Tuesday, February 16, 2010

London was calling...

….and we answered.  For my school’s “Ski Break” we went the opposite direction and headed up to England to check out London and Birmingham.  It’d been about 12 years since my last visit to London, so I was pumped to see the sights again and take it all in with an adult perspective and this was Marisa’s first time so it was gonna be great.
            First off………the hostesses:   Joanna and Laura Stephens.  I’ve known Joanna since the 8th  grade when I shared a homeroom with her after she had just moved to Paulding County, GA from Manchester, England.  Culture shock is not a strong enough term for what she encountered that year.  I still remember (and Matt Davis will back me up) half of our classmates cornering Jo at lunch or in the hallways and asking her to stay words like “water bottle” just so they could laugh their tails off over the British accent.  Anyways, I went to high school with her and her sister, Laura, who just moved to southwest London last September to live it up and continue their careers in social work. 
Jo and Laura

            Jo and Laura were awesome hostesses that gave us our own room, cooked us English breakfast, and toured around with us for two days straight.  We had a great time catching up with them and sharing stories of ex-pat life and laughing about quirky things that have happened since we’ve moved.  They even took us to their church, which was a refreshing experience. 
            To keep it brief and readable, we’ve compiled a Top 10 list of experiences in London (in no particular order of importance):
1.  British Museum – a fine collection of antiquities stolen from all portions of the former British Empire; a few highlights were the Rosetta Stone which helped decipher ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, an Easter Island statue (one of the big stone heads off the coast of Chile), samurai armor, wall carvings from ancient Iraq, a significant portion of statues and carvings from the Parthenon, lots of mummies and Egyptian artifacts, etc
Rosetta Stone - Level 1 Ancient Egyptian

Assyrian tomb entrance - didn't think you could take an entire entrance but there you are

one of many awesome Assyrian wall carvings of a lion hunt - apparently back in the day the Iraqis were so B.A. that they grabbed lions by the throat with their bare hands (that's how they remember it anyways)

headless sculptures from the Parthenon

samurai armor and sword - not in any way related to a recent incident at Ga. Tech

Easter Island statue - I've always wanted to see one of these; apparently so did the Brits

2.  Tower of London – fortress built around 1066 to house some of the old British royalty; also included the crown jewels and tours from the Yeoman or Beefeaters that guard the grounds. For all you Anne Boleyn fans this is where she was executed and buried.
outside of Tower of London

our Yeoman tour guide - they live on the grounds

as close as cameras can get to the crown jewels - supposedly the most secure place in England....

... until I overpowered this guard and made him look silly

beautiful Tower Bridge on a not-so-beautiful London day

3.  Royal Observatory/Greenwich – if you’ve ever heard of “Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)”, this is the origin of that term; it’s where the Prime Meridian passes through (0° longitude)
straddling the Prime Meridian - looking back, I should've thought to flash opposing "East-side" and "West-side" signs; isn't it true that you always think of witty things to say and do AFTER the fact?

4.  Houses of Parliament/Big Ben/London Eye – saw it, got the picture
"Remember Remember the 5th of November"

the London Eye - the largest observation wheel in the world with ironically the least amount of clear days to be able to see the city in the world (arguably)

5.  Buckingham Palace/Changing of the Guard – want to see all of the tourists in London all at once?  Check out this event and you’ve got it;  pretty neat processional though with all kinds of pomp and circumstance;  it takes a long time and there was a band that started playing jams like “Dancing Queen”;  if I was waiting to get relieved from duty I would’ve been pissed
our first half-time show in over a year

fresh guards coming in (I think - it was hard to tell who was who)

the second string band with much cooler hats, and they even knew some Abba tunes

last group arriving fashionably late

Marisa and Buckingham Palace - the queen was home since the Union Jack was raised

6.  Portobello Market – really massive and trendy street market in Notting Hill filled with artists, musicians, antiques, boutiques, food, and lots of fun
I may be the only one, but I only know of this street because of the old Disney movie "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" (look it up, it's got the Murder She Wrote lady in it)

How many stereotypical London items can you find in this picture?

entering the street market that stretched for days

you may remember this store from such films as "Notting Hill" - on the other hand, if you're like me, you might not

7.  “Chicago” in the West End – London’s answer to New York’s Broadway; we got a great deal on tickets and really enjoyed the show
lots of good music including "He had it comin''"; apparently Kelly Osborne played a role in this for a short time years back - when we asked a staff member about it she claimed, "you didn't miss anything"

8.  National Gallery – more of a traditional art museum with a nice impressionist wing
outside the National Gallery

view of Trafalgar Square from National Gallery

9.  Tate Modern Museum – set in an old power plant, featuring a variety of modern art, but not the best art museum we’ve been to.
neat-o power plant renovation was my favorite part

St. Paul's Cathedral in background

10.  Trafalgar Square – really neat intersection of town featuring museums, shopping, views of parliament, and a big phallic monument with four massive lions at the base.
classic shot with one of the lions

All in all it was a swell time in London thanks to some fabulous hostesses and a guidebook from Rick Steves.  If you’re looking to check it out for yourself, we can recommend a great place to stay!
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