Friday, July 18, 2014

Adventures Abroad Part 2: London

To my great surprise, I preferred London over Paris, despite studying French in college and having a few too many accessories featuring the Eiffel Tower. As soon as we arrived at the Kensington-Close Hotel in the Kensington area of London, it felt like home. We quickly located the nearest coffee shop, a Café Nero up the street, and fell in love with its coffee, muffins, and free Wifi. There was also a Boots store, similar to Duane Reade in New York, right next door to the Café Nero, which we visited muktiple times that week for makeup and shampoo.

Our first full day in London we took the tube over to Covent Garden, a huge market area that had both indoor and outdoor markets. There were stands selling souvenirs, bakeries, restaurants, and one especially cute boutique that had a basement styled like a wine cellar. The Covent Garden market is broken up into sections depending on the type of stores there, with one covered marketplace that was similar to an American flea market. The small stores, most the size of a large walk-in closet immediately reminded me of Bryant Park in New York City at Christmas time. 

We walked around quite a bit and made some purchases before finding somewhere for lunch. In one of her YouTube videos, British Youtuber Zoella mentions a pizza place called Fire and Stone that was located in Covent Garden and had delicious food for a reasonable price. My favorite. 

On the Monday we were signed up for a 3 hour morning tour of London's major sights, including Westminster Abbey, the changing of the guard, and Buckingham Palace. It was a rainy day, but we pretty much expected that in London so we put on our best rain gear and enjoyed the tour. 

Due to the rainy weather, the changing of the guard was a bit different. Out tour guide explained that they were doing a "wet change" where they wear slightly different outfits and march much more quickly. After snapping some pictures, we proceeded over to Buckingham Palace and then to the parade grounds where we saw soldiers and officials preparing for the Queen's birthday celebrations.

One of the things we knew we couldn't possibly skip while in London was the Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street. Everyone in my family loves Sherlock Holmes and my dad even had an amazing collection of books and memorabilia that is now passed down to my brother and myself. 

The museum was small but definitely worth the visit, as the building actually did used to be an old boarding house in the 1800s, which is probably why Sir Arthur Conan Doyle chose this address. The rooms were small but packed full with furniture, photos, and relics from the fictional world of Holmes and Watson. Sherlock's bedroom and the study were my favorite rooms, and they even keep a candle lit by his bedside. 

If you do pay the museum a visit, I would recommend taking your time while walking through. As I said, it is a small place, but there are a lot of details and things to read if you look carefully. Don't be intimidated by the other people in the rooms, they only let a certain amount of people in at a time so it won't get too crowded. One of the more touching aspects of the museum was a large book filled with letters that children have written to Sherlock Holmes, asking for assistance or praising his intelligence. I was happy to see that the stories continue to be popular with children today.

For an avid Harry Potter fan such as myself, "The Making of Harry Potter" was a dream come true. I have been to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando, but the sets and props here were the ones actually used in the films, which made it so much more special. I was amazed to see the Burrow where the Weasleys live as well as the Gryffindor common room. My mom's favorites were the outside of the Dursley's house and Diagon Alley. We also made sure to get some Butterbeer despite the chilly weather because it is only available here and in Orlando.

When we go on trips to foreign countries, my mom and I like to do a mix of structured tours and exploring on our own. My favorite tour of the entire trip was definitely a full day tour we did to Oxford, the Cotswolds, and Stratford-upon-Avon. Oxford was so beautiful, both the university campus and the town, and I can't even imagine what it is like to go to school there. I can see how J.K. Rowling got the inspiration for Hogwarts from here, it was amazing. 

For our stop in the Cotswolds, we visited a quaint town called Bouton on the Water, which was charming. There were stone bridges running over a shallow stream, with ducks swimming and people eating at outdoor restaurants. We continued on to Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare's hometown. After studying Shakespeare last semester in college with an especially enthusiastic professor, I was excited for this stop. We passed by this statue of the fool, Touchstone, from my favorite play, As You Like It. The town was larger than we expected and, unfortunately, we didn't have time to explore it. 

We spent all of our time here seeing Shakespeare's home and the beautiful gardens adjoining it. Of course we also had to stop in the gift shop for a while, where I agonized over what to bring home as a momento. I passed on the leather-bound, limited-edition copy of Shakespeare's sonnets because of the price, but I am now regretting that decision. 

On one of our last days in London we wanted to squeeze in all of the places that we hadn't had time to visit. One of these was the British Museum, which houses the Rosetta Stone. I couldn't believe how large it was in person after learning about it since grammar school. We also quickly walked through the Egyptian and Ancient Greek rooms to get a brief feel of the large museum.

There was so much more to London than what I covered here, but I wanted to discuss the major places we went. London also had some delicious food, great shopping, and beautiful parks. I will most certainly be visiting again in the future. 

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