December 27 and 28:
Flew out, from Helena to Denver, Denver to Toronto, Toronto to London. Watched Toy Story, Beauty and the Beast, Princess Diaries, The Lion King, Footloose, Downton Abbey, and Glee. Dinner was awful. Married man asked me on a date. I declined. Waited in line at customs for an hour and a half, then reunited with Ruth! We fell, hugging, in the arrivals area, and gave everyone else waiting a good chuckle. Made it Ruth's house, saw sheep grazing along the highway, as you do.
Ruth and I took the train into London. We watched the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, ate crepes in Covent Garden, and then took a walk along the Mall to the South Bank of the Thames river. We saw a terrible pickpocket (because he was so obvious), the National Theatre, Globe Theatre, poppies at memorials, National Gallery, Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament. The St. James Palace guard scared me by yelling at me "Stand back from the arches!" when I was going to pose with him.
Ruth's parents drove us to Hampton Court Palace! I got chosen to dance with Francis Dereham, one of Catherine Howard's lovers. She was the 5th wife of King Henry VIII. We ice-skated in front of the palace, and I still have an awful bruise on my knee. It was my favorite palace, I couldn't believe I was walking in the same steps as the Tudors.
Ruth, her boyfriend and I went to a Blitz-themed/1940's New Year's party. I got my first New Year's kiss, from a London sculptor dressed as a solider. Swoon!
Stayed in with Ruth and her boyfriend. We watched My Boy Jack, Wallace and Gromit, and Return to Oz. We had an English Christmas, complete with Christmas pudding that was set on fire, Christmas crackers, Yorkshire puddings, mince pies, and sparklers. It was lovely!
Bought a coin purse, because I kept forgetting that change is worth a lot there. One pound and two pound coins can buy lots of beer.
Took the train in with Ruth's mom and found my hostel. I went to Kensington Palace, where I met name-dropper guide Paul, and was disappointed by the 'special Enchanted Palace' exhibition. There was only one tiara on display, and only a few dresses! Harumph. However, I did get to see Queen Victoria's childhood bedroom, which was neat.
I then saw the Royal Ballet's production of The Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House. It was spectacular! I got really lost in Covent Garden trying to find the tube, and then went on a terrible date. Made a friend from Canada, and we went to the hostel bar, where there was a Prince impersonator, and I talked to a nice guy from Australia.
Went to Platform 9 and 3/4! My new friend from Canada, Jean, and I spent the day together. We went to Harrods, and the Victoria and Albert museum.
I got the Eurostar, out of St. Pancras Station at 7:01am. The train was an hour and a half late to Paris, and the machine wouldn't take my credit card or bills, so I had to wait in line for an hour to buy my metro tickets.
I got the metro to my hotel at 1, and was told that I couldn't check in until 4. I had missed my free walking tour, so I had to wander the streets of Paris for 3 hours. It was raining, and I had left my umbrella and maps at the hotel. My feet were wet and covered in blisters, I was exhausted; I couldn't remember any of my conversational French.
I had a Nutella crepe and a croissant, 2 old men tried to pick me up standing in the doors of sex shops....it was a really bad day. Reception was rude, and what should have taken me 10 minutes to find took 45-looking for the store to pick up my Disneyland Paris ticket.
Ended up eating dinner at Subway because I was too afraid to try and order a real dinner in my broken French. The night ended me in tears on the phone to my mom.
I went to Versailles! Seeing the Hall of Mirrors was a dream come true for me. I walked the block of the Louvre to get to my tour bus, and made it just in time. After the tour, I wandered from the Louvre to the Palace of Justice, where I ate lunch, then found my way to Notre Dame!
I waited in line for an hour to climb the steps, which was totally worth it. I climbed the 387 steps to the top, all small circular staircases, and the view was magnificent. Seeing the gargoyles up close, and the bells...it was amazing. After I climbed down, I went inside the cathedral, and lit a prayer candle for my grandmother Mima.
I met Ruth outside, and we went out to dinner, then to a bar. The bartender and I were flirting in broken French and broken English, and he and the other bartenders thought my phrasebook was hilarious. I got on the wrong side of the metro, so I just rode it to the end of the line, then back to my stop.
Ruth and I went to Disneyland Paris! We got there before park open, went to the Studios, then to Magic Kingdom. I got to meet Belle and Rapunzel! Saw a great themed parade, Stars and Cars. Cast Members were mostly rude, I got called stupid; and no one waved back on the rides. However, I got to kiss Captain Jack Sparrow and Flynn Rider! That was magical. The castle is gorgeous, and I love the fact that there's an actual dragon and stained glass windows telling Sleeping Beauty's story.
My last day in Paris, I went to Gregorian Mass at Notre Dame. I don't go to church regularly anymore, but the music sent chills down my spine. I love the tradition of mass, even though it was in French, I knew what was going on. I lit a prayer candle for Grandma and Grandpa, and cried a little. I went back to my hotel, checked out, and wandered the streets for 20 minutes before finding an open cafe. Turns out almost everything is closed on Sundays in central Paris. I managed to make my lunch last over 2 hours, then got the metro to Gare du Nord.
The train ride back was uneventful, and I made it to my London hostel with no problems. I had French pastries, direct from Paris for dinner. The flaky almond cake, Galette de Rois, was my favorite. I made friends with 2 spectacular Australians, and found out that most everyone in the hostel was male, and going to bartending school. I was thrilled. Even better, I had booked a room with 12 beds, but I was the only one in it! So I made a pillow fort with the 11 other pillows.
I went to Harrods and the Science Museum with my new Australian friend, Hayden. My favorite part of Harrods is definitely the evening gown and fascinator section.
I then took a free walking tour of London, where I learned that Margaret Thatcher had the wall and gates built around 10 Downing Street because of protesters, the history of Guy Fawkes Day, how Queen Elizabeth II dealt with a drunk intruder in her bedroom, Queen Victoria's 8 assassination attempts, saw the changing of the horse guards, and Westminster Abbey. The guide sang 'I wanna be like you' from the Jungle Book. He was awesome.
I took the tube in the morning for the BBC Television Centre Tour! Seeing the newsroom, I freaked out a little. I eagerly volunteered to be a fake anchor at the interactive section, and I got to talk about the Prime Minister and Daniel Radcliffe. I got awarded a pen. Afterward, one of the guides and an Australian family told me that I should go into journalism. I got a travelling companion from the gift shop, a small Gromit! From Wallace and Gromit!
I took the tube to the British Library, where I saw the original Canterbury Tales, Dickens' drawings, Shakespeare's first folio, Jane Austen's writing desk, and letters from Elizabeth I, about Mary Queen of Scots. My favorite part were the original Beatles lyrics, including Help, Ticket to Ride, and Yesterday. John Lennon wrote Ticket to Ride on the back of his son's birthday card.
That night, because I was the only American at the hostel, I was invited to bar with Swedes, Norwegians, and Englishmen. They all respected me because I was drinking Guinness. I had a really fun time!
I went to a Disneyland Paris audition at Covent Garden! I got cut after the first round, so I went to the Disney Store, and then to the Games Workshop, where I learned to play Warhammer and spent half an hour picking out a present for my brother. After lunch, I went to the National Portrait Gallery, where I freaked out in the Tudor section. Seeing the original paintings of Elizabeth, Mary, Edward, King Henry, and Shakespeare was another dream come true. I went to the National Gallery afterwards to look at some Monet and Degas.
January 12 and 13:
Spent these days back with Ruth and her parents. I got a great new red coat, did laundry, and watched BBC and movies. The last night, Ruth and I went to a seedy pub. It was really relaxing few days.
Ruth and I went into London, where I checked into my hostel, then went to meet Hayden at the Natural History Museum. Dinosaurs, whales, and gemstones, oh my! I loved it. After that, we went to Abbey Road, where we graffitied the wall outside the Abbey Road studios. We went to a pub for dinner, and then parted. Later that night, I went out to a pub called 'The Old King's Head'-a King Henry VIII pub with 2 German guys. We ended up in Greenwich, outside the O2 Arena.
A guy from Sweden flirted with me at breakfast, while I was still in my pajamas. I was thrilled! I went on a tour of the Globe Theatre, which was magnificent. Once again, it was a "I can't believe I'm here!" moment. I walked across the Millennium bridge, the one that the Death Eaters destroy in Harry Potter 5, to St. Paul's cathedral, where I didn't see the little old bird woman from Mary Poppins, but the Occupy London protesters.
I got the tube to Camden for my tour, which wasn't very good. My tour guide was much older, and didn't have any sense of what I wanted to see-which was MTV studios, not the canals. We parted, and I went back to my hostel. I spent the night sharing beers with some Australian boys in my room. They went drunk clubbing, and I went to bed.
I went to the Tower of London, which was magnificent. Again, it was a "I can't believe I'm here!" moment. I saw the crown jewels, Anne Boleyn's and Catherine Howard's burial places in the church, Robert Dudley's graffiti, and King Henry VIII's various armor. However, the torture chambers were closed. Boooooo. I did get to see some thumb screws, but I really wanted to see a rack.
I got to meet up with a friend from Texas that afternoon! I hadn't seen him in 6 years, so it was an amazing reunion. We got lunch, then wandered around Chinatown and to Piccadilly Circus, where we had a pint of Brains beer. It was so, so good to see him again-and in London!
I got dinner and cocktails with Ruth on the South Bank of the Thames, and then got my stuff packed and ready to go to Heathrow.
I got to Heathrow at 11:30pm. My flight didn't leave until 9am, but because I had to be there 3 hours early and the tube shuts down for 5 hours, I thought it was better to play it safe. However. My flight was delayed until 10:30am. So. I got changed to a later flight, 3pm from Toronto. We didn't get off the ground until 11:30am. 12 hours in Heathrow. We landed in Toronto, in heavy fog, at 2pm, and taxied for half an hour. I still had to go through customs, security, and re-check my bag. I was going to miss the 3pm flight.
Air Canada's 3pm flight to Denver had been delayed until 5pm. I would miss my Denver connection. So the flight person and I worked together, and found a flight from Minneapolis to Helena at 9:40. The flight would go from Toronto to Minneapolis at 8pm. I went through security and customs, and then proceeded to wait for 5 hours. I got my flight, moved from the last row to the first row, and when we landed in Minneapolis at 9:15. booked it from E30 to gate D5. I made it with 10 minutes to spare, got my boarding pass, and was on my way home, after 12 hours in Heathrow and 6 in Toronto.
I was home in Helena at 11pm. But my duffel bag isn't!