A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. England, Day 20

The fire alarm works! We found this out at about 2 o’clock last night. Fortunately, there was no fire (that I was aware of, at least). I poked my head out into the hallway to see what was going on. At the same time, so did everyone else on my floor. The alarm stopped. We all simultaneously turned around and went back to bed.

Today was a free day, so I hopped on a bus down to Westminster Pier. I then bought a one-way ticket for a river cruise to Greenwich. One of the staff of the boat gave us a tour of the city as we made our way down the river. He pointed out all sorts of interesting sites and gave lots of neat information.

London is the smallest city in the world. It is only 1 square mile in size. It’s surrounded by Westminster, Greenwich, and a few other cities and towns, which is what makes it feel like a big city. We saw Sir Ian Mckellen’s pub. Also a pub called The Mayflower (which was actually owned by the family of one of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower). And the place where, in the time of pirates, criminals given the death penalty would be drowned. During low tide, they would be tied to stakes on the beach. As the tide rose, they would be trapped under the surface of the water and suffocate. Sounds pretty awful.

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We passed under the wibbly-wobbly bridge, which was closed twelve hours after its grand opening because pedestrians walking along it would be seasick before reaching the other side. It took huge amounts of money to have it repaired.

We even passed by a few battleships!

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We passed under a bridge financed by John Harvard (of United States fame). We saw a really cool rowboat, but I didn’t catch what the guide had said it was.

The river tour took an hour, and I’m glad I took it to get there. Highly recommended.

When I arrived in Greenwich, I was feeling peckish, so I wandered over to the Greenwich Marketplace. The marketplace was a big open-air market, with a bunch of vendors of food and homemade goods. I wandered a while—it all looked super tasty! I ended up getting Indian seafood curry and beef stir-fry on a bed of rice. Yum!

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I then walked over to the National Maritime Museum, where I saw all sorts of cool naval stuff. There was a lot of information on the East India Trading Company. It was amazing to see how much was imported, and then after the rise of industrialization, how much more was exported.

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After walking through the museum, I was running short on time. I made my way to the Greenwich National Rail Service Station, and bought a one-way ticket to downtown London, which on the ticket was titled “London Stations.”

I then met up with the others at the hostel, and we went to a pub to have dinner. I ordered a medium-rare steak (which arrived medium, of course—there was only one cook working and 30 meals to prepare though, so I guess it can be forgiven), and an excellent sticky toffee pudding. I didn’t realize that pudding in England is more like a cake.

I’m going to miss England.

Theatre, Why Can’t You be This Fantastic in Duluth? London, Days 18 and 19

On Thursday, the theater group and the literature group split for the day. The literature group went to a graveyard to see some famous corpses. The theater group participated in a super-awesome-cool stage combat workshop.

We learned how to slap, punch, and choke our fellow actors safely. It is completely different from martial arts. Its to be expected, of course. In martial arts, the point is to hurt the other person.

After, a few of us went to take pictures. We went by the lions outside the National Gallery, and then to Westminster so I could get a picture at one of the oversized phonebooths. For dinner I had an acceptable pot pie.

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In the evening, we saw The Play That Goes Wrong. I had no idea what to expect. When we reached the theater, one of the reviews they had posted read “ITS AS IF THE MOUSETRAP HAS BEEN TAKEN OVER BY MONTY PYTHON.” This was going to be good.

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My goodness, good was an understatement. I loved it so much I purchased the script at the box office. I don’t even know what words to say about it. It was hilarious. It was fun to watch. I was crying I was laughing so hard. It was amazing. And it was so much better having seen The Mousetrap beforehand too. I felt I caught more of the murder mystery nuances there, as well as the parodies of specific characters.

7 out of 5: Would Recommend to Friends.


Friday. Went to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Saw some stuff. The old statues and stuff were cool, especially the pair of statues “Valor crushes Cowardice” and “Truth slays Lies.” They even had an Oculus Rift!

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After eating, I picked up a piece of German Crumb Cake, a piece of Clotted Cream Fudge, and Cream Fudge. They were all amazing. I also had a major sugar crash soon after. Oops.

We then went to the Tate Modern, an art gallery for modern art. I’m not much of a modern art person, so I was only there for about 20 minutes before I wandered back to the hostel to recover from my sugar crash (I did see everything before I left, promise!). Maybe I’ll check out the Tate Britain instead sometime.

Then we saw an adaptation of Everyman. Fantastic. I gave it a standing ovation, the only one I have so far this trip. If I gave The Play That Goes Wrong a “7 out of 5,” then Everyman gets a “9 out of 5.” It was thought-provoking: it makes you consider everything about yourself. I don’t want to talk too much about it, so as to avoid giving many spoilers. One thing I will say about it though, is that the adaptation was beautifully done. I was somewhat familiar with the play beforehand (remember, I learned my lesson after Les Mis!), and I was expecting a Shakespearian-style or Reconstruction-style play. Not so. Everyman blew my expectations right out of the water. This was the only play in England that I awarded a standing ovation. It deserved it.


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Needless to say, I purchased another script from the gift shop.

Fortunately, the employee was restocking the shelf when I was looking for it, otherwise I wouldn’t have seen that it was for sale. The adapted version!

Luxury Accommodations! England, Day 17

The hotel we stayed at last night was excellent. Soft beds. Quiet atmosphere. In-room shower. Tres bien.

The bed was actually too soft for me, as I like to sleep laying on my back and there wasn’t a lot of support. I didn’t think I’d ever say that a bed was too comfortable for me to sleep comfortably!

We got a little bit later start today, having breakfast around 10:15 or so. Hot breakfast! I had the Full English Breakfast, which consisted of bacon, a sausage, mushrooms, an egg (I had it poached), and a hash-brown triangle thing, like you would get at Arby’s (except this one was actually good). Both the clotted cream and jam was fantastic, and I had about six pieces of toast just so I could have more of the toppings. Maybe that’s an exaggeration. Maybe its not.

After breakfast, we toured the house Anne Hathaway (Shakespeare’s wife, not the actress) grew up in, as well as the gardens outside the house. The house was neat to walk through, and I managed to not hit my head on anything.

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In his will, Shakespeare had left his second-best bed to his wife after he passed on. Historians are still trying to figure out if that was a good or bad thing. Beds, in his time, were a huge wealth image, like luxury cars are today. Usually the first bed goes to the eldest son. Since he also left a third of his estate to her alone, it was probably intended to be a positive thing.

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The gardens were pretty to walk though. There was a really cool photo opportunity, but I didn’t take it. There was a round hedge surrounding a beautifully cut lawn, with one person laying in the grass reading. The way the individual was laying contrasted with the cut of the lawn and was just off center of the circle created by the hedge. The picture would have turned out beautifully, but since there was only one person laying in the grass I didn’t feel comfortable with it. Probably for the best.

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We then went back to London. The trip was fairly uneventful, and I think I slept through most of it.

After arriving in London, eight of us decide to see the place where Sherlock is filmed. I’ve only seen a part of one episode, so I wasn’t really sure what we were looking for. Turns out it was the external shot of the flat he lives in (in the show, of course), and the cafe he eats breakfast in every day. Now when I see the show, I’ll be able to say I’ve been there!

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After having a bite to eat (it was a pretty terrible chicken burger with avocado with a side of not very good onion rings, but the chips were good), I went back to the hostel to change for the show.

The Elephant Man was very thought provoking. It was a short play, about an hour or so in length, about a man with a terrible disorder that makes him look mangled and have difficulty functioning. Everyone felt sorry for him by the end of the show, but I expect most people, back in the real world, will continue doing their best to avoid people like him regularly. Its quite sad, really.

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Rolling Hills, Keys, and Wealthy Merchants. England, Day 16.

I can’t continue writing “London, Day X” since we aren’t in London for a few days!

The place we stayed at last night was a nice one. The guys were all in a flat in the backyard—it was probably a guest house when the building was residential. We managed to lock ourselves out. Fortunately, the manager was able to let us back in, even though we had left the key in the keyhole. Last time the key was left in, he said, a small child had to crawl through the window to open it. There were no windows open yet!

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Today, though—super busy! In the morning, we toured a Roman bathhouse museum after a wonderful breakfast. Full service!

The bathhouse museum had a ton of neat artifacts and remains from the bathhouses. It even had the original bath, still in working order! I spent way too much time going through the museum part though, and had to rush through the bathhouse part. Oops! Here too, was an audio guide, narrated by the same individual who narrated the Stonehenge one.

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After the bath, we were instructed to meet back at the bus station (after having eaten, of course). I managed to walk in the opposite direction and was completely turned around. Fortunately, I ran into a few others that knew the way back. So much for wanting to get books before we left Bath!

The bus ride to Stratford-upon-Avon was magnificent. I took at least 500 pictures between Bath and Stratford. They were all taken through the bus window, so I’ll have to see what they look like on a bigger screen than my phone.

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When we arrived in Stratford, we were led on a tour of the city. Stratford is known as the city of Shakespeare, so much of what we covered were things about him. We saw his gravesite, the house he grew up in, and his school. We also learned about the Tudor architecture style and about how, like London, most of the wooden buildings were burned down in fires. Stratford is also the hometown of Thomas Crapper, the inventor of the modern toilet. Just thought I’d throw that out there.

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We also toured the Holy Trinity Church. I feel like we should have toured all the churches in reverse order, so that they would be getting bigger and more magnificent, instead of smaller and more lack-luster. Compared to Westminster and Notre-Dame, this wasn’t much to see. There was, however, a window inscribed “The Gift of America to Shakespeare’s Church.” This was given to them by the American ambassador in 1896.

After we checked into our hotel, a number of us went to have dinner. Most of the guys wanted to have the “Shakesbeer” that one pub was advertising, so we went there to eat. I was expecting it to be super touristy, but it seemed like an authentic pub for locals, so I was pleasantly surprised.

After the meal, we decided we wanted to get ice cream, so we wandered around the city for about fifteen minutes. Its incredible how when you aren’t looking for something, it seems to be everywhere and when you are, they all disappear. In Bath, there was at least 4 ice-cream shops on each block. Here, nothing. Eventually, we end up walking past the pub we ate at. Lo and behold, if we had turned the other direction in search, we would have seen a gelato shop right next to the pub…

Then, we saw The Jew of Malta at The Swan Theater of the Royal Shakespeare Company. This was the most comfortable theater we’ve been in yet. I had plenty of leg room (when I was sitting back in my seat, my feet didn’t touch the floor—fantastic)! There was a bar to lean forward on to see over the balcony. Because of my height, I could see the stage perfectly from my seat. The play itself was entertaining too. I think I’m the only member of our group that thought this was better than The Merchant of Venice, though.

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+5 Faith, +1 Hygiene. England, Day 15.

+5 Faith, +1 Hygiene. England, Day 15.

“Time crumbles things; everything grows old and is forgotten under the power of time”
–Aristotle

This morning, we hopped on a coach and traveled out to Stonehenge. The English countryside is beautiful! Full of green. With trees I’ve never seen before!

I am already highly familiar with Stonehenge, due to my favorite game series Civilization. An excerpt from Civilization V‘s Civilopedia (the in-game encyclopedia): “Stonehenge is perhaps the most astounding construct of pre-history still standing. Though largely in ruins, this mighty relic still has the power to incite amazement, awe and wonder” (http://civilization.wikia.com/wiki/Stonehenge_%28Civ5%29). With all the pictures I’ve seen, though, nothing could top seeing the real thing–standing at this Wonder of the Ancient World was surreal.

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We were each given an audioguide to give us information about Stonehenge. Good thing, too, because that left the field open, not requiring plaques of information scattered about the lawn.

How the audioguide worked was you pushed a number and then hit start. I assumed it would start at 1, so when I saw a sign that said “2 – 8” left, I assumed that meant number 1 would be right. I was wrong, and apparently I went “backwards” around the monument. The audioguide had a lot of great information, though. It talked about how it was probably built, who probably built it and why, and what had been done to conserve it. We also saw burial mounds and the “bush hill,” a mound with a single large bush growing on it within sight of Stonehenge.

After seeing Stonehenge, we drove to Bath. I wanted to ask the driver to stop every 15 seconds or so to take pictures, but I held my tongue and took pictures out the window.

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This afternoon, we had a walking tour of Bath. Bath was built entirely out of creamy amber colored brick, quarried out of a nearby mine. We went by Bath Abbey, their (much smaller) version of Westminster Abbey and Notre Dame. We went by some bathhouses, saw some circuses (round buildings surrounding a circular plot of land), and toured the Assembly Rooms.

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The assembly had three main rooms, a beautiful ballroom, a tea room, and a room called the “octagon room.” The ballroom had a balcony for the musicians, so as to avoid playing in the mass of dancers on the floor. I would love to be able to go to a ball here! I wonder if they still host balls occasionally?

After the tour, I found a bookstore selling incredibly inexpensive books. I think I’ll go back and pick a few up tomorrow.

We then went to a fun restaurant where we were all had a fun time chatting about our trip and about the world going on around us. Some of us were a little bummed we weren’t able to make it to see Spamalot in the theatre here. It wasn’t planned, though, so we weren’t too sad–maybe we can make it another time.

Now having seen the English countryside, I see easily how writers like Tolkien was able to create such fantastic worlds. A lot of the things I originally thought unique wasn’t nearly as unique as I had believed—the Barrow Mounds are a supernatural form of the burial mounds, Weathertop is Stonehenge placed on a hill, The Shire looks exactly like the land surrounding Bath. It still magic to be able to be here, though, and see all the inspiration.

Theatre, Gardens, Museums. Days 11 – 14

My days sure seem to be blending together! Its incredible how busy we’ve been the last two weeks.

Day 11

On Thursday, the theater group participated in a workshop at a studio owned by the National Theater. We worked with an actor from War Horse, and we learned how to work in a team to create a realistic-looking horse. I was complemented on my horse lore. When encountering big scary monkeys, they tend to backpedal when approached. If the big scary monkey has food, though, they follow tentatively if the scary monkey’s back is turned to them.

After the workshop, a group of us wandered the city a while. We ate food (an American-style burger and malt shop, if I’m not mixing my days up), rode around on the public transportation, and eventually found ourselves at a tea shop.

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Some of the tea smelled nice, but I wasn’t much for trying to haul tea back to the states, nor do we have the facilities to prepare it at the hostel. We happened to run into another group at the shop. The others wanted to go back to the hostel to get ready for the play. I was already ready, so I stayed with the others at the shop. Once everyone was done at the shop, we headed out towards The National Theater.

We found a park to sit in, and I played “guess the nationality,” my new favorite game while in London. The game is simple: listen to someone nearby, and try to guess where they’re from based on how the look and talk. Its super difficult, and I suspect I usually guess wrong, since my answers have basically only been “She sounds French,” “He sounds German,” and “I think that group is from Canada,” so far.

We then meander over to the theater, where we watch The Beaux Strategem. I read the synopsis beforehand so that I would have an idea of the storyline before the play starts (I realized after Les Mis that it was important!).

The play was brilliant! I was laughing throughout the entire show–good thing, too, since its a comedy! I loved the music, too. It wasn’t really a musical, but it had a bluegrass Celtic-sounding band playing during scene changes. A couple of short songs were in it, as well–mostly for humor. It had a semi-realistic plot (looking at you, Merchant of Venice). Overall, this was the best play I’ve seen in London so far. Note that I said best so far. It’ll be important later.

After the play, a handful of us went to find a bite to eat. As we were walking, we were talking. In fact, we were even having a discussion. We discussed that we wanted pizza. We didn’t find a pizza place. So we hopped on the underground, hopped off at a random station, and selected to turn right (at random). The first restaurant we found: a Pizza Express. What good fortune!

We were incredibly loud in the restaurant. We knocked over the water jug. We spilled the tomato sauce. We asked the waiter to split the bill between the five of us, even though we only had two appetizers. He refused. It was fun.

Day 12

Friday. We slept in a little bit today. I woke up around the same time as I usually do. We had breakfast. (If Rachel says one more thing about those ham sandwiches… I jest, I jest.)

Today, we tour the Royal Court Theatre. This theater only performs plays that have not been produced anywhere else before. Because of this, they have a different relationship with playwrights. Instead of going through royalty companies, playwrights directly send material to the Royal Court. Play-scripts then go through a strict process to reduce their options from around 3000 to the eighteen or so that they are able to perform in a single year. In the workshop, we were privy to that process. We even had a mock script discussion!

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Most of us didn’t like the play we were instructed to read, myself included. One person even gave it an “over my dead body” rating… mine was only a simple “no” rating. Lo and behold, this was a script that they had actually performed!

The Royal Court Theatre only performs full-length, contemporary plays. Full-length in England, though, is only 60 minutes of run-time–60 pages. American full-length is usually at least twice as long. Usually longer.

I will definitely be writing plays and sending it to them.

Day 13

Saturday. My aunt and uncle, who live in Germany for the time, visited me in London for the day. My uncle’s folks came down from Edinburgh too! As I had some time before they arrived, I took some time to meander through Regent’s Park. It was gorgeous. A beautiful pond, lots of flowers (I can only imagine what they look like in full bloom! Just like the Rose Garden in Duluth, I suspect), and I even got to peek at the Open Air Theatre. It was locked up, unfortunately, so I couldn’t look inside. I suppose they take their Peter Pan performances seriously.

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I found where the color scheme for the Ministry of Magic in Harry Potter came from. That awesome green? It was ripped right off the Regent Park underground station. I’ve been seeing a lot of stuff from the movies that I thought was super original and now am seeing that it was already somewhere in the city…

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After I met up with everyone, we took the underground to Kew Gardens. We tried, at least. The underground wasn’t running all the way out this weekend due to maintenance, so we had to shuffle between a few trains and then get on a bus. We only got turned around 3 times, so I consider it successful.

The area that the gardens are in are gorgeous. Huge beautiful flats, little stores, all the charm that I expected.

The gardens were super pretty. They have 30,000 different plant species in the gardens, if I remember correctly. Giant 10-metre holly hawk bushes, coffee plants, trees from the 1600s, all of it. We even walked along the treetop tour. I was hoping it would actually be a tour along the treetops, like a treehouse, but it was a walkway that simply was up at treetop level. Oh well.

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We then went to a pub called “Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese,” but it was super busy and I was on a time crunch, so we didn’t stay and wait for a table. Instead, we went to another place that I cannot remember the name.

We played “Guess the Nationality” here, too. The target this time was the pretty waitress. I guessed German, everyone else guessed Russian. This time she was actually asked, and the result was Ukranian. I had sweet potato and lamb pie. It wasn’t all that good. Great veggies, though.

After eating, I said my goodbyes to everyone and my aunt went with me back to the hostel. I then went to see Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap with two of the others on the trip. I’ve read the script before, but nothing compared to watching it in London. When I read the script, I didn’t understand most of the cultural references (like the meaning behind the name Christopher Renn, St. Paul’s, or Edinburgh). Having spent two weeks in London, it was like watching a totally different script. I was really excited that the script I read had omitted the last scene, so I didn’t know how it ended. And keeping tradition, I won’t spoil the ending to anyone.

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This is now the best play I’ve seen so far, bypassing Les Miserables and The Beaux Strategem. There’s a reason The Mousetrap has been running for 63 years non-stop. It’s a shame I can’t say more about it without giving anything away. Go see it. Book a plane ticket to London just to see it. Right now.

…You haven’t done it yet.

Day 14

Sunday. Do I go to the Science Museum, or the Natural History Museum? I decide to wait until the last minute to decide, as they both are at the same underground station. I decide on the Natural History Museum. Why? I dunno. Maybe because it was on the left instead of the right.

The NHM was awesome. Not The Mousetrap awesome, but still pretty cool. I saw some dinosaurs, a whale, a neat film on photography, and the largest laboratory in the UK called The Cocoon. I would love to be able to tour the inside of the facility, since tourists are only allowed on the tourist-floor.

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After the National History Museum, I made my way over to the Imperial War Museum, since that was what I found the most interesting in the Museum of London. I spent 2 hours there (they close for the day fairly early, unfortunately), and I wasn’t even able to make it through half of the WW1 stuff. Its amazing how differently the war appeared to the British people. An incredible amount of history occurred before the United States entered the war that isn’t covered in American history classes.

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There was a ton of stuff I didn’t see, and I will definitely be going back again.

War, Accents, Quoi? London Day 10

Breakfast. Sandwiches. Spilling tea on white shirts. Eating yogurt. There seems to be a habit forming.

This morning we journeyed off to the Museum of London. We show up at 9:50 and discover that it doesn’t open until 10 o’clock. No problem, we just chill on the foyer for ten minutes discussing The Merchant of Venice.

The museum is pretty cool, lots of old pots and some spearheads and stuff. Some dinosaur bones. A helmet or two. Then we reach the Roman stuff. There’s a model of city. And tons of coins. Now this stuff is getting interesting.

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There’s a bunch of cool maps, some rifles, and other stuff. Like a neat chest! There’s even a Victorian-style city block to walk through.

The World War exhibits. Now these are really something. The whole museum should be about this. Its interesting to see how differently the war went from the British perspective.

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There was also an exhibit for the 2012 Olympics in London and a replica of the queen’s carriage.

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After the museum, Thomas and I hustled back to the hostel to change for high tea.

The tea was excellent. The sandwiches were pretty great. Most of the desserts were crazy good—the jam was great, the scones not so much. (Don’t tell any Brits I said that.) And there was way too much food. I must be getting used to European portions.

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This evening was pretty laid-back. I did some souvenir shopping and accompanied a few others who did laundry. I even stayed at the hostel and got a panini. Then I had a super-cool, awesome experience.

The girl sitting next to me was talking to the person working at the cafe (Would he be called a barrister?), and I asked if she was from France. Note that everyone involved is talking in English the whole time. She didn’t understand what I asked her, so she asked me to repeat it. I oblige. She still doesn’t understand, and turns to the Australian barrister and asks him to “translate” what it was that I said. He repeats what I asked, and she then answers me. I don’t remember what she said exactly–something along the lines of talking about her accent. But what was important was that I was finally on the opposite side of the “hard to understand accent.” Now I’m the one with the thick American-midwest accent that they have a hard time understanding.

That was pretty cool.

Chanson á mes pieds, London Day 9

Ode to my feet…

Today was a long one. Longest one yet, aside from the one that had 25 hours in it (time-zone jokes, har har).

This morning, we visited the British Library. Its only a few blocks from where we’re staying, so we walked. We toured the facility, but we couldn’t see any of the books. The books are all kept in a vault underneath the library. Only certain employees are permitted to handle the books in the vault, since part of the hiring process is a fitness test. In case of an emergency, you have to be able to get out of the building in under 5 minutes. Not an easy task if you have a hard time with stairs.

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The library is a Legal Deposit library, which means that a copy of every book published in the United Kingdom is sent to be stored in the British Library. It is also structured differently than most libraries. Because most of the books are stored in a vault underneath, prospective readers must request books be brought above ground by a member of staff. The library has a system of conveyor belts that bring the books to the surface, preventing people from running up and down stairs all day. The books are then brought to a reading room specified on the ticket where they can be perused. Unfortunately, this system prevents people from perusing the shelves themselves.

This was a lot of walking, and my feet were already sore. Its about 1 o’clock now.

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After walking around the library, we ventured to the British Museum. This museum is far larger than I anticipated, and I saw less than 10% of the displays in my 3 hours there. I went through part of the China exhibit, where I found a fantastic temple model.

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I also went through some of the Southeast Asia exhibit, and went on a tour through the Egypt one. I saw one of the Enlightenment rooms, and found an interesting exhibit on life and death. The centerpiece of that exhibit was a mesh that had every pill and supplement that the average British person takes over the course of their life. There was one for both a man and woman.

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The last exhibit I had a chance to look at was the Parthenon and Ancient Greek exhibit. I remember in high school discussing the fight between the Museum of Athens and the British Museum of who should get the statues from the Parthenon. It looks like they may have compromised and allowed each to have just a few fragments of the statues. I never found the Rosetta Stone, unfortunately. I never found the exit we were supposed to meet at either, for that matter. I ended up finding a few others in my group and following them to the exit.

Now my feet hurt. This has already been a long day, and its only about 4:30.

After the Museum, we took the subway system over to the Globe Theater, where we were able to sit (finally!) through a “Setting the Stage” speech. The orator spoke about the economics of Merchant of Venice, the play we were about to see. He gave a synopsis of the plot without giving away the ending. He also discussed what he believed to be the reasonings of why the various characters acted the way they did. Most of us struggled to stay awake. It was warm in the room, most of us were hungry, and all of us were tired from walking.

After grabbing a bite to eat at the local Starbucks (where I nearly bought a sparkling water instead of a still water by mistake), I experienced a little bit of what it was like for the peasants of the 17th century to see Shakespeare’s plays at the Globe Theater. We had yard tickets, which meant we stood in front of the stage, under the stars (or clouds, in today’s case).

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The play was well-performed. It was also a great piece of work, as I absolutely loathed all the characters (except for Shylock, of course!). I mean it, too–this is one of the few plays that actually brought out an emotional response from me. I take to be a highly successful play. Either that, or I was upset that my feet hurt so much from standing. It is by far more difficult to stand for hours than to walk around for hours. Thus, I didn’t appreciate the awesomeness of the performance until hours later, when my feet finally felt like normal feet again.

After the play, a few of us split off to have another bite to eat, as we had only been eating small portions over the day. After much debate (note, it was a consensus from the beginning), we decide to look for a pizza shop. We found an underground station and took it to a random stop—as luck would have it, we found desired pizza shop–that was still open, mind you, just around the corner of the station.

I dunno what it is about Europeans being unable to split checks.

Great Halls, Flying Cars, and the Ministry of Magic, London Day 8

After returning to London and finally getting to sleep (our return flight boarded at 10:20pm), we awoke bright and early to visit the Warner Brothers’ Harry Potter studio tour.

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The studio was astounding. I read all of the books (multiple times!), and I watched all the movies when I was younger. It was amazing to be able to see the props and sets that they actually used in production. I’m not a big movie guy, but I love seeing how movies are made and filmed, so to be able to see the Harry Potter production was really cool.

We started with the Great Hall of Hogwarts. We saw costumes from some of the various characters in each of the houses and the professors.

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We then saw a bunch of other stuff, like the Yule Ball ornaments, wigs, sets, furniture, and the costumes for the women at the Beauxbatons Academy of Magic.

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Its amazing how the creature shop worked. A lot of the major creatures had animatronic versions as well as using CGI (computer graphic imaging). Buckbeak was a good example of this. We walked through Diagon Alley, and saw the model of Hogwarts.

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Since we had the evening free (and I was exhausted from the crazy sleep schedule this weekend), I decided tonight would be a good time to do laundry, work, and stay at the hostel. I got a fish and chips from their mini-restaurant. I don’t know why, English fish and chips are super plain…

That evening, I had my first experience with working through time-zones. I had a conference call with coworkers in New York, Duluth, and California, so it was interesting to see what different times it is across the globe.

Paris! Days 5 – 7

Day 1, Friday

Edit: Added pictures of Paris at night. Enjoy!

2:15am, my alarm clock goes off. My bag packed already, its time for Paris! There are 8 of us on this excursion, and only 2 of us speak French. 1 fluently. Megan’s going to be doing a lot of translating. And my translator app too, but I certainly won’t be using it mid-conversation.

Not all of us are as ready to go as me. We have a missing passport, a number of missing people, and another “I need to go back for something” that I didn’t catch and didn’t bother to ask again. Fingers crossed everyone makes it to the airport, on time, with everything they need.

Its a foggy night, nice and cool. My glasses are covered though, so I’m blindly following the others to the train station. No one was hit!

Its amazing how much the city slows down in the early morning. We saw not a single person the entire way to the station, and even in Kings Cross itself we only saw 4 people. The others beat the train to the station, thankfully. (There’s only 1 each hour!)

We board the train, and ride in a half-awake stupor the entire time, laughing at jokes and stories that aren’t really funny and dozing off for seconds or minutes at a time. I really could have used more than an hour or two of sleep last night.

We arrive at our stop, and make our way to the shuttle to get to the airport. Nothing really exciting happened here, at least nothing I was conscious of.

The airport. A bustle of people all trying to not miss their flight. I forget to take my liquids out of my bag. I was too busy wondering why everyone is allowed to keep their shoes on for European flights. My bag gets flagged. I wonder what’s with my traveling that I get stopped, flagged, or selected for a random full check each time?

It’s my shampoo this time. Maybe they can’t see through the black bottle. Maybe its a weird consistency. Maybe they picked it at random?

I’m free to pass through border control, and get on my flight. Hurray for another stamp! I still think they should be more colorful, or have a symbol on it or something. It just says the airport’s name with a box.

The flight is 55 minutes. It feels more like 5, since there is 21.4 minutes of ascent and 21.4 minutes of decent. That would leave 12.2 minutes at cruising height, assuming my numbers are correct (They aren’t).

Nous arrivons à France! (We arrive in France!) Everyone else realizes that they have no idea how to communicate here, and the questions begin. “How do we talk to border control? Where’s the exit? How do I buy a drink?” I’m so exhausted I can’t remember, and I keep quiet while Megan answers most of them.

We approach the border guard, one at a time. The moment of truth. I say, “Bonjour,” and I immediately realize how strong my American mid-west dialect is (as well as how American I look in my plaid button up t-shirts) when he responds with “You can go through,” in English. So much for knowing some French. It probably didn’t help that I was right after the others who knew no French at all.

I’m pretty overwhelmed by the strain of trying (and usually being unable) to understand the speech and text around me. I only had an hour of sleep after all. Fortunately, the major signs in the airport are in both French and English. We find the Great Britain ticket attendant person (the one who sells the train tickets to Paris), and we each get a ticket. Maybe we can do this!

We find the train, and we hop on. I promptly fall asleep, but not before I notice that this train is in far worse shape than in London. Probably because there’s no cameras on this train. I doze for a while. I want to see as much of Paris as possible, so I fight it off. Look at all those suburbs… Reminds me of Los Angeles. The Los Angeles of Europe.

We arrive at our hostel. Our rooms aren’t ready yet, so we leave our bags in the locked luggage room and look around. Some of us walk in the bike lane and get yelled at by Parisian cyclists. (Not me, promise!)

We find a cafe, and can’t decide what to get. The cashier mistakes our silence for being completely unable to speak French, and she isn’t terribly happy about it. Megan helps the others order. I order all by myself. They don’t take cards, so we all have to use our 20s, and she nearly runs out of change. I apologize for not having any smaller bills. “Désole…” She seems happy that at least two of our group can speak French. We’re off to a good start!

We return to the hostel and get checked into our room. They don’t have any towels left because its a holiday of some sort this weekend. The toilet asks us to not flush toilet paper down the toilet. Must have old piping. We all collapse in our rooms, and wake up about 4 hours later, at 2pm. (Europeans would say 14:00)

We decide to take the subway to le Tour Eiffel. The ticket machine doesn’t take cash. I’ll have to keep that in mind, but for now I have enough coins for a ticket.

It doesn’t feel like we’re really in Paris until we get out of the underground station and see the Eiffel Tower. There it was, just sitting there. (What was I expecting it to do though, dance around?) We make our way past the street vendors selling “selfie sticks” and miniature Eiffel Towers.

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We meander through town a while, and find a few other monuments. Eventually we stop to eat at a cafe/restaurant. The waitress is pretty happy talking to Megan. She’s also super helpful to everyone else who’s trying to order in French. Hilarity ensues as new French speaking skills get tried, with phrases like “Me sad because of cheese,” “I am ham,” and “Ongion soup, please” being the highlights.

That evening, we go up the Eiffel Tower. Climbing all 603 stairs to level 1. Then 603 more stairs to level 2. The view was great, though!

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We stand in line to get to the top of the tower by lift. I meet some nice Canadians behind us, from Ontario. We talk a lot and take pictures a lot and wait a lot.

I’m pushed up against the glass door in the lift up. I sure hope there isn’t a problem and the door opens. It sure is a long way down. I find the easiest handhold to grab, just in case.

We make it to the top without incident. By this time, the sun has set and the tower is lit up. The city sure sparkles at night.

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We head back down in groups. Luc isn’t in one of them. We must have left him at the top of the tower. After about 30 minutes of searching, we finally see him stepping off the stairs at the bottom. Found him!

We laugh about how he was forgotten at the top of the tower and head back to the hostel. Megan remembers the lack of towels and stops to get one from a touristy store, and Luc, Jake, and I wait outside. An attractive young French woman approaches us and sounds exceptionally flustered, asking us for help. She’s talking too fast for me to make out what she’s asking and she quickly walks off, assumably to find someone who speaks fluent French. I wish I could have helped her. Maybe next time.

Day 2, Saturday

Off to a late start today. We don’t collectively have enough coin to pay for our tickets for the day. I didn’t realize neither of my cards would work. The machines only support cards with the chip in them. Megan goes through the open-air market nearby and buys some bananas so that she could get coins for all of us. They were definitely the best bananas I’ve ever eaten.

There were two groups today that wanted to go to different places, so we decided to split into two groups. I really wanted to avoid the mass of people that would be at the Louvre as well as be with the fluent French speaker.

My group arrives at our station, and find ourselves in a two-hour line to get into the Catacombs. I really don’t like waiting in line. Being with the others and talking the whole time makes it bearable, though, and I get lots of pictures. We each take turns going to grab something to eat. I get a portable pizza and some sort of pastry with chocolate in it.

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There are hundreds of thousands of bones in the catacombs, all sitting in nice, organized piles with trails leading through them. Its pretty morbid. They only let 200 people in at a time, and it’s a really long walk, so there were a few times when I didn’t see or hear anyone around me, and it was fairly peaceful.

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When I got out of the catacombs, there was only one person behind me. We then waited another hour and a half after I got out before we decided we should let the other group know we were running late, as we had decided we would meet the other group at 3 o’clock. It was pushing 2:45.

I was part of the group that went to meet them, and we found them at the Arc de Triumph much more easily than we expected. We then met up with the rest and we went on our merry way.

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We then went to Notre Dame

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Luxembourg Park (where we saw the super-mini Statue of Liberty)

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the Lock Bridge

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and walked along the river. I loved walking along the bank. We were the only tourists around (that I could tell—it looked like all locals to me), it was a beautiful evening, and everyone was so happy and content. It felt like something out of a storybook. Everyone was enjoying everyone else’s company, playing games and eating together. After dark, we stopped by the Eiffel Tower again, and walked across another monument to get to an underground station. We stopped to see the Arc de Triomphe at night, and went back to the hostel.

Day 3

We split again, as some wanted to take a train to Versailles, and others (myself included), wanted to stay in the city, see some more sights, and have a more relaxed day. We hopped on a subway and took it all the way to the end, getting off at Dauphine station.

One of the things I had wanted to see was the University of Paris. Ironically, about a block from the stop we got off at was the Dauphine branch of the University of Paris. We discovered that most places don’t open until 10am outside of the more touristy areas. We stop by a wonderful patisserie (pastry shop) and I have the most amazing, delicious, fantastic croissant I’ve ever had. As Luc so well put it, “I can’t ever eat a Pillsbury croissant ever again.”

I want to see the US Embassy, so we take the subway to the Franklin D. Roosevelt station and walk down the Champs-Élysées. Its tucked behind a bunch of trees and mean looking police officers, so I don’t take any pictures. Luc also discourages picture taking from his experiences abroad.

We stop by the Louvre to take more pictures, but we avoid the crowds, since its so crowded. (See what I did there?) We rode the subway to the small Statue of Liberty (not to be confused with the super-mini one in Luxembourg Park. Luc and I walked down to a bridge to get the statue and the Eiffel Tower in the same picture. I didn’t realize it was so far away, and I’m exhausted by the time we get back to the statue.

We walked down a pretty island to get to the Eiffel Tower, as we thought it was fitting to spend our last few hours napping in the sun beneath the tower. We decide to get one last treat before we leave. I successfully order an apricot marmalade crepe completely in French and have the cashier respond entirely in French back. There was full comprehension from both parties.

We head out to the airport, and I’m sad that I’m leaving. Its a little bit funny to say that I’m sad to be going to London, but I definitely wish I could have stayed in Paris longer.

After getting through security and border patrol, I decided I wanted to finish my collection of one type of each coin. I was missing a 1 Euro cent, and a 5 Euro cent, so I approach one of the cashers. I try to ask for change for a 20 cent piece in French, but the cashier doesn’t understand what I’m saying. I try to switch to English, but she doesn’t know English well and still doesn’t understand. I eventually resort to saying (in French) “This is 20. I would like 10, 5, 1 and 1 and 1 and 1 and 1, please.” Success, she understands!

As we get in line to board the plane, two of my companions realize their phone is about to die. Their boarding passes are both on their phone. Fortunately, I’m an Eagle Scout so I’m always prepared. I let them use my mobile charger (which I haven’t needed to use yet, thankfully). They were pretty funny looking, joined together by the charger.

I already miss Paris, and I will definitely be making another trip back.