Wednesday, January 11, 2012

London, UK

This December, I was lucky enough to have a friend from back home come visit me here in Madrid. Thanks to her, we were able to travel to various countries during her stay and London, of course, was a MUST. 

Being the poor college/post-college students that we are, we decided to spend our first night at the airport. For fellow backpacking airport sleepers, Gatwick aiport is a pretty comfy airport to sleep in. I mean, it's no 5 star hotel, but it was warm and the seats were cushioned and didn't have armrests dividing each seat. Halfway through the night I was awoken by the sound of some man munching and CRUNCHING very loudly on some potato chips... he definitely made them sound like the most delicious potato chips on the planet. And at about 8am the arcade (I know... an arcade in the AIRPORT?!?!)  rudely woke us up with it's loud music. But overall, it was a pretty good night's rest.

As for the city itself, we went during the holiday season aka spent Christmas Eve, Christmas, AND Boxing Day, in London so we experienced both the insanely crowded streets (I thought Madrid was bad...) and the insanely empty ones as well. I'm not sure if I got an entirely adequate experience of how the city is like on a normal basis, but we were still able to squeeze in all of the famous tourist-y sights, thanks to our Londonite friend- Shyam P. and eat and DRINK like the British, with an emphasis on the "drink"- just in case you couldn't tell :).

My only sighting of a British soldier with his fuzzy hat. 

The cute British taxis. 

Umm.. this must be some sort of joke that I don't get. Or maybe it's "abstract art".... who knows.

The British version of TJ Maxx maybe?

For those of you fellow study/living/working abroaders here in Spain, you know that it's seriously lacking in the authentic Americanized Mexican food places. Namely being Chipotle. Misfortune decided to slap me in the face and close this baby down while I was in London so I PERSONALLY have not had a single morsel of this succulent taste of Mexican-Americany heaven enter my mouth since August 2011. But for all of you other people who are craving a taste of home and happen to be in London, there are two locations in the city that are pretty easy to get to. 

BAMF motorcycling Santas.. lol

Big Ben chilling with his homie, London Eye.

And now, my FAVORITE part - food and beer! While waiting for the sun to go down to see London all lit up/hide from the cold, we decided to go to Russell Square and have our very own authentic British pub experience. The warmth and the massive wall filled with alcohol (and it was only the first floor!) at O'Neill's was definitely a welcoming sight. I felt right at home... hmm that's probably not a good thing... Anyway, we headed up to the second floor to find a place to sit, and again, another massive bar- not as big as the one on the first floor, but a close contender. 

I, of course, opted for the Stella but this time, I was given something even better. Meet my new best friend: Stella Black on TAP. Holy crap... I can't even explain the raging party that went on in my mouth. SO GOOD.

The main reason to fly all the way to London every weekend. That, and to buy some Haribo Strawbs, but more on that later! The Stella was so crisp and refreshing and had such a wonderfully smooth flavor to it that I felt like I had died and gone to beer heaven. Ay dios mio!

Okay, how good can fish and chips get just because they're made from their country of origin? Pretty damn good I tell you. Probably because they were Guinness beer battered and I would be lying if I told you that that was the sole reason why I ordered this dish. The fried fish remained perfectly crispy until my very last bite and I didn't feel like a tub of lard after finishing my meal, and let me tell you- I practically licked my plate clean.

Toucan Sam knows best.

The british version of a "snakebite" - half Strongbow cider & half beer with what I think was some kind of fruity syrup? I'm not sure, but it was pretty good and apparently it's strong enough to be illegal in some bars! My personal favorite is still the raspberry snakebite from the Anthill Pub at the University of California, Irvine but this version was different in a refreshing sort of way. I highly recommend both beer and non-beer lovers to try this drink or even just a regular cider while in London because DELICIOUS is a severe understatement!

Is it just me or do the warning signs in the Underground have a slightly motivational tone to them? Whatever the case, I love it!

Ugh, it's disgustingly beautiful. I wish I could see this everyday. The SEA LIFE London Aquarium.

And the impressive London Eye at nighttime. Basically, a glorified ferris wheel with apparently gorgeous views of the city. Located along the Thames River in London, it used to be the world's largest ferris wheel in 1998. But apparently, in 2008 the Singaporeans outdid their former colonizers with the Singapore Flyer.

St. Paul's Cathedral. Sooo gorgeous at night with the Christmas tree!

Beautiful street with leaves permanently imprinted into the ground as a result of thousands of cars fossilizing them while driving over them. Who would've thought nature and man made creations could produce such a striking work of art?

Another torturous reminder of what I'm missing out on back in the States: Earl of Sandwich

I wasn't able to get a good picture of the actual tower but I guess that means you'll just go have to see it for yourself! It was one of my favorite sights in London, not because it was the nicest looking structure, but because I used to be obsessed with Henry VIII and his 6 wives (pretty hilarious quiz to see which wife you are) ; he was quite the scandalous man back in the day! Both Anne Boleyn & Kathryn Howard were imprisoned AND beheaded at this very site - you can see where it all went down apparently. Also, Queen Elizabeth I was imprisoned here at some point in her life.

Alright, a little London for Dummies for those of you numskulls like me, this is the Tower Bridge, NOT the London Bridge. This is the bridge that opens up to let large boats pass through and the same bridge from the beloved Spice World movie. The London Bridge is actually flat and we weren't quite sure which one it was... there are quite a few flat bridges over the Thames.

Overall, London was a great city with polite people (aside from the customs lady who must've woken up on the wrong side of the bed) and although very different from the States, it felt like home to a certain extent which was nice, especially during the holidays!

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