Adventures at Stonehenge!

Adventures at Stonehenge!

Today was a glorious celebration of 12/12/12. I visited Stonehenge (one of my life dreams), as well as the nearby town of Salisbury and the castle ruins at Old Sarum.

I began my day early this morning by catching a bus from Victoria Station in London. I enjoyed the nice, long bus ride to Salisbury by reading, working on a paper, and sketching in my notebook. Finally, I arrived in Salisbury and bought my combination ticket to Stonehenge, Old Sarum, and the tour bus. There was a bit of time to kill, so I meandered around the local Christmas market in the town square. I found a little present for one of my readers out there, so that was exciting as well!

Finally, the tour bus departed and I enjoyed the ride to Stonehenge and all the interesting facts the tour told us along the way. Apparently, Salisbury was a major strategic location in World War I and II, serving as a mustering point and training ground for the Allied Forces before they shipped off to continental Europe. As Stonehenge approached, we learned a bit about its evolution and what little history we know. The technological achievement was amazing at the time, and even holds up today. (An attempt to move a similarly large stone in the early 2000s in a historical reenactment ended in total failure.)

At long last, we finally pulled up to Stonehenge. It was truly amazing. The massive rock pillars stand in a wide open field, dwarfing everything around them. Majestic, ancient, and imposing, they are like nothing I have ever seen. They seem almost out-of-this-world and as old as time itself. This feeling was augmented by the Wiccan/Pagan/Druid followers that turned out in a sizable number to celebrate the occurrence of 12:12 on 12/12/12. They brought incense and chiming bells, and also organized a rhythmic chant amongst themselves. As the minute drew close, everything but a low hum from the bells went silent. Then, as if on a cue, the sun burst from behind the clouds, illuminating everything. It was one of the most magical moments in my life.

Majestic Stonehenge

 

After that, I walked around the structures, taking tons of pictures and enjoying the moment. Stonehenge is incredible, and these pictures don't even begin to do it justice. The sense of something bigger than the individual is unavoidable as one gazes upon these ancient monuments lost in time.

Post-Stonehenge, I made my way back to the bus, which took me to Old Sarum, a massive hill complex that holds the ruins of a castle used by William the Conqueror in the 1080s. It was really beautiful and peaceful, and offered an excellent view of the surrounding countryside.

The last cool thing I had to see was the famous Salisbury Cathedral. It towers over the city and dwarfs everything in sight. It was absolutely gorgeous. After snapping a few pictures, I walked around the town, finally warming up with a little coffee at a cafe before heading to the bus.

All in all, a wonderful day. Only a few left. Pictures below!

 

 

 

 

The Countryside

 

Heading up to Old Sarum

 

Beautiful Light by Old Sarum

 

View of Salisbury from Old Sarum

 

Castle Ruins

 

Adventuring Amongst the Ruins

 

Salisbury Cathedral

View from the Front

 

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The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town

The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town

For one of my last evenings in London, I decided to have a little fun and check out a nearby speakeasy, The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town.

Cleverly hidden, the Mayor is quite a find. In fact, it doesn't even have a street entrance. You have to ask to be let in by the restaurant above it, a charming breakfast diner called The Breakfast Club. We entered The Breakfast Club, and when the waiter asked where we'd like to sit, we told him we were looking for the Mayor. He then led us to the 50's era SNEE refrigerator, opened the door, and led us down a staircase hidden inside. That's right. The entrance to the speakeasy is through a REFRIGERATOR. It was pretty phenomenally cool.

We made it down the stairs and got a table. After some consultation with the bartender, I ended up ordering a cocktail called the “King Yellowman's Answer”, which apparently won Rumfest 2012. It seemed like a safe bet, and the description made it sound amazing. It read:

King Yellowman's Answer

Blackwell Rum, roasted pineapple with cinnamon sticks, honey, espresso and freshly pressed pear juice. With a garnish not to be messed with.

It was delicious. The garnish turned out to be a scotch pepper, one of the hottest in the world, filled with rum to be added to the drink to taste. It was lit on fire at our table to infuse the flavor into the rum, then I poured about half in my drink. It was fiery, but so delectable. After enjoying the ambiance of The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town for awhile, we finally headed home to do some homework. All in all, a good day.

 

The Store”front”

 

 

 

 

The Hidden Entrance

 

 

Quirky Ambiance Painting

 

King Yellowman's Answer

 

A Fun Day at the V&A (…And Natural History Museum)

A Fun Day at the V&A (…And Natural History Museum)

Today was a massive museum day!

 

I started with the Victoria and Albert Museum. It is such a vast, amazing space filled with countless treasures. I explored various rooms for a few hours, marveling at all of the incredible handiwork. It always astounds me to realize how much incredible stuff was made before the advent of modern technologies like computers or even electricity. I just see so much potential in the human race by looking at our past and seeing the marvels we could make in the old past, and dreaming of the incredible, unimaginably awesome things the future will hold.

 

After the V&A, I traveled to the nearby Natural History Museum. Its imposing exterior is matched by the majestic interior, filled to the brim with scientific treasures. I went through a special exhibit on the museum's most valuable acquisitions (including a Neanderthal skull and a first edition of On The Origin of the Species), an exhibit on evolution, and the museum's giant collection of minerals. The collection was housed in a massive hall lined with rows on rows of display cases. It was a geology enthusiast's dream, and totally ROCKED! (Okay… awful pun, I apologize.)

 

After all of the museum walking, I was hungry, so I swung into Chinatown to grab a cheap Baozi (steam bun), then headed off to the gym. After the gym, I made a supper that used up almost the last of our food stocks! The end is near! All in all, a good day!

 

 

Buddha From the V&A

Another Buddha

…And Yet Another Buddha.

 

Exquisite Arabian Carpet

 

Bronze Statue

 

Ivory Framed in Wood

V&A Courtyard

 

Entrance to the Natural History Museum

 

Darwin

FIRST EDITION!!!

 

Gibbon

The Rock Hall

 

Malachite

 

 

Topaz (Mom's Favorite)

 

Agate

 

Magnificent Opals!

 

Successful Saturday!

Successful Saturday!

Today was quite a busy day! The big highlights? I went to the Design Museum and also saw a play today.

I began my day by traveling to the Design Museum. It is a really cool building based in a converted warehouse. The main exhibitions of the day were an awesome jewelry design exhibit, and another level that contained a plethora of installations involving crystal and lights. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the descriptions and just examining the beautiful and well-designed objects.

After the museum, I ventured via tube to the Tricycle Theatre to see an adaptation of The Arabian Nights. It was a very interesting and creative adaptation of the classic tale of Scheherazade and the 1001 nights of stories. It was beautiful to watch, and ran the gamut of emotions, from funny to sad to nostalgic. All in all, a wonderful play.

The rest of my day involved an extremely long workout at the gym and then enjoying an evening of hanging out with my fellow Grinnellians. In the end, it was a superb way to spend my last Saturday in London! Pictures below!

 

Jewelry!

Awesome Projector Lamp/Kaleidoscope

Thousands of Crystals

 

Detail

Creative Crystals

 

Awesome Embroidered Poster

 

The Best Fish and Chips in London

The Best Fish and Chips in London

The contest is over. Today's combatant blew away the rest of the field. The best overall fish and chips experience in London (by my criteria) is Poppies, an establishment just off of Bricklane. I visited Poppies for lunch today as a study break from writing my paper. Definitely a great decision.

Let's break down the criteria.

1. The Fish: Perfectly fried, brought hot and fresh to the table. Crispy but light breading covers a massive hunk of beautifully white cod. The fish was flaky, and utterly delicious. Also, the homemade tartar sauce was perfect.

2. The Chips: The best traditional chips in London. (Exmouth Arms was a close contender, but Poppies keeps it closer to the traditional steak-cut fry, giving it the edge it needed.) Crisp on the outside, and totally fresh, these fries were a great complement to the fish. They tasted good without vinegar and salt and absolutely phenomenal with the classic two toppers.

3. Mushy peas: Poppies advertised its mushy peas as “homemade.” They certainly taste like it, and it makes a huge difference! The sweet, fresh peas complemented the heaviness of the fried fish and chips nicely. Best mushy peas in London.

4. The atmosphere/overall experience: Poppies is an old-fashioned chippy, and it shows in the best possible way. From the waitstaff wearing 50s era white short sleeve button-ups with a black tie to serving the takeaway fish and chips in newspaper, Poppies captures a lost era. Huge lines and friendly staff, coupled with a cohesively fantastic and classic fish and chips meal, make this one London experience you absolutely cannot miss.

 

It's been an amazing adventure trying the various fish and chips restaurants all around town. Each one had its own twists on the classic meal, so my favorite fish and chips may not be your choice. Either way, with a good batch of fish and chips, everyone's a winner!

 

In any case, even though Poppies won, many restaurants deserve acclaim for a delectable meal as well. I can highly recommend any of the following fish and chips restaurants in London.

1. The Golden Hind

2. The Fryer's Delight

3. Fish!Kitchen

4. Exmouth Arms

 

Check out the winner below:

 

Poppies' Fish and Chips

 

The Tower Of London!

The Tower Of London!

Today, I visited the Tower of London. It was magnificent: I explored the history of the tower, saw the Crown Jewels, and snagged some amazing shots of tower bridge!

I began my day with a wonderfully long workout at the YMCA, and then came home, had brunch, and went off to the Tower with my friend and classmate, Deb Tillman. We adventured around the tower complex with our guide named Barney, saw the Crown Jewels, and walked the the tower ramparts. It was awesome. I was amazed by the vast amount of history and historical figures attached to the tower. I also enjoyed taking a bunch of pictures of the Tower Bridge. Check them out below.

Also, amazingly, I have fewer than ten days left in London. It's been an incredible journey, but I'm really excited for home. I feel like I have seen and done so much over this abroad experience. It is exciting to see what I can fit int the next few days, but I feel content with all I have accomplished thus far.

 

Pictures below, per usual! (Enjoy the pictures of Tower Bridge at various times of the day!)

 

 

 

Our Guide, Yeoman Barney

 

 

 

 

 

Wicked!

Wicked!

Tonight, I went to a performance of Wicked.

It was absolutely phenomenal! I was really excited yesterday after I managed to snag a ticket for a really good price from the Leicester Square. I had seen Wicked before in Des Moines, so I was excited to see how it differed in London.

There wasn't much of a difference in the show set-up, which I think is pretty standardized, but the venue was incredible. From the moment I stepped into the theatre, I felt like I was in a different place. Everywhere shimmered with emerald light, and all of the facilities had been Oz-ified. The Art Deco style of the building just added to the effect. I felt like I was immersed in Oz.

The show was amazing, with a very talented cast. It was fun to hear a few tweaks (school was referred to as “Uni”) that made it uniquely British. As always, the story and its unique twist on the world of the Wizard was… Wonderful.

Outside the Venue

 

Just Before the Entrance

 

Poster Inside

 

The Set

The Emerald Bar

 

Big Ben Strikes Again!

Big Ben Strikes Again!

Today was a very photo-tastic day!

I ventured over to Trafalgar Square today, hoping for some pictures of the square and of Nelson's column before I visited the National Gallery to see the paintings. However, as soon as I got to Trafalgar Square, I could see the beautiful light illuminating Big Ben and Parliament and knew I had to get some pictures. I hurried down Whitehall towards them and got to the area near Westminster as the clock struck three.

The light was absolutely perfect and I managed to snag some phenomenal shots. Check them out below. After the photoshoot, I headed back to the National Gallery and got to see some amazing paintings by Van Gogh, Monet, and more! Post-art-viewing, I headed to Leicester Square to check out the discount tickets for shows. I lucked out and managed to snag a seat for Wicked at an awesome price. After that, I hit the gym for a massive workout and then went to the grocery. All in all, a good day!

 

Nelson's Column

 

Down Whitehall

 

 

Big Ben

Parliament

Ben and Skies

Sepia-Toned

London Icons

I See the Eye

Perfect Light

The National Gallery

 

Big Ben Strikes Again!

Big Ben Strikes Again!

Today was a very photo-tastic day!

I ventured over to Trafalgar Square today, hoping for some pictures of the square and of Nelson's column before I visited the National Gallery to see the paintings. However, as soon as I got to Trafalgar Square, I could see the beautiful light illuminating Big Ben and Parliament and knew I had to get some pictures. I hurried down Whitehall towards them and got to the area near Westminster as the clock struck three.

The light was absolutely perfect and I managed to snag some phenomenal shots. Check them out below. After the photoshoot, I headed back to the National Gallery and got to see some amazing paintings by Van Gogh, Monet, and more! Post-art-viewing, I headed to Leicester Square to check out the discount tickets for shows. I lucked out and managed to snag a seat for Wicked at an awesome price. After that, I hit the gym for a massive workout and then went to the grocery. All in all, a good day!

 

Nelson's Column

 

Down Whitehall

 

 

Big Ben

Parliament

Ben and Skies

Sepia-Toned

London Icons

I See the Eye

Perfect Light

The National Gallery

 

Spectacular Scotland, Day 3

Spectacular Scotland, Day 3

Today was another day full of food, adventures, and climbing things in Edinburgh, Scotland.

I began my day with another hearty Scottish Breakfast, as well as a bowl of porridge, juice, and tea. It was filling, dense, and exactly what I needed to fuel my day. I then checked out of my room. I was sorry to say goodbye to NB's Bed & Breakfast. It was a phenomenal place to stay; the comfortable and clean room combined with a stupendous staff made for one of my best travel experiences ever.

 

An Egg-cellent Way to Start My Day

Next, I made my way down to bus station, stored my duffel bag in a locker in the station, and went back to the center of town. Edinburgh is a city positively glowing with holiday spirit. I walked around the streets admiring the decorations until I made it back to the Scott Monument. I had read that one could pay a small fee and climb up the hollow interior all the way to the top! Of course, if there is one thing I apparently cannot resist in cities, it's climbing insanely tall monuments to take photographs. So, after 287 steps (some of them climbed sideways, as my shoulders couldn't fit widthwise inside the top spire's staircase), I made it to the very top of the monument! It was beautifully clear, and with the holiday celebrations all around the center plaza, I got some really fun shots.

Festive Decorations!

 

It's a Long Way Up.

 

Ferris Wheel, Shot Halfway Up

 

Gorgeous Hidden Interior in the First Level Up

 

View From the Top

 

Self-Portrait!

 

Another View From the Top

Next up was a trip to the Museum of Scotland. It looked immense and really cool! Inside were some amazing displays. They included everything from industrial design throughout time, to world cultures, to animal adaptations, to geology. It was amazing to see some of the treasures the museum has. I particularly enjoyed the rock samples and the Lewis Chess Pieces. It's always quite fun to see in-person things that I've only seen in textbooks. After the museum, I made my way to a local pie shop, Piemaker's, for a quite delicious red pepper and chicken snack pie.

 

Lighthouse Reflectors

 

The Second Edition of Darwin's Origin of the Species


Beautifully Designed Wall Sconce by Frank Llyod Wright

What a Car!

 

Typewriters

Pallasite

 

Amethyst

 

 

Buddha

Another Buddha

 

The Famed Lewis Chess Pieces

 

Great Humor, Great Pie at Piemakers

 

Next, I made my way to the Elephant House yet again to bask in the Mecca of the Harry Potter world. I had a pot of tea and read from the seventh book. I also left my own message in the bathroom. It's one of my favorite lines from the entire series, and I think is also reflective of the amazing world the JK Rowling created for all of us and the power of our collective imaginations.

Of course it's all happening in your head, Harry, but why on Earth should that mean it's not real?

-Dumbledore (Book 7, Page 723.)

I finished my day with some adventuring on the Royal Mile. I watched a street performer for quite awhile; he was a combination of comedian and contortionist, which was very entertaining, especially as he had a very polished show. I then caught a quick fish and chips dinner at a pub with my friend, Kate, who also ended up visiting Edinburgh this weekend. Finally, I boarded my bus to go back home to London. All in all, a good day.

The Entertainer

 

He Attracted a Massive Crowd