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Monday, June 20, 2005

Look Kids Big Ben, Parliament (London Part 3 of 3)

So Sunday morning we woke up, quickly got ready, and set out on our day of sightseeing. We hopped on one of London’s famous red double decker buses, took in some of London’s traffic and made our way out to London tower. We spent the morning there taking in the various towers, Tower Bridge and of course visited the crown jewels. Once we were finished there we wondered down the street from which we came in the direction of St. Paul’s Cathedral. We stopped for lunch along the way and then completed our walk to St. Paul’s. We took in the beauty of the Church and even caught a cleaning man taking a nap on the backside of the Cathedral. Don’t worry we didn’t disturb his nap, but we did snap a picture of course.

After St. Paul’s we then crossed the Thames via the Millennium Bridge and took in the oddities of modern art at the Tate Modern. Neither one of us being big fans of modern art but merely being curious, we were able to go through the museum fairly quickly despite its enormous size. Being completely baffled and having had our fill of modern art we decided to head back to the hostel in order to freshen up before dinner.

With Danielle being a lover of Indian food and me only just starting to experience it we decided to have Indian food for dinner since we were in London after all and they’re supposed to have some darn good Indian food. We were wondering around in an area we were told had a good nightlife scene and restaurants when we happened to come upon the movie theater where earlier in the evening they had the premiere for Batman Begins. Unfortunately we had just missed the actors all leaving. Oh well I hate Katie Holmes now anyway, but Christian Bale would have been cool to see. Anyway, after asking a cop what was going on and then proceeding to ask him where we might find some good Indian food we were heading to dinner which was conveniently just around the corner.

We arrived to the restaurant which looked nice and we were placed in the back at a two person table. We ordered our food but unfortunately for us the only other table that was being occupied in our area was finished with their meal and left. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, but when the waiter has a mega crush on Danielle it becomes a big deal. Now with nothing else to do the waiter decides he is going to “join” us for dinner. He stands at the side of our table talking to Danielle for as long as he can. Danielle not being interested at all tries to keep the conversation to a minimum. However, the awkward silences apparently aren’t so awkward for him. He continues to stay only leaving for moments at a time to assist somewhere or to get us more water. Anytime he leaves he comes back with chocolates for Danielle, who had a bag full by the time we left. After our meal he offers to get Danielle a drink, who isn’t too keen on the idea in the first place. After insisting that she has a drink she finally chooses a drink and brings us each one. While we’re attempting to finish our drinks as quickly as possible he then informs Danielle that she is a “strong woman” and asks her to make a muscle and let him feel it. He then encourages her to feel his muscle. After this exchange he then offers to give her a massage right there in the restaurant at the table. At this point we begin downing our drinks as quickly as possible. Thankfully a few more people began entering the restaurant thus distracting him a bit. At last we were finally able to pay, in cash of course as we feared giving him any credit card information, and were able to flee from the crazy waiter. But despite the persistent waiter, the food was pretty darn good just as the cop said.

Since we weren’t able to go out on Saturday night after Guys and Dolls, we decided to see what London had to offer on a Sunday night. We had only just turned the corner when a bouncer called us over to his club and offered to let us in for half price. Sounded like a deal and since we were cold and not sure of where we were going to go anyway we decided to give it a try since it was cheap as well. Immediately upon entering the club the guys inside basically attacked as it seemed the club was severely lacking females, thus the reasoning behind the bouncer letting us in for half price. After prying the guys off of us we were able to make it to the bar where we could actually stand in peace and order a drink. However, as previously stated being female in that club we were a rare breed and therefore it wasn’t long that we were actually left alone. After spending around 2 hours fighting off the guys the club closed. It was still too early in our opinions so we wondered down the street some and came across a club that while no longer serving alcohol was still open and playing dance music. We entered in and danced the rest of the night, however not before we forced the DJ to play Jamilia’s Superstar for us “two corny girls”.

The next day we would be leaving at 5:43 and heading back to Paris. We got up what we thought was early enough and decided to walk to Buckingham to catch the changing of the guards. However, as usual the walk took longer than expected and we wound up running through the Buckingham Park to catch it on time. We missed a little bit in the beginning but I don’t think it mattered as to my surprise the thing lasted 30 mins! Once that was finally over we meandered over to Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and Parliament. There was an enormous line outside Westminster Abbey, not to mention you had to pay a hefty fee to get in, so we opted to pass on going inside on this trip. We took our pictures and walked around and then finally started heading back in the direction of our hostel. We made our way to Sloane Street, another VERY high end shopping street, and crossed over to Harrods. We spent quiet some time in Harrods and eventually went back to our hostel to pick up our luggage. We took the metro back to the train station and since we had some extra time decided to grab some food to get rid of our remaining pounds. We found a McDonalds but unfortunately didn’t calculate how many pounds we had left before ordering. Our order came out to be a little bit more than we had and they wouldn’t accept credit cards. We were able to return the bottle of water thus reducing our order a bit and actually putting us only a few cents away from the total. So after about a 10 minute discussion on what to do, they accepted the money we had and let us go on our way. I mean we couldn’t leave London without one more unusually situation happening now could we? With our pounds gone we ran onto the train, as we were actually running late after the McDonalds fiasco, and said our goodbyes to London.

We had a great trip filled with weird situations and weird people; we ourselves acted unusual thus leading me to believe there is something a little strange about London. Perhaps on my next trip I'll return with more money and I'll be able to actually afford it, although I'm not so sure I'll be wanting to "party party".

Below is a pic of Big Ben which I especially liked. I always seem to take too many pictures of the Eiffel tower and we realized that if I lived in London, Big Ben would be my Eiffel tower as I took probably 15 pictures of Big Ben while on our three day trip.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

It’s Guys and Dolls, Jerry, Not Guys and Guys! (London Part 2 of 3)

Saturday morning came too quickly for my taste and being woken up by the other girls in the room showering wasn’t a pleasant wake up for me either. But nonetheless I was happy to be there and not at either of the two guys apartments who offered to let us stay at their places for the weekend. Danielle and I waited our turn for the shower and eventually got in and got ready. We went downstairs to pay for our two remaining nights in the hostel since Raj the night before had decided for us to cancel our reservations for those two nights. After settling that, we headed out for Kensington Palace which was a fairly short walk from our hostel; this time it was in fact a short walk. We visited the palace, which was the last residence of Princess Diana, saw several of her dresses, and finally exited into the gardens where we roamed around for a while. We went and visited the Princess Diana memorial fountain and then set out to find a place to eat lunch. Of course finding a place to eat while on our trips is never an easy task. We found ourselves in a residential area and then found ourselves on the new Bond street, a VERY high end shopping street. Fortunately we managed to get to the shopping street that was a little more in our price range and found a line of pubs near by. Naturally being in London we had to eat at a pub and try the fish and chips. However I don’t eat fish so it was up to Danielle to take care of that while I enjoyed a fantastic hamburger cooked all the way through; quite a change from the ones I find in France, if I can find a hamburger.

After lunch our plan was to head to Piccadilly Circus to find out about possibly getting tickets to a show for the time that we would be there and then to head to St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Tate Modern. However, on our way to Piccadilly Circus we got sucked into a giant toy store on the corner and wound up spending way too much time in there. But hey sometimes you have to embrace that inner child. So once we managed to pull ourselves away from the mounds of stuffed animals we made our way to Piccadilly Circus and found the half price ticket booth. We asked about tickets to Guys and Dolls which was the one we wanted to see the most as it is supposed to be a great show and as a bonus stars Ewan McGregor. The guy at the ticket booth informed us that we didn’t have a chance at getting tickets to that show and also let us know that there were no Sunday matinees for any shows which is what we had hoped to see. So it looked like our one chance to see a show would be that night, however, our selection would be limited. Not wanting to spend the money on a show we weren’t too keen on seeing anyway and also not quite ready to give up on Guys and Dolls, we decided to leave that booth and go to another one which we had seen. We got the same story from that guy but he did let us know that perhaps if we went to the theater we might be able to get last minute tickets for Chicago but didn’t have a chance for Guys and Dolls. So we decided to head out to the theater for Chicago but not before stopping at the Guys and Dolls theater. We found the theater and happened to notice a line formed along the side behind a sign that read “Return tickets”. We weren’t completely positive of what that meant but the line wasn’t too long so naturally we just hopped in the line and decided to figure out what it was after getting in line.

Fortunately there were two gay London guys in front of us who were nice enough to explain that the line was for the tickets that people return the day of the show. Basically you wait in line for people to return their tickets and the returned tickets are offered to the first people in line who are willing to pay whatever amount the tickets are for. So the tickets that you get offered, if they make it to your part of the line, could be in any price range. Sounded exciting to me and according to the “Doll”, as he chose to refer to himself, in front of us we had a pretty good chance of getting tickets since the line wasn’t that long. So our plan for seeing St. Paul’s was put on hold while we decided to test out the line and press our luck at getting tickets. We waited around for a while and slowly people would get bored of waiting or tickets were offered and the line got shorter and shorter. The whole process of waiting in the line became much more amusing as the time passed. We began making friends with the people in the line who were oddly enough mostly Americans. Then the real fun started once the guy in the pink tie started coming out with the ticket offers. I felt like I was in an auction and became very excited and hyper everytime he came out. What price tickets would he have, how many tickets would he have, would the people in front of us want them???? Once this started Danielle and I knew we needed to have a limit as to how much we were willing to spend. We decided on our limit and eagerly waited our turn to decide on if we would take the tickets or not. Slowly the people in front of us got ticket offers and took them. There were three more people in front of us and the man in the pink tie came back out. He bypassed the 3 people in front of us since he knew what they wanted and apparently that wasn’t what he had to offer. That meant he came straight to Danielle and I with the ticket offer. Seemingly prepared since we had set our limit, we were surprisingly taken off guard when he came to us with a ticket offer. The two of us completely panicked and suddenly couldn’t make a decision since the offer was ₤15 over our limit yet we really really wanted to see the show. We looked at each other in confusion and each tried passing the decision making responsibility off to the other. During this time everyone behind us was encouraging us to take the tickets and shouting that if we didn’t they would. We knew we didn’t want to spend that much money but at the same time, if we passed up these tickets there was a good chance we wouldn’t be offered any others. After going through several exchanges such as “I’ll do whatever you wanna do” and “I don’t care, you make the decision” we decided that it would be foolish to pass up the tickets since we had already put in an hours worth of waiting in line. Our giggles returned at this point and we managed to get a “yes we’ll take the tickets” out in between giggling. We went inside, purchased our tickets, said good bye to our line friends, and skipped away with two tickets to Guys and Dolls in our purses.

Since we had waited in line for about an hour and the show was due to start in about an hour and a half and now that we had no more money we decided it’d be best to start being cheap and just walked around the city center a bit till the show started. We got in our seats, which were pretty good seats, and were pleased to see at least 4 other people who were in line behind us sitting near by us. The show was great, not quite as good as we expected, but good nonetheless. After the show we went to the side of the theater where everyone would gather up and wait for the cast to exit. We only waited a few minutes and then Ewan came out to sign autographs. We didn’t want to wait in line so we just took pictures of him from across the street. But then we noticed the line was moving rather quickly so we jumped in line and within minutes we were face to face with Ewan and each got him to sign our hard earned tickets.

Once this was over we were broke, tired, and felt we had had enough of an adventure for the day and decided to go back to the hostel so we could get some decent sleep. We planned out our next two days before going to bed, however the events that took place the next evening were not on that list.

….to be continued

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Who likes to “Party Party”? (London Part 1 of 3)

So back in April a crazy ad for the Eurostar did its job in convincing Danielle and I that we should in fact jump on a train and head to London for a weekend. We chose a random date and purchased our tickets and didn’t think much more about the trip until about the day or two before we were set to leave. I mean it’s London, they speak English there, we just recently went on a whirlwind trip to Budapest, Vienna, and Prague; London should be a breeze right? At least that’s what we thought before we crossed the English Channel and started our weekend filled with “interesting” people.

We took off work a little early on Friday and hopped on the train that would take us to London via the depths of the English Channel. For some reason ever since I found out about the Chunnel, way back in High School, I have been dying to take it. So for me this was a very exciting train ride and I couldn’t wait to go into the Chunnel. Danielle couldn’t have cared less and probably got a little annoyed/concerned about how excited I would get each time we entered a tunnel thinking this one was the Chunnel. After a while and many false alarms, we finally did enter the Chunnel. But now what to do, no scenery and too tired to read but not tired enough to sleep? Naturally that signaled picture time for Danielle and I. We some how managed to amuse ourselves for almost the entire 20 mins that we were in the tunnel by taking pics of ourselves in the reflection of the window. I think it was at this point that our giddiness started. For from this point on we seemed any and everything made us giggle.

We arrived in London around 7:30 p.m. and in trying to decide how to get to the hostel we witnessed an unexpected role reversal. This time it was Danielle who was suggesting taking the metro to the hostel while I was the one saying “why don’t we just walk it, I don’t think it’s that far.” Unfortunately we went with my idea and after an hour and a half walk and a 4 block cab ride and we were finally at the hostel. Why the 4 block cab ride one might ask. Well before leaving Danielle had been in contact with a Pepperdine Alumni, Raj, and it was arranged that we were to meet up with him upon our arrival. After calling him when we thought we were close to our hostel he came out to meet us at the closest metro stop. Timing was perfect and we met him right at the corner, unfortunately we still hadn’t reached our hostel. Since he didn’t really feel like walking and probably thought we were absolutely incompetent since we appeared to not know what we were doing, he had us get in a cab even though we were only 4 blocks away. So alas we made it to the hostel and went to check in. It was at this moment that our trip took a drastic turn and our adventure in London officially started. While checking in Raj decides, for some unknown reason, that he wants to step in and “negotiate” our hostel room. Danielle and I still aren’t really sure what exactly happened there, as we both sort of stood in shock watching him attack the desk clerk, but we some how ended up with a room reserved for one night only even though we had reservations for 3 nights (Raj of course offered to let us stay at his place which we didn’t have much interest in doing after what we just witnessed). Once this was all settled, we took our stuff up to the room and Raj waited for us downstairs so we could freshen up before he would show us some London nightlife. During this time Danielle and I quickly got ready while also expressing our complete bewilderment with what had just happened. We quickly realized we were in for quite an unusual night.

We freshened up, changed, hurried downstairs and met Raj and the three of us quickly hopped in a cab and headed off for our first destination of the night; a club called Eclipse that was in typical posh club style with no sign out front. The three of us entered the club but Raj quickly turned around and went back outside leaving Danielle and myself inside not quite sure what to do. Not being strangers to bars/clubs you would think Danielle and I would have been just fine, but for some odd reason we felt socially inept and felt as though we belonged in a Bridget Jones movie/book. This feeling would continue for the rest of the night; it’s really a shame no one was filming us, we could have been the next Bridget Jones’. Once Raj came back into the bar we met up with two of his friends, two girls. Slowly more of his friends came and after having drink after drink bought for us everyone decided to move on to a new club. However, one girl actually didn’t want to leave so her friend, the other girl, decided to stay with her and before we knew it Danielle and I were in a cab with 3 guys and being lead to the next bar, Cocoon. While in the cab Danielle was propositioned to “party party” with our unusual host Raj. It seems our new “friend” wanted to know if we did cocaine and just couldn’t except the fact that we didn’t or had never tried it; kind of unusual coming from a 34 year old Pepperdine alumnus. But he eventually moved on and we arrived at our destination where we were again lead into the bar, bought drinks, and then quickly lead out again to go to yet another destination. During this leg of our tour of London night clubs I was the fortunate one approached by Raj about my “party” habits. The rest of the night continued in this sort of fashion with clubs, drinks, and cabs and finally ended with us making it back to our hostel where we of course discussed the bizarre whirlwind of a night we just went through. Vowing that we didn’t want to see Raj for the rest of the trip we went to bed but had no idea what the rest of the trip had in store for us.

…to be continued

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Brussels in a Chocolate Covered Beer Filled Nutshell

So back in May my dad and Geneva came out to Paris to visit yours truly. Since they had previously vacation for a week in Paris we decided to skip town for the weekend of May 27-29 and head out to Brussels to indulge ourselves in chocolate, waffles and in my case beer as well. I took a half day of work on Friday and we jumped on the Thalys train from Paris to Brussels, which thanks to Central Europe’s fantastic rail system is only 1 hour and 25 mins away. We arrived to our hotel, yes this time I would be staying in a nice hotel in my own room and not a hostel with 7 other people in my room, got settled and set out to see what Brussels had to offer.

We walked down to the Grande Place, which is a big square in the center of the city with some beautiful buildings surrounding it and filled with lots of nice patios to sit on and have a beer or two. We strolled through the streets browsing through the chocolate shops and admiring the architecture. We eventually made our way to Mannekin Pis, the little statue of the boy peeing. Slightly disappointing as he’s very tiny, but I guess I should expect much from a statue of a boy peeing and honestly I don’t know that I would want it to be any larger. After walking around for a while and getting a fill for the city center we went and had dinner. I of course had to get the fries and of course had to have a Belgian beer. The beer, as expected, was fantastic. After dinner we retreated to the hotel but not before trying a Belgian waffle of course. Again, fantastic. While it was a good start to Brussels unfortunately since Nick, who was supposed to come along with us, was unable to make the trip at the last minute I would be left alone come night fall. Normally no big deal, but this meant I would have no one to go out and enjoy more Belgian beer with. Not wanting to go alone and actually being too exhausted to even consider it, I decided to go ahead and call it an early night since it had been about a month since I had even a decent nights sleep.

The next day we got up and hurried out to a chocolate factory where we were told we could join a group for a tour of the factory. While the tour would be in Flemish, they told us we could join nonetheless and that they would do English for us as well. However, once we got there, the woman who appeared to be the organizer of the group that would be taking the tour did not like the idea that the factory said we could join their tour and she refused to let us trail behind her group. A rather rude woman I must add. So we left so as not to cause her too much strife and headed back to the touristy areas in town. We decided the best way to see the city would be to take the bus tour, so that’s what we did. While it was a great trip around the city and an easy way to see everything, I couldn’t help but be a little upset that my pictures weren’t coming out as nicely as they would have had I been walking around like I normally do. However, my feet were very thankful that I was not forcing them to carry me all over the city as I normally do for my trips. After the bus tour we decided to go see the comic museum since Belgium is known for their comic strips. Belgians are actually responsible for the Smurfs as I recently found out. Not a very impressive museum from my perspective but then again I’ve never been too fond of comic strips. Yet it’s still something one should probably see when in Belgium since it is such a big aspect of their culture.

The next day we weren’t set to leave till later in the afternoon, so we walked around some more enjoying the park out front of the palace, buying more chocolate, and of course having one last waffle and beer. We eventually boarded the train late afternoon and made our way back to Paris where we were welcomed with the cold and rain which was quite a contrast to the sunny and warm Brussels we had just left. But yet it still felt good to be what has now come to feel like my home.

All in all I really enjoyed Brussels as a weekend destination. I wouldn’t recommend staying in the city for longer than a day or two but it’s definitely worth a visit. I definitely want to go back to Belgium, but next time want to visit other cities such as Bruges as it seems it’s much more scenic where Brussels is a very functional city. I do have to reiterate though that the waffles, chocolate and beer were fantastic. I know the fries are supposed to be good too, I just didn’t actually have any good ones, but I can definitely vouch for the other three. So one word of advice, before going to Belgium make sure you diet a little first so as to make room for the overindulgence of beer, chocolate and waffles.