Sunday, June 24, 2012

European Extravaganza - Part I - Getting There & London

This trip kind of crept up on me and I didn't really realize it was happening until the a couple days before. Bam! Europe! Here I come!

Over the last several months I'd been thinking about paying a visit to Ms. Karen at Oxford, but hadn't made any serious plans, other than thinking about maybe going during the Olympics, but probably not because it would be crazy crowded and expensive.  And then my buddy Mark in NYC emailed to tell me that he was apartment swapping with people in Paris and Rome for the summer starting in May, and that I should come over.

Anyone who knows me knows that you don't have to tell me twice.  Free places to stay in two countries?  I checked my frequent flyer miles, and the universe was on my side, because I had enough miles to get to London.  And then Becca decided that she could get some time off work to go along, and we planned some other destinations in the itinerary.  She happens to work for a major hotel chain, so hello employee discount!  The stars aligned, and I just couldn't say no.  I'd be an idiot not to go.  Cheapest three-week trip ever (and I'm sure you all just thought I was a baller with unlimited funds. Ha).  We booked the final flights and hotels within Europe just a couple weeks before, and everything fell into place.  And boy, was it wonderful.  

I had about 1.5 days after my Phoenix trip to regroup and get organized.  I tried my best to pack large, yet half-full,  bottles of contact solution and shampoo and stuff, so that I could ditch them along the way and make room for souvenirs.  That worked well, by the way.  I only packed a couple things that I didn't wear, but trying to pack for an office visit in London, beach time, and potentially cold weather was hard!

Finally, Tuesday morning came and it was time to go.  But not until I had an amazing breakfast at Food with MJA.  I'm glad this place is near my house so I can make a habit of going out for breakfast.   

Quick flight to DFW, then it was London time.  Lucky for me, I have priority status on this airline, so not only was my ticket basically free, I was able to book exit row seats for every leg of the trip.  I was sitting next to some tour manager for Destroyer on my flight, or at least I think so, because even though we didn't talk, I glanced over a couple times and his computer was full of travel sheets, club listings, rehearsal times, etc.  That's a job I always thought I wanted.  I should've talked to him, but I was too busy trying to sleep.

Made it to London.  I booked a room via Airbnb with some family, who I hoped was nice.  Easy ride to their place, straight up the Piccadilly line from Heathrow to the Arsenal stop.  I bought an Oyster card so I wouldn't feel like a tourist.

My host family was really nice, and their place was fantastic.  Cleanest room ever, and super comfy bed.  I had my own bed/bath suite right off the entrance to their apartment, so I didn't even end up seeing them that much.  Which is too bad, because they were nice and I like meeting people, but I had things to do in the city!

My plan was to go on a quick jog around the neighborhood, then head into central London for the rest of the day.  I made it to a local park to enjoy the rare London sun.  Everyone was out and about, trying to get their vitamin D for the year.

I also ran by the Arsenal stadium since it was very close by.

And then I came back home and promptly fell asleep, despite my best efforts.  But only for a couple hours.  I couldn't go to bed at 5pm!  I got cleaned up and went out, since that evening was the only free time I'd have in London.  It had been seven years since I was last there, and while I'd done the touristy things, I had done them in January when it was cold.  London is a different place in the sun.

I hopped off the train at Piccadilly Circus, the made my way over to Trafalgar Square.

Then it was over towards Westminster.

I had grabbed a little something to eat at Pret and found a bench on which to eat in Victoria Tower Gardens.

I didn't share with the birds.

London icons.

I'd never been on the London Eye, so I decided to go.  I ended up in the middle of a very large group of school kids from some other country who thought it was hilarious to moon each other.  Their teachers thought it was funny too.

My London Eye.  Hahahaha.

I met a nice couple from Wales who took my photo.

Okay, off the Eye and it's walking time along the Thames.

I wish I'd had time to go into the Tate Modern, but I just didn't.

I forgot how late the sun is out!  It was crazy in the sky and it was ten o'clock.

This place looked cool.  I will eat there next time I visit.  Everyone was having such a wonderful time, enjoying the wonderful weather.

It was finally getting dark and things were lighting up.

I headed home.  I needed a good sleep before going to work the next day.

It was a nice morning commute to Victoria Station.  I met several people who I've known via the phone and email for years - so nice to finally meet in person!

The London workmates took me out on Thursday evening for dinner and drinks at The Phene in Chelsea.  Some semi-famous person from a UK reality show was there, but I had no clue.

After we parted ways for the evening, I took a long walk around the neighborhood until I'd reached some Tube station.

Albert Bridge

The next day at work I was pleased to find a Dr Pepper in the work cafeteria.  I am serious about my DP obsession, you know.  Not always easy to find in Europe!

I had a quick afternoon stroll down to Buckingham Palace, to see all the preparations for the Queen's Jubilee.  I should have timed my trip a little better.  I'd soon realize that I'd just barely missed the Monaco Gran Prix, the French Open, and the Cannes Film Festival.  Oh, well.

Just look at that sun.  London really showed off its best side while I was there!

Pretty soon it was time to grab my bags and make my way 'round the corner to the Oxford Tube bus stop.  This guy looked like he was headed there.

Saw a couple things on the drive out of town, like this Chihuly.

I was so excited to almost get to Karen's house, when our bus decided to break down.  What?!  We all had to get off the bus and wait for the next ones coming through to pick us up.
I was standing near this lovely field waiting for the bus when I heard some little noises.  Look, it's sheep!
The next bus that came by could only pick up half of us, and I ended up waiting til the third one. Just half an hour to Oxford and Karen!

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