our trip progressed, we got lazier and lazier and clearly didn’t make the most of our time. Remember the WOLV?

Fiction: Cool Runnings was not snubbed by voters of the Academy in 1994.

Fact: It has set in that London is our last stop on the trip, as we haven’t stopped being touristy since we got here.

The last 48 hours have been one big continuation of where we left off with Zhou’s post yesterday. We know that this is our last chance to see a foreign country on our honeymoon, so we’ve pushed the WOLV out of our minds and have gotten busy. We wake up early every day and go to bed late every night. In between, we get things done. I would try to describe our accomplishments of the past two days, but it would take far too long. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Yes we know the Muffin Man, who lives on Drury Lane.

These are the former homes of Virginia Woolf and George Bernard Shaw.

The beautiful gardens in Regents' Park.

Zhou's hero #1: Sherlock Holmes.

Zhou's hero #2: Harry Potter.

Not to be confused with the ingenious Rube Goldberg-type game

The title pretty much sums up the play.

You never know when four people without cell phones will show up.

The highlight of our short stop in the Science Museum.

Our final trip to the theater.

You can see Zhou in our private box in the lower left.

The Marble Arch of Hyde Park.

We just happened to stroll through the park during a sold-out Kings of Leon concert.

In all I estimated we walked over ten miles and in between we sat down to watch three of London’s most famous shows: The Mousetrap, War Horse and The Lion King. Add this to our viewing of Avenue Q, and I believe that we are official connoisseurs of the British theater. With that in mind, I’ll rank the four plays we saw here, and throw in one we didn’t see just because I feel like I’m entitled to.

1) Avenue Q: As Zhou mentioned previously, it was “almost pant-wettingly funny,” almost being the key word. It really was incredible what the actors were able to do with the puppets, even if there were a few moments that were so awkwardly risque that I felt embarrassed to be seen in the audience.

2) War Horse: It was a bit longer than it probably needed to be, but I sat in awe for the entire 165 minutes at how lifelike the life-size horse puppets seemed. Their ears twitched, they whinnied, they galloped, they were even ridden by the actors. You really have to see it to believe it. I’m not a big fan of war stories or horse stories, but this was fantastic.

3) The Lion King: When this show came to Charlotte two summers ago, Zhou and I snagged third row, center tickets and it was one of the most memorable things I’ve seen. While you can’t screw up the awesomeness of this show, the British version wasn’t nearly as good. The sound, the lighting and the actors were all a couple notches below the Charlotte show. On top of that, it was just plain weird to hear a British Simba.

4) Les Miserables: Ok, so we didn’t see this show itself, but we saw the line that formed after the show of people waiting for Nick Jonas autographs. And any show with Nick Jonas can’t be all that good. However, it is Les Mis, so I bumped it a slot in the rankings based on name alone.

5) The Mousetrap: The theater was hot, the seats were uncomfortable and I was tired. I slept through most of the first act and woke up with an ache in my back and a pool of sweat in my lap. The second act kept me on the edge of my seat, and although I didn’t solve the mystery before the answer was revealed, I did enjoy the process. (Zhou, she who was awake the entire show, did solve it.)
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Pictures of the Day: Quick quiz! Who are Zhou and I trying to imitate in the below pictures? (Answers at bottom.)

Answer: Zhou is puzzling over a case a la Sherlock Holmes, and I am pumping out a sweet saxophone solo just like the saxophonist for Gerry Rafferty.

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6/28/10: London, England

This morning started off with a leisurely walk along the Thames River. As Kevin so aptly put it, “If the Thames River didn’t run through London, it wouldn’t be special.” But even if the dirty Thames isn’t anything special to look at, there are lots of things on it that are worth seeing.

Westminster Abbey.

The Houses of Parliament.

Black Rod's garden entrance.

Sarah told us about some of the weirder English government traditions. Apparently Black Rod is some person whose job is, once a year, to knock on the door of the House of Lords, announce the Queen and ask if she can come in. The person who answers the door then says NO to the Queen and slams the door in Black Rod’s face. I asked Sarah why it is that they keep doing this every year and she just shrugged and said, “It’s a tradition.” And people think American politics is crazy!

Um yes, I was trying to get this other guy in the picture on purpose.

Ok...no, I wasn't.

The famous London Eye.

The Millennium Bridge.

A piano/art exhibit.

After our walk along the river, we went to visit the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum. The only problem was that the Natural History Museum was so awesome that we spent all afternoon there and didn’t make it anywhere else. The place was crowded with tons of groups of schoolkids, but don’t worry, we pushed them out of the way to make sure we could see all the exhibits.

Deep ocean fishes.

Petey the squid!

Not sure what came over me.

The Natural History Museum in London also has a humongous collection of pickled animals. It was simultaneously disgusting and extremely fascinating.

I think these are fish?

Snake in a jar.

When we finally tore ourselves away from the games and displays, it was time to meet a couple of friends. You might remember Chris and Marija from Nepal (where we hiked together for a few days) and from Vietnam (where we stalked them – successfully!). This was our first time seeing them on their own turf, after they finished their own around-the-world trip. We (coincidentally) were staying at a place only a mile from their apartment, and it turns out that they didn’t mind us stalking them (in Vietnam OR in London) so we went over to their place and had dinner together.

Before we left on this trip, Kevin said to me that one of his goals was to meet a lot of new people and make some new friends. Whenever he said that I remembered thinking that I had a lot of goals for the trip, but making new friends was definitely towards the bottom. But now that we’re nearing the end of this trip and I look back on everything we’ve done, I’m realizing that it wouldn’t have been the same without the people we’ve met along the way. It’s helped me take home yet another life lesson. If I can keep in touch with all of the friends that I already have and just add on more along the way, I think my life will be fantastic.
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Picture of the Day: Gemstones from the Natural History Museum.

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6/26/10: London, England

To Joey Tribbiani, London is just “London, baby!” It’s the city of tall British flag hats, meetings with Sarah Ferguson, going into the map and Chandler being Westminster crabby. To us though, London is much more than that. It’s actually playing a huge role in our lives as travelers: it’s our transition period back into real life.

Let’s face it, you would not want to hang out with us right after we’d spent four months in non-English speaking countries, more than two months of which were in underdeveloped areas. We wouldn’t be able to hold a conversation. We wouldn’t know what to do with toilet paper if there was no trash can around. We wouldn’t drink anything that didn’t come in a tightly sealed plastic bottle. My hair and facial hair would both be out of control, and I wouldn’t know what to do about it.

Today’s lesson in adapting back into the world we left ten months ago: talking to people we know.

Meet Nick and Sarah.

We met Nick and Sarah on our overland tour through Africa at the start of our trip. Nick lives in the Barbados but has been traveling off and on for over a year, and this was his last day. Sarah lives just outside London and has contributed to society through the form of a job ever since Africa. Both are very fluent in English and I assume they would both slap you if you were being an incoherent idiot.

In order to block out all extraneous English surroundings and concentrate on the conversation at hand, we went to a Chinese restaurant for lunch. It was incredibly hard for me not to lead in with the standard greeting:

“So, where are you from?”
“How long are you in town for?”
“Have you been traveling for a long time?”

I know the answers to all these questions, and by this point in the post, you do too. So I had to dig a little deeper, back to conversations from last summer.

“So, how’s work?”
“Are you still seeing so-and-so?”
“Any big plans for the summer?”

(Other questions I remembered usually revolved around whether Skyline Coneys were better than B-Dubs chicken wings, but I sadly filtered those out.)

I quickly found out that the key to a good conversation lies in what you’re doing when you’re not talking. You should be listening. In traveling conversations, it’s very easy to put yourself on auto-pilot and not soak in anything the other person says. Many times I have found myself guilty of such an offense. But in the real world, you can’t really move the conversation forward without paying any attention.

“Wait, Sarah, you were promoted? Congrats! Does the new position have a lot more responsibilities?”
“Nick, you’re thinking about moving to London? Why would you ever leave the Barbados?”

It may sound so simple to all of you, and I’m sure the concept was simple to me too a year ago. It was also simple ordering a milkshake a year ago, yet for some reason the last three milkshakes I’ve had on the road didn’t contain any ice cream. On the other hand, a year ago I didn’t know Angkor Wat from Ang Lee; or Ha Long Bay from Hudson Bay.

Looking back on the day, things actually went surprisingly smoothly, although Zhou and Sarah did negotiate some souvenirs they bought (I feel like that is more frowned upon here). I think I’m ready to take the next step: learning to use a credit card again.
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Picture of the Day: We tried to get tickets to see a show in Shakespeare’s Globe, but everything was already sold out for this week. Don’t these people know he was a fraud?!?

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6/25/10: London, England

I’ve made a startling discovery in the last months of the trip. I love big cities. This surprises me for a few reasons. 1) I hate crowds. 1a) I hate it when strangers brush up against me or touch me unexpectedly. 2) I am afraid of loud noises. 3) I don’t like crossing busy streets. But despite all these things, I loved Tokyo, I loved Sydney, I loved Madrid – and I love London. It surprised me too, believe me, but it’s our first day out in the city (Wimbledon doesn’t count), and there is so much to do here. Luckily, we have a lot of time.

Our first stop of the day: Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery. Most of the museums in London are free, including the National Gallery, and when we walked in, the first thing we saw was a big clear donation box with a sign saying “Please give ₤3 to help keep this museum free.” The irony.

Giant ship in a bottle at Trafalgar Square.

I can only assume this is Trafalgar, whoever he was.

Kevin tames a lion.

Trafalgar Square reminded me a bit of some of the other plazas we’ve seen, with one very notable exception. It is forbidden to feed the pigeons. Good idea, London!

Then we walked over to St. James’s Park. Not as famous as Hyde park, but beautifuller.

Look, it's the London Eye!

A bird with very, very strange feet.

We kept walking, and lo and behold, we ran into Buckingham Palace.

Hanging out by the Queen's house.

The Queen Victoria Memorial in front of the Palace.

Hi Liz!

Poor neglected Mr. Turtle makes an appearance.

We missed the changing of the guards by about a half hour, and we didn’t get to take any pictures with the men in the funny hats. If you asked me before this what things I associated with the city of London, I would have said men with the funny hats, double decker buses and red telephone booths.

One out of three ain't bad.

Then we walked up to the British Museum.

Me and my gummy bears are excited about the museum.

The British Museum was really cool, one of the best museums we’ve been in.

Wait, are we in Egypt again?

The Egyptian section is particularly large. Apparently back when a lot of excavations were being done in Egypt, some British archaeologist got permission from the Egyptian government to remove any artifacts he wanted. So he did, and then he sold them all to the British Museum.

The Rosetta Stone. I'm not sure how they got this. They only have a replica in Egypt.

We bought a copy of this papyrus painting in Cairo.

I’ll reveal my ignorance by telling you this, but I always thought that the Rosetta Stone had a lot of different languages on it. I basically thought it was a magic stone with the same thing written in ten or fifteen different languages, and that’s what helped us decipher the ancient languages. But it’s really a big stone plaque with a decree written on it in just three different languages: Hieroglyphics, Egyptian demotic script (the standard written Egyptian language) and Greek. They did use the stone to help decipher Hieroglyphics, so at least I wasn’t too far off on that account.

The British Museum also has a fairly large (and free!) collection of mummies. We didn’t stay in those rooms for too long. Being around dead people in glass cases sort of freaks me out.

Cleopatra is in there. Shudder.

They have also somehow managed to acquire many of the sculptures that used to decorate the Parthenon.

Part of the east pediment.

They also have a moai! When we first saw this, we both thought the same thing: “Wow, that thing is tiny.”

He's quite a little dude.

After the British Museum, we went to catch the matinee showing of Avenue Q. We bought the cheapest tickets possible (₤10), but when we arrived at the theater, we got upgraded to the eighth row. One ad had billed it as “pant-wettingly funny,” but that was an exaggeration. I enjoyed myself immensely, but I didn’t wet my pants at all.

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Picture of the Day: Flowers from the “South Africa Landscape Exhibit” at the British Museum.

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6/24/10: London, England

I need to be completely honest with you here. I had no idea Wimbledon was going on until I saw a poster for it when we arrived in London yesterday. But enough about the past… today we went to Wimbledon!

I love sports, and each sport has one pinnacle event that I would love to someday get to. The problem is, each one has a major obstacle I would need to overcome. Here’s my list:

  • Football (American): The Super Bowl. Too expensive.
  • Baseball: The World Series. The Reds haven’t been good enough recently.
  • Basketball: The NBA Finals. Cleveland is jinxed.
  • Hockey: The Stanley Cup. Ok, so I’m not all that interested in going to this one.
  • Football (Soccer): The World Cup. Too much chance for riots.
  • Golf: The Masters. There’s that whole exclusivity problem.
  • Tennis: Wimbledon. It’s in London.

Wait… we’re in London! That’s the only obstacle we need to overcome here. Money’s not an issue, because Wimbledon, as I now know, might be the best set-up sporting event in the world. Let me explain.

We did a little research yesterday on how to get tickets, and found out about Wimbledon’s famous Queue. Every day they sell about 6,000 tickets to the grounds, and they do it on a first come, first serve (no tennis pun intended) basis. So we woke up bright and early and got in line this morning at 8am. Upon receiving our Queue cards (no acting pun intended), we discovered that we were numbers 4,743 and 4,754 in line. We told ten jokes to make those around us laugh (no pun in ten did). But no matter, we were going to make it into Wimbledon!

The Queue is extremely well-organized and extremely well-run – you sit in a big open field surrounded by bathrooms and snack bars and newspaper vendors and gorgeous sunshine (yes, organizers even added good weather to this year’s event). And this is just for Grounds tickets – if you want tickets to Center Court, Court 1 or Court 2, you simply arrive at 8am, spend the entire day in the field, pitch a tent for the night and then watch the matches. And apparently that couldn’t be more smoothly run either.

At 9:30 they begin selling the Grounds tickets and letting people in, so by 11 we were standing inside the Wimbledon gates, surrounded by 19 beautiful, historical, British grass courts. So what’s the first thing we did? Said hi to the Queen of England.

Adding to our luck, Queen Elizabeth happened to be on the grounds today for the first time since 1977. A huge crowd was gathered by the path she was prepared to walk down, and her and her entourage (or is it a posse?) walked by I took a picture of every woman there was just to make sure I didn’t miss the Queen. After all, I’m American. I have no idea what she looks like.

But we weren’t done spying on famous people, oh no. Next up was someone the Queen once described as “the person I want to be when I grow up:” John McEnroe.

“Are you taking a picture of me? You cannot be serious!”

Other than celebrities, there is another fun thing to watch at Wimbledon: tennis! Today at 3:30pm the Isner/Mahut marathon match was scheduled to resume on Court 18. By noon the crowd had already overflowed out of the stands, so we gave up on getting in. Here’s what we saw instead:

Lunch time during the native Indianan Rajeev Ram's doubles match.

That's Sam Stosur, French Open finalist. And that's some small, chipper Asian-looking girl who Zhou really liked.

Our third match involved watching a big screen near a match: the Isner/Mahut marathon.

Scoreboard before the match started...

...And the final result.

Our last match of the day: the Bryan brothers vs. Bobby Reynolds and some random guy.

A note about that last match we saw: Bobby Reynolds starred for Vanderbilt up until our freshman year there, and the Bryan brothers are gods of men’s doubles. If you let me pick two teams to play vs. each other out of everyone in the world, these would be the two. It was just too bad that Reynolds and the other dude didn’t put up even a small fight.

The thing that amazed me most about Wimbledon tennis was how much it reminded me of my high school tennis days. Some of these players have made millions of dollars, yet they still carry their own bags to the court and they still go through the same warm-up session that we did. If I would have known this sooner I would have tried harder to actually play here myself!

As it was though, I don’t think I could have had a better day at the most hallowed tennis complex in the world. Zhou, thanks for indulging me here and actually enjoying yourself as well. In return, if you ever want to see that Kirsten Dunst Wimbledon film, I’ll watch it with you.
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Picture of the Day: I call this masterpiece “Feet in Air.”

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6/23/10: London, England

I’d like to make a proposition. To America. Please, America, can we please stop calling that sport “soccer” and just call it by the name that actually makes sense? It’s FOOTBALL. You KICK the ball with your feet. Yes, you also head the ball and let it bounce off your chest and any place other than your hands, but let’s face facts: “Anywherebuthandsball” is too long of a name. So football it is. And football it stays.

I mean, let’s just stop and think about this for a second. We have basketball – where you try and put the ball in the basket. We have baseball – where you try to get around the bases and score runs. We have racquetball – where you hit a ball with a racquet. So can we just agree to come up with a new name for American football that makes sense? Handball is already taken, so let’s go along with the somewhat-explanatory names and just call it YARDBALL. Because you want to gain yards. (Touchdownball just sounds ridiculous.) For the rest of this post, I’m going to refer to “soccer” by its rightful name – FOOTBALL, and to American football by its new, rightful, and appropriate, name: YARDBALL!

Today we watched England play Slovenia at a British pub. In football. (The US was playing Algeria at the same time, but they weren’t showing that game on any of the four TVs. Shocker.) We sat down and ordered sausages and mash (Kevin) and a chicken pie (me). It was 3:15pm on a Wednesday afternoon, and the place was packed. With Brits. As we sat down, Kevin whispered to me, “We’re rooting for Slovenia. But quietly.” I didn’t say it to Kevin at the time, but I wasn’t rooting for Slovenia! I didn’t want to be yelled at by a British person, no matter how high-class it might sound.

We watched the football game and ate our meals, which were quite good, quietly. Kevin leaned over periodically to instruct me on the finer points of the game. “That guy’s the goalie.” “Slovenia is wearing green.” It was really very edifying.

So it’s obvious that I don’t understand a lot about football, but what I already love about it is the thing that I love about most sports – how it can bring so many people together to root for a common cause, and with so much passion. Americans may go crazy for March Madness, but it pales in comparison to how most countries feel about the World Cup. Even at this small pub in North London, the atmosphere was so intense that I could feel it, even if I didn’t really understand what was going on. There was shouting, clapping and groaning, and when the end of the match arrived, everybody (except us) yelled at the top of their lungs, pounding on the tables and giving each other celebratory hugs. It was pretty cool.

What’s also cool: London itself. In comparison to Luxor and Aswan, Cairo was only lukewarm. In comparison to Cairo, London is downright frigid. But in the time it took us to get from Heathrow to our hostel in North London, we heard at least two people mention how the weather is uncharacteristically hot this week. Hot! In London! What a funny joke.
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Picture of the Day: Bangers and mash and chicken pie.

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