During the time between handing in my dissertation and departing London, I tried to sightsee and enjoy as many pints as possible while also tying up a variety of “loose strings.” I was, in essence, a “super-tourist” who derived most of her sustenance from Strongbow and salt & vinegar crisps.
I FINALLY saw the British Museum, which I cannot believe that I failed to visit over the past year. The British Museum is absolutely amazing – there is no other museum like it in the world (well, from what I’ve seen, at least). The place is filled with artifacts that the British plundered from ancient civilizations while they were in their “Empire” phase. Egypt, Greece, Rome, Mesopotamia – it’s all there. The Egyptian collection was especially impressive, as I was finally able to see all the artifacts that were missing from the places I visited in Egypt (like the missing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, if you will). I was reminded of the episodes in which my Egyptian tour guides would point to something (a sarcophagus, statue, etc) and tell us it was actually a reproduction. “The real one,” he said, “is at the British Museum.” Oh. Well, good to know I flew all the way down here to see a reproduction of something that is located in a building a mere 15 minute walk from my school! I’ve always thought that if the Pyramids weren’t so hard to remove and transport to London, the British would have taken those out of Egypt and put them smack dab in the middle of Hyde Park.
After touring the British Museum, I saw a production of “A Few Good Men”, which I didn’t realize was actually a play that Aaron Sorkin wrote before it was turned into a movie. I thought it was the other way around. Anyways, this production is actually a play that is based on the movie which was based on a play. Weird, I know. It was also weird to see a play about the U.S. Marine Corps in London, and even weirder to see Rob Lowe in the role of Lt. Daniel Kaffee, which was played by whackjob Tom Cruise in the movie. The play was really good, though, so if you’re looking for a production in London to check out, I high recommend it. And Rob Lowe in Navy dress whites…not to be missed, TRUST ME. Also, the great thing about going to the theatre in London is that you don’t have to dress up. You can wear a t-shirt, jeans, and flip-flops and no one will care. The only ones that do dress up are tourists.
The next day, I went on a tour of Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, and the Roman baths (pictures up soon). Windsor Castle was great – the Queen sure does have the life, that’s for sure. Stonehenge was, well, really not too impressive. It was much smaller than I imagined, and honestly, I’m not really into that period of history. In addition, my stupid audio guide thing they give me would only work in Russian and Japanese (go figure) so I lost quite a bit while attempting to decipher the Russian. The Roman baths were awesome, mostly due to the fact that we had a great tour guide.
I also went on a tour of the Buckingham Palace State Rooms. For a few weeks during the summer, when the Queen is at one of her 5 million or so residences throughout the United Kingdom, Buckingham Palace opens its doors to allow us commonfolk to traipse through the State Rooms. I’ve always thought that the outside of Buckingham Palace was rather bland when compared to the opulence of the Romanov palaces, but I must admit I was rather impressed with the interior of the palace.
After Buckingham, I had one last tea at the Orangery in Kensington Gardens. I’m really going to miss the scones with jam and clotted cream…and the little cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches with the crust cut off…
For my last night in London, I met up with some friends at our favorite pub, the Anchor. I have spent a lot of time there this past year, so it was only fitting that my last pints of Strongbow and glasses of Pimm’s be enjoyed at the Anchor.
When I arrived at Heathrow airport the next morning, strangely enough, it hadn’t really hit me that I was permanently leaving (although it sure has sunk in by now) so I wasn’t feeling very sad at that moment. It’s an 11 hour flight from London to Los Angeles. As much as I complain about these long flights, sometimes, I must secretly admit that I enjoy them. I like to think of them as a mandated “relaxation” time, in which you watch five movies that you haven’t seen while the flight attendants constantly bring you sodas and candy bars. Sadly, however, I flew United, where they charge a ridiculous sum of $5 for beer and wine. An 11 hour flight, and not one free beer! I could take a 2 hour flight with CSA Czech Airlines to Prague or a 2.5 hour flight to Dubrovnik with British Airways and still get unlimited alcohol! Pathetic American carriers!
I finally arrived in LA a little after 2pm. As we flew over that city, I was reminded of how much I hate it – traffic, smog, a seething mass of nothingness. God, what an awful, ugly city – if it can even claim the title of “city” – characterless suburbs connected by multiple jammed freeways is a more apt description. I wasn’t looking forward to the drive home, that’s for sure. Leaving the plane was a disorderly procedure, as usual. How silly of me to assume that because we had landed in the U.S., we would exit the plane in a civilized fashion. You see, something I’ve learned about European traveling habits is that they don’t exit the plane in a row by row fashion like us Americans do. Instead of allowing the rows at the front to exit first, they all jockey for a position in the aisles so they can rush off the plane as soon as the cabin door is opened. If you weren’t one of the first to jump out of your seat and into the aisle, then good luck trying to get off the plane anytime soon.
When you arrive in the United States, you have to fill out a customs form which asks a variety of questions, one of which is the countries you’ve been to since you left the U.S. So, I listed them all: UK, France, Hungary, Belgium, Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovinia, Montenegro, Egypt, Italy, Ireland, and the Czech Republic. The officer looked over it and said “Did you really go to all these countries?”
“Yes.” (No, I only went to one…just felt like throwing a few others in there)
“What was the purpose of your travel?”
“I went to school in the UK.”
“The London School of Economics.”
“How did you travel around to these countries?”
I’ve always wondered if, at Customs Officer training, they give them a list of stupid questions to ask, in the off chance I might slip up and admit that instead of studying in London, I was actually training at some terrorist camp in Afghanistan to wage jihad against the United States. Clearly, if I had been doing that, though, my luggage wouldn’t have been weighed down by bottles of Pimm’s, packages of McVities, and a Big Ben teapot.
It took me about an hour to clear customs and get my luggage. After that, I waited for two hours to meetup with my mom. Even the LAX airport can’t escape the ugliness that is LA. All the vinyl seats were ripped up, with the yellowed foam pouring out of them, and the rest of the terminal appeared as if it hadn’t been redecorated since the 1970s.
The traffic home was ridiculous. Where did the fast trains go? I missed the Heathrow/Gatwick/Stansted Express…even the Thameslink from Blackfriars to Gatwick. The only good thing about driving home from LA is that there are plenty of opportunities to stop at In-N-Out. Of course, we did, and it was wonderful to have real American beef once again. The following day, we went out for Mexican food…real Mexican food! It’s been eight months since I’ve had it, and it was absolutely delicious…I’ve been here for exactly one week and have had it three times since.
I also had a pint of Stella a few days ago…well, a 16oz glass, as they say…they don’t call them “pints” here. I was a bit surprised to see Stella on the menu, but it just wasn’t the same…I had it at the Cheesecake Factory – a Yuppieville extraordinaire of uninspiring and bland food whose only saving grace is, well, the cheesecake.
Yeah, we’re not in London anymore.