A Weekend in London (Day 1)

Well, I successfully survived my second London adventure!  This time I was able to spend the whole weekend in the city, but I have still barely dented my list of things to do.  Guess I will just have to keep going back!  I went with a group of nine friends, so goings were a bit slow at times.  All the same, the weekend was wonderful.

ImageWe stayed in Hostel 639 just across the road from the Kensal Green underground, and even though I had my reservations at first (for £8.50 a night who wouldn’t be nervous?), the place ended up being fairly decent.  Don’t get be wrong, it was no five star resort, but there were no rats and no bed bugs and it had beds.  After arriving at about 10PM, the night was spent mainly in the hostel (there was nothing to do in our area of town), but celebratory drinks made the night fly by.  One hour of sleep and two pieces of toast later, I was on my way to the City of London.

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After a little bit of tube confusion we finally made it to the Thames river walk, which brought us a breathtaking view of Tower Bridge and the HMS Belfast.  Although it was my second time in London, it wasn’t until I saw the bridge in the distance that I truly felt like I was in the city.  I was in LONDON.  And despite the dirtiness of the water, the experience was fantastic.  Our group spent a good hour wandering along the river walk taking everything in (as well as dozens of pictures).  Several of us found our way down to the shoreline, and I made my mark in the sand.

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The second marvel seen was the Tower of London, but unfortunately due to a combination of stinginess (entrance into the fortress is £18 for students) and lack of time, we were only able to see the outside.  The estate used to be guarded by lions, ensuring only the bravest of heart would risk seeking entry.  Models of these creatures remain on the grounds, along with informational plaques to explain the history of the tower.  Going inside to see the inside of the castle and the crown jewels remains on my list of things to do in London, but the view was enough to tide me over until then.

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After several hours of site seeing, it was time for lunch.  Our group split into two smaller ones, and mine feasted at the Borough Market in Southwark.  The place was packed, filled with the hustle and bustle of busy shoppers trying to find the finest cheese, freshest fruit, and filets of plump meat.  In all honesty, I would not suggest this area to someone who is anxious in crowds or is claustrophobic, but if you are looking for a taste of home, Borough Market is the place to go.  Mexican, Italian, English, French, German, Turkish– you name it, you can find it (or at least try to in the mass of people!).  Upon exiting the market, we stumbled upon a colorful treat.  Umbrellas flood the air behind one of the buildings, creating a unique and magical atmosphere (I was expecting Mary Poppins to float down out of the sky at any moment).  If only I could have plucked one down and taken it for a keepsake! 100_0922

After a quick stop at the Tate Modern, the next stop was to the Globe Theater.  As an English major I was excited to see the Globe.  I’ve read several of Shakespeare’s plays and a handful of his sonnets, and seeing this famous spot was something my inner teacher was thrilled to do.  What I was not aware of was how late in the season productions actually begin.  I went inside the ticket office to ask about the price of seeing a play, only to discover that the first show (The Tempest) doesn’t begin until April 20th.  This is yet another event that remains on my list of things to do in London.

100_0927I also visited Platform 9 3/4, but I am going to write a separate blog entry about all the Harry Potter related sites I have seen in the UK.  Kings Cross Station was surprisingly fantastic.  I was so stunned by the largeness of it, and couldn’t help but to be impressed.  I walked across the street to get a look inside its sister station, St. Pancreas, and it too made me gape.  There was a statue by Paul Day inside the building made of bronze that towered thirty feet over passerby.  It is called The Meeting Place and it represents the history of the tube and train.  Around the bottom edge of the statue are panels, also carved in bronze, depicting scenes such as soldiers departing for war and workers rebuilding a destroyed rail.  My favorite scene was of a man wearing sunglasses, and within the frames there were people waiting in a queue for their train to arrive.  This was my kind of art.

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After I had finished staring at the miraculous statue in St. Pancreas, I left to meet up with one half of the group at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology.  This was easier said then done however.  It took about forty minutes of walking and searching to finally get to the museum, which is held in the University College of London.  By the time I reached the building I was too tired from trying to find the place to even go in.  On the bright side, our group took a great photo on the benches outside the exhibit!

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After everyone had finished at the Egyptian museum, it was nearly time for dinner.  We were famished from a long day of walking, and several people were irritable from lack of proper sleep.  Nearly thirty minutes of resting later, we set off for china town, and nearly two hours later we finally regrouped and settled on a restaurant.  We ate at a buffet and the food was really good (for the most part).  I ate nearly three plates!  Our bellies full and feet broken, we finally headed back to our hostel to fall asleep and get some rest before setting out at 9AM the next morning for another fun filled day.

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Graze Boxes Galore

One of my friends introduced me to the marvelous world of graze boxes, a delicious (and cheap) lunch service that gets delivered directly to your door (or in my case, mail room).

I started worrying about the quality of the food I was eating about a year ago after taking an environmental chemistry class the ruined (or saved) my life forever.  After learning about the lack of regulations behind food and bottled beverages, and the increasing concerns about GMOs, I really began to wonder what was in my apparently heavily processed food.  I have been making the slow transition to eating healthier (meaning more organic and locally grown), and I thought that living in England would make that easier.  I was wrong.  Although the general quality of food is better (and probably less processed) than in the U.S., it has actually been extremely difficult to find foods without additives.  I’m sure if I went into a larger city or if it was harvest season it would not be as difficult, but it is hard to rationalize traveling out of the area just to go grocery shopping (remember I do not have access to a vehicle).

Enter Graze.  Like I said, my friend introduced me to the service.  She gave me a coupon with a code that I could enter in able to get a free box (and also a fifth free box if I chose to stick with the deliveries).  The normal cost of a box is £3.89, but delivery is free of charge.  Graze allows you to choose the foods you like, scrap the ones you are not a fan of, and try things you might not otherwise have sampled.  There are fruits, dips, crackers, desserts, teas, seeds, nuts, and more to choose from.  All the food is prepared outside of London, is recognized by the NHS as supporting the 5-a-day scheme, and includes no artificial preservatives or additives. Added bonus– with each box you get a page of coupons to give out to your friends, and if anyone joins Graze using your personalized code, you get £1.00 off a box or can donate the money to the Graze School of Farming.

So, to thank you all for reading and following me on my adventures through Europe, here is my free Graze gift to you!  Just log into https://www.graze.com/uk/ , enter your details, and enter the code TW5VMVN to claim your free (and did I mention absolutely delicious??) box.

My personal favorites so far?  The Herb Garden, My Thai, Bonnie Wee Oatbakes, Summer Berry Compote, and Banoffee Pie.  Order, nibble, and enjoy! =]

Considering Cambridge

A few weeks ago I took a short trip (about 1.5 hours) to esteemed Cambridge, expecting the normal college town youth and rowdiness.  I was honestly surprised by how low-key and tame the city was, and by the lack of typical souvenir shops.  Cambridge was absolutely gorgeous, and despite the chill of February, I had a great time.  I even felt the sun for a little while!

ImageThis was my first time being led by a tour guide in Europe, and I have to say it was an interesting experience.  She began her spiel with the creation of Cambridge, spinning a story about a horrific tragedy in Harvard (involving a student being dragged from their bed and killed in the street after an incident with a crossbow) that drove the students from their comfortable city and into the small area of Cambridge.  Colleges were quickly built to accommodate the new rush of students, and the city of Cambridge began to flourish.  This was the first of several gruesome lectures, and the beginning of my journey through the deceivingly tame streets.

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The tour guide also told the ghostly history behind The Eagle, Cambridge’s most famous pub.  After a child was killed in a fire that raged through the building a few hundred years ago, the upstairs window (that of the child’s) has been left open in order to let their soul depart.  This isn’t just a nicety — it is written in the deed of the building that the window can never be closed.  That’s pretty serious business, especially considering how cold it gets in the winter!

The Eagle pub

Cambridge is a mixture of old and new, incorporating bustling city streets, reserved alley walkways, towering modern offices, and century old courtyards.  Similar to Norwich, it seemed to be a city with a small town heart.  The three attractions that intrigued me most were the colleges, the market, and the used book shops on St. Edwards Passage.  The market was smaller than the Norwich market, but it was lively and full of interesting foods and knick-knacks (including a tee-shirt stand selling tea-shirts!).  The bookstores met my three A’s: adorable, affordable, and approachable, and were located in a charming alleyway right outside of the market area.  I could have easily spent an entire day browsing through books, but as my time was limited I was hardly able to explore.  The colleges were impeccably built, and the history behind each was worth listening to.  My favorite of the 31 was Trinity College.

ImageTrinity was built by Henry VIII in 1546 after a suggestion by his wife (a secret plot on her part to save the preceding schools) to build the biggest and best college to show his importance.  The outside of the building shows six plaques, separated in the middle by a statue of King Henry VIII himself.  Each plaque carries one of his son’s coat of arms, except one which is blank (because the boy died before he was able to receive his own coat), and the statue holds a chair leg instead of the original scepter (which was also at one point replaced with a bicycle pump).

ImageThe college was home to the famous English physicist and mathematician, Isaac Newton.  His room looked out onto the apple tree that would prompt his universal law of gravitation (which has been spliced to create a new apple tree that thrives in its place).

ImageCambridge was breathtaking.  The river Cam was like something out of a painting, especially with the punt cruising by under the bridges in the sunshine.  I can’t wait to get back to this incredible and intriguing city (especially to raid those bookshops more thoroughly!!).