This trip of a lifetime began with a day in New York City. I love NY! Home of Broadway, Wall Street, and the best pizza! Mom and I had a great day touring Liberty and Ellis Island, enjoying front row seats to The Little Mermaid, and reveling in the excitement of Times Square. It made the sleepless nights at Newark airport so worth it.
[Very] early the next morning, we departed for London! Honestly, it scared me to fly over the ocean. But I must say, I much prefer international to domestic flights-- hands down, so much better. On the way, I saw an aerial view of the cliffs of Wales and Windsor Castle. We landed at Heathrow around 8:00 pm London time. We navigated the airport and London Tube and arrived at the Westmister station in time for a torrential downpour. Seriously, it was like a river into the Tube station. But I was super excited to see the quintessential sites of London and insisted we go out the furthest exit just to see Big Ben. I was not disappointed and happy my first sight of the city was an illuminated night scene. We were able to find Ben & Zan's ideally-located flat fairly easily. I have to say that between her great hospitality and keeping the idea of visiting London alive in my head, I totally owe this experience of a lifetime to Zan!
Day 1: Our first venture was to the half-price tickets booth at Gloucester Square (our priority was pretty apparent). Next was a walking tour of the royal gardens. They really are lovely! We caught a glimpse of the changing of the Buckingham Palace guard and then toured Westminster Abbey. The abbey really is spectacular. As a general observation, I have to say that everything in London is OLD. It truly makes our American antiquities look like babies. We did a fast walk-through of the British Museum. Our first day was topped off with traditional English fish and chips (underexceeded expectations) and a performance of Billy Elliot (far and away exceeded expectations). We took a chance in picking that show as neither of us knew much about it other than it won musical of the year, but I'm happy to report, we came out winners on that one :)
Day 2: I fondly remember this as "Jane Austen Day." While it was hectic and last-minute getting our transportion to the city of Bath, it worked out. We found available bus tickets, which afforded a much-needed and welcome sleep opportunity. Jet lag is rough. And we made it to Bath. It was different than what I expected-- I had envisioned a small, quaint village, but it was a bustling tourist hub. It still wreaked of Austenesque Enlish charm. Mom and I caught our tourbus to Stone Henge and enjoyed a narrated guide of the English countryside. Stone Henge is amazing. Seeing it is awe-inspiring (and might I add conspiracy theory inducing). Our tour also took us to Lacock Village where BBC's Pride & Prejudice was filmed as well as parts of the Harry Potter movies. I saw the house where Harry's parents were killed with my own eyes. My one regret about Bath is that I did not get to see the Royal Crescent or the Jane Austen visitor center. Guess that means I will just have to go back someday, right?
Day 3: Sunday in London. Zan, mom, and I enjoyed a walk through Kensington gardens on the way to church. The ward is located just south of the park. After church, we checked out the Vitorian and Albert museum conveniently located just south of the church and were amazed at the collection of furniture, tapestries, jewels, and artwork. I love museums.
Day 4: Zan & Lydia joined us for a great boat trip down the Thames to Greenwich. Even though it's a river, the Thames is a big character in several Dickens stories so I was excited to spend some quality time on it. The Thames really has been a lifebood throughout London's history, so there are many amazing and notable sites that can be seen on its shores. Greenwich is also a great location. I stood in two hemispheres at the same time on the Prime Meridian. I also loved the observatory view, Maritime museum, and olde-time candy shop. Oh yeah, and the meringue cookie that was as big as my head.
Day 5: The thought of flying over the ocean didn't thrill me, but neither did passing through an underwater tunnel, but I did. Mom and I took the Chunnel to Paris. This was mom's dream. I have to admit that I was fairly apprehensive about visiting France because of the stories I had heard about Parisians hating American tourists and because I knew exactly two French phrases (au revoir and bonjour). I guess three if you count the French lesson from Friends (je m'appelle Claude-- that would get you far!) :) But I was pleasantly surprised. The French people we intereacted with were all so patient, friendly, and helpful, even though we acted like silly Americans, I'm sure. My favorite thing was whenever we told a Parisian we were from Utah, so many of them replied, "oh yeah, I've been there before when I went to Las Vegas" I find it hilarious that Utah is a stop on the world tour trip to Vegas.
Day 6: Paris site-seeing. First stop had to be the Eiffel tower. When we were on the subway, I remember asking my mom if she thought the real one would be bigger than the Las Vegas version. Um, definite affirmative. Much bigger. We also saw Notre Dame, various [incredibly]old churches, botanical gardens, and the Louvre. Now one of my aims in this Europe trip was to see as many things on the 'Things to See Before I Die' list from my AP Art History class. I even lugged my notebook half way around the world. My funny Louvre story is that as I was intently focused on my map in the midst of Babylonian artifacts, I heard someone call my name. I look up and who should it be, but my fellow MPA'er, Heather Pack! Yeah, seriously, running into a familiar face in Paris-- Provo is a small world even outside of Provo.
Day 7: What is the best way to truly experience the French culture? I would argue watching Disney Channel in French. No, not really, but Mom and I took a much-needed morning of relaxation and slept in/lounged that morning. From French tv, I learned that two American things are bigger in France than they are in America: Hannah Montana and Obama. After checking out, we explored the area along Champs Elysees. We found a fantastic market and had a little French feast picnic with every quintessential French food we could find (quiche, cordon bleu, baguette, brie). We walked down the high-end fashion street, saw the Tour de France finish line, and gawked at the Paris Opera House before catching our return Chunnel ride. For the record, if you ever take the chunnel, it's so worth the extra 10 euros to upgrade the class. We did it only because they were the only tickets left, but wow, the ride was so much better.
Day 8: Tour of the Tower of London. One of the most haunted places as well the home of the royal jewels. Those were spectacular. We tried a traditional Enlgish meal of ale pie with mush peas. Surprisingly tasty. We squeezed in some last minute London sites like the Globe Theater, St. Paul's Cathedral (my fav-- I love Bernini's style), and a walk across the Millenium Bridge. When Ben was off work, we headed to Heathrow to pick up our rental car and drove to the Cotswolds. I didn't drive, but it was still an experience. Thanks to Ben's expert driving and the constant GPS reminder to stay on the left side of the road, we made it to our Bed & Breakfast.
Day 9: Awoke to a traditional Enlgish breakfast. Delicious, but it took me a minute to get over the fact they served baked beans for breakfast. I was not adventurous enough to try the "black pudding." We explored several Cotswolds villages with Rick Steves' writings as our guide. This was my favorite part of the trip. The Cotswolds is an area of villages that were once fluorishing wool industry cities. They are classically English. It was a lovely day with great walks, antique shopping, and another visit to an olde-time candy store. After the best day of the trip, we made the drive back to London.
Day 10: Mom and I were incredibly lucky to have the opening of the Buckingham Palace state rooms opening coincide with our last day in London. We were all over that. We had a fabulous experience touring the mews (where they keep the carriages and horses), Queen's gallery, and parts of Buckingham Palace. No photography was allowed in the palace, but just know that it is ornately spectacular. We celebrated with one last Cornish Pasty (favorite food in London) and stocked up on digestives before making our last Tube trip back to Heathrow and a flight back to Newark then on to Salt Lake.
Afterthoughts: I realized I'm wearing the same hoodie in like every picture. Nice. Mom and I went to London totally expecting warm summer weather. This just is not the reality. London is cold. And so rainy. While I remembered my umbrella, I impressively left my jacket on the driveway in Utah as I was rushing to get to the airport. Luckily Mom took two jackets on account of her propensity to always be cold. Thankfully she let me use one since I literally hadn't even packed a long sleeve shirt. Learn from my experience and when going to London, take warm clothes, even in July.