Thursday, November 11, 2010

Touring the UK

As some of you already know, the past weekend I headed up north to the United Kingdom to spend some time in London and Edinburgh, Scotland.  I chose the weekend of November the 5th because V for Vendetta is my favorite movie of all time and I wanted to be there to experience Guy Fawkes Day (you know, the holiday they celebrate in honor of the bloke who tried to blow up Parliament in 1605). 

I left Barcelona on Thursday night right after my last class and got into London at around midnight.  I took a train from the Gatwick airport to Central London, getting a chance to see the London Eye and Parliament all lit up from the train. 

I got up early on Friday to take a walk around the famed River Thames.  My hostel was literally 5 minutes from the River and the first thing I saw was Parliament and Big Ben.  They were exactly how they seem in the movies but so much cooler in real life.  Besides all of Gaudí’s buildings in Barcelona, Parliament is probably my favorite monument over here in Europe.  I don’t really know how to describe it, but it’s just stunning and stoic.  I also got to see other various monuments on my River Thames walk, including the London Eye, Tower Bridge, London Bridge and the Tower of London.  To my displeasure, it started to rain when I was taking my walking tour and it rained off and on throughout the entire day.  Why does it have to rain every time I take a weekend trip, is it a sign that I’m meant to stay in Spain? (espero que sí)

After that I took a walk over to Buckingham Palace to be a tourist and see the Queen’s Guards.  Unfortunately, I arrived too late to see the changing of the guards but I did get to see the guards walking around.  I was surprised though that they weren’t wearing the red overcoat like they’re always depicted; instead they wore a gray overcoat.  Idk, perhaps it was their version of fall fashion?  Also, the palace didn’t seem as majestic as it’s always made out to be, but maybe that’s because I didn’t get to see the inside of it.  The outside of el Palacio Real in Madrid was definitely a lot more impressive.

Next on my list was St. James’ Park, which is right next to Buckingham Palace.  The park was absolutely beautiful as the trees were all changing colors; I made the right decision to come in the fall.  One thing that shock me there was the size of the geese and ducks; they were like on steroids or something because they were massive.  Also, they were completely fearless as I was walking and none of them would get out of the way, I had to go around them. 

At the park I met up with my friend Carson, who’s studying in London for the semester.  He took me around to some of the other sites including Piccadilly Circus (the Time’s Square of London) and Trafalgar Square (the most famous plaza in London).  After getting some food, we headed off to meet up with some of his friends to go to a Guy Fawkes celebration in the London suburbs. 

Though I’ve been extremely spoiled in Spain with local festivals (Aste Nagusia in Bilbao and La Mercè in Barcelona) the event was still pretty cool.  They had this massive bonfire in the middle of the park greens and off to the side they had this guy on a wooden wheel…and the wheel began to spin round and round…and then came sparklers.  After the wheel was done spinning (and after the guy was freed from the wheel) the fireworks started.  I didn’t realize that Guy Fawkes Day was big over in the UK, but I guess it is a popular holiday. 

Here’s a video of the guy spinning, and spinning and spinning….

Then we took a stroll over to see Parliament because after all it was the 5th of November.  Afterwards, in true English fashion, we headed off to a crowded pub to talk and drink till midnight (when all the pubs close).

I decided early on, before I even came to Europe, that I wanted to see Scotland, the land of my ancestors.  For this reason, I opted out for 3 full days in London for a day to spend in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland.  I left the hostel fairly early to catch my flight and I touched down in Edinburgh at about 2pm.  I took a bus into the city center and was immediately struck by how beautiful Scotland is.  It’s truly just like they show it in the movies: everything is green, gentle rolling hills and beautiful stone buildings.  I was got off the bus around the Edinburgh Castle, the most famous castle in Scotland.  It’s perched up on a rocky hill, overlooking and protecting the entire city.  I walked around it on my way to the hostel in absolute awe of the castle.  As soon as I checked into the hostel I came back to the castle because I wanted to go inside but unfortunately I came to late.  I was extremely disappointed and to top it off it started to pour rain at that point (well I guess Scotland is green for a reason). 

Despite all the rain (it didn’t stop till morning) I still had a great time in Edinburgh.  The city was incredibly beautiful and it was just amazing to be in the land of my ancestors.  Besides BCN, Edinburgh is by far my favorite city I’ve visited in Europe, outranking London, Paris and Rome.  During my self-guided walk through of the city I saw Rose Street (a popular street populated by many pubs), Princes Street (the main shopping street) and the Elephant House (the café where J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book on napkins).  The café has a great view of the Edinburgh Castle and I can imagine that it was a great source of inspiration for her.  I had the most delicious hot chocolate with a splash of Bailey’s Irish Cream, just enjoying being in the sight where part of my childhood was created. 

As it was raining all Saturday, I didn’t get a chance to take any pictures.  However, I was determined to show you guys how cool Edinburgh was so I got up at 7 in the morning to quickly go around the city snapping pictures before catching my 9am bus to the airport.  I think you’ll be happy with the results, and I’m sure you’ll agree that Edinburgh is a beautiful city.

When I arrived back in London, I did the same thing I did in Edinburgh; that is, go around taking pictures since I didn’t get a chance to do so in the rain.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to visit any museums, which really disappointed me because they are pretty much all free!  I did stop off at the British Library and got to lay my eyes upon the Magna Carta, Jane Austen’s writing desk, and selected writings from Da Vinci, Darwin and Freud.  The highlight of my day was seeing the Old Bailey, the central criminal court in London.  In V for Vendetta, it’s the first building that V destroys, the start of his master plan to overthrow the dictatorship.

Even though they speak English in the UK (what?!?!) I did notice a lot of cultural differences and here’s that list:
  1. Stereotypes: You know, stereotypes can sometimes be true. Point one, British food is bland (the national dish, fish and chips, was very bland).  Point two, a lot of their teeth are ewww (a guy smiled at a pub and all his teeth were black).  Point three, Scots swear like sailors (walking down the street all I here is f@cking, sh!t, ect: so that's where I get it from!)  Point four, Brits and Scots drink a lot (every pub is extremely crowded).  Point five, Brits are extremely polite (see below).
  2. Politeness:  The people I came into contact with in the UK were some of the most polite people I have met.  I had no trouble asking for directions in London, people would stop and even if they didn't know exactly where the place was they would try to help me anyway.  Everything is also written in a very polite, though wordy, manner.  For example, in the tube there's the famous phrase "mind the gap" when getting off the train.  It's not "watch out" or "caution: gap between the train and the platform" it's "mind the gap."  Add that with a a British accent and it was absolutely beautiful.  Also, I was walking in the park and I accidently cut off a runner.  She turned to me and said "sorry!" and continued on running like nothing happened and then there's me standing there completely dumbfounded (but I cut you off and you're apologizing?).
  3. Left side: Seeing people drive on the left side of the road is as weird as you think it would be.  I kept on wanting to look the other way as I was crossing the street only to find that I was yet again looking the wrong way.  The city must realize that this is very weird for tourists because at each cross there was a sign on the ground saying which way to look.
  4. Intelligence: The British seem extremely intelligent.  They all read on the tube, people hand out newspapers as you get on the tube and all the museums are free.  Brits don't have an excuse not to be educated and well informed, it's pretty much ingrained in their culture.
  5. Security: London is probably without a doubt one of the most watched cities in the entire world.  Literally everywhere I turned there was a CCTV camera with a sign saying that you were being watched (I wonder what Mr. George Orwell would think about that).  Also, airport security was very tight and there were posters everywhere in the city that said things like "report your neighbor's suspicious activities to the police.  If you speak up you can stop them."  Seriously, I thought we were paranoid in America about security but for me this took it to a whole new level.
  6. Pubs: There are literally hundreds of pubs in London and they all fill up at 6pm from people getting off of work.  As is tradition in London, most of them close at around midnight and everyone goes home (or to clubs if you're young and hip).  This was really surprising for me because in Spain things don't start happening till after midnight or even later and you'll still see people out at 4 or 5 in the morning.

Como siempre, here are the links to my pictures from London and Edinburgh.  Now I’m off to a Spanish/Catalan cooking class and then tomorrow I’m off to Venice for the weekend.  Come back next week to see more blog posts!

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