Living in a Castle.

My summer trip abroad at Harlaxton College in England.

Winning London.

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Why yes, that is a reference to the cinematic excellence that is Mary-Kate and Ashley’s British adventure. This past weekend has undeniably been one of the best of my life. However, there are a few other blog-worthy notes to make before recounting the London trip.

Searching for a rock.

A while ago on a walk through the country, Dr. Hanlon pointed over to a hill and mentioned that there was a rock up there that former EIU students had signed and left; anyone who found it could split ten pounds. Challenge accepted. Last Wednesday a group of us decided to spend our free time wandering over to where we vaguely remember the hill being. Only problem was: we couldn’t find a way to reach the hill, which resulted in poor Danielle leaping into a rather potent batch of stinging nettles. Ouch. We disgruntledly returned back to the manor.

However, after a little discussion over dinner, we were provided some more information on the rock and its whereabouts. After looking up the route of public footpaths, we regained our spirits and set back out. We found the right path…which ended up being in the middle of a field of cows. They were all over together in one corner by the fence as we started to cross, but next thing we knew they were moooving right towards us! Not just a little lazy cow saunter but a vicious, wild swarm at our innocent little selves, who therefore took off running.

The evil things lined up when we passed them earlier in the day.

The evil things eying us when we passed earlier.

Luckily we made it over the stile onto the hill safely, but they legitimately stood there and stared at us the entire time we searched through the rain-soaked, muddy grass, only to be again unsuccessful.

Haworth.

On Thursday we took our next class trip up to Haworth to learn a little more about the depressingly short lives of the Bronte sisters. The road to get there was…not my favorite. The charter bus twisted and turned and bumped and stopped and started and loopdelooped all the way up this road in a manner that was less than agreeable to my stomach.

Regardless, the view from up there was incredible. We got a chance to visit the Bronte Parsonage Museum, located in the family’s old house, which was filled with all different kinds of photos and artifacts from their lives. I found it fascinating to see all the little stories and doodles the young girls created in their kitchen. I realized that if anyone ever makes a Helen museum, it will include drawings of Spongebob and the classic watercolor illustrated book, Helen’s Goose, which don’t exactly compare to this genius family’s creations.

Bronte Parsonage.

Bronte Parsonage.

We then got a chance to wander around the village for a bit, where I was able to pet a cat for the first time in two weeks. Words cannot even describe my excitement.

One of the two cats. Our friendship had a rough start, but eventually he let me brush away the junk on his face and pet him. Such a sweetie.

One of the two cats. Our friendship had a rough start, but eventually he let me brush away the junk on his face and pet him. Such a sweetie.

Our final activity was a walk through the moors, which have been so beautifully described throughout their novels. It was a very hilly, leg-testing climb, but the views were completely worth it. Here are a few of my favorites:

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London-day one.

For several reasons that should be evident throughout this post, Danielle and I are the perfect travel partners. Reason number one: we are both total cheapskates and will do anything to save a couple pounds. The first example of this is how we woke up early enough to take the free shuttle from Harlaxton to the Grantham train station instead of paying for a cab, even though our train wasn’t for another four hours. That did not bother us though, because we spent our time sitting in a little nook, reading Dracula, eating our delectable cream crackers (which we had been hoarding up all week in preparation for the trip), and people watching.

We also saved some money by packing up PB&J sandwiches and apples for lunch. I felt like Ron Weasley in HP1 when they’re on the train and the snack trolley comes by, and thus attempted to take a picture looking like such.

My smushed, hairbrush indented sandwich is inside that wad of napkins.

My smushed, hairbrush indented sandwich is inside that wad of napkins.

Our next Harry Potter moment occurred when we arrived at King’s Cross station and went through the wall to Platform 9 3/4.

 

I went with the Ravenclaw scarf. This has always been a major inner debate in my life (either that or Gryffindor), and I really felt the pressure when it got down to those crucial last moments. My deciding factor was that blue matched my outfit better. Classic.

I went with the Ravenclaw scarf. This has always been a major inner debate in my life (either that or Gryffindor), and I really felt the pressure when it got down to those crucial last moments. My deciding factor was that blue matched my outfit better. Classic.

Upon our returning from Hogwarts, it seemed like hardly a minute had passed, and we were left with an entire afternoon to gallivant throughout London. Walking was the name of the game this weekend. Not once did we utilize public transportation but instead carried ourselves across the entire city on our feet with the help of the trusty map we printed out beforehand. That thing ended up being quite a big help. We had a couple of spots hilighted that we wanted to visit, but really Danielle and I just enjoyed wandering around to see what we could find.

And what a find this was.

Free ice cream!

Free ice cream!

We encountered this lovely little Ben and Jerry’s truck at the Covent Gardens Market. I didn’t believe Danielle at first when she said they were giving away ice cream, but oh baby it was true! I guess they were doing this whole hullabaloo to promote humanitarian cow rights, which the UK is lacking. I would sign that petition a million more times if it means I got more Blondie-Brownie ice cream. Delicious.

This was also the location of Danielle’s first gentleman suitor, a little German boy asking to take a picture with her for “a memory photo!” She was completely befuddled and just kept blurting out, “I’m not from here!” until the boy went running and laughing hysterically back to his friends. Hilarious.

Whilst at Covent Gardens, we also looked at the multitudes of vendors, and I ended up purchasing this adorable watch for a great price. image

Having a watch shut me up from having to ask Danielle the time every five seconds, since I was without my phone the majority of the weekend, unless we had wifi accessibility. That was kind of a refreshing experience for me; it was nice to go to bed at night and just journal my thoughts away, instead of being distracted by sending texts and crushing candy.

We continued on our journey and eventually realized we had hit a body of water, which was the majestic Thames River. Who knew. We were able to stop on the bridge and take a few pictures of the classic London skyline.

The London Eye to the left and some of Westminster on the right.

The London Eye to the left and some of Westminster on the right.

All of our wanderings resulted in some pretty hungry tummies, so we treated our frugal selves to a nice Italian dinner. Because we are essentially the same person, Danielle and I both had the penne pepperoni, which was pasta with tomato sauce and little Italian sausages. It was an incredibly large serving that left us both full and smiling.

The first of many food shots.

The first of many food shots.

We spent some time digesting on a bench in the Russel Square park, where we had free entertainment for the night of a guy carrying his lady through the fountain, slipping in the water, and dropping both the girl and himself to the ground. Despite their soakedness, they got up laughing. I wanted to applaud.

Then it was time to settle in for the night in our hostel, the Smart Russel Square. Here Danielle looks pretty darn excited to be spending the night in this place.

I should have taken a before and after shot the next morning.

I should have taken a before and after shot the next morning.

Actually our first hostel experience really wasn’t that bad. The accommodations were pretty much what you would expect for £16: a bunk bed, sheets, and some nasty communal bathrooms. We had four other roommates: two Spanish speaking girls who spent hours doing their makeup, pre-gaming, and talking too loud before finally heading out for their big night on the town and a couple of gentlemen with “un dialecto muy raro” from Italy. Once the girls were gone, I actually managed to have a fairly decent night’s sleep. We packed our belongings up in the morning and ate our complimentary toast and cornflakes (a meal I didn’t exactly find worthy or appealing enough to deserve a blog photo) before embarking upon…

London-day two.

Truly the only downside to our trip was the lugging around of all our “essential” belongings. My back and shoulders will attest to the fact that I am not exactly one for packing light. However, we had the great idea to check in as early as possible to our Saturday night hostel, the Smart Hyde Park Inn, and put in the extra pound and a half to secure our luggage in a locker.

En route to the hostel across town, we encountered Danielle’s second lover: a man with a huge grin carrying a hookah who kept calling out to her, “Ay you!…Ay you! I love you!!” That, of course, is our new favorite line to say to each other.

We had time to kill before check-in, so we took a stroll through Hyde Park, which was enormous and full of life. It also had the best bathroom facilities in all of London.

DSCN4384Some time was spent sitting on a bench and watching the various birds that inhabited the pond. Just a warning to all my Facebook pals, get ready for an unnecessary amount of bird and flower pictures; everything was so beautiful, I couldn’t resist.

We were also situated right by this statue, and even though I am not a big Peter Pan fangirl, I do recognize the spot from Winning London (I really hope at least one other person is with me on my lame obsession with that awful movie) and had to take a picture.

DSCN4411After checking into our hostel (and becoming slightly worried at the exponential increase in its sketchiness and dinginess compared to our other one), we trekked back through London, stopping occasionally for a little shopping. One place in particular was having a close-out sale, and I cashed in big time on some excellent gifts.

Rain started spitting out a little bit, so we deliberated for a little while on where to eat lunch. Like I said, Danielle and I are the same person, which means we are both very indecisive. However, we always seem to make good final judgments, and this was one of them. We ate at Pret a Manger, which seems fairly similar to a Panera. I had a fruit salad that included the best cantaloupe I have ever devoured and a hot crescent roll with melted cheese, tomato, ham, and bacon. Once again, delicious.

DSCN4422Another great decision we made: heading back to Covent Gardens for more free ice cream. We faithfully stood in the line, even as the rain started to fall harder and harder (Side note: I am an idiot. Despite the 60% chance of rain in the forecast, I failed to bring my rain jacket and umbrella. I thought I could out-will the rain or something. Stupid, stupid wet girl.). It was entirely worth it, and this time I tried out Karamel Sutra, which was just as tasty as the previous day’s. Danielle and I decided that next year when we are living at Eastern together and it rains, we are running out to Walmart and sending a little business Ben and Jerry’s way to relive the memory (And now that the pact is in the blog, it is legit!).

So worth it.

So worth it.

To get away from the rain for a while, we thought it would be a good idea to hit up one of London’s many free museums and decided on the National Portrait Gallery. It was really neat and we saw several recognizable faces…but we were both so exhausted at that point that we weren’t fully engaged in the experience and headed out after about an hour.

National Portrait Gallery.

National Portrait Gallery.

So the next part is kind of a blur, probably because my mind was essentially numb at this point. A light rain continued, but we made our way out to see Big Ben, which was huge and beautiful.

DSCN4434Then it rained. And rained and rained and rained. We stood in a slightly covered doorway for at least a half hour, just waiting and wishing for it to clear up. When it finally let up for a while, we needed a little rejuvenation in the form of tea, which did just the trick. We spent some good time in the basement of a Caffe Nero. I had an unexpected and short-lived meltdown, before curing myself with some uncontrollable laughter. There were just a lot of emotions running through me, and they all seemed to come out in a span of about five minutes.

It was getting late in the afternoon and we were anxious for some dinner. We walked through the crowded London streets and ended up amongst the same strip of restaurants off Oxford Street we had lunch at. Again, we did a classic Helen and Danielle walk around and indecisively deliberate. We had reached a point where nothing we saw really sounded that appealing, and then (dramatic pause) we saw it. Burgers and Cocktails. For whatever reason, we hadn’t given it a second thought on our first walk around, but we crossed the street, looked at their menu, decided it was in our price range, and went inside.

It was perfect. So perfect that I am going to dedicate an entire three pictures to its perfection.

Danielle was really, reeeally happy.

Danielle was really, reeeally happy.

I had a rodeo burger (beef patty with bacon, BBQ sauce, and onion rings), and we shared a bowl of sweet potato fries. Commence drooling now.

I had a rodeo burger (beef patty with bacon, BBQ sauce, and onion rings), and we shared a bowl of sweet potato fries. Commence drooling now.

With its eclectic and friendly staff, adorable interior, and wickedly delicious food, this place rules. Love, Helen-your international food blogger.

With its eclectic and friendly staff, adorable interior, and wickedly delicious food, this place rules. Love, Helen-your international food blogger.

Seriously, Morton people. I think this place even beats Burger Barge. I know. Must return soon.

After a loooong day, we again ended it by walking through Hyde Park. We stopped by this pond to watch birds and an adorable little boy feeding them (Okay, the majority of our attention was focused on that cute, laughing, happy lil dude, but that just makes us sound like creeps). Another reason Danielle and I make a great team. Who else wants to stand by some water and watch ducks for an extended period of time? It even sounds lame as I type it, but it was the perfect end to a perfect day.

DSCN4453So then it was in for the night at our hostel…which proved to be not the greatest time. The grimy, stinky, hot mess of a place made our previous night’s stay look like a palace. We were in an eight person room, four of whom did not show up until about 1 a.m. only to realize that there were not enough open beds and therefore brought in a staff person to stomp around with the lights on and sort it all out–or, at least, this is what my groggy middle-of-the-night mind comprehended. Not the most pleasant night’s sleep, but we got ourselves out of there fairly early in the morning.

London-day three.

Sunday morning was spent–you guessed it–walking across town. I got some juice from a convenience store and we later stopped at a Costa coffee for much-needed sustenance. I had the best blended iced coffee ever. I’m tellin’ ya, we really scored high with our food this weekend.

Then we frolicked about Regent’s Park, which I have decided was my favorite of the three parks we visited. Many many bird and flower pictures ensued, especially as we walked through the Queen’s Garden. Simply beautiful.

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DSCN4567Our final stop for the day was the Camden Market, a bustling plethora of vendors and customers selling pretty much everything imaginable. We each found a couple of good gifts, although after a while the products being sold started seeming fairly repetitive. But the food. Oh the food. Let me tell ya about the food. Disregard all the deliciousness I have ascribed to all of our previous meals, and get ready for this.

Once again, we walked past all the vendors to wage our options and taste the samples they offered us before deciding on jerk chicken. Mama’s jerk chicken, to be exact.

Thanks, Mama.

Thanks, Mama.

I had mine in the form of a salad box with plantains as well. Included in the salad were cold peas; only my sister really understands the magnitude of that statement, but we kind of have an obsession with cold peas in salad bars because they are the best thing ever.

Mama done good.

Mama done good.

Later on it was time for a treat, and I followed Danielle’s instinct to the churro stand, where they made those hot, doughy, cinnamony, caramel and chocolate filled sticks before our eyes. So, so good. Not sure my Taco Bell cinnamon twists will ever be able to live up to this (and by not sure, I mean absolutely positive).

Maybe not the most eye-catching treat, but trust me. Amazing.

Maybe not the most eye-catching treat, but trust me. Amazing.

For those of you who have stuck around through this way too long blog post, thank you. I have just one more story left, and it’s a good one.

After the market, our feet insisted that we were done for the day, so we headed back towards the train station to hang out until our train departed. When we entered the building, I decided that I wanted to check out the Harry Potter gift store again. I remembered it being somewhere around Platform 11. So I searched around with Danielle loyally following behind, and we reached Platform 11, which was nowhere near a store of any kind. Nothing looked all too familiar, but I figured I was just thinking of the wrong number. Soo I wandered some more, continually convincing myself that it was somewhere right around the corner. It wasn’t. Eventually Danielle said, “Uh, Helen. I think we’re at the wrong train station.” I refused to believe her.

She was right. We were across the street from King’s Cross at St. Pancres International (Or was it St. Pancras? I dunno; I therein referred to it as “the pancreas place.”) So we walked over to the correct station and spent some time there…until we had to pee.

One lesson Harry Potter did not teach us, friends, is that it costs 30 pence to use the restrooms at King’s Cross. Bloody hell! Not for us. We went back and relieved our bladders at the pancreas. It was the perfect ending to a perfect trip with the perfect friend. DSCN4425

2 thoughts on “Winning London.

  1. Pssst .. we are highlighting your blog :) You thought #YOLO was the acronym to live by. Danielle & Helen have created a new one. Blog spotlight on #England! http://t.co/XiTujbgHcH — EIU Study Abroad (@EIUStudyAbroad)

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