Oh what a weekend! First off, I must say that I had a fantastic time -- I never would have thought that I'd be bummed to go back to Germany, but there you are. Anna was a wonderful hostess -- I am so glad that I finally got to meet her in real life!! I could not imagine a nicer, funnier, more beautiful person than she. THANK YOU SWEETIE!
For those who want the short version, here are the highlights:
+Mall of Death
+Friend Tim and James the Mountain Climber
+JACK THE RIPPER NIGHT TOUR!
+King's Cross (Platform 9 3/4!)
+Big Ben/Parliament/Westminster Abbey
+Great times with the Flatmates!
Those who don't mind reading an incredibly long and drawn out play-by-play of The Best Weekend Ever can commence reading here :)
Friday I woke up at an early 4am to catch a train to Berlin Schönefeld Airport, for my flight to London Stansted at 9:30am. When I finally got to London almost 8 hours later (how I was awake the whole time, I will never know!), I met Bridget and we hopped on the Stansted Express train into the heart of the city. Anna had told us that we should look for Brick Lane after we got into her area (E1!) of town, but we couldn't quite find it. (Turns out, some fool moved around the street signs, so of COURSE we weren't able to find it. Thanks, punk!) We ended up eating lunch at Burger King (when you're lost with suitcases, your options are limited...) and wandering around where we found a mall. Granted, this is the Mall of DEATH -- even Starbucks closed by 2pm!! We chilled here til Anna got out of class around 4, and then we headed back to her place to drop off our things.
Our first real touristy thing was visiting Tower Bridge. Totally amazing. Most people think this bridge is the London Bridge, and it is easy to see how they would be confused. We also saw the outside of the Tower of London and the London skyline from the Thames. We chose to save our pounds and not go into the Tower, because Anna's friend had warned her that it wasn't as exciting as you'd think. By this time it was dark outside, so we stopped into the Liberty Bounds for a drink (cider and blackcurrant -- mmm!) before we went to dinner.
Here at the pub we were chatted up by a group of scaffolders who noticed us when Anna took a picture of me and Bridget. They were older men, out for a pint (or two, or five, or seven...) after a long day's work. Fantastically funny and sweet men! They even bought each of us a drink -- vodka, lime and lemonade for me, Archer's and lemonade for Bridget, and a glass of red wine for Anna. Made them doubles for us, but since they can't do double wine, Anna simply got two glasses. :)
After the scaffolders, we headed to dinner on Brick Lane, which is a street absolutely LINED with Indian restaurants, outside each of which someone stands outside and tries to convince you that theirs is the best. We ran into Anna's friend Tim, who was with his friend James. I didn't talk much to Tim, but James is an attractive Englishman who is leaving the country on Nov. 14 to travel around the world for a year. First stop: Mount Everest. Good luck, James, we hardly knew ye! (Although, I will be the first to admit that I wished we had the opportunity to know ye much more, heheh!) Dinner at Preem was fantastic, very filling, very cheap. Mango chutney is amazing, and I need a recipe for it. Also, chicken curry and nan bread and papadums. By the time we had finished eating dinner, it was either 9:30 or 10:30, but since my day was already 20 hours long at that point, we decided to head back to Anna's and get some sleep.
The next morning, we got up and got ready, but got sucked into Saturday morning cooking shows with Anna's flatmate Louisa. Eventually we got off the couches and ventured out. Our plan was to hit a lot of tourist-y things. We started off taking the bus (a double-decker!) to St. Paul's. We didn't go up into the dome, but it was amazing to see nonetheless. Then we went into Tate Modern Gallery and, to no-one's surprise, it started to rain. However, it WAS a surprise that there was a huge gash in my shoe and my socks were quickly soaked. Wet socks are one of my biggest pet peeves, so I normally pack loads of socks whenever I travel. Except this time, of course. Anyway, the Tate was lovely. We saw loads of modern artwork, including Andy Warhol's silkscreened paintings of Marilyn Monroe and Roy Lichtenstein's Mustard on White. We also saw an amazing installation of Scrapheap Services by Michael Landy. I am bummed, though, because there is an exhibition of Robert Frank photographs at the Tate -- which starts this weekend. I learned about Robert Frank in my Beat Generation class, and it would have been SO AMAZING to see the photographs in real life. It's there til January, so I'll just have to go back before it's over!
We stopped at the Globe but it costs a ridiculous amount of money for a tour, so we settled for pictures through the gate. And we were going to go to the Globe Cafe, but again with the ridiculous amounts of money. So, we decided to head in the direction of Big Ben and Westminster. It started raining steadily on our walk to find a bus, so rather than wait for a bus to come, we kept walking in hopes of finding a closer one. Of course, Murphy's Law, there are no buses when it started raining heavily! And Bridget was the only one smart enough to bring an umbrella with her, so Anna and I got soaked.
Somehow we made it to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery. Yay, culture! I have to admit that I love their maps because they list a 'Highlight Painting' for each room. One of these Highlight Paintings was 'The Ambassadors' by Hans Holbein. I studied this painting in every English class I took with Bob Davis. There aren't enough words to describe how amazing it is -- the detail is incredible and you just aren't sure where to look first. I am so glad I got to see it in person! We also saw some Van Goghs and a couple of Monets (I bought a print of this!). I love how I just threw that in there as an afterthought!
It finally stopped raining by the time we left the museum, but because of our nagging headaches (too many crowds!) we nixed the rest of the touristy business in favor of relaxing a bit before dinner and our evening entertainment.
Dinner was at Goodman's Field -- fish and chips and a Stella, tas-tee! Then we headed to the highlight of the weekend: the Jack the Ripper walking tour!! Our tour guide was Steve, who was smart and funny and knowledgeable and everything you could expect from a Jack the Ripper tour guide. Even though it was only 7:30, it was already dark outside, and the sky threatened to open up over us about every five minutes, but it was an unbelievable experience. I think it was enhanced by the fact that Anna lives in the Whitechapel area, so it all had a very personal feeling. Hehehe. I won't deny the fact that I bought a Jack the Ripper book the next day :)
After the walk, we headed to the Castle to dry off. I almost said dry out, which would have been wrong. There was some drinking going on, but not as much as the previous night. After making fun of some ridiculously dressed bar patrons, we went home to bed, because we were all exhausted.
Sunday (the day that just wouldn't end) began by watching some gardening and recycling programming. Then, we hopped on the bus to King's Cross, but got distracted by the thought of some food and stopped at Wetherspoon's for a 'traditional English Sunday lunch' of roast beef, roasted potatoes, vegetables and Yorkshire puddings. You know, people may bash British food, but this Sunday lunch is one thing they can do right! After stuffing our faces, we were off to King's Cross. Let me just say, I can't wait to get some pictures back! There is a small sign on the barrier that says 'Platform 9 3/4' and a trolley that is sticking out of the barrier. It is too cute! So we have some pictures of us standing around the trolley, 'running' into the barrier with the trolley, and the ducks sitting on the trolley. I felt like a tool walking up to it, but I can't lie. It was fun, however ridiculous I looked!
Our next destination was the Camden Markets. Good lord, I've never felt so claustrophobic in my life! Even Anna -- who has lived in Camden -- said that she's never seen so many people there at once. I felt surrounded by Frankies from the Real World San Diego! I was bummed, because I didn't buy any socks (dude, the socks there are AWESOME!), but we couldn't stand it any more. So, we headed to Oxford Street which was no less crowded, but instead of goths and faux-goths, it was filled with preppies and tourists. We got sucked into a bookstore where I found 'The Diary of Jack the Ripper,' which, if I remember correctly, was determined to be a fake. But it's interesting anyway, because it tells the story of James Maybrick, an arsenic addict supposedly murdered by his wife. We couldn't stand much more of the crowds, so we found a bus to take us to Big Ben.
I liked the touristy bits -- it was so amazing to see so many historical bits all together! For example, we got off the bus to see Big Ben - which is awesome - and we also got to see Parliament, Westminster Abbey (I wrote postcards there!), the London Eye, and a statue of Abe Lincoln all within the same area! I took some great pictures, but I don't have a digital camera, so I'll either have to wait to get them back and scan them in, or wait til Bridget or Anna sends me copies of their digi-pics.
After we played tourist, we got back on the bus to Anna's place and planned to go to Wagamama's for dinner. But by the time we got to her house (two buses and 45 minutes later!) it was raining again (surprise surprise) so we decided instead to stay in and lounge about. I am so glad we did that instead of going out, because we got to chill with four of Anna's five housemates and it was SO MUCH FUN! Got some travel tips from Tom (avoid Belgium! It sucks!), and learned the joys of Irish Tea (breakfast tea with whiskey) from Nic. Had some delicious chili and rice courtesy of Anna and her stove. And stayed up later than all of them!
Not that we didn't want to go to sleep, mind you. Oh, we did. But what is the point in going to sleep at 1 when you have to leave the house at 2:30 to walk to the bus station? There isn't one! I successfully navigated the Night Bus and the National Express Stansted Shuttle Bus to get to the airport. Checked in, went through security, got on the plane, flew, got on a train, walked home, put laundry in the washer, and promptly fell asleep on my bed for five hours.
That's the long version. I had a fantastic time, did NOT want to leave at all. But, I did, only because I had to. Oh well. I can relive it through my photos, which I will post once I get them back.