British Museum 2/13/08

December 26, 2008

Front of Tate Britain

Today for our BLC trip was the British Museum, which I was very excited about (www.britishmuseum.org). As I mentioned, London museums are free. It was very crowded inside and out when we walked in, but luckily we had a tour guide.

 

 

In the main entrance room you can see the outside of the Reading Room. I could have gone inside but I didn’t want to pay an obscene amount to see the Chinese Terracotta warriors. You also had to have tickets way in advance, and I wanted to see the warriors for the first time in China. If you were never going to China, I would understand paying for the exhibition, but otherwise I would not. It was the first time any of the warriors had left China to be shown, which I thought was an interesting fact.

 

Seeing the Rosetta Stone is a highlight. But beware because there is a copy because so many people are always around the real one. Make sure you see the real one. My guide said it would be hard to get a picture of it, but just be aggressive and you can get a picture of one of the greatest historical artifacts. (Stupidly, while my family visited me at Drapers, I told them and my coworker Steve that I saw the Magna Carta at the British Museum. My brother quickly corrected me, but it was funny because Steve said he would believe anything I said.)

 

The museum also has a ton of pieces from the ancient Assyrian Palace of Sargon including the ‘dying lioness’ relief and the winged bull creatures that guard the palace. I was excited to see this work because I studied it in an art class and I love ancient art.

A large room is also devoted to the Parthenon and Ancient Greece. The museum has many portions of the east pediment of the building and many friezes from inside the Parthenon. Although the Greeks just built the Acropolis Museum, I don’t think the British will be giving these artifacts back anytime soon.

We were also shown the Lewis Chess pieces that I saw in Scotland. And another popular highlight is the mummy room. You’ll know where you’re in it because it’s so crowded and mummies surround you. The mummies were hard to photograph around all the people and glass reflections.

 

The British Museum also houses some artifacts from the Sutton Hoo ship burial from about 625 A.D. That was neat to see also because I studied it in high school in British Literature (in the book Beowulf).

 

My group’s tour was over and I decided to look around a little while longer. This is not an easy museum to see quickly. I went to see the famous Lindow Man who was discovered in England in 1984 and he was from the first century. I also went back to photograph the Royal Game of Ur. It dates to about 2500 B.C in Iraq and the game was one of the most popular ancient games.

 

My DK Great Britain guidebook also pointed out the Shiva Nataraja from India so I visited that too. When I walked out, I saw a hot dog stand. It made me realize how badly they were attracting tourists. There were also many shops with copy museum artifacts. I did buy my brother a small Terracotta warrior figure because my brother likes Asian history.

 

I still had plenty of the day to use, so I went to explore Regent’s Park and the London Zoo (www.zsl.org). Regent’s Park is located in the northwest area of central London. It’s a beautiful park. It was a decent day temperature-wise so I took out my packed sandwich and people watched.

 

And I’ll just mention this: people think it rains all the time in London. It really doesn’t.

 

Anyway, after I finished lunch I strolled to the middle of the park to the zoo. I don’t know what really possessed me to go to the zoo, but it was something to do. I had a bad feeling standing in line that the zoo was not going to be good. I still paid the crazy fee of 12.40 pounds (13.90 for adults) and they try to get you to pay a voluntary donation fee of 1.60 pounds.

 

I walked around disappointed. St. Louis, Missouri has one of the best zoos and the only one that has really compared is San Diego. In my opinion, the London Zoo is a waste of time unless you live in London and you want to take your kids.

 

I did see gorillas, giraffes, cats and birds. They do have an African area, which was neat because I saw some African wild dogs (I saw some information about them on the awesome Plant Earth series). But overall, a lot of things weren’t out and most of these animals I could see back home in St. Louis for a lot cheaper.

 

The one thing I wanted to do I forgot to do: see the reptile house because the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone zoo snake scene was filmed there! I don’t think I’ll be paying again to see it.

 

Although I didn’t like the zoo, I was happy to enjoy the scenery and walk around Regent’s Park. It was a new area of London that I had never seen.

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Copenhagen 2/9/08-2/10/08

December 23, 2008

NY Carlsberg Glyptotek

2/9/08

I woke up very early to catch a Scandinavian Airlines flight out of Heathrow. This weekend I was going to be by myself, but I was going to get a dinner with my friend Lindsay, who was studying in Sweden at the time. Remember you will also need the Danish currency, the Krone. Also, note that people will speak Danish, but most know English too.

 

I arrived in Copenhagen and found a ticket booth to buy a metro ticket into town. It’s fairly cheap and the announcer tells you in English when you are at the center city stop (central station). For transportation alternatives, check out the airport’s web site: http://www.cph.dk/CPH/UK/MAIN/Parking+and+Transport/

 

I left the train station and my Garmin led me to my hostel, DanHostel  (the City location) (http://www.danhostel.dk/content/us). The hostel had competitive prices, was clean and offered a central location. After storing my luggage in my room, I went off to explore the city—I only had until Sunday afternoon.

 

I walked by the NY Carlsberg Glyptotek museum but more on that later. Then I wandered around the outside of the Christiansborg Slot (Palace). I was really impressed by the architecture and the massive size of the buildings. I made my way to King’s New Square by the Stroget (main shopping street). I had an excellent hot dog. The bun is enclosed. The vendor put mustard and ketchup in and then stuck the bun inside. It was delicious but I did spill condiments on me. It popped out of the bun as I took a bite!

 

People in Scandinavian countries are known for being particularly happy and there was no shortage of it in King’s New Square. The inside of the square was pedestrian only; families and friends ice-skated around a large grass mound with a statue in the middle.

 

I quickly saw Nyhavn, a large extending dock full of colorful buildings. Then I went back to King’s New Square. The city still had signs and trucks out from their fashion week. I made my way to Rosenborg Slot (www.rosenborgslot.dk) and saw some Danish guards on the way.

 

Unfortunately, only some of the castle was available to see because of renovation. Despite this fact, it was one of my favorite castles. It was so different from others that I have seen—the moldings, the tiles, the darkness. I can’t wait to go back. The treasury was also beautiful. You can take photos, but you have to pay a fee.

 

After the castle, I walked by Marble Church and peeked inside. They did have timings where you could ascend the church, but the timings never worked for me. I opted for the Round Tower later. Amalienborg Palace is also near by—where the queen lives.

 

I was on the mission to see Copenhagen’s beloved mermaid. The statue sits on the Inderhaven (inner harbor) and was given to the city by Carl Jacobsen of Carlsberg Breweries in 1913. It isn’t really much but tourists and locals flock to the symbol of the city. Nearby is the cool Gefion Fountain, which wasn’t running at the time. But other than the fountain, there isn’t much to do nearby the mermaid.

 

I walked back into the city center and went to the Round Tower (www.rundetaarn.dk) around 3 p.m. This tower offers fantastic views of the city and was finished in 1642. There are no steps in the tower either: you just walk up a curved incline. It’s definitely a work out.

 

I walked across the bridge of the inner harbor to visit Christianshavn. It’s an up and coming area, known for hippies. I read in a guidebook to be a little more aware of your surroundings in the area, but I had no problems. I went to the beautiful Church of Our Saviour. It was closed for renovation, but I got to see it’s spiraled staircase top up close.

 

Right before I left Christianshavn, I stumbled upon a bakery that I saw on Samantha Brown’s travel show—Lagkagehuset. I indulged, but it was amazing. I had the well-known Wienerbrod and other delights I can’t even remember. But the Danish have good reason to be known for their pasteries!

 

I admired more buildings as I went back to the hostel. I relaxed, got dressed and met my friend for dinner (who was with her friends). I had a salmon dish at a restaurant picked out by Lindsay’s local friend. I like traveling alone, but it’s always nice to spend time with others.

 

After a great meal, it took me about 20 minutes to get home. By the way, this city is easily walkable. On my way back, I talked to my brother and parents to tell them how much I loved the city.

 

When I got back to my room, only one girl was there and she was getting ready for bed too. She started to talk with me and we had a great hour conversation before we went to bed. She was Swiss, traveling by herself and about 10 years older than me. It reminded me that I wasn’t alone in my love of travel. I gave her my e-mail address the next morning on a sheet of paper by her belongings while she was sleeping, but I never heard from her.

 

2/10/08

Today I explored new areas and visited areas that I quickly passed by the day before. I was up early before things were open, so I walked outside. I started in Town Hall Square, which also had a fashion week tent in it. The square was open and pretty but nothing special. The city hall is the best part because it isn’t commercialized.

 

Nearby is Tivoli Gardens, an amusement park that locals love (www.tivoli.dk). While I was there it was closed (only open during warming months and some holidays) but I’m not much for rides anyway.

 

I walked along the Stroget, the major shopping street, which was now desolate compared to the crowds I saw the day before. In fact, everything I walked by that morning was deserted, but I got to spend time photographing the things I rushed through yesterday.

 

Then I went back to Nyhavn and explored. I found out that a canal cruise was there and decided to return for one later (www.canaltours.com).

 

I then visited the NY Carlsberg Glyptotek, which is free on Sundays (www.glyptoteket.dk). The museum was obviously created and funded by the Carlsberg brewery. I enjoyed the museum because I like ancient art. They had Egyptian, Greece, Roman and Mediterranean, plus French and Danish paintings.

 

The National Museum was nearby so I popped in (www.nationalmuseet.dk). Luckily, it always has free admission. I looked around and most of the artifacts take you through the history of Denmark. I move on after half an hour. It’s a smaller museum and I enjoyed the NY Carlsberg Glyptotek more.

 

Then I had another great hot dog (minus the mess) near the Stroget. I had a cheesy photo taken with my hot dog on the shopping street. I then walked to Christiansborg Slot for a guided timed tour (www.ses.dk/christiansborgpalace). I had to wait outside a door with others until it was time to start the tour. I got inside the castle and the ticket guy politely told me the tour would be in Danish and only be in one room. Obviously I decided not to do it. As I was walking to the exit that was away from the attendants, I saw an open door at the other hallway.

 

I decided to be brave and walk around. I didn’t see anyone else. What were they going to do to me? Make me leave at the worst. Little did I know, I basically toured the Royal Reception Rooms tour by myself. They were not as cool as the Rosenborg rooms but it was free. You can also tour the ruins of underneath the castle, but I didn’t make time and in my opinion the touring instructions were not clear.

 

I went back to the Nyhavn area for my canal cruise. I had time for lunch so I visited Leonore Christine, which is right on Nyhavn, because I saw that their menu had smorrbord, the Danish open-faced sandwich (leonore-christine.dk, see ‘frokost’ for menu with English). Mine was a club sandwich with chicken, bacon, tomato and curry dressing. It was good but I didn’t get why Denmark’s sandwich was so different.

 

Then I walked over to the dock where my canal cruise was boarding. It was a beautiful ride but I felt that I could see almost everything I did by land better (and see more things inland). From the water you do get neat views of: Royal Opera House, Royal Danish Playhouse and the Royal Library. You also get a different view of the mermaid and the cruise takes you through Christianshavn.

 

There was a stopping point right after Christiansborg Slot, so I got off instead of waiting to be taken back to Nyhavn. The area by the castle was a little closer to my next destination: Carlsberg Brewery. You can walk to it but it’s a long one. It probably took me about 45 minutes from the city center. According to a hostel attendant, I would be close to the brewery when I reached ‘the only hill in Copenhagen.’ It is pretty much a straight walk until you get closer.

 

I was starting to run out of krone, but luckily the ticket attendant didn’t mind if I was a little short. The brewery isn’t much but it was worth seeing after I had grown to like Carlsberg in Europe. There is some neat architecture surrounding the area (elephants). My favorite part was the oldest bottle collection. Several aisles of beer bottles were almost more than I could handle. You even get to see the stables including Carl the horse.

 

I realized I was running low on time so I quickly made my way to the Jacobsen Bar. With your ticket comes two free drinks including of most of their product lines (Carlsberg, Tuborg, Jacobsen and Semper Ardens). I only had time for one so I made the obvious choice: Carlsberg. I wanted to taste it fresh from the source. It was good and I downed it quick.

 

I started to walk back to the center of town. I still had to grab my bag from the hostel before catching the metro to the airport. As I walked back, I realized I was running a little behind so I had a taxi take me back. I grabbed my backpack and made my way to the airport.

 

At the airport, I thought about buying some Carlsberg to bring back, but I resisted. Besides I still have one free drink to use at the brewery so I know I’ll be back. 

Warwick Castle and Stratford-Upon-Avon 2/6/08

December 13, 2008

Warwick Castle

This Wednesday we had an early start at 8 a.m. We were off to Warwick Castle (pronounced ‘warick’) and then to Stratford-Upon-Avon. The drive to the castle is almost an hour and a half. If you don’t have a car, trains and chartered tours from London are also available. Stratford is often combined to visit with the castle because they are only about eight miles apart.

 

 

From February-October, the castle is 17.85 pounds for adults                     (www.warwick-castle.co.uk/), which is probably the most expensive castle entry I’ve seen. They have special cheaper Christmas prices and if you book online, you can get a discounted price.

 

The castle dates back 1,100 years. I entered through the front stone gatehouse and saw the castle was in a circular shape with the outside in the middle. I thought it was a unique design for the castle but also effective for defensive purposes. But it made it difficult for photos because you couldn’t capture the castle all in one shot. I first explore the damp, dark dungeon that had nasty torture chambers.

 

After I left the dungeon, I explore the Kingmaker. It is an exhibit of wax figures of castle life in the 1400s. It was kind of hokey but it depicted the castle life well. Then I walked through the chapel, state apartments and the Great Hall. The hall was beautiful with armor and antlers all over the walls. And as usual the state apartments impressed with their extravagance.

 

I had one of the BLC teachers take my picture with part of the castle and then headed to the other side of the castle. I first explored Ghost Tower that is of course haunted. There wasn’t much to see, but it was definitely spooky.

 

Then, I climbed the mound. It was a neat feature of the castle because of the views of Warwick and the castle grounds. Also the architecture of it is neat with two stone-walls (resembling stairs) ascending up a mound to meet at a tower at the top.

 

I left the inside of the castle for a moment to see the pretty river, which is by the Mill and Engine House. I got back inside the castle, walked some steps and made my way up Guy’s Tower for an even better view of the city. The sun was bothersome but I managed to get some good photos.

 

Then I walked up Caesar’s Tower for a few other views, but Guy’s Tower was my favorite. After Caesar’s view, I went to an exhibit I missed earlier: A Royal Weekend Party 1898. It is a wax figure representation of what Victorian society was like in the 1800s.

 

I walked back to the river by the mill to get some more shots. Then I bought some chocolate in the gift shop and decided to hurry and get lunch before the bus left. The castle didn’t have much, so I quickly wandered into town and bought a great tuna melt. I later ate it ‘illegally’ on the bus. And then I ate my chocolate—delicious. I only wish we had had more time to visit the town.

 

The bus made the quick 10-20 minute drive to Stratford-Upon-Avon. Avon means river, so the town of Stratford is by a river. Stratford is usually known as the birthplace of Shakespeare. I’ll admit, I was unimpressed with the Shakespeare sights, but I really enjoyed the town.

 

From London, the train does go to Stratford but if you don’t have a car and want to visit Warwick too, I would recommend taking a bus tour from London. Here is an example of one such tour: http://www.evanevanstours.co.uk/warwick-stratford-oxford.htm

 

We first stopped at Anne Hathaway’s cottage (houses.shakespeare.org.uk/anne-hathaways-cottage.html). It’s six pounds for adults and five for students. Hathaway was Shakespeare’s wife and the house is where Hathaway grew up. Some of the home was built in the 1400s and the rest of it was built in 1697. It was neat to see but there were too many of us in the rooms, which were small. It almost got redundant at a point, room after room. The outside was my favorite part with the beautiful thatched roof and gardens.

 

Then the bus dropped us off in the center of town and we saw Shakespeare’s birthplace (houses.shakespeare.org.uk/shakespeares-birthplace.html). It was similar to Hathaway’s cottage except even less interesting and less cozy. The outside of the home was beautiful but you just see room after room. And it was just boring and hokey to me—the birth of Shakespeare.

 

I quickly left the birthplace to explore the town. I took photos of Town Hall and the Harvard House, where the founder of the school lived (houses.shakespeare.org.uk/harvard-house.html). Shakespeare’s presence was even evident on the outside of the Old Bank with a Shakespeare mosaic above the door.

 

Then I walked by Nash’s House and the site of New Place (houses.shakespeare.org.uk/nashs-house.html). Shakespeare lived at the home and he died there 1616. The New Palace was a private garden attached to the house. I didn’t pay to get in but I looked through the gates to get a few photos. It was a beautiful garden with lots of colorful flowers and different shaped bushes.

 

By the river, there are two theaters to keep Shakespeare’s tradition alive: The Courtyard Theatre, (www.rsc.org.uk/WhatsOn/2956.aspx) and Swan Theatre (www.rsc.org.uk/WhatsOn/369.aspx). Both are part of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Then I got some shots of the river and walked by Hall’s Croft (http://houses.shakespeare.org.uk). The croft was the home of home of Susanna, Shakespeare’s daughter, and her husband Dr. Hall.

 

Then I made my way to Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare is buried (www.stratford-upon-avon.org/). The grounds are beautiful with trees and graves. When I visited, there was no admission fee. Shakespeare’s burial site is nothing special, but it was my favorite Shakespeare activity in the town. It’s amazing to think that one of the most famous playwrights is buried right by your feet, and that you have come full circle to see his birthplace and where he now rests. The church is pretty too with its stained glass windows.

 

I watched a Samantha Brown show about Stratford and she went to a pub called the Dirty Duck (www.dirty-duck.co.uk/). What a great name. When you see the other side of the sign, it says the Black Swan. I happened to walk by it with my roommates so we decided to hang out there. It sits right by the river and while my friends chatted inside, I enjoyed the decent weather in the outside seating area by River Avon. I called my dad to tell him where I was, and he thought that he and my mom went there long before I was born. It was a great way to cap off the day.

 

I wanted something sweet before I boarded the bus so I stopped in the Little Sweet Shop at 33 Henley St. It came recommended by our Blue Badge guide. IT wasn’t amazing but I needed some candy (I think I had non perils) for the bus ride home.

Greenwich 2/3/08

December 7, 2008

Front of Tate Britain

Today I decided to visit Greenwich, which is on the outskirts of London. The English pronounce it ‘grinich.’ To get to Greenwich, you can use the Tube to connect to the Docklands Light Railway. The DLR is a train that is used often by commuters and if you get off at the Cutty Sark stop, you’ll be in Greenwich. Wherever you are staying in London, just use the ‘trip planner’ at tfl.gov.uk. If you want to take in the sights, you can also take river cruise on the Thames to Greenwich from the heart of London. Here is an example of one such cruise: www.thamesriverservices.co.uk/discount-boat-trips-greenwich.cfm

 

I was a little confused when I connected to the DLR from the Tube, but I figured it out. If you have an Oyster Card, make sure it has enough for the journey because I never saw a machine to top up your card. So I’ll admit I did ride some of it for free because there were no barriers to the entrances or workers present. But I was lucky tough because my friend had the same problem and she got a ticket for at least 20 pounds. So don’t do what I got away with.

 

I just missed the train when I arrived and I had to wait at least 20 minutes for a new one. I guess they aren’t as frequent on the weekends.

 

After a 20-minute ride, I arrived in Greenwich, which is right by the Thames. Its claim to fame is the prime meridian. The prime meridian is a vertical line that marks zero degrees longitude. The site for the meridian is located at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park (www.nmm.ac.uk/places/royal-observatory).

 

And another great thing about Greenwich is that everything I’m going to discuss is free. The observatory is located on a hill in the part that offers great views of the city. You can see St. Paul’s far in the distance.

 

The observatory has some exhibits, but I was too excited to see the prime meridian line. It was crowded, but I waited my turn and had someone take my picture. At the line, you have to straddle it—one foot on each side, so you can be east and west at the same time.

 

I then walked down the hill to visit the Old Royal Naval College. It is in the park right by the Thames. The college’s two domed buildings were used in the Golden Compass movie with digital enhancement (www.clipmarks.com/clipmark/3516FE10-FB9A-44BB-8B3B-95ACE3E99FFE/).  Then I visited the Painted Hall at the college. If you walk to the river and turn around to look at the college, the hall is in the domed building on your right. A chapel is in the domed building on the left. They were both beautiful, but I really enjoyed the Painted Hall because the painting on the ceiling is so inspiring.

 

After walking around the college, I walked back into the park to the National Maritime Museum (www.nmm.ac.uk/places/maritime-galleries). I didn’t stay long though. Most of the exhibits were very interactive and are meant for kids, so I headed to the Queen’s House next door (www.nmm.ac.uk/places/queens-house). It was built as a retreat for a Danish queen in the early 1600s. Today it holds several galleries of paintings.

 

I walked back to the water to see Cutty Sark, but unfortunately it was under renovation (www.cuttysark.org.uk). The Cutty Sark is the only remaining tea clipper in the world. It traveled the world in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It now rests by the Greenwich pier.

 

Also, right by Cutty Sark is the tourist information center that has free maps of the area. It would have been nice if I went here first (if I knew about it), but I managed without it. There are plenty of signs to guide you, if you don’t have a map.

 

I briefly passed by the Greenwich Market and then got back on the DLR. With much of the day still left, I got off at the Piccadilly tube station to see some sights and take a long walk home to enjoy the city. Looking at a map now, it was about a 2 ½ mile walk, and I enjoyed every moment of it.

 

Walking along Piccadilly I stopped by Burlington Arcade, but it was closed (www.burlington-arcade.co.uk). The Burlington Arcade is an upscale shopping arcade that has dressed up guards and crazy rules (no spitting, singing, or whistling). I knew one day I had to come back to actually walk through the arcade.

 

I forgot to photograph the Ritz so walk back toward the circus to get a shot of the famous hotel. Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant filmed a scene of Notting Hill here. When my family visited, we tried to get a drink at the hotel only to find that my dad and brother were under dressed—suit and tie were required!

 

Then I walked to the famous Buckingham Palace so I could explore the area more. When I was at the palace for changing of the guard, I couldn’t walk up to the fountains or gates of the palace. I photographed a beautiful crest on the gates and the golden Queen Victoria statue in front of the palace. I stayed a little while trying to get creative with my photos.

 

After Buckingham, I made the short walk to St. James Palace that is never crowded to see the guards. Then I continued my walk down Piccadilly when I saw Wellington Arch, which is between Hyde Park and St. James Park. Piccadilly turned into Knightsbridge and I made my way to Harrods. By this time Harrods was lit beautifully with its white lights.

 

I took in the rest of affluent Kensington as I walked the last 30 minutes to my flat. I started to love London more each minute I spent there. 

Leeds Castle: 2/2/08

December 4, 2008
Front Facade of Leeds Castle

 

Today was an optional trip to Leeds Castle, and it only cost 15 pounds through the program including the coach and entrance fee. For entrance tickets, it’s currently 15 pounds for adults and 12.50 for students.

 

The castle dates back to the 1100s and started as a Norman castle. Even Henry VIII visited often with his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. The first person to live at the castle was a descendant of one of William the Conqueror’s lords. But today the castle is privately owned. King Henry’s son, Edward VI, gave it to a courtier for his services. What a nice gift! Ever since Edward’s gift, the castle stayed privately owned.

 

There are many ways to get to the castle: train, tour, coach and car. The web site (www.leeds-castle.com) is very helpful with directions and types of transportation. The castle is in the area of Kent, only about an hour from London. The city of Leeds is in a completely different part of England.

 

Once again, I think the outside of the castle and its attractions were better than the inside. The inside is very typical state apartments, but the outside has views of the castle on an island with two beautiful lakes. Attractions also include the aviary, which we enjoyed because it was something so different from what you usual see at a castle.

 

It’s a good 10-minute walk to the castle once you get to the entrance. But it’s the best way to see the castle with the lakes. On your self-guided tour, you will see the cellar, bedrooms, beautiful stone and marble fireplaces, the dining room, the library and plenty of neat, old wooden doors.

 

The dinning room was decorated for a party. Someone was celebrating her 40th birthday later that day. The attendant wouldn’t name whose birthday it was, so we left it to our imagination that it was someone royal or a celebrity. But the attendant did say that the person was going to be surprised and flown in by helicopter.

 

As I mentioned, after the castle there is still plenty to do. We walked over to the aviary to see the famous toucans. It was very exciting and you could get really close to them. I just kept thinking about Fruit Loops. If you don’t like toucans, there are plenty of other birds to visit.

 

Then we ventured over to the maze. Once you solve the maze, you are led into a beautiful grotto. The maze took us a while and we finally used the attendant to help us because she was up high and could direct us.

 

The grotto is made of shells and rocks. It’s a minotaur theme and the black swan is prevalent too. You will see the black swan frequently because it is the castle’s symbol.

 

We took the long walk back from the maze to reach the exit, mostly to kill time and enjoy the views. Make sure to walk all around the grounds to see the castle at many angles. It’s not hard to find a Kodak shot with the lakes, castle and reflection.

 

Other activities at the castle include golf and hot balloon rides. Families could definitely spend an afternoon or the day at the castle grounds.

1/30/08: Tower Bridge, Tate Britain and Queen’s Club

December 3, 2008

http://www.flickr.com/photos/taltraveltips/sets/72157608714663882/

 

Before the visiting the Tate Britain for BLC, my flat mate Kim and I decided to visit the Tower Bridge exhibition (www.towerbridge.org.uk). You take an elevator up to get beautiful views of London on the Thames. I brought my SLR camera but unfortunately the batteries were dead. Luckily I still had my point and shoot camera so that had to do. At the exhibition, you can slide the windows so you can get the best pictures possible. You can see St. Paul’s, but the best view is of the Tower of London because it’s the closest.

 

As you walk across the bridge and go back down another elevator, you get a chance to see the engine room, which was neat because it’s something you don’t see everyday. Looking back, I would recommend St. Paul’s and the Eye for views over Tower Bridge but I’m still glad I can say I’ve been inside the bridge.

 

After we left the exhibition, we made our wade to Tate Britain. We realized we needed to hurry so we looked for a Tube stop. Unfortunately there weren’t any nearby so we decided to just walk to the opposite side of the Thames. We didn’t realized how long the walk would take. We almost grabbed a taxi but we didn’t want to spend the money. So we just quickly walked there and were sweating when we arrived. I ran into some classmates and they said my group already went inside. I rushed in to find them before they got too far in the museum. I found them quickly and told my BLC mentor Professor Dickey why I was late.  I was so luckily to have him as my mentor in the class because he was an easy grader and he didn’t care why I was late. He was a very nice man.

 

While trying to cool down, we were shown the museum that has British art from 1500 to the present. Its Web site (www.tate.org.uk/britain) is very interactive and you can see the paintings and artists in each room. Although it was a beautiful museum, I would prefer to go to the V&A and the British Museum instead. The paintings are beautiful but I think you get a better experience at the other two museums.

 

After I took the Tube home I decided to walk to the Queen’s Club. It’s a tennis club where a pre Wimbledon tournament takes place. It used to be called the Stella Artois tournament but I believe they have dropped sponsorship. I’m a big tennis fan but I also know about the club because Andy Roddick usually plays there.

 

I took my trusty Garmin for the 30 minute walk (I decided to save a few pounds since I didn’t have a monthly pass yet) but it took me to the back of the club so I wondered around for at least another 20 minutes until I finally found the entrance. I told the gate attendant that I wanted to visit the gift shop.

 

It’s funny because I called the gift shop earlier that day to make sure I could get in and the woman thought I was interested in a job at the shop. I wish! If I wasn’t working for Drapers that would have been fun. And I would have actually made an income.

 

But anyway, I was going to get something with Stella Artois on it but they only have that merchandise around the tournament time. But I did get a bright red polo with a royal Queen’s Club symbol on it. And the cashier helped me saved money by getting a kid’s size that fit me. I asked the cashier if I could get a peek at the courts and she said to go up the steps outside the shop. She mentioned not to go anywhere else since it was a private club. She also said not to spend too much time on the steps.

 

The club had perfect grass courts. I quickly took a few photos and looked back at the main building of the club. A bunch of cute men in suits were mingling. If only I could have said hello. A hot British man in a tennis club—right up my alley!

 

As I walked back I was so excited that I just visited in the Queen’s Club. I called my dad, another tennis fan, to tell him what I just did. He was happy for me. Another successful day down!

 

Edinburgh and St. Andrews 1/25/08-1/28/08

November 29, 2008

http://www.flickr.com/photos/taltraveltips/sets/72157610379355503/

1/25/08-1/26/08

I saw a Samantha Brown “Passport to Europe” show on the Travel Channel about Edinburgh, Scotland, and I knew that I wanted to go. Since we didn’t have a car, our choices were a train (4 hours), bus (8 hours) or plane (hour and a half). Planes and trains are generally more expensive especially last minute so we decided to do an overnight bus ride both ways. That’s right an overnight bus. But both ways it only cost about 50 pounds (~$100 at the time) plus we didn’t have to pay for a hostel Friday or Sunday night.

 

We left London around 11 p.m. Friday and arrived in Edinburgh at about 8 a.m. We stayed at Smart City Hostel (www.smartcityhostels.com) located right off the famous Royal Mile. The Royal Mile sits in the heart of Old Town high on a hill with beautiful cobblestone streets. At the one end of the mile (bottom of the hill), is the Palace of Holyroodhouse (www.royalcollection.org.uk/default.asp?action=article&ID=36) that is the queen’s residence in Scotland. At the other side of the mile (top of hill) is Edinburgh Castle.

 

We couldn’t check into our hostel yet so we put our luggage in a storage closet and got some breakfast at their café. There was no comparing Dublin’s hostel to Edinburgh’s. Smart City Hostel is a new group that promises five start hostel accommodation and prices are competitive.

 

The whole hostel was clean and it didn’t feel like a hostel. There was a modern bar, café and a personal locker in the room. Also staff members were more than happy to answer any question about the city. I know I’m not describing it well but if you want to stay cheaply in Old Town, this is the place to book.

 

After getting a bite to eat, we decided to sight see because our room was not ready yet. Our hostel was right in the middle of the Royal Mile but we decided to walk up to the castle (www.edinburghcastle.gov.uk) before it got crowded. Prices vary throughout the year so if you want an up to date price check out their website. If you book your ticket online you can bypass lines (or beat the queue as the English say).

 

I was unimpressed with the inside of the castle. It’s hard to top the outside. Because the castle is at the top of Old Town’s hill, great views of the city can be seen. The best view of the castle are down below in New Town because the castle sits on top of a exposed rock mound that adds to the mystique of the castle.

 

One inside highlight is the Great Hall with armor and weapons galore set against red walls and arched wooden roofs. St. Margaret’s Chapel is also something to see because it’s the city’s oldest building. You can see where the Scottish royal family lived in the Royal Palace where the crown jewels are on display.

 

Another famous element of the castle is the One O’Clock gun in the battery area with all the canons. The gun has been fired everyday since 1861 except during WWII. The tradition used to be a signal for ships. The area also provides great views of the city.

 

My roommates wanted to shop so we went to New Town on Princes Street, which sits below Old Town. We first got a quick lunch and after I realized my roommates wanted to shop, sleep and not really sight see, I told them I would catch up with them later.

 

I had my list of what I wanted to see and I walked to the opposite end of the Royal Mile because I wanted to climb Calton Hill. The hill, which is next to the queen’s palace, offers a better view than the castle because it includes the castle. The climb isn’t too steep and several monuments are on the hill. I decided to pay 3 pounds to climb the 170 steps up Nelson’s Monument, which is on the hill. This monument allows you to get as high as you can on the hill. You can also see King Arthur’s seat from the hill, which offers another great view of the city. I heard that it’s a hard climb but worth it.

 

After descending Calton Hill, I went to the Palace of Holyroodhouse to see her majesty’s home in Scotland (http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/default.asp?action=article&ID=36). With a self-guided audio tour, visitors can immerse themselves in the royal apartments. The palace might be best known as the home of Mary, Queen of Scots.

 

The castle was neat to see but my favorite part was Holyrood Abbey, which is at the end of the audio tour. The 12th century abbey is now in ruins but you are allowed to walk in it as though it was not in ruins. The abbey was a pleasant surprise to explore after seeing the royal apartments.

 

Also, next to the palace is the Queen’s Gallery. I didn’t go inside but it has changing exhibitions of royal collections (www.royalcollection.org.uk/default.asp?action=article&ID=37). When I was there, the exhibition was Bruegel to Rubens: Masters of Flemish Painting. The gallery is another price on top of the palace but you can by a combined ticket to save money.

 

Before I arrived in Edinburgh, I researched some side trips and stumbled upon Rosslyn Chapel where some of the Da Vinci Code was filmed (www.rosslynchapel.org.uk). The chapel is only 7 miles from Edinburgh and is easy to reach by bus. Take Lothian Buses service #15 (not 15A). Timetables can be found at www.lothianbuses.co.uk. I took the bus from St. Andrew’s Square, which is New Town. From there it’s about a 20 or 30 minute ride. Also make sure you have exact change because the driver does not have change. It was only a pound to ride and luckily I made change for my 2 pound coin with someone behind me in line.

 

On the bus ride, I heard a couple speaking about the chapel and I started to talk with them. I thought it would be good to have others help figure out where we were going. Steve and Anne were sweet Americans traveling in the UK. I started asking questions since they had traveled around. They talked about St. Andrews and I became intrigued because I wanted to visit there. I wanted to see how to get there and if the trip was even possible in one day. After some helpful tips we arrived to the Rosslyn stop. By this time it was drizzling so we followed the signs and made the short five minute walk to the chapel.

 

I paid a hefty 6 pounds (7.50 for adults) in the gift shop and then we walked over to the chapel, completed in 1484. It was beautiful with its stone carvings but I didn’t think it would be so small. I hadn’t seen the Da Vinci Code in a while so I didn’t recognize anything from the movie.

 

During my research on how to visit the chapel, I missed that the chapel was under renovation. It was stated on their website but you had to scroll down. So I couldn’t see the outside of the chapel well because a “metal canopy” surrounded it. The canopy is helping to dry out the stonework. Although you couldn’t see the outside well, you could go up the canopy and see the stonework up close. I walked up there with Steve who is a professor at Bloomsburg University. We then met Anne in the graveyard to look around.

 

We left to catch the next bus and we made it back to the city around 5. We got off at the stop closest to the Waverley train station. As I said, it was a pleasure meeting Steve and Anne. It’s always nice to meet people while you’re traveling especially if you are alone. I exchanged an e-mail with Steve and he called me a “well organized American” and “woman of action” when I told him that I went to St. Andrews the next day.

 

I felt bad because they always had bad weather during their trip. They got poured on in St. Andrews, and I was so lucky all semester and never faced weather problems. I’ve never spoken to them since but I hope they’re doing well.

 

After saying goodbye to my new friends, I went into the train station to buy a ticket to St. Andrews. Because I went on a Sunday, this was the best option because the buses didn’t run as much. So I decided to take the train, and it gave me the flexibility to come back whenever.

 

After buying the ticket, I met my roommates at the hostel. They were enjoying themselves in our room. We decided to get a drink at the hostel bar before going out. I had my first and only spot of whisky (diluted with water) that I did not enjoy, and then I had a Tiger beer.

 

Emily heard from a work friend that there was a famous bangers ‘n mash place in town. Bangers ‘n mash is just mash potatoes and sausage. It’s not the healthiest thing but we wanted to eat authentic. We had our hostel look it up and we made the short walk to Monster Mash (mostermashcafe.co.uk).

 

It was decently crowded but they luckily had room for the four of us. The menu is simple but delicious if you are in the mood for bangers ‘n mash. You get to pick your sausage, mash and gravy. I believe I had plain pork sausage, grainy mustard mash and onion gravy. It was so good and so filling.

 

After one or two more drinks around town, we went to bed. I had to get a good night sleep because my train to St. Andrews was early in the morning (before anyone was going to wake up in my room).

 

1/27/08

At my hostel, I quietly dressed in the dark and went to Edinburgh’s Waverly station. My train was at about 8 a.m. so I grabbed breakfast at the station. If you do travel to St. Andrews by train, the second part of your journey will be by bus. If you buy your ticket at Waverly just say you want the train/bus ticket to St. Andrews. The train will take you to Leuchars (about an hour ride) and then a bus stop is right outside the small station.

 

I read the bus times in Leuchars and waited for my bus. Bus drivers are usually nice and I checked to make sure the bus went to St. Andrews. After he confirmed, he told me drive was only about 20 minutes.

 

We arrived at the bus station and I followed the signs to the city center. The town was very quiet. It was Sunday morning after all. I never found the tourist center I was looking for but I luckily ran into a young man. I asked him to direct me toward the castle and cathedral. He pointed but didn’t seem very sure. I took his suggestion anyway because I had no idea where I was going. I still hadn’t quite learned the Garmin yet.

 

I first ran into the ruins of St. Andrews Cathedral (www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/index/places/propertyresults/propertyoverview.htm?PropID=PL_249&PropName=St%20Andrews%20Cathedral). If you are on a budget, exploring the ruins are free. But I would suggest going inside the onsite museum and buy a combo cathedral/castle ticket for 7.05 pounds for adults (5.09 for students). For the cathedral, this allows you to see the medieval relics inside the museum and climb St. Rules Tower for an excellent view of the city. Luckily the attendant had a map of the town and was very helpful with directions.

 

Take time to explore the cathedral grounds that lie right on the coast. The cathedral and tower date back to the 1100s. You will use a coin that the museum attendant gives you to ascend the tower. The tower is a steep and narrow climb but the views are worth it to the see the golf courses (way in distance), town, cathedral and castle from above.

 

After taking my time at the cathedral, I walked to St. Andrews Castle (http://www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/index/places/propertyresults/propertyoverview.htm?PropID=PL_248&PropName=St%20Andrews%20Castle). It is on the coast too and is not far away from the cathedral. The castle is also in ruins but I liked the vast area of the cathedral better. But the castle provides better views of the water because the cathedral has big walls by the coast. There is even a patch of beach you can go too at the castle.

 

The castle dates to about 1200 and it was in ruins by the late 1500s from a siege. You first walk through Hamilton’s Façade and then enter into the open space of the ruins. The Bottle Dungeon is where a murdered cardinal was stored during a siege in 1546. You can even visit the Mine and Counter-Mine. It is safe enough to explore but not very accessible. Make sure you don’t mind getting a little dirty and that you are a flexible mover because they are not always steps and ceilings are low. The mines let you step back into history to experience what it might have been like during a siege.

 

Nearby is the university further in town and I decided to quickly walk by. A famous part of the University of St. Andrews is St. Salvator’s Chapel and its tower. I walked by a quad and then made my way to the famous golf courses, which are on the other side of town.

 

I used my map and 20 minutes later I arrived at the famous 18th hole of the Old Course, one of seven courses of St. Andrews (www.standrews.org.uk). I only wish my dad (an avid golf player) could have been with me because St. Andrews is the home of golf. If coming from the city, the 18th hole is the first part of their courses that you’ll run into. I stood on the famous Swilken Bridge where golfing greats like Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus have stood.

 

Since my dad loves golf I knew I had to get some souvenirs. I walked into the Old Course shop (theoldcourseshop.com) and was blown away by how expensive everything was. I thought golf balls would be the best gift. I got one three pack of the 2010 British Open balls and one three pack of just Old Course balls. Online it lists each pack as 12 pounds but I believe I spent about 40 pounds so I hope I wasn’t ripped off at the time!

 

I took a photo of the Royal and Ancient Club House and grabbed a sandwich at a grocery store in town. I walked to the bus station to head back. By the time I got to Edinburgh it was about 3 p.m. All that was left was to explore a few museums.

 

I first went to the National Museum of Scotland in Old Town, which was free and very crowded. The top of the museum has a terrace where you can get great views of the city and castle. I quickly explored the museum but it offers artifacts for lovers of any time period from 8000BC to modern times. Most of the artifacts are Scottish-centered and the Lewis chess pieces are one highlight of the museum. Another is a replica of Dolly the sheep. She was the first sheep cloned in 1996 and it happened just outside Edinburgh.

 

I then called to wish my grandfather a happy 78th birthday by the National Gallery. I remember how shocked he was to hear from me. He wasn’t expecting an overseas call that day.

 

The National Gallery is in New Town, which is also free and near the train station. It has pieces from the Renaissance to the 19th century, most of which are paintings. I was shocked by the number of famous painters: Raphael, El Greco, Van Gogh, Monet and Rembrandt to say a few. Even the museum building is beautiful inside and out dating back to the early 1800s.

 

After randomly meeting people who knew Kristen, whom I interned with at Drapers (she is a Mizzou student too), I walked along Princes Street toward the castle while the sun set. I got a couple cool photos from the lighting. To my left below was the Princes Street Gardens. I never got a chance to walk through it but you never have time for everything. Next time.

 

I walked through New Town a little bit and wandered through Charlotte Square. As I made my way back to Princes Street I got to see the castle at night, which was a neat sight. I crossed North Bridge (which goes over the train station) to make it back to Old Town. I took a blurry night photo of the outside of my hostel and met up with my roommates. We gathered our bags and had a great cheeseburger at Tron Tavern (in Hunter’s Square just off the royal mile). I needed something American at that point. It was a cool pub with several floors and different bars. Our food did take a while though. I think the order never was placed up and they had to order for us again.

 

With fully bellies we walked to the bus station to the dreaded overnight bus. That night involved a snoring man and loud French people. I said never again will I take an overnight bus. But I was wrong. And little did I know that I would make it back to Scotland later that semester.

 

1/28/08

 

We got back to our flat and still had about an hour before we had to leave for work. Emily showered and got a little nap. I got the shower after her and never feel asleep until that night. I surprisingly held up well throughout the day.

1/23/08: Bath and Stonehenge

November 19, 2008

Stonehenge

Today was our second BLC trip and the pickup time was 8 a.m. I was so excited because I love ancient history. The drive to Stonehenge (www.stonehenge.co.uk) is about an hour and a half from London. Our Blue Badge guide told us that during the summer the road we took to Stonehenge would be packed with cars trying to get to the beach for vacation.

 

Luckily, when we arrived no one else was there. This is one advantage of site seeing during an off peak season. But our group was about 100 people so I quickly rushed to the front to get the best pictures of the megalithic stone circle without others around. Stonehenge is a magnificent site that is believed to be about 4,000 years old and there are many theories on what it was used for but no one is quite sure. You can’t walk right up to it anymore, but you can get within 15 feet. The border around Stonehenge is strange. It is a circular border but some parts of the border are very far away while others are really close to the monument. But it did make for good close ups and far way shots.

 

A leisurely 20 or 30 minute walk is all you really need to see Stonehenge but it is worth it. We took a look in the cheesy gift shop and some got hot chocolate. After that it was off to Bath to view the Roman Baths (www.romanbaths.co.uk) and see the city.

 

The bus drove around the city so we could see some of the sites. The city was heavily bombed during WWII. After the tour, we were given tickets and then aloud to explore the baths by ourselves. First we saw the sacred spring through windows, which is a fountain used to curse people and you can’t swim in it. Then you get to see remains of the old Roman baths, ancient artifacts that were discovered and the temple. But the most famous part is the Great Bath. It is the bath that is outside surrounded by columns. While we were there, steam was coming off the water and that made for good photos.

 

After I grabbed lunch with my roommates, we started to shop and I got impatient quickly. I didn’t want to shop. I was ready to go see some more sites that we saw from the bus. Bath is an easy city to walk around. I took a picture of the Parade Gardens and went to the nearby the Putney Bridge. The bridge is beautiful with water flowing through its arches below.

 

Then I walked past some shops and up the hill on Gay Street. My travel agent Beth told me about a store called Culpeper (www.culpeper.co.uk/shop) that sells catnip toys. She said if I saw it to get a few for her cats. Luckily I ran into it and made sure to get a few because she has shown me so much in the way of travel.

 

At the top of the hill is the circus. A neo-classical circular building helps make the circus. But more famous, is the Royal Crescent that is a few minute walk away from the circus. It’s on your left down Brock Street. It is of the same architecture, and it is hard to photograph because it’s large and in the shape of a half circle.

 

After walking down the hill, I went to Bath Abbey. The latest model dates back to 1611 and the abbey is right by the baths. On the outside is Jacob’s Ladder where angels are climbing to heaven on the front façade of the abbey. I was just going to look at the outside because I thought there was an admission price, but I popped my head in and it was free. It was beautiful with its stained glass windows and a Tierceron vaulted ceiling (my art history teacher would be proud).

 

Then I still had time to go back by the Baths. To the right of the entrance is the Pump Room. It is now an expensive tearoom but it houses a fountain where you can taste the water from the baths for 50 pence (~$1 at the time). But I’ve heard it’s warm with too much of a mineral taste so I opted not to try it.

 

I decided to treat myself to a shake. Then I met everyone at the bus at Orange Grove. The Orange Grove is a small windy street. It has small garden with an obelisk in the middle. After a long day, I was looking forward to just relaxing back at the flat.

Isle of Wight 1/21/08

November 17, 2008

http://www.flickr.com/photos/taltraveltips/sets/72157609296313047/

The Isle of Wight is an island that is about 5 miles off the southern coast of England. It has a population of about 140,000. Royalty often vacationed here in past centuries including Queen Victoria and it still is a popular vacation destination for everyone. We (my roommates and me) took a day trip with Anderson Tours (http://www.andersontours.co.uk/, they only offer an overnight tour now, which actually looks better than the tour I took) and the coach had a pick up point at Earl’s Court so we left a few minutes early to find the bus stop. We couldn’t find it on Earl’s Court Road but we figured out that it was on the west side of Earl’s Court. We ran to the stop and they almost left us. The guide was cranky and it wasn’t even the departure time yet!

 

But whatever, we were on the bus before it left. There were only about 10 or 15 people including us on at least a 50-person bus. We were all really tired so we slept most of the two hour drive to Southampton. When we arrived we drove our bus onto a ferry and then got off to find some seats above on the ship. After a half hour ride, we made it to East Crowes, a city on the Isle of Wight.

 

We went downstairs to get back in our bus and we drove off the ship to begin our tour. The only thing I didn’t enjoy about the tour is that we didn’t have a say where our free time would be and since you need a car to get from city to city, you were stuck in the city where you were given your free time. So we drove right past Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s vacation home, which I wanted to see.

 

Our next stop was St. Mildred’s Church in Whippingham where Queen Victoria worshiped. It is a beautiful old church on the outside but we couldn’t go in because a mass was in progress. There were old graves surrounding the church and our guide showed us the wooden door that the queen would enter through.

 

We then drove to the small town of Godshill. Our guide directed us to some pigs near the bus on a farm. They were tubby and our guide said they had huts so they wouldn’t get sunburned. After seeing the pigs we made the 10 minute walk up the hill to see the prettiest thatch roof home I’ve ever seen. Thatch roof homes are very common in the Cotswold area of England and serve as one of famous trademarks.

 

Next to the home was All Saint’s Godshill church. The church is small but charming. The famous painting of “Daniel in the Lion’s Den” is inside this church. But the most famous feature of the church is the mural of the “Lily Cross,” which shows Jesus on a lily-like cross. By the time we got back by our bus, we didn’t have time to eat. We were off to the next town—Shanklin, which is by the water.

 

It is a cute little town and we ate at the Crab Inn, a local upscale pub. The food was decent but expensive, and the wait was a little long. We still had a time to kill after eating to we walked quickly down to the beach. It was beautiful with towering brown and blond cliffs on either side of us. If it weren’t winter, I would have wanted to lie out.

 

We walked back into town we still had time to explore the Rock Shop, a candy shop our guide mentioned (while my roommate Erin ran back to the beach to get her hat that she left behind). This shop and the island are known for their rock candy. I’m not a fan so I opted for some nonpareils.

 

Our last stop was Yarmouth, a port city. After a quick bathroom break, it was time to head back to East Crowes to catch the ferry. We still had a 2 hour drive back to London after that, and the traffic only made the drive longer.

 

The Isle of Wight was pretty but I wouldn’t be the first to recommend it. Locals probably would enjoy it more since it’s a vacation destination. And the island has a famous music festival during the summer.

 

I went to bed shortly after we got back. My first day of work was tomorrow!

Living and Adjusting to London

November 17, 2008

I didn’t really experience culture shock abroad but there were differences I had to adjust to. For example, Europe follows military time. A trick to convert to standard, 12 hour time: if the time is past noon, just drop the first number and subtract two from the next number. My travel agent taught me this trick. So for example, for 14:00 I would drop the one and subtract 2 from 4 which gives me 2. So it’s 2 p.m. I still have to think of that trick in my head to get it right. It also makes booking travel a pain too. You really have to make sure you know what time it is.

 

Also, if you need to buy a phone or mobile as they say I would recommend Carphone Warehouse (www.carphonewarehouse.com). They are helpful in picking the right phone for you and have plenty of locations in London. In Europe they have monthly rates but they also have pay as you go where you can top up your minutes (buy more) if you run out. Since I was only there for four months, I just did pay as you go. To buy more minutes, you can call the mobile provider or you can go to a grocery store cashier. You just tell the cashier you want to top up your minutes. You tell him your provider and how many minutes you want. You then follow the instructions on the receipt. You usually just call a number, type in the code and the minutes are allocated.

 

You usually need to get a SIM card with your phone as well, which Carphone Warehouse will help you with too. I bought two: one only worked in the UK but it got cheap international rates (only 10 pence/~20 cents to call US), and the other card (T-Mobile) worked in most European countries but the minutes were very expensive.

 

As far as grocery shopping goes, it is much easier than New York. Luckily, Earl’s Court is close to two huge grocery stores: Sainsbury’s and Tesco. Tesco is generally a little cheaper but Sainsbury’s was closer so I shopped there. Waitrose is a decently priced grocery store. Marks and Spencers is another one but it is more high end. Mini markets are also all around too and the one by me was Somerfield’s. Sainsbury’s Local is a smaller version of Sainsbury’s. If you want the cream of the crop, go to Fortnum and Mason, the queen’s grocery store. Prices here are ridiculously high but it’s an adventure to go inside (like Harrods).

 

For money abroad, it’s really hard to get away from fees. Make sure you call your credit card company and tell them you’ll be abroad to make sure your card will work. You can also ask the company what banks they are interchangeable with. The best way to avoid fees is to start a bank in London, but I’ve read you can’t do that from the US. You must be living in the UK so you can’t start the account until you arrive. There are plenty of banks but Barclay’s is probably the most well-known. Also another random fact about credit cards: sign your name on the back of your card. Apparently, it’s illegal if it’s not signed. That’s what a cashier told us at Windsor Castle. She said usually they will just take your card away. But I’ve also read to that signing your card can lead to fraud so just write “see ID” on the space where you sign.

 

And you’re in a new city so you need to find your way around. Cheaply, I would recommend the StreetWise maps (www.streetwisemaps.com). They are easy to read, portable and show public transportation too. If you really want an expensive map, the A-Z (‘z’ is pronounced ‘zed’ in the UK) maps come highly recommended (www.a-zmaps.co.uk/). I bought one but I never really used it. They have so much information on them that they get complicated. But the map is very extensive and covers all of London including outside the city center (StreetWise doesn’t).

 

If you want to spend the money, I would recommend a handheld navigator. I have a Garmin eTrex that I received as a gift from my dad. It took me a little bit to get used to but once I figured it out, I had it taking me to all the sites. You can also plug in a location and it will guide you to it. You can also save addresses so when I traveled I would save my hostel’s address so I always knew how to get back to it. The Garmin is currently only $99 but then you have to buy map CDs that will cost you another $100 or $200. As I said, it’s worth it, but then again I got it as a gift. I’m pretty frugal so I would have just lived off maps if I didn’t have my Garmin.

 

And if you want to know more about public transportation search for it in my other blog entries, but this is the site you want to know: tfl.gov.uk/

For trains you should look at nationalrail.co.uk. And if you want to use buses I would recommend nationalexpress.co.uk. MegaBus (megabus.com) is also in the UK but National Express has more destinations in the UK with similar prices. Buses are better if you want to travel overnight and save on paying for a hotel or hostel. Trains are usually faster but are generally more expensive.

 

And a funny fact to end: pedestrian crosswalks are called zebras. The British are so smart.