Tag Archives: big ben

What American 5th graders want to know about London

24 Apr

The other day my mom asked me if I’d be willing to speak to her fifth grade class about what it’s like living in London. So thanks to the magic of FaceTime, I was able to video chat with a classroom of students halfway across the world today. One by one they got in the “hot seat” in front of the school’s iPad and asked me their questions.

“Have you seen Big Ben?” The first girl asked.

“Yes,” I said, but as a trained journalist I know nobody likes a one-word answer, so I tried to elaborate, adding that I could walk there from my flat in comfortable shoes.

Another student asked me about the weather — a proper British question. Then someone asked me to do my best British accent, while another wanted to see what the money looked like, so I held up notes and coins to the camera.

Then two girls approached the hot seat together.

“We just wanted to tell you that there’s a boy here who thinks you’re cute,” they said. I smiled as the whole class erupted into laughter and oohs as the girls named the boy.

“Ouch, you called him out!” I said.

“That’s all we wanted to say,” the girls said with a giggle, and returned to their seats.

A few of the students had been to London before and asked about any recent changes. One asked me if Jaffa Cakes were any good. Another student asked me about high speed trains. (Is that a thing in London? I talked about the EuroStar to Paris, but bullet trains always make me think of Asia, not Europe. But in a country that only has Amtrak (and it takes 9 hours and 42 minutes to go from Cincinnati to Chicago), I guess any train seems fast.)

The time went by pretty quickly and I hope I was able to entertain the kids and teach them a little about another country. As my mom was about to end the session, a boy popped up behind her.

“I just wanted to say one more thing — fifth grade’s crazy!” he shouted. And then everyone laughed and my 15 minutes of fame as the “cute” Londoner were over. Now it’s time to get back to work and start the laundry (maybe I should have shared that fun British fact: my washing machine is in my kitchen and the dryer is in the bathroom.)

Oh squiggly line on my camera lens, I see you there, lurking on the periphery of my photograph

9 Apr

As you know, I’ve been experimenting with photography, adjusting aperture and shutter speed and trying to take photos that aren’t the same photos every other tourist takes. I worried so much about the inner workings of my camera that I didn’t realize there was a smudge on my lens until I uploaded all of my photos from my friend’s visit.

DSLR lesson #17: A smudge on your lens won’t show up on your viewfinder so you probably shouldn’t wait until the end of your trip to look at your photos on the computer. Also, take care of your lenses and check for smudges often. Otherwise your nice photo will have an unintended focal point:

parliament smudge

That squiggly line made an appearance in the majority of my photos, some more noticeable than others. I couldn’t help but think of Stewie’s poem:

stewie oh squiggly line

I got tickets for my friend and I to go to a live taping of “Loose Women,” the UK’s version of “The View.” I’d seen the show once, but mostly just wanted to experience being in a live audience. But apparently they are serious when they say they overissue tickets, because they cut the queue right in front of us and turned us away. We weren’t too bummed because we didn’t recognize any of the guests, plus it gave us the opportunity to walk along the South Bank and take photos when it wasn’t raining.

london bank

london artsy

london eye photo

Squiggly line photobomb!

london red

The kids were amazed by this gold guy, but I’ve seen enough episodes of “Breaking the Magician’s Code” to guess how he does this. What I really want to see is how he sets up — what time does he have to arrive and leave so no one sees his secret?

london gold guy

Then we went to the Tower of London, the iconic tourist destination, although I cringe every time I hand over the equivalent of $30 for a ticket. They tack on an extra pound or so as a “donation” and make you explicitly state “without the donation” so you sound like an A-hole cheapo, but come on! The astronomical ticket price is already blatantly taking advantage of tourists, doesn’t some of that admission go towards upkeep anyway?

tower of london tour

We took the free beefeater tour, which is always a laugh and informative.

beefeater tour

The Tower ravens are slightly terrifying and look fake.

tower of london raven

london raven

Editing fun:

tower raven

london tower bridge

I like photos that contrast old and new — as the tallest building in London and western Europe, the Shard always looks out of place:

tower london shard

The Queen’s House (currently the home of the Resident Governor of the Tower of London):

queens house

A little cropping and editing turns it into a whole new photo:

queens house guard

I see you there, squiggly line…

shard black white

The Tower has some of the best views of Tower Bridge.

tower bridge

Those are my best photos from London — Paris I may have to split into multiple posts (which I will hopefully be able to post before my parents visit at the end of the month, and I have a whole new slew of photos to edit and upload!)

The Olympics are one day away! So I bought dumplings

26 Jul

Tomorrow the Olympics begin, so naturally I decided today would be the day to buy Chinese dumplings. I know that sounds crazy, but I’ve been meaning to go to the Chinatown supermarket for a while now, and I figured I’d combine it with some last minute tourism. I was feeling a little guilty because I missed the Olympic torch this morning. I know it’s a “once in a lifetime opportunity,” but it was at 6:45. In the morning. There are three things in life I really don’t like — waking up early, standing in crowds, and heat. Seeing the torch would at least involve the first two with a hint of the third, so I decided not to go. But I felt like I needed to get into the Olympic spirit somehow. I love our neighborhood, but it’s so quiet and secluded, sometimes I just have to go see Big Ben to remind myself that I live in London.

And the tourists always remind me why I love our secluded neighborhood.

The crowds were out in full-force and I was asked multiple times to take photos of people in front of Big Ben.

These signs were everywhere:

I was trying to be artistic here but the sun was a little too bright. I never thought I’d say that about London weather.

I started walking towards Trafalgar’s Square. There were a butt-ton of people hanging out outside of 10 Downing Street, where the prime minister lives.

The massive amounts of swarming tourists everywhere wasn’t that surprising, as that’s rather common in London. What was surprising was this:

No cars! Only buses and taxis are allowed to drive around central London now. It felt a little eery.

This was a checkpoint. If you weren’t a bus or taxi you had to turn left, you couldn’t go straight. I think cyclists were allowed, but I’m not sure.

Remember when I saw all the signs for Horse Guards Parade a couple weeks ago? Like a typical American, I thought it involved guards on horses parading around and throwing candy to crowds of kids (the candy bit was wishful thinking.) Well, there are no clowns or elephants in Piccadilly Circus, and Horse Guards Parade is not a processional, but rather a large parade ground. I’ve had my photo taken with the horses that stand outside several times and had no idea what the building was for. Well now it will be the site of beach volleyball. Hooray, I saw an Olympic venue!

I finally made it to Trafalgar’s Square to see the official Olympics countdown. I love this pensive dude in purple.

There were little signs in the fountain telling you not to swim or drink from it. I definitely saw a toddler wading in it.

This German clock was going off and tourists were loving it.


I was surprised Chinatown was so well decorated.

Love the alternating British and Chinese flags.

Wait, what is that at the top of the gate?

It’s the queen! Who cares if the Jubilee was almost two months ago, it was probably hard to get that up there and would be disrespectful to take it down. Right?

More Chinatown festiveness.

And now some final photos of all the flags of the participating countries displayed around Piccadilly Circus and Regent Street:

On the bus ride home I saw the South Korean archery team walking down the street near Lord’s cricket grounds, where they’re holding the archery events. Everyone on the bus pointed them out and got excited. I don’t know anything about archery, yet alone South Korean archery, but it was still exciting to see some real live athletes.

I may have missed the Olympic torch, but I saw Korean archers, an Olympic venue, and a London without cars. I also got my Chinese dumplings, hoisin sauce and edamame. Not a bad day.

Danny DeVito and Richard Griffiths spit on me and London weather drives me nuts

11 Jul

Lately the weather has really been getting me down. So much so that I was starting to feel bored and tired of London, and I’ve only been back a week. I think it was Oscar Wilde who said, “When you grow tired of London, take a look at your life, then leave your freaking flat. Seriously.” … or something like that. So I decided — rain or no rain — I was going to do what cheered me up during the winter — queue for theatre day seats!

I woke up early (by my standards) to this:

A blue sky. In London. There was not a cloud in the sky! (Except that little wispy thing.) Surely the rain forecast was off. But I knew better than to trust the sky, so I packed my umbrella and wore my hooded trench coat and snow boots that double as wellies. I figured since I was dressed for rain, surely it wouldn’t rain, because that’s how the universe usually works. When I bought my wool-lined snow boots in Chicago, it stopped snowing for the season. I felt a little silly tromping around in snow boots, but I was not going to have a squishy boots situation again — sweaty boots, maybe, but not squishy.

My entire walk to the tube I felt ridiculous. It was such a nice day out! I hadn’t seen this much sun or blue sky since March.
“You alright?” the friendly fish shop guy quipped at me. “No, I feel like an idiot because I’m wearing snow boots in July and my feet are sweating,” I wanted to reply, but I just smiled, because I have learned that “you alright?” just means “hello” and is not a genuine expression of concern for your well-being.

It was actually my first time on the Tube since April and it was crowded as usual, but also fully prepped for Olympics tourists.

All the pink stickers above the stops tell you what Olympic venue is there.

There are also giant pink signs when you get off at a station leading you out. They act like they’re leading you to something cool like Horse Guards Parade (I don’t know what that is but it sounds crowded), but they’re really just leading you to the station exit. I see what you did there, London 2012, you can’t fool me.

The blue sky was still going strong as I walked briskly in my snow boots towards the Savoy Theatre. After researching all the shows currently playing, I settled on “The Sunshine Boys,” starring Danny DeVito and Richard Griffiths (Harry Potter’s uncle in the movies). Who doesn’t want to see Danny DeVito live? Well, apparently not that many people, because when I arrived at the box office, there were only four people ahead of me. I guess James Corden is more popular. I made small talk with the older couple in front of me who were from New Hampshire and reminded me of my maternal grandparents. It made the time go by quickly and before I knew it, the box office was open. And then — get this — I got a front row, center seat for £10. A tenner! That’s cheaper than a movie ticket here! Overjoyed, I decided to take a little detour before heading home, despite the fact that the clouds were arriving.

I walked to Trafalgar’s Square to take some photos, and then the skies opened up. What happened to the lovely sun this morning? This was my view from the protection of the bus stop.

And yet this was my view from my seat on the bus:

I have never been anywhere else which has such unpredictable weather. You really do need an umbrella and sunglasses at all times. BBC did a story this morning that basically said, “The Olympics might suck because the weather might suck, sorry everyone who came from around the world to sit and walk around in the rain.”

This could be a poster for London 2012 quite literally — cloudy rain!

The only bad thing about getting day seats is all the back and forth traveling. I had to wake up early to head down on the Tube to buy the ticket, then take the bus home to eat lunch and change, then take the Tube back to the theatre. But I tell you, it was worth it. Danny DeVito was absolutely perfect as Willy Clark. I was so close to the stage I could feel and see his spit. I could actually read the headlines on the old “Variety” in the show, enough to know they used the same fake newspaper even when the date was supposed to have changed. Here is a photo of the curtain I took from my seat on my iTouch without any zoom.

I could have reached out and touched the stage! I also got to stretch out my legs (London theatres are notorious for their lack of leg room) and didn’t have to stretch my neck at all. Best seat in the house and a great West End debut for Danny DeVito.

Before I get too rambly (is that a word?), here are some photos I took of Big Ben and attempted to edit:

London love

5 Sep

The other day I had a friend from Chicago visit and we had a lovely champagne afternoon tea. Can you believe I’ve been in London almost a year and this was my first one? The fact that I don’t really like tea could have something to do with it, but I am all about tea sandwiches and pastries.

Isn’t it beautiful? It was delicious too.

We were surprised how empty the restaurant was, and then we realized we were having afternoon tea for lunch, which I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to do if you’re really British. But there’s no way I could have had a full lunch and then all those pastries and sandwiches a few hours later, even if I did walk the entire city of Westminster.

It was a lovely day so we walked around London all afternoon. I mean we walked — I walked at least six miles (and surprisingly only ended up with one blister) that day. (I also discovered it is possible to walk from my apartment to Big Ben. You just have to stop for tea halfway, and wear six bandaids per foot …or comfortable shoes.) It’s a different experience seeing London with someone who really loves London. I walk around London all the time, but I rarely “see” it. We were standing at an intersection on Oxford Street waiting for the light to change, and my friend kept looking up. “Look at those rooftops! They’re beautiful!” I had stood at that intersection dozens of times on my many shopping excursions, but I never looked up. The whole afternoon she pointed out little London curiosities that I never noticed over a year. Her love for London was contagious. It’s not that I don’t like London, but I see it more through the eyes of a pseudo-resident than a tourist. I still believe it’s a city better to visit than live in, but sometimes you can be a tourist in your own town. Like when I took this lovely photo:

(I’ll have to look at this picture during the dreary, rainy months to remind myself that London does have blue skies sometimes.)

My friend also pointed out the gold detail on Big Ben, which I had never noticed. But that’s because I literally couldn’t see it before — the only times I’ve been near Parliament it’s been cloudy or rainy.

Overall it was a nice visit, and it reminded me that I need to get out and appreciate this city/be a tourist a little more. I need to start checking off those things we said we’d do once we live here, like see a show at the Globe.

A long post about my Cartman-like hatred for tourists

21 Apr

Stephen’s been gone on business for over a week now. While I sometimes enjoy the alone time, I’m starting to think I’m losing my ability to have simple human interaction. So today I decided I would have some indirect interactions with people and go to the National Gallery to research my new blog (check it out! http://animalsinart.tumblr.com/ /shameless plug). The sun was shining, cherry blossom petals were in the air, it was a great day.

And then I got on the Tube.

I’ve had some unpleasant Tube experiences based on delays or sheer crowdness, but today was my first awkward interaction with a person. A young Indian guy sat down next to me. After a few minutes he said, “Excuse me?” Thinking he was going to ask which stop to get off for Buckingham Palace, I obliged him. “How are you?” he asked. And then I got a sinking feeling in my gut. This guy was trying to hit on me. He proceeded to make small talk while I eventually brought up Stephen. Then we didn’t talk again. At all. The time between then and my stop was the most awkward and longest three minutes. Looking back, I probably could have handled it better, but I was thrown off guard. Did I also mention I’ve been deprived of human interaction for the past few days? I probably could have been more polite about it, or even said something cheeky, but I just didn’t want to deal with it. It wasn’t a big deal — guys hit on taken women all the time, right? — but it left a sour taste in my mouth for the rest of the day. My mood went from “It’s such a lovely day!” to “I HATE EVERYONE.” And when you’re feeling like that, Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square are two of the worst places to go. Back when I was happy-go-lucky, I decided to get off near Buckingham Palace and walk to the museum, taking in the pre-royal wedding sights. I was no longer in the mood to do so, but had no choice since I needed to get off the train ASAP. So I got off at Green Park and followed the hordes of people.

Buckingham Palace with flags and crowds.

I followed them to the palace, where there were British flags and construction crews, nothing too fancy, then followed the crowds through St. Jame’s Park. The whole time I was feeling like Cartman when there are too many people in his amusement park.

I don’t like crowds on a good day, but I was feeling especially hostile today. I was almost tripped by strollers (“pushchairs”) and derailed by tourists who suddenly decided to stop in my path for a photo. I felt another Cartman moment coming on:

"Daddy, daddy, can we ride the rockets?" - "G*d d*mn it, get the f*** out of my way!!"

Luckily I was able to contain myself and made it to the museum. The museum was crowded, but not as bad as the square, and at least it was air conditioned. I looked at every single painting (or at least it felt that way) before I decided to walk to Parliament Square. Stupid idea #2. My reasoning is that I will likely not be anywhere near the area come the royal wedding. I hate crowds and heat, and I’m sure there will be an abundance of both that day. But people are always asking me about the wedding, and I do feel slightly guilty about being here and not seeing any of it, so I wanted to see if Westminster was preparing for it. I pushed my way through the crowds, only to discover Westminster Abbey looks exactly the same as I saw it last month.

There are still protesters. Maybe those white poles are new, but that’s about it. Disappointing. And here’s a photo that embodies tourist London — trying to get a shot of Big Ben and a guy jumps in front of me to give a tourist directions.


So I gave up and got back on the Tube, purposely sitting next to women. Sometimes I feel guilty for not spending more time in tourist London, but every time I do, I remember why I don’t. If you’re looking for me on April 29, I’ll be on my couch, watching the royal wedding with some tortilla chips and Squeeze Cheese.