While getting ready for my excursion around town, I thought I would straighten my hair again. Bad idea. While I was doing my hair, I suddenly heard a loud pop! sound and a whole bunch of smoke emitted from my power converter. I changed the fuse in it, but the whole thing has a very strange, almost burnt smell to it. I hope the fuse is the only thing that blew! I'm only 1/6th done my trip and I don't want to lose my camera again!
I may try the power converter out somewhere else when I come back to see if I can still charge my camera. Maybe. The last thing I want to do is wreck it any further or have my camera burst into smoke also!
I'll write more later. The sun is up and I'm going to hit the town -- with my semi-straightened hair.
I just got back from my trip around London and before I begin, I learned that London isn't just "London" -- it is multiple cities. For example, one of the cities is called Westminster, but just to keep things easier for me to record, I'll just refer to everything in the city as "London".
First I had a small breakfast at a very nice restaurant called Pret A Manger. Not only was the food delicious, it was all natural and hand-made there (or, if not there, then at a "preparation station" nearby). Their food doesn't have a shelf life, so if they don't sell it all they give it to charity. I'll definitely be going back to that place soon!
After that, I had about a half-hour wait until the Hop-On-Hop-Off buses started running, so I walked around my "neighbourhood". Finally it came and I started my long awaited trek. I went to Piccadilly Circus and saw the Eros statue, then I got off and walked down to the famous Trafalgar Square with Big Ben just down the street. Then, although I was told it was "too far to walk", I walked through St. James' Park and to Buckingham Palace. In front of it was a massive statue, but the four statues around it were behind refurbished and only the middle one could be seen -- thus my pictures aren't as amazing as they could have been.
There's a lot in London that's being reconstructed and refurbished. At first I thought it was because of the bad winter they had and they were preparing for tourists, but then I realized I was only half right. Next year was the Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee, as well as the 2012 Summer Olympics!
I left Buckingham Palace and headed east to Westminster Abby, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. On my way there a woman appeared from a crowd and offered me a flower in exchange for a donation to charity. I really didn't want to give her anything so I just went to give her a pound. She shook her head and said no, please, more for the children. So I went and offered her a Â£5 bill. However, (and I feel so dumb writing this) she still wanted more so I gave her a Â£20 bill. Then, as I tried to escape her haggling clutches, another woman materialized (her friend, I assume) and asked for some money, and a 5 just wouldn't do! I ended up losing Â£40 ($62) to those women and their children!
A piece of traveler's advice: don't donate to charity in a foreign land, especially when you have limited funds... or in my case, you forget to restock your wallet. I was down to Â£25 and it wasn't even 10:30 AM!
After I got pictures of Westminster Abby, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament I walked across the Thames and went to the London Eye. There I spent Â£19. Maybe to some, the idea of taking a gigantic Ferris wheel is worth that much, but I didn't really enjoy it all that much. Especially now that I only had Â£6 left for lunch.
Then I caught the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus and took it to St. Paul's Cathedral. I arrived there just about lunch time and saw what seemed to be hundreds of miniature Harry Potters sitting all over the cathedral stairs. I wish I had money to pay and enter to take pictures, but any money I had was back at the hotel.
I walked a block south and I arrived at the Monument. The Monument is a tall tower that was erected in memory of the Great Fire of London in 1666 that destroyed a major part of the fire. It has 311 spiraling stone stairs and lets you climb it for a reasonable Â£3. How could I say no!?
I warn anybody who is going to climb it, however, that they should bring a water-bottle and be in reasonably good shape. The stairwell is less than three-feet wide and is extremely claustrophobic. Once you climb up and then come back down, you get a paper certificate about it. In my opinion, it was well worth it. But I wouldn't be doing it again.
I then strolled down to the Tower of London (which is actually about 13 towers), but once again couldn't afford the entry fee. A few blocks east from me was the famous Tower Bridge (not to be confused with London Bridge -- which wasn't very impressive at all!). My ferry was going to arrive and take me back to the Parliament Buildings in about twenty minutes, or then I'd have to wait over an hour for the next one to return. I could have walked to Tower Bridge, crossed it, crossed it again to come back and then catch the next ferry, but I decided against it.
The ferry cruise (which was free because of the Hop-On-Hop-Off pass) was also very nice. We had a funny commentator who cracked jokes the whole way from Tower Pier to Westminster Pier. I recommend that cruise, especially after having a stressful day of having your power converter blow up and basically being robbed by poor women in exchange for a small, purple flower.
From Westminster Pier I started walking towards Trafalgar Square. My plan was to get to the square, go to Piccadilly Circus and catch the bus back to the hotel. However, I never found the square. I ended up going down some strange underground shopping mall with about 12 barbershops and a strippers' club in it. Then, after a ways of walking, I found another mall. This one was "normal" and had stores, a place to eat and street-side performers like "fake statues" and magicians.
I found a map on a street-corner that told me where I was. I had completely missed Trafalgar Square and was about 15 minutes away from my hotel. I ended up walking home.
Once there, I picked up a new power converter at a Sony attached to my hotel. I tried the old one in the same power-outlet as last time, and it didn't work, so I tried to new one. Again, no such luck. Later today I'll try my hallway outlet to charge my camera and MP3 player. Hopefully I haven't screwed up my trip too bad!
PS: The man at Sony told me that I can't use my hair products with this new power converter. I guess I'll either have to use a UK/EU straightener or go curly for the rest of the trip.
I went to the Royal National Hotel to check up about my tour group. Yesterday I found a sign at where the meeting place was supposed to be, but it said that it was under construction so to meet at the Royal National Hotel. I got there and they sent me across the street to the other part of the Royal National. There was a sign on the desk there that said a tour representative would be there from 11 AM - 7 PM. I checked my clock and it said it was 6:58 PM and nobody was at the desk.
Once I got back to my own hotel, I called the phone number that was left at the desk of the Royal National. They told me to go back tomorrow. I'm not sure when my tour starts, but I'm pretty sure it's either tomorrow or the next day. I'm going to be right at that desk tomorrow at 11AM sharp!
Once I got back to my room, I decided to try out my power converter on the plug-in right outside my hotel room door. While I was there, my neighbors called housekeeping to get some more toilet paper. The maid saw me and asked why I was sitting outside my room (I guess it looked suspicious?). I told her my hotel room plug-in had stopped working and I had to use this one. It wasn't a complete lie -- but I never said I was the reason it stopped working. She went back to the toilet-paper person's room and asked to see her "wardrobe". There she found the fuse-box and flipped the switch. I have power again!!
Things are finally starting to look up. Let's just hope tomorrow I can catch the tour representative and figure everything out!
And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.
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Just over a year ago I wrote an article about the glockenspiel that once stood in downtown Regina. I had fond memories of the glockenspiel as a child and was sad when they took it down to renovate the park. I was even more sad when they didn't put it back up, and I was angry when I discovered it was sitting in a junkyard (sorry, outdoor "storage facility") for the past ten years. That article got a lot of attention, from both the public, the city and the press. Today, efforts are being made to restore the bell back to its original location.
I'm telling you this because preserving heritage – may it be a 25-year-old bell, or a fourth century building – is important. Without heritage, we lose who we are. Often, the desire to move society forward steps over the heritage and causes it to get lost. As impressive as tall glass buildings might be, nothing is better than a smoky red brick structure.
Saskatchewan is beginning to realize how important this is – and thankfully it's happening now and not in a few decades after everything is gone. But, our neighbours have been on the heritage preservation band train for several years now, especially in Alberta.
Part 12 of my cross Canada series takes us to the smallest province in Canada, Prince Edward Island. However, don't let the name confuse you: PEI is actually 232 islands!
PEI also happens to have smallest population of any province in Canada, with only 146,300 people as of 2014. This means this province has less people than my hometown Regina!
Being so small, however, it was difficult to find images on Instagram. That isn't to say there's nothing there worth seeing! Quiet the quandary, actually. PEI has a few very unique locations that drive their tourism. One of them is the gorgeous themed village of Avonlea, named after the village in the hit novel "Anne of Green Gables" published in 1908. This story, and the subsequent stories, follows Anne, a red-haired "fiery" orphan who grows up on PEI. The story is an international bestseller, and is strangely very popular in Japan (or so I've been told)!
The Island of the Dolls is in Xochimilco, a borough south of Mexico City. While it would be faster to take a car from Mexico City to Xochimilco, the traffic is dense and the roads are very congested. Instead, if you're going there, I'd recommend taking metro, which is easy and the cheapest in the world. What you gain in comfort, however, you lose in speed, as the train ride takes about 2 hours.
Mexico City and Xochimilco both sit in the Valley of Mexico. Until about a millennium ago, the whole region around Mexico City was surrounded by a massive body of water. Over the centuries due to both climate change and interference by humans, most of this water has dried up, for the exception of Xochimilco. With networks of canals crisscrossing the borough, car transportation is difficult and water transportation is essential. I'm sure there were motorized boats somewhere in the waters of Xochimilco, but I never saw any. Instead, canoes and rafts are common on the water. However, the most popular vessel is a trajinera – a colourful gonadal-like boat that is pushed along the water with a wooden pole.
Xochimilco is known worldwide for their Floating Gardens market, which are essentially canoes floating down the canals, selling wares to tourists on trajineras. These include things like food, drinks, silver rings, trinkets, ponchos and sombreros. Occasionally other trajineras full of Mariachi bands will approach tourists and offer to play beside them on the water.