Saturday, September 20, 2008

London meets KR

Hello mates! I send a bright and cheery hello from LONDON, a city which I already adore despite extreme culture shock and overall amazement with every sight, sound, and smell. As I write this, I imagine I’m writing in a lovable British accent – a high-pitch chat of which I believe I’ve already perfected a dead-on impression. I’ve been from London to Surrey to Guildford and back to London in less than two days, and as is appropriate, I’ve got some great stories to tell. Here goes…

Before I go any further, it must be put into print that MaryAnne Rose is BY FAR the most fabulous relative who bears our very floral last name, which says a lot considering the heaps of competition she’s got. By providing my travelmate, Kathleen, and I the ultimate hook-up prior to our flight across the pond on Virgin Atlantic, MaryAnne made my very first international flight completely amazing. With a special VIP ticket to the “Virgin Clubhouse,” I was able to hobnob with some Brits who have some serious quid to spare on Upper Class Tickets. Perks of the Virgin Clubhouse includ free drinks, food, showers, reading material, and beyond. Best of all, the lovely little lady flight attendant whom the Roses of GC befriended invited the parents in to enjoy some Johnny Walker and Grey Goose along with their daughters, making it a fabulous way to start the trip off. And ok, Mom and Dad can also fall into the “best” category, as well, since they’re the ones who got me here! =)

The special treatment doesn’t stop there.

After a few seconds on the runway, prior to take-off, the supervisor of the Upper Class cabin made an announcement for Kaitlyn Rose and Kathleen Atkins to identify themselves, making the entire economy cabin curse in British slang as we were handed champagne to enjoy during take-off. It was nothing short of a fabulous time and a flight that, despite turbulence that had me Hail Mary-ing for a good hour, was comfortable, on time, and hassle free.

Our first London cab ride broke the bank a bit, but got us safely to the Kensington Hilton in one piece. We got settled, made some sense of our luggage, and before we had a second to breathe, we were on a train to a fantastic tudor mansion in Surrey, a house at which Kathleen has some family friends from her days as a resident of Japan. Their son took us out to a club in Guildford. Not going to lie, the culture shock absolutely terrified me, as it was a lot to be thrown into after not sleeping for a day, but it was interesting to experience a time like I’ve never had before. (After all, the farthest I’ve been from home is Arizona, and how can you not enjoy that?!) While clubs definitely aren’t my “thing” (I much prefer a relaxed pub, as you will see below), it’s all the rage in England, so I hope it will grow on me, which I’m sure it will after another day of de-jetlagging.

Despite our fabulous hotel in Kensington, which we’ve decided is a neighborhood similar to Beacon Hill or Greenwich Village, we ended up sleeping in Surrey for our first official night, but that didn’t stop us from hightailing back to London for a day of TRAVEL… after getting cell… I mean, mobile phones in Surrey, of course! We started or trip with a one day travelcard purchase, which gave us the option of traveling anywhere in London for one inclusive price, which we completely abused by taking the “Tube” about 10 times. No joke! Abbey Road was our first stop, so we went Beatles crazy, taking our own photographic version of the famous album cover. To be honest, it looks like any old “Zebra” crosswalk; the best part was watching tourists, like ourselves, walk over the crosswalk 37 times, hoping that each shot will look as perfect as John, Paul, Ringo, and George did during the Summer of Love. It was fabulous and got us very pumped for our next destination: Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.

Big Ben is far more breathtaking in person than is expressed in pictures. The detailing on the clock was awesome, making it my favorite stop of the day. We took some (and by some I mean about 50) toursity pictures, grabbed some paninis for lunch, and continued our visit in the area, which we plan on visiting again tomorrow when we take a double decker bus tour around London’s hotspots.

Buckingham Palace did not have any guards on duty that we saw, but it was definitely awesome looking. It’s located in a very cute area, which we enjoyed exploring for a few minutes.

(Note that the rest was written on the following day.)

After that, we Tubed to the Tower Bridge and walked over it and along the River Thames. Foot exhaustion set in BIG TIME at this point, so we rested a little and people watched, giving us the perfect opportunity to take in London’s population and the respective quirks. Some notable ones: Men wear very nice shoes. Women wear black tights with everything. Their teeth really aren’t that bad. Boots are in. Smiling is not.

We then continued on to Picadilly Circus, which is London’s equivalent of Times Square and the Theatre District. While it has its own charm, it was so similar to New York, making it a pleasantly nostalgic walk through lights and tourists. We checked out London’s Chinatown before having a traditional London pub supper of fish and chips. Our Spanish server took an extreme liking to the only two American girls in the pub – a.k.a. us – which translated from flattery to excellent service. He definitely made us want to trek to Barcelona, as he mentioned it’s “Just like London but BETTER.” Hopefuly Ryan, as in air, can hook us up.

Bedtime approached soon after that, but not for long. We were up early to catch our double-decker tour bus excursion. The full-day of hop on hop off tours took us to a lot of the same places as the day before, with an added commentary from animated British men… and one apathetic British woman. We learned some fun English trivia and passed some spots such as Elton John’s apartment and the garden in which Mary Poppins sang about flying kites, among the traditional tourist spots, such as Big Ben, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Westminster Abby, where we also took a guided tour. I especially liked standing on top of Geoffrey Chaucer’s tomb. I like knowing he can’t write any more Canterbury tales to torture me with. =)

As nighttime approached, Kathleen and I separated for our first time since arriving, making us feel extremely big shot and fabulous. While she went to celebrate a family-friend’s birthday, I added another notch to my Les Miserables tally. (Number 3.) It was phenomenal yet different from the New York production, making it totally worth the splurge. Since Europe is much more risqué than our sheltered state, the costumes and blocking were much more revealing and vulgar. The violence was also upped considerably, making my tears for little Gavroche’s death more like wails of horror. Gotta love those TKTS booths, though in London, the discount barely registers, which brings me to my next discussion… MOOLAH.

London, as I learned on the tour today, is the world’s most expensive city. One ride on the Underground is 4 Pounds, which translates to 8 American dollars. A tiny little lunch sandwich costs 3 pounds, and an extra dollar if you want a place to sit. I can’t even tell you how much I’ve spent on just tours, transportation, and food. God help me tomorrow when Oxford Street meets KR. It’s the shopping capital of London. My plan is to put my pounds and cards in a block of ice.

We leave tomorrow for the Berjaya Hotel to officially begin our time with the Institure for Study Abroad. We spend a few days in Notting Hill before coaches shuttle us to Canterbury on Saturday morning. I’ll update again soon!

With love and a big ol’ cheers,



kathy said...

Hi, Kate sounds like you have adapted to the London life style very well. Looking forward to your pictures. Bill wants to know your favorite British word so far.
Talk to you soon.