Tuesday, April 15, 2014

jolly ol' london

From Morocco we headed back to the first world - the very first world, London. Maggie had been there before but it was Andrew's first time. It was everything he imagined: old timey taxi cabs, double-decker buses, quaint pubs, and very polite people, but the one thing that blew him away was the shear multi-culturalness of London. There were as many woman in head scarves in London as there were in Morocco (maybe not completely, but close enough).

So many nice pubs in London. Many are called something's arms due to their Union origins.
All the cabs in London looks like this.

Would it hurt to get some double-decker buses in the US?

We started off staying with one of Andrew's friends who is going to grad school in London. She lived in the Isle of Dogs, right by an Asda which is the British Walmart (it actually is owned by Walmart). Her place had a great view of the River Thames and was the nicest place we had stayed in quite some time. The Isle of Dogs used to be known as a wretched place filled with sailors and whores, but times have changed and now it's a nice suburban part of London full of condos and apartment buildings.

One view from Andrew's friend's flat over the River Thames.

The other view from the flat over the River Thames.
 After a few days of exploring the new neighborhood, we decided to head out to the city proper and see the sites of London. First stop, Big Ben. London has a very good subway system and bus system-- just a very slow subway and bus system. The buses are understandable, it's a busy city, but the subways go at like thirty miles an hour it feels like. I know it's an old subway system, but they could but some nitrous or something in there to hurry them up - old ladies with walkers were passng our subway car.

Andrew, Big Ben and Parliament - everything is right with the world.

The most British picture ever - hands down.
From Big Ben we walked through St. James Park towards the Queen's house--or as Maggie insisted on calling it, Buckingham Palace. On the way we ran into almost half of France's middle school students - seriously. The sidewalks were bursting at the seams with packs of French school children. It was like the whole of France sent their kids to London for the weekend.

Despite the French invasion, we enjoyed St. James park. Such a peaceful place right in the center of busy London. It's quite the treat. Lots of unusual birds hanging about as well (at least unusual to an American).

A black swan, and Natalie Portman nowhere in sight.

When we finally got to the Queen's house, Andrew was disappointed that the Queen wasn't shuffling about in a bathrobe with a cup of coffee. We didn't sit around long enough to see the changing of the guard, but did see a lot of funny looking blokes in big furry hats.

The obligatory Buckingham Palace selfie.
Another person we had headed to London to see was Maggie's Uncle Marshall Jean, who you might remember from this Kuala Lumpur post. He lives in London and was nice enough to lets us stay at his amazing place in Bethnal Green while he was on a cruise in the Spain / Morocco area. We arrived before he left town so we had time to meet up with him a few times and have him show us around his neighborhood. Of course the first place we went was the local pub, because in England, that is the neighborhood.

Ye ol' local watering hole.
It was a Sunday afternoon and he told us that a famous flower market took place a few blocks away, so we finished our pints and walked over.

After a grand send off full of wine and Indian food, he was gone and we had a lovely, homey, well-located place to stay. We got seriously lucky.

Andrew working in front of Uncle Jean's great Lamb's Navy Rum bookshelf
We were only a few blocks away from the gargantuan Queen Victoria Park, so we headed over there often for picnics during the nice London afternoons.

London is so multicultural that they put a Chinese pagoda in a park named for the Queen.
London has so many touristy sites that we broke our usual mode of living like locals and decided to head out for some more touristy stuff. We started by riding in the second story of a double-decker bus (which is actually something the locals do) as we headed to some super nerdy London sites.

Front row seat on the second story of a double-decker bus - ain't nothing better.
Our first super geeky London tourist stop was of course Platform 9 3/4 from Harry Potter. We thought we'd be the only people there since it was a random Tuesday afternoon, but oh no, there was a line to get your picture taken with the cart half submerged in the wall. I guess we aren't the geeky elite.

We also didn't stand in line. We snuck in a picture while the next person in line was putting on their Hogwarts scarf.

The next stop was Abbey Road for the customary shot walking across the street. The funny thing is that Abbey Road is a fairly busy street. So there are cars whizzing by as tourists try to slowly stroll across. Many times, the traffic just has to stop as a entitled tourist stops in the middle of the road to get the optimal shot. Andrew didn't feel that entitled and waited for a break in traffic before he made his jaunt across the famous crosswalk.

Where's John, Paul, George and the other one when you need them.
Making our way to Abbey Road, we noticed that one of the roads that crosses Abbey Road was Hall Road. I guess it really shouldn't have been a surprise since us Halls are always associating ourselves with only the classiest of people/roads.

Our next stop was a quick snack at McDonalds, but not just any snack. This is England, the land of Cadburry Cream Eggs, and it was Easter time, so our snack was a Cadburry Cream Egg McFlurry. Maggie was ecstatic.

Our next touristy destination was the British Museum, which like all London Museums, was free. It was the Museum that put Museums on the map, so we had to go.

Quick pit-stop at a quaint park by the Museum.
The Rosetta Stone.

A three thousand year old Egyptian door.

Assyrian Frescoes.

Old Alexander the Great himself.
The amazing atrium in the British Museum.


Finally we headed to Trafalgar Square, known as the center of London. We showed up right after some gigantic pillow fight must had gone on because the whole area was covered in pillow feathers and we even saw a few people walking around with intact pillows.

Despite all of our touristy adventures, we still spent a fair amount of time exploring Bethnal Green and Hackney. There are a ton of canals that run through London that have walking paths along them. It is a great way to get around and see some beautiful sights. There are many house boats that park on the banks of the canals and walking them gives you are great look at the river folk of London - who seem to be somewhere between homeless and hipsters.

Our flight out of London was at 6:30 in the morning and it took an hour by bus to get to the airport, so we made the executive decision to just sleep in the airport. We had done it in Taipei and it wasn't bad at all--what could go wrong? Well, what we didn't know is that the Stansted airport at night becomes one of the largest hotels in London. Hundreds of people were trying to sleep in the maybe fifty seats available in the entire airport. It was a madhouse. Lucky for us, we got there early enough to get a few of those fifty seats so we could stretch out, not on a tile floor, for the night. Even though we were the lucky few, it was still a pretty shoddy night's sleep and come morning, we were pretty out of it.

Protecting our territory at Camp Stansted.

Breakfast of champions. Can you tell how good of a night sleep Andrew got?

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