Sunday, March 30, 2008

Caribou Play NYC's Bowery Ballroom, 3.28.08

Caribou put on a high-energy show Friday night in New York City's Bowery Ballroom, providing the packed venue with a night of eclectic and solid musicianship.

It was my first time seeing Caribou, masterminded by multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Dan Snaith, in a live capacity. Even though I don't fall into the category of die-hard fan, I was curious to hear how the music translated live. I'm happy to report that those of us attending the concert were not left disappointed, as many of the songs sounded even better than their studio counterparts.

The set up was simple enough. Snaith and three more musicians (Andy Lloyd, Ryan Smith, and Brad Weber) played a set of approximately 90 minutes, rarely pausing to speak to the audience and barely creating a scene. Psychedelic graphics were projected onto a backdrop, mirroring the sixties-inspired aspects of Caribou's music.

The music itself was gorgeous, with lush and textured instrumentation by a band that clearly wants to sound its very best. The setlist included a variety of songs from Caribou's catalogue including the breezy "Melody Day," "Sundialing," and the recent single "She's the One" from 2007's Andorra. While there were a few occasions where the vocals seemed to get drowned out by the instrumentation, this didn't hurt the songs' overall sound, especially since the vocals don't tend to be the main focus of Caribou's music.

The percussion was easily the highlight of the night, with the drum kits set up right in the middle of the stage. Drummer Brad Weber was a powerful performer who only broke out of his trancelike state a few times to smile for an appreciative crowd. The intensity of his drumming increased throughout the night and at one point, culminated with him actually clamoring on top of his drum kit with concertgoers shouting, "Incredible!"

And of course, Snaith was equally inspiring throughout his performance, deftly switching from guitar, to keyboard, to drums throughout the night — he even whipped out the woodwinds at one point! But once again, it was best when he took on the drums, going head to head with Weber. The dueling-drum effect had the whole crowd bopping their heads and swaying to the rhythms. I've been to other shows with incredible drumming, but this was one of the first times I found myself so fascinated by it. It's pretty rare for percussion to be given the front-and-center treatment, which may be why I found it so mesmerizing.

Caribou ended the night on a high note, coming back for a one-song encore where a bandmate announced that Snaith had turned 30 years old while performing on stage. After yet another energetic percussive performance, the band left the stage, to cries of "Happy Birthday!" from the crowd.

The Fuck Buttons, who opened for Caribou, were also pretty fantastic and eclectic. Using electronic equipment and percussion instruments, the duo played a gapless 40-minute set that combined tribal rhythms, the sampled sounds of spacey chimes and grinding guitars, along with angry distorted vocals that never detracted from the music itself. The set maintained a moody atmosphere throughout, even as it grew increasingly energized via the presence of thumping beats.

The act was able to get a somewhat positive reaction out of some audience members, which is a promising sign considering how many opening acts have left the crowd cold at other concerts I've attended. Though the set did feel like it was dragging slightly towards the end, the Fuck Buttons put on a strong performance, contributing to a great night for music fans who were looking for something that was both fun and experimental.

(You may also check out this review here).

Saturday, March 29, 2008

England Travelblogue: Final Thoughts

This will be the last of my posts about England, even though I probably could write a lot more. This was my first time making an international trip on my own and I have to say I'm really glad I chose this as my destination.

Simply put, England is one of the most tourist-friendly places I've ever been to. This applies especially to parts of London, where even the crosswalks are painted with instructions to look right first when crossing the road. Everyone seems happy to help, regardless of what their own personal opinions of tourists might be.

Here, I recall my first day traveling in London via the Underground. Much to my dismay, my day pass stopped working at the turnstiles after the first time I used it. Now usually, there are attendants around to help you in these situations and I was able to get their help during most of the day. But when I arrived at my first stop — Tower Hill Station — and saw no attendant in the vicinity after realizing I couldn't use my pass to let myself out, I felt a mild sense of panic.

When I spotted a woman pausing to get her Oyster Card out, I approached her and explained my situation (American accent and all), showing her my day pass. When she saw I genuinely couldn't get through, she used her own pass to help me out.

In other situations, I didn't have to ask for help. The next time I bought a day pass was during peak morning hours. I had asked for a Zones 1-4 pass to avoid any problems with my travels that day. The man selling me my pass told me it would be £10, then paused to ask me where I'd be going. When I told him my final destination for the day, he told me that it was still within Zone 3, so that would be £8 instead. He could probably tell that I wasn't from around the area, accent aside since there are Americans residing in London, but I was still grateful. After all, he certainly wasn't obligated to tell me which ticket would be best.

Honestly, the public transportation system — Underground, Overground, and buses included — is something that really impressed me. As a veteran of the New York/New Jersey system, which can confuse people at first, I loved how simple everything was. Tube maps were everywhere and it was easy to decipher where I needed to transfer. People remained polite even when the trains were packed with commuters. While the trains did get stuffy and it could sometimes be difficult to find a seat, there was no pushing or shoving involved. I have to admit that I found this a pleasant change from my usual experiences as a commuter.

I'm sure there are parts of England that may be somewhat unpleasant because no country is perfect. But overall, it really is a place where you can have a wonderful time, jam packed with activities, delicious food, and gorgeous sights. I think it's the sort of destination that is pleasant for experienced and inexperienced travelers alike. As a result, I fully intend to go back someday for a mix of additional sightseeing and a chance to just relax and immerse myself in everyday life.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

England Travelblogue: Eats and Treats

As my previous posts indicate, there are copious historical monuments to see when you're visiting England. In addition to the ones I've already written about, there are places like Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and more.

But traveling isn't just about ogling all the major monuments one can find. It's equally important to make some time to check out local eateries and shops. You get the chance to mingle with the people and there are plenty of opportunities to buy neat souvenirs at the latter, sparing you from spending all your money on toffee tins in the shape of double decker buses and telephone booth keychains.

So while my England itinerary was pretty packed, I made it a point to do a little shopping and exploring while I was in London. None of these places are obscure by any means, but they added some variety to my typical-tourist schedule, so I'll be discussing my favorites here.

La Crêperie de Hampstead
This glorified shack can be found in Hampstead, a picturesque suburb of London. I was lucky to go at a time when it wasn't very crowded, but I've heard that there are often huge lines at this fairly legendary place, full of people waiting to get their savory or sweet crêpes. I never thought you could buy crêpes from a cart on the side of the road, but you definitely can in Hampstead. And the amazing thing is, they're really really good! Possibly even better than any crêpes I've had at proper sit-down restaurants. All you have to do is put in your order, watch them prepare your crêpe of choice, and then eat it up once they've rolled it up and presented it to you.

I got a mushroom crêpe with garlic sauce that was absolutely delightful and I will most definitely go back for another one if I'm ever in the area again. Plus points for the Crêperie: the prices are very reasonable (most of the items on their surprisingly diverse menu seemed to be in the £3–£6 range, and while I'm sure this varies, this means that the oh-so-filling crêpes cost less than $10). Also, there is a tube station in Hampstead, making it easy for those staying in other parts of London to visit the Crêperie.

Covent Garden
This lovely little shopping district in London is a great place full of mainstream and offbeat shops, restaurants, and a couple of touristy spots such as the London Transport Museum. It's well known for the Covent Garden Market, filled with stalls of jewelry, clothing, home decor, and more. The area is bustling with activity and is also famous for the presence of street performers. While standing in the piazza and contemplating where to go for lunch, I was able to witness a very cheesy, yet energetic magician's act that kept the crowd oddly mesmerized.

Fun Find: I had my fair share of fun looking at the colorful jewelry available in the market area of Covent Garden. But I experienced my greatest moment of delight when I stumbled upon The Tintin Shop at 34 Floral Street. I've been feeling incredibly nostalgic for Tintin books and cartoons recently, so I couldn't believe my eyes when I realized that there was an actual store devoted to him. The shop caught my eye with a simple signboard featuring the title character and his dog. And before I knew it, I was inside purchasing a notebook, postcards, and a magnet, all the while resisting urges to purchase pins (badges) and other pointless, but adorable goods. The store contains everything from t-shirts to pencil cases. So if you're a Tintin fan, or even only moderately nostalgic for the days when you might have read Tintin comics, you absolutely must stop in this shop.

Camden Market
Last but not least, there's Camden Town's Camden Market, one of the most popular visitor attractions in London. This is the place to go if you're looking for a slightly different shopping experience. Punk-inspired clothing stores are everywhere and you can pass through countless stalls featuring band t-shirts, unique tote bags, hand-painted clothing, ethnic foods, and handmade jewelry. I was able to buy myself a fun pair of earrings in the shape of eighth notes, along with a messenger bag featuring an image from one of my favorite Lichtenstein paintings.

Noteworthy: I really enjoyed myself at Out on the Floor, a multi-level record store that sells the majority of its music in vinyl format. I've been yearning for a more "old-school" music shopping experience lately, especially since I tend to order most of my music online ever since one of my favorite local music stores shut down.

Anyway, Out on the Floor has really great variety — you can buy blues, punk, post-punk, Britpop, and lots more in vinyl format. I was able to find a couple of fun 45 rpm singles to send to friends and I was happy to discover that the man working on the floor with the Britpop albums was very willing to help me find what I was looking for. When I asked if they happened to have any Blur vinyls, he confessed that it's very rare for a person to find them.

But though I did not prod him much further, he actually went off and came back with an armload of used Blur CD singles and imports, even pointing out that they had some "Coxon." (Here, he was referring to solo albums by former Blur guitarist, Graham Coxon). I was really thrilled by this, not just because I was able to pick out a Blur single, but because the guy was actually very nice! As much as I love browsing through actual record stores, I must admit that I've soured on the experience a few times thanks to the elitism of holier-than-thou store clerks.

In addition to this lovely record store, I just had a lot of fun exploring the Stables Market portion of Camden Market. This area has an old-fashioned element to it, but is simultaneously very 21st century, thanks to the presence of alternative, subculture-oriented stores and stalls. I was very intrigued by the presence of Cyberdog, a store that made me feel as though I had been transported into a futuristic rave. Brightly colored, sci-fi inspired clothing is everywhere and some of the items were quite strangely designed. But while its products don't necessarily match my tastes, Cyberdog still managed to be a fun place for me to walk through.

Going through these parts of London, I realized that it wasn't necessary for me to go shopping all over town. I realized that it is fairly possible to have a unique shopping experience at these hotspots. So if you ever find yourself in town, make it a point to stop by some of the places mentioned above. Doing so will definitely help make your trip more memorable.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

England Travelblogue: The Museum Debate

When you're in London, you absolutely need to take advantage of the city's great museums. There are a lot to choose from: The Tate Modern, The National Gallery, The British Museum. The list could go on and on. And because there is no required admission fee at these museums — though patrons are encouraged to donate as little as £2.00 — there really are no excuses for people to avoid visiting them.

For me, it was always a dream to visit The British Museum. Nerdy, I know, but what else can you expect after reading about my other adventures?

It's just that as someone who is fascinated by Egyptology, though I'm definitely not an expert, it's always been my desire to see objects like the Rosetta Stone in person. Knowing that the museum houses one of the best Ancient Egyptian collections in the world, and knowing that the museum's overall collection itself has quite a fabulous reputation, I felt it was important for me to stop by and take a good look.

I had a field day as I wandered through the Ancient Egyptian section. I scrutinized sarcophagi, gawked at giant scarab sculptures, and stood in front of the Rosetta Stone in disbelief, only to be pulled out of my stupor by the adorable chatter of little French schoolchildren that had also gathered around to look at it.

And I found myself drawn to other ancient structures as well, such as the gorgeous Nereid Monument, pictured below.

But I bet you can sense the trend here and someone I know actually made the observation herself before I made the visit. "The problem," she said, "is that the majority of the things in The British Museum aren't actually British."

I've never really considered this a problem in the past. But I will admit that I had my first moment of museum "guilt" back when I went to the "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs" exhibition at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. As much as I loved everything I saw that day, I occasionally found myself wondering if we had much of a right to look over the contents that once belonged inside an ancient Egyptian tomb. I wondered if it was really proper for the exhibition to make its way through the United States and other parts of the world, away from its country of origin.

I didn't necessarily experience such feelings of guilt while visiting the British Museum, but I couldn't help thinking back to the comment my acquaintance had made. Was it a problem that the items in the museum had been acquired from other parts of the world? In a way, I felt it wasn't. But I realized that some might consider it problematic due to the history of the British Empire. It is unfortunately likely that some of the items there can be linked back to a history of oppression. So I guess the question is, should one country's history affect the way we view international collections at its museums?

While some people may still have mixed feelings about places like The British Museum, I think we've reached a point in time where some of these thoughts might be somewhat irrelevant. This does not mean that we should disregard historical events. However, considering the fact that countries around the world contain artifacts and works of art that originally came from elsewhere, it would be unfair to look at The British Museum as the only example of its kind. After all, other major museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, also contain collections from around the world. You can't let a country's past affect the way we view it in the present, especially when no actual harm is being done.

And in many ways, it's important to remember that museums exist for the sole purpose of preserving the past. Sure, items get dug up and uprooted from their home countries. But in some cases, this is actually a good thing.

I can't recall specific examples off the top of my head at this point, but I do remember seeing some items at The British Museum that came from now war-torn regions of the Middle East. There is a sad possibility that if these artifacts hadn't been brought to the museum, they wouldn't be with us at all.

While history may get uprooted in our ever-changing world, I feel it's more important to keep pieces of it intact instead of losing it forever. So even though certain aspects of museums may rub a few people the wrong way, it's probably best to think about the ways in which they do benefit our lives and contribute to our knowledge of the human race.

England Travelblogue: Castlemania

I've always felt that when you're traveling abroad, you ought to check out the major monuments that are very different from the types you might find back in your own home. And while aspects of England aren't terribly different from the United States, it is home to a variety of castles and other types of similar monuments that are unlike what I've seen here before.

Now people might argue that castles of some variety can be found in the United States. And true, there are quite a few estates and buildings that have been modeled to look a lot like these medieval structures. But at the end of the day, nothing beats the genuine article.

While traveling through England, I had the chance to visit two major castles as well as the incredibly famous Tower of London. All three monuments proved to be some of the most fascinating places I had a chance to visit during my trip. And each was different in its own way.

Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle, located in a town that shares its name, is one of the oldest castles in England that continues to be used today. The grounds are huge and there's plenty to see in the upper and lower wards. But while it's fun getting to see typical castle architecture up close, it's even more worth it to go inside the State Apartments, which are open for the public to see.

Right before you enter the State Apartments, you can take a look at one of the Castle's major tourist attractions — Queen Mary's Dolls' House. The doll house is a mini mansion and every little piece of it is amazingly detailed. The house is filled with miniature carpets, furniture, and books. And from what I've read, it even has a flushable toilet in there!

In addition to the doll house, you can also get a look at France and Marianne — two dolls gifted to Princesses Mary and Elizabeth in 1938 as a gesture from France — and their accompanying dresses and accessories. Both dolls were dressed more nicely than I probably ever will be in my lifetime, so I have to admit, I was pretty impressed by them.

Nonetheless, I didn't really grasp the reality of where I was until I entered the state apartments, which are lavishly decorated in a manner that seems almost otherworldly. One room is lined with old muskets and weaponry from floor to ceiling, while other rooms had a more palace-like quality. Gold trims, massive furniture, lush fabrics, and even intricately painted ceilings can be seen as you wander from room to room. And I suppose all of this should be expected when you're going through a royal castle.

But while I was wandering through either the reception hall or sitting area, one of the guides posted in the corner of the room was talking to another visitor and informing him that the bar for special events was often set up where she was standing. And that's when it hit me — Windsor Castle is one of those places where ancient traditions and modern life collide. In a way, it just seems unreal considering the world we live in today. While Windsor Castle isn't the only royal residence in the world right now, it's still a pretty unique place. In my opinion, this is definitely one of the reasons why visiting this castle is worth it.

The Tower of London
This was one of my favorite things about my trip to England and I really believe that it lives up to its hype. Since I was trying to save time, I didn't end up taking one of the Beefeater tours. But despite wandering around on my own, I was able to entertain myself enough to stick around for two to three hours. I'm sure I might have stayed longer if I didn't plan on following my agenda for the day so closely.

The Tower is a sightseer's delight — with its ancient history and ghost stories, the uneven floors, cramped medieval stairways and passageways, and the presence of Beefeaters, it's a great place for a history lesson and fun photo opportunities. While traveling through the Tower, I got a chance to see quite a few neat things, including old-style graffiti left behind by former prisoners many centuries ago. Actors were present in the medieval palace portion of the tower, staying in character even while interacting with the audiences gathering in front of them, which also added to the fun. I found myself eager to go from tower to tower, even as I grew increasingly tired from walking around.

Of course, one of the other great things about visiting the Tower is the presence of the Jewel House, home of the crown jewels. I actually really liked the way this was set up. At first, I found the house a bit intimidating because walking into it is like walking into a giant vault. However, I found it really visitor friendly in the way that each piece was arranged. By the time you hit the major jewels — such as the Kohinoor Diamond — visitors are expected to stand on airport-style moving floors. This allows them to take a look at the jewels without a problem and without blocking someone else's view. (A part of me now wishes this had been the case at the British Museum, while everyone crowded around the Rosetta Stone. It would have been useful!)

Anyway, despite traveling through the Tower pretty extensively on my own, I still feel as though that a lot more can be seen there. I definitely intend to go back at some point and maybe this time, I'll take a Beefeater tour!

Warwick Castle
This was the last actual castle I had a chance to see before my trip ended and I have to say that this too was a lot of fun. The castle grounds are absolutely beautiful (there's a mill set up in the back and though I skipped it, I also know that there happens to be a rose garden in another area).

The fun thing about Warwick Castle is the fact that you can explore it fairly extensively. I actually had a chance to venture into the dungeon, which was simultaneously fun and depressing due to its cramped, dark atmosphere. And because the castle actually belongs to the Tussauds Group now, a lot of the rooms are filled with wax figures that are meant to represent castle life. Some of these figures were actually rather creepy, but this also added an extra-fun element to the castle. In fact, I got so used to seeing wax figures everywhere, I nearly jumped out of my skin when a guide dressed as a peasant woman came skulking out of the shadows at one point!

This castle is nowhere near as large as the Tower of London or Windsor Castle, but thanks to its architecture and the presence of stocks and a dungeon on its premises, Warwick Castle has its own special charm. I hadn't really thought about going there until I planned my day trip to other destinations, but now I'm really glad I had the opportunity to check it out because every castle and fortress really is unique in its own way.

Monday, March 24, 2008

England Travelblogue: Let's Get Literary

England has produced a variety of famous writers, ranging from the likes of Samuel Richardson to Douglas Adams, over the centuries. With its strong literary history, bookish types like myself can really have a field day finding out more about their favorite writers' roots. There are many famous landmarks and museums that people can visit in order to do this.

Since I had a lot of things I wanted to do while I was in England, I realized that I wouldn't be able to visit every literary point of interest. So I decided to focus on two of the country's most renowned writers: Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare.

My first stop was the Charles Dickens Museum, located on 48 Doughty Street in London. Dickens actually lived in the house, and while it was only for a brief period of approximately two years, he did happen to write The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, and Nicholas Nickleby while residing there. Also, while Dickens lived in numerous houses during his lifetime, this is the only London residence that has survived to this day.

Now because the house is a museum, you get to see a lot of items from many periods of Dickens' career and personal life. Among the items on display are his wife's turquoise and gold engagement ring, a partially-preserved manuscript of The Pickwick Papers, and a court suit worn to royal functions. Each room provides the visitor with the opportunity for a history lesson — there was quite a bit of information regarding his eventual separation from his wife and the questionable relationship he then had with a much younger actress. And there was also a room with family trees, portraits, and placards that outlined what each of his children ended up doing with their lives. At some moments, it felt as though the house was like a history lesson and a classy version of Page Six gossip, all rolled into one.

Ultimately, while the house is not terribly large, it manages to serve as an excellent museum that does Dickens plenty of justice. Walking through the rooms and hallways of the house was amazing, especially when I actually stopped and realized that Dickens had done the same two centuries before me. Since it doesn't take terribly long to tour this little house-turned-museum, I think it's a good idea for bookworms and history buffs to stop by and check it out.

But while the Dickens house is a fun and nifty piece of the past, it probably would be a crime not to visit one of London's biggest attractions: the reconstructed Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. Though this is not a structure that was actually around during the famous playwright's time, it's still worth visiting. And because I spent a year in college studying Shakespeare's Elizabethan and Jacobean plays, I felt it would be near blasphemy if I did not stop here.

There are a variety of tours offered at the Globe Theatre, but because of time constraints, I only ended up taking the Rose Theatre Tour. Now there is no actual reconstruction of the Rose Theatre, but the architectural site — where its foundations and some remnants were discovered — is something that you can see on the tour. This is the less famous theatre from Shakespeare's time, but nonetheless, it does have its own important history. My tour guide integrated various facts about Shakespeare and this theatre while taking us around the area, and I thought it was all good fun.

After taking us through the Rose Theatre tour, he also showed us the area where the Globe Theatre once stood. Because the area is now covered by another building that is a couple of centuries old, they can't really reconstruct any aspects of the theatre in its original location. But he then took us quickly through the current model of the Globe Theatre, pictured here, which is supposed to be a fairly faithful duplicate of the original. I have to admit that even though it wasn't Shakespeare's stage itself, it was fascinating to see how theatres of the past were once constructed. I really want to go back one day and watch a play here when I get a chance. But I'm not sure if I'll be motivated enough to endure watching a play as a groundling. We'll just have to see!

However, while the Globe Theatre and the accompanying museum-of-sorts (with artifacts and information pertaining to Shakespeare's era) are a lot of fun to check out, those seeking the "authentic" Shakespearean experience absolutely have to go to Stratford-Upon-Avon. This quaint river town is a charming mix of old and new. While it is home to the house that Shakespeare was born in and even has a Museum of Witchcraft and Wizardology, the town also has plenty of modern institutions including an H&M and Barclays.

I went on a day trip with a tour group when I went to Stratford-Upon-Avon, so because of that, I didn't get a chance to see every single attraction in and around the town. This is an unfortunate fact, especially since there actually is a lot more to the town than its connection to Shakespeare, but this only gives me another reason to return there. That being said, I did take advantage of the fact that I was actually in Shakespeare's hometown, and naturally made a visit to the house known as Shakespeare's Birthplace.

The house is a thrilling place to visit because it still has an authentic 16th-century vibe. The rooms inside the house have been refurbished so that visitors can get a chance to see what life during Shakespeare's time was like. One of the rooms is a recreation of a glove-making workshop, meant to represent a workshop similar to the one that Shakespeare's own father must have worked in.

Rooms are filled with Elizabethan furniture and you can also visit the room in which it is likely that Shakespeare was actually born. It was really amazing for me to be inside this house, perhaps even more amazing than it was to be inside the Dickens house. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that the 19th century does feel a lot more recent compared to the Renaissance, which feels like a far more ancient era in comparison. In addition to the house, I was also able to visit the visitors' center, which contained a lot of nifty items including the First Folio of his completed works, which dates back to the late 1600s.

All of this was really fascinating and I wish I'd had the chance to visit the other houses — such as Anne Hathaway's cottage — connected to Shakespeare. I also wish I'd had an opportunity to visit other authors' homes. But ultimately, it was amazing that I'd had a chance to visit all the sites that I did get to see. Someday, I hope to return to England and see even more of the many literary locations that are open to visitors.

Friday, March 21, 2008

England Travelblogue: Introduction

I had the pleasure of traveling to England for the first time last week. It's always been my dream to travel extensively, but aside from a somewhat "international" childhood — which began in another hemisphere and ended with me here in the United States — I never really had the chance to explore the world in the way that I desired. Flight layovers in places like France and Hong Kong just aren't enough when you find yourself yearning to get truly immersed in another country's culture and history.

A few years ago, I decided that I was going to make it a point to start traveling. I drafted a long list of cities and countries, which I amend every now and then, and kept staring at these countries thinking that one day, I'd start seeing all of them. But a few months ago, I realized that while a list was all fine and well, it was more important to really make a move and go somewhere.

So I chose England.

Some of you might wonder why I decided on England — compared to other destinations on my list, like Machu Picchu and Thailand, it might seem rather "vanilla." But for me, it was a dream to visit this country. Having unconsciously developed into an Anglophile over the past few years, I felt it was my duty to make a pilgrimage to the land of Shakespeare and Britpop.

The thing that was unique about this trip was the fact that I decided to do it alone. With friends and family unable to accompany me across the pond, I still felt the need to go. I wasn't alone in the traditional sense because I was able to make arrangements to stay with some relatives while I was there. But I had to do a lot of planning by myself and there was a three-day period where I was flying solo as I traveled both in and outside of London.

So I sat down and thought about all the things I wanted to see. I knew I couldn't see it all in one go, so I decided to prioritize things. What were the places I absolutely needed to see? There were the obvious choices like Buckingham Palace and Big Ben, but I also knew I wanted to visit the places that suited my personality.

I made it a point to visit the literary places like Charles Dickens House, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, and Stratford-Upon-Avon. In an attempt to expand my horizons a bit, I decided to visit Stratford by taking a day trip offered by Golden Tours. The trip allowed me an opportunity to visit Oxford and Warwick Castle in addition to Shakespeare's birthplace, and I'm really glad I took it. Even though trips of this sort are teasers that don't allow you the time to explore everything to a great length, they're an excellent way to experience something different in a short period of time.

Aside from arranging the day trip and coming up with a basic list of all the things I wanted to do and see, I didn't plan an official itinerary until I actually got to England. (This was actually a smart plan, because the Monday that I was there was also one of the stormiest days in England's history! So I decided to make that a museum day in an effort to take refuge from the wind and rain).

But the best thing I did do was figure out where each landmark was. This allowed me to figure out how much I could see at once. (For example, I was able to sort out that after seeing the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, I could take a bus across to the Tate Modern, see the Globe Theatre since it was next door, then walk across the Millennium Bridge to St. Paul's Cathedral before calling it quits. And believe it or not, I did manage to see all of these things in one day!) My flexible planning definitely paid off at the end and I was able to have quite a memorable trip.

I'll be spending the next week writing about this trip from a variety of angles, sparing you all from details of my day-to-day activities. So sit back and relax, because there's definitely more to come!