Monday, November 30, 2009

I See London...

I’ve taken a long hiatus from the blogging world. I wish I could say it was due to the intense workload of school, but alas, that is not the case. At all. The truth is, I’ve been lazy. And those of you who know me know that I highly enjoy being lazy.

This past weekend was truly adventurous. While many of you spent American Thanksgiving dining on turkey, hanging out with family, and enjoying your time off, a friend of mine from back home and I headed to London for the weekend. And not only was it simply amazing, it was truly adventurous as well.

The adventure started at the Copenhagen airport. The only train ticket I could buy last minute left Växjö at 11:05 a.m. and arrived in Copenhagen at 1:05. My flight didn’t leave until 9:45.Needless to say, I had a lot of time to kill at the airport. A lot. I ended up starting, and finishing, an entire 400 page book. For those who have not read it, I highly suggest In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote. It is the most disturbing unsettling book I have ever read, period. For being 40 years old, the book is immensely engaging. I highly recommend it (and the film Capote).

Anyway, after my almost 9 hours of waiting at the airport, my flight finally arrived. One of the best things about Europe is cheap flights, via Ryanair and EasyJet. They charge you an arm and a leg for checking bags, but if you pack right (like me), you don’t have to check a bag. They also don’t have pre-assigned seating, so it’s a free-for-all at the gate for the best seats. Not my cup of tea. Anyway, the flight cost me about $100, so I was satisfied.

When I arrived at the airport, I waited for Carolyn to arrive. She stood in line for over 40 minutes at customs, so I had a long wait ahead of me. I started on my second book of the day, WellsThe War of The Worlds. (Coincidentally, on our bus ride into the city of London, we saw a building that stated that H.G. Wells worked at this particular building 1930-1936…talk about coincidence!). I am still fascinated by that book regardless of how many times I read the book. I highly recommend this one as well.

Anyway, once Carolyn finally arrived, we settled down at the airport. See, we flew in after midnight, and the airport we arrived in is 40 km or so away from the actual city of London.That’s where the cheap flights get you. They charge you much less to fly, and then they make you pay a crapload to get in to the city. And, hotels and hostels nearby stop checking guests in at 11:30 p.m., so Carolyn and I were out of luck. Have you ever slept overnight in an airport? I have. And it’s unpleasant. You’d think the airport designers would be more considerate and place comfortable chairs, or even carpet, for poor travelers who must sleep on the ground. It’s like they don’t want people to stay overnight in the airport… Anyway, we didn’t sleep much (and it was freezing!) so we just stayed up and caught up on our traveling abroad experiences. We hadn’t seen each other for over a year, so it was good to catch up. The airport had Krispy Kreme donuts, which made me immensely happy, but I chose not to have one. Just the fact that they still exist brought warmth to my heart.

Around 10 a.m. we hitched a ride on a bus, which we had purchased a ticket for before the trip, into town. It was long and bumpy. But, we finally arrived into town, and purchased our three day pass for the Underground. We rode the tube to Brixton, where our hostel was. When we finally arrived, we were shocked by our hostel. The hostel’s name is Hootananny Hostel. I know, I know. The name is what drew me in too. Who wouldn’t want to stay at a hostel named the Hootananny? Apparently, our hostel was in the ghetto of the Londonwe were uncomfortable. And the hostel was the dirtiest place I have ever stayed in. It was cheap, yes, but not worth it. At all. It’s hard to describe, but the place was dirty and creepy. If anything, the experience taught me that hotels are worth their price. Our first night there, however, proved that maybe it wasn’t as bad as we first though. Indeed, it turned out not as bad as we first thought, though it was still creepy. And in the bad part of town. We took a nap when we arrived, due to our lack of sleep in the airport, and when we awoke, we hit up the town. We grabbed lunch at a Subway and coffee at a Starbucks, where we planned our trip on Starbucksnapkins. I know. We have class.We also saw Parliament and Big Ben, as well as Piccadilly Circus. By that point, it was getting late, so we hit the tube back to Brixton and got some sleep at our hostel. We also stopped at Burger King for a late dinner. So, when most of you were enjoying vast amounts of turkey and potatoes, Carolyn and I feasted on Subway and Burger King. One of my better Thanksgiving meals, that’s for sure.

(Our hostel, the Hootananny. Don't let the quality exterior fool you.)

On Friday we awoke early, got some breakfast at a café, and saw more of London. Saw the Westminster Abbey and saw much of Camden Town. We also saw the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. You'd expect some grand and exquisite event for this, right? False. It turned out to be a "Battle of the Bands" between two marching bands. And no, they weren't national songs. We heard them play Downtown, the theme from Superman (which some idiot thought was from Star Wars... stupid, stupid man.), among others. Okay, so Downtown I can kind of get, seeing as how Petula Clark was British.. but what's the deal with Superman? Is Christopher Reeves British or something? It didn't make any sense. The Abbey, however, was amazing. So much history was there, and we were literally standing upon the graves of Chaucer and Queen Elizabeth! It was breathtaking. After that, we met a friend of Carolyn’s, who is doing his grad work in London, for a late lunch. We hit up a restaurant called Hummus Bros. This was the first time I ate hummus; it wasn’t all that bad! Afterwards, he took us to the British Museum (we had originally planned on skipping this…I’m glad we didn’t). We saw the only remaining piece of the Rosetta Stone, and the mummy of Cleopatra. I’m still in awe and shock that we actually saw these things in person! It’s one thing to learn about them in a history book; it’s another to see them in person. I’m still speechless about that. Afterwards, Phil took us on a tour of the UCL (University College London) and took us to a couple of student pubs. The student life there is very cool and relaxed. After that, he took us back to his dorm complex and made us tacos. His flatmates made us typical foods from their respective countriesspicy stew fromNigeria and mushroom rice from Italy. It was incredibly tasty. Afterwards, Phil took us toCamden Town, where much of London’s student life takes place. We hit up a couple more pubs and just relaxed with other college students. It was great to experience not only London itself, but also the student life of Londoners. Afterwards we caught the last tube running that night back to Brixton and passed out at the Hootananny.

(Westminster Abbey)

(The mummy of Cleopatra)

(The Rosetta Stone)

The next day, Saturday, proved our most intense. In one day, we saw the Tower of London, theTower Bridge, Shakespeare’s Globe, Covent Garden, St. Paul's Cathedral, and the memorial fountain for Diana, Princess of Wales. It was a tiring day, but we learned and experienced so much. America just doesn’t have the history that Europe, the UK in particular, does. Oh yeah, we also ate at KFC for lunch. KFC! It was delicious. After the long day, we went to a pub near Victoria Station and just chilled for an hour until our bus came to bring us back to the airport.Once there, we got on a shuttle bus that brought us to our hotel for the night, and we crashed at 12:30 a.m. Of course, because we purchased cheap flights, our flights flew out at 7:00 a.m. the next morning, so Carolyn and I had to wake up at 4:30 a.m. that morning to catch a shuttle back to the airport to get through security. It was difficult to stumble out of bed that early in the morning. But, we made it to the airport and made it to our respective flights on time. And by the end of the trip, I was the Tube Pro. I knew where to go, what lines to get on, and how to get there. Not bad for a guy who needs to use a GPS to get to the cities.
(KFC! And the Tower of London)
(Shakespeare's Globe)

But the adventure did not stop once I got on the plane. Oh no, it can never be that easy for me. Once in Copenhagen, I purchased a train ticket back home. The only problem was that the trains weren’t running all the way back to Växjö. So, they dropped me off at Mälmö. For those of who who know your Scandinavia geography, that’s not far from Copenhagen at all. For those of who don’t know, it’s just across the bridge from Copenhagen. Anyway, I waited for an hour for the next train that was running to Alvesta, and hopped on. Only that train wasn’t heading all the way to Växjö either. It dropped me off at Lund, which is only a ten minute train ride from Mälmö. Once there, we were informed that the trains won´t be running to Växjö that day. So, they made everyone on the train disembark and head to the bus terminal to catch busses to Hässleholm. Only the directions were in Swedish, and I was too tired to try and translate them. I asked five different people before I got on the right one. And everyone was pushing each other to get on the busses. It was a nightmare. Anyway, after the long bus ride (an hour or so), we arrived in Hässleholm and caught a bus from there to Växjö. Talk about a stressful trip. Needless to say, I arrived completely exhausted to do anything worthwhile, so I passed out on my bed, only to awake at 4 a.m. to let Rachel in to my apartment—she just got back from her confusing and exhausting trip from Copenhagen. She, too, had to endure numerous train changes and bus rides. What a nightmare.

(Big Ben)

But in spite of all that, London was a success. I had an amazing time there and experience some awesome adventures with Carolyn. It may have been stressful, but that only added more excitement to the trip. And the best part was, I (with some help from Carolyn, of course) planned the trip myself. No parents or guardians to help plan things, find directions, or book hotels. It makes you appreciate people who plan trips. So thanks, Mom, and Garnet, for booking and planning all of those trips we went on as kids (and teenagers). No doubt they were stressful for you, but they were well worth it.

So, I thought I’d leave you with some tips for planning a trip, especially to London:

1) Bring books. You’ll never know where you’ll be stuck, and for how long.

2) Don’t wear contacts for four days in a row without taking them out. It’s painful.

3) Always, always triple check where your accommodations are located before booking. Remember: location, location, location.

4) Sometimes, the Scandinavian travel system sucks.

5) KFC offers great meals at great prices.

6) Napkins are a fine substitute for paper when planning trips and excursions.