God Only Knows

On something of a whim I went out and bought Bioshock Infinite last night. The game is pretty amazing so far and I think it's the only game I've ever played where I'll actually stop and just watch something that is just a part of the regular gameplay for a couple minutes. So far, this is probably my favorite instance of that.

Sarah Lady!

Friday morning Megan and I woke up, hopped on the Metro, and headed to the airport once again. There we picked up Sarah who had just finished her first session of study abroad classes. We grabbed lunch at the airport and headed back to the hostel. Sarah, operating on close to no sleep, decided to try out the great Spanish tradition of the siesta, just as Megan and I had the day before. After about am hour we headed out on the street in search of adventure. First we went to the Prado Museum which is Madrid's art museum. We were able to get in for free because we were students, though the ticket woman seemed unhappy with the fact. Since we got in for free we decided to rent the audio guides. We probably spent two to three hours in the museum where we saw a number of famous pieces - Sarah recognized several - including one Sarah had received a poster of from her Aunt Carol several years earlier.

It's worth noting that Sarah and Megan's predictions that the Prado Museum was a museum of fashion ended up being incorrect.

After the museum we continued to walk around with Megan acting as tour guide. She was able to point out many sights and provide almost no description of them. After getting a bit turned around we made our way to the Plaza Sol where we saw a real Mariachi band and several real, truly creepy, old men dancing. One guy just danced with himself, you really have to see it to fully appreciate it. When I finally get around to posting photos I'll be sure to point him out specifically.

After several songs we went back to the Plaza Mayor where we had dinner. This lasted probably three hours. This is in part because we started with some tapas, then had a meal, and finished with dessert. But it's mostly because it takes an act of congress - or whatever the Spanish legislative body is called - to get a check around here.

After dinner we went home and went to sleep.

¡Siesta!

Once again we woke up at 3:30 to make it to the airport. This time around I did manage to get a solid 3 hours of sleep before my alarm went off. At about 4am we checked out and headed ten minutes down the street to catch a bus. We took the bus to Baker Street station where we caught the Circle line to Liverpool Street station. From there we took the Stansted Express to the airport. Security was a breeze and we sat down on a bench with plenty of time to eat breakfast. It ends up we had way more time than expected. The flight was delayed just under an hour which meant lots of sitting around. I used to the time catch up on these posts, and Megan used the time to spot Americans in the airport - socks and sandals are a dead giveaway.

The part of the airport terminal our gate was in is terribly designed. It basically bottlenecks just before opening up into a large room with either 6 or 8 gates. The lines for each gate backup toward the bottleneck so when there are even just two gates running - as was the case for us - the two lines become indistinguishable once they reach the hallway. Luckily Megan and I were just ahead of this insanity in line. After a few more delays we boarded and were on our way to Madrid.

After arriving in Madrid we had a quick lunch at the airport before getting on the Metro - Madrid's subway system - to head into town. The Metro was easy to navigate and Megan and I soon found ourselves on the street our hostel was located on. So naturally we walked down the street looking for the hostel. We walked, and walked, and eventually we reached the end of the road. ... Where was the hostel?

We double checked our map and then tried the street again. This time we were able to spot the place, identifiable only by a small sign on the inside of a door frame. We went upstairs an checked in. The woman at the desk was very nice. We ha reserved a 2 person room for the first night and a 3 person room for the remaining nights and she went ahead and gave us the 3 person one for the entire trip at no extra charge.

After checking in Megan and I were introduced to a housekeeper who would lead us to our building. Our room, we were told, was a street over though it was still the same hostel. After introducing us to the housekeeper the receptionist pressed the elevator button for us and walked away. When the elevator opened we walked on and the housekeeper - who never said a word to us during the entire trip - started walking down the stairs. Needless to say, this made us feel a bit dumb. When we reached the bottom floor the elevator doors opened just as this woman walked past them. We fell in line and made our way to the first floor Of our building. There we were given a key, told that our room #828 was on the fourth floor, but that we should go to the 3rd floor.

On the 3rd floor we walked into the doors marked with the hostel's name and we saw a woman walk out of a room, around the corner, and down a hall. Apparently, we were expected to follow her. After a minute or two of confusion we were on our way to our room.

To summarize and expand, let me now tell you how to get to our room.

Go to the first floor of the building that isn't the address the hostel lists and get your key. Go to the third floor and enter the door marked Hostel Cervelo. Turn to your left and go to the end of the hall and take a right. Then a left, then halfway down the hall take a left again. Then a right, then a right, then a left, then a right and go out that door into the stairwell. Go up one floor. Turn to your left at the landing and open the last door on your right with the big key. Make a left, then a right. Now open the unlabeled door at the end of the hall directly in front of you with the little key. Welcome to room 828.

So forgive us if that took a try or two to learn.

After getting in we decided to take part in an inspired Spanish tradition, the siesta. After we woke up we went and found dinner and then explored the area. We found the nearby Plaza Mayor and a decent gelato place. And that was pretty much our first day in Spain.

Potter

Wednesday was Harry Potter day. First, a note about Megan and my relationship to the Harry Potter franchise. We are what you might call the most dedicated fans. I absolutely devoured the books when I was younger, but after the last one came out I have just let them collect dust. As for the movies, I've never been a huge fan. I saw the first three and then just stopped going to them. I'll be correcting this soon, I've been told, but as of this week I haven't seen more than three of them.

Megan thinks she's seen all of the movies. But maybe she missed one. And she knows the third was the bad one, because it has the director that only did one of them. Or was it the fourth? Yeah, maybe it was the fourth. She has not read the books. Or at least most of them. Maybe.

So naturally when we heard there was an overpriced tour of the Harry Potter studios we signed up right away, and that is how we found ourself on a 12:30 train from Euston station to Watford Junction on Wednesday.

We arrived at the tour with a bus load - the tour has a direct route from the train station - of Harry Potter fans from the people in front of us who could name obscure actors from the movies to, well... Us. We picked up our tickets and were soon in line for the tour. It started out with two videos reminding us that Harry Potter is a Big Deal. Oh, an then there was a solid ten minutes of sucking up to the crew by the three main actors. Having been told by one employee that Emma Watson is a complete diva I did not find this part of her performance believable.

At the end of the video the curtain was raised to reveal the entryway to Hogwarts. It was pretty cool. We walked in the front doors to find ourselves in the great hall, still fully in tact from the when they were filming the movie. After that we wandered around the two sound stages looking at original props, sets, costumes, etc. They explained how they did some of the special effects - be sure to ask Megan for the green screened photo of her riding a broomstick - and how they created all of the monsters and other creatures in the movies.

The attention to detail was amazing. Every set had little bits that are even seen in the movies. The Hogwarts crest, for instance, is carved into the back of the main fireplace in the great hall. You wouldn't know that, however, because there's always a fire in front of it.

Even the truly monotonous tasks, such as making labels for the thousands on wand boxes in the first movie were taken seriously - every last label is handwritten. The enormous monument placed in Ministry of Magic in the middle of the last book was hand carved - and it's amazing by the way. I'm sure they could have easily done that with CGI for a less impressive effect.

During the tour I tried - it's not alcoholic - for the first time and it was pretty good. It's very sweet so I'm not sure I could drink much more than the small cup I had. Certainly I could not have afforded more.

One of the coolest parts of the tour comes toward them end when you turn the corner and find yourself face-to-face with a two to three story model of Hogwarts. It's pretty amazing. This is the model they used when filming flyover shots or any of the scenes where a character was flying a broomstick around the school grounds.

After the tour we took the train back to London and had dinner at an Italian restaurant. After that we headed back to our hotel to get some sleep so that we'd be ready for our early morning flight.

Ice Ice Baby

On Tuesday we had a bit of a late start because we didn't have anything to do before catching a train around 11:30. We caught a train on platform 9 at King's Cross station to Cambridge. We arrived an hour later - half an hour before the tour we wanted to take. Still a mile and a half outside of the city center, having not eaten yet, and too cheap to pay for a taxi, we decided that we just weren't going to make the tour. We walked into town and went to the visitor's center where we learned about, and signed up for, an architectural tour of Cambridge. Before the tour we had lunch at a subway. A few notes: - They have the spicy Italian now, which they didn't last time Megan was overseas. - They were out of ice in the drink machine. No, really lady, there's no ice no matter how long you try. Seriously Ma'am, there is no ice left in that machine. Just walk away. No! Don't go back. Looking away for thirty seconds does not cause ice to form. - Seriously lady's friend? We're you not paying any attention for the last five minutes. There is no ice. I promise. If there was, you would have so much in your cup right now that the temperature of all of England would have dropped 5 degrees celsius. - The meat in the spicy Italian is a thicker cut than back home. - Megan now informs me there was an "Out of Order" sticker on the ice maker. I mean, really lady?

After lunch we headed back to the visitor's center to start our tour. There we met Mary, our tour guide and a just retired Belgium couple. And with everyone there we set out on our tour. All four of us. Megan, the elderly tour guide, and a retired Belgium couple. I'm going to let that sink in...

... Because it was awesome. The couple was very nice and Mary was a great tour guide. Mary asked us all how much we knew about Cambridge and its history and luckily all of us knew about the same - read: nothing. So she even went through in a basic explanation about the relationship between the colleges and the university. She would also fill in gaps in our knowledge of British history.

The tour was fascinating. It's amazing to see how the architectural styles changed over time, and for what reasons. We saw the oldest building in Cambridge, a church, as well as the very first Wren completed. It's important to say "completed" because the first Wren designed was built over at "that other school."

While on the tour we saw where the electron was discovered, and where DNA was discovered, so that was pretty cool. We also saw a window that you'd better not shut unless you're willing to risk pissing off a ghost.

After the tour we walked around some more and ended up sitting down a The Bath House, a local pub. We had dinner there while waiting for the UK/Ukraine Euro Cup game. At 7:45 the game started and Megan got her first experience watching football with Europeans. All in all, it was a pretty slow match but England won helping to set up a Spain/France matchup for this weekend, which we'll be in Spain for.

After the match we headed home and eventually went to sleep pretty happy with our day-trip to Cambridge.

It's Always Sunny in London

On Monday Megan and I played the roles of a nostalgic tourist and a vaguely-remembers-things-about-London tourist. I was the former. We started the day off late, choosing to sleep in to try and combat the utter exhaustion we've felt. Also, we didn't think we could fill an entire day with what we planned to do. We started by jumping on the tube and heading to Holborn, my old stop. From there we walked down to the LSE campus and walked around for a bit. After showing Megan around we walked down to the small convenience store on campus and bought lunch. I went with the same thing I ate every day while at LSE and Megan went with the same thing she ate the day before, a BLT.

We ate lunch at the tables outside the library, which was nice once the sun came out. It was really great getting to see that campus again. I loved studying at LSE and never expected that I'd be back here so soon.

After lunch we started walking through The City of London, which is always fun. We stopped by Twinning's and Temple Church, which was closed. Eventually we made it to St. Paul's Cathedral. One of our goals in London was to see St. Paul's because last time Megan was here the outside of it was being restored and so she wasn't able to see it firsthand. We walked in but decided the £15 entry fee was a bit too steep so we soon headed back out what was clearly marked as "The Gate to Heaven." So, yeah...

After St. Paul's we decided to try and find tickets to a show. We had loosely settled on The 39 Steps, a parody of Hitchcock's thriller. I'd seen it before in New York, and maybe a second time in London, but was willing to see it again. On the way to the theater I spotted a sign for The Sunshine Boys, a Neil Simon play starring - For 12 weeks only! - Danny DeVito and Robert Griffiths. Based on the playwright and the two stars alone we decided to switch shows. A ticket office at Piccadilly Circus offered us relatively good seats in the Stalls for an on-sale price of £45 with the recommendation that we check back in an hour for a better price. We thanked him and headed across town to the Savoy Theater to see what prices they had to offer. As I expected, they had better prices. As students we were able to walk away with two tickets in the stalls, center stage, ten rows back for £25 each. So managed to get better tickets for £20 cheaper. Needless to say, we felt pretty proud of ourselves.

After buying our tickets we headed across the street to Covent Garden and watched a few street performers. After the first we headed upstairs to a balcony bar to get a better view. The first guy was a escape artist, the second a contortionist, and the third was bad at his job. We gave a few pounds to the second guy, and I'd encourage everyone back home to ask Megan to show them the picture she has with her Jamaican contortionist friend.

Following those acts we found a sandwich place for dinner and wasted some time before the show. Eventually we walked over to the Savoy and saw the show. It was really good, and very funny. DeVito was surprisingly good, which isn't to say I didn't expect him to be good but instead that he was exceptionally good. While waiting for the show Megan made friends with the old lady next to us. I'm convinced she can talk to literally anyone.

After the show we wandered around a bit looking for a nite to eat. We ended up goof back through my old neighborhood and even coming within sight of where I loved a couple years ago, which was cool. Eventually we got back on the tube and headed home. We got a quick bite to eat at McDonald's and then went to sleep.waiting for the show Megan made friends with the old lady next to us. I'm convinced she can talk to literally anyone.

After the show we wandered around a bit looking for a nite to eat. We ended up goof back through my old neighborhood and even coming within sight of where I loved a couple years ago, which was cool. Eventually we got back on the tube and headed home. We got a quick bite to eat at McDonald's and then went to sleep.

London Baby!

Here's how Saturday night went for me: 12:30 - Fell asleep 1:35 - Woke up 1:40 - Fell asleep 2:30 - Woke up 3:30 - Alarm went off, got out of bed and started getting ready to go to the airport.

With all of that sleep - Megan and Cruz were able to get that extra hour of sleep - we left the hostel at 7:50 and headed west to O'Connell Street. Halfway there we heard someone with a wheeled suitcase behind us in an all out sprint. Finally she reached us, stopped, and blurted out, "Are you going to the airport?!" in poor English. We were, so we said yes and soon we had a random Polish lady walking with us. She had apparently been running around that area for an hour trying to figure out how to get to the airport. She wasn't very talkative but we did get this gem:

I have been here many times before but always with friends. They said, 'Let us out together the information for you do you know how to get everywhere,' but I told them, 'No, I can do it on my own.'

Anyway, we caught our bus and were on our way to the airport. The bus was earlier than expected which we had luckily anticipated might be the case. Once at the airport we checked in and went through security. We had breakfast at a cafe in the airport. Cruz and I were more than able to handle the airport experience but Megan was conned into buying some toast, which is amusing because she had received less toast than me or Cruz everywhere else we had eaten.

Eventually it was time to part ways with Cruz, so we wished her a good study aboard experience and headed to our gate. The Ryanair plane was actually pretty big and was mostly full. I had a window seat which I quickly used to fall asleep. I some up during the descent to London. We caught a train into London and around ten in the morning we found ourselves in the middle of London exhausted, with nothing to do.

So we went to Buckingham Palace to try and get Megan a prince. We were unsuccessful in that regard but did manage to see the changing of the guard. The crowd for this was enormous and at first we thought there might be something special going on, but there wasn't.

After that we walked around the nearby park and then sat in the sun for about half an hour or so. Finally we decided to go find our hotel. We took the Underground to the Earl's Court station and checked in. The room is very nice, though the wifi is pretty awful - Thus, the very late updates. The room is pretty big considering it's a London hotel. The bathroom is very small but it's very clean. The whole place looks newly renovated.

After getting settled we made a list of what we'd like to do in London, and then took a nap.

After our nap we headed to Chinatown for dinner. After getting to the right part of town we got a bit turned around - I'm used to approaching Chinatown from the other side of the city - and ended up in T Square. Check one thing off the list!

Eventually we made it to Chinatown and found the restraint I ate at a couple years ago. We both tried food outside of our comfort zone, especially Megan. It wasn't too spicy - there was no recreation of last time's spicy debacle for me - but it was definitely spicier than the Chinese food back home. Megan conquered chopsticks over the course of the meal and no doubt will be giving everyone lessons on their proper usage upon her return home.

Okay, I can't lie to you like that. About ten minutes into her main course the waitress, having observed us from afar, came up and offered Megan a fork. And that Megan mastered!

After dinner we walked down to the river to see Big Ben and the London Eye. We took some pictures and watched someone hail a cab - a trip highlight, it seemed, for Megan. Eventually we made our way back to the hotel and fell asleep.