Posted by: londontravels | December 11, 2009

Last Night in London

All of London sing, ’cause England swings the extra love the tales I bring. You know the rainy days they ain’t so bad when you’re the king, the king they want to see.

Fans by Kings of Leon

I feel like a king. I went from an oblivious foreigner to local Londoner in 3 and a half months. I went from walking around aimlessly hoping to just make it to the building where my classes were held, to conquering the public transportation, the streets, the different parts of this huge city.

Today two British women came up to me and asked me for directions. I knew exactly where they were talking about and I gave them appropriate directions. At that moment, I had the realization that my time here was done. 3 and a half months ago if someone asked me for directions I would simply tell them that I am not from around here and hurry off before even thinking about it. I still am not from here and never will be, but the fact that I was giving someone directions in their own environment brought this excursion full circle. I have completed my time here and now it is time for me to come home.

I must say, it is a bitter sweet feeling. I don’t think I will truly understand what I just did until I get back into the swing of things at home. One thing that all of my friends were telling me before I left was to leave Europe with no regrets. I can honestly say I did everything that I wanted to do (and more) and there isn’t one thing that I regret doing or not doing.

Everyone came here for different reasons. Steve came here to explore, Chris came here to work, Zach Farrell came here to skate. I came here to find myself–to figure out who I am. I needed a change in my life. North Philadelphia was depressing me and my college years were dwindling away quickly. I wanted to do something out of the ordinary to really understand what my purpose was. I am walking away from this experience with a whole lot of answers–and that is an incredible feat for me.

My last night in London was a good one. I woke up around 8:30 AM and headed to the Sandwich Shop to get my daily cappuccino with one sugar. After, I went to the money exchange place and returned the Euros that I had left over for good old American dollars. They felt so small compared to the money here…the bills were crisp and fit neatly in my hand. After, I went to the tube station to put some money on my transportation card so that I could get to the airport tomorrow.

Later, Andrew and I went to Harrod’s to do some last-minute Christmas shopping. As usual it was ridiculously packed, but luckily both of us stumbled across what we wanted to get rather easily and were out of there within a half hour.

Now, typically people would go to a nice restaurant to top off their trip…not Steve and I. We decided to find a nice hole in the wall fish and chips place and finish our trip off right. Of course we weren’t going to find a whole in the wall f&c place in South Kensington, so it took some traveling to find the perfect place. We wanted to go to an area where it smelled like deep fried fish and it was a little darker (if you know what I mean)…Brixton would be that perfect place.

We found a place called the Kebab Cafe (perfect!) and we decided to settle there and get our final meal in London. The place was empty, but the owners family was all there hanging out and speaking a different language to each other. There were babies on the tables and young kids working behind the counter. There was a big oven of fried chicken in the window and I spotted the owner grabbing wings with his bare hands and devouring them while making our food. There was a wonderful smell of deep fried cod and french fries. It was the perfect place. Oh yeah, Steve and I were able to get two dishes of fish and chips for less than one at a pub in South Kensington.

Which brings me to now. I am currently sitting in my bare room with my giant bag next to me and contemplating if I should go to bed and get a decent amount of sleep. My flight is at 10:30 but it takes some time getting to the airport, so I will probably have to get up around 5:45 AM. There are 5 others on the same flight with me, so hopefully we can all help each other get there on time.

I don’t have much more to say, but before I go I know you have all been waiting with bated breath (sike!) on what my number 1 thing is that I can’t wait to have back in the US–and hopefully this doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

Number 1: Family and friends

Okay, that is two things but this is my blog and I make the rules. I seriously can’t wait to see my Mom, Dad and brother at the airport. I seriously can’t wait to ring Rubin’s ridiculous door bell and hear his little rat dogs barking at the door. I seriously can’t wait  to do the traditional church and Uncle Dennis’s on Christmas Eve. I seriously can’t wait to see how much hair Tisin has lost since I left. I seriously can’t wait for the traditional January “Taylor Christmas”. All of these things and SO much more are going to be an amazing treat.

Before I go, I just want to thank everyone who has kept up with my blog. It has been so nice to see that people were reading…it truly means a lot. This whole experience has really shown me how many wonderful people I have in my life and I am so grateful.

With Love,

Zac

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Posted by: londontravels | December 10, 2009

Day 97

Oh, hello. Just about to start packing…I really hope I can fit everything in to one bag.

Tonight our class is seeing Aladdin at the Hackney Empire (Pamela Anderson is supposed to be in the show starting December 13th…damnit, just missed it). Apparently this isn’t a normal play though, but a pantomime that a lot of countries have during the holidays. There is supposed to be a lot of interaction with the crowd, crude jokes and a lot of laughs–should be a fun night.

Well, down to the last 3 days and the last 2 of things I can’t wait to have once I return to the US. Here is number 2:

Number 2: American Football

I am not going to lie, I have really taken a liking to Soccer over here…it is effing amazing what some of these guys can do with that ball. The passion the fans have for their teams is unreal and the skill level of the players is far superior that anything the US could produce.

I have even taken a liking to rugby. Here it is considered a “posh” sport (whatever that means), but from watching a match between New Zealand and Italy the other week, there is nothing “posh” about it. The guys are huge, they were no pads and they have no regard for what they do with their body.

However, one thing that is getting on my nerves here is how everyone thinks American football is some girly game because they where pads. Those rugby players may be huge, but you are not going to see a 315 pound lineman running around a rugby field anytime soon. As for soccer, one of my pet-peeves (spelling?) is the fact that they are so damn dramatic. If a player gets tripped up, or tackled (legally), or even nudged, they drop to the ground like they were just sniped from the rafters. It is so frustrating to watch.

Anyway, for those reasons I can’t wait to come home, turn on the TV, grab a beer, grab some wings and watch 12 hours of non-stop AMERICAN football on Sunday. There is nothing better. Red-neck accent: “THIS IS AMERICA!”

Enjoy your Thursday.

Love,
Zac

Posted by: londontravels | December 9, 2009

Day 96

Currently sitting in class listening to people’s presentations on their interview topic. I am not sure if I mentioned this, but I (along with everyone else in my class) have been working on an interview project for my class, Special Topics: London Stories. We were told to go out, find something interesting about London and gain interviews from every-day Londoners during our time here. A lot of people have come up with some amazing topics (as I am finding out now as people present). We were free to present it in any way that we wanted to (transcript, video, audio, magazine article, etc.) Anyway, I did mine on the pub we regularly go to, The Chilled Eskimo. I finished it up last week and all over our projects are supposed to go on a Temple website for everyone to see, but who knows how long that is going to take. So, I am going to post my finished product as well as my roommate, Steve, who did his interview topic on the elderly in London. Basically, Steve went around London interviewing the elderly and presented them by putting each handwritten interview into a bottle (like a message in a bottle). Our professor had a great idea to put all three interviews into a bottle and throw it into the River Thames here in London…well, the video below documents that–I hope you like them.

Steven Schaber’s Message in a Bottle

Zac Taylor’s The Chilled Eskimo

The Chilled Eskimo

Before I go, here is my number 3 thing I can’t wait to have when I get back to the states:

Number 3: Pedestrians having the right of way.

In London, there are only a handful of places where the pedestrian has a right of way. And even when there is zebra stripes where you are allowed to walk, the cars don’t have to stop unless there is someone walking across (no stop signs what so ever). AND, if the car has to stop for a pedestrian, walk really fast and don’t look at them…they aren’t too happy about stopping.

Posted by: londontravels | December 8, 2009

Day 95: Scotland catch up

Finally have some free time to discuss my trip to Scotland…what a wonderful place. We arrived around 11:15 AM via train from King’s Cross Station. It was about a 5 hour trip, but it didn’t seem like it (much different from on the way back, more on that later). Our group consisted of about 18 people. A few from Brazil, a few from Australia (of course), 4 or 5 from China, 1 from India and the rest from America…it was a decently diverse group of people. Upon our arrival, a coach was to pick us up with a “blue kilt” tour guide. Well, when we got off the train the first person I spotted was a man in a kilt (green kilt though, not blue like his title) and immediately assumed he was our guide. Carrying a black brief case,  wearing a matching jeffcap and thick wool blazer, our tour guide looked like the stereotypical Scottish person.

We hopped on the bus and were dropped outside of a castle (not Edinburgh Castle) where the guide got off the bus, unlocked his case and whipped out a set of bag pipes…awesome. He began to play and lead us down a path to the front of the castle. I must say, the London tour guides should take a note from the Scottish guides on how to be enthusiastic when giving tours. This guy was hilarious, acting out different be-headings and telling us to play knock-knock zoom-zoom at the castle. Oh yeah…and the whole bag pipes thing was pretty damn cool too.

We were taken to a few other places around the city, but to tell you the truth I was so hungry and tired that I wasn’t comprehending anything that he was saying. The last time I ate was 4 am and by the time our tour was about to wrap up, it was close to 2 PM. It was time for lunch.

We checked in to our bed and breakfast which was really cool. An old building that sat just on the outskirts of the city center, the Elas Guest House was ran by a little chubby old lady that gave each and every person directions about the faulty things in their room. Ours was the toilet (of course) which basically was like a lawn mower…you needed to rip the chord (or flusher in this case) a few times, nice and quick to get it to start (or flush). But, after a few trips to the bathroom the flushing process was mastered by us all.

After settling into our room (the room had 6 beds, but only 4 of us staying in it…Steve, a boy named Tim who was from Millersville, PA and “Jay” a man in his late 30’s from India and me) Steve and I headed to the nearest pub to grab some food. Luckily, right around the corner we found a pub and our first mission was to dominate some traditional Scottish food…and of course we chose the Haggis, Neeps and Tattis. I will start in reverse order: Tattis are mashed potatoes and Neeps are mashed up turnips. Finally, comes the Haggis which after telling you what it is would probably not want to eat it, but to tell you the truth it was quite delicious. Drum roll please: minced sheep’s stomach…woo! It had a spicy, gristly type texture but it was so good! (Or was it the fact that I was contemplating eating my fingers due to starvation?)

After lunch we walked the city a bit and headed to the National History Museum of Scotland (thanks to some directions from a nice man who could tell that we were completely baffled by the map). The museum was pretty neat, but I wasn’t really in the mood to take in 7 floors of history. Later, our guide for the weekend named Tom took us on a little pub crawl. Only 6 of us went on this pub crawl, but it was cool to break the ice with some of the people. By the end of the night I was spent and ready for bed.

Saturday started off bright and early with breakfast at 7 AM and a bus trip to the Highlands and Loch-ness at 7:45 AM. Breakfast was a major upgrade from the hostels, which was awesome. Although, I am not a big fan of hot dogs, pate, tuna fish and cold pancakes for breakfast, the hard-boiled eggs, cereal and pastries hit the spot. The trip was about a 4 hour drive to the highlands with beautiful scenery on the way. We past through 6 or 7 of the 141 major lochs of Scotland, with Loch Ness being the most popular for obvious reasons.

As you can see from the pictures and videos, there was some exquisite scenery that pretty much dwarfed the Wicklow mountains in Ireland. We stopped off at a few places to take pictures of the scenery including a stop at the tallest mountain in the British Isles, Ben Nevis. Standing at 4,409 feet, Ben Nevis was tipped with snow and the top could barely be seen due to the fog and clouds. It was quite an amazing sight though. It blows my mind how much natural beauty is out there.

We hopped back on the bus and headed to Loch Ness, where our tour guide (another great guide who told us he doesn’t speak ‘English’ he speaks ‘Scottish’ and busted jokes about the British the whole time) decided to put on some Celine Dion to pump us up for Loch Ness. However this wasn’t the ordinary “My Heart Will Go On” by Dion, but an awesome rendition with bag pipes.

We pulled up to the Urquhart Castle, which sits on Loch Ness, took a tour of that and then set out to the docks to take a boat ride on the loch. The sun was setting at the time we hopped on the boat and the sky was absolutely beautiful all around. But, once the sun set and we were still on the boat, the temperature dropped and we were all getting ready to get off of the boat. Saturday was an amazing day and pretty much brought my 4 months of travel to a very satisfying end.

Sunday we had until 4 PM to explore Edinburgh, so Steve, two girls we met from New York (Danielle and Angela) and I checked out the Scottish Whiskey Heritage Experience which was very informative. We were taught all about how whiskey is made, plus how to drink it like the “master distiller” does. We got a complementary shot of whiskey as well as a whiskey drinking glass (didn’t know there was a specific glass to drink whiskey out of). After, we got some lunch (more haggis for me, instead this time it was stuffed in chicken!) and then Steve and I split from the girls to check out a planet earth attraction that was described to us as like a Disney World attraction. Much to our disappointment it was more of a museum that took you back in time and put you in different rooms and basically showed you different videos of how the earth became the way it is. It was topped off by a brand new presentation called “We Our Astronomers” which was held in the planetarium dome, which was probably the best part.

By then it was about time to head back to the guest house to catch the coach back to the train. We got the train at 5 PM and after meeting all of the people we were traveling with, it figured to be a shorter ride because you would be conversing with them the whole time. Nah, didn’t happen like that. Yes, we all talked, played games, listen to music, but for some reason it seemed like it took soooooo long to get home. By the time we got back I was ready to pull my eyes out. The commuting was excruciating.

My initial goal was to meet up with my relatives in Glasgow; however, after exchanging many e-mails they were (ironically) in England for the weekend. So, that didn’t work out, but I did get to receive some pictures and such via e-mail to put faces to the people I was talking to– that was neat.

For some reason Scotland felt very “homey” to me. It gave me a sense of warmth that I didn’t have in any other country. I don’t know if it due to the fact that I have family still living over there, or if the fact that the people there are just so damn nice. It was neat seeing all of the souvenir stores that had all of these ‘Taylor family clan’ and ‘Taylor family crests everywhere.’ One of the books I picked up that was the history of the name “Taylor” started off the first paragraph talking about former American President, Zachary Taylor and how he was against slavery which lost him votes in the South (they neglected to talk about how he was one of the worst Presidents ever).

Well, I finished up all of my work last night…what a relief. My last class for Travel Writing was canceled tonight, so I am down to two classes tomorrow–one is at 9:00 AM and the other is at 4:30 PM. Then, it is home free! Thursday and Friday will be dedicated to taking in London for the last time and of course packing. I came here with one carry on bag and one checked bag (much less than most people). My goal is to return with the same. It is going to be a hard feat, but I am going to make it happen.

Before I go, I have fallen behind (again) on my top 10 things I can’t wait to have when I get home, so here you go:

Number 5: Tisin Panicker

I can’t  wait to come home and see Tisin Panicker. Plain. and. simple.

Number 4: Driving

I am usually not the type that “loves driving” (i.e. Tom O’neil, Andrew Rubin) but I am pretty excited to come back and be able to drive myself around. Holy shit, I need to think about buying a car soon…

Well, all from me for now. Stay classy bitches.

Love,

Zac

Posted by: londontravels | December 7, 2009

Scotland

Hello Friends,

About 12:30 AM here and I just returned from Scotland. I planned on posting my journey tonight, but to tell you the truth I am effing tired. So, I just posted the pictures and some videos of the Highlands and Loch-ness (saw the monster and conquered his ass…don’t worry). I shall post tomorrow about my weekend. Before I go though, I would like to update my top 10 things I can’t wait to have back in the US.

Number 8: Domino’s 5 5 5 Deal

Yes, they have Domino’s. Yes, they are the self-proclaimed “pizza experts” (that’s right, I saw a Domino’s in Scotland this weekend that said “the pizza experts…”). And yes I’m pretty sure the ‘za blows compared to home. Oh yeah, and no 5 5 5 deal. Even if they did have the 5 5 5 deal, 5 pounds for a medium pizza in London is almost $8 at home…weaksauce.

Number 7: trash cans

In the mid 80’s people got their jollies over here by putting bombs in the city trash cans. They would put them in the trash cans in the tube stations and also in parks. So, instead of coming up with an awesome idea like this they decided to just get rid of them all together. I can’t wait to come home and be able to throw my trash out in a trash can located at every block or every corner. Convenience, people…convenience.

Number 6: free public restrooms

…I feel like I don’t even have to explain this one…pay? To go to the bathroom? Give me an effing break. Although it is usually under a pound to use some of the public restrooms in Europe, it is the principal of it. Oh yeah, I bought something at a McDonald’s in Amsterdam and when I went to wash my hands before eating, there was a man sitting there expecting me to pay a Euro to do so…

Okay, well I shall speak with you all tomorrow. Have a nice night. Love you.

Love,

Zac

Posted by: londontravels | December 3, 2009

Day 91: Scotland until Sunday

I take the last trip of my time here in Europe this weekend. Steve and I need to be at St. Pancras Train Station by 5:45 AM tomorrow morning to catch the train to Edinburgh, Scotland. This is a trip with a group called International Friends, a group that I have never traveled with before, so it will be interesting to see how it pans out. From what the itinerary says, it looks like we arrive and settle in to our “family owned, bed and breakfast/hotel” and then take a walking tour to get acclimated with the area. On Saturday and Sunday though, it seems like we are free to do what we want. Definitely not the same as when I traveled with ISH where they had pretty much everything planned for us.

I have been exchanging e-mails back and forth with a woman named Teresa who is related to the Taylor family: her mother was cousin’s with my Great Grandfather. Thanks to Mimi and her impeccable research, I sorted out our family ties and shot her an e-mail about potentially meeting up in Glasgow, where she lives. Unfortunately, she will be in England this weekend, but she did pass along my information to her brother, Frank who might be around for the weekend. It would be such a cool experience to meet some family from the mother land.

Well, haven’t started packing yet. I am currently at the tech lab with Kelsey and Mari trying to start on my final paper of the semester (but instead dicking around on the internet) which is an 8 pager on BBC Radio 3…boring. But, after this it will be all over so I am thankful.

Today is day 9 of the countdown. With that said, here is my #9 thing I can’t wait to have back in the US of A

Number 9: Wawa hoagies

The other day while sitting in another awful British Cinema class, I was thinking about what I wanted for dinner. Stir fry? Nah, getting sick of those. Turkey burger? Meh, they don’t even come close to my Mom’s homemade ones. Pasta? Not really in the mood. A classic turkey hoagie with cheddar cheese, lettuce, pickles, sweet peppers, banana peppers, onions, yellow mustard, mayo and oregano? Obviously! Unfortunately, this wasn’t feasible, but it definitely gave me another thing to be excited about when I get back!

Wawa and I have laughed together, cried together and enjoyed each other’s company. Wawa has been there for me since I can remember. Whether it was walking to Wawa with Sean when we were 12, or driving to Wawa with Scott when we were 16, Wawa has grown as I have grown. I don’t know what I would do with out it. (Wow, how sad is that).

Well, I hope to post while I am in Scotland, but not sure if the internet situation. Hope to talk with you soon and I hope everyone is having a nice ending to their week.

Love,

Zac

p.s. found this picture of Johnny Knoxville…gained a lot of respect for that man (check out his tattoo).

Posted by: londontravels | December 2, 2009

Day 90: Let the countdown begin

To kick off the last 10 days of me being in Europe, I am going to list the top 10 (in no particular order) things that I can’t wait to have back in the USA.

Number 10: Natural “Natty” Light

As my good friend Scott Pratt once said, “The United States of America: Land of the free and home of the unlimited Natty Light”

Posted by: londontravels | November 30, 2009

Day 88: more Paris pictures

Hello Friends,

My dear friend Nora passed these pictures along to me from Paris. This is by far the smallest, most colorful grocery store in the world. From floor to ceiling, every possible square inch was occupied by some sort of grocery (there is an easier way to say that, but I can’t think of it right now ha). I wouldn’t not want to be the guy that is on re-stock duty.

Nothing too exciting on my front. Pretty swamped with final papers…I guess the honeymoon is over :-(.

Anyway, I am sure everyone is back in their normal routines after a fantastic Thanksgiving weekend. Let’s get through this week, eh?

Love you,

Zac

Posted by: londontravels | November 29, 2009

Day 87: Thanksgiving pictures (UPDATED)

Hello friends,

I apologize for the delay on Thanksgiving pictures. I have a few as of right now that are posted below, but hopefully by the end of the night I will have more. Enjoy.

Love,

Zac

UPDATED: Sunday November 29, 2009 3:48 PM

Hello. I added some pictures that Chris took at Thanksgiving…mainly awkward pictures of me (unfortunately these are the only pictures I have of me from Thanksgiving ha). Enjoy the awkwardness.

Posted by: londontravels | November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Good morning friends and Happy Thanksgiving. I hope everyone had a safe, jolly Thanksgiving Eve last night and I hope everyone is getting ready for the big feast today (or probably still sleeping considering it is 6:15 AM over there). I just wanted to wish everyone a happy and safe holiday. I originally was just going to go out to dinner tonight and not make a big deal of Thanksgiving, but after talking to some of the people in my building, a Thanksgiving feast is being conducted on the third floor. It is going to be a potluck style dinner (yes! I love potlucks) and everyone either chose what they wanted to bring or was assigned something. Well, Steve (the chef of the building) is bringing spiced pears, Chris is going to bring a bottle of wine and I was assigned…(drum roll , please) plates and napkins (womp, womp, womp). Nice…plates and napkins. Either everyone in the building knows that I can’t cook for shit, or I told them I was coming at the last-minute and really couldn’t think of anything else for me to contribute. I can see the conversation now:

Person A: “God dammit! Zac wants to come now…we all know his best dish is peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with Baked Lays and a glass of iced tea…what could we tell him to bring?”

Person B: “I got it! Plates and napkins! Perfect…he won’t be forced to cook anything and we won’t be forced to eat it!”

Of course this is probably not how it went down (or is it?) but I think of it this way: I don’t have to cook anything, I am spending minimal money and if no one brought plates and napkins, what would they eat off of? So, not that bad of a deal.

Anyway, I am really going to miss being at home for Thanksgiving, but hey…there is always next year. Once again, I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday. Don’t eat too much turkey (eff that, eat as much turkey until it is time to unbutton the slacks) and let’s hope the Cowboys lose (highly unlikely). I will post pictures of our dinner a little later. I love you.

Love,

Zac

UPDATE: Thursday November 26, 2009 12:41 PM Not completely useless. Helped Steve a little bit with his spiced pears.

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