Friday, February 12, 2010

Visiting London - the good, the bad and the ugly.

For my last birthday I received a wonderful present from Andra: a trip to London and tickets to Transatlantic Sessions concert.
We just returned home from this interesting adventure, with mixed feelings: in the first place it was really nice, while on the other hand it was a bit tiresome, cold and bloody expensive (the most expensive city we've ever been too).

Let's have the whole adventure presented in chronological order:
The flight took three hours from Romania to London; it was nice and calm, with little turbulence.
Most of the way there was a completely white blanket of clouds below us, hence the feeling of standing still, although traveling with more than 800km/hour.
Upon arrival, we had our first contact with the high prices: we bought a train ticket from Luton airport to London, for 20 pounds (the ticket also allowed us to use any transportation, for that day alone).
To make a comparison, the price for that ticket (one day traveling permit), is almost three times the metro permit for one month, here in Romania.
However, there was also a positive side to this transaction: the ticket itself, accompanied by some special vouchers, allowed us to buy 2for1 tickets to some major tourist attraction such us: Madame Tussaud, Tower of London, Aquarium, and London Bridge (saving more than 50 pounds).

Thanks to a great tip from our couchsurfing hosts, we left the luggage for free, at Tate Modern Museum, which we also quickly visited afterwords. Then we went to buy the 2for1 tickets for the whole period, as the train ticket was valid only for one day and we were required to present a valid ticket, in order to benefit from the offer.
However, we soon discovered that no one cared about the train tickets, only took a quick glance at it and asked us to fill in the vouchers.
At the Aquarium, the girl at the desk told us we could come the next day, with no problems. So, we went to Madame Tussaud where the rules were more strict: we had to visit right after paying the entry fee.
It was totally worth it; a really funny experience - we got the chance to fool around a lot :)

We got out of there in the evening, went to the museum to collect the luggage and then headed straight to a metro station, to meet with our hosts.
Ahmad and Eeva amazed us every night with really interesting and funny stories, from their past experience. In their home we had many nice conversations, played The Dominion game, shared thoughts about interests and exchanged ethnic dishes.
Also, they took us for a ride around the city, at the Greenwich observatory and in a market full with artists presenting hand made objects (enough of them to keep Andra busy for quite a while).
Being our second couchsurfing contact - as guests, this was a great experience in itself. We'd definitely like to meet more people like Ahmad and Eeva.

The plan for the second day: Trafalgar Square, National Gallery, Big Ben & Parliament building, Aquarium and - at the end of the day - we attended the Transatlantic Sessions concert.
Only the last two objectives were on the initial list, the rest of them were added along the way; ..just like we kept adding McFlurry ice-cream whenever we wanted :).
At the Trafalgar Square there was a funny dude attempting to go through a tennis rocket. He finally did it, to everyone's amusement.
There were "street artists" near all tourist attractions, each one with an interesting show.

On the road to Aquarium we noticed many drunk people on the streets, some were a bit muddy on their clothes, others with their face painted.
So, we asked a policeman to tell us about all that commotion. We found out it was New Zealand day.
At the Aquarium we got to touch a catfish, a star fish and also found Nemo :) with his parent.

As there was still enough time until the concert was supposed to start, we went for a walk along Thames.
Did I mention it was bloody cold? :)

The concert was amazing and we remained breathless a couple of times. There was no playback, all singers had such clean and wonderful voices, and the instrumentation was perfect.
Just a few words and some photos won't do it justice, but this is all I've got. I'm hoping there will be a dvd release with a recording of the event.

Next day: Tower of London, Tower Bridge, British Museum.
All these worth visiting, especially the first one - Tower of London where there's a lot to see inside the fortress; and British Museum where there's no entry fee, but has top quality exhibits and overwhelming amounts of information.
British Museum alone would require an entire day in order to see it properly.

At the end of the day we visited Soho - Chinese district.
Andra, curious as always, bought all sorts of things for us to try. With a few exceptions, we have no idea about what we put in our mouths :); still, many tasted quite good and we enjoyed taking the risk.

In the last day we warmed up in the morning, with a visit to the British Museum - in order to have a final look inside; then walked to Buckingham Palace, another walk through the park nearby, and finally went in the Eye of London.
One of the most joyful experiences from this whole trip, was to feed the squirrels in the park :)

We enjoyed each day in London and we were sad to leave Ahmad and Eeva without having one more game, one more talk and that night at the salsa club. Maybe we will do all these together, here in Romania.
On the other hand, after all the running around in this big city, we were quite eager to get home to recover. We had no extra holiday kept for relaxing, so thank God today is Friday :).

Have a nice week-end everyone!