Hullo, Big Ben… and wow, a Roman Bath!

I have seen/visited more tourist destinations in the past 48 hours than I thought would be possible. Wow, wow, wow, London!

Wednesday afternoon, after a feverish two days of working on schoolwork almost non-stop (well, it helps when your schoolwork is travel writing–because at least that kept me out and about in Cambridge visiting Newnham College), I met up with my good friends, Sarah and Sean. I was supposed to be meeting them in front of King’s College at 5, and I was afraid I was running late. I was running through the things I needed to do in my head: Ulysses chapters (check–finished reading); travel essay (check–stayed up till 2 a.m. finishing it); packing (check–pulled out the last of the clean clothes–laundry time later, I told myself)… and so on and so forth, until I got myself into one of those practically walk-runs that I am made fun of for, and then someone called out: ‘Hey, nice shirt!’

First thing that pops into my head? ‘Gosh, I know I spilled a spot of red herbal tea on my white sweater, but I didn’t think someone would notice it–my God–‘ and then I looked up, and started to laugh. It was Sean and Sarah–who I’d completely walked past in my tizzy to find them!

We had a nice stroll around Cambridge. Just that morning I’d taken a ride on a punt down the River Cam (yup–one of those tourist things–I wanted to hear the tour!). So I played tour guide, bringing them around (and getting lost on the way to the Eagle–so lame. I can’t believe I did that!!). [PS: the Eagle is where Watson and Crick announced: ‘We have found the secret to life!’ when they were working on DNA. As we ate a scone with clotted cream and strawberries, we remarked that the Eagle pub was older than the entire USA. Wow.]

So it was off to London after that [where we ate Thai food at a pub–weird, but good!]. The next morning, we grabbed a quick breakfast at Shepherd’s Market, near the hotel, before Sean had to leave for Heathrow. Then it was just Sarah and me, out for the day in London!

First, a word about the hotel: the Chesterfield Mayfair. It’s amazing. The type of place that puts bowls of apples out in the lobby, and me, thinking they’re for eating (well, what else do you do with apples?), I grab one, and I get a nasty look from some other guest. The type of place that has a guy standing on the sidewalk out front in a top hat, greeting guests as they arrive from the airport. The type of place that is less than a 10 minute walk from the original Ritz… and Buckingham Palace!

So first we went to Buckingham Palace, and took the requisite photos out front. We saw a gallery inside called ‘Victoria and Albert,’ which showcased all their comissioned artwork. We didn’t get a real tour inside because the flag was flying over the palace–meaning the queen was home. But we did get to go see the–achoo!–Royal Mews–achoo! So the Royal Mews are the working stables of the palace, and there are a lot of–achoo!–horses and straw, etc. Safe to say I may have found something else I’m allergic to?

After that, it was a quick walk… and then we ended up at Westminster Abbey, Parliament, and Big Ben! (Big Ben=the name of the bell; I was told the actual name of the tower is Stephen? How strange!) Anyways, those are placed you’d have to see to appreciate: the intricate and delicate stone carvings, so many of them, all over these magnificent buildings.

Then, across the bridge to the London Eye (a sort of half-gondola, half-ferris wheel type thing, from which you apparently get spectacular views of London). I kinda-sorta want to conquer my fear of heights on the London Eye; we’ll see if I can work up to it.

Then we met up with a very nice friend of Sarah and Sean’s, who took Sarah and me up to Bloomsbury (!!) which, of course, is the namesake for the Bloomsbury Group, of which V. Woolf was a part. We visited the British Museum, and in addition to seeing a whole bunch of crazy stuff (Martin was joking that the British just went around the world stealing things from all different continents to put in the museum), we saw the Elgin Marbles. Very, very cool. And weird. They are the marble sculptures from the Parthenon; they are mostly headless, and all the heads are in Athens! That just doesn’t seem right.

Anyways. Then we went off to an American-style bowling alley, all done up in ’50s decor. I got a strawberry milkshake. Yum!

The next day: up early in the morning, and off to Paddington Station, for the 90-minute train ride to Bath. Apparently our train broke down several times with engine troubles; so did another train, and we had to take on their passengers, etc., etc., and we arrived way after we should have in Bath. This is all second-hand information, of course–I snoozed right through it!

Bath was, in a word: FUN! I loved it. Just a really cool place. The Romans settled there after finding hot springs, and the whole thing was just really different than anything I’d ever seen, and amazing to walk around. I also dubbed it the best culinary day in England thus far, because: for breaksfast, at Paddington, I had chai and strawberry yogurt with granola; for lunch, at a small cafe called the Lime Lounge in Bath, I had the best sandwich ever: poached salmon with mayonaise and sweet chili with lettuce and tomato on ciabatta, with chips (french fries) with a slight lime dust; and tea, in the formal Pump Room of the Roman baths: a whole pot of loose-leaf tea chai, with sugar cubes and milk, alongside a traditional Bath bun (a very, very puffy bread-cake, with tiny sugar cubes and raisins on top), toasted with cinnamon butter. Yum, yum, yum!!

At Bath, we visited the hokey little Jane Austen Centre, which I plan to write about for my travel writing course. And then, of course, the Roman baths, which were amazing to see, and a few marvels of local arcitecture: the Circus, the Royal Crescent, and the Bath Abbey.

That left Sarah and me exhausted enough to come back to the Chesterfield Mayfair by 11 p.m.–in time to watch David Beckham being interviewed on BBC, and order chicken nuggets and chips on a silver platter from room service.

Yup, it’s been a busy couple of days.

Now, off to shower and get ready for today: we are meeting Martin at the London Bridge!

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