Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Holidays Part 1 - London

I'm finally back in Algeciras! I never anticipated being this excited to return to 'the butt-crack of Spain', as I like to refer to it. But after a week of being on the road, it was nice to finally return home. And hear Spanish. Music to my ears!

My Christmas holiday kicked off on Friday the 23rd, when my friend Emily and I went to meet my boyfriend at the bus station. Needless to say, after 3 months apart I was practically jumping up and down when the bus pulled up. Buuut....he wasn't on it..............

Luckily I only spent 30 minutes searching for him frantically before finding him lonely and lost waiting down by the port station. Ug.

Christmas was really low key. Saturday we visited Gibraltar and then my friend Aram came over and the 4 of us drank 6 bottles of wine with dinner. On Sunday we made pasta and garlic cheese bread for dinner and then proceeded to play drinking games while watching Despicable Me. Our caption for the night? Keepin' it classy :)

Then on Monday, Emily took a train back home and Matt and I settled in for a long week of traveling. Since writing a recap of the following week would take faaaaaar to long for me to write, I'll just leave you with the fun points.
  • After getting into London at midnight on Monday, we hailed a taxi and what can accurately be described as a 'Harry Potter night bus-esque' taxi ride. I say night bus-esque because our driver seemed to like driving over the center line and swerving only when necessary to avoid oncoming cars. He also enjoyed speeding down the bus lanes to pass other cars, and taking very hard left turns. But my favorite part of the ride was when we turned down a side street with speed bumps every 25 feet. He would speed up and then slam on the brakes, and hit each speed bump with enough force to shake me and Matt out of our seats and send our luggage flying. We paid £30 that ride and it was worth every penny, just for the sheer experience.
  • An advertisement in the subway for the new Sherlock Holmes movie called it "an action packed christmas cracker". <3 British English :)
  • Matt was continuously amused at my clumsiness. Each time I tripped he would gleefully say "first time walking?" To which I replied, "No. It's my second actually." So then after a long careful day of planning, he finally said "zeroith time walking?" And I walked riiiight into in and said "No! First time actually!" .....................Dammit.
  • I got my picture taken at Platform 9 3/4! Which actually isn't even in King's Cross, they had to move the set outside because all the tourists kept clogging up the station. But seeing the inside of the station was just as impressive anyway!
Inside Kings Cross Station.
  • We saw Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, rode on the London Eye, saw Kings Cross Station, walked around the Tower of London, saw Millennium bridge (where they filmed a Harry Potter Scene), rode on a Night city bus, and minded the gap in the subway.
Tower Bridge

Buckingham Palace

Matt and I, attempting to get the London Eye in our picture. And failing.

Big Ben at night from the London Eye

Then on Wednesday we took a tour to see Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Oxford. 

Windsor Castle is the Queen's preferred residence, and where she stays on the weekends. Our guide says she dislikes Buckingham Palace and calls it 'the Office'. 
I've been to castles and palaces before and after a while they get kind of boring. They are all old, the beds all look uncomfortable, and there are lots of paintings of ugly monarchs and their families. 
Windsor Castle was different for me though, because it is currently being used, and due to a fire that broke out in 1992, many of the rooms we saw were newly remodeled. For part of the year, many of the rooms that we toured are closed to the public while the Queen uses them to entertain guests. For the other part of the year (like while we were there), they were open for public viewing.

My favorite part of the tour was seeing Queen Mary's doll house. It was created in the 1920's as a gift to Queen Mary, who collected all things miniature. The entire house is made to scale and includes electricity and running water and working plumbing! 

After Windsor Castle we headed to Stonehenge. I love how Europe is such a mezcla (mix) of old and new, historic and modern. Stonehenge sits on a hill in the middle of a field, surrounded on one side with a field of sheep, and on the other a busy highway with miles of cars piling up to visit the old monument.

After Stonehenge we jumped back on the bus and headed to Oxford. Oxford has been on my bucket list for places to visit for forever. Visiting Christchurch and seeing where they filmed the Great Hall scenes in Harry Potter is a very close second. But things didn't exactly work out the way I had planned, and what actually wound up happening was us going on a whirlwind 20 minute city tour and then running with our bags down to the train station to catch the first train to London. (Meaning we'd had to ditch our tour.)

Why? When I had booked the tour, I had known that we only had 1 1/2 hours after the tour ended to get to the train station for our high speed train trip to Paris. Which, according to websites I checked, was doable.
Then when we asked our tour guide the best way to do this, he basically laughed in our faces and announced to the rest of the bus that the 2 Americans were trying to do the impossible

Ah well. What matters is that in the end, although it took quite a bit more money and time than I'd anticipated, we made it back to London and caught our train. And eventually made it to Paris.  

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