A Triangular Trip- Part III: Edinburgh and the Highlands

So here it is, the conclusion to the series about our “triangular trip” through Great Britain.
We arrived in Edinburgh on Wednesday afternoon, greeted by the slightly chilly Scottish air and the sound of bagpipes. After taking t a stroll down the Royal Mile and viewing the Palace of the Holy Roodhouse, we had dinner at a pub called Deacon Brodie’s. Thankfully, the restaurants are not too crowded at this time of year.
The next morning, John (my brother) and I decided to hike up Arthur’s Seat, the extinct volcano situated on one side of the city. Despite the rainy and windy weather, we managed to hike the stony path and reach the top, “walking in a dishwasher” according to John. It was worth it though; bringing us to a great view of the city. Besides, when’s the next time you’ll hike up an extinct volcano in Europe in the rain?

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View of the city from Arthur’s Seat

After drying off at a Starbucks, we went to the National Museum of Scotland. In contrast to the museums in London, the National Museum features natural exhibits and historical artifacts, a nice variety for people. The most unusual exhibit there- a giant clock with a grasshopper on the top. Definitely not something you see every day.
We ate lunch at the Elephant House, the place where British author J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book. The pub takes pride in their status; a bulletin board boasts several news articles and pictures about J.K. Rowling and a sign out front states “The Birthplace of Harry Potter.” While we were eating, I couldn’t help but notice several people writing on their laptops and in journals, probably aiming to catch some of Rowling’s inspiration.

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“The birthplace of Harry Potter”

After, seeking someplace indoors, we went to the Scottish National Gallery, an art museum filled with hundreds of year’s worth of paintings. I recognized several artists’ pieces, including Monet, Van Gogh and Degas. Compared to the National Gallery in London, this one was much smaller and easier to navigate.   
For dinner that night, we went to the Conan Doyle, a pub named after the famous Sherlock Holmes author, Arthur Conan Doyle. The inside was small, yet cozy and resembled the inside of a house, complete with Christmas decorations.  

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Rainbow in the Highlands

On Friday, we took an all-day bus tour up to the Highlands of Scotland, where several lochs are. What I didn’t know, loch is actually Gaelic for lake.
Up there, the landscape was extraordinary and breath-taking. In some places, the mountains and lochs were so beautiful; it was hard to believe they all formed naturally. One town in particular, Glencoe, had a spectacular view of mountains: some even had snow on top of them!

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The snow-capped mountains of Glencoe

The best place we stopped: the world-famous Loch Ness, home of the supposed Loch Ness monster, “Nessie.” The lake itself stretches 23 miles long, much bigger than I thought it to be. That could be reason why nobody has been able to find Nessie. You never know.

The placed we stopped at had a dock we could view the loch from. To get to it, we actually had to go under the road through a tunnel. A safe yet interesting way to get across the road.

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Through the tunnel!

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The dock

Several different portrayals of Nessie exist, evident in the two figures we saw. The first one was a mean statue of Nessie, baring his teeth, while the other, inside, depicted a friendly Nessie.

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Mean Nessie

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Nice Nessie

Our bus driver /tour guide did tell us a true story about a plane from World War II found in the lake.  He told us that in 1940, a Wellington Bomber had to be ditched in Loch Ness after suffering technical failure.  Most of the crew escaped, but the plane sank to the bottom of the loch. It wasn’t until 1985 when people, using Sonar equipment to look for Nessie, stumbled across the wreckage. They might not have found Nessie, but still, quite a discovery.

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Loch Ness

Overall, after spending most of the week dodging city people and traffic, traveling to such peaceful places and views proved to be a nice change. The Highlands are definitely seeing, an example of how different landscapes can be.
Friday was our last full day in Europe. The week had gone by fast, but we had accomplished quite a bit, traveling to three different cities in just one week. I’m so glad we had the opportunity to travel as a family in Europe.

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A Triangular Trip- Part II: London

Now, onto the second part of our trip, spending two days in London, England, the world-famous city and site of the 2012 summer Olympics.
We arrived in London, about a three-hour bus ride from Bath, late Sunday night.
On Monday morning, we took a sight-seeing bus tour that left from Piccadilly Circus, which is like the Times Square of London. The bright neon screens flash plenty of advertisements, just like the ones in New York City. We even caught sight of the Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum. On another note, Piccadilly Circus is where Harry, Ron and Hermione apparated (magically materialized) to in the 7th Harry Potter Movie.

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Piccadilly Circus’s advertising screens, reminiscent of NYC’s Times Square

After riding the bus for awhile, we got off in Westminster and viewed Big Ben. Then we went inside the Westminster Abbey. Inside, we took an audio guide tour. Hundreds of years of history are embedded inside the walls of this massive church. Past royalty are buried here along with numerous shrines and memorials in their honor.

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Westminster Abbey

Afterward, Mom and I went to the National Gallery, located at Trafalgar Square. We took a small tour which included a few paintings of significance.

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The National Gallery

Following the museum, we took the bus to Harrod’s. That’s right, Harrod’s, the world-famous store boasting about a million departments. Literally. Inside, when we asked an employee for a map, he instead pulled out a guidebook and flipped through the pages, showing us eight floors of just about everything you can imagine. Designer handbags, a chocolate shop, Disney merchandise, pet supplies, a bookstore, a food hall, and, appropriately, the Christmas store. Harrod’s even has its own gift shop, complete with every item possible emblazoned with their name. I purchased two candy tins; shaped like a bus and a telephone booth, respectively, telling myself I needed to buy something from here. It would probably take somebody days to even explore the whole store. The four of us concluded the day with a nice dinner at a Japanese restaurant called Wagamama.

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Harrod’s, all decorated for the Holidays!

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The gift store

Tuesday morning, we took the sightseeing bus to the Tower of London; the route included going across the Tower Bridge. According to our guide, the Tower Bridge is “the most famous bridge in the world.” I could definitely see this, considering most bridges do not contain two huge towers as supports. Before my first trip to London, I realized I had mixed up the Tower Bridge’s name with the London Bridge, the next bridge over.

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Going over the Tower Bridge

The Tower of London served as a defense chamber, royal residence, a prison and even had a zoo: an extensive history, expanding almost 1,000 years. Within the walls, each tower told a story as we walked through it, feeling the sense of uneasiness of waiting for a possible attack, in the dark, with no electricity. However, I noticed some towers now have modern electrical outlets, making me wonder how difficult it was to blast through the stone for the wires.

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A story within each tower…

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modern electrical outlets?

The one attraction at the Tower of London everyone knows about: the Crown Jewels. There’s an entire building dedicated to showcasing this magnificent exhibit. No photography allowed, understandably. Inside, though, there are the crowns, sabers and other weapons here. The biggest surprise came in the room with the current crown jewels. The exhibit has its own moving sidewalk. That’s right. On either side of the glass case, there are moving sidewalks to carry people to the other side. An amusing yet clever way to prevent crowing.

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The Crown Jewels Building

Afterward, we took a taxi to the British Museum, a museum containing artifacts from all over the world. There are so many countries in there, Egypt, Italy, Greece, just to name a few. A little overwhelming, to be honest. Some of the exhibits were interesting, though. There was even one with a timeline about clocks, concluding with a 2008 Sony digital clock, right there in the display case.
A walk along Oxford Street, the main shopping area of London, gave us a view of the fantastic Christmas lights. With no Thanksgiving to celebrate, Christmas spirit dominates the air here in the United Kingdom.  

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Christmas Lights! (a little blurry…)

Wednesday, our last morning in London, we went to King’s Cross Station to catch our train to Edinburgh. While waiting, we found the “entrance” to Platform 9¾ from Harry Potter.  Both my brother and I got our pictures “running” through the wall with the trolley.

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On my way to Hogwarts!

We had a great time in London, seeing all the sites and exploring the city. Our next stop would be Edinburgh and the Highlands. Stay Tuned!

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British English Dictionary- Edition #8

American English= British English

Car Trunk= Boot

Dog Leash= Lead

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A Triangular Trip- Part I: Bath

Last week, I took a week-long trip with my family to three places on the Island of Great Britain: Bath, London and Edinburgh. We basically traveled in a huge triangle, hence the title “A Triangular Trip.” This will be the first in a series of three blog posts, one for each destination. Although I already have posts about London and Edinburgh, these ones will include sites I didn’t see last time.  
So, let us start with the ancient city of Bath, destination number one.
After a four hour train ride from Ormskirk which involved changing trains three times, I arrived in Bath on Saturday afternoon (the 17th) to meet up with my family (mom, dad and brother) at the train station. Ironically, the train station is called Bath Spa. I’m not sure if it was supposed to be a pun or just the normal name, but I found it pretty amusing.  
That afternoon, we went inside the Bath Abbey. Originally built in 1499, the structure has been rebuilt a few times over the past centuries. Inside, the architecture awed me, especially the painted ceiling, with the many ridges and intricately-painted decorations. It made us wonder if they used scaffolding to paint, similar to the artist Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. An interesting feature of the church was the floor, actually made up of old grave markers.  

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The Bath Abbey

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The Impressive Ceiling

The next morning, Sunday, brought us to the Royal Baths, the main attraction, and according to our tour guide, the only reason the city of Bath exists in the first place. The actual museum is built over the remains of the Royal Baths, a clever way to create individual exhibits while preserving the ruins of the landmark.

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The Main Bath, complete with the algae-filled water

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The little river feeding the Main Bath

These ancient baths contain actual hot water coming from the earth’s core, eventually making its way up to the surface. The gross green color of the water, courtesy of the sun-grown algae, does not look inviting, but it‘s still very impressive to look at. Hundreds of years ago, at the time the Romans used the water to bathe in, it would have been considered a treat. Nowadays, though, the water is considered too dangerous to swim in, only ok to look at, as indicated by this sign.

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No swimming or dipping your feet in!

The baths inside contain no algae, and look much nicer. This one in particular, originally used for cold baths, now casts a sparkle from coins on the bottom.  

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The inside bath, filled with the sparkle of coins

Later that afternoon, we went on a walking tour of the city, stopping to look at some sites. The most impressive attraction of the tour was the Royal Crescent, a building shaped, well, like a crescent. I managed to get a picture of the whole structure, despite its large size. The question popped into my head:  It’s possible to build a structure at an angle like that? Apparently, it is.  

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The Royal Crescent

Another amusing site of the tour was the added-on toilet. Our guide explained how when most of these buildings were constructed, the blueprints did not include indoor plumbing. When plumbing did become an option, home owners faced a challenge, as there was no way to construct a functional toilet inside without ripping floors up. So instead of trying to build one inside, some home owners decided to build one on the outside, complete with pipes and even a little window. The slate-covered one in the picture illustrates this.  

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The slate, add-on toilet

And so concluded our adventures in Bath! Stay tuned for the next post about London, part 2!

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Paris

Yes, this entry will be about a journey to the one and only Paris, France.
We spent three nights in the City of Lights, arriving at the airport late Wednesday night and leaving early Saturday morning.
On Thursday, we took a walking tour of Paris. They took along the banks of the River Seine, which, according to our tour guide, divides the city into two perfect sections. This only added to my recent realization that most European cities have some sort of body of water in it or beside it.

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River Seine

During the tour, we also walked by Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre Museum and through the Jardin des Tuileries, literally the Garden of Tiles. Visiting all these sites made me realize how little I knew about all these attractions, that is, apart from the Eiffel Tower.

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The Louvre Museum

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Notre Dame Cathedral

One of the most interesting stops on the tour was the Pont des Arts, a bridge that has a huge number of padlocks on it. Our tour guide, Filipa, explained the reason behind the locks comes from the television series Sex and the City. Apparently, in the last episode, Sarah Jessica Parker’s character gets proposed to on the bridge. A little bit of pop culture reference there.

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Pont de Artes

Later that night, we finally visited the Eiffel Tower, something I thought I’d never do. Through our tour guide, we were able to purchase inexpensive tickets to skip the line and take the lift (elevator) up. We discovered the first elevator, which takes you up to the third story, actually goes diagonally, following the angle of the legs of the tower. It answered my childhood question: how could you take an elevator up if the bottom part is angled?

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Underside of the Eiffel Tower

Experiencing the view from the top was surreal. I had to keep thinking to myself, I’m in Paris, on the Eiffel Tower, looking down at the city. We had a nice 360° view of everything, watching city light up as the sun set.

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View from the Tower

One of the most surprising features of the Eiffel tower was how big the observation decks actually are. On each level, there’s the outside part to take pictures from, but the inside has two gift shops, bathrooms and the third story even has a restaurant on the third story, a lot more than expected. When you think about it, though, it would be pretty exciting to eat or use the bathroom at one of the world’s most popular tourist attractions.
Every hour during the evening and night, the tower has a light show and gets, what I call, sparkly. The first time it happened, we were standing on the tower and were startled by the sudden flashes. For a moment I thought, are there really that many people taking pictures?

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The Eiffel Tower

After sitting on the street across from the tower for awhile, we walked to the Arc de Triomphe and saw most of the city night life.
The next morning, we went into Notre Dame Cathedral. Free admission let us walk around the massive interior, with the beautiful stained-glass windows.

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Stained Glass Window

Later that morning, we took another tour out to Versailles (Vur- sye,) a town about 11 miles outside of Paris. The first thing that came into mind was the Treaty of Versailles, but the actual place holds much more history than that. The main sites there are the Palace of Versailles and the Gardens of Versailles. Taking a tour of the gardens, I learned about the history of King Louis XIV and his ancestors. Once again, it amazed me how much more history there is in Europe than in the United States. The gardens were beautiful and most of the plants have cool-looking shapes

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Versailles Gardens

Being in a country outside the United Kingdom was definitely an experience. Hearing the people around me speak French and not English took some getting used to. There were some times I felt out of place. On other hand, most people knew English, since Paris is a huge tourist area. Plus, it never hurts to learn some new words in another language. For example, I learned “Sortie” means exit. I myself knew a few French words, such as Bonjour, Merci and S’il vous plait (Hello, thank you and please.) Nothing wrong with learning another language, right?

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Me up on the Eiffel Tower

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Edinburgh

On Friday, November 2, we set off for Edinburgh (Pronounced Ed-en-bur-row), the capital of Scotland.
After a two and a half hour train ride, we arrived at about 11pm, and, after deciphering the route in an unfamiliar city, we found our hostel. It was a great hostel, complete with a great view of Edinburgh Castle.

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The view of the castle from our hostel

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The next morning, the rest of the group embarked on a bus tour to the Highlands, something I’m going to do later this month, so I took a free walking tour with people from the hostel. The tour guide took us to Greyfriars Kirkyard, a graveyard, where we found the tombstone called Thomas Riddell, possibly the inspiration of Tom Riddle (Harry Potter Character). Next, we went up on Calton Hill, where I snapped numerous pictures of the great view.  The most amusing feature to me was the twelve-column monument, known as the National Monument of Scotland, which sits in the center of the path. Once upon a time, people started building it to commemorate the people who died in the Napoleonic Wars, but it was halted when they ran out of money.

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The unfinished National Monument of Scotland

The Royal Mile stretches from the Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse and was one of my favorite parts. Quite a walk, but you get a great sense of Scotland’s winding cobblestone streets and ancient architecture

Sunday morning, we ventured up to Edinburgh Castle, the ancient, yet popular attraction that dominates the Edinburgh skyline. Like most other landmarks in Europe, it’s exhilarating standing in a place hundreds of years older than the United States itself.  The castle itself awed me because of its solid architecture, considering it’s lasted for hundreds of years and was once a place of royalty and defense.

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The view from the Castle

In comparison to London, Edinburgh has a landscape with a little bit of everything. Of course, there’s the city part, with modern buildings, stores and everything else. However, most European cities do not have an ancient castle sitting in the middle of it, complete with a cannon that blasts everyday (except Sunday) at 1 p.m.  Definitely not a usual clock chime.  On the other end of the city, an extinct volcano known as Arthur’s Seat offers a striking contrast to the modern skyline.
I enjoyed Edinburgh’s more toned down pace and variety. It was nice visiting and learning about a city I didn’t know much about.
To me, Edinburgh is a somewhat overlooked European city. It’s hard to compete with London and Paris, but this was definitely worth a trip up north.

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British English Dictionary- Edition #7

A few more terms I have learned in the past few days (a little more unique this time)

American English= British English

Acetaminophen Medicine= Paracetamol

Resume = Curriculum Vitae (CV)

Rain boots= Wellies

Truck= Lorry

Movie Theatre= Cinema

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Bowness-on-Windermere, in the Lake District

Yes, I know, it sounds like the word “bonus.” But this Bowness does not mean extra.

Instead, it refers to a place called Bowness-on-Windermere, a small town located in the Lake District. For those who are unfamiliar, the Lake District is a national park, encompassing a large mountainous region about an hour and a half northwest of Liverpool.
We took a boat ride up and down Lake Windermere in a ferry called the “Swan.” It gave us a nice chance to view the beautiful landscape of the lake and the nearby mountains. Ironically, there were actual swans on shore next the boat. The only downside of the ride –it was cold – cold enough to need scarves, hats and gloves. And it was windy- very windy. Maybe that’s why they call it Lake “Wind”-ermere.

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the beautiful landscape

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complete with sailboats

Afterward, we walked around Bowness. In contrast to the bustling cities of Liverpool and London, Bowness emits a peaceful atmosphere. The streets are filled with local shops and restaurants, a nice change from the hectic, crowded stores of Liverpool.Image We found souvenir shops filled with everything from postcards to magnets.
Bowness is also home to the Beatrix Potter attraction, the author of Peter Rabbit. We discovered a souvenir penny-squishing machine at the entrance. Apparently, they exist in England too. I got a Peter Rabbit one, shown to the right.

We ended our day with some ice cream. Yes, we had ice cream in 45 degrees, but it was worth it. Besides, we discovered that this particular ice cream shop sold double scoop cones- literally. Check out the picture illustrating what I mean.

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A “double-scoop” ice cream cone (photo courtesy of my friend Marissa)

 Thanks for reading! Be sure to look for posts about Edinburgh next week.

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New Brighton

On Sunday, me and a few friends took the train up to New Brighton, a seaside resort town northwest of Liverpool.

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Map at Train Station

    Like most coastal English towns, New Brighton has its share of beautiful architecture and a great view of the Irish Sea. The sea is beautiful, although it made the air cold, something I didn’t anticipate.  

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The Irish Sea

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The architecture

    The two major attractions are the New Brighton Lighthouse and Fort Perch Rock, which stand side-by-side. The lighthouse makes a great backdrop for the beaches, which are very popular with dogs.

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Image Fort Perch Rock

    Fort Perch Rock was the most fascinating site there. It’s an old defense fort from the 1820s that is now a tourist attraction. The entrance has international flags. We explored the old interior, where they have numerous exhibits. The most notable one dealt with the 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster.

 

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the entrance

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A model of the R.M.S. Titanic

    All in all, New Brighton was a nice, calm destination for a day trip. It’s a great example of a peaceful town on the coast.

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Lighthouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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British English Dictionary- Edition #6

American English= British English

Package= Parcel

Stove= Hob

Scotch Tape= Sellotape/Sticky Tape

Waiting Line= Queue

Also, something extra, a British Kleenex Box.

 

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