Fun-don in London (And some Thoughts)

So this past weekend, from the 9-11 of November, I went with a group of Penthouse people to London.

We woke up pretty early on the 9th to get to the airport, because we had to take a bus from the Hauptbahnhof (a ~10 minute walk from the Center) to the airport, which was another 30/45 minutes.

The flight from Salzburg to London was pretty smooth and nothing bad happened, thankfully.  (Also, let me add as a complete aside because I have nowhere else to add this, but the currency exchange rate is absurd.  It was $150 for 100£, and 100£ wasn’t enough to last for the weekend.)  Anyways.  When we got into London, it was a little after noon, but we had to take a train from London Gatwick to the center of London, then to our Airbnb in Whitechapel, which took about an hour and 30 minutes, maybe a little bit longer.  But WOW the English countryside was really gorgeous.  The colors were so beautiful and the train was pretty empty.  Then we switched to the Tube and eventually made it to our Airbnb.

Funny enough, the Airbnb was only about 5 minutes – it was down the street – from the Airbnb I stayed in last time I was in London.  The Airbnb was pretty nice, and it even had a balcony, but there were a few things that went wrong.  The ceiling leaked onto one of the beds, the shower was clogged with some gross mold-looking substance, it was BOILING hot, and even turning down the AC all the way (and opening the windows) kept it like a sauna.  We think it was because of the towel heater, which there was also no way to turn off.  However, minus these issues, it was pretty nice.

So we sat for a little while and kinda just hung out after dropping off our stuff in the Airbnb – Max wasn’t feeling great and Kate didn’t want to join us for a musical, while the rest of us (Caitlin, Olivia, Lexi, and I) were going to see Heathers, a musical that my sister wanted me to go see, on West End, which is basically England’s “Broadway.”  To kill time between arriving at the Airbnb and Heathers, we went to this English pub-restaurant thing, called “The Blind Beggar.”  It was so stereotypically English Pub-esque, but it was a lot of fun and the food was DELICIOUS.  Anyways, once it came time to head out, we hopped on the Tube (which, might I add, we had trouble with the entire time we were in London because our daily tickets wouldn’t scan properly so we had to ask for help EVERY SINGLE TIME we arrived anywhere) and headed to West End.  Once we got there, it was raining a little bit but we wandered around until we found the theater (or theatre) we were supposed to be in.  Max’s friend who’s studying in London, Amanda, came out and met us there, and Amanda, Max, and Kate all headed out to explore the city while we watched a musical.

So with Heathers, I hear Olivia and Lexi singing songs from the musical pretty often, but I’d never seen it and had no clue what the context was.  But the musical was hilarious and the soundtrack was really good, and WOW can those actors and actresses sing.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect going in, but I was told by Olivia and Lexi that I’d enjoy it, and I ended up loving it.  The main actress, who played Veronica, had a really good American accent (to the point I thought she was an American actress), and I was really impressed by the whole performance, even though our seats were pretty bad (we were at the very top, looking down, but the tickets were only 29$ so it wasn’t too bad).  So after the musical, we headed back to the Airbnb and settled in for the night.

The next morning, we woke up fairly early to take the Tube to go explore London some more.  Max still wasn’t feeling well, so Amanda came over to watch movies and bring food for him, while the rest of us went out to check out the city.  We first stopped at the Tower of London and took some pictures:

Tower of London

However, we didn’t stay long because everyone was fairly hungry and we also wanted to check out other sites too.

So we ended up stopping to get coffee and breakfast, and next headed to the London Bridge:

London Bridge

After crossing the London Bridge, we wandered around on the other side of the Thames for a few hours.  We saw some really cool buildings and architecture, and we ended up finding this little vista thing that gave us a good view of the London Bridge:

London Tower from the vista thing

So after checking this vista out, we just wandered aimlessly around to see what London had to offer.  We saw the Shard and some pretty cool architecture as well:

We wandered down to the riverfront of the Thames and walked there for a little while, stumbling upon some dancers for Poppy Day, the Globe, and more:

The Globe!

We found this little area with some colorful doors and stopped to take pictures here – one of the doors led to the house where Shakespeare’s wife lived!

I messed around with camera settings for a while, which I was basically doing the entire weekend, because I wanted to get a bokeh-like picture (where the background is blurry but the foreground stands out). Here’s a test shot of Caitlin:

Next up, we went to the Tate Modern, which is a modern art museum that you can enter for free.  I was told by some friends who went to London earlier that there was a “slippery floor” exhibition (which was actually about immigration, but pretty much impossible to make work without a group of HUNDREDS of people), and a “crying room” called Forced Empathy.  It was pretty cool, actually; I wasn’t sure if I was going to cry or not, but the room emits this REALLY powerful chemical (smelled like mint) that totally clears up your sinuses and makes tears just flow. Olivia and Lexi just hurt because of it, Kate didn’t cry, and Caitlin and I cried, but I cried the most.  Probably because I went into it with eyes WIDE OPEN and took a HUGE whiff of the chemicals, so it hit me hard and fast.  It was pretty funny because we were all in great moods yet I was BAWLING my eyes out:

The exhibition was really interesting; before you go in, you get stamped with a number – this number corresponds with one of over 10 million refugees that have fled their countries in recent years to flee violence or persecution:

The number rises daily, and each person that enters gets a different number to correspond with a different refugee – no one has the same number, and with over 10 million refugees and counting, it really shows the true scale of the refugee crisis.

So after checking out the Tate Modern for a little bit, we headed back out to the riverfront and went to check out the Borough Market.  It was really cool, and it reminded me of Seattle’s Pike Place Market.  It was really cool because it was super crowded and rambunctious, and it was all under a train line:

Borough Market

We wandered around and got some food and drinks, and it was all so delicious.  I got a pulled pork sandwich with apple mustard and barbecue sauce, and it was PHENOMENAL.  Probably some of the best pulled pork I’ve ever had.  We also got some warm juice/cider stuff (not really sure what it was) but mine was cranberry, lemon, orange, and ginger, and it was delicious as well.

Thanks to Caitlin for taking this on her phone!

The Borough Market was a TON of fun.  Just wandering around, looking at stands, smelling the food, having good friends there with you – it was just a great time.

After the Borough Market, we hopped back on the train and headed to go check out Buckingham Palace.  We had a nice little stroll through a garden, which was gorgeous, and then we arrived at Buckingham Palace. Thankfully, it was a nice day (at least up to this point), so the weather provided for some good pictures:

After hanging out at Buckingham Palace for awhile, we headed back through the park and took some pictures:

Next up, the Penthouse Gals wanted to go shopping, at a famous place called Harrod’s or something like that.  It was REALLY expensive (like there were Gucci stores, Louis Vuitton, Bottega Veneta, etc. EVERYWHERE) and the food court, which is the only place that wasn’t absurdly expensive, felt like a 1920s neoclassical bank.  There were marble floors, chandeliers, sculptures, etc., and each “room” or section of the department store was decorated in a different way, but it was all very 1920s-esque.  For example, there was an “Egyptian” staircase, with hieroglyphs and whatnot, and it was decked out in gold, with marble floors – it felt very much like a 1920s view of what decorations depicting “Egypt” should look like.  Being as it was made in 1849 and is considered the best known department store in the UK, the fact that it has had work done on the architecture through the years, and the fact that it is for VERY wealthy customers, meant that the extravagant architecture and design makes total sense.  It actually looked really cool, but I didn’t take any pictures unfortunately.

After Harrod’s, they decided to go across the street for some clothes shopping.  Since I was waiting, I decided to buy a watch!  Anyways, in the time we were there, the weather turned sour and it was POURING rain by the time we got out.  However, we still wanted to check out the British Museum, so we hopped on the Tube and made the walk out to the British Museum, only to find that the line was well out the entrance, and since none of us had umbrellas and none of us wanted to wait an hour in pouring rain, we headed back to our Airbnb.  

We got back and Amanda and Max, who had been at the Airbnb this entire time, joined us for dinner.  We went to a really fancy restaurant (really good food but pretty pricey) and then headed back to the Airbnb again.  The rest of the group was going to go to a bar, but I just wanted to explore the city more, so we all split up – Olivia went to the Airbnb, they went to go find a bar, and I went to go explore downtown.

However, as soon as I got to the Tube station, the announcer said that the platforms were mixed up, as well as the destinations, and I really didn’t want to mess around with a subway system that I didn’t know well when there were technical malfunctions, so I headed back to the Airbnb anyways, and turns out the group that was going to go to a bar did too.  Once we were back, they all watched a movie (“The Big Short”) and I listened to music and checked out the pictures that I had taken during the day.  And with that, we called it a day and headed to sleep.

Sunday was a pretty cool day, despite not really travelling anywhere other than to the airport.  And that was because it was Remembrance Day – but it wasn’t just any Remembrance Day, it was the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. London, and the UK in general, from what I’ve seen, seem to celebrate Remembrance Day/Armistice Day/Veterans’ Day/Poppy Day more than any country I’ve seen.  They really celebrate it, which I think is really interesting – it’s seen more as a cause for celebration, that there’s peace, than a day for mourning.  Yes, remembrance is important – that’s the whole point of having the poppies is to commemorate the dead; after battles during WWI, poppies were the only flowers to grow in the devastated battlefields.  EVERYONE in the Tube or in London in general seemed to be wearing a poppy, and I myself got one – I figured I might be in London for another Remembrance Day, where I could get a poppy pin, but never for the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI.  Even though it was a cheap pin – it was made out of paper and plastic – it was still pretty cool to get a poppy pin on the one day marking the 100th year anniversary of the end of the war – I knew that day would never come again, so I donated to the Poppy Fund and got a pin. Throughout the entire weekend, I kept having thoughts of WWI and WWII, probably because it was Remembrance Day – I thought about how so many people during the Battle of Britain and the Blitz took shelter in the Tube during WWII, or how young soldiers during WWI could have potentially been taking the same railroad lines as we were taking to leave their homes to go fight on the frontlines, where many of them would ultimately die.  Furthermore, being in a train was also interesting to me because the Armistice was signed in a train car.  It was just a little note that I found to be pretty interesting.

The thought that kept coming back to me was how lucky we are to be living in a time of relative peace.  Sure, things seem messed up today, but there is no world conflict of the scales of WWI and WWII that are taking young lives – 16, 17, 18, etc. – people that are near my age, today.  I’m lucky to not have lived through those wars – to not have seen my last moments on some battlefield in France or Germany, or to see my friends killed next to me, or anything like that.  I’m lucky that I’m able to travel through England, or from Austria to England, which were in BRUTAL conflict during WWI, with absolutely no issues.  I’m lucky that I get to see so much of the world in a time of peace that people that were my age, 100 years ago, would have never gotten to see, or would have seen it torn up and destroyed by war.  Hell, I’m lucky to be in Europe in general, even by today’s standards.  So many people aren’t as fortunate as I am and I feel like a lot of people tend to take it for granted – sure, classes may suck sometimes, and there may be things that go wrong, like a train getting cancelled, but at the end of the day, we’re across the globe, still in Europe, and even if things go wrong, on the bright side, we’re given an opportunity that many people go without their entire lives; some people literally never leave the US, or their home countries, for their entire lives.

This was taken at exactly 11:00, 100 years after the Armistice was signed!

This whole year so far, in Austria, Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, and the UK, has been so transformative for me.  It’s improved my patience – who would have thought that I’d be alright with things going wrong in trips?  I’ve learned to look at things on the bright side – sure, we may get stuck in a foreign city overnight (coughcough LINZ coughcough), or our train may have too many problems to count (coughcough ITALY coughcough), but on the bright side, at the end of the day, we’re alive, we’re still in Europe, and we’re with good company.  Things WILL be alright. 

This trip has also definitely taught me about myself.  It’s taught me how to travel better, how to communicate in a foreign language (I spoke with a Czech lady who didn’t speak English, in German!), it’s taught me cultural differences and how to navigate a totally different culture, it’s taught me how to make friends with both Americans, Austrians, Swedes, and more, and what I look for in the people I make friendships with, and it’s taught me not to take things for granted. As I mentioned, I’m so incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity, and wherever I end up, whatever goes wrong, as long as I’m alive, things are all good.  

Lastly, it’s taught me what I want to DO with my life.  Honestly, after this trip, I can’t imagine not having a job that involves travel in some way, shape, or form. I don’t care if it comes after doing grad work over at the Universität Salzburg, or anywhere over here really, but I just REALLY want to live over here, or at least be able to travel out here at least sometimes.  I think majoring in German was a really good decision, because if I do grad work over here, it’ll help me get a job and be able to communicate in German, and that’s a really interesting thing for me.  Plus, I don’t want my major to go to waste and not use it. 

Anyways, once we got back to Salzburg, the airport was GORGEOUS. It was a clear day and the mountains surrounding Salzburg were all visible, and in the sunset, it looked beautiful:

Also, here’s the video from this trip!

So what do I have coming up in the next few weeks?  

Potentially(?) a day trip to Munich or somewhere in Germany, one of these weekends.  We’re also going as a group to go explore Paris, Strasbourg, and some other French and German towns for 10 days in late November.  So that’ll be a lot of fun.

Well that’s all for now.

With love, from London/Mit Liebe aus London,

Cal


PHRASES:

Wahrscheinlich = Probably

SONG:

“Countdown” by Phoenix.  Really good song, and it’s been going through my head all weekend.

Also, in celebration of Remembrance Day, I figured I’d include some anti-war WWI poetry:

“In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
        In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
        In Flanders fields.

“Dulce et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen (“Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori” = “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”)

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: 
Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

And lastly, “The Owl” by Edward Thomas:

Downhill I came, hungry, and yet not starved; 
Cold, yet had heat within me that was proof 
Against the North wind; tired, yet so that rest 
Had seemed the sweetest thing under a roof. 

Then at the inn I had food, fire, and rest, 
Knowing how hungry, cold, and tired was I. 
All of the night was quite barred out except 
An owl’s cry, a most melancholy cry 

Shaken out long and clear upon the hill, 
No merry note, nor cause of merriment, 
But one telling me plain what I escaped 
And others could not, that night, as in I went. 

And salted was my food, and my repose, 
Salted and sobered, too, by the bird’s voice 
Speaking for all who lay under the stars, 
Soldiers and poor, unable to rejoice.

Here are some extra photos:

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