London, Chapter I: In which our intrepid protagonists arrive in the great metropolis by sleeper train still sleepy and call upon various and sundry relations and friends

Nor is it falling down.

Not in fact London Bridge

NB: Gentle reader, in order to keep this post to a reasonable not wholly absurd length, I’ve split it in two three. Part 1 will recount our arrival in London and who met us there, Part 2 will tell of the many sights we were able to see, and Part 3 will tantalize you with accounts of our culinary escapades.

It’s David here, Natalie’s oft-mentioned but until now absent-from-this-blog boyfriend. I’m sure you were expecting another post from Natalie detailing more of our many Christmas adventures (which are now many months past), but finding the number of adventures too great for any one person to recount, even one of her prodigious talents, she has enlisted me to tell you of a few of them. You’ve already heard about Scotland and Ireland from her, so without further delay, let me tell you a bit about London.

After an amazing seafood dinner with Natalie’s cousins at one of Gordon’s favorite restaurants, we left Edinburgh late that night. Rather than flying down to London, we decided it would be fun to take the sleeper train, as neither of us had done that before, and it’s not something that can be done in the States without paying exorbitant prices. However, the term sleeper train appears to be a bit of a misnomer, because neither Natalie nor I slept particularly well as the train rattled, shook, and clanged its way through Scotland and England.

We arrived in London early the next morning an hour earlier than expected (surprise! We weren’t the only ones surprised though; I saw several of our fellow passengers emerging from their compartments looking equally confused) and were greeted by the train attendants with very welcome cups of tea. From there, we made our way on the Tube Turnham Green, where Betty, Natalie’s cousin (in-law? The proper term for a cousin’s spouse is always a source of much consternation for me) awaited us. Unlike Natalie’s cousins in Scotland, Ron (Natalie’s cousin) and Betty are not actually native to the British Isles, but are Texas transplants who are living in London because of Ron’s job. They’re both incredibly friendly people who made us feel completely at home when we stayed with them. After all the traveling we had done so far in hostels, I really appreciated being able to stay with family in Edinburgh and London, even if it wasn’t my own. Even the best hostel can’t match the warmth and ease that comes from staying somewhere with people you (or in this case your girlfriend) know and who are excited to see you and spend time with you.

Our lovely guides

Can you name all the characters here?

And speaking of people we know, Ron and Betty weren’t the only familiar faces in London. We were lucky enough to be there at the same time as my friend Caitlin, who was visiting her boyfriend Matt who’s a medical student at King’s College. Caitlin and Matt were fabulous tour guides, and Caitlin “helpfully” introduced us to British culture by pointing out anything Matt did or said that was stereotypically British.

Caitlin had spent a semester studying at King’s College last year, so she knew the city quite well and was able to give us a tour of some of her favorite places in Southwark (pronounced SUTHUCK or something approximating thatdon’t ask, just go with it), a neighborhood just south of the Thames. She took us to London Bridge (not to be confused with the more familiar Tower Bridge, which we also saw), Borough Market, and Southwark Cathedral which, as an English major, I hold especially dear because of its stained-glass windows depicting characters from Shakespeare’s plays. Finally she took us to a memorial for the Great London Fire which along with all the usual remarks about the tragedy of the fire and the damage it caused, contains a rabid diatribe denouncing the evils of “popery.” So remember good citizens of the seventeenth century, keep an eye on those Romish papists (says the man of Irish-Mexican descent), because you never know when you’ll need someone to blame for burning down your city.

Besides seeing Caitlin, we also got to meet up briefly with our friend Elizabeth who works in Valladolid with Natalie and came to London to find a studio to develop film (which is apparently quite difficult in Spain). She joined us on our trip to the Tate Modern and braved various early morning treks out to Young Vic’s Theatre as part of our (sadly failed) attempts to secure tickets to Hamlet. All in all, it was great to be able to explore a new place with familiar people!

Here concludes the first part of the story of our travels in London. Part 2 will tell of such wonders as the ancient treasures of the British Museum and the Crown Jewels of England.

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