Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Personal Favorite: London

Last October, when I visited London for the first time during Madrid's puente, I knew before leaving that I had to come back.  There's so much to do, so much to see, and I loved every part of it: The theatre, the chain cafés, the markets, minding the gap, shopping at the Gap, afternoon tea, the glamour of Harrods, and of course, the London accent.  I was so excited for this trip that I actually started packing the day before I left instead of the hour before I left.
What better way is there to start a trip in London than by "minding the gap"?
The British Museum
For this somewhat crazy marathon of a trip, I spent two days in London, one day in Oslo, one day exploring Norway's fjords, one more day in Oslo, and one day in Brighton.  The puente was a six day break, and I literally squeezed everything possible into my itinerary.  Everything.  I really wore myself down, but of course, it was 100% worth every minute of it.  Maybe even 200%.

From the airport, I hopped onto the Gatwick Express, a train that runs directly from Gatwick Airport to London Victoria, and then took the tube to the hotel/hostel.  While waiting in line to buy tickets for the tube, I looked around and was amazed to see that everyone was in a hurry and walking quickly.  Some people were even running.  The fact that this took me by surprise probably indicates that I've become somewhat Spanish-ified after being here for eight months.  Spanish-ified, as in, walking slower.  I really didn't expect that to happen.
The London Underground
Maybe this is why they call it the Tube.
It may sound crazy, but I couldn't wait to get back on the tube.  Even riding the underground in London becomes an exciting experience when you can't wait to pass all the tube-shaped hallways and escalators lined with theatre posters and hear, "Mind the gap!"  Yes, I spelled "theatre" the British way.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The British Museum
As usual, I managed to screw up the time change and my alarm clock, and consequently woke up absurdly early.  Pero no importa, that just meant I had one more waking hour in London!  For breakfast, I enjoyed a delicious almond marzipan croissant at Pret a Manger, one of my favorite chain restaurants in London.  From there, I hopped onto the tube at Gloucester Road and went to The British Museum.

The Rosetta Stone

I had been really looking forward to going to The British Museum to see the Rosetta Stone, the first dictionary for translating between Hieroglyphics, Demotic, and Greek.  From the Greek section, people read that all three transcriptions had the same message, and were therefore able to begin to understand how to read the other languages.  Of course, there was a crowd around it, because it's so famous and historically important.  The stone is pretty massive, and you can clearly see the three divided sections of different languages.  In the gift shop, I purchased a Rosetta Stone laptop cover, which is funny because I haven't actually bought the laptop yet.  So, whatever I buy will have to fit the case.

This summer is the Diamond Jubilee, which celebrates Queen Elizabeth II's 60 years of reign.  It is quite a special milestone, and souvenirs and banners have started to appear everywhere as people begin to prepare for the celebration.
London 2012 Olympic Games Pins
Diamond Jubilee
After taking a bunch of pictures and then leaving the Rosetta Stone, I toured the Egyptian sections and saw mummies, the Enlightenment room and King George III's personal library and collection, the jade collection, and as much else as I could.  The museum is enormous, and the collection is huge.  I also enjoyed the collection of African tapestries and modern art, as well as ancient artifacts from the Americas.  Later, when I eventually left the British Museum, I hurried on to lunch, and then back to the tube to go to Camden Town.


Everyone told me that the market at Camden Town was incredible and a blast.  I didn't make it there last time, so it was high on my list of priorities this time.  Admittedly though, when I got off the tube, and took a quick look around, I was a little confused.  As in, "Where are these people sending me?"  The first thing I saw was a ton of vendors and shops selling gothic, spiky accessories.  I mean, it's totally fine if people want
Loved the pop art clocks!
to dress in that style and express their inner spikiness, but I had to wonder why everyone would send me to Camden Town, given how much pink I wear.

So many people had raved about it though, that I knew I had better take a closer look, and I'm glad I did.  Camden Town's market, near the Camden Lock bridge was much bigger than I realized, and the vendors sold everything from souvenirs, to hipster outfits, to long vintage clock necklaces, to well...everything.  The edgy market pushes a hipster look, and urges the visitor to give it a try.  Though I'm too designer to actually be a hipster, I figured it would be fun to try on a few outfits and accessories since I was there.  Of course, it was super-fun!  Deciding I could give the look a try, I bought a t-shirt and a long necklace.
Long Necklaces at Camden Market
Food at Camden Market
Another cool thing about Camden Town is that there are tons and tons of food vendors.  I wish I had known that before eating lunch by The British Museum.  In Camden Town's markets, you can buy Moroccan food, Chinese food, Indian food, Thai food, Italian food, not-so-American-looking American food, nutella crepes, and pretty much everything except for tapas.  At least I didn't see any tapas stands.  The dining is cheap and probably a little greasy, but it fits in well with the atmosphere and smells wonderful.  If you're in London and are searching for an edgy place with a bit of attitude, or just want a break from the sensible, polished look everywhere else, I'd highly recommend checking out Camden Town.

This escalator makes me think all other escalators are boring.
Though it's hard to believe, I went straight from the hipster/gothic/vintage Camden Town to the luxuriously glamorous Harrods on Brompton Road.  Talk about lack of a transition.  Or slight culture shock.  Well, I wasn't shocked because I knew what I was walking into before I got there: room after room of expensive luxury.  To my delight, I learned on the shoe floor that the Stuart Weitzman team was visiting Harrods that day and customizing shoes for people with cursedly narrow feet - just like me!  If I'd had a spare £800, I really would have enjoyed ordering a pair of custom Stuart Weitzman shoes, fitted exactly to my feet.  No such luck.

Boxes of English Breakfast Tea at Harrods

That same day though, I did make my first purchase at Harrods!  See, I knew I'd shop there someday.  Just not in the shoe department.  In their gift shop, I bought a travel makeup case in one of their famous tote patterns.  I didn't actually want one of the totes, because I didn't think I'd ever use it, but a travel makeup case is perfect for me.  Bought it while traveling, going to use it while traveling more.  And I do travel a lot.  In the Food Halls section, I bought a small box of English Breakfast Tea, which came in a lovely Harrods tin that I will lovingly cherish long after the tea is gone.  I figured that this would be a good Harrods souvenir for me since two people who know London quite well mentioned buying tea there to me.  Now all I need is to learn how to make scones and to find a place to buy clotted cream back home.

Les Miserables!
As the evening passed, I ate a quick dinner at EAT, just outside of Harrods, ecstatically hopped back on the underground, and dashed off to Queens Theatre to pick up my ticket for Les Miserables, my favorite musical!  As the longest running musical, Les Miserables is in its 27th year, and has been seen by over 56 million people.  With a few spare minutes before the show, I planted myself in Costa, a café across the street, and ate a quick snack since my dinner was kind of small.  While, snacking, this guy with a lovely British accent invited me to go clubbing in London with him and his friends.  I'm sure it would have been really fun, but I was like, "Sorry, I'm going to see the greatest musical ever tonight, and it starts in like 20 minutes."  We had a nice conversation, and then I strolled back over to the theatre excited beyond excited to finally see Les Miserables here.

Dreaming the Dream at Queens Theatre in London
I only mention this guy because his attention, along with the attention of a few other guys on this trip and in Oslo, Brighton, and Prague really caught me by surprise.  It made me realize that for all the time I've been in Madrid, not once, ever, has any guy shown the slightest interest in me.  I mean, I'm in Madrid to work, travel, eat tapas, and shop - not to date, so I don't really care.  It just made me notice.  Amused?  Read this next: Just a Quick Rant.

Whatever.  Back to Les Mis.  It was interesting to note that for such a high quality musical and theatre that the announcements before the show, and the extras before and after the show, were surprisingly unpretentious.  They just do their thing and start the show. It's really nice.  The voices in Les Mis were fantastic, and the acting was so convincing that about half the audience was weeping when Val Jean died.  I cried like three tears, and that's a lot for me.  I literally sat perched on the edge of my seat for the entire three hour performance - it was that amazing.  I have every word of every song memorized and was absolutely thrilled to see Les Miserables in London.  Their British accents added a lovely touch to this fine, French musical - not that the American accents I'm accustomed to would be any more authentic.  The accent came through particularly strongly when they sang "At the End of the Day".  Later that night, I thought about how lucky I was to have been able to partake in such a special day in London.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Portobello Market
I rose early in the morning and headed for Notting Hill Gate to check out Portobello Market, which is well known for its antique market on Saturdays.  The whole area has tons of vintage stores (with the same clothes as Camden Town's market), and many, many antique stands.  As usual, it was raining, and London destroyed my cute, little, Spanish umbrella, so I bought another one.  I had a great time browsing through antique tea cups, old cameras, watches, clothes, and much more.  It was very interesting to note that the attitude in Portobello Market, unlike Camden Town's market, adheres to most of London's polished vibe.

Portobello Market
Cameras at Portobello Market
The Front of the London 2012 Olympic Games Medals.
Finally, when I couldn't stand the rain any longer, I decided to return to The British Museum.  The medals for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games were on display, and I hadn't seen them the day before.  Four medals were on display: the front and back designs for the gold medals for both games.  I had (of course) never seen one of these up close and was fascinated.  The exhibit explained that the artist who designed the Olympic medals, David Watkins, was chosen by recommendations from other artists.  On the front of the Olympic medal, he included the goddess, Nike, and London's Thames River.  I was especially interested and surprised to learn that most of the metal for the medals came from mines in Utah.  Also on display were the steel punches which will be (were already?) used to make all of the medals.

The Back of the London 2012 Olympic Games Medals.
From there, I ate lunch, did some shopping and browsing, picked up my bag at the hostel, boarded the Gatwick Express once again, and flew to Oslo, sad to leave London but very excited for the next section of my trip.
Side note: 
In case you were wondering, there are several Gap stores in London.  
I saw Gap London stores on Brompton Road, in Camden Town, and near Notting Hill.

If you want to read more about London, check out my blog post from my first trip to London last October: London & Stonehenge - October 2011.

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