I arrived on Saturday, after what felt like forever (but was really just a two hour delay- that's another story though). And met my parents and wonderful roommate at this huge train station (Paddington Station). We then hopped in a taxi (they are SO cute here- I'll have to remember to get a picture of one) and met some distant family that lives here (more family! It's often nice meeting family because you have that kind of shared micro-culture- you can find a lot of things in common with each other without really even trying). We then had a late dinner at some trendy looking place close by. And that is where Rachel and I had our first official English fish and chips! It was all really exciting. Good food and good conversation. And that was the end of a long day of travel.
On Sunday, we all met up and went to Hampton Court (which is a Tudor palace built by King Henry VIII- remember, the one who beheaded and divorced his wives). There's a picture of us (minus dad- he's taking the picture) below!
That's at the gate to the complex I suppose. You can see the entrance to the castle waaay off in the distance behind us (right in the center). We just got so excited upon seeing the castle we had to take a picture. The actual castle was interesting! We went because they were doing a special cooking event, where food historians came and cooked Tudor food (then proceeded to eat the delicious smelling and looking stuff in front of us. They couldn't give any to us for health safety reasons, pfftt). Some people still live there, so parts of the castle were closed off (I think dad wondered into one of the residential areas at one point). Anyways, I thought that was really interesting. Could you imagine having hundreds and hundreds of tourists a day come to look at and take pictures of your residence? No privacy, but I guess they get used to it. Oh, but back to sightseeing! What I really liked about the castle (and didn't find out about until the end of the day) was that they had actors in full costume going around doing reenactments. I don't know if it changes from day to day or what- but when we were there they were reenacting King Henry VIII's decision to create the Church of England (so he could marry Anne Boleyn). We caught the last part of it by chance- he was proposing to Anne Boleyn (then he made it official by announcing it and declaring he would establish a new church).
As you can probably guess, that's it above (Anne Boleyn is to his left of course). Very well done.
After that we hopped on a bus (the public transit buses here are actually the red double-decker ones you see on tv and in the movies- that's not just a romanticized version of London. It's the real deal) and saw some landmarks, like Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. You know, the big ones. We got off and walked to Buckingham Palace. Oh and while there we got close-ish to some guards (you know- the ones in red with the big funny black hats) and Rachel actually managed to make one of them laugh! I was impressed. And after that, mom, our navigator led us to the Dog and Duck pub (sister pub to the Dog and Duck in Austin). We got fried brie (fantastic) and calamari (also fantastic) for appetizers. I got fish and chips again for my main course (fantastic again).
After dinner we went to look at Big Ben and Westminster Abbey... at night. It was all lit up. Well, just look at it below.
And now for today. We parted ways with my dear roommate yesterday, so it was just the parents and I today. We got up rather late then went out and got on a boat cruise on the River Thames. It was interesting- the guy narrating our boat cruise (who kept insisting he wasn't a narrator) was a sixth generation Thames oarsman. I suppose this means his ancestors used to taxi people all across the Thames (before buses and cars and trains). That must've really been the way to travel. He was very well informed of course and gave a great tour of the river. We then got off and went to the Tower of London! As you may or may not know- it was a castle and residence for the royal family for like 500 years then it was turned into a prison and place of torture mostly for people who committed treason. So basically it was used as a place of intimidation by the monarchy (to keep people in line and such). We went on a tour by a beefeater (who guard the Tower- they have to have a long military history before they are hired. Oh and they actually also live there with their families), then we went and saw the crown jewels (which were really unbelievably dazzling), the armory, and the bloody tower (where these two young princes were murdered). So much history!
After we were done with that, we went to eat at this French restaurant (I had steak frites- so good!) before going to see Singin' in the Rain! Ahh! It was a cute musical. We were maybe third or fourth row back from the stage, and so during the actual "Singin' in the Rain" number (water was falling on the stage) we were sprayed with water when the guy started tap dancing! It was really well done I thought. Really entertaining!
And that was my past three days in a nutshell! I hope you enjoyed reading about it!
I'll have more to come later.