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European travel journal: Day 2 – London city tour and Greenwich

Big Ben and Me

I thought only bums fell asleep on public buses, but evidently jetlagged Americans do too. At 11:00am London time, 6:00am PastaQueen time, and after 22 hours of consciousness, my body finally screamed, “SLEEP!” as loudly as the bus driver was honking at the gridlock on Trafalgar Square. I had moved to the bottom of the hop-on-hop-off bus tour because the top was too cold and windy, but the combination of warmth and stillness made me lean against the window over my bag and enter a state of not quite sleeping, but not quite awake.

Realizing it would be very bad to fall asleep on a bus in a foreign country, I jumped off at the next stop, Buckingham Palace, and discovered the proper treatment for jetlag is lots and lots and lots of walking. I’d started the day by buying my bus ticket and hopping on outside St. Paul’s Cathedral. We drove across London Bridge and Tower Bridge and past lots of landmarks, but after hitting the snag at Trafalgar Square I got off and never got back on. This was either because the guide didn’t impress me much or my brain was too sleep-deprived to follow what he was saying. At least no one had BO, which cannot be said of my train ride into the city which was otherwise quite lovely. British houses have such cute chimneys! Lots and lots of chimneys. On my ride in from the airport I was hit with international wonder. The people on this train have British accents! The cars are driving on the wrong side of the street! They have funny license plates! It’s just like I’ve seen on TV and the movies! Only I’m here! For real!

After hopping off the tour bus, I walked from Buckingham Palace through St. James Park and then past Big Ben and Sri Lankan protesters. All of that was in the guidebook except for the protesters, who were sitting in the middle of the street, blocking traffic. I suspect they might have had something to do with the gridlock at Trafalgar Square. The best thing about walking in London is not the random protrester, but the nifty crosswalk buttons. When you hit the button to trigger the walk sign, it lights up and says “Wait” so you know it actually worked! In the states there is just a button which you compulsively press over and over again like an elevator button, never sure if your message is getting through.

These people are mad about something

I walked down Westminster Pier and got on a City Cruises boat that was included in my bus ticket. The boat guide was funny and informative, much better than the bus guide, which made me grateful enough to tip him a pound on the way off the boat. Of course, the bad thing about the exchange rate is that it makes it seem like I’m spending less money than I am. When I paid 27.50 pounds for my train pass, I thought, “Oh, 27.5 units of currency is not that much,” when really it’s about 40 dollars of my native currency, which is harder for my money-conscious mind to take.

The boat docked at Greenwich where I ate fish and chips and saw loads of cute little British school kids running around in their British school uniforms speaking in their British accents. Then I walked up this hill to the Royal British Observatory.

Hill to British Observatory

Yes, I actually climbed that Big Fucking Hill. Why they made it a ramp, I don’t know. It was steep enough to justify stairs, felt like I was climbing stairs and would have been a death ramp for anyone in a wheelchair who would have one hell of a ride before they faceplanted into a lovely green British lawn. As if to taunt me, they added 4 stairs at the end as if to say, “Yes, we could have made these stairs, but we chose not to. Ha!” However, the view was amazing.

View from British Observatory

I also straddled the prime meridian, placing myself in the eastern and western hemispheres at the same time. I love getting the touristy shots. It’s more fun than PhotoShop.

Prime Meridian

Then I decided I was sick of Greenwich and sick of my purse making my back ache and I headed back for the boat which sailed back to London, again with my head down in a state of half-consciousness. I took the tube back to my hostel, which is rather nice even if it is within earshot of ringing church bells every hour on the hour. The girls coming back in at 4:30am speaking French bothered me more. I turned in at 10pm after doing a bit of reading about the places I planned to visit on Tuesday, finally escaping into sweet, sweet sleep. I’d never crossed this many time zones at once before, and in college I never, ever pulled an all-nighter. I always reached a point where I figured I was doing more harm than good and would go to asleep already. This might have been the longest period of continuous consciousness I have ever experienced, and I’m not crazy about doing it again.

I wish I were able to upload all my photos to Flickr as I’d planned, but free wi-fi is hard to find and the free connections I have found are abysmally slow. I bought an hour of time at my hostel, which I’m using to quickly check email and post blogs, but I don’t have time to upload 500 megabytes of photos. My hotel in Paris is supposed to have free wi-fi, so perhaps I can catch up then. Until then, I leave you with this, a picture of my fish and chips!

Fish and Chips

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37 Comments

metro15 • May 12, 2009 at 5:35 pm

Looks like you’re having fun, and good weather, which is always important in London. I love Greenwich, it was one of my fave areas when I lived there. That hill is a real b*stard though, it starts off fine then you’re dying by the top.

I feel you on the falling asleep on public transport thing. I fell asleep on a boat on the Seine and missed the whole thing due to jetlag. Hopefully one day I’ll make it back to Paris and repeat the journey awake.

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Ashley • May 12, 2009 at 5:36 pm

I remember that big hill!!!! During my semester abroad, I took this class called London History and Culture and our major assignment was to visit and write a paper about a London building. I got the Royal Observatory, so I climbed that hill many times that semester when I was doing research for my paper. Have fun!! Be sure to go to the Tower of London and see the Crown Jewels.

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Jay • May 12, 2009 at 5:38 pm

I love reading about places I know from the perspective of a visitor, especially when they write with such wit and humour as yours :)

I want to say before anything else though you need to get real fish and chips, from a proper chippie. That one looks too clean, and not nearly deep-fried enough, so I suspect it was oven baked.

Greenwich is a great place in the sunshine, and you certainly seemed to have done it justice — I hope you got the chance to take in some of the city there, too.

Here’s to the rest of your stay, enjoy our funny accents and driving on the wrong side of the road!

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Jacquie • May 12, 2009 at 5:57 pm

You are so lucky. I hope you catch up on your sleep and enjoy the rest of your trip. Can’t wait to see those photos.

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jennywenny • May 12, 2009 at 6:21 pm

Very cute! Glad you went to greenwich, its really nice there. Bit jealous though, look like better fish and chips than we get here, although the salad is a bit of a surprise!

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BridgetJones • May 12, 2009 at 6:22 pm

Thanks for the fish’n’chips! Yum!

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The Better Idiot • May 12, 2009 at 6:28 pm

Glad you’re enjoying london. The fish and chips look good, but it doesnt taste the same when you get them from a restaurant like that. Go into a proper fish and chip shop and get them in paper, they’re much better!

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Naomi • May 12, 2009 at 6:47 pm

Just fyi: a lot of McDonalds in London have free wifi. They have signs in the windows if they do.

Great reading about all your adventures!

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sarah • May 12, 2009 at 6:54 pm

I am super jealous! I loved England!! Sounds like you are having fun!! Enjoy yourself!!

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Tracy • May 12, 2009 at 7:11 pm

I love the half-hearted attempt at a salad on the side of the plate there, as if to say, “Hey, look! This is a healthy meal! Fish and potatoes and SALAD. Ignore the breading and the fact that we overcooked the chips. ENJOY YOUR LEMON.”

But I fully agree with what Jay said – they don’t look NEARLY deep-fried enough. ;) You must remedy that! Real chippies don’t give you salad, either, haha!

I’m so jealous! I’d love to go visit London again, and actually get to see more than St. James’ Park on a blustery cold day and the Tube maze.

Enjoy the rest of the trip!

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Jessica • May 12, 2009 at 8:02 pm

I know exactly what you mean about the chimneys on the houses as viewed from the train! I love people watching on the Tube and the Metro. In London, I felt like I noticed distinctly British chins and noses on all the people. I felt like everyone was friendly- definitely making seats available for women or elderly or children. It is so cool that you are getting to see all of the sights. And you lasted a lot longer awake than I ever did. When I arrived at 8am to my hotel they told me my room would not be ready until 3pm so I went to Kensington Gardens and paid money to sit in the comfy striped chairs and slept for an hour! I was an American “bum” sleeping in the park! So embarrassing!

Don’t know if your hostel serves a hot breakfast, but our hotel did and it was eggs, bacon-which looked like ham, baked beans and canned tomatoes with toast and jam! It was good! Best tea ever as well.

Have Fun!

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ms. changes pants while driving • May 12, 2009 at 8:12 pm

yuummmm!! there’s an english pub downtown (san diego) and they make the BEST fish and chips. i’d love to try the “real” thing. along with shepherd’s pie. you should try that while you’re there :D

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Ang • May 12, 2009 at 8:14 pm

Can I say you rock for venturing to a foreign land all by yourself! You will have a truly unique experience and your children some day (or other kids who look up to you) will think you are so cool and adventurous to just up and head to Europe!

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Diana • May 12, 2009 at 8:17 pm

I’m totally loving this! You can now start a travel blog…oh wait, you already have!

This is way cool, I can’t wait to see what you do tomorrow. :)

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Janet • May 12, 2009 at 9:16 pm

Go find an EasyEverything Cafe….they are inexpensive internet cafes. I know there is one on Kensington High Street. I think there is one off the Googe St tube too.

I used them when I lived there to stay connected online. :)

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Ellen • May 12, 2009 at 11:48 pm

Oh my gosh – in the first picture, at Big Ben, did you notice the two guys behind you who are also posing for your picture?? Hilarious!!

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Deb • May 13, 2009 at 12:32 am

Oh, you are bringing back memories of my one and only trip to Europe. I remember taking a cab to Heathrow on my way home and being tickled at those old-fashioned looking things. London is neat.

And how about how thoughtful they are as to paint on the crosswalks which way to look for cars. I guess they got tired of scraping up smashed American tourists from their roadways.

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Loup • May 13, 2009 at 1:46 am

PQ, buy a Oyster card or a Day pass which will allow you all travel modes in London. Its much better than paying for individual travels and more economical.

Touristy thing alert – Borough Market, Chinatown near Leicester Square Station and Covent Garden (go there in the afternoon/evening)

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Laura Brandon • May 13, 2009 at 2:14 am

SO JEALOUS that you had authentic English fish and chips!! And that you’re in Europe at all! Please have as much fun as possible!!

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Beth • May 13, 2009 at 2:28 am

I agree with the comments about the fish and chips – it’s not authentic if it comes with salad. Much better to buy at a fish and chip shop wrapped in paper with salt and vinegar (and maybe mushy peas) all washed down with a cup of strong tea. That’s the real thing !

Talking of the crosswalk buttons – in Russia they have something even cooler. They give you a certain amount of time to cross (I think it was 20 seconds) and the lights do a countdown. I visited Russia last year and I always found myself in the middle of a crossing looking at the countdown with 2 seconds to go, 1 second to go…….

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BB • May 13, 2009 at 3:49 am

Aaahh I love your updates. I’m living vicariously thru you. I hope to travel to Europe some day, but I would be too chicken to go by myself. Have fun and keep blogging to let us know all about it!

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moonduster (Becky) • May 13, 2009 at 3:59 am

Is this your first trip to England? How fun!

I remember my first trip to England as if it were yesterday. I’ve now lived in England for 7 years!

If you need anything while you’re here, let me know and I’ll try to help.

Paris next? Now I’m beginning to feel envious! LOL!

I’ll console myself with the fact that I’m traveling to Ireland this summer. :)

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Early • May 13, 2009 at 4:23 am

Wow, you make me miss London so much, and all that London was to me! You see, my ex-boyfriend used to live there and I’d go visit at least once a month from Bradford where I was doing my Master’s. And can you imagine how much fun it is when you’re in love in a foreign country?! I had some of the best times of my life in London. London is my Paris ;).

Anyway, I can see you’re having fun! I wish I could travel more and wider. Enjoy the rest of your trip!

PS. Have you seen any of those ‘live statues’ yet? I thought those people are hilarious!

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kathy • May 13, 2009 at 8:20 am

Hi,

Have a great time on this vacation. You will remember it forever. I like how you are getting a lot of exercise. But…….do you have to eat fish and chips?

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Jenny • May 13, 2009 at 8:39 am

So it is true about the shoes??? I don’t know why, but I’m dying to know, lol!

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Debbi • May 13, 2009 at 8:41 am

I LOVE that you are writing each day of your trip! Thanks for letting me escape to Europe if only for a few minutes each day.

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Cathleen • May 13, 2009 at 8:47 am

Thanks for sharing — you are the best companion for an armchair traveler!

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Anonymous • May 13, 2009 at 9:32 am

@kathy – OF COURSE she had to eat fish and chips? Are you mad? You don’t go to another country and insist on eating exactly what you eat at home. Was Pasta Queen supposed to take a suitcase full of oatmeal with her?

No, you can’t eat fish and chips (or any other interesting new, but bad-for-you dish) at every meal, but part of maintaining healthy weight is learning to live in the real world. Spending a week in Europe eating exactly what you ate at home would be, well, just stupid. Not to mention that it would defeat the whole point of having new and different cultural experiences.

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foodiegettingfit • May 13, 2009 at 10:13 am

Your trip looks AMAZING. I went to London in 8th grade and am totally due for a more grownup vacation! I loved it there. Have you had a pasty yet? You need to. It’s like a savory British version of an Empanada. TOtally yumm!! Take more pics and take me along your vacation virtually. I’d reallly appreciate that.

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Melissa • May 13, 2009 at 10:39 am

Great post! Loved it. :) Sounds like you’re having a great time.

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psychsarah • May 13, 2009 at 10:46 am

@Deb – I totally appreciated the directions painted on the road!! I would have been killed multiple times otherwise. Funny how habitual it is to look one way when you cross the street.

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Vanessa • May 13, 2009 at 11:02 am

You’re having great weather! Lucky you – enjoy it! Sounds like you’re having a great time. My sister lives in London so I go often. If you have time, include some of the museums. They’re free so you can wander in and out of them. My favourite is the National Portrait Gallery (tiny and tucked beside the National Gallery across from St. Martin’s in the Fields). Just portraits and is a little like wandering through English history and meeting old friends. Check out the Tudor Gallery for sure – the one known portrait of Shakespeare is there, the ones of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I that you’ll recognize immediately, etc. Great fun (particularly for geeky English majors) and doesn’t take too long.

The Victoria and Albert Musuem is a very close second for me. The plaster cast hall is very cool!

Have fun! And relax and enjoy – you don’t have to do everything and you can always go back.. Make sure you take some time to sit in a cafe or pub, read the paper and watch people go by.

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sue • May 13, 2009 at 7:23 pm

@Beth – Los Angeles has the same thing. It does make it easier.

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Lydia • May 13, 2009 at 11:25 pm

@Jay – I agree, Jay, and where are the peas, mushy or otherwise???

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Lydia • May 13, 2009 at 11:31 pm

@foodiegettingfit – Yes, pasties are a perfect suggestion — great for travelers. They sell them in the department stores in the food sections, or in other stores. So convenient and delicious. Great suggestion.

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Lynette • May 14, 2009 at 9:45 am

I chuckled when you talked about falling asleep on the hop on and hop off tour bus.

On our first trip to London, my friend did fall asleep and we debated leaving her on the bus (wow we were evil back then!) but we didn’t.

When we were close to our hotel, we woke her up and she said something akin to what a 5 year old would say upon waking: “Where’s London?”

LOL :D

Hope you are enjoying your trip!

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Raimi • May 17, 2009 at 9:13 am

yummy fish and chips!! i enjoy reading your blog.. love the photos… and you sharing it makes us feel that we’re there… have fun!!

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Comments are now closed on all PastaQueen entries. The blog is an archive only so I don't have to deal with spammers. For fresh discussions please visit my new blog JenFul.

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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JenFul now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for keyboards ruined by coffee spit-takes or forehead wrinkles caused by deep thought.

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The Making of CHOCOLATE & VICODIN
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European Vacation

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