Monday, April 28, 2014

Semana Santa- 3

I've saved mentioning the processions until now, mostly because Sevilla is the place where the processions became really obvious. But first a little explanation...

The processions had several different parts. First, you have the Nazarenos. Those are the classic processors, the ones in the robes and pointy hats. Each group represents a different confraternity from a different church. Some are purple, white, blue, black, you name it, including two or more colors. Each are divided into different sections within the confraternity, called branches. There could be as many 9 branches in the Nazarenes. Following that, there are sometimes woman in mourning, dressed in black skirts and jackets, wearing the classic Spanish mantilla with the really high comb underneath and incredibly high heels. I can't imagine how they marched like that. You might, within the Nazarenes, have penitents, who wear robes but hats that are unpointed. They carry crosses, and are usually barefoot or in socks (they're not actually doing an assigned penance, but by choice). They're the reason you never ever throw glass on the ground during holy week. The rest of the year, well, Spain spends a lot of money on street cleaning. But never during holy week. After these initial groups, you get to what everyone is waiting for, the palio, or what I think it is in English, pall. It is a pall, a massive pall, carried by at least twelve men underneath. There are generally two in each procession. The first contains a representation of Christ; Christ in the garden, on the cross, at the last supper, etc. The statues are massive, and look extremely heavy. The men carrying it are directed by another man outside, who uses a knocker to signal when to lift the pall. He then tells them how to turn corners and when to set it down. It's a really long process, and when they stand up and turn a corner, everyone claps. They don't carry it for very long, only about ten yards, and then put it down. That's why some of these processions can take as many as 12 hours. They are followed by a musical group, usually a marching band, then it begins again. The second pall is of Mary, and in the south it was a large Mary under a canopy with about a hundred candles in front of her which are re-lit anytime they stop. The face and colors of Mary differ in color, decoration, and expression, though even I wondered if I was seeing the same thing twice. 

Kids are both participants and spectators. I thought it was quite funny, watching the spectator kids. They can ask the Nazarenes for a gift (candy or a religious image) and the Nazarenes can either ignore them, or give them something. Some also take a ball of foil and ask for wax drippings, and the Nazarenes will drip the excess wax from their massive lightsaber sized candles onto the ball. I saw kids who had quite a bit by Friday. The groups vary in seriousness, some that don't say a word as they go, and others that have a smoke when they stop (including the musicians, which was horrifying).

As for myself, I saw many parades, some by choice and others by necessity. It was like the triwizard maze. The walls kept closing in, and the way I came, I could no longer go back through. It took me an hour to get back to my hostel the first night. I learned a lesson after that-- the map they hand out is important to keep an eye on. I sat and watched the entirety of several parades, the first being 75 minutes long. I turned down another alley and got stuck in a crowd, and decided to stay and watch. I picked a suspiciously empty stretch of road, under an overhanging roof and next to a tiny wall that was sticking out. The alley was small, but I didn't realize how small it was until the palls came by. I literally stood on my tip toes, afraid those guys were going to move a little too far to their left. I had about six inches of room, and was able to stick my hand out and touch the edge of the pall, and see the small relic on the side. If I had new glasses, I probably would have been able to read the name. It was thrilling, in a scary kind of way.

Two other things you must do if you are in Sevilla. The first, of course, is the Cathedral. If I understood correctly, a large portion of the cathedral used to be a mosque, but was subsequently destroyed in an earthquake (all except the tower, the saving of which was credited to Saints Justa and Rufina, patrons of the city). So the cathedral is relatively new, built in a renaissance style. It's also the supposed burial place of Christopher Columbus, although the Dominic Republic believes his body to still be there, that when the Spanish lost that territory and went to bring Columbus's body back, they took the wrong one. Information conflicts on whether or not they've done the DNA test, and they'll probably never really agree. In any case, if his body isn't there, there's a marvelous tomb. It's also apparently the biggest cathedral in the world, and they have the Guinness World Record sheet to prove it. It is again, a lovely cathedral, and they have a nice tower you can climb up for no extra cost. Also, if you don't like or can't climb stairs, this one's mostly ramp.

Secondly, you should visit the Plaza of Spain. Used as a film location in the new Star Wars films, it's probably the most beautiful plaza I've seen yet. It's huge and round, with a small boating river on the outskirts and a fountain in the middle. Horse drawn carriages circle every few minutes, taking you on a ride through the park next to the plaza. It's really charming, and you can go up to the second floor of the plaza for some amazing views. You can also find the names and a map of every province in Spain painted on the bottom floor.  Just watch out for the fan and sunglasses sellers on the stairs. Remember, don't take anything you're handed, and if someone tries to give you a branch, shake your head and keep walking. This is an excellent place to go if you need a break from processions.

Next to the plaza is a park I dubbed the park of non-native things, including many things brought from the 'new world', and at least one tree that I'm pretty sure I remember from Costa Rica. It's also full of parrots, but I doubt they intended that, and instead they were probably pets that people decided they no longer wanted. Since this park has some many tropic trees, the parrots were doing very well there.

There are many other things you can see, but  I do recommend that if you're going to see specific things, go another time. If you want to see the processions, holy week is the time for you. But the alcazár, the plaza de toros, the torre de oro, and other famous locations are packed this time of year. If you'd like to see the palls but don't want to wait in line, you can always stop off at the churches during the morning. They're free to enter that time of year, and you can see the pall up close.

I suppose these posts have been a bit more general than specific. But it was such a crazy week, and so much happened, it's hard to put it in a post. If you'd like to know more details, I'll be back in the states in just about two months. 

Hopefully, I'll be able to travel somewhere in my remaining six weeks in my program, but if not, my family and I are going to Paris and then to visit Monet's Garden, along with Burgos and Barcelona (and of course, Aranda). Then, on my way back to the States, I have a nice day layover in Berlin. So I'm sure I'll have hundreds more pictures to take, though I'm going to have to buy another thumb drive. Sixteen gigs just wasn't enough. 

Semana Santa- 2

Granada was my first experience with the famous processions in Spain. It's a very hilly city, and I got off at the wrong bus stop. Not too far, but a bit. The next step, according to my directions, was to get on another bus. But it was after 5 o'clock, and the processions had begun. So forget the bus. I had to hoof it, and although later I learned it wasn't that far, dragging a giant suitcase (I'm too cheap to get a smaller one when I've got a perfectly good bigger one) through cobbled streets (which sucks, fyi) and up cobbled hills (which sucks more) was... exhausting. I got stopped several times by the procession, and attempted to go around, which was not super successful, as the road I needed to follow was next to a river. As usual, I managed to entertain all those around me with my antics, and people were pretty open about their amusement, assuming the blonde girl can't speak Spanish.

To top it all off, I got lost, taking a left instead of a right, and wandered up and down the wrong hills for about an hour. A nice couple stopped and helped me, and I managed to find my way to my hostel. At that point, the sun had set, and all I wanted to do was eat and collapse. I watched a procession from the window of a Kebap shop, then went back and fell asleep. It was totally worth it though, as my hostel had an amazing view of the city and the Alhambra (see next paragraph). 

The second day things really began. I only had the two days, and Monday I'd scheduled one of the things I most looked forward to, the Alhambra. A Muslim palace until 1492, it's magnificent. It's not just one building, but more like 5, and it used to be more. It's a fortress, a palace, a garden, and a few smaller buildings in between, including a bath house. I arrived through a beautiful path over the river (it's a hike, wear good shoes) and up the side of the hill, and was 2.5 hours early to my palace visit. I thought, no way am I going to have enough to do. Boy was I wrong! I spent an hour just walking through the gardens, and another climbing the fortress. This is the place Washington Irving wrote his Tales of the Alhambra, and you can still see many of the things that inspired him. You can see the door of the seven floors, where treasure was supposedly hidden under. You can see the outlines of the houses were both the men of the Moorish and Christian kings lived, to better serve their majesties. It's fascinating, and I do recommend grabbing the audio guide. 

The best part, hands down, is the Nazarene Palace. It was built by the various Moorish kings, and it is marvelous. Geometric mosaics line every wall, Arabic and other intricate patterns are carved into the stone, and speak of the greatness of kings and of God. You'll find throne rooms, gardens, reflecting ponds, and most famously, the Lion Court, a fountain built on the back of twelve stone lions. It is a marvel. Carve out half your day, if you plan on going. And if the price seems steep, remember it's  five buildings and beautiful gardens. And I do recommend booking on line. Even if it's not their busy season, it'll save you the wait, and guarantee you get in, because by the time I left at 2 o' clock, they were sold out for the day. 

My next stop was two churches, the first being the final resting place of the Catholic king and queen. It was more of a chapel, I suppose. No pictures are allowed, but I've been looking for their graves since Toledo. That's where they were originally going to be buried, but after the conquest of Granada, they decided that was the spot. They were also buried with Juana la Loca and Philip the Handsome, whose own stories are interesting as well, if tragic. Anyway, it was a nice little chapel, if a little overpriced.

The Cathedral next door was beautiful, but odd. It was relatively small, and it was shaped in a cruciform, but with a slight difference. The top portion was rounded, and so was the altar. I've gotten used to an older Cathedral, I suppose, since those in CyL were constructed earlier (the area remained in Spanish hands almost exclusively). For the most part, I've seen Gothic and Romanesque styles, and I think this Cathedral was affected by renaissance styling (as was the one in Sevilla). Since the building was quite small, it can be visited in 30 minutes, if you need to. I didn't get to go to mass here, but it had two massive organs, and I'm sure it would have been lovely.

In fact, all of the churches here were beautiful. I walked into one that was covered in gold, another with every inch painted, which reminded me of Rome. Quite different from the stone and retablo artwork I'm used to in Castilla y León and some of the other places I've traveled. And then it got me to thinking, what am I going to do without churches like these in the United States? That will be a bit depressing.

Just as an interesting aside, I heard an adhan, the Arabic prayer that's said five times a day, blasted out over the loudspeakers my first afternoon there. It took me by surprise at first, but it was actually pretty cool. I'm not sure where the mosque is, but there are once again a lot of Arabic people living in this part of Spain. Anyway, a new, interesting experience for me.

 Onto Sevilla!  

Semana Santa- Part 1

Well, I've had about a week to decompress from my massive week long journey, and I'm ready to post a blog about it. It was a lot to take in, and I did a lot. So for you, the readers, I'm going to do my best to compress the week into three readable and sensible posts.

Here goes...
I started out the week in Córdoba. It's a beautiful city, not too large, but includes a really interesting mix of Spanish and Moorish architecture. Despite it being small, there's no shortage of activity. I only a day and a half there, so I picked what to me sounded like the most interesting spots in the city, the cathedral (is anyone surprised?) and the Alcazár de los Reyes Cristianos.

First, the Cathedral, affectionately known as the Mezquita, or the little Mosque. It is probably one of the most unique cathedrals in the world, because it didn't start out that way. When the Moors came in and conquered Andalucía (400s or so), they built this huge kingdom, which of course included a large number of mosques, most famously, the Mezquita in Córdoba. I posted pictures on facebook, but they don't really capture this amazing building. On the outside, it's wrapped in a peaceful courtyard, surrounded by the original walls and a tower off to the side. Orange trees with a unique Arabic watering system etched in the stone pathways. When you walk in, it's like entering a forest of slim columns, all of which end in double arches and painted with the original red stripes. The walls are etched, not in the usual Christian religious symbols or reliefs of saints and angels, but in Arabic words of prayer and petition, mixed into complex geometric forms. Arabic arches are cut into the walls, the largest pointing in the direction of Mecca. It's dark for a Cathedral, but not in an unpleasant way. When you move through the building, you feel as though you are connected not just with the Christian worshippers, but with the Muslim ones that came before, as if the floors are still lined with prayer rugs. It's an amazing building, and one could spend hours marveling at the different architecture and the synthesis between Christian and Muslim art.

And then you come to the center of the building, and bam! It's like the Hallelujah chorus starts to play. The center of the building opens up into a Gothic ceiling, and the light of the tall windows streams in. It's such a change, that for me I found it startling. Beautiful, still, and integrated into the rest of the building. I was fascinated, and I highly recommend a visit to this marvelous cathedral.

The second building I recommend in Córdoba, if you only have a little while, is the Fortress of the Christian King and Queen, otherwise known as Ferdinand and Isabella. Theirs is a fascinating history, and is one that I never really learned on the other side of the pond. Mostly we learn about Columbus's voyage from the perspectives of the Americas, but we don't learn about all that led up to Columbus sailing the ocean blue in 1492, nor the lives of the King and Queen and their children. It's really quite fascinating, and I recommend checking it out sometime. In any case, this fortress was, like the Cathedral, originally built by the Moors. But, in the 1490s, Spain reclaims the territory (or at least what was Spain at the time). Granada is the huge win, but Córdoba is a good one as well. And the fortress was just too beautiful to part with. And you know what, it still is. It's a nice building (it's a fortress, so you can imagine it's not the super lavish), but you really go for the exterior. The gardens are filled with flowers, all maintained by this same unique Arabic watering system, carrying water down from its source and running it through the stone pathways, including along the banisters of the staircases. (They also created a dam system that was more sophisticated than the Roman's aqueduct system). If I lived there, I would probably spend all day reading in that park.

Córdoba is also known for its beautiful patios, and most especially the patio festival in May. I've heard that it's marvelous, and even if you don't go during the festival, some patios will still be decorated. I got the opportunity to go to Palm Sunday mass and got a real palm! (Which I lost in Granada, but that's besides the point.) It was a lovely service, and despite their thick accent, I enjoyed it thoroughly.

A word of advice, and of warning. Tapas are free in Andalucía with a drink purchase. You should eat them. Especially berenjas con miel, eggplant (aubergine, if you like) with honey. They are fried and slathered in honey, taking away all their nutritional value, I'm sure, but totally worth it. Eat them. But do not, I mean it, do not eat rabo del toro, bull's tail. I did, thinking, hey, it's local, I'm going to try it. Basically, they gave me a slab of meat, still attached to the tail and spinal bone. It was so cooked it slid right off, but not in a good way. It was... too soft. And covered in a certain type of sauce... no sé qué. I could not stomach much, and I'm pretty sure my hostel roommate ate the same thing, and was super ill all day. I woke up in the middle of the night, feeling quite bad, sat up and told myself to 'ajo y agua' as they say in Spain, sat up and fell back asleep. I was fine in the morning, but consider yourselves warned.

Next, Granada! 

Monday, April 7, 2014

San Sebastian Donastia

I took a trip this last weekend to the Basque Country, specifically to San Sebastian (or Donastia as it's called in Basque). If you've never seen the Basque Country, I imagine it looks a lot like Ireland- Green and mountainous. There's a different feel up there, as if you really are crossing into another country. The cities have a more open feel, the buildings are a little bit brighter. Small villages are scattered in the hills and mountains, and livestock wander the pastures. I could see why the Basque immigrated to Idaho, because, although our mountains are quite dry and our weather basically the opposite, the mountains reminded me a lot of home.

And of course, there's the language. I fell asleep on my way, and when I woke up, I wasn't sure where I was (turned out I was in Vitoria). But one glance at the signs tells you where you are. Basque comes first in the Basque Country, and the street signs, restaurants, and businesses are all first in Basque, and maybe in Spanish later. (At least in this part of the Basque Country. Not all of the provinces are the same with their treatment of Basque language and culture.) I can say, goodbye and welcome in Basque (not super helpful) but everyone does speak Spanish if they must.

San Sebastian is a beach town, and a gorgeous one at that. I stayed at a nice surfer hostel, which was reasonably priced- for now. But if you go after Semana Santa, it was more than double the rate for each night. Yikes. I met a nice woman from Canada, and we later hung out some during the weekend.
The first day I spent at the beach. It wasn't quite warm enough to swim, so I people watched and walked up and down the beach a few times. It was really lovely. The water is clear and the beach is fairly clean. And the views could not be beat.

I ate some wonderful pintxos for dinner, Basque style. Basically, they make a bunch and set them out on plates. You grab your own plate, load up, eat, and pay at the end. (Paying at the end, even in bars, is common in Spain.) I was surprised to learn that they no longer use the different sized toothpick method. The Basque Market in Boise uses that to measure your pintxo consumption, but in the Basque Country, they've digitized. It was Friday, so I skipped the ham I wanted to eat (truly a penance) and went with bacalao, tuna, octopus, and non meat based pintxos.

I went to visit the two main churches in SS. The first was Santa María del Coro, the patron of the city (supposedly brought up from Latin America, I can't remember which country). It's a very nice church, and the guy at the door let me in for free, when he saw that I only had a twenty. Super nice guy. The other church was Buen Pastor Cathedral, the Good Sheppard. While small, (compared to other Spanish Cathedrals), it's built in a Gothic Style, without a lot of chapels along the sides. But the really neat thing is the stained glass. Because of the way the church faces (exactly in line with del Coro, by the way) the sun streams in through the glass and casts colored shadows on the walls. It's really beautiful, and unfortunately, did not get captured on my camera.

The second day my main goal was to hike up Monte Urgull, which is right behind del Coro and was supposed to have a fantastic view of Playa de las conchas. It's a terrific hike up, and not too strenuous. It's mostly paved at the bottom, though about half way up you run into cobbled path, which is uneven and can be a little difficult. With each turn, the view gets more and more stunning. It's green and humid, more humid the higher you go. It wasn't raining while I was there, but the frequent rain has left everything moss covered and almost magical looking. (If you've been to Multnomah Falls near Portland and climbed up to the top, it reminded me of that, though that's a more intense hike than this one). I wandered up a set of stone stairs, some worn down and some completely missing, and found myself at an old tunnel. The tunnel led up to another hiking trail, and no matter which way you go, you find yourself at an old castle/fort. The first castle I've been in, despite living in Castilla y León. There's also an English cemetery along the way, and though I saw it from above, I couldn't find it on my way down.

Going into the castle gives you an even better view of the surrounding area. There are several different layers to the castle, and the best part is that it's free! If you continue to the top, you'll find a museum dedicated to life in San Sebastian throughout the ages, and it's also free. The museum is quite interesting. The most fascinating thing for me is what is called "The Sack of Donostia". Essentially, in the late 18th Century, Napoleon used San Sebastian as a way to get to Portugal, and there was very little resistance. SS had these massive walls built up around the city, including the fort and the island. It was actually referred to as The Rock on some English maps. And let's just say that having Napoleon's troops in the city, well, it wasn't great. In 1813, the English and Portuguese teamed up to 'liberate' SS. It took a while, but they finally managed it on 31 August. The people were thrilled, and greeted the soldiers with flags and cheers. However, they immediately started to sack the city, stealing, raping, and burning the buildings to the ground. Only one street was spared, because that's where they were collecting all their riches. 1600 people died in the city, and everything was destroyed. This was supposedly revenge for allowing Napoleon to come through without resistance, though the English general would later deny the claim. In the 1800s, SS had to rebuild, and became something of a vacation spot, with a large casino, water activities, and other carnival activities. It still has some of those characteristics, though the casino is now the town hall.

After going through the museum, your reward is the best view in the city. You get to go all the way to the top, right next to the statue of Jesus. It's breathtaking, and so worth the hike. I've posted them on my facebook page, but if you're not friends with me there, you can send me an email and I'll send you some of my best shots.

It's a great city and definitely worth the visit, even if it's still too cold to swim. If you like to surf, sail, or paddle board, you're in good company.

Next week, I've got my biggest trip yet, seven days around Andalucía. Since a weekend trip ran me ragged, I can't imagine what seven days will do to me. But I will be spending Easter weekend (Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday) in Aranda, and so I'll get to experience Holy Week here as well (and there are some pretty interesting traditions here as well, more on that later). I'll try to bring my computer and update as I go, but if I can't, have a joyous rest of Lent and a Happy Easter!   

Friday, March 7, 2014

A summary of normal life


I know it's been a while since I've written a blog, but honestly, nothing that exciting has happened to me since I got back from London. It's pretty, well, normal here. But I thought at the very least I should catch everyone who does read my blog up with life over here.

I just finished my conversation classes with the teachers in the area. I must say, I'm really going to miss them! They were quite fun, and I learned a lot. I'm hoping to snag a few more private lessons to make some extra income, and it looks like I'll be able to do that. And, my regular work is going well. The students like  me (my 1eso class clapped when I came in) but that's mostly because they think, and I quote 'English is boring', and when I'm there we play games. (Jokes on them, they're actually learning English when they play the games, bwa ha ha).

I had great success with one game, which was fairly simple, but entertaining. Basically, you put a bunch of random letters on the board. From there, the students had to take the letters and make words. You see who can make the longest word, the most words, etc. They really enjoyed coming up to the board and writing the words the found, and even my usually non-participatory students wanted to join in. Sometimes, the best classroom stuff is the easiest. 

Recently, Spain enjoyed carnival, a roughly four day festival. It's much like Mardi Gras, you dress up in costume and party, but with a Spanish feel. I went out Saturday for dinner with some friends, joined them in group costumes (no one will ever see those pictures), and went out afterwards to some bars. The dinner was fine. It was really late, so late in fact that we didn't finish eating until 1 am. Yeah. It was late. The food was a bit disappointing, cold and slow and not very tasty, and I thought perhaps the waitress might give us a break off the 25 Euro menú cost. Not so. What she said, after we expressed our feelings was, "Sorry. Not my fault, you know? But you can smoke if you want." None of us smoked.

The bars I have to say were a bit much for me. I'm getting better with the lack of personal bubble in Spain, but packed in a club to the point where you can't even dance or breath, where people are shoving into you every five seconds and the music is blasting so loud you can't hear yourself think... well, I wasn't exactly having a good time. I'm not really a club person to begin with, but for the rest of Carnival, I stayed home and hung out.

After Carnival was Ash Wednesday. As you may have seen if you're friends with me on Facebook, I was confused all day by the fact that I saw not a single ash covered forehead. Not one. I know Spain isn't as Catholic as it used to be, but come on? What about the old ladies and the kids in Catholic school who went to mass during the school day? So I went to mass about 7:30 (19.30) and was all ready to get ashes smeared on my forehead. All seemed very much the same (though I missed the traditional English Ash Wednesday hymn. You know the one I'm talking about.) But when I went up, and started pushing my hair away from my forehead, the priest gives me a funny look. I realize that they don't do that here, instead, they sprinkle the ashes on top of your head in the form a cross! Mystery solved!

Other than that, nothing  much to note. Normal life, paying bills, trying to get the heater fixed, and enjoying the above 60 degree weather we're supposed to be having for at least the next seven days.
I'm most excited about what's coming up: Holy Week. I've got a trip planned to the south of Spain, to the three most famous cities; Córdoba, Granada, and Sevilla. Sevilla's Holy Week celebrations are legendary, and I can't wait to see them. I'll be there for Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and most of Friday. Córdoba is a little town I've heard, so I'll be there on Saturday. And Granada is home to the Muslim palace and fortress, the Alhambra. It's a beautiful building, and I'm so excited to see it in person. I bought my tickets today online on the advice of some friends, and thank goodness I did. All of Holy Week, except for Monday and Sunday, was completely sold old. Luckily, those are the two days I'll be there! I think I got one of the last tickets for Monday as well, as there was basically only one slot I could choose from, all marked with the number 1. I must say I'm feeling quite lucky. So, in April, expect some gorgeous pictures!

I've got three other must see cities to visit before I go; Segovia (with its Roman Aqueducts), San Sebastian (a Basque costal town), and Barcelona (need I say more?). Anything beyond that will be a bonus, and I do have promises from friends to take me to their home towns (usually small towns in the vicinity of Burgos and Aranda). With all that, it should satisfy my desire to explore Spain before I head home. Only 97 days left in my program. How time flies! 

(PS Have a Holy Lent!)

Friday, February 14, 2014

London, Day 3

My last day in London. First of all, because I'm cheap, I hauled my stuff around London all day. Granted, I just had the one bag and a thing of souvenirs, but still, it was kind of annoying. I got a lot of pity stares. 

My first stop was mass. I started out attempting to get to the 9:00 at the Westminster Cathedral. I got on the tube, and once again, a closed station deterred me. The next mass was at 10:30, so I got off at Westminster and walked around Big Ben, Parliament, and Westminster Abbey. They're all incredible buildings, but closed on Sunday. Turns out I was at the wrong station for the church, so I took a long walk. The cathedral is only about 100 years old, but built in a Gothic style. It's filled with beautiful mosaics, new, but not... modern, if you know what I mean. And it turns out that by waiting for the 10:30, I got to go to a mass said by Cardinal Turk! Not only that, but it was a solemn mass, meaning most of it was in Latin, and the Westminster Choir sang from the front of the altar. It was gorgeous, and I was so pleased that the train had been shut down. Hooray for scheduled maintenance!

After mass I got some lunch (what I've been leaving out are all the places I ate... I spent a lot of my time eating), got some coffee (I was running on sugar and caffeine all weekend. Yes, it killed me on Tuesday.), and was asked out by the gentleman next to me. I thought I looked awful, so I took it as a compliment. I did turn him down. Nicely, I think.

From there, I was off to the British Museum. Again, it's free. And it's fantastic. Just the Rosetta Stone alone is worth it. There are also mummies and art from every continent. Their Egyptian collection is the most impressive I've seen so far, and it was definitely a different sort of museum from the religious ones I've visited lately. There's one building, I believe it was called the King's Library, that seems like it was the inspiration for the library in Beauty and the Beast. I recommend spending a couple hours there, at least. Especially if it's cold or wet outside (and it's London, so the chance that it's raining is pretty high). 

From there, I had a choice. I almost went to the Eye, which I still want to do someday, but instead of standing in line for a while there, I decided to use my time more wisely and went to Camden Market. If you like weird things, that's the market to go to. The buildings are covered with three dimensional shoes and mermaids and motorcycles. There are about a million exotic food stalls on the river, and you can sit and eat on a half scooter turned into a chair. It's got a  bunch of really kitschy stuff and several smaller markets inside warehouses that are basically mazes. Don't forget to haggle! And check out a store called Cyberdog. It's basically a rave from the future, android mannequins everywhere. Cool, but the clothing is ridiculous. Imagine the Fifth Element, and that's basically what they sell.

Finally, after buying a hat, a gift, and some delicious tiny pancakes, I made my way to my final destination-  A Jack the Ripper tour. It also gave me the chance to check out the Tower of London and London Bridge (making the only major landmark I didn't see the Palace. Next time). The tour was guided on Sunday by a world renown Jack the Ripper expert. It was creepy, but fascinating. You can still walk to the locations where the bodies were found. He also taught us a bit about the city at the time, especially about the lives of the people who lived in this eastern section of the city. London itself, the actual city, is only a one mile area. The rest of the surrounding was a very poor neighborhood, slums essentially,  and the prostitutes and factory workers lived there. They paid rent by the day, and hundreds of people would line up to purchase a room each night. The prostitutes would wear all the clothes they owned, men's boots, and got two pence for each man. That's less than a half a pound of cheese. The women would often find men outside a church, because the main roads in and out of the city passed in front and behind it. The rule was that if a prostitute stopped walking, they could be arrested for soliciting. So they would circle the church like a roundabout, going quickly around the sides and slowly around the front and back. We also learned about the warring police forces, that inside London proper, and that without, and how their competitive and territorial nature kept the Ripper at large for so long. It was fascinating, and done by the same company as the Sherlock walk. Of course, no one knows who exactly Jack the Ripper was, but they guy gave a pretty good reason for believing that the man committed suicide shortly after the fifth murder (even his family thought he was the killer).

I finished the tour about 22:30, and from there went back to the airport. The security desk was closed, but Gatwick is pretty well prepared for sleepers. It's got 24 hour desks and a cafeteria and really comfortable chairs, which I did not get to in time. They also have free phone chargers, and if you get close enough to the little hotel they have, you can use their internet for free! Unfortunately, there was this guy snoring like a bear or a elephant or something that would be equally annoying when it's asleep on a bench in the airport. I wasn't asleep, but he woke up everyone around him. I cannot over stress the importance of bringing earphones. I think I slept for about 1 hour on the floor and 1 in a chair. Needless to say, I've been recovering all week.

London is fantastic. If you can, go. And when you plan it right, it doesn't have to burn through your wallet and you'll still have a great time! 

London, Day 2

Day 2:
My plan was to get up and go to Cardiff for a day. Mostly to visit the Doctor Who Museum, because well, because I'm a nerd. But when I got up that morning to take the tube to Victoria station, it stopped half way. The whole line was closed. And it didn't even stop at a station where I could transfer. I was stuck. They announced that a bus would be taking people the rest of the way, but by the time I got up it was totally full. I tried walking to the next station with a transferring line, but by the time I made it my bus had already left.

Not a bad thing, though. I rode back to my hostel (on a double decker bus!), got another night at my hostel (for twice the price) and headed out again. I first made my way to Portobello Road. If you like antiques, this is the market for you. It's only open on Saturdays, but the shops on PR are also antique stores, so you'll still be able to find things. I got a cute dress (on sale! I love Jan/Feb in Europe) and some exotic food (Sudanese lamb sausages).

After the market I traveled to Foyle's Bookstore, a must for book-lovers. It's massive, and since the books were in English, I spent about 2 hours browsing. I got a couple of books for my private lesson students, all of which seemed to hit the mark! It was a completely worthwhile trip.

Part of the fun of London is just walking down the streets. It's a city unlike others I've been to. The ancient stone of Spain and Portugal and Italy are amazing, but London, because of the great fire, is mostly not that old (although you can find Roman walls) so it's a really neat city for architecture. And it's full of charming little pubs, with names like The Porcupine. 

After Foyle's it was getting late, and I managed to sort of... stumble to the National Gallery. Go there, it's free! I spent several hours here, looking at Renoir and Monet, Manet and DaVinci. Currently they have Van Gogh's Sunflowers, which was worth the queue. 

I decided to end the evening with a film in Leicester Square. But while waiting, I wandered around a bit. It's a really neat place, so there's lots to see. Chinatown is right there, and as I'm on my way down the street towards the hanging lanterns, I run into a church. It's a Catholic Church, and that evening they were doing Taize prayer. I decided to stop by, because, why not? It's was a lovely little church, but the coolest thing was that it was a French Catholic Church. The chant was in French, they have mass in French, the priests are French speaking. Most of the parishioners seemed to be French speaking African immigrants. It was really cool, even though I had no idea what they were saying.

Finally, I went back to the movie theater. Funny thing about movie theaters here- you have assigned seats. It was the same somewhere else I went, though I can't recall where. Other than that, it's just as expensive in London as it is in the States. But, they had less movies in general, and fewer movies late at night.

Thus ended my second day. It was a good one, and I wasn't upset about my plans being ruined. I think this is a good moment for a warning, however. If you are American and going to London, use cash. It's amazing to me sometimes how little cards are used. Cash is king in the UK and the EU. Finally, if you have an American card, you will probably not be able to use the automatic ticket machines. A number of them are chip based, so if you go just with a card, it's a gamble. Europe uses these cards with a tiny chip at the bottom which you can scan or partially insert into a slot. While the sliding motion can be used at tills and registers, machines are not as likely to have a slide option, and the machine won't take the card (though you can always got to the desk, where they can run it like credit). This is especially true in metro machines.