Mel came to visit last Saturday. I went to bed on Friday, April 3, after hanging out at Chad's flat for a bit. I had called for a taxi to pick me up at 5:30 and take me to the rail station to catch my 6am train to London. At 2:45am I got a call from Dad telling me that Mel had missed her flight. Check-in should have taken two hours or less, as normal, but since the desks at United didn't have enough people, Mel was in line for over three hours and by the time she got to the desk to check in, it was too late. Stupid United.
I called the taxi to cancel my ride and went back to bed. The next morning I got a message on Facebook that Mel would be coming on a different flight that would land at 10pm. I booked a hotel room at the Holiday Inn near Heathrow, since I figured it would be easier to stay the night there than try and get a bus or train back to Norwich at that time of night. Chad's friend Chris was visiting, so the three of us went down to the rail station so I could buy new tickets. It was a beautiful day, so after I was finished at the rail station we went to the market, bought pasties, and sat on the steps of the Forum to eat. I left Norwich later that afternoon. Since it was a weekend, my travels were a little bit more complicated than normal, but I managed to get to Heathrow about ten minutes before Mel's walked through the Arrivals gate. It was really great to see her. I had been feeling pretty homesick for a few days, probably in anticipation of seeing my sister, and it felt good to look forward to a week together. We bought sandwiches at the airport, got the bus to our hotel, and settled in for the night.
April 5: The next morning we got up early, took a bus back to Heathrow, and got to Tube all the way back to Liverpool Street Station. We took a local train from Liverpool St. to Billericay, a town about an hour outside of London, then a bus from Billericay to Ipswich. We had about 45minutes to wait in Ipswich for our train to Norwich, so we walked partway into town, then doubled back and got a quick drink at the pub next to the rail station. It would have been perfect, execpt my watch was about five minutes slow, so we got onto the platform literally a minute after our train left. It was another hour until the next train to Norwich, but we didn't want to risk missing it again, so we just sat by the river for about 40 minutes and talked before heading back to the rail station. The rest of the journey went smoothly. We got the bus back to campus around 4pm. Mel settled into my room and we talked for a while. Sophie was online and she invited us to dinner at her boyfriend Max's house later that night. A couple other Circus people were down in the Square having a juggle, so we decided to meet there at 5:30pm, play around for a bit, and go eat dinner. I did some poi and juggling, saw Matt (who has bleached his hair), Jak, and Robin. Sophie and Max showed up eventually, and then I called Alex, who I hadn't seen in weeks, to come join us. I think Mel was bored. She didn't say much while we were down in the Square. Around 7:30 Max, Sophie, Alex, Mel, and I headed over to Max's house, about a 20min. walk from campus. We were starving, but for some reason it took Sophie and Max three hours to cook curry for the five of us. Oh well. It was good in the end, and we had a good conversation in the meantime. Around 11:30 Mel, Alex, and I walked back toward the Village, leaving Alex to walk back to campus.
April 6: Back when I thought Mel would be coming in early on the 4th, I had planned to take her to Cambridge to go punting. Sophie had called a big group of people to come with us (since punting is easier and cheaper with more people), and had even gotten some friends to arrange a picnic. Unfortunately, since we lost a day, I decided not to take Mel to Cambridge. It's a lot prettier than Norwich, but it's not where I've spent the last eight months. I wanted Mel to see where I had lived. So we hooked up with my friend Chris from the Dickinson Program, whose friend Joey was visiting. The four of us went down to Norwich and walked around, getting pasties in the market, looking in TopShop, and sitting over by St. Peter Mancroft. It was another lovely day. We had cream tea at the Briton Arms teahouse on Elm Hill, walked around Norwich Cathedral, and then went back my flat. I made a quick dinner as we got ready to go to the theatre that night.
That night we saw Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot starring Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart at Norwich's Theatre Royal. I think Mel was a bit bored and tired, but it loved it. It was a fantastic show! By far the best show I've seen since I've been here. Afterwards, I dragged Mel out to the stage door with Emma, Zach, Meghan, Lauren, and Chris to wait for autographs, but someone came to the door and said that the actors wouldn't be coming out that door, so we'd better just move along. So sad. But at least I got to see them act. They were fantastic.
After the show Mel wanted to go to a pub. I was going to call up my friend Stephen, who I haven't seen in months, but my phone was out of money, so I couldn't. Mel and I went to the Bell Hotel and got a pint. She drinks pretty fast, but handles it well and kept track of her blood sugar throughout. As the pub was closing up Mel asked if there was anywhere to get french fries. I chuckled and led her down Prince of Wales Road. Prince of Wales has most of the clubs and bars on it, and a number of greasy kebab and pizza shops that only open late at night to serve the drunk people who are out in numbers. We got some chips and took the bus back to campus.
April 7: Our train to London left at 1pm, so I called up my friend Pawel to come meet us in town for a short while before we left. As we were on the bus into town, he texted me back and said he was in a really bad mood and didn't want to see anyone, so Mel never got to meet him. I'm sure I'll find out what was wrong eventually. In any case, Mel and I sat at the rail station for a bit, got some tea, and then boarded our train. We got to the Arran House Hotel about 3, set our stuff down in the hostel room, and then Mel wanted to go somewhere. I called up Alan, who lives about 45 minutes away and said he would meet us in London to go to dinner, and he said he'd meet us in Trafalgar Square at 5:15. Mel and I walked over to the British Museum for a bit, saw the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles, but Mel wanted to see more of the city, so we went got on the Tube and headed down to Trafalgar Square. We watched the chalk artists and Mel took pictures of all the people. Alan showed up about 20 minutes later, and we walked down to Parliament. There was a protest going on outside of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, so Mel ran off to take pictures. It took about fifteen minutes until Alan and I were able to find Mel again, but as soon as we all together again we decided to get some dinner. I wanted to take them to my favorite pub, The Marlborough Head on Oxford Street. It's the one Bonnie showed me when I came to visit in 2006, and I loved it because it's sort of gothic-themed and its signature drinks are named after the Seven Deadly Sins. Well, it took us forever to walk there because I wasn't exactly sure where it was, but when we did finally find it I was hugely disappointed. Sometime in the past four months they've redecorated and now it looks like the most normal pub in the world. In any case, we got dinner and listened in as some other people participated in a pub quiz. After dinner we stopped by McDonald's (somewhere I would normally never stop) to get a Cadbury Creme Egg McFlurry. Good, but not as good as I expected it to be. Then we took the Tube down to the the Thames, walked along the Southbank, and played on my playground. Around 10 Alan had to leave to go home, so we got on the Tube and said goodbye to him at his stop. Then Mel and I went back to the Arran.
I had never stayed in the hostel room at the Arran before. It's not bad, just a bit of a different experience. It was slightly annoying, though, because the majority of people in the room was this group of young Danish people who looked like they had been there for a while. They weren't mean, just inconsiderate, talking loudly and keeping the light on late into the night. Oh well. No harm done. It just gave Mel and I something to laugh about.
April 8: We woke up, ate breakfast, and hung around the hotel until 10am or so. Then Mel and I took the Tube up to Camden Market, London's hip, alternative district. I expected stores to be open, but most things weren't open until around noon, so we walked around, checked in at the places that were open, and stopped at coffee shop for a bit. Then we walked around again, and I made sure to take her to CyberDog, a raver's paradise. The clothes all look like they were made for the Jetsons and everything glows in the dark. It's fantastic, but expensive. Mel and I each got a really basic t-shirt just as a souvenir. My friend Alex met up with us around 1pm. We got lunch and sat in a square in the middle of the market, then walked up to Regent's Park. There was an odd playground thing made out of smoothed logs and a very large net. We sat on the net and climbed on it, with Mel and Alex complaining about the stupid design of the playground and the inadequacy of the net, yelling at small children that they were foolish and going to fall through the net to their doom.
We took the Tube down to the Southbank again, walked the Southbank and went into the Tate Modern just before it closed. I still don't get modern art, but I'll go with Alex's interpretation that "such and such represents society, while such and such represents the individual..." It seems to work for almost anything.
Alex had to meet some friends later that night, so we bid him adieu somewhere over by Borough Market. Mel and I walked across the Millenium Bridge to Saint Paul's. I took her to see the Lloyd's building. She wanted to see Fleet Street, so we went over that way. We were going to get Indian food closer to the hotel, but the nearest Tube stop was still a ways off, and we had been walking all day, so we settled for a Pizza Express, which, despite the name, is a very nice chain restaurant with good food. After dinner we went back to the hotel, sat around for a short while, and then went to the pub around the corner for a drink.
April 9: We slept through breakfast at the Arran but ate at the Patisserie Valierie that was around the corner. I've gotten sandwiches and things there before but never a full meal. It was good. After breakfast Mel and I went to Harrod's for a bit, then went across town to the Tower of London. Tickets to the Tower are relatively expensive, so we just sat around and looked at it from the outside. We've both been there before. At one point we were in the gift shop and Mel literally ran into her friend Barrett from back home. It was funny. But they didn't get to talk for long because he had to run to make his tour at Parliament, so she said a quick goodbye to him. After that, Mel and I went to a pub near the Tower. It was offering a special Curry Club deal, so we ordered pub curry, which is good, but not as good as the more authentic stuff you can find at the multitude of Indian restaurants in England. At 6:30 we got tickets to a Jack the Ripper tour of Whitechapel that left from the Tower. The tourguide was young, enthusiastic, and dramatic. And he speaks French and we even talked about Doctor Who as we were walking from one site to another. I sort of wish I had asked for his email or something...
In any case, there was this young American boy and his family along on the tour. The boy kept asking the tourguide a lot of questions. At one point as we were walking, the tourguide asked the boy where he was from and the kid answered "Loudoun County, Virginia." I burst out, "Wait, you're from Loudoun County, Virginia? I live in Leesburg!" Talking to his mother, I learned that she is a police officer in Loudoun who had lived in England for a while as a child. She was visiting London with her family for the week. It was the weirdest coincidence.
Mel and I bid farewell to our tourguide at Liverpool St. Station and walked off to Brick Lane for some real Indian food. The minute we found the street a guy came up to us and directed us to his restaurant, which was offering 20% off and a free bottle of wine. I figured why not? and we went there for dinner. The food was amazing and it was only ₤12 for the both of us. After dinner we walked through a deserted Spitafields Market and went back to the hotel.
April 10: We woke up early, packed, ate breakfast, and headed out to Heathrow. Mel checked in, we hugged, and I watched her walk through security to go home.
I got back on the Tube to go back to Liverpool St. Station, at the opposite end of London, to catch my train to Norwich. It was a long ride, but at least this time I had a book. Mel had lent me the book she brought on the trip with her and let me keep it after she bought a book Alex had recommended to her. The book is Escape, the memoir of a woman who escaped from the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints, the Warren Jeffs cult. The book was really interesting and entirely terrfying. It's hard to believe the kind of brainwashing that people undergo.
The Tube was under construction, so the trip was longer than I had anticipated. I had planned to meet Emma (one of my roommates from last year, currently studying in Toulouse, France) and her boyfriend Jed at the Tower of London. They were visiting London but leaving for Bath later that day. My phone was almost out of battery, but I called Emma and left a message saying I was at the Traitor's Gate entrance to the Tower and I'd wait there for the next half hour. I must have looked like a homeless person, just sitting under the tunnel at the entrance with a suitcase, reading and occasionally looking around for signs of Emma. Eventually she turned up. We walked closer to the Tower, talked for a bit, but then she and Jed had tickets for a tour of the Tower and I needed to catch my train, so we said goodbye and I headed out for the rail station. A short visit, but it was nice to see her, even for half an hour.
I managed to get my train an hour earlier than I had booked my ticket for, so I got into Norwich around 5:30pm. Before I even went home, though, I walked from the station to Morissons to go grocery shopping because I knew I had NO food in my flat. Then, with my duffle bag and two bags of groceries, I got on the bus to campus, then walked ten minutes to my flat. It was nice to be back.
I haven't left since.