Thursday, July 30, 2009

You sound like you're from LON-DON!

In the event the title of this post may seem familiar, it's from the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall, when Paul Rudd's forgetful character approaches an injured Londoner calling for help.

Anyway, Friday, July 17 I left for London. There are direct trains to London leaving from Brussels, the only requirement is that you have to check into the train station a half hour before the train is scheduled to depart. Once the train gets to the coast, it passes through a chunnel to get to the UK. Unlike all the other countries I've visited so far, I had to through customs in order to get to the UK. This process was essentially the same thing you see on international flights, you go through a passport check and then declare any goods that you bought.

The train ride from Brussels to London only took about 2 hours. A high-speed train rides this route and there are very few stops, so this contributes to the short commute between the cities. I arrived in London fairly late in the evening. As a result, I didn't have much time to explore. I first made my way to my hostel so that I could drop off my duffel bag. I forgot to mention that in order to get to the hostel, I had to use the metro, which they apparently call the 'tube.' Similar to what I mentioned about the metro in Paris, the 'tube' here in London works just like any other major city (not surprisingly). You can buy individual one-way tickets or you can purchase a card and deposit money onto it as you go. I opted to purchase the card since that also gives me a nice souvenir to take home.

This is the hostel I stayed at. I forgot to take a picture for myself, so I grabbed this off of google images. This hostel was advertised as a "party hostel," partly due to the fact that a bar is directly attached to the hostel and there's a back door (without a bouncer) into the bar. Another reason is because you probably won't be getting a good night's sleep unless you're intoxicated. As such, I didn't get much sleep here. The environment was fun though, receptionists were friendly, fellow hostelers were nice and easy to get along with. I met people from Canada, Australia, France, Denmark and the UK.

Since I got into London late on the first night, I decided to just walk around the area. Within close proximity of the hostel were the Tower of London Bridge and the Tower of London.

On the right of this photograph, you can see a conical-like building. I was just reading an article the other day about the world's 18 strangest buildings and that cone building claims a spot on that list. It's called the Gherken and is the second tallest building in London.

After walking around the area I decided to call it a night. I dedicated the following day entirely to sight-seeing. My first stop was Big Ben and the Parliament houses.

As expected, the neo-gothic building is much more majestic in person. The 150th anniversary of the bell tower was celebrated just this past May. On the right is Westminster Bridge.

Along the River Thames and next to Westminster Bridge, there's the London Eye and an aquarium. The London Eye is 443 ft high and is the tallest Ferris wheel in all of Europe. As opposed to the ferris wheels you find at local carnivals, this ferris wheel has 32 pods that are shaped sort of like jelly beans and are completely sealed and air conditioned.

After walking around a little bit more, I made my way to Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guard. First of all, the crowd outside the palace was fantastically enormous.

Tour buses lined the perimeter of the palace and every direction I looked I could see a tour guide holding up some sort of object (umbrella or sign usually) and a large group (usually consisting of Asians wearing headphones) marching behind them.

I got to Buckingham Palace early enough to catch the Changing of the Guard ceremony. My tour book made statements about how it's overrated, but I wanted to see it anyway. After an hour of waiting outside the gates, two bands marched into the palace coming from two different directions. They then took turns playing songs. I didn't even notice that the guards in front of the palace even switched out since too much focus was centered around the bands.

Here are some random pictures I took while walking around the city looking for a place to have lunch.

For a late lunch, I stopped at a place called Porter's where I got a meat pie.

While I was in the UK, I figured I would try the traditional food. Anyway, the meat pie was filled with steak and mushrooms and doused in a salty sauce made from Guinness beer.

Eventually I finished it, but it did take almost 45 minutes. The meat pie wasn't what I was expecting. When I first saw it, I thought that the crust would be doughy, however that was definitely not the case. Instead, it was flaky, like a croissant. At first I wasn't too excited about having a pie for lunch, especially one filled with meat. Like most people I associate pie with dessert, so my mind was stuck at a crossroad trying to figure out what to expect. It was delicious though and I finished the entree fully satiated.

For dessert, I got a spotted dick.

It's a spongy and sweet cake topped with custard and stuffed with dried fruit. For those who frequent Asian dim sums for brunch, the texture and taste of the spotted dick reminded me of ma lai gao, the spongy yellow cake that you'll usually find on the dessert cart at dim sum. For those who don't have experience with dim sum, ma lai gao is a traditional Chinese steamed cake. It's spongy, yellow, and has a light sweet taste.

After filling my stomach, I then found my way into Trafalgar Square, the most recognized square in the UK, and some argue, the world. The building on the left is the National Gallery, which houses a vast assortment of artists. Here they have Van Gogh's Sunflowers, Van Gogh's Chair, Two Crabs, and A Wheatfield with Cypresses. It also houses works from Michelangelo, Rubens, Titian, and da Vinci. Sorry for the lack of photos, once again photography was adamantly prohibited. Museum workers were stationed in every room and chased down anyone taking pictures.

By the time I left the museum, evening had already begun to set in. I hung out outside Trafalgar Square for a little bit, just adsorbing the opportunity and coming to the realization that I'm in London! Eventually I made my way back to the area where my hostel was located. I wandered around a little bit and walked around the Tower of London.

Several noticeable figures of history that were imprisoned here include Ann Boleyn and Sir Walter Raleigh. For the rest of the night I went back to the hostel and chatted with some of the other guests.

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