Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Europe Recap Part 1: London

Time to recap the trip of a lifetime, or at least the trip of my 31-year lifetime. We'll go chronologically starting in London and then skip the 6 hours we were in Munich picking up the car (OK, we'll blog about that one separately) and head straight to Paris. Then we'll do the drive from Munich to Austria and finish with the last few days in Munich and the surrounding areas. Sounds good? OK, here we go...

Tower of London with Tower Bridge in the background...the ravens were still here, don't fret

London is great. I could spend a lot of time in London seeing everything and just being part of the culture, even if that just meant hanging out in pubs and walking around town. Living here would be a breeze, albeit it rather expensive. Public transportation is everywhere, bad ass cars are everywhere, people dress nicely and are polite, the food is great; it's a fantastic city. Oh and technology is everywhere and everyone uses it, unlike here where people still don't quite get using voicemail and such (no offense to those people, but if you're reading a blog it's highly unlikely you're one of those people). On the train to Heathrow you text your flight # to some hotline like 2322 on your phone and it texts you back immediately letting you know what terminal you're at, scheduled departure time and other pertinent information. At ATM's you can "top up" your prepaid mobile phone with additional credits. The list goes on. I'm a technology junkie and this was about as fantastic a place as one could find in that regard.

Tower Bridge during the London Marathon...major PITA, but entertaining nonetheless

One of the reasons I love London is the weather. Born and raised in a cold and seasonal climate, I'm used to cold/cool weather and actually prefer it over the "perfect" weather of SoCal, which is nice but gets kind of old at times. Our weather was cool the entire time and we got rained on rather hard for 30 minutes or so but past that it was just a mostly overcast and cool 50-60 degrees; sublime. Winter here must be great with snow everywhere and the history of London omnipresent. Whenever I think of winter I imagine an old Dickens novel or Ebeneezer Scrooge sitting at the desk around the industrial revolution and it was really cool to see these places in person. It really made me want to explore more of London and England as a whole.

The Queen's crib (she was home this day, BTW)

Meeting up with Katie's friend Ema from Manchester was a good time and it was nice to spend some time in the pub drinking with a local...even though she was from Manchester at the complete opposite end of the England...you get the idea. The culture is very much built around public meetings like a beer in the pub or an ice cream in the park. Not that this is any different than here or anywhere else, but for some reason it just feels more natural over there; more like I expect life to be like.

You laugh...$10 says you'll forget the first time you cross the street in London.

Food & drink were great. We had pub food a couple of times, grocery store sandwiches and chips the night we arrived, Indian food one night and pizza another. As I like to do when traveling, I imbibe in local beers/ales and London was a great place to try out local brews including several hand-pumped ales that are surely only found in England. Everyone kept telling me before I left "have a Guinness while in London!" and while I do love Guinness it's no longer the drink of Ireland or the British Isles, it's as American as apple pie. Budweiser, Stella and Guinness are American beers no matter how you slice it; deal with it Ireland and Belgium.

Yeah I get it...I'll watch my step getting off the Picadilly Line to Cockfosters

With the incredible and stable strength of the US Dollar, we were forced to be frugal and make wise decisions every step of the way with our money. The biggest and best decision we made was to use Priceline and bid for rooms. We stayed at a super nice Hilton (4-star) in a great area about 2-3 blocks from the "Tube" for $104 /night, and that includes taxes. Do your research and save a ton of money with Priceline; your bank account will thank me.

Established 100 years before a bunch of tea was dumped in Boston Harbor

I had to splurge on one thing in London. I had read about Lock & Co. Hatters online and their sterling reputation. Established 1676, Lock has been the hatter for the royal family, Captain James Cook and all sorts of notable people over their 300+ year history. What better place to buy a proper hat! The shop is SMALL. Ladies hats upstairs, gentlemen downstairs and not much room to stretch out. But you know what? It was perfect. I ended up buying their signature "country" cap the Gil which is handmade in the shop. It rules and it looks great, if I do say so myself. I wanted to buy an authentic "Coke" hat seen below (invented by Lock in 1850) as they use this wacky contraption set on your head to fit the hat EXACTLY to the shape of your head (it has been used for 100's of years and you can see the hat/head outlines made from this machine of Princess Diana, Capt. Coook and others on the walls) but this hat was around $500 USD so I settled for the still expensive, but reasonable Gil cap. Katie also got a super fun and floppy straw hat that looks great on her, though we don't have any photos. I'm sure a summer photo will show up on here with the hat atop her head :)

Lock & Co. invented the hat seen above that you may know as a "bowler." However, it's called a "Coke" should you visit the store, just to save you a bit of embarrassment, Love :)

Leaving London was a bummer. We thoroughly enjoyed our time and I think we both wish we could have spent at least 1 more day here. I missed seeing Chelsea play due to a last minute scheduling change from Saturday to the Monday when we left but that just means I have to go back! I'd say of all the places we visited, London was a solid #2 maybe tied for first with Germany. London truly is a fantastic city with so much to see and a friendly environment to immerse yourself in the entire time you're there. I will most certainly be headed back to London in the near future to catch some football, culture and another hat from Lock & Co. Cheers!

Things I love in this photo: Katie, London, Big Ben & Parliament, my Lock & Co. cap

No comments: