October 27- 29, 2012 As before Eric will narrate our experiences while Sam interjects her comments in italics.Saturday, Oct 27- Madrid to London
After spending the night at the Madrid Airport, we finally arrived in London. I was running on about 3 hours of sleep at this time, but I was ready to roll. We landed at London City Airport, which makes the Providence Airport look big. This was the easiest landing, going through customs, and getting our luggage ever.
We jumped on the Metro to go meet Ryan and Lauren at their hotel. There were a ton of kids on the Metro probably 6 or 7 years old. Little kids with British accents are hilarious, especially when they are freaking out about the other train behind us. These kids gave us a few chuckles which brightened up the morning. A lot of the ride in was in on an above-ground train track that gave us some great views.Our good friends from Boston, Lauren and Ryan, who are currently living in Geneva (stay tuned, more about then once we get to Switzerland), planned to meet us in London for the weekend to attend the Patriots NFL game on Sunday. Since we had originally planned on coming in the night before then meeting Lauren and Ryan the next morning once they arrived we decided to now to just head straight to their hotel first and stash our luggage in their room before setting out to see London for the day.
We actually beat Ryan and Lauren to their hotel, so being the American that I am I decided to get a coffee at Starbucks. Not my first choice, but it was right next to their hotel. Lauren and Ryan arrived, but unfortunately could not get into their room. They had overslept and had to frantically leave for the airport that morning, almost missing their flight themselves
. We all felt gross and in need of showers.
That was bad news, because it meant that Sam and I couldn’t shower either. We had not showered since the day before in Madrid, so were looking forward to a hot shower. I decided to take a cologne shower instead, so I could hide any body odor that I had. And I introduced Lauren to the beauty of dry shampoo. Ryan and I proceeded to talk and laugh, while the girls mapped out the day. Not that Ryan or I would have had a say in the day’s plans (haha). Both of us talking nonsense and laughing was a recurring theme for the weekend. Their conversation turned almost immediately into things they missed about America (coffee, buffalo wings, proper bathrooms, etc), and things they couldn’t stand about Europe (few and small trashcans, no ice/cold drinks, terrible service, etc.) Their voices grew louder and more animated the more they agreed and worked each other up about minor annoyances that Lauren and I had to shush them a couple of times when others in the hotel lobby started staring. They were so giddily excited to finally have some bromance time that they would have been of no use planning anyway.
Our first stop of the day was Bourough Market, which was very close to their hotel. Bourough Market was just as good, if not better, the second time around. We walked around for at least 30 minutes sampling different food. Lauren and I were crushing cheese, while Sam and Ryan were devouring sweets. To top off Bourough Market, we feasted on burgers (I introduced Ryan to the delicious one I had last time), wraps and a champagne toast. It was amazing. It started drizzling rain off and on around now (we’re telling you, the rain kept following us!) so we decided it was a great time to jump on one of the bright red double-decker tourist hop-on-hop-off buses. On our path throughout the city we drive past Trafalgar square which is filled with NFL signs and inflatable stuff, but due to the rain we decide to come back and check it out tomorrow before the game. Little did we know that it was only set up for Saturday afternoon (today), and as we read later, much to Ryan and Eric’s dismay, we missed some appearances from a few Patriots players, including Gronk who “Gronk spiked” the microphone, leaving it broken and unable to use by the following player appearances.
We took the bus around the city for a while, until we hopped off near the Harrod’s Department Store. Along the way we told Lauren and Ryan them how we bought a Moroccan rug. We all said we are going to do some research and find out if we can actually make some money selling the Moroccan rugs. This would become another recurring theme between the boys, and a high priority on Ryan’s list of get-rich-quick schemes.Somewhere along the on-off tourist bus I lost my fleece earband. Oh well, this just gives me an
excuse to visit H&M to replace it. While there I also bought a heavy and warm wool shawl to fend off the brutally cold temperature and winds of London. (Rob would later dub this my picnic blanket.)Being in H&M makes me realize I miss shopping… and clothes… and having my own closet and full wardrobe….
Our next stop was Harrod’s, which is a ridiculous place. Harrod’s was an absolute mob-scene.
Harrod’s is a lot like a mall with all the stores, but it is set-up differently. There are six floors which have just about any type of store that you would need, along with numerous places to eat. The place is very compartmentalized with a maze of smaller stops throughout.
It is very expensive, which is par for the course in London. I haven’t found anything that was cheap. The whole place was impressive, but perhaps the most interesting is the Egyptian escalators and the shrine to Princess Diana on the bottom floor. (Rob fills us in later- when Princess Diana died she was in the car with the son of the Egyptian Harrod’s owner, hence the memorial to both her and her companion.)
We spent a lot of time at Harrod’s due to the fact that it was so cool, along with all of us having to take care of practical things, plus Ryan needing to find a wallet that was sized for European and Swiss bills versus the American dollar, as well as us not being in a rush to go back out in the rain.
Sam and I were finally able to get a Vodafone SIM card that worked, which only took us going to four different Vodafone stores. It is nice to know that phone companies suck in Europe as well. However our cheap European cell phone’s battery was dead, so couldn’t activate then and there. The Vodafone employee gave us supposedly easy instructions to follow once it was charged.
After Harrod’s it was off to Victoria Station to meet Ryan and Lauren’s friend at the bar. We ended up at Shakespeare’s, which was a pretty cool place. It felt like an old British pub, and had a ton of interesting characters there. There were two big drawbacks which are holding me back from loving the place. First, they didn’t have many of their pale ales on draft or bottle. I am not sure if it was just a bad weekend for them or what, but that was very annoying. Also, I would say that the service was terrible. I’m not really surprised, but it was funny how terrible the service was. We had several drinks as well as some food, which really got the engine going. We took the opportunity to plug in our cheap European cell phone, with it’s brand new SIM card, into an outlet here to get it charged and activated. The phone gets charged, but now SIM doesn’t look like it’s registered.
Since the Pats were in town we did some research to see if there were any Patriots parties going on. We ended up finding the official Patriots party at a sports bar and decided to head over there. The whole place was overrun by people in Patriots gear, which was a great sight. It made me feel like I was back in Massachusetts, with all of the ugly, overweight men wearing Patriots jerseys. We drank some crappy British beer, and then switched to the good ol’ American staple- Budweiser. Despite the opportunity to watch American college football we are exhausted and didn’t stay for long. Also while there I tried, numerous times, unsuccessfully to register our new SIM card. The recorded message keeps telling me I must register online. Using our iPad and bar’s internet to go online, it says that the number is not a registered number. On the bus back to Lauren and Ryan’s hotel Eric and Ryan work themselves up about how all phone companies in every country (they themselves are having issues with Swiss utility companies) strategize discuss how they are going to Vodafone tomorrow and will let them have it. Lauren and I pretend to not be associated with the loud obnoxious intoxicated Americans.
The way back home was an adventure. We had to first go to Ryan and Lauren’s hotel to get our bags, then head to Rob & Judi’s neighborhood, a suburb outside central London, where we were staying again. Sam, Lauren, Ryan, and I all jumped onto the double decker bus to head towards the hotel. We had been drinking for a while so everyone was feeling okay at this point. Ryan was a little over served, so he was our entertainment for the ride back. Sam and Lauren may have been annoyed, but I had a great time with Ryan as the entertainment.
Sam and I grabbed our bags and had to catch a cab to make it to the London Bridge station before the last train out at 12:30am. London and all it’s suburbs are so big that you only use the metro for travelling through central London, and legit trains out to the neighborhoods in greater-London.
I don’t know if the cab drivers hate Americans, or they were just assholes, but no one was picking us up. You would think that in central London on a Saturday night well before bars and clubs close that cabs would be plentiful.
The clock was ticking for us to make it to the train station when Sam finally got a cab. Now the black cabs of London have very low floorboards and high ceilings, with the doors almost at eye-level, so once you open the door it’s almost like stepping into a small room. Which Is how must people enter the cab- with a facing the door with a step up and straight in, then turning around to sit down once in the cab (unlike a regular car where you slide in sideways while sitting at the same time.) Eric in his hurry stepped in, but with his pack still attached to his back. The top of our packs are usually a good 4 to 6 inches taller than our heads once strapped on, so even though he crouched down and forward enough for his head to clear the top of the doorway, his pack doesn’t make it under and gets caught at the top of the door frame. He backs up, tries again to enter the cab, but catches the top of his pack again. This happens a third time. For anyone who knows Eric, and knows how frustrated he gets with his bull-in-a-china-shop tendencies, you can imagine that he’s cursing up a storm at this point. Finally get in; he’s pissed and anxious about possibly missing the last train, so I don’t let him see me laugh. We get to the station, he has taken his pack off in the cab, so now gets out of the cab, then pulls the pack out, puts the pack on, then reaches back in to grab the other bag he’s carrying, and once again does not clear the top of the doorway, and the top of the pack catches at the top stopping his entrance once again into the cab. The entire situation was very comical, and had it happened to me instead he would’ve thought it was funny too.
We ran through the train station to make our train with a minute to spare. We lugged all of our crap to Rob’s house, where he proceeded to talk to us, while I was passing out on his couch. My lack of sleep had finally caught up to me so I was drifting in and out of sleep. We finally made it to bed around 2 am, but with daylights savings we were getting another hour of sleep!Sunday, Oct 28- London Day 2 (Game Day)
Football Sunday is here! After enjoying an extra hour of sleep, we showered, ate some breakfast, then went out for the day. To start our the day our hosts Rob and Judi wanted to take us to a new part of London neither of us had visited, an area called Greenwich. This town is still a part of London, but it felt like a different world. It had a great small town type of vibe, right on the water. Of course one of my favorite parts was seeing a Gregg’s (a chain fast food-bakery that was a staple during my study abroad semester in Scotland) and getting a chicken pastie. Rob and Judi did not share my enthusiasm for Gregg’s, I suppose it would be like someone back home getting excited about a Dunkin Donuts.
The National Maritime Museum is located here, which was pretty awesome. I sometimes forget (insert joke about me being dumb), how much history England has. It was very cool to check out models of old ships, detailed history of wars, etc. For example, I had no idea that England had a war with Cuba. I am a history fan, so this was an enjoyable experience for me. The next stop was Greenwich Astronomy Center and Royal Observatory, which among other things, hosts the Prime Meridian Line. It was interesting to see where the British standardized time zones, as well as their standardized measurements of feet and yards. Plus the views down to the Thames River and across to London were fantastic from the hill of the Observatory. We even had a clear view of the newly built equestrian stadium for the recent Olympics. After our fix of nerdy observatory displays (I appreciated this more than Eric), we took a spin through the Greenwich Market then over to the ferry. The ferry was the easiest and most scenic route for us to get to the London Eye where we were meeting Lauren and Ryan.
On a normal day this path would have been great, as it takes you right down the Thames River. On this particular day, it was not a very enjoyable experience. The line to buy tickets was outrageously long, and the ferry took an hour and fifteen minutes. The Metro would have been about 15-20 minutes, so this was particularly
frustrating to me. I would recommend doing this if you are not pressed for time. For all of you that know me, you can imagine my level of frustration with the ferry, when I am focused on the Pats game. I probably wasn’t too pleasant to be around for that ride. No he wasn’t, as is usual when he’s pre-occupied and stressed pre-game.
We finally made it off of the ferry and went to a bar right near the London Eye to meet up with Lauren and Ryan. Once again the service sucked, but the beer was relatively cheap. Of course
they were out of all of their home brewed English Pale Ales, so I was forced to drink a Beck’s. We were at the bar decked out in Pats gear when some guy asked where we were from. We told him and to my surprise he was a Watertown, MA resident. He was from the west side of town, not the cool east side like where Sam and I lived. It was pretty funny discussing Watertown for a few minutes with a random guy we met at the bar. Sometimes the world really is small. Somewhere around this time we noticed that our Vodafone SIM card is finally and magically working! Eric and Ryan are a little disappointed that they can’t go make trouble in a Vodafone store per their plan the night before.
We finished our beers and decided to take advantage of our hop-on/hop-off bus tickets since they were good for 48 hours. Sam and Lauren had mapped out our route to the game, while Ryan and I were talking nonsense at the bar. We hopped off the bus to go to a Tesco (a local convenience store meets grocery store chain
), to stock up on some food and beers. We introduced Lauren and Ryan to Tesco sandwiches- since they are both foodies and actually having jobs, and therefore on not quite as pathetic a budget as we were, they were unfamiliar and skeptical of the quality of Tesco sandwiches. However they were both very pleasantly surprised with the selection, quality and price of the pre-made Tesco sandwich section. Tesco has certainly become a go-to for Eric and I’s budget meals.
Needless to say Tesco was an interesting experience, since I was using the self-service check out. The guy at the store wasn’t too helpful, which was an issue when trying to purchase beer. After about five minutes in the check-out line, along with my rising body temperature, we finally got out of the store loaded with sandwiches and beer. We got back onto the hop-on/hop-off tour to take us close to Wembley Stadium for the game. We drank beer, ate sandwiches, and learned more about London along the way by listening to the bus’s recorded audio-guide. It was the most educational pre-gaming experience ever.
We got to our Metro stop and ran into several Pats fans along the way. There was even a random Pats fan from the Netherlands, who said she became a Pats fan during the last Super Bowl. She started to talk about the Super Bowl, which I thought I had blocked out of my memory. We got off the train and started walking towards Wembley. The entire place was decked out with NFL decor with most people wearing gear from either team. It was quite a change from the last time we visited Wembley.
The next logical thing to do is to hit the bathroom to break the seal before going to the game.
The closest bathroom was believe it or not, McDonald’s. This was a great stop as it allowed me to have a couple more beers, as well as see a wide range of NFL jerseys. I saw some classics, such as an authentic Randall Cunningham Eagles jersey. Back in the day, I am pretty sure my brother Matt would have killed someone for that jersey. Some other classics I saw were Zach Thomas Dolphins jersey, Ronnie Brown Dolphins jersey, Howie Long Raiders jersey, Jerry Rice 49ers jersey, and a Morten Andersen Saints jersey. That’s right in the UK people wear kickers jerseys. Walking into the game we ran into other random Massholes along the way. I chugged some beer with some military guys who were stationed in the area. I was feeling alright at this point in time, but these guys were housed. One guy was also a huge Notre Dame fan, so we discussed the legendary win over Oklahoma the night before. The more we talked the more I thought we were becoming best friends like Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly do in Step Brothers
. I decided to add some fuel to their fire by giving them my extra beer since we were heading into the game.
Wembley was a mob scene. It was a whole different scene than when I was there for the soccer game. The whole stadium was electric, which I think was due to Train performing right before the game. We made our way to our seats, which were 22 rows from the field behind the end zone. The seats were pretty fantastic and we were all very excited to have such a great view of the game. These seats had a red plastic bag for us to hold up to help show the US & UK flags during the National Anthems. During the playing of the anthems everyone in the stadium held up the bag in their seat, and the result was a huge red, white and blue pattern of the American and British flags that stretched across each side of the stadium.
While some Americans sang, the Brits really got into their National Anthem, which was cool to see.
I won’t go into the game too much since I am sure many of you reading this blog watched it or read about it. The Pats won 45-7, which was a great game to see. Some of the highlights were most of the TD’s were scored in the end zone right where we were sitting. Including both Gronk TD’s, which involved him doing outrageous dances before spiking the football. There was a few British guys behind us, one of which was trying to explain American football basics to the others. He had a limited knowledge himself, but it was cool to see non-Americans willing to learn about it
. There were some Pats fans near us, but for the most part people were cheering for the Rams. I enjoy the fact that people hate the Pats now, it makes it even more fun to cheer for them.
We left the game a few minutes early due to the Metro traffic. The Metro after a sporting event at Wembley is a production, as you may have seen from our earlier post. We took the Metro back, parted ways with Lauren and Ryan, then went back to Rob and Judi’s place. They proceeded to talk to us about France, while I jotted notes down. These notes were pretty good, considering the fact that I was falling asleep on the couch while writing them down. London round two was a success, and it is tomorrow we’re off to Paris! Our overall (second) London experience: 10
Overall it was awesome to hang out with familiar faces and spend some good quality time with friends from back home. We all know each other so well that we just clicked back together like we were still back in Boston. Add to that the excitement of attending a Patriot’s game in one of the most famous stadiums, we almost overlooked how cold it was...
For more London pictures, check out our London Picasso album