Thursday, October 9, 2008

Trip to Europe: Part 1 Little Big Britian

So late last month I went on a trip to Europe for 12 days with Rachel and her mom and brother. The first stop was London by way of Phoenix Arizona. We left San Diego extremely early to drive 6 hours to get to Phoenix. Of course we as had to be there 2 hours early for international flights. This would be the beginning of our journey that would use just about every commercial aspect of travel in Europe.

Our flight left around 7pm and we then flew for 9 hours straight to Heathrow on British Airways. No its been some time since I've been "across the pond". In fact the last time was 18 years ago when I spent a summer in Spain with my friend Marcus. I've never been go about falling asleep on flights and to that would have been the best course of action but on the flight they give you plenty of things to keep you busy.

Since you're trapped in a large metal tube with about 200 other people sweating, snoring cell mates for the next 9 hours the airline likes to help you endure intercontinentalflights by giving you amenities like: a pillow, blanket, eye mask, single serving of toothpaste with brush and a pair of socks. Now besides the required safety video to cover any liability in case of a air disaster they also add healthy tips to let you know there might be other side effects of sitting on your ass buckled next to a complete stranger for 9 hours. Pay attention traveler and don't make the mistake of not stretching or at least getting up from you seat every couple hours or of course sleeping to combat the bane of all trans-Atlantic flights: jet lag.

For those poor souls that can't sleep it off, they offer a personal TV screen implanted in the back of the seat in front of you stocked with every relatively recent movie, TV program and music. This helped me finally see Kung Fu Panda (pretty good) and re-watch Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull which reminded me that I still don't like that movie to my utter disappointment. I really want to, I've waited so long for the next Indy film, but I digress...

The food was actually the best I've had on an airplane as far as I can remember. Rachel's mom was kind enough to make sure I got a non-dairy meal which help insure that I got my food before anybody else.

Well after a long drive and an even longer flight all we found ourselves in London at 1pm the next day. And getting up finally after all that sitting I found that I could hardly slip my shoes on since all the blood had pooled up in my feet causing them to swell! Wow that was weird and uncomfortable since the next thing you have to do is be herded like cows to the UK Border to be processed.

After all that we then had to catch the tube to Russell Station which was near our hostel. The London Underground is known for being a fantastic people mover once you crack the code of how to find out how to get to where you want to go. Plus something that became very apparent was that there are steps everywhere to get to different platforms and rarely any lifts. I would hate to be in a wheelchair in this city. Its just not very accommodating for that type of person. We were constantly dragging our luggage around up and down stairs plus down narrow one way streets that were always reminding you to look the other way since the British know that they are a bit different than Americans and Europeans by driving on the opposite side of the street.

Here is the first hostel we stayed at. Hostels are really the only affordable way to stay in London unless you can crash with someone. This place was filled to the brim with young 2o somethings from all over, but primarily from Germany , Italy and Australia. You sleep in a bunk with 6-8 other strangers and hope for the best. Showers are like at the gym. Most people stick to they're own language group. There's no group sing-a-longs but they go try to get people to mingle by having trivial-drinking contests at the 24-hr bar. Which helps as we later found out the pubs close at 10pm!?! In America we don't normally leave the house until after 10:30pm.

After finally get our room in the hostel we ate at YO! Sushi which we had seen on a Rick Steve's travel show. We thought we were in for a unique experience like we saw on the program. Turns out that its a chain and unfortunately it wasn't that great. Yeah they have the conveyor belt that serves you sushi and you pick what yah want but, I've had better.

It was still light out so we decided to hit the town while Rachel's mom and brother hit the hay. We went straight into the tourist heart of London, Westminster on the river Thames.
We saw Big Ben, ate some roasted almonds and crossed the bridge to walk down the path that runs on the side of the river. There were lots of people out, mainly tourists. Its a tourist heavy town. You can always hear people speaking different languages and dragging around luggage. This Ferris wheel goes up like 300 ft and holds people in these great capsules, like 10-15 people at a time. Its costs like 20p to go on it, but we pasted.

Right across from here was a large Dali museum. We didn't go in but they had some large bronze reproductions of some of the images from his paintings.

We continued to walk down the river. Apparently they were having a special night for the area. A kind of open market slash meet and greet so there were other small events happening the further we walked down.

Here people were out about on balconies drinking and carrying on. We also saw this strange little performance piece called the "Peep Show". Where a special tent had these two performers dressed in all black from head to toes (except for the face) dance around like little robots. Weird and cute.
They even had a little space for skate boarders to practice their craft and graffiti. I later saw some really good graffiti in Norway.

Next we went to the Tate Modern which was surprising in two ways, one its free and two was open until 10pm. So there was plenty of people still exploring this bastion of modern art. There was a new exhibit of Francis Bacon that the other Tate that I missed (and wasn't free) but it was still nice to see all the art here.

Here is the London Skyline from under the Millennium bridge.

And here we are on the Millennium bridge looking towards St. Peters.

And here we are looking down the Thames and in the distance you can see the Tower Bridge which is always mistaken for London Bridge which actually isn't that remarkable. To the right off camera would be where the Old Globe Theater resides.

Lots of these notable destinations are fairly close to one another. The weather was nice for our entire stay. It only rained on the last day when we left London to return to the states.

This is all we did for the first "day" of our trip.
More soon.