DAY 1, FRIDAY, AUGUST 5:
After maneuvering the incredibly slow underground tube system, Christina and I found our way to our English hostel just a few minutes walk from Kings Cross Station. Before leaving, we booked hostels obviously for the price, it wasn’t until we got there that we realized that that cost literally only pays for a bed to sleep in – the free wifi was slower than those old turtle commercials complaining about dial-up, with the “premium wifi” (translation everywhere else’s complimentary wifi) was something like £5 an hour; towel rental cost £2; lockers cost £2; showers were one temperature and had to be reengaged every 30 seconds or so; and the coveted “free breakfast” was instant coffee, toast, and corn flakes. Instant coffee, Blechhh. Also, something I didn’t think about in booking a hostel– since you are literally only paying for a twin bunk bed, it really isn’t possible to, say, buy a bottle of wine and some snacks and watch the Olympics at night like we both desperately wanted to by Day 5. Of course we wanted to be out and exploring most of the time anyway but when most of London closes before 9pm even on the weekends, we were kind of at a loss.
The hostel was a deal and in a great young area with lots of restaurants and quick to public transportation, but my CMC brain doesn’t help but weight the marginal costs. Looking back, I would have much rather spent a little bit more to have a fridge, a TV, and some privacy.
DAY 2, SATURDAY, AUGUST 6:
We were up and on the underground train to the Tower bridge by 9:30. I’ve seen many pictures, especially when the Olympics were here 4 years ago and the rings were fastened on the middle, but I have no idea just how glamorous the bridge would be. It was mainly white/grey stone and the supports were various shades of blue with gold on the upper portion of the towers and pink/red lights spotlight certain portions at night. It really was gorgeous and straight out of a Disney attraction. London has 6 bridges just in its downtown area and between each are distinctly different restaurants and attractions. We found many places we declared we’d go back to but we ended up either because we never had the time or when we finally got around to it, they were closed. So the beginning of our day was spent slowly moving west weaving back and forth across the Thames River’s many bridges and after eating lunch on the steps of St. Peter’s Cathedral, we walked more north into Piccadilly Circus (London’s Times Square and theater district), Buckingham Palace, SOHO, and affluent Piccadilly & Park Lane (London’s 5th Avenue)… Do you see a similarity? I sure did and couldn’t help but question who copied who…
And the first of predictably many gelatos…
For dinner, we went to a small and classic pub close to our hostel called Skinner’s Arms. We sat outside and enjoyed some fish & chips and meat pie and some light conversation with the local retirees next to us. Because what’s more English than fish & chips, cold craft beer, and some friendly competitive conversation comparing US and English sports?
DAY 3, SUNDAY, AUGUST 7:
Exploring the King’s Cross/Camden area Sunday morning, we came across many men standing outside of large pubs drinking copious amounts of beer at 9am which can only mean one thing–Football!! Only London would close too early at night to watch the Olympics and open early for soccer.
It was a perfect coincidence that Christina’s and my time in Europe overlapped with that of my best friend from home, Nell. She had been studying in Paris for 6 weeks and came up to London for a few days before going back home and back to school.
Together, the three of us went to a commercialized American pub called O’Neill’s for lunch. It wasn’t until halfway through our meal that we realized why we were so lucky to get a table during such a big game… Because out table was directly under the TV with the worst angle for the game we didn’t even know what happening… Could our American-ness have been any more obvious?
After lunch, we purchased tickets for the hop-on/hop-off, open-top double-decker bus that is so quintessentially London tourist. A lot of the time, it was much slower than using the tube, or even walking, but the audio tour and the photo opportunities were worth the price.
That night we had made plans to go down to the Tower Bridge River Walk to watch the Olympics that was showing on an outdoor giant screen. It wasn’t until we got there at 9:30pm that we learned the screening ended at 8:00pm every night… How can a city of this caliber and this prowess, that is frequently compared to New York City in so many ways, turn into a ghost town before 9:00pm?!
Our plans to get dessert and watch until late were doomed before we even got on the tube. Luckily, McDonald’s is huuuuge in England and we all got McFlurry’s for 99P when we returned.
DAY 4, MONDAY, AUGUST 8:
We went to the British Museum today. There were so many people there, and the building was so large, that I didn’t see everything thatI would have liked to, but I did spend a lot of time in the Egyptian exhibition and in the Parthenon Galleries. While the exhibits and their histories were entirely different from one another, I found one intriguing similarity. Today the modern world acts only by incentive –the “what’s in it for me” mentality. In ancient Egypt, citizens would spend hours, days, MONTHS painting a family member’s sarcophagus and coffin to ready them for the afterlife. These sarcophaguses were to go in tombs, never to be seen again, until archeologists excavated them to put them in museums. In ancient Greece, each panel of the frieze was chiseled and carved by hand, to honor the Greek Gods, Zeus and Athena. The detail of the horse’s hoof made to cast a certain shadow must have taken days. That type of effort is no longer appreciated in modern society. Modern design is about efficiency and simplicity. Minimalistic. No one has spent that much time on something that doesn’t benefit their life directly at least since the 20th century. What will be behind the glass in another 1,000 years?
Especially in the US. The 200 years we have chalked up as an independent country doesn’t even make a dent in the centuries of history I’ve already witnessed here in Europe. Hypocritically, having never really left the US before six days ago, I thought I understood what culture was. I’ve been to nearly every state in the USA, and better yet, I’ve driven to each of them. I’ve heard different accents and stayed in different homes and eaten different foods. I’ve seen the sites and the battlefields and the monuments first hand. But all the while, I thought each time I was experiencing something so new and so different. I couldn’t have been more naive or more wrong. I already know I have so much to learn.
And some more gelato later that day…
DAY 5, TUESDAY, AUGUST 9:
If Monday was my day of history, Tuesday was my day of art. After eating breakfast at the cutest little cafe in Camden, we made our way to Tate Modern. It’s always a gamble to go to a modern art museum because you can never be sure what you’ll find there. In fact, one of my favorite pieces from yesterday was at first pretty laughable. Child Meireles’ Babel was a tower of radios, reaching nearly 3 stories tall, all blinking and making noise. Modern art for ya, whoo. Until I read what it was meant to symbolize. Meireles based it of the biblical story of the Tower of Babel in the Book of Genesis. In the story, when God caused the Great Flood to disperse and repopulate the whole earth, people instead gathered and built a great tower. God thought this was an exaltation of mankind rather than of its Creator, so He made them to all speak different languages therefore making communication impossible and forcing them to each go out and start their own societies. (S/O to Professor Davis and his Intro to Religious Thought class!) I think Meireles’ radio tower makes media into a sort of Big Brother. It highlights and also deepens the divisions among people. We are all so individually tunnel-visioned in our own lives, but it is not always our own fault; media often provides us with only what it wants us to see and shapes our opinions. I liked that the work of Meireles, and of other artists at Tate Modern, at first seemed ridiculous, but in reading the artist’s vision, it suddenly became a deep commentary on society or otherwise.
And a few other cool exhibits…
A light room –
A walkable map of London –
And a carpet wall you can draw on –
I could have spent all day at the Tate but we left in the early afternoon to grab dinner with a few friends from CMC studying in London before going to see A Curious Incident of a Dog in the Nighttime later that night. We got great seats for super cheap. Theaters often drop their ticket prices by nearly 90% to fill the theater ever night, so we looked online super last minute and got really lucky – it’s something I did in New York earlier this summer many times. It was a truly great show, with an AMAZING set design. Planning on reading the book as soon as I finish the new Harry Potter…
Off to Edinburgh!