This past week and a half has been unbelievable! Last Thursday, 6 other friends and I traveled to London for 3 days, took the chunnel to Paris and spent 3 days in Paris, came back to Caceres for less than 12 hours and went to southern Portugal with my roommate! I’m going to split my Semana Santa trip up into three parts because I have SO much to share! Thus begins part one: London.
On Thursday, April 14th, I packed my backpack, quickly ate lunch with Lola, and headed to the bus station with my friends. The only bus that we could take that day without missing class was the Express which went directly to Madrid without any of those annoying stops along the way. Also, we didn’t know that the express buses were so much nicer! A lot more leg room, big leather seats, and free wifi! Great start to our trip, huh? When we got to the bus station at Madrid, we had two hours to catch our flight. Usually, we take the metro which takes about 45 minutes to get to the airport, but it only costs 2 euro. This time, we were a little nervous about taking the metro since we didn’t have much time, so we took taxis. The taxis only took 15 minutes… but they cost almost 50 euro per taxi! We did this only to find out that we didn’t need to check in since we checked in online, and our flight was delayed 3 hours.
We flew into Luton airport around 1 or 2 am that night. Little did we know that Luton Airport was not actually in the city of London… but more like an hour away. Since the metro wasn’t running that late, we did the cheapest thing we could do: took a bus to the train station, took a train to the city, took a taxi to our hostel. By the time we figured out this plan and actually went through with it, it was 5 am.
|On the London Bridge with the Tower Bridge in the background|
A few hours later, we woke up in time for breakfast, and started our first day in London! A couple of girls in our group had already been to London before, so they decided to go visit Oxford University while the rest of us did more of the touristy things. We ended up renting city bikes, which were only one euro for the whole day and rode them around the city. This was one of my favorite things that we did in London because we not only had to ride the bikes in a big city that we didn’t know; we had to ride them in the streets! There were a lot of near-death experiences throughout the day because of this, but don’t worry, I’m still alive! We rode the bikes to a free walking tour that we found out about and went on this 3 hour walking tour for most of our afternoon. We saw Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Trifalgar Square, Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, a lot of other palaces, The London Eye, and the area where they will have the sand volleyball tournament in the 2012 Summer Olympics. After the tour, we rode our bikes around some more, found the London Bridge and Tower Bridge, then rode back to our hostel just in time for a spaghetti and garlic bread dinner!
|Fish n Chips!|
On Saturday, we all went to the changing of the guard in the morning (along with thousands of other people.) That was fun to experience, but it honestly wasn’t as exciting as I thought it would be. Afterwards, we went to a same-day ticket booth in Piccadilly Circus where they sell tickets for musicals for half-price. Half of us decided to go to the cheapest musical they had which was Dirty Dancing, and half of us decided not to go for various reasons. Unfortunately, I ended up not buying tickets. Then we asked directions to find a good place to eat some fish and chips. On our way to finding this place, we unintentionally came across Diagon Alley from Harry Potter! We eventually found the restaurant we were looking for, and had some delicious fish, chips, and traditional mushy peas.
After lunch, we went to the northern part of the city to visit the British Library and Platform 9 and three-quarters from Harry Potter. The British Library was amazing; we went to the museum where they had original writings from Jane Austen, original music from Beethoven and Mozart, Beethoven’s piano tuner, written manuscripts and lyrics from the Beatles, Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook, works from Shakespeare, the Codez Sinaiticus, and the Magna Carta to name a few.
We then made our way to find Platform 9 and ¾. As we were walking to where we thought this would be, we noticed a lot of construction around. We got to a small line of people who were waiting in line to take their picture with what looks like a shopping cart stuck halfway through a brick wall with the sign “9 and ¾” above it. This place was actually a disappointment to all of us Harry Potter nerds. We were expecting at least an actual brick wall. But no, this wall was plastic. We later found out, that since there was construction in this area, they had to build a new, temporary Platform 9 ¾. So I guess this just gives me another reason to return to London someday… so I can take a picture with the actual Platform 9 ¾.
|I'm going to Hogwarts!|
After this disappointment, we went off on another adventure to find the famous Abbey Road. We found the road, and started walking toward the famous crosswalk where The Beatles took their album photo. On our way to the crosswalk, we got to see Abbey Road Studios, Abbey Road House, and the famous white wall where you can sign your favorite Beatles’ lyrics. As we waited our turn to run out into the street to take the classic album photo, we watched many others attempt to do the same thing, and watched many locals either laugh or get upset. This included yelling, honking, speeding up/speeding off, etc. We eventually got our Beatles photo.
At this time, our group split up and half went to the Dirty Dancing musical. Two other friends and I went back to our hostel, made some hamburgers for dinner, then went to the SoHo district and walked around. We didn’t fit in too well since almost all of the other women walking around were barely wearing anything and the men… well, let’s just say they were just as bad as the women. As we were walking around, we came across a bar that was playing the big Madrid vs Barcelona soccer game, so we stopped in to see the score. I almost felt more at home going into this bar where there were a bunch of Spaniards yelling in Spanish, watching this big futbol game, than it did being in England where they speak my first language!
|Palm Sunday at Westminster Abbey|
On Sunday, 3 of my friends and I went to Palm Sunday service at Westminster Abbey while a couple others from our group went to tour the Wimbledon tennis court. Wimbledon was also on my list of things to see, but there just wasn’t enough time! I think I could spend the rest of my life in London and still not see everything in that city. The service at Westminster Abbey was incredible. There were sooo many people, the church was beautiful, the choir sounded wonderful, and we even got little crosses made out of palms. I was really glad that I was able to experience this, even though I’m not Catholic.
We also wanted to go to an Evensong service at Westminster, which didn’t start until 3pm, so we decided to walk around the city for a little bit in between services. We weren’t aware that this was the same day as the London Marathon so the streets were filled with people! We walked to a nearby gas station, picked up some sandwiches, and went to picnic in St. James Park where the runners had 385 yards to go! It was so fun seeing all of the runners’ families, friends, and even strangers cheer them on as they reached the end of the race.
At 3pm, we went to Evensong service, which was also very beautiful, but so beautiful that it almost put me to sleep. (I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.) We made our way back to the hostel where we met the others who had visited Wimbledon, went and bought ingredients for French toast and scrambled eggs, ate dinner, and played a few rounds of banana grams (in both English and Spanish.) We went to bed early since we had to get up by 3:30am and catch our chunnel to Paris by 5:30. Our adventure between 3:30 and 5:30 am the next morning is rather… interesting… so stay tuned for Part 2 of my Semana Santa trip!