Thursday, May 22, 2014

Visitor! Lauren (and the friendly toaster)

Actual date of this event: 17-24 April

Lauren is the first of my friends from the States to come visit us oveseas! Crazy because we have had several friends come visit, but they have all been fellow expats. Anyway, Lauren and I met in 2009 just after I got married, so she has never known me as a "Zalewski". Her and I taught directly next to each other - we shared a partition which is about the same as having a roommate. If she were to get "a little impatient" with the students, I could hear it and vice-versa. But that never-ever-ever happened for either us... never! :-) Anyway, we have quite a few things in common such as neither of us has kids, we both have large calves, sarcasm is one of our BFF's (but never-ever-ever use[d] it in the classroom...never!), we enjoy fun nights out (although we both realize we are getting a tad old for that), we love to quote Friends (that never gets old), and we are both the go-with-the-flow, but at the same time the OCD type of people. When I told her back in 2012 that I was moving to the UK, she was extremely supportive and continues to wish us the best (while encouraging us to move to another awesome location after London haha). Most importantly, Lauren introduced me to The Hunger Games back in 2010 when she started teaching it to our 7th graders. Is she an awesome teacher or what?!?!?
During her seven day visit, we did a lot of walking, saw some sights, visited more than a few pubs, wandered into some stores, ate some fish-n-chips, and much much more! I wanted to show her IT ALL! She was also visiting New York City for a few nights after London, and well, I had to make sure London was unforgettable! Let's break down our week:

Thursday, April 17
-landed at London Heathrow at 10:10am
-waited almost 1.5 hours of going through passport control (due to the Easter holiday) - yikes!
-took the Piccadilly line to Earl's Court, then District line to Wimbledon
-had some coffee and cleaned up, then the fun began!
-started around 2:15pm
-took the train to Waterloo
-walked to see the London Eye
-crossed Westminster Bridge
-saw Palace of Westminster (Big Ben)
-saw Westminster Abbey
-1st pub stop at The Sanctuary House
-walked through St James' Park
-saw some Royal Guards up close at Stable Yard
-walked to see Buckingham Palace
-walked through Green Park
-2nd pub stop at Kings Arms
-took the Jubilee line to Waterloo, then the train to Wimbledon
-3rd pub stop at The Alexandra
-home for dinner
-finished around 6:30pm

Friday, April 18 - Luke included
-started around 11am
-took District line to Tower Hill
-walked to Tower of London, toured Tower of London
-saw and crossed Tower bridge
-walked along the river seeing City Hall, HMS Belfast, Hay's Galleria, and of course The Shard
-ate lunch at Borough market
-4th pub stop at The Anchor
-walked along the river seeing the Globe Theatre and the Millennium Bridge
-crossed Blackfriars Bridge
-5th pub stop at Blackfriars
-took the District line to Embankment
-walked to China Town for dinner at Mr. Kong
-saw Leicester Square
-6th pub stop at O'Neill's
-saw Les Misérables the Musical at the Queen's Theatre
-walked through Soho
-7th pub stop at St James Tavern
-walked to see Piccadilly Circus
-took the Bakerloo line to Waterloo, then the train to Wimbledon
-home around 12:30am

Saturday, April 19 - Luke included
-started around 11am
-River Boat tour from Westminster to Greenwich, seeing everything along the river!

-visited and ate lunch at Greenwich Market
-8th pub stop at Greenwich Tavern
-walked up the hill in Greenwich Park, taking in the beautiful view of London
-stood in the eastern and western hemispheres at the same time (the Prime Meridian)
-took the DLR to Shadwell then the Overground to Shoreditch High Street
-9th pub stop at Brewdog craft brewery
-stopped for shisha and tea at Hookah Lounge
-walked down Brick lane (the street full of vintage and curry)
-ate dinner at Tayyabs (Pakistani - so good!)
-took the Hammersmith and City line to Kings Cross St. Pancras
-snapped some pictures of Platform 9 and 3/4
-took the Circle line to Edgware Road
-stopped for shisha and tea at Queen of Sheba (a Yemeni restaurant)
-took the District line to Wimbledon
-home around 11:30pm

Sunday, April 20 - Luke included

Monday, April 21
-started around 11am
-took the District line to Blackfriars
-walked to St. Paul's Cathedral, toured St. Paul's Cathedral, climbed all 528 steps to the top of the dome
-10th pub stop at The Old Crown
-walked to and visited British museum, seeing the Rosetta Stone and some Egyptian artifacts
-took the Northern line to Waterloo, then the train to Wimbledon 
-walked up the hill to Wimbledon Village
-11th pub stop at the Dog & Fox
-12th pub stop at The Swan
-home around 7:30pm for dinner

Tuesday, April 22
-started around 11am
-took the train to Waterloo
-walked across the Golden Jubilee Bridges
-walked to Trafalgar Square and saw Nelson's Column and also Queen Elizabeth Tower from a distance (Big Ben)
-visited the National gallery and saw a few pieces of art by Monet, Van Gogh, Degas and Manet
-walked to Seven Dials and through Neal's yard
-walked to Covent Garden Square
-visited Covent Garden Market for some souvenirs
-saw Savoy Court - the only place in the UK where cars drive on the right side of the road
-relaxed at afternoon tea at The Strand Palace
-checked out London's hidden Roman Bath
-visited the original Twinings shop
-13th pub stop at The George
-14th pub stop at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese where Charles Dickens frequented
-took the District line to Wimbledon
-15th pub stop at The Slug
-16th pub stop at All Bar One to eat Fish & chips for dinner
-home around 7pm

Wednesday, April 23
-started around 11am
-took the District line to Earl's Court, then the Piccadilly line to King's Cross St. Pancras
-visited The British Library and saw the Original Manuscript to Beowulf, some old pieces of music by Beethoven, the Magna Carta, and other old papers
-took the Victoria line to Oxford Circus
-walked along Oxford Street
-saw Marble Arch
-rented and rode bikes for about an hour in Hyde Park seeing Wellington Arch, Kensington Palace, the Serpentine, and the Albert Memorial
-17th pub stop at stop at Gloucester
-visited Harrods specifically the chocolate & tea departments, and the food halls
-18th pub stop at Bunch of Grapes
-took a double-decker bus to High Street Kensington
-walked to the 19th pub stop at Windsor Castle
-took the District line to Fulham Broadway
-stopped for dinner at Bodean's for BBQ rounding off 20 drinks for the week (haha!)
-took the District line to Wimbledon
-home around 7:30pm

Thursday, April 24
-left around 7am
-took the District line to Earl's Court, then Piccadilly line to Heathrow Terminal 4
-said our sad goodbyes :-(
-departed at 9:55am

What a week! Lauren was such a trooper! She went along with everything I came up with even if it was some random thing (e.g. the Roman Bath). Those of you that have visited London, especially on Debbie's itinerary, know how much walking we do, and it was no different for Lauren. She did not complain once, even when those pesky blistered appeared. I know how hard she worked to get herself to London, and I could not be more thankful for her visit! It was so much fun, and she gave me the lowdown on everything I have missed for the past 21 months! Thank you, Lauren, for a fantastic week!
Oh right! "the friendly toaster" --- Well, it's an inside joke between me, Lauren, and some of my former co-workers (the wolfpack) that involved the game Apples to Apples, the beach, too much sun and just a few adult beverages.

It was Queen Elizabeth II's 88th birthday the day that Lauren and I visited St. Paul's Cathedral, so the church bells rang non-stop for a few hours. Video:

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Istanbul, Turkey: Kariye Museum & Theodosian Wall

Actual date of this event: 6 April

One of our favorite days in Istanbul was when we ventured away from the high tourist areas to visit two other quieter attractions: Kariye Museum (also known as Chora Church) and the old wall of Constantinople (Theodosian Wall). Whenever we travel, I have a moment of "I can't believe I am here", and I start to choke up a bit from amazement of where I am standing (cheesy, but it's true). Walking on the wall was one of those moments (it actually happened a few times in Istanbul).
We took the longer trek via metro to the Western District, which did not put us right by the museum. When we got off the metro, we had to weave in and out through a few not-so-safe neighborhoods before we reached our destination. We had read that this area was more conservative, so due to that, I did not want to take my jacket off, so I was sweating and becoming cranky-Debbie because we were walking uphill... but cranky-Debbie is probably the better Debbie in a not so safe neighborhood. I kept my cool though :-)
We arrived anyway, so all was good :-) The original building of the Chora Church was built sometime in the 5th century, but since then, it has been destroyed and/or reconstructed at least five times. The current building is full of mosaics and frescoes which dates back to the early 1300's. The decor was in really good shape considering how old it is and that curious people (*cough*Luke*cough*) touch it. Parts of the museum were closed off, so we could only see a few rooms, but thankfully, there were not too many other people that chose to visit. I am sure it helped that there was entrance fee (which was included in our museum pass) and that it isn't too easy to get to.

After visiting the Kariye Museum, we had a snack at the cafe just outside of the museum. It wasn't the best of food but who cares when it's a beautiful day! Next, we wandered just a tad bit more uphill to get to the Theodosian Wall. I am so thankful we chose to start at the museum because our walk uphill from the metro was much less gruesome than if we had flipped it around and started at the waterfront (which is what the guidebook recommended).
Istanbul has a very extensive history which makes it one of the most unique cities in the world. Several sets of walls have been built under different leaders: Serverus, Constantine I, Constantius II, and Theodosius II. The walls were originally built in the 4th-5th century to protect the city of Constantinople as it became the capital of the Roman Empire. Today, the walls are slowly being restored for visitors to enjoy. There were a few sets of stairs (with no railing) where visitors could climb to the top to walk on the 12 meter (39 feet) wall.

Several parts of the wall are in ruins, so you can only walk so far before you come to a drop-off. It is not the safest activity especially since it is very windy on top, but the stairs and wall are pretty wide so only only a true idiot person could really fall off. I had no idea that there would be an amazing view when we got to the top!

After snapping our pictures and taking a little video...
...we walked our way along the wall and back down to the Golden Horn. We wandered by what looked like a Sunday flea market, and then in some very quiet neighborhoods. We were still in the conservative area, but this time my jacket was off. A lady walking passed me made some sort of comment at me, not looking too happy, and I assume it was because I had my arms showing. Or maybe because I just didn't look one bit like I fit in with the rest. But it made me feel a little uneasy, so I decided to put my jacket back on. Problem solved??? Who knows? We also saw a few more parts of the wall, and a nice gentleman (not asking for money) told us about one of the sights. But we had no idea what he was saying because he was speaking in Turkish. It was kind of him though :-)

I really wanted to visit Pierre Loti hill, but we didn't have time (nor enough money on our Istanbulkarts [transport cards] for the journey), so we wandered in Balat Parkı while we waited for our ferry back to Eminönü. 

But I will talk about our ferry journeys in my next post about Istanbul. April 6th, 2014 was one of my most favorite days of my entire life!

Other Istanbul Posts: Galata TowerBeyoğluThe MosquesHagia Sophia & Basilica CisternTopkapi PalaceThe Bazaars & Galata BridgeKariye Museum & Theodosian WallBosphorus & Golden HornKadıköy

Istanbul has never hosted the Olympic games. It was runner-up for the 2020 games, losing to Tokyo. The city plans to campaign for the 2024 Olympics.
RANDOM OLYMPIC GAMES FACT - while I'm talking about the Olympics:
Did y'all know that Rio de Janeiro is way behind in their preparations for the 2016 Summer Olympics? Although highly unlikely, if Rio doesn't get their act together, the games could be hosted in London again.

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