Sunday, January 25, 2009

Some interesting stones

A two-hour drive out of London on Friday morning landed me in the middle of rolling hills and lots of sheep. Just southwest of London, my school tour came to Stonehenge. I don't think I have ever felt so much wind as when I walked the path around the site. But, the piece of history I was seeing, surrounded by lush green countryside and a deep blue sky, well made up for the chill.

After way too many pictures, our group headed by bus to Salisbury, about 15 minutes away. Half-frozen, half-wind-blown, my friends and I ducked into one of the first cafes we passed for some warm sustenance. I tried the "Full English Breakfast," which turned out less than desirable. But, the piping hot mug of coffee served with it made up for the bland eggs and cold toast.

With a full stomach and feeling in my fingers, I became enchanted by the quaint town of Salisbury whose history dates back 1000 years. Plenty of shops, pubs and cafes filled the center of town. And, a few blocks away, any of the houses could have been straight from a postcard.

But, most impressive stands the Salisbury Cathedral, built in the 1200s. The spire on the mammoth stone structure stretches tall enough into the sky to be seen from miles away. The interior boasts grand arches, medieval tombs and tons of history. Before leaving, I saw one of the four original copies of the Magna Carta and the oldest clock in England. But, keeping with the times, the cathedral boasts a 20th-century font and stage lighting, which workers were adjusting for a program later that day.

I welcomed the warm two-hour bus trip home -- a chance for a quick nap before enjoying a spaghetti dinner with my flatmates and drinks with friends who live across town.

I am happy to report that another attempt to jog the streets of London proved much more successful. My flatmate and I donned baseball caps and windbreakers to face the 40-degree temps this past Saturday morning. We left our flat and ran along the Thames to pass Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and Whitehall -- incredible. Up close, Big Ben's striking gold and black detail gleamed in the morning sun. No doubt about it; this is London. We ran back through Trafalgar Square, passing the Savoy and many a pub we would like to find again.

Saturday afternoon, my friends and I decided we could not spend one more night in London without sampling the iconic fish and chips. So, we hit New Oxford Street for some late afternoon shopping followed by the fishy fare. We found a local pub and the dinner lived up to its status.

Rain did not stop us from catching the tube down to the East End markets on Sunday morning. We explored Columbia Market: a winding street stuffed with every type of flower. We went on to Brick Lane, known through London for the Brick Lane Bakery's beigels (yes, that's how they spell "bagel"). The bagel with cream cheese was delicious; so good, I had no time to snap a picture before making it disappear. After the snack, we wandered through the rest of the market. What used to be a predominantly Jewish neighborhood is now Bangladeshi and boasts the best curry in London. And the spread does not stop there. We found Thai, Moroccan, Spanish and Japanese dishes The aromas in that market are intoxicating.

We ended at Petticoat Lane Market. This is the stop for vintage clothes, scarves, purses, shoes, and much more. My flatmates and I kept our digging through this market brief. The rain was seeping through our gloves and our cozy warm flat was calling. Despite all the touring, I am finally starting to feel settled into my little bit of London.

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