Saturday, 28 July – exploring London by myself
With a decent understanding of the tube map under my belt (really, it’s pretty simple), I was off to explore the city solo. And first on my agenda was to take the Overground train all the way around the city to Stratford to see the Olympic Park. My main hope was to see that incredible Olympic cauldron from the opening ceremonies. (If you watched the Olympics, you know it never left the stadium, so sadly this didn’t happen.)
There’s a gigantic shopping area built at Stratford that you have to walk through to get to the Olympic park venues. But, you couldn’t get very close to the venues because they were surrounded by huge fences (passable by ticket-holders only) and acres of tents. Instead, you had to go inside John Lewis – a department store – to the top floor where there were windows that looked out into the park. Genius. Force people to walk through your shop where they might buy things. Turns out I really loved that store and I did spend money there.
It was crowded getting back to the westbound trains, but fortunately almost no one was taking the same train as me. Exited at the Tower Hill station and I didn’t realize that all the tourists there were stopping to take pictures of the Tower of London. It wasn’t very tower-like.
Walked to Tower Bridge which had the Olympic rings hanging from it, and ate my lunch there. Walked along the south bank of the Thames all the way to Westminster. It was quite a long walk! And there are so many bridges! The south bank is clearly an area they’re trying to make into a destination for tourists and families. Loads of street performers, sculptures, food vendors, etc. It was delightful – even if my feet got sore because they weren’t used to walking so much yet.
It was during this long walk when I saw sooo many people that I got the idea to talk pictures of people from as many countries as possible – based on their flags or the names on their t-shirts. I think I ended up with somewhere around 80 during my time in London.
Returned to Aimee’s and saw the men’s team archery final on TV before we walked to Richmond for some fish and chips. With mushy peas. I hate peas. I still tried them, but my opinion of peas remains the same. The fish and chips were quite tasty, though. And I enjoyed walking around in the evening at a much high latitude with the late dusk. I don’t think I could handle the dark in winter, though; forty degrees north is fantastic.
Sunday, 29 July – TARDIS, Highgate, and tickets pick up
I woke not feeling well, and panicked that I might be on the brink of a sinus infection – which for me takes three weeks to fight off. Ultimately I think it was allergies from being exposed to different pollens, but the next several days I was a bit under the weather.
We started the morning by stopping at the Earl’s Court station where there is a REAL police box standing that looks JUST like the TARDIS. Despite my poor feeling-ness, my mouth dropped and I hugged it.
Then we joined up with a friend of Aimee’s, John, to go to Highgate Cemetery in north London. John was a hoot; I loved his sense of humor – like calling McDonalds a “traditional, local Scottish restaurant”.
The cemetery was located at the top of Highgate Hill street. It was gorgeous, but still a significant hill. Glad I had my high altitude lungs still going for me.
The cemetery was one of several built in the mid 1800s when so many people were dying in London that there wasn’t enough space to put all the bodies. Those who had a bit more money to not be buried in a communal church grave paid to be buried in Highgate. The cemetery fell into disrepair after WWII when many of the caretakers died in the war. It wasn’t until the 70s that it was readopted and they’ve been working to clean it up from all the vandalism and overgrowth ever since. It was gorgeous. A drizzly day, which is perfect for visiting a cemetery, don’t you think? (Yes, we went to a cemetery. I think they’re interesting and beautiful, and Highgate did not disappoint.)
We walked around the east cemetery, whose most famous “resident” is Karl Marx and Douglas Adams is buried there as well. We took a tour of the west cemetery whose most famous resident is Tom Sayers, a bare-fisted boxer though it was an illegal activity. His most famous fight lasted forty rounds and was only broken up when the crowds started fighting amongst themselves. Though illegal, it’s said that Charles Dickens and the police chief were in the front row for the fight. When he died, the crowd to see him at Highgate stretched miles as 100,000 people came to see him. A hundred thousand people! And this in the 1860s!
Afterwards we had a traditional roast dinner for Sunday lunch. Since I wasn’t feeling great, we decided to make it a short day by way of picking up my Olympics tickets – which included free travel cards for those days! Hooray, less money to have to spend to get around the city! Some watching Olympics on BBC rounded out the night.
Monday, 30 June – flying from London to Prague
The train to Heathrow was packed (wWere are you all going? The Olympics just started!) but I made it and found a pharmacy to buy some cold meds. Some of the Olympics volunteers were taking a break by playing ping pong outside. Security and customs were a breeze once again; then you were dumped into a waiting area full of shops for Burberry, Tiffany, Bulgari, Cartier, Hugo Boss – yikes, no shopping for me!
The flight was nice, and I saw over my neighbor’s shoulder headlines in London papers about outrage over empty seats at “sold out” Olympic events. I don’t know if it was just me being super hungry but the sandwiches British Airways gave us were SO good.
Despite my nervousness about navigating solo in a country where I didn’t speak the language, passport check and customs were a breeze (again!), I successfully found the right bus to take me to the train station, and after some more searching found the right tram to take me to Amy’s. Along the way, I snapped pictures of signs in case I got lost and needed to point to them saying where I was trying to go.
I only had to get off the tram and walk two blocks to Amy’s apartment, but she was sitting outside at a restaurant and saw me arrive! After a big hug, she asked me if I wanted a beer. Well, when in Prague! She told me that beer is so prevalent in the Czech Republic that it’s cheaper than water at restaurants – $3 for water, $1 for beer. I only drank about half of my beer while we chatted, but that was still significantly more beer than I’d ever had at one sitting.
We went back to her apartment where I met her husband, and laid down to rest since I was still a bit sick. The three of us took the tram into town for dinner where I had another half a beer (Kozel – not bad!) and some pasta, and Amy and I split a creme brulee.
The Hadley’s taught me that to toast in Czech, you say, “Nyah-strah-veen.” You make eye contact with the others at the table, then touch your glass back to the table before drinking. Also, the Czech exclamation for “Really?!” when someone is telling a story is “Fact yu?” As you can imagine, it sounds similar to something that isn’t polite to say in English.