Wow, time flies! It's hard to believe I have been in London for 28 days and will leave tomorrow. I have seen and done so much it is unbelievable. Last night, Lauren, Kayla and I made a list of the final things we needed to do in London. So, we woke up early to start checking things off!
Our first adventure of the day was visiting the Tate Britain Museum. Kayla and Jennifer wanted to see the Tower of London so Lauren and I went to the Tate Britain Museum. Lauren and I first got lost on our way because we were walking in the opposite direction. It was a rainy groggy day that mirrored our bittersweet moods so it wasn't fun walking around lost. Once back on the right track, we found the museum pretty quickly.
The Tate Britain is one of four Tate museums in the United Kingdom and it showcases art from the year 1500 to today. As we made a quick walk through, I noticed a few interesting pieces that really stood out. One was a glass rectangle set up like an investigation room; you know the ones you see on cops shows. Inside, there was a table, a pack of cigarettes, a full ashtray and a black rolling chair. This piece expressed the inability to escape. I found it very different from the paintings as it was a 3-D design, simple and open to interpretation. Another highlight of the Tate Britain was the William Blake exhibit. It was so neat to see Blake's Biblical watercolor paintings and the wooden engravings on paper were amazing. Blake's works were so beautifully crafted.
Since we had a lot to knock out for the day, Lauren and I met Kayla and Jennifer by the Tower of London. As our Tube train pulled into the station, we found Kayla and Jennifer sitting on a bench waiting for us, so our timing was perfect. Once reunited we decided to grab some lunch before our next site.
We found this little pub, nothing fancy, and enjoyed a break from the gloomy weather outside. Sitting in the quiet pub, we planned our next mission: walking down Abbey Road.
Abby Road was easily recognizable because it was the only intersection where people were walking across in fours and having their picture made. Our problem was finding someone to take our picture. I was a little paranoid about giving my camera to a complete stranger, so we stood on the side of the road scouting out someone who looked trustworthy. After watching people cross the road for about 10 minutes, I finally asked a lady to take our picture. It was so funny walking across the road like the Beatles because the cars would just stop and wait for you to pass while people on the sidewalks just watched waiting for their turn. Our first picture came out a little blurry because we rushed across the road before the camera lady was ready so we took a second shot. This one turned out much better. I was so happy we got to do this! I mean I couldn't go to London and not see Abbey Road.
Because it was a rainy day, we had deleted a few trips off our list. Jennifer decided to go back to the dorm and the rest of us took the Tube to Hampstead Heath to see poet John Keats' house.
Walking for about three minutes we came to the iron gate of Keats' house. Hidden among the other houses, the house was quaint and peaceful with a garden. First, we did a self-guided tour of the first floor and then we found the tour guide and he explained each room on the first floor. In this house, Keats wrote "Ode to Nightingale" and fell in love with Fanny Brawne. In one room, the chairs and pictures were hung just like they would have been when Keats was living there. Also on display was Keats mother's engagement ring that he gave to Fanny Brawne. In the basement, we found a rag rug that visitors could contribute to that would be added to the house once it was finished. Of course, we wanted to leave our mark so we tied fabric ribbons to the rug. There was a sign saying something about adding a signature so we thought we were supposed to write our names on the fabric. We all wrote our name and dates on a little fabric sliver and tied it to the rug. I then started looking at the other pieces and I didn't find any other ones that were signed, so I'm thinking we did it wrong. Anyway, we contributed to the Keats house.
Our last stop of the day was for ice cream. We met Jennifer at the dorms and then the four of us walked to Iscoopz ice cream shop in Harrow. It took me forever to decide what kind of ice cream I wanted because they all sounded delicious. These weren't just your average ice cream scoops. No, they were waffle and ice cream sandwiches, huge sundaes, cakes and more. After taste-testing a few, I decided on a cookies-n-cream sundae. This thing was massive! When they brought it out, I didn't think I would be able to eat it all. One bite and my tastebuds were going crazy. Needless to say, after five minutes my bowl was empty. It was a sweet way to end the trip!
Zombies, mummies and graveyards are not really my thing. I mean I close my eyes during scary movie previews. I have never seen "Freddy Krueger," "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," or any of the major horror films. And while I haven't "seen dead people," I have walked over lots this trip.
Today, I toured Westminster Abbey where over 3,000 people are buried including seven monarchs: King Edward, Queen Eleanor Castile, King Henry III, King Edward I, King Henry VII, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary. With almost every step I took, I was walking over a grave. It's kind of morbid when you think of it.
Westminster is famous for lots of things, one being the "Poets' Corner" where famous writers such as Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens and Robert Browning are buried. Poets' Corner started with the burial of Chaucer; however, he was buried here because of his connections with the palace of Westminster and not because of his writings. Memorials also line the walls in Poets' Corner includes those commemorating Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, William Wordsworth, John Milton, Percy Bysshe Shelley, T.S. Eliot and more. Thinking about it now, I see how awesome it is to say I have seen the burial place of such amazing writers and have even stood on their graves.
Scientists, statesmen and many others are buried in the church. Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton are buried here.
Westminster Abbey is beautiful with its tall ceilings, arches, stained glass, gold carvings and perpendicular gothic style. Outside the West Gate there are modern statues of martyrs. The most recent statue is one of Martin Luther King Jr.
Westminster Abbey has been a destination for many important English ceremonies such as coronations, royal weddings and funerals.
Thirty-eight coronations have taken place in the abbey beginning in 1066 with William the Conqueror's coronation. I have never watched a coronation ceremony, but I did get to see the actual coronation chair. The oak coronation chair was made in King Edward I's reign and is more than 700 years old. During coronations the Stone of Scone from Scotland is placed symbolically under the seat to show that the king rules over both Scotland and England. I also saw this stone in Edinburgh Castle in Scotland.
I also stood at the West Gate where Kate Middleton revealed her wedding dress to the public for the first time. Our tour guide explained how the church was set up for the royal wedding and we walked where the ceremony took place.
After touring Westminster Abbey, we ate at a pub. Unfortunately, the oven had broken before we arrived so we couldn't order any pies. This was upsetting because the pies were what convinced us to eat here. Nonetheless, I ordered a burger and even thought they put cheese on it, it was very tasty.
Next, we tried our luck at the Houses of Parliament. We weren't really sure if we were going to be able to get in, but we did.
I wasn't really looking forward to sitting in on a political debate because I'm not very familiar with politics or the British government; however, once we made it to the House of Commons my mind changed. Sitting in a wooden bench with green cushions, I peered down at the members of parliament as they debated the issue of legal aid reform. Jumping into a debate midway is not recommended. It took me a while to figure out what they were talking about and how their system worked. It was like a live puzzle. I had to listen to the speakers, watch their body language and scan the environment for clues. Once I connected the pieces, the picture was clear.
Each member took his or her turn speaking for five minutes and would "give way" to other members when they needed to interject another opinion. Even when they were angry, the members were polite to each other, addressing their counterparts as "honorable gentlemen/lady" and thanking them for their input. At one point, one whole side disagreed with a member and they made a mumbled chorus of noises. It was very amusing.
Before leaving parliament, we sat in on the House of the Lords. This was very dull and nothing really happened.
Class was dismissed after we all made it out of parliament, so Lauren, Kayla and I walked around and bought our last souvenirs. Somehow we managed to walk in a complete circle in an hour, so before heading back to our dorms, we ate ice cream in Hyde Park.
Tonight we had our going away dinner. Initially, we all wanted to go someplace where we could all sit together, but a Thursday night in London is crazy busy. We all got separated on the Tube and it took us a while to find the pub. People were already piled into the pub so we debated for a while where we should eat because we didn't think we could fit here. For a while, we walked down the street in the rain and then decided to try our original spot.
We didn't all sit together, but we were in the same general area. I branched out and tried the chicken; can you believe it? It was actually really good, but it tasted like spaghetti. Dinner ended with a toast from Dr. Guidry and then we all split up for a night on the town.
Kayla, Jennifer, Lauren and I walked Waterloo Bridge with our umbrellas sheltering us from the freezing rain. London definitely looks different at night with all the colorful lights painting the skyline. I felt like we were in a typical London scene: It was raining, we had umbrellas, we were walking on a bridge with cars streaming by and in the distance we could see the London Eye and Big Ben. Ahh, could it get any better?
Screaming sirens woke me up at 2 a.m. as something set off the fire alarm. Because I went to bed at 1 a.m. and was already in a deep sleep, I was really confused when my dream ended abruptly with a fire alarm jarring me from my bed. As I got out of bed I noticed through foggy vision, my roommate putting on a jacket and shoes. I thought that was probably a good idea so I did the same.
After I had proper clothing on, I followed the herd of sleepy students shuffling down the stairs like zombies. Even thought there was the possibility that there was actually a fire, we all just congregated in the dorm lobby waiting for someone to silence the madness.
Despite the fact that I was in a daze, confused, angry and tired, I did think the situation was slightly humorous. About 15 minutes after waiting in the freezing lobby, the security guards turned off the alarm and extinguished the rumors that there was a fire. Once back in my room, I passed out only to wake up a few hours later for class.
Today was my final class day and it was bittersweet. I have always been a big advocate of taking the summer off to relax, so taking summer classes this year was a big deal to me. I think being in London really helped me feel like I was on vacation while still studying.
After I wrote my final essay sentence, a wave of relief swept over me; my tests were done and now all I had to focus on was finishing my projects and enjoying my last few days in London.
Since I had a lot of catch-up work to do, I stayed in the dorm all day with Kayla. It was another hibernation day. I wrote, edited videos and updated the blog all day long. Of course, we did break every now and then for a mini dance party in our room to get some exercise! We even played trashcan basketball in an attempt to clean up a little and take a break from our work. Because it is the last week we are trying to eat all of our food; Kayla and I pigged out on Pringles, chocolate and fruit medleys. We also ordered a pizza online for dinner. This was my first time ordering online and when the deliveryman called Kayla he was basically yelling at her because he couldn't understand her. It was hilarious.
After we scarfed down our pizza, we finished our work and crashed. Hibernation can be strenuous. I think I'll be spending the next two days in the city!
As the thundering rock music summoned the actors to the stage, my eyes prepared for the performance. On stage, stone barracks and wire fencing created a military base. A flash of lights and a drunken clamor from the stage was all it took to hook me in. I was ready to watch the modern version of Shakespeare's "Othello."
Sitting in the National Theatre of London watching "Othello" was an incredible experience. The actors were phenomenal. Iago, the jealous schemer who betrays Othello, stole the show. He made me love and hate him at the same time. He added comedy to his deeply demented character and had me on the edge of my seat.
Watching men and women in military uniforms speak in Shakespearian English was a little strange at first, but as the play progressed and the plot thickened I couldn't take my eyes off the stage.
Theatre holds a special place in my heart. All throughout high school I participated in One Act Plays and fall musicals. I know there is nothing like the feeling of being on stage where the heat of the lights mix with your adrenaline and motivate you. Watching "Othello" made me miss theatre and brought back great memories: losing a prop, forgetting a line, improvising a scene and bonding with the cast and director.
Today, theatre consumed my day. Earlier this morning I went with a few students from the Literary London class to Shakespeare's Globe Theatre and Southwark Cathedral.
The Globe was incredible. Just knowing that it was built completely by hand as a replica of the original theatre built by Shakespeare was mind-blowing. The original theatre was built in 1599 and burned down 13 years after operation without any deaths surprisingly. Before our tour of the Globe, we walked around the museum learning about Shakespeare's history, theatre and how the Globe was built. One exhibit showed the Shakespearean costumes which were extravagant and beautiful.
Our tour began at 10 a.m. and we had a hilarious guide. As we sat on the oak benches inside the theatre, we learned about the stage and audience in Shakespeare's time. Thousands of people used to stand in front of the stage and were called "groundlings" or "stinkards." People only bathed twice a year so imagine a pit of 1,000 dirty, sweaty, drunk men and women standing together for two hours- not a pretty sight. Plus the Globe didn't have any bathrooms back then, so people would relieve themselves where they stood. Thankfully, the modern version of the theatre has bathrooms and electricity.
After touring the Globe, we headed to Southwark Cathedral, the church Shakespeare attended.
One thing that was interesting about the cathedral was we had to pay two pounds to get a photo permit. Inside, we saw a memorial to Shakespeare below a beautiful stained glass window that had pictures of different characters from Shakespeare's plays. Southwark Cathedral is the smallest of the cathedrals I toured while in London, but it was still very captivating.
For lunch, I bought a delicious chicken pie from Borough Market. It tasted just like the pie I had in Bath so I was really excited. We all had a picnic outside of Southwark Cathedral and yes, I felt like a local.
We had a few hours until we needed to get ready for the National Theatre, so we went back to the dorm to get some work done.
By 5:30 p.m. we were all dolled up and ready to go watch "Othello." At the Southbank, I walked around with Jennifer and Lauren to find some ice cream because we had already had dinner. Southbank is such a vibrant place with a skate park, sand box, street performers, restaurants and more. It reminded me of Austin. We found an ice cream van by the river to satisfy our sugar craving. It was awesome just standing by the Thames River eating ice cream and watching people come and go.
Next, we found ourselves settling into our seats in the National Theatre. It was hilarious because we were sitting on the second level and Dr. Guidry walked the wrong way and was on the bottom floor. The thing was you couldn't get to our seats from where he was without having to walk back through the theatre and up the stairs. So naturally he decided to just hop the railing and climb over the seats to get to us. We were all joking around with him acting like we didn't know him. Thankfully, no one else saw him!
The next two hours I was lost in a military base where honesty was a fallacy and deception ruled. "Othello" ended with a standing ovation. As I applauded the actors, I remembered what it felt like during curtain calls and was overwhelmed with memories. Theatre has a way of moving people and today was a great walk down memory lane.
Waking up at 11 a.m. to the sound of my roommate coming back from class was a good feeling this morning. Last night my roommate and I stayed up late working on all of our class projects so we were exhausted. Thankfully, I was able to sleep in so my body was rejuvenated.
Since it is our last week in London we have done most of the tourist attractions, so today I took it easy. After class Lauren, Kayla and I went to the British Library. I didn't really know what to expect, I was just going to get out of the dorm.
Once we found the library we visited the "Treasures of the library" room. This was incredible. They had everything from Japanese manuscripts to sacred texts. In the first display case, I saw Shakespeare's first folio published in 1623 along with books written by his contemporaries. Black ink covered the weathered paper proving its years of existence. It was so neat seeing the delicate handwriting of authors like Jane Austen and Wordsworth. I even saw the writing desk Jane Austen's father gave her.
In the music section of the room, I saw Beethoven's tuning fork and music sheets as well as Mozart's music sheets and the marriage contract Mozart sent his father telling him of his marriage to Constanze Weber.
One of the highlights for me was seeing the handwritten drafts of the Beatles song "Yesterday" by Paul McCartney. Seeing the messy handwriting and scratch marks on a simple piece of paper made me feel more connected to the band. There were also lyrics to "A Hard Day's Night" written on a birthday card to Lennon's son Julian and the lyrics to "Help!" scratched on a white sheet of paper. This exhibit gave me a glimpse of what it was like for these men as they rose to fame in the music industry.
In the historical section of the exhibit, I saw Lady Jane Grey's prayer book which she gave Sir John Bridges before she was beheaded. A letter from Isaac Newton to Samuel Pepys written in 1693 also was on display and it gave insight to Newton's nervous breakdown. Leonardo Davinci was also represented by his journal in which he wrote with his left hand from right to left in a form known as "mirror writing."
Before leaving the library, I saw the Magna Carta. Three copies are housed in the library. The Magna Carta means the great charter and was written in 1215 on parchment. This charter has 63 clauses limiting the King and making him subject to the law. Today, only three of the clauses are still used. Also on display was the Papal Bull mandate from Pope Innocent III which declared the Magna Carta "unlawful and unjust as it is base and shameful."
I may not always understand or remember historical events, but when I see artifacts like these books and documents I am reminded of those who have come before me who have struggled and fought for their beliefs. It gives me hope for the future and inspires me to remember where I came from.
Today was our last day in Scotland. We woke up to another great breakfast at the guesthouse. It wasn't your traditional Scottish breakfast with black pudding, potato scones or porridge, but it was free and delicious.
Since we had to be out of our room by 10 a.m., we all packed our stuff right after breakfast. Some of us wanted to take the earliest train back to London since it was a four-hour ride, but Kayla, Lauren and I wanted to do a little more shopping before leaving Scotland so we decided to stay a while longer. Thankfully, we were allowed to leave our luggage at the guesthouse while we went shopping. This was a big help.
Leaving the guesthouse, we walked Jennifer to the train station and then headed to the Royal Mile for our last round of souvenir shopping.
It really didn't take us that long to find the gifts we wanted because we had already scouted out the Royal Mile our first day in Scotland. Kilts and cashmere were the big sellers, but I settled for a T-shirt.
Once we all had our souvenirs, we went to Princes Mall for lunch. Sorry to disappoint, but we all ate Subway sandwiches. Not very adventurous I know. We shopped around the mall on our way, but I didn't find anything I couldn't live without.
My final goal for Scotland was recording a bagpipe player and since today was my last chance to do this we went on a search for the musicians. They were actually easy to find, we just had to follow the music!
We found a musician on the street corner right outside the mall, so I whipped out my camera and began recording. Not only was this man talented, but he was in a kilt. After he finished playing, I went up and talked with him and took my picture with him (very touristy I know). He was actually really nice and thought I was from New Zealand. Funny thing is one of my best friends is from New Zealand and I lived with her all last year so maybe her accent is wearing off on me. Now I have been asked if I was French, Canadian and a New Zealander. Before leaving this man, Kayla and I square danced to the Scottish music. Yes, we were on a street corner where there was heavy foot traffic, but we didn't care. We were in Scotland!
We found another group of bagpipe players on our way to the bed and breakfast, so we stopped and I got some more footage.
After we picked up our luggage, we took a taxi to the train station and said our goodbyes to Scotland.
Most of the seats on the train were reserved so it was difficult finding a seat. We were lucky though and found three seats next to each other. The ride seemed a lot longer on the way back to London probably because we didn't have anything to look forward too.
Scotland was an extremely beautiful country and I will definitely go there again.
Silence captivated the room creating a serene aesthetic. Delicate oil paintings framed in gold hung on the walls for visitors to admire. It is peaceful and elegant when all of a sudden you hear it--a loud hiccup disrupting the environment. Where was it coming from and how could you stop it?
As I walked around the Scottish Art Gallery in Edinburgh this morning I became one of the exhibits, but not in a good way. First of all know this, I never get the hiccups so it came as a shock when I started hiccupping in the art gallery (of all places). I had separated from my group and was walking through the gallery by myself when I started hiccupping. I thought my hiccups would go away because most of the time they do, but I wasn't so lucky. I tried holding my breath in the stairwell, but I became paranoid that if I passed out no one would find me so I moved to the next room and hoped no one noticed me.
Coming out of the stairwell, I was greeted by an old woman who commented on my hiccups saying she thought the lift or elevator was broken. In my head I was like, "Nope, it's just me."
Next, I met up with Kayla and she thought my situation was hilarious. I kept covering my mouth hoping to muffle the sound, but it didn't really help. Suddenly, I was surrounded by three older people, two women and a man. They literally cornered me so I'm sure my face was tomato red from embarrassment. These people tried to give me tips on how to get rid of the hiccups. One lady told me to hold my breath and I explained how I had already tried and failed. The man told me to go sit down, relax and take a deep breath because I was obviously stressed. Yes I was stressed! I knew I was annoying everyone, but I wanted to see the art so I kept pressing on. The other lady gave me some peppermints and these were my cure! Kayla of course was laughing the entire time and eventually once I escaped the room, I was laughing too.
After Kayla and I met up with the other girls, we left the art gallery and walked down Princes Street to the Scott Monument, another Edinburgh attraction.
Guess what? Here we climbed more spiral stairs, 287 steps to be exact! The monument to Sir Walter Scott looks like a layered gothic steeple with a dark mysterious kind of beauty.
Climbing the monument was sort of like a maze. Once the first set of stairs ended, I walked around looking at the view and the tiny museum in the center of the monument. Then I had to zigzag my way through people to find the next staircase. As I got closer to the top, the staircase got narrower. At the top, we all squeezed out of the stairs and onto the platform. The viewing area was a tiny little circle 200 feet and 6 inches above the ground packed with the six of us and a group of guys. It was a struggle to walk around and take pictures, but the view was spectacular so I pushed my way through. Awestruck by the view, I was the last one to climb back down. I just stood there by myself for a few minutes soaking in the city life below me where history and modernization collided.
My trip down the stairs was both awkward and hilarious. A swarm of people were climbing up as I was going down and the problem was everyone used the same narrow staircase. Needless to say, it took me a long time to make it down because I had to basically plaster myself to the wall so the others could squeeze by.
Once I was reunited with my group, we found lunch at the Princes Mall then began our 30-minute search for the Royal Botanical Gardens.
The weather in Scotland was a lot like London. One second it was sunny, the next it was raining. On our way to the botanical gardens, we hid out in a bookstore to avoid the rain. Hundreds of antique and first edition books ranging from children's stories to classics sat on the shelves. For a while, we all just went back in time as we flipped through the pages of random books. By the time we were finished, the sun was back out and we continued our journey to the gardens.
Splitting up into pairs, we all scattered around the gardens. I explored with Lauren. Purple, pink, blue, white and yellow flowers sprouted out amongst the green grass making me feel like I was in a Claude Monet painting. Lauren and I captured the beauty by taking tons of photos. At one point we found a huge tree where the limbs touched the ground creating a fort-like enclosure. Of course, we hopped inside and took pictures. People probably thought we were crazy because we got right in the middle of the flowers to take a picture.
During our walk, it started to rain again. Thankfully, we both had umbrellas so we continued walking. In the distance we could hear an announcer so we followed our ears trying to find the source. We were unsuccessful. We only saw about an eighth of the garden before we met back up with the other girls.
Our next point of interest was shopping at Rose Street. With the help of a local, we found the right bus to take and rode it to Rose Street. I wasn't very impressed with the shops here, but I did get some cute clothes before we sat down for lunch. Two of the girls decided to continue shopping in another area while Kayla, Lauren, Jennifer and I found an American pub. I know it is shameful to eat American food when in Scotland, but we did and it was delicious!
After dinner, we climbed a mountain in Holyrood Park. This was a nice escape from the city buzz and spiral staircases!
Climbing the mountain was incredible with the sunlight streaming through the white clouds creating a silhouette of the city. Around me lush green stalks of grass swayed in the wind taking me to a different time when nature was supreme. It took me awhile to make it to the top because I stopped to take a picture like every ten seconds.
I stood at the top of the mountain scanning the horizon trying to soak into memory the beauty I was witnessing. Edinburgh was surrounded by distant hills and the North Sea. We all stayed on top of the mountain for awhile taking pictures and just relaxing because the climb was pretty tough. The rain cut our trip short so we hiked back down in the rain. I had to really focus on not falling in the muddy, rocky path.
Once down from the mountain, Jennifer hailed a taxi because there was no way we were about to walk back to the bed and breakfast in the rain. This was my first taxi ride of the trip and I was happy to be out of the rain and off my feet.
We were all exhausted from the day so we basically passed out when we got to the room!
Picture a scene from "Braveheart" or Disney Pixar's "Brave." Do you see the green lush grasses and rocky mountainous landscape? What about the green plaid kilts? Do you hear the native tunes of the Scottish bagpipes?
Stepping off the train today was like stepping into a movie. From the minute I walked out of the train station and on to Princes Street I knew I was in Scotland and I was going to love every minute of it. Men in kilts stood on the street corners playing the bagpipes welcoming tourists to Scotland. It was awesome.
This was my second weekend trip of the month and I was ready to make the most of it in the next three days.
Today started off with a four-hour train ride from London to Edinburgh, Scotland with six other girls. I slept for most of the ride and every now and then I woke up to catch a glimpse of the beautiful countryside blurring outside my window.
Our first stop once in Edinburgh was the tourist information center, go figure. I grabbed all the brochures I could so I could scout out all the options for my weekend. I wanted to see what there was to do.
Next, we listened to the call of our grumbling tummies and found lunch since we couldn't check into our bed and breakfast until 2 p.m. We found this pub called "The Red Squirrel." Our waitress had a thick Scottish accent so I was immediately intrigued. I love accents so I was really trying to listen to her pronunciation. Anyway, I ordered a delicious chicken pesto sandwich. Lauren ordered the same thing, but somehow she managed to keep her sandwich together and her plate clean. I was not so lucky. My sandwich kept falling apart and pesto was oozing onto my plate (which was a slab of wood).
I pulled out all the brochures from earlier and we all began rummaging through them looking for anything interesting. I found a few things, but they were all in the Highlands so I couldn't do them.
By the time we had finished lunch it was time to check in. We grabbed our suitcases and continued our search for our bed and breakfast.
Of course, we got lost on the way--I mean we were in a different country so getting lost was to be expected. Lauren asked a lady on the street for directions so we quickly found our route. I felt bad for the girls with rolling suitcases because the brick and cobble stone streets were not easy to navigate, especially with luggage. I was carrying a backpack so I could easily maneuver around the people as we walked. We turned down this one street and ended up in the ghetto. It was gloomy, deserted and graffiti colored the building walls. I was a little worried to say the least. I mean here were seven girls who were clearly tourists with luggage ripe for the taking. I was just praying that we made it to the bed and breakfast and that they had our reservation!
As we passed house after house, my heart raced with anxiety. We were out of the city and in a shady part of town. Plus, this was my first time booking a hotel in another country so if it didn't work out it would be all on my head.
Finally, we spotted the Menzie's Guesthouse sign. A man was standing out front to welcome us to the house. It was a stone two story building with a quaint little garden out front. Inside, pink walls with shimmering chandeliers created an antique Victorian feel.
Our room wasn't ready yet so we dropped off our luggage and began our next adventure: finding Edinburgh Castle.
Walking back to the center of Edinburgh was a lot easier without all of our luggage plus we had a general idea of where we were going. Finding the castle was pretty easy. I mean it is a huge castle sitting on top of a hill overlooking the city so it was hard to miss.
Entering the castle gates was like going back in time. We were surrounded by stone walls and canons that were protecting us from invaders. Edinburgh Castle is the oldest building in Edinburgh and is an iconic Scottish attraction. We ended up touring the castle just in time to catch a free guided tour. This was great because we had a Scottish guide walk us around the castle telling us the history and stories of this famous landmark. We saw the Scottish crown jewels and Queen Mary's chamber where she gave birth to Prince James who later became King of England in 1603. We also saw the prisons where prisoners of war were kept and the memorial hall for Scottish soldiers who have died in battle. I don't know much about Scottish history, but it was really interesting walking around the castle and learning of this nation's culture and history.
Next, we walked down the famous Royal Mile right outside the castle looking for souvenirs. Once we reached St. Giles Church we were pretty tired and decided to head to Princes Park to rest.
Sitting on the green grass with my eyes closed, I could hear the sound of bagpipes floating around me. We sat for about 30 minutes laughing, talking and watching the seagulls fly overhead. Then we found a pub for dinner.
The pub was crowded and really not that good. It was really strange because when I ordered water they asked for my ID. After dinner we all split up. I went with Lauren, Jennifer and Kayla to climb Calton Hill while the others went back to the room.
Again, we got lost on our way to the hill and ended up in another shady part of town, but eventually we found the hill.
I feel like I say this a lot but the view from Calton Hill was unbelievable. Calming blue waters with scattered islands meshed with the city of brown, gray and tan rooftop houses. I immediately popped out my camera and tried to capture this beauty.
Calton Hill is the home of an Athenian acropolis which was meant to be a replica of the Parthenon in Athens as a memorial to honor those who died in the Napoleonic Wars. The acropolis was never finished however. Jennifer, Kayla and I braved climbing on top of the columns while Lauren took our pictures. Just like at Trafalgar Square I had to have someone help me up. For the next 10 minutes or so the three of us became camera hogs and we did pose after pose on this beautiful monument.
Then we walked around the hill looking at the panoramic view of Edinburgh. We ended up meeting this Italian guy who saw me act like I was flying for a picture. He came and talked with us for a while and we had our picture with him. Having a camera in your hand opens the doors to meeting new people for sure. On this trip I have had to ask so many people to take my picture and we end up in a conversation; it's been great.
As the sun set over Edinburgh, we made our way back to the bed and breakfast. Since we had given our only key to the other girls, we had to stand outside the house yelling for them to let us in. Thankfully, they heard us and we got in without a problem. Claiming our beds, we all unpacked our suitcases and got ready for bed. As I fell asleep, I couldn't help but be excited for day two!
Entering the Great Hall of Winchester Castle my eyes were drawn to a massive roulette-like table hanging on the wall where green and white paint alternated creating a sunburst image. As I craned my neck to look at the detail of the table, I couldn't believe I was looking at King Arthur's legendary Round Table.
OK maybe it wasn't really King Arthur's table, but it was still a great historical artifact illustrating what the real Round Table may have looked like. The table before me was built centuries after the King Arthur figure may have lived; moreover, historians believe the table was built for King Edward I because he was such a fan of King Arthur.
As our castle guide recited the history of the castle and table to us, I learned the story behind the table.
Originally, the table was solid wood as is proven by X-rays; however, King Henry VIII had the table painted to better authentic his claim to the throne by linking his lineage to King Arthur. King Henry VIII had the table painted in the Tudor family colors with the Tudor family symbol, a white rose, in the center. In Arthurian legends, the Round Table was a sign of unity between King Arthur and his knights. Because it was a circle there was no head of the table; moreover, everyone who sat at the table was essentially equal. King Henry VIII ruined the symbolism of the Round Table by painting a portrait of King Arthur at the top, clearly making his spot prominent. Despite all this, it was still very interesting seeing the Arthurian legend come to life.
After touring the castle, we went on what seemed like a wild goose chase for food. First we stopped at the famous Wykeham Arms pub, but were unable to eat there for a lack of room. Next we followed local directions to The Black Boy pub. It felt like we were walking through a ghost town as we searched for this pub because we were the only ones on the streets and it was very dreary.
Finally we ended up on the doorsteps of the white brick pub known as The Black Boy. My first impression of the place was not so good. I'm not going to lie I was a little grossed out because there was a dog by the bar area and while we were waiting for our food two waitresses came screaming out of the kitchen because there was a spider. Yeah, it's safe to say this wasn't my favorite place. It had a creepy, ghost-town library vibe with a mounted cow head and leopard on the wall and wax noses framed beside the table. In the bathroom, hundreds of beady little eyes were glued to the ceiling and glaring down at you. I was spooked for sure.
After lunch, we made our way back to civilization and began our architecture tour of Winchester Cathedral. Our guide was this little old lady who was very strict. She did not want us taking pictures of the cathedral. No, we had to be quiet and give her our undivided attention as she described the different architectual styles within the cathedral.
Winchester Cathedral was very impressive with its gothic and Roman arches and intricately carved stone screen. As our tour progressed, we ventured down into the crypt and through the nave. By the end of the tour, our guide had warmed up to us a little.
Before leaving the cathedral, we took the tower tour climbing 213 spiral stone steps to the top of the cathedral. This was a narrow climb and I got dizzy multiple times. The first room we stopped at was the bell ringing chamber where oak frames hold 16 bells weighing 18,400 pounds. Our guide explained the different types of bell ringing before we continued our climb.
A chilled wind and overcast clouds met us as we exited the stairwell on top of the cathedral. Red bricked buildings and gray roofs scattered on the horizon forming a dreamy Winchester view. London has to be one of the prettiest cities in the world. From the countryside to the city skyline, London's views are phenomenal.
On our descent down, we visited the cathedral roof which is enclosed. The smell of oak hit me as soon as I walked in. The roof is made of 18 miles of oak and weighs 500 tons. We walked down the full length of the nave roof before climbing back to the ground floor.
After a quick visit to the gift shop, we headed to the tube station. Earlier, I had mentioned my need for chocolate so we made a few stops in Winchester to find some dessert to satisfy my craving.
Back in the dorm, Kayla and I finished our homework and made our go-to pasta for dinner. Since we were going to Scotland tomorrow, we packed our bags, charged our cameras and went to bed early. We needed to rest our wee little eyes before our next adventure!
Getting in touch with my wild side was a priority today. I had been surrounded by buildings, museums and concrete for far too long; it was time for a change.
After class Kayla and I flocked to the ZSL London Zoo. We needed to take a bus to the zoo, so I was excited because I finally got to ride an iconic red double-decker bus. I can check that off my list now!
You would think that after two weeks our navigational skills would be top notch; but they aren't. After hopping off the bus, we landed in Regent's Park which is where the zoo was, but we couldn't find the zoo entrance. We found the exit and a zoo employee gave us directions to the entrance.
It was a perfect day. The sun was shining and a little of our Texas weather had come back so we weren't freezing.
Even London's Zoo is historical. It has been around since the American Civil War. I felt like I was back in second grade taking a field trip to the zoo with my class. I became fascinated with the animals wanting to know more about them and take lots of pictures. We probably looked like kids too oohing and awing over the sting rays, penguins, kangaroos and monkeys, but hey, we were having fun.
First, we ventured under the sea at the aquarium. Kayla is a fish fanatic so she was super excited. Then we journeyed into the rainforest. Captivity is a relative term at the London zoo. In many areas, the habitats are open for people to walk in with uncaged animals. In the rainforest habitat, for example, monkeys climbed right over our heads and would jump on the railing beside us. It was really awesome. There was also another "Meet the Monkeys" exhibit where people cold walk through bushes and have monkeys just climbing over them in the open. Monkeys are some of my favorite animals so these exhibits were my favorite part.
I haven't been to many zoos that showcase butterflies, but this one did. Just like with the monkeys, Kayla and I walked through a butterfly paradise full of vibrant flowers and butterflies. As I walked around, I kept my eyes open for these fluttering beauties. Here, we saw the butterfly life cycle and the largest moth I have ever seen.
Penguins were our next stop. Swimming in an open pool, the penguins looked adorable as they mingled with each other. Kayla and I mixed in with the children and families to get close to the tank.
We also visited the reptiles. At the Galapagos tortoise enclosure people really thought we were crazy because there were statues of the tortoise shells where kids could climb under to see life from inside a shell. Well, at first there was no one around so we decided to try and fit in the shell for a picture. I went in the shell just fine and got a picture, but as soon as Kayla got in a group of people came by laughing at us. It was hilarious. Kayla just stayed in the shell and I took her picture despite the crazy looks, stares and giggles.
Before leaving the zoo, we made a stop in Africa to see the giraffes and zebras. A high platform and low fence allowed us to get close to the giraffes.
Our day wasn't over yet. No, we decided to go have dinner in Camden since it was close. Kayla and I walked along the canal where we were almost ran over by cyclists going by; however, we had a great view of boathouses and musicians. It was a refreshing break from the crowded London streets.
This was my third trip to Camden and I have realized I love it there. I had another pineapple drink and a barbecue sandwich. It was really awesome because Kayla and I got a discount at the pineapple shop for no particular reason. Score! We ate by the river and I, of course, was people watching. The culture in Camden is contagious. People are relaxed, friendly, artsy and multicultural; I love it!
With our wild streak running low, we headed back to the dorm ready to nestle into our habitat and prepare for the rest of the week.