Living the royal life in London

Okay, so that title isn’t really true. I didn’t get a chance to live the royal life today, but I did get a glimpse at it!

This morning, Sarah and I went to Buckingham Palace to see the Changing of the Guards. We got there 15 minutes before the ceremony started, which apparently is not nearly early enough. Huge crowds surrounded the gates way before we got there, and we couldn’t get a good view of the guards until the ceremony started drawing to a close, and people began to leave.

The guards stood in such impeccable formations -- even visible from behind!
The guards stood in such impeccable formations — even visible from behind!

I could not quite make out everything the guards were doing, but I did get to stare at the backs of their heads and admire their intricate red uniforms. The marching band played  everything from traditional music to a song from a 90s pop group, which added even more character to the already unforgettable event.

Regardless of the view, it was so humbling to stand at the gates of the Palace. We were in the presence of one of the most historically and politically significant buildings in the world and got to stand outside to watch an official ceremony take place there (even if it does happen every day). Pretty freaking awesome.

Selfie with the Palace. Had to do it.
Selfie with the Palace. Had to do it.

Next, we headed to the Phoenix Theatre in Lester Square to see Once the Musical, Sarah’s favorite musical and the origin of the recently-made-popular song “Falling Slowly” (which even won the Oscar for best original  song in 2007). We had ordered cheap tickets in advance and were beyond pleasantly surprised when we went to pick up our tickets and were told our seats were upgraded to a few rows behind the front row. We have been so fortunate this trip!

Before the show started, we got to grab drink and go on stage with some of the actors/musicians who were having a folky jam sesh. We didn’t interact with them at all, but just standing so close to them on the stage was awesome!

The set for the musical was one of the best I've seen yet.
The set for the musical was one of the best I’ve seen yet.

The musical was absolutely brilliant. It’s a tear-jerking love story between an Irish man and a Czech woman who meet in Dublin and make incredible music together but have to face the reality that they can’t be together. The folk music was beautiful and  heartfelt, the acting was fantastic, and the plot was intense and authentic. I cried three times.

Afterwards, we collected ourselves and headed to The Nags Head pub for my first meal of fish and chips (yum!) and then ran a couple errands around town before heading back to the flat in Wimbledon.

Of course, this was way too much for for me and Sarah and I split it!
Of course, this was way too much for for me and Sarah and I split it!

So, another unbelievable day has passed by and I have to say again how grateful I am to be here. It’s incredible. And tomorrow we’re off to Dublin!

I’m in London! Initial impressions and anecdotes

London. is. awesome.

After my friend Sarah picked me up from the airport this morning, we took the Tube to Wimbledon, where I am staying with her and her aunt. I must say, the Tube is incredibly cleaner and more aesthetically pleasing than the trains I’m used to in Washington, D.C., and New York City. And it was so pleasant listening to people banter on the Tube with their lovely British accents!

After unpacking my things at Sarah’s aunt’s cute and quaint flat and grabbing a triple shot of espresso, we headed out on our London adventure. Of course, Sarah has been to London loads more times than I have been, so she was essentially guiding me through the sightseeing.

Our first stop was at King’s Cross, where we had every intention to snap a picture with Platform 9 3/4. But the line was extremely long, wrapping around the platform in several layers. Knowing that the wait to take a picture would be at least an hour, and we had lots more sightseeing to do, we decided to skip the platform and take the Tube to our next stop, the London Tower.

The Tower of London is everything I had hoped it would be.
The Tower of London is everything I had hoped it would be.

Visiting the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge was breathtaking. Sitting right on the water, the bridge bellows over the Thames River, perfectly picturesque. We stayed for a while and got some great shots, and then headed for lunch at a nearby Wagamama’s, a Thai-ish noodle restaurant that happens to be one of Sarah’s favorite places to grab a bite.

After eating and dropping into the souvenir shop next door to the restaurant,  we walked to the nearest bus stop to hop on a Big Bus, an open-top sight-seeing tour bus, which costs about 32 GBP. But when the bus pulled up, the driver told us he was already on his last loop, so we could hop on for FREE if we didn’t mind that we’d miss a small par of the tour. UHMMMM, did we mind saving $64 GBP? Of course we didn’t! So we hopped on the bus and had an absolute ball soaking in our free tour of the city.

We were SO HAPPY that we got to ride the tour bus for no cost whatsoever!
We were SO HAPPY that we got to ride the tour bus for no cost whatsoever!

Driving along the Thames, we passed the London Eye and Big Ben, and continued along to see Parliament, Westminster Abbey, the Palace, and other incredible sights. I took so many photos that my camera died!

Can you spot the Eye?
Can you spot the Eye?

 

Big Ben says hi.
Big Ben says hi.

After getting off the bus,  we walked around Piccadilly Circus for a while, catching an awesome breakdancing street performance and doing some people watching. We headed through a few souvenir shops and then made our way to the M&M store, where we bought more chocolate than I’d care to admit.

Piccadily seemed a lot like the British version of NYC's Times Square!
Piccadilly seemed a lot like the British version of NYC’s Times Square!

As dusk turned to night, we grabbed some ciders at the Imperial Pub, and then decided to embark on our own pub crawl. We got a taste of local flavors at four different bars, toasting each time to being young and being thankful that we could take off from work to travel. Sarah and I decided to retire early,  leaving the last pub and heading for the Tube.

On our journey back to Wimbledon, we decided to hop off at Waterloo to see the London Eye at night. It was beautiful!! We took even more photos, then continued our journey back home.

Is it possible the the London Eye is even more beautiful at night?
Is it possible that the London Eye is even more beautiful at night?

Now settled comfortably on an air mattress on Sarah’s aunt’s floor, I’m typing this away on my iPad, trying to get myself to fall asleep. I’m still on U.S. time, so 2:00 a.m. in London means 9:00 p.m. at home, so I’m still not ready to pass out. But we have an even more amazing day to come tomorrow, and I’ll need to be sure I’m prepared to wake up bright and early. I can’t wait to see how the rest of this adventure unfolds. For now, I’m off to bed!

I made it!

What a long day it has been! But an incredible day at that!

I’ll start from where I left off in my last post:

I made it to New York by 5:45 p.m. as anticipated. But since the Bolt bus dropped us off at a different place than from where I had planned on being dropped off by Megabus, I had to recalculate how I was getting to the airport. I got two different sets of directions from the Bolt bus driver and from a friendly NYC local (I know, a friendly New Yorker seems like an oxymoron, right?), and took the advice from the latter to take the A train on the New York subway to JFK airport.

The line at customs was frightening.
The line at customs was frightening.

I arrived at the airport an hour later, just to find that my flight was delayed from a 9:45 p.m. departure to 11:15 p.m. So all that panic for nothing! I sat around in the airport for about three hours after going through customs, charging my phone and iPad. I flew Kuwait Airlines because when I was purchasing tickets for this trip in November, Kuwait Airlines had the cheapest tickets. I soon found out why. When we finally boarded the plane, I saw it was lacking, uh, modern comforts. The seats were outdated and the inflight entertainment needed some major TLC. But the staff was friendly, the food was fine, and the ride was really not uncomfortable, so I wasn’t disappointed with the flight. I got what I paid for.

Breakfast on the flight was an omelette, beans, yogurt, roll, orange juice and coffee.
Breakfast on the flight was an omelette, beans, yogurt, roll, orange juice and coffee.

I had a new cultural experience with the airline being based in Kuwait, however. All passengers were given moist towels to wash their faces and hands after boarding the flight. Later on, we were given another set of warm, wet clothes to wipe our faces and hands before landing. The flight attendants also gave specific directions as to when to close and open our window shades. No exceptions. I have not looked into why this is the routine with this airline, but I am very curious as to why! I didn’t mind having to shut and open my window at specific times, though I did wish I could have kept it open longer to be able to enjoy the view — but I did like feeling fresh and clean after wiping my face and hands!

We touched down in London at 11:30 a.m., an hour and a half later than scheduled, because of the delayed departure. Luckily my friend Sarah was patiently waiting for me at the gate. After a long, long day of traveling, it was awesome to see a friendly face!

I made it London!
I made it London!

 

My Best Friend and I are going to Switzerland!

I just found out some incredible news. My best friend Rachel will be studying abroad on a vineyard in the south of France while I’m in on my tour of Europe! Unfortunately, the tour will not go through the town where she is staying, but we will both have free time during the same week. So, we’ve devised a master plan to meet in Switzerland and go on a train ride through the alps together!

Where better to rendezvous than the Swiss Alps?
Where better to rendezvous than the Swiss Alps?

After my tour ends in Rome, I’ll have three days to make it back to London for my flight home to the U.S. Switzerland lies exactly between Rome and the London Heathrow Airport, and it is an optimal place for us to meet. Plus, I have always wanted to go there — it’s on my bucket list!

We looked into train rides through the Alps, and the best we have a found is the Jungfraujoch Top of Europe ride from Rail Europe, an 8-hour train ride through the Alps. According to Rail Europe’s description, we will leave from Grindelwald in Switzerland, and take a modern cogwheel railway 6762 feet up to Kleine Scheidegg. After that, we’ll head toward Eiger Glacier station, where there will be a mountain restaurant and polar dog kennels. The railways continues through the Eiger tunnel, stopping for sightseeing on the way to the highest railway station in Europe: the Jungfraujoch. It’s more than 11,000 feet up and rightfully called the Top of Europe. Apparently, this trip covers Switzerland’s most breathtaking scenery, including a 13.6 mile ice stream and an Ice Palace.

Eiger Glacier Station. From travelmemo.com.
Eiger Glacier Station. From travelmemo.com.

The ride includes:

  • Round trip travel to the Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe from Grindelwald
  • Scenic trip to Eiger Glacier Station and through the Eiger tunnel to the Eigerwand and Eismeer stations.
  • Sightseeing at the Great Aletsch Glacier, Ice Palace, Ice Gateway, Sphinx observation terrace, high alpine research exhibitions and more.

Cost: $107/person for young adults.

While that’s not necessarily cheap for someone traveling on a minuscule budget,  the price is pretty reasonable compared to most other train rides we found. Many are several days long, include meals and have first-class accommodations. Psh. I have no problems with second class, as long I have a big enough window to see the Alps.

I seriously hope this is what our ride looks like.
I seriously hope this is what our ride looks like.

We are going to wait until closer to the date to finalize our plans and book our train ride, but everything looks like it will pan out so far. Hopefully we’ll even have time to pick up some Swiss chocolate. Yum.