so long and thanks for all the fish (and chips)

The motherland! Home!
Awash in my own language!
But, still, adventure.

London! It evokes all sorts of images: bad teeth, the Union Jack, afternoon tea, Big Ben, Her Majesty the Queen... but I found out that it was lots more. First, a summary of events!

Mathieu and I elected to sleep in Frankfurt Hahn, a tiny airport that's actually about 2 hours from Frankfurt, the night before we left. Our flight was at 06:00, and no shuttles run that early (surprise!). So we got to London on Ryanair, a brilliantly cheap airline which had given us our tickets (roundtrip) for a mere 2 euro. It was humourously cheap, too. There weren't stealable emergency guides in the seatback pockets because, in fact, there were no seatback pockets. Instead there were some poorly-illustrated guides on the backs of the seats ahead. None of the seats reclined, and even in-flight beverages weren't complimentary. Upon landing in Stansted (one of the three or four London airports), we were regaled with a trumpet and an announcement that, "Congratulations! You've just landed..." (I thought it was going to conclude here; Ryanair is famously bad) "on time with Ryanair, the only airline with more than 90% of its flights landing on time!" Well, that's a little better. :)

We blew through customs (and got passport stamps! huzzah!) in the UK, then picked up our rental car and headed out to find Jeff. He was supposed to meet us at the Cockfosters station for the Tube. Ingeniously, neither of us had acquired directions to this particular location, and so we stumbled around, looking for it. I have to say that riding in the wrong side of a car on the wrong side of the road was quite a thrill, and reading British signage ("Give Way" == "Yield") contributed to my general amusement.

When we did finally find Jeff, we headed to Oxford, that ages-old flagship school of the learned. I learned some about it, actually; I never realized that it is actually made up of 39 colleges, each of which is redundant with the others? Seems like kind of a terrible system to me, but I guess it's working for them. We saw the part of campus where bits of Harry Potter were filmed, which was appropriately touristy, and we explored some local fooderies and breweries (I had a steak and kidney pie and a Pimm's, and both were tasty) with a friend of Jeff's who is working on her PhD there. Then it was my turn to drive, and we headed for Stonehenge.

Everyone I've talked to says Stonehenge is a huge rip-off. It's true that it's out in the middle of nowhere (about 1.5 hours from the edge of London... *sigh*), and that it's 7 pound or so to get in (and a pound is about the same as a euro at the moment... 1.5 dollars-ish), but seeing those oddly-arranged rocks under a spookily overcast sky was pretty awesome nonetheless. Jeff and I took a photo as behooded druids, which will probably find its way into my culturally insensitive images album. :P

We took the car to the drop-off point near Heathrow (the big airport in London, and basically the closest spot to Stonehenge) and left it. Unfortunately, we also left Mathieu's camera in it, and no sign has been found. :-/ So I guess it's up to me to document the rest of the summer. Well, me or Titi. She'll probably do a better job. ;) Then it was a 3-hour frenzy of switching trains over and over and backtracking and "mind the gap"ing to get to High Gate. Favourite quote? The train's constant reminders that "Mind the gap between the train and the platform. This is a Picadilly Line train to Cockfoster's."

LinkWe met some more of Jeff's friends (jeez, he has a lot, doesn't he?) in London to have, um, Thai food. But it was good, and they were a fun bunch. One among them was Ken, whom I mentioned in the post on Greece. He helped me out with my accent, hahaha.

The next day began early,
and also with a strange meeting. At King's Cross, one of the largest Tube stations in one of the largest metro systems in the world, I ran into a friend from school: Chris Impicciche. That was interesting. He's studying in London for a few weeks this summer, and I knew he was coming this weekend, but I had no idea that I'd actually see him. Ah, serendipity.

From there, a trip through Trafalgar Square to meet another of Jeff's friends near Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament (including the famed, but somewhat smaller than expected, Big Ben) and get tickets to ride the London Eye. During our flight we saw a neat flyover of the city for the Queen's birthda
y: fighter jets streaming white, blue, and red smoke. We were then due to pick up bikes to participate in the World Naked Bicycle Ride (London's ride is the largest in the world), but the timing was off and they were overbooked. Oof!

So instead we headed to Greenwich, home of Time. I stood at the Prime Meridian and was subjected to videos about what exactly that meant. It was a little bit tragic, but I'm glad that I saw it.

Oh, then what... fish and chips! That veritable bastion of English cuisine. Delicious with vinegar and salt (both the fish and the chips).

A rush back to London to Leicester (pronounced "Lester") Square to see a show on London's West End. The show that we saw was A Little Night Music, and it was brilliant! I was amazed by the acting and the story, which led to a very enjoyable evening.

That night, we met up with one of my friends (whom Jeff also knows...argh) for dinner at a local place. I tried bangers and mash for dinner with a pint of London Pride ale. We retired with the thought of waking up early again the next morning.

First thing was to see the Tower of London (where one souvenir available was a very classy paper sort of build-it-yourself guillotine) and the Tower Bridge. They were both quite imposing! As Jeff said: I wouldn't want to attack that.

More wandering brought us back past Westminster Abbey, and we found ou
r way to Buckingham Palace. I didn't think it was that impressive, actually. Just... really big. The architecture was nowhere near as fine as that of the Abbey, nor Big Ben. Hrm. Green Park (around the palace) was also nice.

Next: Picadilly Circus ("circus" just means "square", basically) and Oxford Circus, and a pasty for lunch. Pasties are deeeeelllllliiiiiiicccccciiiiiioooooouuuuussssssss. A stop at the British Museum (where I got to see the front of the Parthenon, something I'd been robbed of during my trip to Greece; the Rosetta Stone; and some sweet Viking stuff). It's fantastic that the museums in the city have been "free to the world since 1753" (well, that one, anyway). We had afternoon tea at the National Geographic store, which was awesomely tasty.

Finally it was time to head to Shakespeare's Globe to see Romeo and Juliet peasant-style: standing in the yard in front of the stage. It was only 5 pound for the ticket, and it was totally worth it. The acting was fantastic, and the atmosphere was... well... I'm sure you can guess what it feels like to see a Shakespearean play at the Globe. If you can't, just think about what it might feel like to get slapped with 150kg of CULTURE.

Delicious Greek food for dinner wrapped up the evening, and we had an exhilarating run down 4 flights of escalators in London Bridge station to catch the last train home. This morning, an early (4am) awakening and some traveling mishaps (delayed flights, weather-induced airport closings, missed shuttles, you name it) eventually did lead us back to Darmstadt.

And now, work. Later I'll post some stuff about general impressions of London. They have a strange Big Brother complex going on, and I was fascinated by their totally unadvertised lack of sexual inhibition.


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