London. Ahhh! I think I’m in love.
This morning, I woke up very warm, very tired, and not incredibly keen on getting out of bed to get on a cold bus for an hour and a half, to eventually end up in an even colder London. However, I had already paid for the trip. So I got out of bed and into the cold and made it work. Little did I know what wonders lay before me.
After meeting at the school campus, the students in my study abroad group all got on the train with our advisors, Mary and Becca. The train was warm, and the hour on it went quickly. Soon we were in London, and on our way to Buckingham (pronounced Bucking-um) Palace. Unfortunately, the changing of the guards only happens every other day if the Queen is not home, and today, we were not lucky enough to see it. However, we did see a battalion of soldiers marching down the Mall (the long street leading up to the palace), and two soldiers standing guard in front of the place where they keep the horses that the battalions ride on. They stand next to signs which warn that the horses may kick or bite, but they seemed pretty docile to me as they stood there still and motionless.
The Mall is terminated by a giant structure called the Admiralty Arch, and this gives way to Trafalgar square, home of the National Gallery, a statue of a naval war hero, and great lions made from the guns from the ship of this admiral’s ship. These lions are silently begging to be climbed. And so many people do, and take pictures with them. Getting up isn’t so hard; it’s coming down when you realize how high you actually are. In this square, there is also a great fountain, which supposedly can spray you from several feet away. Today, it was frozen over, so we had no such luck of being able to see it, but there was London’s countdown to the Olympics located there as well.
Cross a few streets, and walk a block or two, and you find yourself among some of the most beautiful buildings, including the home of the Prime Minister, the houses of lords and commons, Westminster Abby, and, my personal favorite, Big Ben. Interesting fact: Big Ben is not the name of the clock or the tower. Rather, it is the name of the bell inside that chimes each quarter-hour. But the tower and clock itself are absolutely beautiful, and stunning at night. Once I saw it, I could hardly take my eyes off of it. But, alas, I had to, for there were many more things to see and do before the day was done. One cool thing was a statue of Abraham Lincoln that was in Parliament Square, along with other statues of those they considered great members of parliament. Beyond that, we were able to see the London Eye, and the Westminster Bridge. Another fun fact: London is actually two cities–London, and Westminster. This is because each city can only have one Cathedral, and London has two (Westminster, which we saw, but did not go inside as it wasn’t open, and St. Paul’s Cathedral).
Having done a lot of walking, it was time to learn the ropes of a different way of travel: the Tube. It wasn’t that bad, and it was a lot warmer underground than up in the wind. Before I came here, it seemed like most people, when I told them of England, mentioned the Tube and the phrase “Mind the Gap.” Well, sure enough, they do say that here. But it’s funny, because they have a two recordings of people saying it–one in a British accent, and another in an American accent, and that one repeats over and over and over again. It must be the Americans that are having trouble remembering to “Please, mind the gap.” We took it to Leichester Square, where we braked for lunch. I went with two other girls to a tiny Chinese restaurant in Chinatown (which was right next door) for some soup to warm up and enjoy looking out the window at all the Chinese New Year decorations that were still up.
When we reconvened, we headed down to Piccadilly Square. There we spend a half hour in Fortnum and Mason, a luxury food store where the queen shops. The food was very luxurious, and very beautiful–so much so that even if I could have bought it, I don’t think I could have eaten it. They had fresh flowers, produce, a butcher and fishmonger, fresh cheeses and breads, and, of course, lots of sweetened fruit candies and chocolates. And the top three floors were more department store-like items. Many of the items there, and in general here, were celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. This means that the current Queen, Queen Elizabeth II, has now matched Queen Victoria as the longest reigning queen in England’s history (60 years!). Chocolates, china, and the deparment store window all held special symbols of dragons (which were all, strangely enough, playing musical instruments) to celebrate the occasion.
At this point, our official tour was over, and we were free to do what we want and return when we want with our all-day train pass. I decided to spend the rest of the afternoon perusing the Piccadilly open market (home to all sorts of homemade trinkets) with some girls, and then warming up and relaxing in a bookstore I found. The store was called Hatchards, and has been open and serving the public and royalty alike since 1797. I could have easily spent all day exploring everything those five stories of books contained, but after over an hour, I knew we needed to go.
We decided to retrace our steps to where we began the day, so as to see all those places we had seen before at night. And I decided that London could very well be more beautiful by night than by day. Finally, to finish off the trip before getting on the day, we stopped into a pub called The Shakespeare for dinner. I was apprehensive at first, but the bar is somewhat separate from the dining area, and the atmosphere was very warm, energetic, and overall enjoyable. There was no loud music, only chatter of others, and there isn’t waitress stopping by every five minutes to ask “How is everything?” or trying to hurry you along. Instead, it’s very laid back, and everybody just does things at their own pace. It was a nice end to a lovely day.
All in all, I really love London. You don’t have to do much or pay much to have a truly incredible time just looking at everything there is to see. It was a great first experience, and I can’t wait to go back on Saturday.
Now, officially tired and ready for bed, I say goodnight.