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European travel journal – Day 3: Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Parliament and Eurovision

I started out Tuesday by not killing my roommates which is always a good way to start the day. Their near death was not due to the fact that they turned on the lights at 4:30 in the morning, but because the bunk beds at the hostel look like this.

Triple bunk beds

I was assigned the top bed, assuring I get a workout not only by walking all around town, but also by simply going to bed. I took off my socks to get better traction on the bed’s siderails and climbed down without waking anyone up. I am an acrobat! I suspect this maneuver is included in a typical Cirque Soleil audition.

I’d carefully laid out all my clothes and a baggy of my pills the night before, so I was able to quickly change clothes and walk across the Millennium Bridge at eight o’clock in the morning with hundreds of other Londoners on their way to work. I was amazed we were not all blown off the bridge and into the Thames. If I’d known it would be this windy, I would have brought a fleece, but I am managing with my windbreaker.

I strolled through Borough Market, which was closed, but that was probably good for my wallet. I peaked into several stalls, but only 2 or 3 were open. The market is most active on the weekends, a time I will not be there, so I was left to imagine what it must be like when it’s bustling and people are buying organic fruits and being robbed.

High risk pick-pocketing zone

I popped into a little deli called Little Dorritt for a coffee and a sandwich and had a cultural experience. I know the woman behind the counter was speaking English, but if my life were a movie I would have turned the subtitles on. She seemed amused by me because her mouth turned up slightly in a grin after I’d replied, “Yeah” two times to her questions in a very American “accent.” Then she continued speaking like Charlie Brown’s teacher while pulling out a loaf of bread and looking at me questioningly. “Yeah, white,” I told her even though I would have preferred a wheat bread but didn’t think we could cross that communication barrier. What if they don’t even call it wheat bread here? Then she asked if I wanted it for “take away” instead of “carry out” as we Americans do, after which she put in on a paper plate and THEN put it in a bag and I left while drinking my coffee, which was quite good! I also learned that I love having cucumber on my sandwich! It added crunchy delight to my day.

I continued people-watching while walking and eating because I am a master multi-tasker. I followed the hoards across London Bridge, finished my coffee and walked and walked and walked and COULD NOT FIND A GARBAGE CAN. In desperation I started thinking to myself I will even call it a damn rubbish bin, but could I please, please, please find a receptacle for my empty paper cup? I got all the way to the Tower of London before my chant was answered. Later on, London resident and blog reader Katherine told me over lunch that they got rid of all the trash cans because the IRA used to put bombs in them. I can’t say that I blame them.

The Tower of London was much more interesting than I thought an old castle would be. I took the guidebook’s advice and headed straight for the crown jewels and happily skipped through rows and rows of line barriers with no people lining them. It was like an empty ride at Disneyland. I only stopped to watch video of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation video and view other education things before drooling over the bling. My favorite item was the royal punch bowl. I do not kid. There is a huge vat used for serving wine at parties.

After looking at the shiny things, a yeoman, aka a Beefeater (as they’re nicknamed), led us through a tour and then I climbed lots of stairs in the white tower at the center of the edifice. The most interesting part of the Henry VIII exhibit there was that they included his measurements as he aged and gained weight over the years. You can’t really make adjustments to a suit of armor, so Henry had is skinny armor and his fat armor. I don’t think he kept them in a box in the closet like where I hide me fat clothes and skinny clothes.

Me and a Beefeater

I then walked to the Cinnamon Kitchen, a modern Indian restaurant where the waiters speak…French? That’s what the accent sounded like to me. I didn’t get lost either, which was amazing because I find London difficult to navigate. The streets are windy and they don’t have poles on every corner with street names like we have in America. Instead, the street names are bolted on the outer walls of the buildings, but there is not always a sign at every corner, leading me to get turned around like a spinning top.

Cinnamon Kitchen was a recommendation from Katherine, a blog reader originally from Australia and now living in London. It was fun to talk to someone over lunch. Thanks for the invite, Katherine! I know some of you also left invites in my original London and Paris thread, and I apologize for never responding to you. It’s been rather crazy scheduling things in and people really started crawling out of the woodwork in London. I didn’t know so many of you lived there!

After dinner, I got overconfident on the tube and took the wrong line on the way to Westminster Abbey, delaying my arrival by 10-15 minutes. I slipped in 70 minutes before closing, which was 10 minutes before they stop people from entering. I felt a bit rushed, but the audio tour and my Rick Steves guide were excellent and I felt like I got to see everything, including choir boys playing basketball behind a wrought iron gate by one of the gardens. Westminster Abbey is so amazingly detailed it is impossible to take it all in, but I did what I could. The odd thing about Westminster is that you’ll be wondering around and then someone will point out that you just walked over Charles Darwin’s grave. I traipsed over a lot of dead people without realizing it.

Westminster abbey

The abbey closed at 4:30, but I got back in for free at 5:00 for the evensong service. Do you hear that thud? That is the sound of my mother falling off her chair at the thought of me attending a church service of my own free will. I had a crappy seat near the back where I could not see the choir boys, but I could see the bust of William Blake giving me the stinkeye through the whole service. I would have taken a photo, but photography is not allowed in the abbey. I thought of sneaking a photo, but didn’t out of respect to the church and because an altar boy was watching us the whole time.

Then I stopped by the Parliament building and visited the Stranger’s Gallery (no the guest’s gallery) at the House of Lords, where they were talking about a fishing bill, which is just as boring as it sounds. The building itself was ornate and lovely, a contrast to Westminster Hall which you walk through to get there which is very simple and old.

I was pretty tired by then, so I headed back to the hostel, this time using the correct train. I had dinner at a Pizza Express, only because Indianapolis has a Pizza Express chain and I wanted to compare these two twins. Indy’s Pizza Express wins hands down. This place was sort of fancy, with thin crust pizzas. If I’m eating pizza, I prefer a casual dining experience with lots of grease and cheese.

I chilled out in the hostel’s common room at the end of the day to write my blog, when I discovered I’d timed my vacation perfectly. Eurovision is on! For those of you not in the know, Eurovision is song-writing competition between 40-something European countries. It attracts the most bizarre, overly theatrical acts, frequently clothed in spandex and glitter. This is why it is awesome. The semi-finals did not let me down. There was a bizarre group from the Czech Republic dressed like comic book characters. The lead singer was even wearing a cape. Another country had two performers on stilts dancing across the stage, and then the man on stilts grabbed the woman on stilts “feet” and twirled her around in a death spiral. There were also some genuinely talented acts. Right now I’m rooting for Iceland, which entered a 17-year-old singer who’s got real skillz. Go Iceland!

BTW, I haven’t had time to read the comments on any of my travel entries, and probably won’t until I get home. So if you have asked and questions or made any recommendations, I’m not going to get back to you anytime soon. Nothing personal. I’m on vacation, which includes a vacation from my inbox.

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ChrissyS • May 13, 2009 at 1:32 pm

Well, for when/if you DO read comments, THANK YOU so much for bothering to take us all along so to speak, buy keeping us updated and in the vacay loop. It is very interesting.

I started reading your posts a long time ago for the weight loss journey, but your England journey is also very interesting!

thanks again.


Kasey • May 13, 2009 at 2:05 pm

Thanks so much for taking time to keep us in the know about your vacation, PQ! It’s super interesting to me; I’ve always wanted to visit London and I am so living vicariously through you right now! I look forward to reading what you’re doing each day!! Thanks, again!! :)


town mouse • May 13, 2009 at 2:06 pm

hehe – no point telling you to ask for ‘brown’ bread if you want wheat then…


jennywenny • May 13, 2009 at 2:09 pm

Really enjoying your continued diary of your trip, I hope you’re enjoying it as much as you seem to be. Its making me a little homesick though!

I think there are no rubbish bins because of the bomb threat. We got rid of them because of the IRA and then again after the bus and tube bombings :(


nazilam • May 13, 2009 at 2:21 pm

Wholemeal is what you should ask for.

Every food worker in London is from somewhere else. Trust me. Borough Market is over rated.

I would not miss neal’s yard dairy for anything. Srsly.


OnlinePublicist • May 13, 2009 at 3:53 pm

Kudos to you for even figuring out that was a bunk bed! I want to believe that it’s the angle of the pic that confuses me, but I think that furniture looks like an IKEA nightmare!

glad you’re having fun!



Quix • May 13, 2009 at 5:21 pm

Sounds like a blast! I will get there someday…

I love writing travelogues too, so I can go back and re-read and relive the experience! Reading other peoples though – so interesting. As another commenter said, you’re taking us with you!

Hope you enjoy the rest of your vacation!


Rachie • May 13, 2009 at 5:27 pm

I’ve never dared stay at a hostel before because I’m afraid of finding myself in an uncomfortable situation surrounded by strangers. Your picture cinched it–it’s hotels ONLY for me.


Barbara Martin • May 13, 2009 at 6:28 pm

My friend and I visited England last fall. On our last day there, tired of pub food, we decided to try the local Pizza Hut. It was unbelievably good. That Pizza Hut was a sit-down restaurant with a *wine list* and a much fuller menu than what we have here. We tried to explain this to our waitress and she just looked at us like we were insane.

Oh, and they serve pints of Magner’s cider, which is never bad.


Sue • May 13, 2009 at 7:04 pm

Wheat bread = wholemeal or brown bread.

Ah well – next time.


Jen • May 13, 2009 at 9:46 pm

Cucumber on sandwiches was a first for me as well. I was living in Ireland and ordered a cheese sandwhich because I’m a big chicken and didn’t want to try anything new. (I was young and dumb.) They put cucumber on it instead of lettuce. I was immediately hooked and have carried on that way for the last ten years. :-) Welcome to the club. (Ha! See what I did there?)


KateG • May 13, 2009 at 10:10 pm

Thanks for posting from abroad! You sound like you are having a wonderful time, hurray. And hurray for Eurovision, perhaps most famous (?) for launching the career of ABBA. They won way back when with their song Waterloo :-)


Foodie McBody • May 14, 2009 at 12:09 pm

I’m having a vicarious thrill as you travel! I have always wanted to go to Europe but haven’t made it there yet. I also wanted to tell you that I received your book last night and snarfed it up immediately (no pun). It’s so good. I was really moved, inspired, amused. It’s good good good. And I’m also thrilled that you’re blogging, it’s the endless epilogue!

I think you look wonderful, honestly.


Johanna • May 14, 2009 at 4:57 pm

I’ve been avoiding the Eurovision song contest like the plague, but it’s impossible to pretend that it doesn’t exist when you live in Sweden. They are counting on winning this year… but I too prefer Iceland. He deserves it more!


Johanna • May 15, 2009 at 8:42 am

@Johanna – Iceland?! I meant Norway of course!


maris • May 15, 2009 at 10:35 pm

This is probably completely inappropriate but you don’t look an ounce over 200 lbs. I would never in a million years have guessed that your weight was up from these pictures if you hadn’t posted it!

You look great and happy! Hope you’re having a blast.


Sandra • May 24, 2009 at 5:00 pm

I voted for Iceland but they came second. Norway won.


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 at JennetteFulda.com.

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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 JennetteFulda.com 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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