An American bookworm in London

Back in May (2013), Xiker and I said “see ya later” to South Asia and made one last stop before returning to Basque Country.

Just so you know, I’m one of those people who go to places they don’t really know anything about.

I knew nothing about Taiwan and didn’t even plan my trip to Thailand until two weeks before I went. The most I knew about South America was that Colombia was “dangerous”. I wouldn’t have been able to locate Bolivia on a map and I ended up spending a month and a half there. Nepal? Himalayas.

I’d never even heard of Basque Country before I met Ur and Xiker in Laos in 2009, and yet now I call Zumarraga my home away from home.

But London?

My mom was one of those moms who started reading to kids before their newborn eyes could even focus on the pages, so yeah, the habit stuck. Throughout my childhood, I loved playing in my secret gardens, where sometimes I digested the words of an enigmatic Cheshire Cat as I sipped tea with the Mad Hatter. I crept through wardrobes (but avoided fauns), wandered London Below with Door and the Marquis de Carabas, and once, I crossed the Atlantic in the pit of a giant peach.

In my pre-teen years, Rowling’s Harry Potter series taught me about the fallibility of humans and how to understand—and appreciate—unconditional love. Though I never quite outgrew the Potterverse, I moved on to other writers, and there was a time when I thought the acerbic wit of writers like Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett were matchless. In college, my literary studies required me to sit through many hours of windbags pontificating on BritLit.

Hopefully, all that should make it clear to you why I was very, very, very excited to be visiting London for the first time. And slightly stressed about having a limited amount of time to explore every single one of her streets.

Xiker has been to London a few times before, so he wasn’t quite as enthusiastic. It didn’t take very long for Xiker to start ignoring my frequent, random outbursts; I squealed every time I spotted a familiar name and jabbed him in the ribs repeatedly. You can just imagine what I was like in the Poet’s corner at Westminster Abbey.

“Tennyson? Chaucer? …Dickens?!”
Even the memorials excited me.
“Milton! Wordsworth! Austen! And look, even the Bronte sisters are here!”

My voice rose a few octaves with each name and Xiker had to shush me a few times.

In the end, though, I loved London not just because of my longtime fascination with her, but for her eclectic, offbeat charms. She was a blur of life and energy and color, despite the gloom and rain.

Her people express themselves freely, loudly and with gusto.

Hands gesticulate, beer slops over the tops of glasses, people cackle with their whole bodies, and if someone isn’t laughing, they’re mouthing off. For a random good time, just head into the nearest pub and order a pint. Seriously. Awesome things will start happening the minute you step up to the bar. (Just leave the ego at home and laugh it off, ok?)

I eyeballed everyone who passed me in the streets—there were the vain fashionistas, the intelligent-looking hipsters, the patched up gypsies, the vintage Londoners, greyscale peeps with neon colored hair, and the regular moms and pops who seem as if they came from some tiny village–some kinda shire–outside the city.

There was an astonishing number of Starbucks and McDonalds tucked into popular zones, but if you can manage to tear your gaze from the neon lights of chain stores, there are stoic remainders of old London, remnants of her prominent role in the development of human civilization over the last few hundred years.

London was bloody expensive, though, in comparison to South Asia. We went from living on 10 euros a day in Nepal–for two people–to, like, 30 to 40 euros per person per day. And the funny thing is, traveling on 40 euros per day in London is actually relatively cheap.

The brunt of our costs went towards accommodation, a six-bed dorm room near Hyde Park. We knew with only a limited amount of time, it’d be worth staying near the city center, rather than stay in slightly cheaper lodgings an hour away. We ended up saving a good deal of money from transportation costs (mainly, the tube) and saved at least an hour each way!

If you’re smart about where to go, what to do and where to sleep, London can be an affordable getaway destination (flights to London are often cheap!)

For money-saving tips, Julika of Sateless Suitcase wrote a brief and handy Guide to sightseeing in London featuring things to do and see for free.

First place we visited: Piccadilly Circus… the Times Square of London
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Next up was Big Ben… had to retake this photo like, 10 times
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a red phone booth, a red double decker AND big ben all in one pic? Not bad at all.
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and then we went by westminster abbey and went in to escape the rain (no photography allowed inside)
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Practically everything is walking distance if you’ve got the time and energy
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Yeomen Warder of her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress… Beefeater!
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Tower Bridge.
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London: the old and the new. That’s the tower of london on the right
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any TRUE HP fan would wonder at the fact that the photographer was making everyone jump with the cart for the photo.

when i asked why, the photographer said (in an awesome cockney accent) it’d make us look like we were flying through the wall.

“…but witches need broomsticks. everyone knows that!”

as you can see, I jumped anyway.

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the gorgeous british library…loved the free exhibitions.
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Thanks to a certain few teachers, I wasted many precious hours “analyzing” this epic. To see this manuscript of Beowulf was more humbling than seeing the Magna Carta
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Buckingham
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but the nearby Green Park was much more prettier
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we dropped by the cavernous british museum
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the famed rosetta stone
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inscribed with three languages, top to bottom: ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic script, ancient Greek.
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Ramesses II
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