Three months ago, I was looking forward to today with excitement, knowing that even after Italy was over my time in Europe would still continue on. I was especially excited for London, a city that I had never been to yet had always wanted to visit. I’m not sure why I have always wanted to go to London — I suppose it could have been the pub scene or the Premiere League or the fact that they speak English there. All I know is that I have always wanted to go to London and I finally got to go.
Welcome to London, folks.
And now it’s over. I think when you travel — especially to places you enjoy visiting — you live on 16-hour days and 5-day weeks; there is no other way to explain how everything goes by waaay too fast. If only I could stop time…
[Before I go any further, I need to stop and give a huge thank you to Vincent and Veronica Schoenfield for their incredibly hospitality. After spending the last three months in random hotels and hostels, it was nice to spend our time in London based out of a home, especially a home with two of the nicest hosts anybody could ask for and two of the cutest little girls in the world. There is no way that I could possibly pay back what Veronica’s and Vincent’s hospitality has meant to Courtney and I, as they were incredibly gracious in opening up their home to us weary travelers. They were also very helpful in getting us acquainted with the city, ready for the Tube, and feeding us. They have the kindest of souls, and if they ever read this and decide to send Sophia and Saskia away for a couple of weeks, whichever door I am living behind will be open to them. Thank you both again so much, Courtney and I greatly appreciated your kindness!]
For the sake of organization, I’m going to break up this post into sections. Courtney and I spent four days and five nights in London, so, unsurprisingly, we ran into a story or two.
The Sights of London:
We began our time in London with a tour of the city via the classic double-decker red bus. We hit all of the tourist hotspots: Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, the London Bridge, the Tower Bridge, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey…it was a long first day. I am continually amazed at how much history can be found in cities throughout Europe; as much history as the United States has as a country, it pales in comparison to that found in the Romes and Londons of the world. I mean, London has a tea shop –Twinings, which, by the way, is very good — that is almost a century older than the United States as a country. That might not sound like substantial history, but it acts as a reminder as to how old everything really is in many prominent European cities.
Twinings, a family-owned tea shop since 1706. More than 300 hundred years of same-family ownership and really good teas.
The London Eye and Big Ben in one picture. I should be working for Getty Images.
The Tower Bridge (aka the bridge that should be called the London Bridge but isn’t).
As for the history found in the tourist spots that we visited, I could write a 50-page research paper about them. Instead, I’ll try to only focus on the main points. First off, I cannot get over the idea of Buckingham Palace — not only is it massive, but if you live there, you are the focal point of all of London. People write about your life daily, tourists circle your house like vultures over a carcass, and, if you’re lucky, you get to receive the distinction of being a king or queen at some of in your lifetime. Speaking of becoming king, let’s all take a moment of silence for Prince Charles, the 64-year old heir apparent to the throne. The only distinction he holds currently (other than being the Duke of Cornwall, if you think being a Duke is a big deal) is that of being the longest-serving heir apparent in Britain’s history. And in a couple years, he will be the longest-serving heir apparent in any country’s history. Good news: his mom is still living, which is always a plus. Bad news: he has spent all 64 years of his life waiting to hold a position he may only get to call his own for a third that time. So that’s probably a little bittersweet for him.
Because who doesn’t want a cold one after hitting the barbershop?
As for all of the other places we visited, they were all equally fascinating. Big Ben was, well, big. The Tower of London houses the Crown Jewels, as well as other historic remains and stories from London’s past (including the courtyard in which Anne Boleyn was beheaded in). The London Bridge was incredibly boring; however, the Tower Bridge was much more interesting, and I can see why tourists would rather just be wrong and call it by its lesser counterpart’s name. I mean, seriously, London? This is your bridge? It’s going to take a little bit more than that to excite me, a
young man boy who spent his childhood crossing the world’s greatest land-connecting apparatus, the Golden Gate Bridge. And this website seems to agree. (Almost. Though I will say, I have now been to that bridge in Florence and, as cool as it was, it is not on the same level of the Golden Gate. Sorry I’m not sorry, Italy.)
He wasn’t very enthusiastic about being in this picture.
Regardless of the inflated reputation of London’s most famous bridge (by name, at least), London is a city filled with history (albeit history that could be considered overly violent) and is just one more place that I am extremely grateful to have visited and learned about.
Not exactly a common sight, seeing the London Guards marching through the Tower of London. I could have touched one if I wanted to. It was awesome.
Riding The Tube:
The Tube is a great way to transport in and out of London and I think all major US cities (New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, etc.) should invest and implement. It is incredibly easy, pretty fast, and relatively cheap. It is also safe, takes you to within a 10-minute walk of any place in London that you would need to be, and is always hosting at least one interesting person every ride. The Tube joins Italian piazzas as integral parts of everyday life in European countries that I wish I could bring back home. Check it out, America.
My first “tube!”
Our “home” tube station!
You can’t really go to London without pub crawling at least once. Hopping from bar to bar, trying new and exciting beers, eating food that you probably shouldn’t — it’s all part of the experience. Courtney and I started at Ye Olde Cock Tavern, where we enjoyed two cold ones with our lunch. Courtney was feeling bold so she went with a cheeseburger; I went for the taste of London, opting for a steak pie. There is a saying in London, and it is this: “A pie and a pint.” That’s it. That’s the whole saying. But when put on a plate and in a glass, the saying becomes much more. I was feeling quite English, so I called on the London Porter to play the role of sidekick to my steak-and-ale pie and mash potatoes. It was bartender-recommended…and Wally-approved. The only bad part? Having to tell my dad that it might have been the best meat pie I have ever eaten. (Just kidding, dad. Yours are the best. Love you!)
After eating and drinking, we made our way to a couple more pubs, two of them English, one of them Irish. At each one, we ordered different beers, as we tried to find a different flavor or brew at each pub. To that point, I even ordered an alcoholic cider at one of the pubs, and it was really good. Girly, but good.
All of this drinking, mind you, came mere hours before our attendance at the Lion King musical. However, we may have drank a lot more had the fifth, and final, bar we went to didn’t ask for our IDs. Apparently, Courtney looks younger than 18. Seeing as this is the first time we have been ID-ed in three months, we weren’t carrying our California-licensed pub-passes. Sucks for that pub, because we are pretty awesome people.
All in all, our pub crawl was extremely fun. Going to bars that are hundreds of years old and drinking local beers is a great way to get to know a city, and it gave Courtney and I the opportunity to feel like true Londoners for a couple of hours. Well, until we were carded, that is.
This is a short story but here it is: Basically, Primark is the awesome store that is always crowded because it is filled with awesomeness. They sell awesome clothes for awesome prices, and I wish the US had one. £15 could buy you an outfit; £100 could buy you a wardrobe. I bought three things, but the damage could have been much worse. Don’t tell my dad.
The Hard Rock Café in London:
London is home to the original Hard Rock Café. Obviously, Courtney and I had to go there because, well, that’s what we do. Florence, Amsterdam, Barcelona, London; four countries checked off in four weeks. Not bad.
Courtney and I also view cinemas go to the movie theaters a lot, both domestically and abroad. Seeing as London has almost as many movie theaters as bars (seriously, must there really be a movie theater on every street?), Courtney and I found ourselves watching After Earth, the new Will Smith-Jaden Smith, father-son masterpiece. The newsworthy aspect of this was that we enjoyed a private viewing — we were the only people in the entire theater. Rarely, if ever, have I ever felt so VIP-worthy. Sadly, the feeling only lasted two hours.
Riots, Arrests, And Making The News (Maybe):
On our second full day in London, Courtney and I were walking down the street. We weren’t walking anywhere in particular or doing anything noteworthy. And then we saw a guy walking next to us shirtless, with his chest covered in red and green paint. Strange, but nothing incredibly abnormal.
And then some riot police hurriedly walked by us. That was when it started to seem like something was up.
Less than 30 seconds later, we were standing no more than 50 meters (I’ve been abroad for far too long to be using the customary system) from where dozens of riot policemen were chasing down scattering black-hooded, ski mask-equipped figures. Naturally, I insisted that Courtney and I run toward this activity.
Then, one of these figures was tackled by four riot policemen, pinned to the ground, and arrested. As all of this is happening, Courtney and I see a man in a black hoody walk past us, before throwing his hoody up and running away; it wasn’t exactly the most controlled environment. Mobs of journalists and cameramen soon flooded the streets, with a barrier of riot police the only thing between the cars and those who were being arrested. If you Google “G8 Riots London Picadilly,” you may just find me in a picture or two, taking a photograph with my iPhone. I know, I know. Pretty big deal.
As Courtney and I watched in amazement for the next ten minutes, we started wondering what had happened. Police were now guarding the entrances to the underground tube stations, and there were more riot police in the street than police on the Menlo Park police force. It was truly a sight to behold.
This whole time, news stations were trying to get a story, interviewing both protestors and innocent bystanders for their take on the situation. Meanwhile, our friend with the painted chest — a fellow who clearly has a couple screws loose in the head — was taunting the police, running around them like a mouse does a patient cat. Luckily for him, the cat stayed patient and abstained himself from pouncing. About 15 minutes after it began, it was over.
Apparently, it was a protest-gone-violent (or peaceful if you ask those arrested) opposing the G8, something that Google can help you with more than I can. It all began with the police forcing the protestors out of a building which they were occupying, leading to one man’s attempt to jump off the roof. Unfortunately for him (well, probably fortunately in the long run), he was stopped by three policemen. After this, words were exchanged, the policemen were assaulted, and the situation escalated rather quickly. At the time of this writing, there have been 57 arrests; Courtney and I avoided handcuffs — you’re welcome, dad.
Afternoon Tea menu!
Afternoon Tea is a rather important part of (high) London society. Courtney and I always strive to do what the locals do because there’s no point in traveling if you don’t do anything new.
Because Afternoon Tea is such an integral part of London — it is often used for business meetings or family events — it comes with a hefty price tag. However, Courtney and I did well to find a hotel (hotels are the hosts of these afternoon teas) that was on the cheaper side, without sacrificing much in the way of food or tea.
Now, the food part at one of these things is quite fun. They bring out a three-level stand, with each level holding something different. The bottom held light sandwiches, the best of which (I believe) was the cucumber and cream cheese version. The middle stand held the scones, very likely the best aspect to our food ladder. I know I say this a lot, but they truly were the best scones I have ever had. I mean, that might have been because I had covered them in home-whipped butter and homemade strawberry jam, but that doesn’t take away from their delectableness. The top level gave us the chef’s daily pastries. Obviously, they were good. However, the scones were the best thing we ate, hands down.
So many delicious foods…
Now, it wouldn’t be called Afternoon Tea without tea. And, since the tea was bottomless, Courtney and I each had two personal pots, each a different flavor. We drank Twinings tea and there is a reason they have been London’s go-to tea store for over 300 years: it’s good. Real good. Courtney ordered two fruitier flavors, while I chose on fruity one and one white tea. All of them were good, and I wish (again!) that this could be something Americans do. It’s tasty, revitalizing, and a good way to socialize. Europe, you will be missed greatly.
The Lion King Musical:
It was epic; best musical ever.
Let me say something first before I get all riled up talking about seeing my favorite childhood movie performed live: I wasn’t allowed to take pictures from my seat in the nosebleeds. I am sorry for that.
Aside from that, it was the best live performance I have ever seen. That isn’t saying much, since I don’t attend musicals or plays very often (if ever), but it does mean something. It was a great show, and I hope I can do it justice here.
Seeing my favorite childhood movie brought to life made me feel like a kid again. There is a shortlist of things that make me feel this way: listening to baseball games on the radio, playing catch, baking cookies, dinosaurs, and the Lion King. So seeing it live was incredible for me.
The musical started off with the woman playing Rafiki singing one of the greatest opening songs in movie history. In fact, let’s all take a moment to click this link and listen to it.
Goosebumps, every time.
As the song was being sung, every type of animal that you can make a costume of walked and pranced and flew on stage. Giraffes, gazzelles, zebras, lions, birds, rhinos, a cheetah or two…the whole gang was there. They all slowly surrounded a lifted part of the stage, where Rafiki was holding up Simba, my cinematic counterpart. It was quite the opening scene.
[Seeing as many of you have seen this movie – and because those of you who haven’t seen it probably won’t care because you have no soul know what I am talking about – I won’t detail every minute of the musical. Just the cool important parts. If I did all the cool parts, I would do the whole musical.]
The climax of the movie is, undoubtedly, Mufasa’s death. And it was epic. The performer managed to climb high up the wall on the right side of the stage, attempting to evade the stomping herd destined to trample him; it felt as if the herd was right below Courtney and I, and we were all the way up in the nosebleeds of the theater. But then, the evil Scar pushes him to his end, and we all watched in horror as the king fell to his death. As Mufasa fell, strobe lights lit up the background; there really is no other word that describes it better than ‘epic.’ After the awful death of the king, everybody in attendance…start clapping. I understand why – it was a phenomenally directed scene and everything was done to perfection in terms of presentation – but I refused to clap. I was too busy wiping away the tears after seeing the Pride Land’s king die in tragic, heartbreaking, and backstabbing fashion. It was too much for me; I could not bring my hands together.
Soon after, intermission came. Thank goodness. My little heartstrings were exhausted, and Scar’s betrayal of Mufasa was still fresh in my mind. I needed a mental break, as much as everybody else needed a bathroom one.
Luckily for me, Lion King is not always a sad movie. The second half of the show began with Hakuna Matata. It was expectedly lighthearted and fun, and there may not be a song that better encapsulates how every child’s childhood should feel. No worries, not for the rest of your days. A truly deep and heart-lifting motto.
SPOILER ALERT: The play ended happily, as does the movie. If you haven’t seen it, well, you must be like four years old. Either that or your parents never loved you. Harsh, but probably true. What parent doesn’t show his or her child Lion King?
As for the play itself (and not just the awesome storyline), every actor in it was great. Every personality, every voice was portrayed accurately and passionately, and it should come as little surprise as to why this musical has been so successful. Scar was scary and mean, yet obviously full of insecurities. Mufasa was king-like, up and through his unfortunate death. Zazu was airheaded and funny, often giving the audience a welcomed break from Scar’s antics. Timone and Pumba were, well, Timone and Pumba. And of course, Simba was done masterfully, albeit by two different actors (a young boy and a young man). All the props and sounds made it look and sound just like we were watching the movie at home. I couldn’t have asked for a better performance, and I would highly recommend going and seeing it.
That is it for London, and for my time in Europe. It was fun and all, but I think a certain mother and father miss me very much. Eurotrip has finally come to an end. (Sad face.)