Monday, September 5, 2016

London calling. Sorry I'm busy at the moment could you please call back later.

Many moons ago, when I signed up for this Remote Year program (was there a time before Remote Year?), our July itinerary was listed as Istanbul, Turkey. Then some bombs went off and Remote Year decided to change the itinerary and send us to the country that I can only assume was created in America's image. No I'm not talking about Canada, I'm talking about England. The land of people who speak English wrong. The land of people who worship a king and queen instead of the almighty Sun god like the rest of us.

I'm going to eat you!

Although, I'm sure nothing would have happened, I understand the choice to not send us to Istanbul. But London? Why not just send us to do a month in rural Idaho (no offense to anyone in Idaho)? Alright, it wasn't that bad and I did have a great time in London for the month, it just wasn't the most exotic place I've ever been (that's Idaho).

As fate would have it, we arrived in London just in time to celebrate the 4th of July, the holiday where we celebrate something about independence from England....similar to how England is celebrating independence from the EU. We spent our 4th of July on a double decker tour bus listening to the Beatles, drinking champagne, and wearing masks that look like English royalty.

May not be real British royalty
This picture really doesn't show anything interesting

We also found an "American" bar which had a hotdog eating contest and so it really felt like we were back home. Actually it was back home for me in a way since the area of London that we lived in was called Acton (Acton is the town in which I grew up in Massachusetts).

The highlight of my month was by far going to Wimbledon. I do enjoy me some tennis and as I understand it, Wimbledon is a big deal in the tennis world. We arrived in London somewhat late in the tournament with only the important matches left, so I wasn't sure if we would actually be able to get a ticket. The online ticketing system for Wimbledon is incredibly confusing and even being the tech savvy person that I am, I couldn't figure it out. Luckily, though, they have this thing called the queue (that means 'line' for you non-British speakers). Everyday you can wait in this "queue" to buy tickets, but it can obviously take many hours since others also know about this "queue". So, one day, I decide to roll over to Wimbledon with Sam and Travis (do you remember them? they are our the cult sense...and in the Remote Year parental supervision sense).

Sam & Travis - Cult leaders (this picture ruins the suspense of whether we actually got into Wimbledon or not)
The three of us took the tube down to the Wimbledon stop, which turns out to be the wrong stop if you are trying to go to the Wimbledon tennis tournament (cause that would make it too easy). It was the day that Andy Murray (from the UK) had his semi-final match, so I assumed there was no way we would be able to actually get a ticket and we would end up just watching the matches from a bar in the town. But instead, to my surprise and delight, we were met with a queue of....0 people!

Here's a picture of no one waiting in a line
Apparently, in the morning there's a queue of 4-5 hours, but if you come at noon, there is queue of 0 hours and 0 minutes.

Not waiting in line at Wimbledon

I guess the point is that I made it into Wimbledon. And let me tell you, it was well worth that wait in the queue. I spent the day drinking Pimms (which I had never heard of) and sitting on The Hill watching two semi finals matches, including Andy Murray.

I basically went to Wimbledon and watched tennis on TV

Wow, that story was a lot of build up, but not much pay off. It's kind of similar to visiting all of the touristy stuff in London. Take Buckingham Palace. So majestic!

Like really majestic

I actually just pulled that picture off of the internet. This one, though, was taken by Travis when we visited the palace that day.

Still so fucking majestic

We honestly have no idea how he managed to pull off this perfect shot. If you turn in any direction from where that shot was taken, it looks more like this:

Not so fucking majestic

Wow! This is great, because I love selfie sticks and crowds. I actually felt like London had a larger, denser downtown pocket than New York does. So, while its definitely impressive to see this stuff, compared to some of the most epic views I've ever seen in my life in South America, sightseeing in London felt more like:

I may be slightly spoiled

In summary, although there was Big Ben..

The largest Ben I've ever seen

And we went to Brighton beach where it was cold and rainy....

We took our shirts off and played frisbee for the photo op only (soo cold and windy)

And there was lots of fish & chips....

I don't like fish, so I didn't eat this

That's about all I have to say about London.

Well, actually I will note about one other thing. The city mostly shuts down at 11pm. Almost all pubs and restaurants close at 11pm SHARP and the tube stops running at midnight. I was in downtown London at 11:30pm on one of my final nights and couldn't find any place to get a drink except a club and couldn't find any place to get food except McDonalds. Sigh.

But if we aren't talking about London, I did take a week long trip to Belgium and Venice.

A guy from my trip named Brecht (which I apparently still cant pronounce properly) is from Belgium. Being the nice guy that he is, he decided to take a group of annoying Americans to his home town for a weekend.

Here's a picture of Brecht when he had food poisoning but still went ATVing with me in Bolivia

Here's Brecht giving a pretty face
We went to Brecht's home town of Leuven (it almost looks like Levin) and many puns ensued about Leuven it up. The first thing I had to do when I got there was try all things Belgian.

Belgian beer

Belgian waffles

No more Belgian waffles

Lots more Belgian waffles

More Belgian beer

There was also Belgian fries and Belgian mussels (muscles?), but those pictures aren't as exciting. Belgians like to focus on their beer.

The bar with the largest beer selection in the world (over 2000 types) (in Leuven) #LeuvenItUp

Next, I had to visit the Stella factory (conveniently in Leuven) for what some may say is the ultimate Belgian beer (most would not say this).

Not sure what I'm pointing at

I am now a certified Stella pour master

Finally, I had to take in the architecture of this historic place.

Leuven town hall....not sure why it needed so much detail on the exterior

Really...too much detail

This is actually Brussels (so no longer Leuven it up)

This statue of a boy peeing is apparently famous (cause the world is a weird place)

Don't worry, I also left some time for partying. Leuven's downtown is made up a few giant squares surrounded entirely by bars. They say that its the longest counter in Europe since there are so many consecutive bars. They also say that there is always a bar open in Leuven 24 hours a day. They also say 'No free tap water'.

The result of the longest counter in Europe running 24 hours a day where you can drink in the street and cant get free water

Sometime after I committed to the trip to Belgium, I found out someone else from my Remote Year family (aww), we'll call her Kirsten, was going to be in Venice that very next week. A bunch of people from the larger group had gone to a Beyonce concert in Milan (cause thats they type of stuff people do on a trip like this), and Kirsten was going to spend a few days in Venice afterwards. So, along with this other girl from my trip, we'll call her Paige, I decided to fly from Belgium to Venice to spend a few days on the Canal.

Matt, Kirsten and Paige are Venice'n it up

Venice is quite a sight. Its a big island of old beautiful buildings, narrow winding passageways and of course canals. If you like having a meal on the water, then this is the place for you. Basically every restaurant sits on a waterway and it's chillness cannot be overstated.

A restaurant on the water...check out that chilness

Having a sangria on the chillness

Eating Pizza and drinking wine (I swear the water is like 10 feet away and its total chillness)

The city is cool to see and great to eat through (mmmm Venice), but tthere's really no night life to speak of and most things close by 10 or 11. This is certainly not the city to come to if you are looking to "get lucky" (as they say in my old generation) since everyone already comes here with their partner. Also, as to be expected, everything is very touristy and overpriced. The Gondola ride we took was $85 for what came out to about 25 minutes.

The time it took to take this picture cost about $3

Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining (I never complain), and I would definitely recommend checking out this city. It's just that my life is quite tough this year, so I don't want you to have to endure any of the same hardships that I have had to go through.

Another piece of advice that I have for you is to try this fish pedicure thing if you ever see it (I guess its illegal in a lot of states, but not in Europe). It's quite an unusual experience.

Thank you fish for eating my dead skin

Good news! In the time it took you to read about my trip to Belgium and Venice, I managed to find some other interesting things that I did in London (yes, I write this blog in realtime). Here's some pictures of said things...

Here's the grave of Karl Marx....he had quite a beard

Here's the back of the Rosetta stone. You can see there's lots of people in front, so I decided to take a picture of the back with nothing on it

Here's the map room inside the Churchill Bunker where Churchill and his people ran things during WW2 (they forgot to tell that guy that the war is over and he can go home)
Here's Churchill's bedroom in the bunker where he gave his infamous radio addresses

Here's Arundel castle! You may remember Kirsten from Venice or previous picturesque engagement photos 

Here's an unnecessarily large room in the castle

And Here's the London Eye on the river Thames

Finally, here's a time lapse that Travis took riding the London Eye on our final night.

Everything considered, London was a month full of things that weren't South America!

Total countries visited on my trip: 7 (next month this number goes way up...I can see into the future)