Monday, May 7, 2012

Tales of a London Tourist Weekend

Disclaimer: This extra long blog post makes up for my lack of posting yesterday :)

In the past two days, I've covered more ground, visited more historical sites, and learned more about British history and sport than I ever believed possible! The touring began on Sunday, when we utilized our London Pass. The pass offers special deals and free entry for many museums throughout London. The only catch: you have 24 hours to use it! A group of us sat down and made a detail-oriented plan of all the places we wanted to visit. You can see The Plan on the right!

The Globe Theater
We woke up early and started our day with a trek to the Globe Theater, which was across the Thames. The Globe is a replica of the theater where Shakespeare debuted many of his most famous plays in London. We crossed the Millenium Bridge and quickly jumped on a tour of the amazing theater. Our tour guide told us how the original Globe theater burnt down due to it's thatched roof. The reconstruction we visited, however, is built exactly how the architects believed the Globe was constructed. It contains a thatched roof (with a sprinkler system to end fires this time!) and most interestingly, not a single nail holds the theater together. Staying true to it's original design, it's held together solely by wooden pegs. 
All the world's a stage

The coolest thing about the Globe theater was that they are currently hosting a Shakespeare festival to coincide with the Olympic games. The festival features 37 Shakespeare plays in 37 languages over the course of 6 weeks. I hope to catch a play at the Globe later in the week! I think it's great how they are uniting countries not only through athletics, but culture and the arts as well.

A Tower Tourguide
After touring the Globe, we walked over the Tower Bridge to reach the Tower of London. The walk over the bridge was so cool, and the view of the city was amazing as well. Our London Pass let us take a tour of the Tower of London. We were led by a Yeoman Warder, a historical figure that used to guard the Tower, around the terrifying grounds. Aristocrats and royals used to be held prisoner in the Tower of London, and many beheadings took place on the grounds as well. When reading Richard III in my Shakespeare class this year, we learned about the two young Princes that Richard had killed in the Tower of London. It was definitely interesting to walk from the Globe to the site Shakespeare described! We also got to view the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London, which were striking. I can't wait to see photos of the Queen Mum wearing the jewels at her Diamond Jubilee next month.

An interactive display down in the bunker
Sticking with our schedule, we walked over to the Churchill War Rooms after the Tower of London. These rooms constitue the bunker where Winston Churchill, a former Prime Minister of England, stayed during World War II. I had little to no knowledge about Churchill before entering the museum, and I left with so much amazing information. Churchill was a great leader for his country and a very interesting man. Through the very interactive exhibits and an audio guide, I learned all about his life and the legend. The museum had so many archival documents, including letters between Churchill and his wife Clementine, and it was very cool to get a first hand look at the materials he wrote. The museum was also very well organized and it made learning the information thrilling and exciting.

The US Women's Olympic Water Polo Team!
After the war rooms, we walked past Parliament and Big Ben as we went to the tube to catch a ride out to Wimbledon for our pre-arranged tour (courtesy of the London Pass!). The ride out to Wimbledon was long, and exactly what we needed. Exhausted from the day, we took turns snoozing on the tube. When we arrived at Wimbledon, the site of the famous Tennis Championships, we looked around the museum before our tour. While there, we stumbled upon the U.S. Olympic Women's Water Polo Team getting a tour of the venue as well. It was so cool to meet them, and one water polo player was even a Michigan alum! They had just done test events in the Olympic venues that day. We wished them good luck this summer, and I can't wait to watch them compete.

The tour of Wimbledon was very cool. Most surprisingly, we learned that it only costs less than 100 pounds a year to be a member. It's very difficult to join, however, and the club looks for extreme dedication to the sport of tennis. Members should play every day. There are 365 members and 100 temporary members at Wimbledon. Anyone can fill out a ballot for tickets to the Wimbledon Championships, and I definitely plan to do so next year! It was awesome to see where so many tennis champs have won the Wimbledon title too.

Centre Court and meeee!
After Wimbledon, we went to Covent Garden, a cute area in the center of London. We had a nice dinner at a pub, and I got a great dessert: mixed berries and custard on top of a flaky puff pastry crust :P We were so exhausted, we traveled back home and I went to bed promptly at 10:30 pm! Luckily, I got a chance to appreciate the beautiful sunset view from my window before I passed out. 

**This blog continues into the next day at this point! Yup, I warned you it was long. Maybe take a snack break now? Grab a beverage? And continue onwards for more London fun :)

After a fabulous sleep, I woke up on Monday at 8 am to catch the 8:45 train to Cambridge with Sclark, Christine and Ben. Sclark studied in Cambridge for three weeks when she was in high school, and it was great to have a tour guide to show us around. The train ride out to the city was great, filled with scenes of the beautiful countryside and time to finish half of the second Hunger Games book. Once we got to Cambridge, we walked into the city and had an amazing breakfast at Tattie's Cafe. It was a traditional English breakfast, and I feasted on griddled eggs, sausage, fresh mushrooms, tomatoes and toast. The city was buzzing with people since all the banks and businesses were closed for a Bank Holiday. 

We then walked around the adorable city, where every street looked like Diagon Alley from Harry Potter. We toured Downing, Cambridge, St. John's, and other colleges in the area as well. It was a rainy day, but that made the city even cozier. We ended the day with tea time in a small cafe where we read and had flapjacks, my newest favorite English food! They are sweet granola treats that often contain fruit. So delicious.

After a nice nap on the train home, Christine and I went for a run around the area. We got a bit lost, but we made it to the Thames River and eventually past the Tower Bridge and Tower of London. The sun came out, and it was so cool to run alongside the river through the London landscape. I don't think I've been on a cooler run! I finished the day with a take away salad in my flat as I watched the sun set across the city. I'm starting to realize the days until I have to leave London are flying by! I'm definitely going to soak in as much of this city as I can in the next week and a half :) I can't wait for my family to come join on Saturday so I can show them all I've seen. And friends and family at home, I'm already at 1,090 photos and counting so look forward to ONE. GREAT. SLIDESHOW PRESENTATION! 

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