I've proudly returned from merry old England. The trip was a much-needed break, and I was pleased to meet a number of wonderful new people. Per the usual, my travel writing will rely on the valuable crutch of photos. Bill Bryson I am not, but I can operate a simple point-and-click. For the most part.
After a lovely six hours of enjoying the hospitality of British Airways and an even lovelier hour on the Underground, we arrived at the Royal National, a hotel that seemed to hope its guests would overlook the lack of expected amenities because of its convenient location. Admittedly, it was conveniently located by the British Museum which we stumbled to first on this first sleep-addled day. All pictures from this first day make me look fairly out of it. Also, blog readers will get a rare chance to see me in my glasses, as the first thing I did on getting to the hotel was lose one of my contact lenses. At the museum, they let you touch a replica of the Rosetta Stone. Naturally, they don't allow the public's grubby fingers on the real one.
After the museum, we wandered down to the South Bank. My boyfriend's 8-year-old niece made us promise to go on the London Eye, but we decided sitting for that long would probably cause us to pass out, so we skipped it. Hopefully, she doesn't read my blog. You can't tell from this picture, but this was actually an absolutely beautiful day. Mostly blue skies--just evidently not at this moment. Whoever said London is dismal in February is mostly right, but our first day was a welcome exception.
We walked along the bank past sand artists on the Thames and the restored Globe Theater (oddly beset by some sort of furry convention) and wandered into the Tate Modern. Currently there is some exhibition by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. It's a collection of 5 million individually crafted porcelain sunflower seeds. Apparently, you used to be able to walk on them before it decided that was potentially toxic. This photo pretty much sums that up. Please feel free to use it as a jumping off point for your discussions of modern art, Communism, globalization, and the future of China in the comments section.
My boyfriend's aunt and uncle were kind enough to drive us out to Windsor Castle for the day. (For the record, they were also kind enough to invite the whole family over for a party, make delicious Persian food, ferry us to and from Oxford and a number of other places, let us stay in their home for most of our trip, and provide us with a full English breakfast every morning. But these are more just things I need to remember for the thank you card.) At any rate, Windsor Castle was quite impressive. The queen was present while we were there, but, not surprisingly, we did not meet her. We were, however, there for the changing of the guard.
Observe, Henley-on-Thames, where the largest (or at least, most important) rowing race occurs, the Henry Royal Regatta. Of course, it occurs in the summer, but it's still a pleasant place to walk in February. Interestingly, the regatta at Henley appears in the movie The Social Network which I happened to catch on the plane over. Thanks, British Airways!
After a journey around Hyde Park one day, we decided to take in tea at the Dorchester. This is an experience I very much recommend. All the finger sandwiches you can eat! Also, some excellent scones with clotted cream and a selection of pastries. The photo of me actually drinking tea showed my bad breeding and atrociously poor tea drinking technique (my pinkie lacked the proper lifting), so please accept this photo of scone eating instead. You can't screw up scone eating.
I'm not sure what to say about it, but I couldn't not put up this picture of Trafalgar Square. The National Gallery there was enjoyable, although they kicked us out to close it shortly after we arrived.
Mid-week we journeyed by bus up to Sheffield in South Yorkshire to see the many sites of this former stainless steel industry capital. Also, and perhaps more importantly, we visited a friend of mine from college. Those unfamiliar with Sheffield may recall it being the setting of the film The Full Monty. My friend, knowing we were eager to take a break from cities, took us to the Peak District, a national park composed of verdant hills and dales. We launched our Peak District tour from Castlton, a small town a short bus ride from Sheffield. As the name might suggest, they have the ruins of a Norman castle there.
The judgmental woman at the information center said we lacked the proper footwear to do this walk. We proved her wrong.
I could post an endless quantity of pictures from that day because they are all beautiful, but I shall limit it to those three. I'll post the rest online soon though, so let me know if you'd like the link. At any rate, I had a wonderful time this past week, which I'm afraid pictures just can't fully capture. It was fun to meet so much of my boyfriend's family as they are all such friendly and welcoming people. It was also great fun seeing my friend again, seeing where she's studying and living, and meeting some of her friends and housemates. We tried (and failed) to impress them by cooking a southern feast. Turns out chicken takes a long time to fry and "biscuits" don't really translate.
Anyway, thanks for reading about my experiences! This was a bit longer than I intended...so I'll just blame the jet lag.