Sunday, 11 March 2012

London, England 24.-29.2. 2012, Days 4-5

Tuesday was our last day in London before leaving for Stansted for the night for our early flight home the following morning. We left our bags at the hostel for £1/bag and went to Hyde Park for yet another breakfast picnic with crap mags. Nice! It was pretty chilly but it was nevertheless fun to sit outside and do some people-watching. I love it that there are always so many dogs in Hyde Park and that they can behave themselves and can thus run around without a leash and play with their friends. I always wish I had a dog when I go to Hyde Park!

Then we went to Notting Hill for my favourite second-hand bookshop, Book & Comic Exchange, where I went straight down to the bargain basement where all the books are just 50p. I got myself a Dan Brown book (Angels & Demons) as I've never read anything by him, and one of Jordan's crappy autobiographies for Tiina - certainly not because she's a fan but because Jordan's been a joke between us for quite a while now.

Our next stop was Camden, once again, and we had this incredibly delicious hot chocolate each at The Elephant's Head:

Then we went to Sainsbury's to buy chocolate and tea to bring back to Finland and headed to the canal for yet another portion of yummy noodles before returning to the hostel for our bags and leaving for the airport.

Our airport bus was ridiculously late so it's a good thing we weren't in a hurry! When we finally got to Stansted, I had to face one of my worst nightmares and call our accommodation, Stansted Airport Lodge, for someone to come and pick us up. I hate talking on the phone, whether it's to a friend, for something work-related or taking care of stuff like this, and having to speak a foreign language on the phone is even worse, even if I'm a language teacher. It's horrible! But I did it! I first called the wrong place as there is a Stansted Lodge AND a Stansted Airport Lodge. The second number was right, though, and we got a ride to our hotel. And what a nice hotel it was, especially after Piccadilly Backpackers! So nice, in fact, that it got Tia into doing this:

The following morning, there was supposed to be a taxi picking us up at 4:30 am. Except that the taxi never came. So, I had to make one more phonecall, to the owner of the place, Marek, for him to get us another ride. Luckily that one did come and get us, and we got to the airport in time.

Waiting for our ride at 4:30 am...

It was a really nice trip and I could've stayed longer, or flown to yet another destination before returning home. Aaaaaand, my next trip is New York in three months, unless something unexpected turns up before that.

Friday, 2 March 2012

London, England 24.-29.2. 2012, Day 3

Yet another productive day! In the morning, we were off to try and get musical tickets again and ended up choosing Mamma Mia! for £35. Yay! Seriously, from now on when I go to London, I'm going to see a musical every day! After scoring the tickets, we went to Burger King for breakfast and then back to Piccadilly Circus for some shopping. I went to HMV for some books and DVDs (and sang along to Whitney Houston's Saving All My Love For You that was playing in the store) while Tia went to her heaven, Lillywhites, for sports gear. We met an hour or so later in our room, compared our finds, and then left for Primark. In case you're interested in what I bought...

Piccadilly Circus.

The Cupid statue.

We decided to catch the bus to Marble Arch, which was a good idea as Primark will truly exhaust you anyway and you'll want to save what little energy you have before venturing in there. Once again, the store was packed with people, it was so hot inside and you just get all annoyed very soon if you're as into clothes shopping as I am. I didn't even like the clothes there this time as everything was too Adele-like and that's just not what I personally want to wear. I ended up getting some T-shirts, undies and bras, plus a bunch of clothes for my sister's almost 2-year-old twins. They're the reason I'm willing to spend all that time at Primark, really. I think it took us close to two hours to be done with our shopping, after which we dragged our tired asses to the other end of Oxford Street for Pizza Hut. Well worth it, though - for £8 you got as much salad as you wanted, a delicious pizza, a drink and free re-fills, and ice cream.

And then it was time to go and freshen up at the hostel before going to the Prince of Wales Theatre on Coventry Street. 

We had seats in the dress circle, meaning the upper section of the theatre, and I have to say it really is quite steep. I wouldn't recommend sitting there to very old people as getting up and down the stairs has to be tremendously difficult. I loved our seats and the theatre in general, though, and we had a really good view over the whole stage from where we were sitting. Now, I've never been a huge fan of ABBA but I'd seen the film version of Mamma Mia! and loved it and had high expectations. The setting was nowhere near as detailed and incredible as Phantom's but this show had something else amazing, namely an actress by the name of Joanna Monro, who played the role of Rosie. She was so much fun, I was in tears of laughter because of her the whole time! A true comedienne! If you ever go to see the London production of Mamma Mia! and she's still with the show, I guarantee you'll definitely notice her! A crazy, crazy woman in a brilliant way :)! I loved Mamma Mia! Very different from the Phantom, but variety is a good thing, and with this one, what I loved the most was that you were able to sing along to all the songs. At least that's what Tia and I did, and we both had an amazing, amazing time :). The Winner Takes It All even managed to trigger some hidden feelings related to past experiences in me and I just couldn't stop crying. I was so thankful it wasn't the last song of the show and I didn't have to leave the theatre with a tear-streaked face! If you're looking for familiar songs, fun and laughter and lots of dancing, you'll do well in picking Mamma Mia!

After the show, we decided to go to Soho and try and find a nice pub to go to for a bit. We ended up with flyers to G.A.Y. and decided to go there as there would be no entrance fee. Good choice! Gay clubs are THE best places if you're looking for some fun times and are into the kind of music that I love the most, namely Madonna, Kylie, Lady Gaga, Cheryl Cole and the like. All the draught drinks were just £1,70, too, which was a plus even though I only had a couple of ciders. We ended up dancing with a cute gay couple who were sitting next to us and I had a great time! They played Born This Way by Lady Gaga, Womanizer by Britney, Rude Boy by Rihanna and lots more. Loved it loved it loved it! They closed the place as early as 00:20, which was disappointing, but a good idea at the same time as we were checking out the following morning and needed all the sleep we could get. So, back to the hostel it was to get the 6 hours of sleep that we still had ahead of us at that point.

London, England 24.-29.2. 2012, Day 2

We started our second day in London by getting up quite early and walking all the way to Primark, just to find out it wouldn't open till much later that day. Damn Sundays! So, instead, we went to the nearby Sainsbury's to get all sorts of yummy stuff to eat and then walked to Hyde Park for a lovely morning picnic there.

What we had, plus the compulsory crappy magazine!

As you can see, absolutely no snow - just green green green and sunshine <3!

After Hyde Park, we decided to buy ourselves underground tickets for the day (may I just say it's a rip-off these days!! £7 for a one-day ticket for zones 1 and 2!!) and then headed back to Leicester Square to check if we could go and see another musical later on. No such luck - they had nothing interesting on offer as there are fewer shows on Sundays. So, we took the tube to Baker Street instead to go to the Sherlock Holmes Museum there.

There were loads and loads of Liverpool fans all over the place when we got to Baker Street, and after a while we found out that there would be a Liverpool-Cardiff match at Wembley later on. The fans were absolutely mental! They were singing songs, shouting, and when we rode the tube away from Baker Street, they were banging the walls and jumping so much so that the whole carriage was shaking! I'll stay true to my British friends and say the fans were horrible BUT they did get me interested in going to a match some time! My team has been picked out for me ages ago by my NUFC fan friend Leanne so when I eventually do go to a game, it will have to be in Newcastle and with her :).

Crazy Liverpool fans at The Globe.

After staring at the fans for a while, we eventually found our way to the Sherlock Holmes Museum, got our £6 tickets and were let in by the lovely guy at the door. I'm not that big on museums and I have to say this one didn't interest me that much, either, but it was okay, and probably more than okay for those who do enjoy going to places like this. Basically, the museum is situated where Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson live in the books, and you get to go to several floors and see stuff related to them and the books.

The Baker Street tube station is pretty cool with little Sherlock pictures everywhere :)!

From the museum, we accidentally took the wrong tube and ended up riding one stop with the Liverpool fans jumping in the carriage singing "I just can't get enough, I just can't get enough, I just can't get enough!!!", before getting off and catching another train, this time the right one, to Camden. Camden is a place where I've spent a lot of time over the years - I don't see it as a place for a person like me anymore, and maybe it attracts younger people than me anyway, but it's still always fun to go back, if only for the delicious £4 noodles by the canal! 

We also had a quick drink at a pub called  The Elephant's Head in Camden before going back to our room for a good night's sleep :).

Thursday, 1 March 2012

London, England 24.-29.2. 2012, Day 1

So, on February 24th, my one-week Winter Break started, which for me translated as packing my bags and jetting off to London for five nights. Yay, I was so excited! I'd had a longish break from so called real trips before this one since I'd been so tired after the three-week holiday to Canada and the USA last summer. I guess I was just SO ready to get on a plane again as I had been counting the days till our departure for weeks. This time, I was travelling with Tia, a colleague of mine, for the first time, and I'm happy to say we got on really well and so it's very likely we'll go somewhere together again at some point.

Our flight was on time and we arrived in London at around 10 pm local time. Then we went through passport control, collected our one suitcase (whose return trip cost 50€ - half of what it cost each of us to fly to London, crazy!!), and headed for the Terravision airport bus to Victoria Station. I think it's the cheapest way to get to London from Stansted, which is where Ryanair fly from Tampere - either £9 for a single or £15 for a return ticket. It took us quite a long time to finally get to Victoria Station, and then we still had to catch night bus #38 to Piccadilly Circus for our hostel there, Piccadilly Backpackers. When we finally arrived, it turned out they didn't have sheets for us for the first night! We were quite appalled at first since who knows who's slept in those beds, ewww, not to mention possible bed bugs. But, we were insanely tired and somehow survived the night :D. I was just a tad annoyed at first but then quickly got over it anyway - it's not my style to wallow over little details like this.

This is our room without the sheets :D! Rather like a prison cell, don't you think :D?
The hostel isn't by any means the best one possible - it's even quite expensive considering it's so unclean and the rooms are so simple - but the location is brilliant, just around the corner from Piccadilly Circus and the West End with its theatres, and for that, I'll still continue to recommend it. This was my second stay there so I knew what to expect and still chose it. You don't need to buy a Tube ticket for every day if you stay in this area as everything is so close.

We'd decided to go and see some musical during our trip as, for some very strange reason, I'd never done that before even though I've always loved musicals and always go and see everything that's on offer in Tampere. Tia had seen Michael Jackson's Thriller in London and loved it even if she's not a Michael fan and she knew where we should go for tickets for shows. So, we kicked off our first day in London by having a Subway breakfast and then went to Leicester Square to queue for tickets at the tkts booth there. Tia wanted to see The Lion King and I was interested in Wicked, but all the tickets for those were full price and we couldn't afford that. Instead, we decided to see the matinee of The Phantom of the Opera for £32. As the show was already at 2:30 pm, we just went to our room to get ready once we had the tickets and didn't do anything in particular in between queueing and going to Her Majesty's Theatre for the Phantom.

Queueing for theatre tickets.

Her Majesty's Theatre

I was surprised that going to the theatre in England was more like going to the cinema here in Finland - you take your jacket with you, and people bring snacks and drinks there with them. That's not how it works in Finland where going to the theatre is much more dignified somehow than going to see a film.

I was SO impressed with the Phantom! I have no words for it, it was just incredible! The setting was incredible with the huge chandelier, and the scene where the Phantom takes Christine to his lair and they sing The Phantom Of The Opera was stunning with the stage turning into a sea of lights and mist while the Phantom and Christine cross the lake on a boat...I loved it so much, I was in tears and I had shivers down my spine, the good kind, the whole time. I used to play the songs from the Phantom on the piano and I'm quite familiar with them - the part where Christine and Raoul sing All I Ask Of You was incredible as well with the city lights in the beautiful! I think the storyline is brutally heartbreaking - it is simply wrong that the Phantom writes all that beautiful music for Christine to sing, and then she goes and sings it all to Raoul instead of the Phantom! I hate it, it made me cry at the theatre! Also, for the first time in a really, really long time, I felt like writing an academic paper because the themes of despair, loneliness and jealousy of the Phantom really inspired me. I highly recommend the show to absolutely anyone! You'll never be disappointed with an Andrew Lloyd Webber show anyway!

After the show, we walked around in Westminster, saw Buckingham Palace, St James's Park, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and the rest of it, and then headed for The London Eye for a ride - yet another thing I'd never experienced in London despite having been there closer to 20 times now.

Big Ben and St James's Park.

The London Eye.

Me in London <3.

Buckingham Palace.

Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

The London Eye.

The Thames.

I thought the whole London Eye experience was pretty cool! The ticket was £18,90 so quite expensive, but then my opinion is that if you travel somewhere, you have to be ready to spend money on certain things. Otherwise what's the point of ever going anywhere?! For the price of the ticket, you also get a 4D clip of The London Eye, which was pretty great! I've never even seen a 3D film so this was my first time with the silly glasses and everything. I loved it! You had seagulls flying past you, snow falling and other fun stuff like that and at least I really enjoyed it. Here, have a very silly picture of us - nerds for the win?

Oh, there also were a couple of Madame Tussaud's wax models in the lounge and I thought they were pretty successful ones - Kate Winslet and David Beckham :)!

After the 4D thing, we went on The Eye. The views were spectacular and extremely beautiful since it was dark and you could see all the city lights!

Then we walked to a pub called The Old Shades and had dinner there, after which we went back to our room for the rest of the night. A brilliant first day in London!

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