Monday, July 23, 2012


And now, the long-awaited London post, starting with some common stereotypes!

*The British have bad teeth. False. The people I met/encountered had normal teeth, although they did take the time to explain this stereotype, which I am grateful for! Apparently, with socialized medicine, only a few dentists are covered under that. Thus, it can take months, and even years, of being on a waiting list to see one of those dentists. The British are so accustomed to not paying for healthcare, that the idea of seeing a teeth specialist and having to pay for it seems utterly ridiculous. Makes sense, huh?

*The guards at Buckingham Palace have to stand out in all kinds of weather. True. Those guards are amazing...they are out there no matter the heat or the cold. Although, I did discover that they have little shelters to stand under, that are tall enough to accomodate their tall hats. I don't think I would have noticed otherwise, had it not been raining

*The British are extremely polite. True. For the most part, all the Brits I met were very nice and very polite, except one guy who I encountered at a Burger King in London. He wouldn't take my debit card because it had a crack in it, so he handed it back to me and said, "We don't take cheap cards here," and he refused me service. Oh well, it was only BK--can't expect loads of kindness from a fast food place.

*It's always raining in London. False. Although the weather is highly unpredictable, I am told it does rain quite a bit there. It rained on and off pretty much the whole time I was in London.

*Those double decker red buses are everywhere. True. The red buses are not only tour buses, but also the main bus transport in London. You see them quite frequently.

*Everyone eats fish and chips. False. It is a popular dish, for sure, but not EVERYONE eats it. Although the ironic thing about that is I went to order some at a pub, and they were all out. So everyone must have been eating fish and chips that particular day! The British are fond of meat and potato/veggie dishes though.

Day 1: Friday, July 13th, 2012: I must preface this by saying that per my earlier blog, the U.S. did win the bid for Miami! So, in 2016, Miami will host the World Federation of Hemophilia's Congress! Woohoo! I am so psyched about that. So, Friday morning, I woke up early, packed up my last minute things, and checked out of my hotel in Paris. I took the Metro to the Gare du Nord, or North Train Station, where I would be taking the "chunnel" from Paris to London. When I arrived, I saw a huge billboard of all the departing trains, and located mine, which would be departing to St. Pancras, London at 11:47am.

Board for departing trains in Paris, Gare du Nord

I waited at the platform a bit, because only after a certain time would the departing platform be revealed. There was a military guard walking around the station with a very large automatic gun. It was really scary! I am glad I arrived early, because I started looking over my train itinerary, that I printed from my email, and it said I had to check in. A kind gentleman that worked at the train station directed me upstairs to the check in. Oh, so that's how they keep track of those international passengers! I actually had to go through customs, just like I would in the airport. They stamped my passport and asked me a lot of questions like, how long would I be in London? Where would I be staying? Did my host know I was coming? It was pretty intense. After I was all checked in, I sat and waited in a waiting lounge nearby the departing gate. When they called my train to board, I lugged my suitcase onboard. The train was very much like an Amtrak train, in seating style and comfort. The train took off, and I fell fast asleep. I was very tired from all of the conference stuff. The ride from paris to London was only about 2 hours long, and only 20 minutes of that trip were spent under the English Channel. That part was also just pitch black, underground. Sadly, I don't have anything exciting to report other than the fact the train goes under the channel. When I arrived in London, the first thing I saw was Olympics hype. For example:

St. Pancras Train Station in London

It was pretty cool and exciting. In fact, the area I would be staying in was Stratford, where the Olympics are taking place. Now, coming to London, I didn't know a single person. That was kinda scary, but I had done my homework beforehand. I started using a website called CouchSurfing ( Basically, you can search for people to host you on their couch for a number of nights. It's a really cool site, and I highly recommend it. You have to make a profile and everything. I met my host, Miles, from there, and he graciously offered his air mattress to me. When I got into London, I checked the time. It was about 2:00p. I had to meet Miles at the Stratford station at 6:00p. I decided to see as any things as I possibly could before I had to meet him.

I had been looking at a map of tourist-y London places while on the train. I compared that map to a subway map, and circled the stops where those places were. The first place I headed was to Baker Street. I had heard from someone that there really was an address on Baker Street where Sherlock Holmes had lived. Now, for the life of me, I couldn't remember what that address was, but I thought I would take my chances. The subway, or "tube" was very navigable. I got off on Baker Street, and walked a little until I saw a whole bunch of cafés and restaurants named after Sherlock, so I knew I was close! Across the street I spied 221B Baker Street, otherwise known as the Sherlock Holmes museum. Bingo! I crossed the street and took pictures. The line to get in was long, so I moved on to stop # 2: Abbey Road.

The Sherlock Holmes Museum
I got off at the Abbey Road stop. My only regret was that I didn't have 3 friends with me so that I could re-create the famous Beatles album, Abbey Road. Many people did this, stopping traffic quite frequently. Miles later told me that the pedestrians did have the right of way, even if they were taking pics and being tourist-y.

Abbey Road

My next stop was Buckingham Palace. Now, keep in mind that I didn't have a place to stow my luggage, so I was getting pretty tired from lugging it all over the place with me. I asked for directions from a nice British gentleman, and he directed me through a park, about a 10 minute walk. It also had started to rain. I made it to the palace and took some pictures.

Me in front of Buckingham Palace

The Royal Guard, sheltered from the rain
The palace was very big and impressive! I did a time check, and it was a little after 4p. I decided it was best for me to start heading back to Stratford station, so that I could meet Miles on time. I took the tube, and arrived to Stratford. Amazingly, they had wireless internet, so I was able to get online for a while and entertain myself. I sat for a good 45 minutes, until it was close to 6p. Then, I moved my suitcase and myself into more of a plain view. Miles spotted me first, and came right up to me. I extended my hand, but he instead went in for a hug. I liked him immediately, as this was a typical move I would do! We dropped off my luggage at his house, and he introduced me to some of his housemates. One of them, Izzy (the only girl), tagged along with us, so I was excited. We headed out, our gameplan to pick out some food to make for a real British meal. We talked all about stereotypes of Americans and British. We had a good few laughs from all of that. We walked through Stratford and found some cool stuff, like the Olympics mascot.

Miles and I with the Olympics mascot
Also, we went to see where the Olympics were being set up. We couldn't get too close, but it was still pretty cool.

Scene of the Olympics!
Miles and Izzy told me they were both sick of the hype already. I can only imagine! Next, we headed to a pub. I got to try my new favorite beer, which is a flavored cider called Kopparberg. It's not from London, but it was so light and fruity, it didn't even taste like alcohol! I smuggled one of these home in my suitcase.

Flavored cider: Kopparberg
Next, we went grocery shopping. Miles and Izzy picked everything out. Then, we returned to the apratment, where Miles cooked it all up into this delicious meal:

A real British meal, homecooked!
We had potatoes, stuffing, veggies, meet, and those bread looking things are Yorkshire puddings. Sooo good! I went to bed so full that night! Miles and I stayed up pretty late just talking about random things. We decided we were going to sleep in late, since we both were feeling a bit sleep deprived.

Day 2: Saturday, July 14th, 2012: We slept in until about noon, which was a lot later than I think we had intended! All the same, the sleep felt great. We quickly ate some lunch, got ready, and headed out. Miles took me to this place where we would see a lot of street performers. We saw a lady who hung upside down and juggled knives.

We also saw a guy from the U.S. that called himself Arizona Jones. He had a fedora, a whip, and everything. He called Miles up to help him with his tricks. But, it started raining, and he was forced to pack up and leave without having done his finale.

Miles helping Indiana Jones' brother: Arizona Jones
Next, we headed back in the direction of Stratford station because we were meeting up with another awesome guy I met through Couch Surfing. His name is Mo, and he is a wonderful person. Miles spotted him based upon my description, and we went out for coffee (tea for me). We had a GREAT conversation, and ended up playing all kinds of card tricks. I screwed mine up though, haha.

Mo and I on the streets of London

Then, Miles showed us his devil sticks performance. He is really good at them, and was showing Mo and I how to do them as well. You basically have two sticks and you need to keep a third one in the air and twirl it with the first two. It is a lot harder than it looks!

Miles and his devil sticks
After meeting Mo, we headed out to get some lunch at Wetherspoon (a popular local pub chain). I had some steak and kidney pudding and a cloudy, unfiltered cider the locals call "scrumpy." I love cider so much, that I even liked the scrumpy. My first choice of food was actually fish and chips, but they were all out--sad! I want to make this at home though--doesn't it look good?

Steak and kidney pudding: a real London meal!

After lunch, we headedback to Miles' apartment to get all fancied up. We were going to an event at a famous London landmark called the Gherkin. We were invited by Miles' friends, but had no idea what it was all about. But hey, I love any excuse to get dressed up!

The Gherkin

We arrived at the Gherkin, and discovered the event was being put on by a group called Hello. We heard other people around us asking what Hello is. It was definitely funny that we were not the only ones who didn't know! I got to meet a few of Miles' friends who were pretty cool: Joe and Jamie. We mostly hung out and talked in the upstairs bar lounge. We also had some fun with the props available to us.
Me, Miles, and Joe
After a few hours, we decided to head back before the last of the trains stopped running for the night.  It was another great night!

Day 3: Sunday, July 15th, 2012: I woke up early, packed up my remaining things, and Miles walked me to the Stratford train station. How I wished I could have stayed longer! I was really beginning to miss home though, so it was the perfect time to start heading back. I said my goodbyes to Miles, and took the train to Heathrow Airport. Since I didn't have a ton of time to shop, I picked up several gifts in the airport for friends and family back home. I boarded my flight and headed home, with some wonderful new friends, great pictures, and a ton of good stories. 

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