Tuesday, March 23, 2010

London in 3 Days

Thursday, March 18, 2010

After work, my friend Manuel and I drove from Ubrique to Malaga to catch our flight to London at 21:30. It was a beautiful afternoon, we arrived in plenty of time, grabbed an airport Pizza Hut dinner (not the best…), and before we knew it, we were on board the plane and heading to London. We arrived a little before midnight, and the journey began. From London Gatwick airport, we had to catch a shuttle to the Gatwick South Terminal/Train Station. Once there (around 00:30), we had to struggle to figure out how to buy a ticket and more importantly, to what destination (since the train I was originally told to catch was not running at that hour). A lovely elderly British couple helped me make the purchases, and we ran down the escalator to hop on the train, which had already arrived at the platform. A thirty minute train ride later (so now, around 01:00), we arrived at Victoria Station. From there we had to catch a bus to King’s Cross. We only waited about 15 minutes for the “night bus 73” to arrive, then took a lovely ride around the city until we finally arrived at our stop 45 minutes later (around 02:00). We decided not to waste our money on a taxi since I had been given detailed directions on how to get to the Hostel from King’s Cross. However, once we began following the directions, I learned they were not so clear after all. After asking about 5 people, entering 2 hotels to inquire, using a London citizen’s personal cell phone to call the hostel, and 1 hour later, we finally arrived at Clink Hostel at 02:45. I was happy to hear they had my reservation on file, but slightly taken aback when I was told we had been moved from a 6-bed room to an 8-bed room. However, once he mentioned the reduced rate of 20 £, I was okay with it. We immediately went to our room and dropped our luggage off. Manuel went straight to bed, and I went to take a nice relaxing shower. HaHa! There was no hot water…which at 03:00 came as a very unpleasant surprise. I showered faster than I ever have, put my hair in a towel, and went to bed. Phew, it’s stressful even re-telling the story!

Friday, March 19, 2010

For some crazy reason, I woke up very early. At 08:00 I was already dressed and ready to go. Manuel and I went down with our roommates to grab the free breakfast offered to Hostel guests. Nothing too spectacular, just cereal and toast – but very nice considering a “cheap” breakfast in London is about 5-6 £ ($ 7.50). After Breakfast, we ran to King’s Cross station. The walk that had taken us over an hour the night before, now was a pleasant 15 minute walk…more or less in a straight line. Once at King’s Cross/St. Pancras station, we bought an Oyster Card (basically a rechargeable metro card that allows you to go on the Underground, trains, and buses at a cheaper fare). Once we bought the Oyster Card and had a photo shoot at Platform 9 ¾ (from Harry Potter!!), we headed back to the Hostel. From there, we joined a “free” walking tour of London. We did it in Spanish (since Manuel doesn’t speak English) and we met some wonderful people from Barcelona and Argentina, but unfortunately never saw them again. The tour lasted about 3 hours, and covered Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park Corner, Nelson’s Column, Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square, The National Gallery, St. James’s Park, Wellington Arch, Horseguards, Whitehall, Big Ben, 10 Downing Street (where the man that went around the world in 80 days took off from), Churchill’s Cabinet War Rooms, the Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Abbey. After the tour and a traditional “fish and chips” lunch, Manuel and I went exploring on our own. We entered the National Portrait Gallery and National Gallery. Spent a little time admiring the artwork…but after a while decided to move on to something a little different. At 17:00 we hurried down to Westminster Abbey to attend Evening Song Mass (not only was it beautiful, but it was a legal and accepted way to enter the Abbey without paying the visitor’s fee). Evening Song has been given in Westminster Abbey daily for the past 1,000 years! And to just think…I attended one of those evenings. After mass, we continued to explore the city, headed to a local café for some hot chocolate and brownies, and hopped on the underground to return to the hostel. Quite a busy day.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

We started our morning out with a visit to the Emirates Arsenal Stadium. Manuel is a huge football (aka soccer) fan and really wanted to see a game. However, tickets were up to 150 £ ($225) so we decided just to admire the stadium and not see the game. From there, we hopped on the underground, and hit up all the major (free) museums - the National History Museum, National Science Museum, and the British Museum. We also went to Harrod's and spent some time exploring. I must say it is a fairly impressive store – but quite pricey. We enjoyed meandering around the gift shop and Egyptian hall, and stopped to pay tribute to and see the memorial to Princess Diana. Then we headed up to the “food court,” bought a cinnamon role, slice of fudge, and bacon and cheese melt (for Manuel to try). From there, we took off to Camden Markets – a very unusual district of London. Quite a mix of hippie/rock-n-roll/gothic/peculiar tourist-trap stores. An interesting sight none-the-less. After a bit of exploring, we headed to Starbucks, and enjoyed two chai tea lattes from the roof while watching a boat pass through the Locks on the canal. To wind up the day, we went in search of the original Hard Rock Café. I collect hat pins from every city/country I visit…and have about 12 or 13 now. I can’t leave a city that has a Hard Rock Café without finding it.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Today was probably my favorite day. First thing in the morning, after breakfast, we hopped on the underground and went to visit Tower Bridge. For only 5 £ ($7.50) we got to go inside, check out the views from the two walkways, and explore the engine rooms. Well worth it. There are some beautiful views and lots of interesting tidbits about London and the bridge. After a couple hours there, we headed just over the river to the Tower of London. A bit more pricey to enter (around 15 £ or $22.50), but also very much worth it. The Tower of London houses a huge display of the crown jewels (a display of coronation regalia that has been on display to the public since the 17th century), a medieval palace, the White Tower (built in 1100), and various museums. If you ever go to London, this is something you absolutely cannot miss! It’s way too cool! After the Tower of London, we followed a map around the old city of London, saw the Monument, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Mansion House, The Bank of England, The Royal Exchange, HMS Belfast, Cleopatra’s Needle (supposedly the oldest monument in London), and ended up strolling along the Thames River, past the London Eye, and heading home (to our hostel) through Hyde’s Park. I don’t think I have ever walked so much in my life…or seen so much as I did these past three days! It was a fairly expensive weekend (although, really not too bad), and was worth every penny…or I suppose I should say every pence…?! :)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Oh how I love traveling. Kind of. Today, we woke up at 03:30 (yes, that means 3:30 am!) and left our hostel at 04:00 in order to walk to the bus stop at King’s Cross/St. Pancras station. Once there, we hopped on the bus at 04:25. At 05:00 we arrived at Victoria’s station, and immediately got on the Gatwick Express train. At 05:30 we arrived at Gatwick South Terminal, and had to take a shuttle to the North Terminal. We finally got in line to check in with EasyJet at 5:45…just about one hour and 15 minutes before our flight took off. When we finally got to the ticket counter, the woman told us that the flight was closed. I immediately knew something was wrong…and asked what exactly a “closed flight” meant. She directed us to the EasyJet Sales Counter, and there I was told that they had overbooked the flight, and that unless we had a printed boarding pass we would not be allowed on. I thought, phew – no problem, and whipped out my boarding pass that I had previously printed. Manuel, on the other hand, had not printed his. I was told I could go on the flight, but that Manuel would have to catch another flight. When I explained he didn’t speak a word of English, and that I would give up my seat and take the next flight, I was told that wasn’t an option (unless I wanted to buy a new ticket and risk not getting on the next flight anyways). So, I explained the situation to Manuel, and literally ran through the airport…with only 40 minutes to get through security and to my gate before the flight departure time. Needless to say, a bit stressful. Luckily, I made it. I arrived in Malaga at 10:30. Got a bus to the city center. Arrived at 11:00. Grabbed a quick drink and bite to eat around 12:00. Slept on a bench outside the bus station for two hours. Around 14:00 was a bit bored, so I used the internet for a bit, bought some snacks, and bought my ticket back to Ubrique. The bus to Ubrique left at 16:00, and arrived a mere 4 hours later, at 20:00. After 17 hours of travel…from a small country that is only 2 hours 30 minutes away by plane…I finally made it back to Ubrique. Now…I’m here for three days, and off to the north of Spain on Friday. No rest for the wicked.