Geeks Abroad! Post 8: To London! And generally being a tourist.

The following events take place between May 11th & 12th, 2015.

We woke early, as we had to walk back to the train station with our luggage on those cobblestone roads.  I was sad because we had to leave before the breakfast that was included with our room had begun (insert pouty face).  As we wait for our train, another train comes through that drops of whole pile of school children.  I think back to when I used to take the city bus in middle school and how I felt like that was a big deal, but what about taking an actual train?  Also, how annoying might it be for a few lone adult commuters to be on one of these trains with dozens of kids.  Yikes.

Here is our journey for the day:Train1
Our train arrives and we schlup our luggage aboard and find a seat.  However we do notice that there are little slips of paper that seem to be reserving the seats for various parties, however the one for our 2 seats are for a previous station so if the people that were supposed to be sitting there had boarded, they would have been in those seats already.  We figure we’ll just stay there until such time as someone comes along and kicks us out.  There was another couple across from us who had the same thought.  We got to chatting with them and found out they’re actually from New York.  We were all a little amazed to find other Americans just sitting across from us on the train in random little country town in Belgium.  They had been in Ieper for the cat festival as well and were on their way to Antwerp.  We chatted with them until we had to change trains in Kortrijk.

On the new train, we were sitting across the aisle from an older couple, the woman was Australian and the man was English.  I don’t think I caught where they actually live, but they are retired and do a lot of traveling.

We arrive in Lille, France with about 2 hours until our train to London. As with the Paris train stations, we have to leave one station and go a block or so to another train station to continue our journey.  On our walk  we are approached by 2 different children begging for money with cups this time.  I spot some armed soldiers here as well.  I decide I’m really not a fan of French train stations.  We sit around on uncomfortable benches eating pastry breakfast using our suitcases as tables.  After what feels like forever (but is really just like an hour and a half) they open up the section for Eurostar passengers traveling to London (that’s us).  We have to present our passports to French border control, where I get scolded for not having some form filled out when I left Germany, but he stamps our passports and lets us through.
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Then we have to immediately go to another border control booth (I’m assuming for entering England) and get another stamp in our passports.
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After putting our luggage through the x-ray machines and walking through the metal detectors (only slightly less intrusive than going through airport security) we were able to wait in the Eurostar waiting lounge, which was a bit of an improvement from the general train station…benches placed randomly around.

On the train, we discover we get a breakfast included in the cost of our ticket, so we have more pastries.
The train takes about an hour and 20 mins, going under the English Channel. It didn’t take very long, and seemed more like going through a regular tunnel than like going in the Transbay Tube on BART. Also, there is an hour time difference from the mainland to England so we gain an hour in our day.  Time travel!!
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Then it’s time to bust out our Oyster cards and travel from St Pancras to Leicester Square.  This works just fine.  Trying to figure out which way we have to go after we leave the station, that’s another story.  I get out my London city map and try to find the side street we’ve ducked down to avoid most of the traffic from tripping on our luggage.  Well, this map is not detailed enough to name all the small streets, so this doesn’t work.  Basically, we end up walking a couple blocks through Chinatown.  Here we come across our first Shaun the Sheep!
At this point we know we’re not more than a handful of blocks from our hotel but we’re pretty sure we’re going in the wrong direction. I figure this is a perfect time to hail one of those iconic London cabs, but Jon is frustrated, being stubborn and refusing to take a cab.  Basically, we (and our luggage) take this path:
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Our hotel in London is the Radisson Blu Edwardian, Hampshire in Leicester Square.  It’s a good thing we weren’t in a hurry or anything.  Actually, when we got to the hotel, we were too early to check in, so we stowed our luggage and chilled in their bar for a while, watching the episode of Cagney and Lacey they had on TV at the bar.  And I totally wanted to watch till the end of the episode.

Finally it was check-in time! I was so happy to be staying in one place for 4 nights.
The hotel room was pretty sweet, spacious and had a huge bathroom with both a shower stall and a bathtub which also had a shower in it. You had to leave a key-card in a slot to have the lights on, which I found a little odd, but I guess I can see their wanting to conserve energy by not having lights on when you’re not in the room.

So we were settling in, and then minor disaster struck. I managed to kick my pinky toe just right on the corner of the leg of the bed.  Really hard. This was me:

So I’m laying there on the bed with my foot elevated and throbbing toe wrapped in TP (it bled a little) and I start to wonder what happens if it ends up being bad enough to seek medical help.  Does my health insurance even cover me out of the US?  In hindsight, this was something I definitely should’ve looked up before our trip.

I find it doesn’t hurt if I don’t touch it, but even the lightest graze sends stabs of pain.  I decide that this will not defeat me.  I use some medical tape from my first aid kit and some cotton balls from the hotel room to make a makeshift bandage with a cotton ball cushion around it.  Then I put my shoe on and find I can still kindof walk, if gingerly, so we head out for some sightseeing and dinner.  Immediately in front of our hotel is Leicester Square, which has 2 more Shaun the Sheeps!

As we’re walking from our hotel to Trafalgar Square, I see this down a random little side-street.
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Slowly we make amble about Trafalgar Square and find the pillar that used to be the smallest police station in London (but now is used to hold cleaning supplies). Also, another Shaun the Sheep! Then we walk down the street a handful of blocks until we get to Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey.

As we stand there on the Westminster bridge, the pain in my foot gets to me. I decide it’s time to head back towards the hotel and find someplace to have dinner. We stop into a pub and I get a sampler of local favorites. And yes, this does include fish & chips. And I tried it. They were better than fishsticks, and I ate one entire one, but then gave the second one to Jon.
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My foot still hurts and I want to take a cab but Jon says it’s only a few blocks (and it is), so I sigh and we head back. Here are some pics from our walk back as well as from our hotel.

Back at the hotel we pretty much just watched TV and passed out for the night.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*The next day~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Here is the view from our room the next morning. Nice and sunny and bright. Unfortunately, my toe hurts just a little bit worse. But, I must press on. We spend a couple hours slowly (very slowly) hobbling around the National Gallery.

I didn’t come across either of these paintings. I didn’t REALLY expect to, but I think it would be pretty cool if they had them in there, in some random corner by a gift shop or something.

While I didn’t take a picture of every single portrait, I took a lot, so here’s a collection of them.

I decided this one was my favorite
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Also, this was me while walking…Grumpy and all.
I decide this MacGyver-rigged bandage I’ve got going on is not going to cut it so when we’re back in the hotel on WiFi, I look up the nearest pharmacy and Jon comes along as I limp the handful of blocks over there.
It’s a huge place and I’m impressed. I ended up grabbing a couple toe bandaging options and something that might also help the blisters I’ve also accumulated between my toes over the past several days and check out. The cashier saw all my supplies and offered sympathy for my plight. My feet are a hot mess.
Back at the hotel again I dump my bounty on the bed and dive in. I end up using one of these gel toe caps for my pinky toe and some gel toe separators for the blisters.

Holy Shaun the Sheep, these help SOO MUCH!
Finally I can walk around without being miserable!

By now it’s late-ish in the afternoon and we have tickets to see Book of Mormon that evening, so we pretty much just stay around Piccadilly Circus and basically be touristy.  And find another Shaun!

About the play:  The music isn’t catching enough for me to want to buy the soundtrack, but the play is VERY entertaining.  Also entertaining was listening to other audience members comment on the show during intermission and after the show.  They seem to find all their ‘American’ behavior amusing.  Also, now I can’t think of Salt Lake City without saying it my head the way they do in the show.  I’d leave you with a few out-of-context lines from the show, but basically all the good ones involve profanity so I’ll leave it out.

After the show it was late, so off to bed.

Stay tuned for the next post where we explore some other places in London!

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