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I can't say I was absolutely looking forward to the Europe trip because I had to leave a lot of work at home. Then again, how do you pass up the chance to go to Europe?
Our first stop was London but since our carrier is KLM, our hub airport was Amsterdam. We had to stop at Amsterdam before going to London. I love their airport. Biggest by far among the other countries we have been to. During the flight from Manila to Amsterdam, my mom discovered that she has left ALL her credit cards and ATM cards in the Philippines... it's that or she has dropped them somewhere. *gasp* We do
not have money! And we have not even landed yet!
Fortunately, I had my card with me, which is a card that will access my mom's account as well but we were not so sure yet if it would work since I have never used that card before. My mom had some cash on her but we don't think we can survive on that.
I was worried but I could not ignore how exciting the trip was by the time we landed in Amsterdam. I started clicking away with my camera. As soon as we found an ATM my mom tried my card out and it worked! I paused for a while to thank the Lord for the miracle.
We boarded a smaller plane that will take us to London. I was so thrilled to see the city from the plane as we landed. It was pretty!
We took a London taxi, that was also so very cute! I have seen these in the movies of course but it was a thrilling experience to be riding it. Hehe... The buildings were a beauty to behold! We stayed at the Holiday Inn at the Oxford Circus. It's a very nice location because it's walking distance to the train station. First thing I looked for? Where to buy tickets for Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera. :D Hey... This is my chance to finally see the musicals of my dreams! :D
We went to Picadilly Circus where the tickets are. This is also your stop if you intend to watch Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables since their theaters are in this area. Phantom was showing in Her Majesty's Theater and Les Miserables is showing in errr.. Hmm... forgot already. :D We took the Hop On Hop Off bus since a Malaysian from one of my conferences recommended that we take this rather than getting lost most of the time. This took us to the different spots like the White Marble Arch, St. James Park, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, St. Stephen's Clock Tower (Big Ben), The Parliament (which is basically in the same building as Big Ben), Tower Bridge (we call it London Bridge but London Bridge is not what we think it is, it's another fugly bridge), Tower of London, Victoria Station, Trafalgar Square, St. Paul's Cathedral and so many more! We also took the cruise on the Thames River! We also got to see the house of Benjamin Franklin! I thought he was American!
We spent most of our mornings standing in front of Buckingham for the Changing of the Guards which in retrospect, was soh not worth it! You just see a bunch of guards marching to the music. Maybe it's an impressive display but it's not worth standing around for uhmm... three hours? Not doing that again. But if my future husband and I will get to go there together, maybe I will do it again for him. :D On the same day, we tried to get into Westminster Abbey but it was closed since it was Good Friday (I think). We also got to visit the National Gallery for a bit. Really beautiful! The artworks were breathtaking. It was during this day that I got to see Virgin on the Rocks of Leonardo da Vinci. Yes, the painting mentioned in the Da Vinci Code. Apparently, Leonardo created two versions. One is in the Louvre in Paris and another in the National Gallery. The first one created was the one in the National Gallery. A man commissioned him to do it but he sold the first one to somebody else so he was forced to do another one or the police was going to get him. We did not get to finish all the rooms so we told ourselves we'll come back again.
The bus ticket is only good for a day so I took note of the Underground stops (MRT in London :)) so we can just take the train the succeeding days. I already obtained a map and their Underground is pretty easy to navigate. We bought our tickets for Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera that day as well. :D The tickets were pretty pricey at 50 Sterling Pounds each. It's 100 PHp per 1 Sterling Pound. Never mind, I was sure it was going to be well worth it.
On the second day, we went to Westminster Abbey and finally, we were able to go in. We were not allowed to take pictures but it's also a very nice place. Mostly, you'll see a lot of graves of the people. Yes, this is another Da Vinci Code place. This is where Sir Isaac Newton is buried. This is where the "orb" is hehe... Bodies of kings and queens are in this place, Queen Elizabeth I is here but Princess Diana is not. This is used for worship still but they have very limited seats since there isn't much space inside anymore. There's also a school in the grounds. They say the school there is very expensive. Also famous music people are buried in that place like Handel. Famous poets like Robert Frost and more (Sorry, I cannot recall everybody) were also there. They made us pay a lot of money too...
After the Westminster Abbey, we went to St. Paul's Cathedral. At this time I was already very much addicted to Paul (a chain of bakeries in Europe) croissants and other pastries. :D My mom and I keep on buying everytime we see one! We went inside and it was pretty too. All the churches they have there are all grand that after a while, all the grand things, begin to seem ordinary. When I got home, all the churches I go to seem to be so bare now. All the stained glass seem to be too simple and elementary but I do not care, hearing mass here beats any mass in Europe. :) I missed the Philippines.
We had lunch at a nearby Italian restaurant. We were not very happy with their food there because everything was bland. They're not into salt. People there are trying to live healthy lives and eating right.
Afterwards, we went to the National Gallery to view more paintings. I got to see one of the Sunflowers of Van Gogh. There was only one painting of Picasso. Famous impressionists like Manet and Monet were there as well. I did not know there was a Manet! :) I was overwhelmed by the beauty of all the artworks! There is no entrance fee to the National Gallery.
Since the Trafalgar Square is in front of the National Gallery, we also hung out there.
After the National Gallery, we had some dinner and went on to see Les Miserables. It did not disappoint me at all. It was amazing. Still I had to wonder, how amazing it would have been if Lea had been Eponine. Lea never performed in London since she did her stint in Broadway but still I had to wonder.
I think our third day was a Sunday :), so we heard mass. We were surprised that the church was following old rites. It was a bit weird. We just had to follow what everybody was doing. The priest's back was turned against us. I was amazed because I got to experience how masses were said before Vatican II. I like the post Vatican II masses better. :)
After this, mom chose to stay at the hotel while the three of us went to the Tower of London. It was an old castle of King Richard. Famous people got executed there including those who planned the November 5th bombing of the Parliament which inspired the movie, V. It was nice, but the highlight was the precious crown jewels of the Royal Family they had in display. I have never seen precious stones as big as the ones set in the different crowns, scepters, punch bowls (yes punch bowls!), laddles and other trivial things!
We also went to the Tower Bridge and saw... nothing but what was beneath us hehe... It was nice too though it's just that it's nicer from the outside. Going up to the bridge is not really worth the entrance fee. After, we went to the Imperial War Museum near the Elephant and Castle stop. This Underground stop used to be a bomb shelter.
Unfortunately, by the time we got to the Imperial War Museum, it was going to close already so we decided to save it for the following day.
We went to Harrod's after and then went home finally. My mom got so bored in the hotel so the following day, she said she was going to go with us.
On our fourth day, we got to see Phantom of the Opera! But before that we went back to the Imperial War Museum. The tanks used for the war against Germany were there. My brother's eyes twinkled since he has always been very much into weapons and warfare. He has a lot of books on WWI and WWII and he even has a whole set of Weapons and Warfare encyclopedia! He wandered around the museum while my sister and I went to see the children of war section. After a while, it got a bit boring too... hehe... So we just waited with our mom by the Berlin Wall (part of it) until my brother was finally done.
After the museum, we also visited other museums like the Science museum. My sister had fun. We did not realize that it was her first Science museum. My first was in Saudi Arabia when I was nine. It was fun for her and we were all glad that she had fun. After, we proceeded to Her Majesty's Theater to see the Phantom of the Opera. It was a grand, grand play. Our seat was in the third row so the view was spectacular! I shall never forget my experience watching my favorite musicals!
The following day, we went to Salisbury to see the Stonehenge. They still do not know what the Stonehenge is for. Some say it was used as an altar. Some say it was used as a calendar or clock. They also do not know how those rocks were placed there. If you see it, it is indeed gigantic! And there are no rocks around the area but only those. It felt like we were inside Windows XP while we were in Salisbury since it was just fields and more fields. Green fields! The train ride was pretty long and one of the stations was not working so we had to take a bus going to the next station which took a very long time. After this ride we were too tired.
We went to the Windsor Castle during this day. It was a luxurious castle with a lot of gold in almost every corner of the castle. I cannot bring justice or even attempt to put into words the grandeur I have laid my eyes on. I will try to post pictures here instead. I do not remember if we were allowed to take pictures though. There was also a doll house with working plumbing and electricity. Even the objects in the house was adorned with gold! There were also a collection of dolls! Beautiful, delicate porcelain dolls with clothes done by the famous designers of Paris. It was a gift from princesses of France. Wow!
I think we went to France on the seventh day. Not before we discovered my sister's ticket was cancelled so we had to purchase all her tickets right then and there. I did not get to go around Heathrow Airport because we were going to be left by the airplane already. Thanks to the delay caused by the cancelled ticket. We found out later on that the travel agency here in Manila made a mistake. Sheesh...
London is nice but the people there are snobbish (as in!) and the food is bland. It's a nice place to visit but I would not want to live there. I still think the beaches in Boracay can whoop their snobby asses anytime. :) They have the intricate architecture and lavish castle decors but we have the natural beauty exuding from our land and our people. I have never been more proud to be Filipino than when I was in Europe.