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Leg 5: Fun in London, Part 1 02/24/2010

Posted by Jenn in Uncategorized.

Quick note: I’ve separated the London trip and surrounding bits into two parts, because otherwise this post would have been OBNOXIOUSLY long and ABSOLUTELY NO ONE would have read the whole thing. And since I’ve wanted to go to London since I was a kid, I didn’t want to botch the big reveal of all the pictures and fun bits by slogging on and on all in one post. So for all of my readers with short attention spans, this one’s for you. :P

So, first things first! I believe I mentioned something about dinner with my host family last post? In fact, I’m fairly certain I did. ^_^!

On Wednesday evening (Feb. 17th) we (and by we, I mean me and two housemates) headed over to Joan and John’s house to meet their son Mark and have dinner. Good times! Mark teaches English in Poland, and was visiting for the week, so it was good to get to meet him while he was here.

Of course, I had to get Otto pictures. Here they are:

Mark, Erin, Otto, and Katie.

Here's Mark, Erin and Katie with Otto.

John and Joan with Otto.

Here are John and Joan with Otto after dinner!

Mark, Erin, Katie and me with Otto!

Mark, Erin, Katie and me with Otto!

Wednesday was loads of fun, but it is Thursday where the Great London Adventure actually begins…sort of.

Made it to lecture on Thursday morning, but I knew I would not make it to the seminar in the afternoon–I had a plane to catch. And when I say “I had a plane to catch,” that’s like a short way of saying, “I caught the bus to the Coleraine bus center, where I took a train/bus to Belfast, where I took an airport shuttle to Belfast City Airport, and then waited to board the RyanAir flight where upon my arrival I would be subject to even more public transportation interchanges ranging from the airport train to the Tube, and all of this vice versa on the return flight home.” And now that we’ve established that, we can save the exhausting tale of how I got from Coleraine to London for just this wee paragraph here and get on with the juicy bits.

Anywho, I missed the bus I’d intended to take to Belfast, but I ran into Anto, who was heading to Belfast on the train. So I joined him and tagged around with him and Conor until my flight. They were good tour guides! I hadn’t seen a great deal of Belfast, and since Conor goes to Queen’s University, I decided to take this opportunity to take wacky pictures of the place.

Otto in front of QUB.

Here's Otto at the front of the Queen's University Belfast main building. Gorgeous, no?

Otto in the QUB great hall.

Queen's has a great hall. No, really, they do. I can prove it with this picture here. :P

After that, there was dinner, followed by more transport. Long story short, waited for plane, got to London Stansted Airport by 9:45, got to hostel by 11:30ish and was able to check in and all that happy jazz. My roommates were French (or possibly Swiss?) and didn’t speak much English, but that mattered little to me at the moment because I was BEAT! I put the linens on the bed and pretty well crashed for the evening.

Now, a quick word about this hostel: it was really cool. It was still very obviously a hostel, with all the lacking amenities that word implies, but it was a REALLY snazzy hostel. And BONUS, it was RIGHT on Piccadilly Circus (hence the name: Piccadilly Backpackers, for any interested parties). Could I ask for a better location? I doubt it. This hostel was seven floors worth of internet cafes, a breakfast room with a tiny restaurant, laundry facilities, a travel guidance center, and a front-door guard who won’t let you up the lift without your little hotel key card. Very secure, very funky–this was a cool hostel. Far cry from five star accommodation, but it did the trick for all the time I spent in it. After all, I was in LONDON! What the heck did I need to pal around the HOSTEL for? But here’s an example of some of the funky hallway murals.

The walls in the staircase of my hostel.

Some of the walls in the staircase of my hostel.

Another hostel wall.

Another mural on the walls in the staircase of my hostel.

Anywho, the next morning (Friday) was when the real action started. I got up bright and early and packed my backpack (which I would carry around with me all day, and which contained ALL the stuff I brought with me–yes, you can call me paranoid, but I didn’t want my stuff jacked) and headed out to Piccadilly Circus near the statue, where soon I would meet up with my friend Rachel.

Rachel and Otto in Piccadilly Circus.

Here's Rachel and Otto by the statue in Piccadilly Circus right before we started our day!

Rachel, for those of you who don’t know (and I assume that’s most of you), was my fellow archive intern over the summer when we were at the Navy Yard, and it just so happens that she’s studying/working in Edinburgh this semester and was able to pop down to London for the weekend. Happy days! ^_^! It wouldn’t have been half as fun without her!

So we promptly went off in search of a full English breakfast, which we found at a wee cafe right off of Piccadilly and as we noshed we discussed our plan of action for the day. What first? What’s most important to see? What can we just rule out up front?

The wall in the Piccadilly Circus Tube station.

Here's the wall in the Piccadilly Circus Tube station. I know it's random to put it here, but it would be even more random for me to put it anywhere else, and since we're talking about Piccadilly now, I'm putting it right here. Don't argue with me--I make the blog. :P

The verdict was in: Tower of London first. It was the furthest away from where we were, and it felt prudent to start outwards and work in. So it was off to the Tower we went!

Otto and me at the Tower of London.

Here's Otto and me in front of the Tower of London!

Sir Otto!

Brave, brave, brave, brave Sir Otto...in the gift shop.

Otto at the Bloody Tower.

Here's Otto by the pointy looking gate of the Bloody Tower. (Not lying--that's actually what it is called!)

Otto by another tower.

Here's Otto by another tower. I can't remember the name of it, but this is the tower that housed both Sir Thomas More and Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth I) while they were being held prisoner. Neat stuff!

Otto on a wire sculpture knight at the Tower of London.

Otto is seen here on the hand of a wire sculpture of what I believe is a knight or guard of some kind. Whatever it was, it looked pretty cool.

Otto and me wearing a helmet.

Here I am (with Otto) wearing a heavy, heavy helmet. Also, British guards back in the day must have had very tall skulls, because if I didn't hold that thing out of my eyes, then it came down right over them.

Rachel in a helmet.

Here's Rachel with the helmet on as well, lol.

What a weird building!

Okay, can anyone tell me what this building is? It is a weird, weird looking building that we found looking off the Tower of London, and we can't figure out its purpose or why it looks like a rocket ship with swirlies on it.

Otto and the Tower Bridge.

Otto with the Tower Bridge.

The Tower Bridge.

Here's the Tower Bridge on its own.

The Tower of London was a pretty cool place, but let it be known to confused parties out there who read Goosebumps when they were kids that the Tower of London is NOT the same as the London Dungeon. I learned this the hard way when I realized that the Tower of London was not full of gooey torture dungeon reenactments. It was, however, still pretty cool, as our yeoman warder tour guide was to prove.

Barney, our Yeoman Warder tour guide, with Otto.

Here's Barney, our Yeoman Warder (or Beefeater) tour guide, looking quite professional next to Otto at the Tower of London!

Pretty cool, eh?

Pretty cool looking place, eh?

After the tower, the next stop was obvious–Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. I know they’ve been in pretty much every movie about England EVER and I’ve seen them before on film, but it really was quite pleasant to see, in person, that a clock that big actually exists. It was GINORMOUS. And we had the good fortune to arrive there at about two minutes till 3–just in time to hear the hour chimes. Nice. ^_^!

Big Ben

Ta-daaaa! Big Ben. VERY Big Ben. This picture is an inaccurate representation of just how big this clock is.

Otto with Big Ben.

Here's Otto with Big Ben. Unfortunately, we arrived when the sun was BEHIND Parliament and Big Ben, so this is one of the few pictures that turned out, with or without Otto. But hey--at least is WAS sunny.

Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, and a Double Decker Bus.

So we have Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and a double-decker red bus all in one photograph. All we need is a telephone box and Buckingham Palace, and that would make the most British picture EVER.

Toyed with the idea of going up in the London Eye, but the queue was outrageous and the prices more so, so we decided instead to walk past Westminster Abbey and onto Trafalgar Square. We spent much of the rest of the evening doing the tourist equivalent of window shopping. We walked to Trafalgar, we walked through Chinatown, we walked through Leicester Square and down Shaftesbury Avenue and all of the really neat places in Central London that we could.

Otto with a horse guard.

Otto with a horse guard near Trafalgar Square.

Trafalgar Square.

Trafalgar Square!

Gate thing near Trafalgar Square.

Big gate thingie right off of Trafalgar Square.

Giant pedestal thingie.

Here's the giant pedestal thingie in Trafalgar Square. I don't know if you can tell from the picture, but that pedestal was pretty much the tallest thing in the area. Huuuuuge pedestal.

Otto by the tall pedestal.

Otto by the really tall pedestal in Trafalgar Square.

Chinatown in London.

Though it's a bit dark (the sun was getting a bit lower by then), this is Chinatown in London, still decked out with all the lanterns from Chinese New Year.

The Tube wall at Leicester Square.

The Tube wall at Leicester Square.

The West End at night.

Here's London's West End (I believe this was Shaftesbury Avenue) at night.

Marquee at Piccadilly Circus.

The Marquee at Piccadilly Circus at night. Not a great shot, but I wanted to include it anyway. There was a lot of construction going on in the area anyway, so the view wasn't optimal, but whatever.

Our feet were SORE, but it was kind of worth it. ESPECIALLY when we inadvertently stumbled into a store called Forbidden Planet…

Otto with the USS Enterprise.

Why yes, that IS Otto with a giant Enterprise. Forbidden Planet = awesome, awesome store.

We ran around in circles for awhile trying to find this department store I’ve heard so much about…no, it was not Harrod’s, but Fortnum and Mason’s, allegedly the oldest and fanciest department store in the world. After finally locating it and looking around inside, it is not a claim I contest. I have never been in such a posh department store in my life! Macy’s looks like K-Mart in comparison to this place, no lie.

After leaving Fortnum and Mason’s (being possessed of no ridiculous sums of money with which to buy anything within the store) and heading past this FANTASTIC book store…

Otto and the Bookstore.

You can't see the sign well from out here, but right underneath the big Union Jack is the sign for the bookstore that said it'd been operational since the late 1700's. Whoa.

…we ended up wandering back to Leicester and trying to figure out what to do with the rest of our evening. Rachel suggested a movie; we were, after all, surrounded on three sides by cinemas. After perusing the offerings, we were between Invictus and Sherlock Holmes. Guess which one we chose?

If you guessed Invictus…you’re so wrong. In honor of our impending trip to the Sherlock Holmes museum, we just HAD to go see Holmes on the big screen. Though I had seen the movie before, Rachel had not, and the movie is just spiffy enough that I considered that a problem. So Sherlock it was! And then it was off to bed, because the next day was bound to be action packed!

Alrighty, so that was Day 1 (well, technically Day 2 if we’re counting Thursday’s transit, but since I did absolutely nothing cool that day, we’re not counting it). Tune in next time as we maneuver through the streets of London on Day 2! It gets EVEN MORE COOL, I promise. ^_^!



1. Kate - 02/24/2010

I see you’ve been to the Leicester Square tube station. I know that place well. It is actually just a few blocks down from Paddington Station, which I also know quite well. Leicester Square was always the closest tube station to our hotels when my family and I would stay in London.

Glad to see that you had loads of fun being an uber tourist and I am very jealous of your run in with Sir Ian McKellan.

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