Thursday: I have been so excited for months to come visit London and see my aunt Veronika from Perú, who I hadn’t seen in eight years or so. I arrived in at Luton Airport. Little did I know, Luton is a small airport outside of the city. Poor Veronika got lost coming to pick me up! Nonetheless, it was so nice to see her! Of course, I tried to get into the driver’s side thinking it was the passenger side and almost had a heart attack the entire drive thinking that we were driving on the wrong side of the road. That is very hard to get used to! Another thing that was weird is using pounds rather than euros. “Quid” as it is called, is worth nearly 2 American dollars so you can imagine that it was a bit of an expensive weekend, even if I did have people to stay with.
We drove the 45 minutes or so back to her apartment in South London, where I met her husband Dave. When we got there, Veronika poured me a big glass of wine (my kind of gal) as we sat around catching up a bit. It just so happened that two of her friends from the United States, Hilda and her daughter Amy, were also visiting the same weekend so they took the big bed in the baby’s nursery and I was on an air mattress in the living room. Friday: I finally got to meet Dave and Veronika’s baby, Alejandra! She is the cutest little nugget who tried stealing all of the stuff in my backpack, including my hairbrush which she started brushing her hair with as I was getting ready for the day out on the city. I had noticed how much more like a US city London is because it is so diverse. There are so many shops and restaurants filled with delicious ethnic food or goods. It was a nice change.Veronika gave me an Oyster Card- my pass for the London Underground, also called the Tube- which I filled up with enough money to get around the city. It’s different than the Madrid Metro, where you pay a flat fee every time you get into the station, no matter where you are going. In London, you have to scan your card upon entering and exiting each station so that they can charge you for what zone you went to. This makes travel on the Underground actually a bit expensive. It made me very thankful for the transportation system in Madrid. I also thought it was very strange that the train seats were upholstered. All I could think about was how much more difficult the fabric would be to clean…Another thing I noticed on the Tube that was also different than what I’ve seen in Madrid is how many people were sitting down reading the newspaper. Maybe I haven’t been focusing on it at home in Madrid but I honestly cannot tell you one time where I’ve seen someone on the metro with a paper in their hands. Instead, everyone is reading on their kindle or has headphones in. Does this mean that people in London have a better idea of what’s going on in the world? I would consider myself quite informed while I’ve been living in Madrid, through social media and watching the news every day during mealtimes. That could definitely be considered a cultural difference.
Today we ventured to Buckingham Palace with Alejandra in her pram (stroller). It was so funny talking with Veronika because when I first met her, she didn’t speak any English (nor did I speak any Spanish). Now listening to her with her British accent and vocabulary on top of her strong South American accent can be funny. I made sure to- lovingly- give her a hard time and repeat all the funny British terms. We got to the palace a bit early, before the changing of the guard began. Basically, all traffic is stopped as a band marches through the streets into the palace gates, followed by people on horseback. We honestly couldn’t really see much so it’s probably better to save yourself the trip and watch it on Youtube instead.
Then we headed to the Westminster Abbey area to see Big Ben, snap some photos with a guard, and do the touristy (yet necessary) photo booth pose. From there we could also see the London Eye in the distance but it was a cold and rainy day, with a baby in tow, so we decided against going on the ferris wheel. We headed to a pub for lunch, which surprisingly had a bunch of vegetarian options. The system of sitting down to eat at the pub was so weird to me. Basically you fight for a table. Okay, not really. You wait for someone to be done and swoop in, then go up one by one to order your food and pay, then the food is delivered to your table. I felt so bad because the woman at the table next to us had her purse stolen while she was there, which is apparently quite common. Most restaurants even have clasps attached to the underside of tables where you can hang your bag.
After lunch we all sleepily headed to Tower Bridge. By the time we got there, the sun was setting and it was starting to light up. We also were able to see the poppies memorial, which is in remembrance of the First World War since this year was the 100th anniversary. It’s a beautiful installation of 888,246 ceramic poppies in the moat surrounding the Tower of London, each flower representing a British military fatality during the war. The poppies are then sold to people across the world and it raised millions of pounds that were distributed between numerous charities. It was a really beautiful to be there to see such a memorial.
At this point we had been walking around all day and were pretty tired. I had heard from Hilda and Amy that they bought half-price tickets to a musical the previous night and I was determined to go see a show! So Veronika escorted me to Leicaster Square, which is basically London’s equivalent of Broadway in NYC. There I bought a not-so-half-priced ticket to see Mamma Mia! I have been wanting to see this musical ever since I can remember! My parents went to see it when I was little and my mom came home with the soundtrack, which my sister and I memorized. I had a bit of time before the show so Veronika and I parted ways as I headed into Chinatown to grab a bite to eat. Finally, I made my way over to the Novello Theatre and claimed my seat in the FIRST ROW to see my favorite musical! It doesn’t even matter that I was alone because I laughed my butt off and sang along with every song. The cast was fantastic. The woman who played Donna was absolutely incredible; I had goosebumps. It was such a blast.
We basically only had today to explore London so we tried to cram a lot into just one day! It was certainly a fantastic first day in London!!!
Saturday: Today was the day I was (supposed to be) leaving for Edinburgh, so I knew I didn’t have time to do much. After getting a late start, but getting to play with the cutest baby on earth, I was on a mission to get to King’s Cross Station to take a cliché photo trying to get into Platform Nine and Three Quarters. Harry Potter fans, you get it… SPOILER ALERT: They didn’t let me in! On my way there, I discovered the UK’s version of Forever 21, except BETTER: Primark. Somehow I didn’t buy everything in sight and only snagged a few things, one of those being a cool new faux fur vest which I put on immediately and spent the rest of the day looking like a Brit. P.S. I heard Primark is opening new locations around Europe AND is about to start shipping to the U.S…. this could be dangerous for all of us.
Coming back, I stopped at a local restaurant for a to-go lunch of some of my favorites: hummus, tabboule, rice, and naan bread: all for only 6 pounds! I ate it in the car on the way to the airport because, of course, I was running a bit late. There was a bit of traffic so when we got to the airport we were very short on time and I doubted if I was going to make my flight. We accidentally went to the wrong terminal so after the woman talked my ear off, I finally took the tram to the other terminal. The woman at the EasyJet desk encouraged me to run because I might be able to make the flight but once she realized that I still needed my boarding pass printed, she helped me switch my flight to Edinburgh to the next day so I’d be able to make my flight home to Madrid. There’s only one flight a day so that was really my only option. Luckily Veronika had stayed at the airport so I was able to call her to go straight back to her apartment instead.
I was a little upset about not being able to see Edinburgh and visit my friend but I was so glad to have extra time with Veronika and her family. Even though I had to throw down a little extra money for switching the flight, I’m all about everything happening for a reason and there really wasn’t a downside when you get to hang out with people you love. Plus, she was having a dinner party tonight so I was able to meet all her hilariously diva-ish gay friends. I fit right in! Another thing that was weird since being in England was speaking so much English. I’ve been used to reading signs in Spanish and changing languages based upon who I was talking to so this was different. However, Veronika is Peruvian, her friend Hilda is Puerto Rican, and many of her other friends are South American so I did get a bit of Spanish in. They all made fun of me for my Spanish accent, saying how much they hated the way people from Madrid speak. Oops!
Sunday: This time when Veronika and I said goodbye, it was for real. I was so happy to have seen her after such a long time and have an adventure together in London.