Friday, February 18, 2011

Mind the Gap.

Four days in London with 18 Spaniards: a clashing of cultures.

Mamen invited me to go to London with her school.  We spend four [long] days in London taking in the sites, walking around, riding the Tube, eating fish and chips, exploring the night scene, sending postcards back home...
London and Tower Bridge from the plane!
We took a bus early on Thursday morning from Navalmoral to Madrid. I should have known this trip would be different than any other I had ever taken since I was in a group of people who I didn't speak their primary language. Just the bus ride to the airport was adventurous as we turned the bus into a disco and listened to house/techno music! I was in heaven. 
We had a nice flight (I slept the whole time) and arrived safely to London. We took the Tube/metro to our hotel, The Westbury, in South Kensington.  I roomed with a girl named Edna and we got along great. We didn't waste much time to go out and see London... we started off at the National History Museum, which is the museum from one of the Night in the Museum movies! I think you'll recognize this...
National History Museum
We had a wonderful Tesco lunch outside in the park, just in front of the museum. I had Moroccan couscous and a Cajun Chicken wrap. It was soooo good; it's been awhile since I've had non-Spanish food. I think I was one of the only few who really enjoyed the English food. ;)

We headed for Picadilly Circus, Chinatown, Soho, and Oxford St. We had some free time so we spent it shopping!  We had a nice [buffet libre] meal in Chinatown and then headed back to the hotel, super tired from a long day of traveling and site seeing!
Picadilly Circus
Chinatown - prepared for the year of the Rabbit!
Oxford St.
We started Friday at St. Paul's Cathedral: where Princess Diana and Prince Charles were married and Mary Poppins fed the birds... We were scheduled to go inside (for the "low" price of 13.50pounds) but most of refused. There was no way I was paying $21.00 to go inside a cathedral. So, what happens when a group of 19 people cannot come to an understanding? It splits. And so it was for the rest of the trip. (Quite frustrating.) Half of the group entered (unwilling!) into St. Pauls to save face and the other half (my half!) went to visit Tate Modern Museum (free!) and see Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. 
St. Paul's Cathedral
Globe Theatre from Millennium Bridge.
Tate Modern.
Waiting around outside St. Paul's Cathedral. (Double decker behind!)
Saray, Mamen, Yo, Andres
We saw the Tower of London and Tower Bridge and then took a boat ride from the Tower of London to Big Ben. It was such a fun ride down the Thames River; we went under London Bridge (and it didn't fall down!) It was just a short walk to see the British horse guards... We had a nice lunch (at 3pm!) in a pub where I finally had the fish and chips I had been craving! We continued our journey up the street to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery...ending the day in Covent Garden.
Cant's get enough of this sign!
Tower of London
Tower Bridge
Big Ben!
London Eye from the Thames River
Classic phone booth with Big Ben (and Mamen!)
Horse Guards
Fish and Chips! (with lots of malt vinegar!)
Trafalgar Square from an artist's perspective.
Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery
Covent Garden Market
Toni, the British auxiliar (teaching assistant) who lived in my flat in Navalmoral the last two years, came to visit us, since she lives just a few hours away from London! We got dressed up and headed out for dinner (at 9pm!) and drinks in Covent Garden. We made the mistake TWICE of speaking in Spanish about people around us - only to find out they understood everything we were saying. The first mishap was when Mamen said the waiter was guapo...he was an English and Spanish speaking French boy. Who would have guessed? The second was in the Tube with four men from Belgium. We figured they were talking about us in their language so we started talking about them in Spanish (nothing bad or rude) about them probably talking about us... and then I turned to the man next to me and asked him simply "hablas Espanol?" And he just said, "si, hablo espanol." Well, then we all started laughing and speaking in English. Seriously, in today's world, you need to train yourself to think that everyone is bilingual so you don't get caught in an uncomfortable situation. Lesson(s) learned.
Me, Edna, Toni, Mamen
(I'm drinking a snake bite! So good!)
Saturday we started the morning bright and early (not so fun after a long night out, dancing the night away in a disco called Opal) by going to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guards. It is a must when visiting London, only happening every other day... plan accordingly!  We made a quick (and I mean QUICK!) trip to Harrod's to go to the gift shop.  Having spent several hours in Harrod's last summer with Missy, I knew I couldn't afford anything in the store (more like a small town) that has EVERYTHING you could ever want. I came out ahead with two new Harrod's bags and a new camera case with Harrod's cupcakes! While touristic, they are very fun! 
Horse guards on the way to changing of the guard...
(On my way to Harrod's!)
Harrod's Bear - just outside the gift shop with my purchases!
Changing of the Guard: Buckingham Palace
Changing of the guards always attracts every tourist in London, and we weren't going to miss it. We took the metro and ran back to Buckingham Palace - making our way through the crowds of people to meet up with the rest of the group. We were able to see it from the left side, a different view than I had ever seen! And, they had on their winter coats, so their red uniforms were gray, yet another difference between my last two trips and this one. 

We made our way to the British Museum, where Toni and I headed straight for the cafe... we sat talking about everything under the sun for about 40 minutes. It was so nice to talk to her, reminicing about her time in Navalmoral, my current experiences, how we felt like we were in Spain being around all the Spaniards on the trip - forgetting we were in England, our families, etc. We spent about 20 minutes walking around in the British Museum - looking at exhibits from Egypt and Greece. (British Museum...??? Not too "British".) 
British Museum
A stop at Camden Town Market was next - a street market x 1000. Everywhere you looked there were stores, discounts, cheap things, souvenirs, you name it. The area was so vibrant and lively, it was hard to not get lost in the atmosphere. I bought a London hoodie, a few dresses, and an English flag coin purse - because all the currencies were starting to annoy me! Now I am much more organized. :) 
Camden Town
Camden Town Market
Shops as far as you can see...
The group split up again, half of the group returned to the hotel to rest and the other half of us went to Notting Hill, Madonna's neighborhood!  There is another big market here called Portobello, but we arrived just after it closed (we spent too much time in Camden!) As I walked through the streets, I believed I was in the movie Notting Hill, with Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant. We found the book shop from the movie, but it is now a shoe store with Notting Hill memorabilia.  I ate the biggest crepe I've ever had in my life - full of nutella and bananas - my favorite! 
All lit up on the corner!
We hurried back to the hotel to get ready for dinner and our last night in Londres.  After waiting around for about 40 minutes for the whole group to meet in the lobby, we decided to split up and go to dinner (not sure why we waited so long to decide that...) Most of us stayed together and went to Wagamama, a noodle bar.  I had a nice curry dish, some wine, and wonderful Spanish conversation. We tried finding somewhere for drinks after, something that was nearby our hotel incase we didn't make it back in time before the metro closed. However, there wasn't too much in the area, so we ended up just going to a pub where most people had gone the night before. A few rounds there then back to Opal (since we knew where it was) for more dancing with Saray, Veronica, and Andres.  Yet another fun night that made the next morning not so fun...
A picture taken in the infamous mirror above the dance floor.
Yo, Vero, Saray, Andres
We got up early (it was a common theme...) and went to Hyde Park, Queen's Gate. We saw the 180ft tall Victorian bronze statue in that is a tribute to Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert. It was massive! We went further into the Park to see the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain (which is very simple and very abstract) and the nearby lake, where I fed the birds... and got bit by a swan. (Yes! It actually bit me!)
This picture doesn't do it justice...just the size of it is overwhelming!
Princess Diana Fountain, a simple circle.
Just before it bit me!!!!
We returned to the hotel after our early morning walk to get our bags and head to the airport. Just before we passed security I saw a Krispy Kreme shop - AH! I wanted to stop so bad... but, since I was in a group, we weren't allowed to stop. Bummer! Well, then came security. 

I think I am a good traveler. I have had lots of experience in airport security, getting more efficient by each trip! Well. Traveling with Spaniards put my airport security skills to the test: AND I PASSED (well, kinda.) After making it speedily through security, I was waiting around for 18 more people to come through.... waiting, waiting, waiting, waitinggg.... Well, a security guard came over to me and said "Excuse me, I need to check your bag." I said ok, and went with him to his post. I told him I had been through security and they hadn't found anything on me... and he said "We've been monitoring you - we think you could be carrying explosives!!!!" "WHAT!?!" Well, I then kindly explained to him as he searched my bag and rubbed test sheets over it, that I was traveling with 18 Spaniards.  I apologized for wearing easy slip on shoes, not traveling with liquids, no laptop, and not wearing heavy jewelry or a belt... He started laughing and said he had never heard a better response when he was checking for explosives. Well, I'm glad I made his day. He continued to do my head in....

I decided I needed some alone time. Time to enjoy the English speakers around me, the English signs, etc. I found a bagel restaurant - a BAGEL restaurant! I couldn't believe it. I sat down and enjoyed my Ruben bagel, double chocolate brownie, and fruit twist flavored Fanta! It was pure happiness with a side of jalapeno chips (which I also enjoyed to the fullest!) 
happiness <3
Cultural Busts:
We would set a meeting time....and 15 minutes later (on time with Spanish time!) over half the group was still missing. It took about 40 minutes for everyone to return. So, as you can see, there was lots of longggg waiting periods before and after each new attraction we visited.

At noon, everyone would be starving... so instead of going to eat lunch (like the rest of the country) we would get snacks because it wasn't time for lunch. Newsflash: WE WEREN'T IN SPAIN! WE WERE IN ENGLAND! Tesco and Stainsbury's Local became my best friends because of their fresh, fast food. (Gosh, do I miss fast food... it's the fact that when you're hungry, you can eat immediately and not have to wait around for it to be prepared.) So, this is yet another cultural thing that drove me crazy.
I forgot I spoke English - I did so much translating that I would speak Spanish to the Londoners. Fail.
I'm sure there were more things that drove me crazy but these take the cake. All in all, I had a wonderful trip. London is a place that I could go back to time and time again and still find new things that I love. I would love to spend more time there, an extended period of time. Who knows where my life will take me, for now, I'll just keep brainstorming. I tend to find happiness in every new place I go - because it's different - new things to see and learn and new people to meet. Never a dull moment.

For now, I'll concentrate on my happiness in Navalmoral - which is great at the moment. While my free time is little to none, I'm finding time for new things, new people, and new places - and other things that aren't related to teaching English. I hope it continues.

Events since London have included Thursday night dinner and partying all night.
Who knew Navalmoral had such a night life? I'm glad I found it.
Thursday night dinner - out for Portuguese!
Maria, Ross (Maria's Fiance!), Me, Diana, Mamen, Oscar, Josemi, Dioni
London friends reunited IN SPAIN!
Ainoa, Andres, Saray, Yo
Dinner in Talavera. Arroz Negro!
Drinks in Talavera on a Saturday night!
Carlos, Noe, Yo, Andres

Monday, February 14, 2011

Justin Timberlake. ¡Olé!

Well, Justin Timberlake turned 30 years old on January 31. It's become a tradition to host a birthday party in his honor, so I wasn't going to let my current country of residence change that. In years past, we've celebrated with locker room parties, balloons, Cake Creations cookies, and Jt music.  Well, this year we had party hats and a Spanish pinata. 
Balloon happy before the party.
All my friends were happy to celebrate Jt's birthday as we had the "party" in our flat.  With Maria's help, we had balloons, a "Happy Birthday" banner [with pictures!], wine, tortilla de patata, cake pops from the USA, and of course Jt music in the background to really bring it all together. 
The gang celebrating JT's birthday in our flat.
Yo, Diana, Mamen, Josemi, Maria, Oscar, Isma

A Spanish pinata. Quite opposite than an American pinata, is basically a gift bag with strings to pull down. No hitting or spinning around involved. We all pulled on our own strings to find wonderful goodies like noise makers, masks, fake noses, and little toys come showering down upon us. [Disclaimer: This is how I like to think of the pinata having happened. However, since the pinata was hanging in the hallway doorway and not too high in quality/toys were too big, we had to pull most of the goodies out ourselves.]
1 - 2 - 3 GO!
Oscar hoarding all the goodies in his shirt; me checking for MORE!
Wish everyone could have been there to help celebrate! With all the felicidades I was sending him on his big day and all of my friends back home thinking about my obsession with him and his birthday, I like to think it really helped him have a great day! 
Fun with party hats!
So, en fin, happy 30th birthday Justin Timberlake! (marry me!)