Hello everyone! What a long time it’s been.
First thing’s first. I’m home!
I’ve been home for three months now, but haven’t posted anything because I went traveling with my family for a month and thought I might as well wait for an update for after I got back. So here we are.
I know I said I’d do a long post about my overall thoughts about Japan and the future. I will, but I’m going to save that for next time. That will probably be the last post to this blog (can’t believe it!). For now, I’ll tell you a little bit about my recent adventure.
It was while I was still in Japan that my parents told me about their plans to go to Italy when I got home and I would stay to watch the house and pets. I said f that noise, I’m coming with you. So, we changed the plans and I decided to add on a few days before in England to visit my friend Susannah who would be at Cambridge. Europe was never a place I imagined myself visiting on my own because I thought it to be expensive, so in my mind, this was my only chance. I’m so glad I went. It was such a great trip and I got to enjoy traveling with friends/family as well as alone. The best of both worlds. So let’s start with the lovely U.K.
I really didn’t have an idea of what I wanted to do when I got to England. I was visiting with Susannah for a few days, we’d do a few walking tours together and then I’d have to figure out what to do the rest of my time as she would be in class. I would love to sound cultured and say that I spent time learning about the riveting history of medieval Cambridge and London (I did a little bit), but I mostly came to do nerdy things. I’ll get to that in a little bit. My first day was a loooooooong day. Very long. I didn’t sleep much on the flight, try as I might and immediately upon landing at Heathrow, I had to make my way to the bus. The ride was a couple of hours to Cambridge and after arriving, I had 15 minutes to run to Susannah’s apartment, drop my things off, and run back so we could join a free Cambridge walking tour. The tour was very good. Our guide was very funny, never missing a beat with his dry, sarcastic humor. It was so refreshing from the seemingly sarcastic-less Japan. We hit most of the major sites in town and our guide explained a lot of the history, a lot of which went over my head as I’ve never really studied European history (not counting high school and if I’m being honest, I try to block out a lot of the high school memories). I learned a lot about the university as well, which was nice. I imagine Susannah is going to have a great time there. After the tour ended, we walked around a little bit and then went to get dinner at a pub. I got a huge beer and a HUGE meat pie with mashed potatoes. I don’t really know what I was expecting, but for some reason I was under the impression that the portion sizes would be on the smaller side. I guess I equated Europe with small fancy shmancy dinners. BOY WAS I WRONG. I felt so guilty leaving half of it left over, but I just couldn’t do it. I wasn’t feeling great either as the “Up for over 48 hour” shakes were setting in. I made my way to my airbnb, a really nice place close to the river, and rested up for the next day.
Since Susannah only really had one free day, we decided to do something really fun and head to London. I knew before I left, the one thing I absolutely, unapologetically wanted to do was something to do with Harry Potter. I had tried to get tickets to go to the Universal Lot, but they had sold out. That turned out to work well because I found a London walking tour with Tours for Muggles and we joined a group of 20 people and our wonderful guide Luke Lestrange for a 2.5 hour tour. The tour was so much fun. We visited places that were actually in the movies or served as inspiration for the locations/sets in the movies. Not only did we get some really great movie trivia, but we got a lot of history about London as well, which was a nice bonus. We even walked past the New and Old Scotland Yard, which made me nerd out a bit. I would definitely recommend this tour for any Harry Potter fan. I will warn that the tour does not include going to Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross, but we had enough time in the morning to do that, so I fulfilled all my fantasies that day. We also got to stop into the British Museum before our tour and stopped by the Etruscan exhibit. This would be a good introduction for what was to come later in my trip.
After the tour was over, we met at Kings Cross to meet our mutual friend Tanya, whom we’d met while in Japan. She was also an ALT, but in Ashikita. Unfortunately, our other friend Nick (also an ex-JET) couldn’t join us for our little reunion. We had a nice little (there was nothing little about it) dinner at a pizza joint close by. Sadly, it was a short reunion, but it was really cool seeing my friend in her hometown. It was also a little weird because it felt like we should have been in Japan because that’s how we knew each other, but at the same time that would have felt wrong because we’d all finished JET. That pretty much sums up how I’ve been feeling the past couple of months. ANYWAY, we headed back to Cambridge on the train for a good night’s sleep because my feet were on FIRE. They would be for the entire duration of my stay in England.
The next morning was a Monday so it meant I had to trip around by myself. As I said before, I didn’t really do much research for this trip. Luckily, trusty Google was with me and I was able to find a few things that sounded interesting. The first stop was the Botanical Gardens. It was about a 2 mile walk from my Airbnb to the gardens. I didn’t really want to try figuring out the bus schedules/routes. I suppose I should mention that I had also walked to the train station (also a 2 mile journey) the day before. It was a BEAUTIFUL walk into town along the river. There were tons of little houseboats that I’m assuming people lived in and plenty of rowers coming up and down the river. The weather, while gray, was at least clear of rain. The gardens were lovely when I finally arrived (the entrance fee is also reasonable — I’m looking at you UC). I walked around for a couple of hours, stopping to get a nice hot soup in the cafeteria before making my way back toward the center of town and trying to pop into some museums. There were a few that I’d wanted to see like the anthropology museum, but they were unfortunately closed. I wound up going to the Whipple Museum, recommended to me by my Airbnb host, which was a museum on the history of science. It was little, but had some interesting things inside like old globes, calculators, and other tools. After that, I headed to the famous Kings College Chapel. The campus itself is closed to visitors with the exception of the Chapel. It was pretty amazing. The stained glass windows lined the entirety of the walls and a HUGE organ took up the middle of the chapel. Don’t get me started on the ceiling. The idea was to make it look like waterfalls falling from top to bottom, which I think they got pretty close. It is a magnificent piece of architecture. After spending a good amount of time in the chapel, I met with Susannah for dinner. We went to the Regal Witherspoon (what a great name) and had fish n’ chips. We both ordered the “small” plate, which was a huge piece of fish and fries. I don’t know how someone could have eaten the regular plate. Sadly, this was my last day in Cambridge and I had to say goodbye. I left early the next morning and made my way back to London.
Again, I didn’t have a solid plan for London, so I spent the night before making a list of all the places I definitely wanted to see/sounded interesting. It turned out to be a pretty long list. There was no way there was going to be enough hours in the day to do everything unless I really hauled ass. So haul ass I did. I made my way to Paddington Station as quickly as I could and checked my bags there as it was the closest station with lockers to my Airbnb. I made a decision to do things close to the apartment because I promised to check in by 6. First on my list, was a “must see” for me: The Sherlock Holmes Museum. Not only am I a huge fan of the newest BBC Sherlock, I’ve read the books and I promised a friend I’d go so they could live vicariously through me. Also, they talked about Baker Street in our English textbooks in Japan. I thought it’d be fun to go to the actual place. So I get to the Baker Street tube station and walk to the museum. Right next door, what do I find, but a Beatles Store. I made a note to pop in after the museum to get a gift for my family, since they like the Beatles. Anyway, there was some confusion with which line was for buying tickets, so I had to wait a little longer, but the museum was GREAT. It was smaller than I expected, so they could only let up 10 or so people at a time (and there was a long line). All of the pieces in the museum are actually Victorian-era pieces, which is awesome and you are allowed to sit in chair and take a picture. Mine didn’t come out that great (thank you museum guide for trying though!) There were cool figures on the top level and letters to Mr. Holmes that people have sent from all over the world. It was a lot of fun and I got to nerd out hard. The gift shop is also great and so cute. I got a gift for my friend, but nothing for myself even though I was tempted to. Believe me, I wanted something, but I don’t have space for tchotchkes. However, that doesn’t mean my parents don’t (even though I live in the same house SHHHH IT DOESN’T HAVE TO MAKE SENSE), so I stopped in the Beatles store and got some cool coasters to keep our tables water-stain free. By the time I was done, it was lunch time, but I didn’t want to stop in a restaurant because I had places to be. I wound up grabbing a package of sushi and eating on a corner bench real quick before making my way toward the Victory & Albert Museum. This is important: If you are visiting London, YOU MUST GO HERE. It’s an AMAZING museum with tooooooons to see and FREE (for those on a budget). Had I had more time, I would have spent hours upon hours in there. As it was, it was 2 pm and most museums closed around 5 or 5:30. Plus, the Natural History Museum was right next door and I wanted to visit that as well. I had to get a move on. The museum is HUGE with rooms upon rooms of stuff to see. I saw a lot of gorgeous clothes, furniture, instruments, and statues. Funnily enough, I wandered into one of the cast rooms that featured a life size cast of The David. Good thing too, because we didn’t go to Florence. I also saw a really neat little exhibition on plywood. I know that sounds a bit strange, but it was very informative and made me appreciate what plywood does for us more. They also had a Pink Floyd exhibit, which another friend told me was spectacular. I’m not so familiar with Pink Floyd though, so I skipped that one. Before I knew it, an hour and a half passed by and I despite wanting to stay more, I wanted to go to the Natural History Museum so I could compare it with the one in New York. Now to be fair, it has been quite some time since I’ve visited the one in New York, but…if memory serves correctly, the one in New York is much better in my opinion. London’s is certainly impressive when you first walk in with the giant skeleton of a whale and the building itself is beautiful, but some exhibits were under construction and they didn’t have the same displays for the animals. I mean, the animals were displayed, but there were no backgrounds for them. There was a lot to see (though the sea invertebrate exhibition felt severely lacking), but it just wasn’t as impressive. I don’t know. Go and judge for yourselves.
After (almost literally) running through the entire museum, I made my way back to Paddington to get my bags and then headed over to my Airbnb. It was 1 minute from Queensway Station, which seemed like a nice area and the room itself was alright. It was a good bargain for London I think. My host was very nice and she gave me a good recommendation for an Indian restaurant just a few blocks away. LET. ME. TELL. YOU. ABOUT. IT. First off, it was a jazzy place, more jazzy than I usually go to, although maybe I just felt out of place because I looked like a lonely teenager wandering around, not an adult. Anyway, it wasn’t busy at all and I had the nicest servers who could give me their full attention all night. I got a curry plus naan. It was reaaaaaaally good curry. Really good, but the best part was hands down, the lassi. I think this was the best mango lassi I’ve ever had in my life. THERE WERE FLOWERS IN IT. So not only did it look fancy, but the flavor was so rich and creamy. Best meal of my London trip.
Full and happy, I went back and got a nice long good night’s sleep. Just kidding. That’s not what happened. I couldn’t sleep at all. It might be because I was busy thinking about the plans for the next day, I don’t know. I was awake at 4:30, tried to go back to sleep, couldn’t, so by 5:30 I said screw this, got ready, and was out the door by 6. Obviously nothing is open at that time, but the place I was staying was one block from Hyde Park so I decided to take a very early morning stroll. It was cold and the park was empty, and I definitely thought this wasn’t a shining moment of brilliance on my part as I sat on a bench in the dark, but luckily for me it turned out all right. I sat for a while and then made my way through the park looking for Kensington Palace. I found it, but it was still too dark, so I took a walk around the little lake nearby and took lots of pictures of all the sleeping swans. That’s right. I was awake before the birds. Amazing. After it finally got light out enough, I wandered in the gardens outside of Kensington Palace before deciding to head to Buckingham Palace. I live on Buckingham Blvd so I needed to see the real deal. Unfortunately, I misread the website and tours were no longer happening, but I still got plenty of pictures outside. I even saw some people pull up in fancy cars and go inside, for what I don’t know. After hanging around for a bit, I went nearby to the Royal Mews. This is where all the horses, carriages, and cars for the royal family are kept (they still use them). I took a nice little audio tour and got to see some horses. From there, I made my way to Tower Bridge and walked halfway across. I only went halfway because I wanted to go to the Tower of London and my feet were killing me. So I bought my ticket and got in just in time to take a Yeoman guided tour. Our guide was super hilarious and told us all the history of the tower. I got to inside the Church of St. Peter ad Vincula, which I believe you can’t see unless you’re on a tour and saw Ann Boleyn’s burial site. The tour was a little under an hour and then I got to explore everywhere else on my own. Of course I went to see the Crown Jewels. Talk about bling, they really are spectacular. It’s too bad you can’t take pictures, although, mine probably couldn’t do them justice. It is difficult to see them in one go because you’re on these moving belts that whisk you by fairly quickly, but you can easily backtrack and be whisked by as many times as you please. I spent a good amount of time walking around before heading out for a late meal as I was starving by this point. I hadn’t had lunch yet and I was scheduled to meet up with my parents. I grabbed some pretty good fish n’ chips and ate looking out on the river and the Tower Bridge. Once done, I headed over to Westminster and met up with my parents and we walked around a bit before I headed back to the apartment to get my things and meet them back at the airport hotel. We had an early flight the next day and didn’t want to be too far from the airport.
Originally this post was supposed to encompass all of my trip, but I realize I’m over 3,000 words, so I shall update (hopefully soon) with Part 2.
Until next time!
To be continued…