Tuesday, June 8, 2010

We Live and We Learn...Even About Public Transportation

I am a fan of a bike tour company known as Fat Tire. I discovered the tours in Barcelona, took two tours in Paris, and was looking forward to a tour of London. (They also have a branch in Berlin; if you take a tour in all four cities you get a "Fat Tire Junkies" t-shirt!) I appreciate the tours because in a few hours we see a lot of the city, and I have a better idea of what there is to see, and I feel a bit less overwhelmed. The tours departed in London at 11:00 and 3:30. Wanting to use our time wisely, we planned on the 11:00 tour. We consulted the map of the subway system, and found our way there. Unfortunately, we had to change lines, which delayed us. We arrived at the meeting point just in time to see the tour take off, and were told to come back for the afternoon tour. A bit disappointed, we sat down to consult our map and make a plan B for the morning. We found our location: directly north of Kensington Gardens. Remember where I said our hostel was located? Just south of Kensington Gardens...which means, we spent nearly 40 minutes on the Tube, when we could have walked there in about 20 minutes. If only we thought to look at a map...We had a good laugh at ourselves (later in the day, of course).

We spent the morning wandering the royal gardens, and then went to a small cafe in our neighborhood to eat lunch. As we were eating outside (luckily the rain from Tuesday subsided and we had sunny days), a girl about our age walked by with her parents and told them to take the table next to ours. Christie and I looked at each other, both thinking the same thing: it was Amber Tamblyn, from The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants movies! We were a bit starstruck! We decided against interrupting her lunch with her parents, and settled for the knowledge that we ate lunch next to her in London, of all places.

After lunch, we finally made it on our bike tour. I thought walking in London was a bit dangerous because of the opposite flow of traffic. And biking in big cities like Barcelona and Paris certainly sent adrenaline through my veins. But combine a big city, crazy drivers and driving on the opposite side of the road? Talk about high blood pressure that day. But it was fun! The tour guide offered a lot of fun, interesting information about the city. Like, if Guy Fawkes had succeeded in his task (he sneaked 15 barrels of gun powder into the parliament building), not only would that beautiful building have been destroyed, but also Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and other buildings in the surrounding area. London as we know it wouldn't exist. And besides the buildings, every member of the royal family was there that day ("Remember, remember, the 5th of November"), and all members of parliament: the entire future of the country would have been completely different.

Another fun fact: security surrounding Buckingham Palace is terrible. In 1980 someone entered through an open window, walked into a number of rooms (there are over 600 total!) before finding the mail room. Going through the letters and packages, he found an expensive bottle of wine and drank it all. Then, continuing to wander through the palace, he found the queen's bedroom, entered, and sat on her bed. A few minutes later, she awoke to find this stranger staring at her. Rather than screaming and running away (like I would have) she calmly asked him what he was doing in her room. He said he just wanted to talk to her. She noticed he had an empty cigarette box, and asked him if he would like her to get some more for him. The queen called down to the maid and asked her to bring a box to her room. When the maid arrived, she reacted as would be expected: screamed and called the police. The British law, however, prevented the judge for charging the man with breaking and entering, because the window he entered was open, he didn't break anything. The only charge made against him was theft: the bottle of wine he drank.

After the bike tour, we wandered back to the hostel to relax for a bit before dinner. It was then that we realized two people from our bike tour were also staying in our hostel: what a small world! We later met them for dinner and to see London's night life. What we found was a far cry different from the scene Christie and I are accustomed to in Spain: restaurants and bars close at 10:00 (the dinner hour in Spain!) and the one "club" we found closed at 1:00! I am sure we missed the student area, because I have heard of a bigger nightlife scene in London. But it did make us laugh, compared to the Spanish habits we've formed.

Thursday we did more walking and sightseeing: we saw the Tate Modern, Shakespeare's Globe Theater, the London and Tower Bridges, St. Paul's Cathedral, Westminster and Big Ben in the daylight, etc. In the afternoon we set off for traditional high tea in the Orangery at Kensington Palace. We originally went to a cafe in a hotel, at the suggestion of someone at the hostel, but we were not impressed with the setting nor the service, and so we left before securing a table, deciding to splurge at the Orangery. It was a good decision: the tea was delicious, as were the deserts, and the ambiance was simply lovely. The building was all white inside, with high ceilings and miniature orange trees on the table. Through the window we had a view of the gardens and palace. For dinner we ate fish and chips, washed down with a good beer.

Friday morning we parted ways, Christie heading to Camden Markets before catching her flight home to the states, and I set off for Jane Austen's home. But I will relate this adventure in another post!

Who knew I could write so much about one trip?

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