Sunday, July 28, 2013

When In London

Thursday marked our last day in Edinburgh, and Scotland, before heading on to England. We woke up to a foggy sky and chilly weather, but I loved it. Our first stop was the Royal Yacht Britannia also called the HMY (Her Majesty's Yacht) Britannia. Docked in Edinburgh since the 1990s, it can now be rented out for wedding parties and other events, but formerly belonged to the Queen of England. She sailed around the world on it at least once every year of her life before it was docked; in the '80s, the yacht celebrated 1 million miles sailed. Good thing it's not a car.

During the tour, we enjoyed tea & cakes on board in the upper dining hall, overlooking the water, but indoors (which was good, as it had started raining). The yacht was docked right by the large Edinburgh mall, so of course we made a little bit more time for shopping afterward. Leaving the mall, we caught a cab to our next tour: the Edinburgh Dungeon tour.

Most of the Dungeon tour took place in musty, dark rooms and halls, with sudden sounds and actors popping up from behind to scare was like a spook house with commentary. Each new room meant a new actor, playing the role of someone who would've lived in Edinburgh in the 18th century...for instance, William Burke & William Hare, who began murdering people and turning in their bodies to the medical community to be used as cadavers, which they were then paid for. We also learned about gruesome torture techniques, many of which I knew, some of which I didn't. All sounded terrifying, but I'm constantly fascinated by that stuff. Probably because I didn't have to live with any of it.

The next morning, we woke up early because we had a flight to catch. Friday, however, was not a great morning. Our flight was delayed for three hours, which we spent sitting in the airport. After we finally were able to board the plane, however, they kept us on the tarmac for another hour and a half due to some other issue. I slept for most of that time, and half of the flight as well (which was just an hour...for all that!).

We finally ended up at the Heathrow airport, an hour's drive from London, around 5:30pm, and got a cab that took us straight to our hotel in the city. After the long hours spent at the airport and then the drive in the cab, we were all exhausted. But...surprise! My mom and dad had planned for us to attend a musical on our first night in London, not expecting any troubles with the flight that day. The show was Matilda, a musical based off of the book by Roald Dahl (one of my absolute favorite children's movies), so I forgot all my desire to rest and got ready in no time flat. The show started at 7:30, so we all had to book it. We ended up being a little late and missed the first few minutes of the show, but the next 2.5 hours made up for that entirely. The show was absolutely stunning. The set work was great, every scene change was flawless, Matilda was darling (and had a beautiful voice), and the Trunchbull was played by a man, who portrayed her as horrifically ugly and yet hilarious. I loved every last bit of it, and yes, I was crying at the end. But hiding it, obviously.

                            I can't even look at this. I'm tearing up. 

After the show, the streets were crowded with young couples because the theatre district is aptly surrounded by bars and pubs. Finally, though, we found a place called Ed's Diner, a Londoner's version of Johnny Rockets, and we sat at barstools around a big, U-shaped counter. I kept putting 50 pence in the mini jukebox on my section of the counter, playing Smokey Robinson and Diana Ross, while others requested songs by ABBA and Simon & Garfunkel. I even got up and danced at the end, when they were about to close and my mom was chatting with our waiter about his hometown in Germany. It was a good night.

Saturday was my baby brother's sweet 16th birthday, and our first real day of exploring London. We started the day with breakfast at the hotel. We're staying at a Hilton here in downtown London, so while it wasn't complimentary, you can bet that breakfast was delicious.

We then walked a few blocks from the hotel and grabbed a double-decker bus, touring London from up top while my shoulders and nose got burned by wind and sun. It was a hot, hot day, but the tour was wonderful...we saw where Brad Pitt stayed when he was here for the World War Z premiere a few weeks ago, drove right past J.K. Rowling's house, and saw the hotel where Kate and her family stayed before she and Will were married (in addition to learning a lot of rich historical facts about the city, of course).

We hopped off the tour bus along Westminster Bridge, getting dozens of traditional Big Ben/ London Eye pics before walking across the bridge (in the blazing sun while I was wearing jeans, I might add) to Westminster Abbey itself. Now, I don't like to over-exaggerate things unless it's in a sarcastic, ironic way, but I honestly have no words for the inside of that abbey. The size and scale of it is staggering; walking through, I think it's impossible not to dwell on the age of the place, how many kings, queens, knights and scholars have stood where you are standing. To be in a place where Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, and Handel (among others) are all buried was beyond comprehension for me.

After spending an hour or so in the abbey, we headed back to catch the bus and it started raining. It was quite beautiful,'s almost more beautiful in London when the sky is gray and cloudy than anything else. In some places, the rain just fits.

Our bus ride led us to the Tower of London, where we were headed for a tour before it closed for the day. Unfortunately, we didn't have enough time left before closing to really enjoy the tour and not speed through. Luckily, the tickets were good for the whole week, not just Saturday, so we decided we'd come back Sunday afternoon.

We got some Ben & Jerry's ice cream and hung out in gift shops for a little while to get out of the rain. After it let up a bit, we headed out towards the Thames River for a boat cruise/ tour. We rode along the Thames for 45 minutes up at the top of the boat, taking in the sights just before sunset. Among other things, we saw an exact replica of Shakespeare's theatre in the round, and The Dove, a pub where Hemingway allegedly spent much time. Those two were especially exciting for me.

After our ride, we were back on the Westminster side of the Thames (the other side is the London side, although they are both actually London) and decided to find dinner. After searching for about 20 minutes for something other than Italian, we finally found a Mediterranean place called Troia. They had great food (I got a fantastic Greek salad), and for dessert we surprised John with a big slice of chocolate cake, his favorite. The waitress was super sweet and came out singing 'Happy Birthday' to him.

Dinner knocked us out, and after we'd stumbled around to some souvenir and grocery shops, we hailed a taxi and ended back at the hotel.

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