I was right when I said I would have so much to update you all on when I got back from London!
Thursday night several of us walked about a mile (we have to save money any way possible!) to a pub in Harlaxton Village called "The Gregory." It was a cute little place and we all ordered drinks and hung out. We met a British man at the bar named Jim, who was quite fun and really receptive when we started asking him all kinds of questions about British culture, language, traveling tips and his life. We learned the term "cracking" which means something is really awesome. It was so neat to hear about life from someone who was born here.
Friday morning we left for London on three coaches at 9 o'clock. It was about a three hour ride and once we arrived, we stayed on the bus and took a tour of the city for about two hours. We got to see so many things and learn about them from the tour guide! It was such a hard concept to grasp that we were actually there; it was difficult to believe. We stopped on the Thames River and got to see the Tower Bridge (not the London Bridge, which is rather ordinary) which was really neat.
After the tour we regrouped in the hotel and set out to see all we could with what daylight we had left on the cloudy London day. We started out in a big group, but Clay, Chelsea and I ended up together and it was easy to travel with just us to start out with. We took the classic London telephone booth pictures and explored the streets. We went to Picadilly Circus, which is a famous intersection in the streets of the city. It was the first place in London that used electronic advertising! Then we tried to check out Chinatown, which Chelsea and I assumed would have all sorts of fake Coach and Chanel purses, but we were disappointed to find it was simply a load of Chinese restaurants. Bummer!
We headed to Trafalager's Square, where the four famous lions and tall tower sit. Clay helped Chelsea and I climb up on them and get our pictures made, which turned out to be awesome! We continued to walk around and take in the city. We saw the Banquet House, which is the building Charles I was beheaded in front of, and we saw 10 Downing Street which is were the Prime Minister, Gordan Brown, lives. We went to where Royal Stables but unfortunately it was getting dark at this point, so the horses had gone to bed. We did get to take a few pictures with a guard and Clay even made him crack and grin when he asked what his name was so we could tag him on Facebook! We found a cute Italian restaurante on a side street and ate dinner there. It was authentic, so it tasted different but it was good! We ordered water to save money, however, but the bottle of water cost £3.40 which is just completely ridiculous. It was tasty though! We finished out the night by shopping on Oxford Street, where we took advantage of some awesome sales! We were so tired that once we got back to the hotel room we took showers and watched a couple movies on TV and just hung out. It was necessary resting for the long Saturday we had!
We (Clay, Chelsea, Sarah, Molly, Jeremy and I) began the morning by attempting to get the complimentary breakfast at our hotel, but they were so full it was impossible. We grabbed breakfast at a chain restaurant called Pret a Mangerie, and headed straight for the Underground to buy tickets for the whole day. After planning out our day, we decided riding "the Tube" would be our best option to do everything we wanted to. Unfortunately for us tourists, it was a regular old rainy day in the city so we had our umbrellas out most of the day. After the madness of purchasing our tickets, we went to get a close up of Big Ben, which in all honesty isn't quite as big as you might think. Still gorgeous though! We went to Westminster Abbey, a place where many kings have been crowned and all kinds of history has taken place. It was a beautiful, majestic building.
Next we went to Buckingham Palace (also a sight to see!) and saw the Changing of the Guard, which was a lot less extensive than I expected. It was mostly a band playing music for about an hour as the two guards outside the palace doors "changed." Several of us got on each other's shoulders to take pictures because there was such a ridiculous amount of people there. They played Somewhere Over the Rainbow which was alright with me! We then headed to the Tower of London which was probably my favorite part of the trip. I have read about this place hundreds of times and I was so excited to actually see it! It's a huge, intricate place from the outside and although you wouldn't expect it, it's very open on the inside. It makes a small kind of village once you get in. There are all sorts of towers you can go up in and see where certain people were held captive. There was a memorial for the place where Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, and Lady Jane Gray were beheaded which gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. It was such an awesome thing to be able to see. Maybe I even stood where they stood! Although the Tower was used to keep prisoners, it was also a place of ceremony and celebration where many kings held their coronations and even wedding celebrations. We got to see the Crown Jewels and there was an exhibition of Henry VIII that was open from April 2009-January 17, 2010--it ended the very NEXT day. I was so lucky to have seen it! I loved it.
We grabbed some toasted subs for a late lunch at a Cafe Nero, then hopped back on the Tube to check out the British Museum before it closed. We weren't there for too long before it did, so hopefully we'll get to return later in the semester and see more of it. After it closed we did some more shopping and went to the famous, extremely expensive department store called Harrod's. The Queen shops there! Definitely meaning that we weren't able to, but it was neat to see. We finally gave in to the golden arches and ate some recognizable food at McDonald's which was spectacular. We returned to the hotel and showered again. We accidentally had somewhat of a hotel party, which turned out to be a blast. We headed to the lobby to go out to a pub or a club, where we ran into some students from Spain. I used what little knowledge I had of Spanish and we had a rather extensive conversation with them in the hopes we could have a free place to say in Spain! It was quite an experience.
The next morning we went to Hampton Court Palace, one of (my boy) Henry VIII's favorite palaces in the 1500s. It was AMAZING. The actual building and architecture was beautiful and just knowing all the things that happened there was something that's hard to define. We got to see his kitchens, his actual apartments with all the tapestries he loved, and all kinds of paintings of him and his family and those he worked with. My favorite part was the gardens, no question. We walked outside and the sight was breathtaking: enormous trees, shaped to please the eye, a little pond containing a fountain shooting water all around, a swan swimming in the pond, perfectly green grass, and to top it off the sun was shining for once creating a seriously beautiful picture. It was breathtaking. We walked around and took pictures, although I hate to report that the swan was so used to people he barked (if that's what swans do) at me when I tried to take a picture with him! I got to take a picture with an actor who was dressed up like Henry and I was so freaking excited about it. Super dorky, I know, but I loved it! We went through the Hampton Court maze (very Triwizard Tournament-esque), then continued exploring the gardens which were simply beautiful. There were so many twists and turns inside and out that it would take days to see the whole place! We got lunch from a cafe (which had a real orange juice squeezer--very neat) and got back on the bus for the journey home. And by home, I mean Harlaxton...which this place has become for me.
Last night was an interesting evening at Harlaxton; we had our first basketball practice, which was potentially one of the worst displays of basketball I have ever seen, and then Paige helped me cut Clay's hair via Skype, which actually turned out quite well! I'm having so much fun here and I feel lucky to have met the people I have. The semester is only going to get better and I can't wait. Hope you all have a cracking good week! Love from England.