After being in England for over 2 months I was dying to see London. It was the perfect place to begin our 3 week Europe tour and 110 percent lived up to all my expectations. I’m just over 2 weeks through my Easter break and before I get into the details I just want to say some overall statements about my trip so far.
First of all shout out to Hull for having a 3 week long break in the middle of the semester. None of this would be possible w/o their very strange uni schedule, but I’m living for it. Also rumor has it next year they are cutting it to just 2 weeks, so I really could not have chosen a better time to study abroad.
Second, I am seeing 11 major cities in 7 different countries in just 24 days. As my friends and I would say, “Wow, we are idiots”. So far it has been the most exhausting, rewarding, and amazing thing I have ever done. I have seen some of the most beautiful sights, artwork, and architecture of my life. I am completely in love with seeing the different fashions of each city, experiencing their different cultures, and trying (way too much) of their delicious foods. Europe seriously has the most beautiful people, doggos, and scenery. I could sit in a café all day in any of these cities and be content just people watching. However, that is not at all what has been happening. My friends and I have been running around like crazy people, cramming as many sights of each city into the average of 2 days we are in each one, and walking around 8 miles a day. So also s/o to my single pair of boots I’ve been wearing this whole trip, my cheap Tesco suitcase for surviving being stuffed and dragged around on the cobblestone streets thus far, and my brother for buying me vacuum seal packing bags for Christmas. If you are wondering how tf I am affording this: By sleeping in rooms with up to 18 other people, flying on budget airlines, finding cheap train and bus tickets between cities, and having grocery store picincs. Don’t get me wrong we have for sure said “treat yo self” probably more than our wallets appreciate but my point is our holiday hasn’t needed to be glamorous to fully experience the cities! Despite planning so many things way too late and making plenty of mistakes, this has all still been absolutely perfect and the best time of my life. I really have grown as a person, and feel so blessed to have this opportunity that many never will. Its something I never want to forget and so even if I am the only one reading these blogs I know one day I will really appreciate taking the time to write down all my (lengthy) thoughts. So here it goes!
We left Friday, March 31st after my friends got out of class and took the train into London. We’ve kept a Google doc to organize our transportation and hostel reservations so different friends have been hopping on and off the trip throughout. So London started out with my friends Arianna, Kate, and Madison. We figured out the tube to our accommodation, which was by far the worst of the trip besides the manager who was amazing. This one was the 18 bed mixed dorm with wifi only in the lobby which was pub filled with v sketchy people. The manager handled the situation for us, lent us towels for free, gave us free shots after long days, and even made our itinerary to get to the super inconvenient London Luton airport.
Saturday (Day 1) we took the tube into the city center and walking up the steps the first thing we saw was Big Ben and the Parliament building. People say be prepared that Big Ben isn’t as big as you think but I don’t know what they are talking about because walking up those steps my heart melted. Just seeing this famous sight that I’ve dreamed of seeing took my breath away that this was going to be my life for the next 3 weeks again and again. Big Ben’s gold detail and the overwhelming size of Parliament were incredible under England’s rare clear sky. We walked through Parliament Square and there were flowers laid all along the lawn. It had only been a week since the attack here, giving us an eerie feeling. Terrorist attacks happen every single day and its awful most of the time we don’t even know about them, this one however you could really tell changed the atmosphere. There was a very large police and military presence throughout. And we had no idea this was just the beginning of this. We went to West Minster Abbey after this, which was filled with so much history!! This is where Kate Middleton and Prince William got married, where every coronation has occurred, where the coronation chair is kept, and where Queen Elizabeth I, Mary I, Mary Queen of Scots (my favorite!!), King Henry the III, VII, and VIII, Edward the Confessor, Sir Isaac Newton, and Charles Darwin among many others are all buried. Coronations have occurred here for almost 1000 years and the chapels were all so intricate and beautiful. It is definitely one of my favorite churches I have been in (and I’ve been in many during my time here) but unfortunately pictures weren’t allowed.
After we headed to Trafalgar Square, which would have been a beautiful walk any other day except we probably chose the worst possible time to do it. There were police lined along both sides of the streets (some even with military grade assault riffles) formations of at least 20 at each corner, increasing as we got farther up the road, military vehicles, and several helicopters flying overhead. We finally asked an officer what was going on after we started to reasonably get a bit nervous and he informed us there were 3 protests occurring that day: one for Nazis, one against Nazis, and one for ISIS. Which all blew my mind were even occurring. Like who possibly could still support Nazis in the modern world and how do they let people openly rally for ISIS? The officer said the most British thing possible to us and said “It’ll be alright, carry on”. As we got to the top of the street we had to cross over to the median to avoid a large crowd chanting at the corner. Then all hell broke loose as someone took a swing at an officer (unsure from which group), a girl got thrown onto a taxi trying to pass through, she flung herself off the hood literally at our feet where a dog pile of police started to happen before we pushed our way out of the madness. My friends are maybe smarter than I am as they wanted to get out of there as soon as possible and into a café, but I kind of wanted to watch from afar because seeing all of this unfold was an experience unlike any other.
After a needed quite lunch we headed back out to the square where everything finally chilled out and went into the National Gallery, which is FREE. This is amazing because we got to see several Monet’s including water lilies, Seurat (famous pointillism artist), and more Van Gogh’s. We also went into the Michelanglo and Sebastiano exhibition (once again no pictures) and got to see many of their famous studies and collaborations. This definitely still did not prepare me for the beauty of the David in Florence at all though. After the National Gallery we went to the National Portrait Gallery, also free. Here they had the original portraits and busts of the Tudor families (My girl Mary again!!), which was so cool after seeing their tombs that morning. They also had many other famous British portraits including the gorgeous Princess Diana and Kate Middleton. Then it was onto Baker Street (where they film Sherlock) eating noodles outside and people watching. We ended the day on Oxford Street, which is classier than I will ever be. Selfridges and Co, a giant department store on the corner, was filled with all my favorite (over the top expensive) designers. We went in and were only asked once if we needed any help, obviously looking too poor to buy anything except MAYBE a key chain. The clothes, accessories, and handbags were all so beautiful I could’ve cried. We went into Chanel and saw a lady casually pull out 3000 pounds to buy 2 Chanel bags, TWO. I also learned Chanel perfume smells too fancy for it to belong on my body. We were like children in a candy store, tbh it was probably embarrassing but life travel motto as taught by my mom: “You’ll never see these people again”. Today, as many days of my trip have been, were art, history, and cultural overload in the best way.
Sunday (Day 2) we went to Buckingham Palace (the flag was up meaning the Queen was home!!) and got to see the changing of the guard! It’s crazy this huge event occurs twice a week here. It was so elaborate with once again military everywhere, all overwhelmingly packing. The palace was beautiful in the middle of St. Jame’s Park in full bloom. The guard, the performance, and the horses: all perfect. We took the tube to St. Paul’s Cathedral and ate lunch surrounded by city chickens (don’t ask but they will no longer be referred to as pigeons again by me). Sitting there on a beautiful day with my friends my life felt like a movie scene. After checking out the elaborate interior of the cathedral we walked to the millennium bridge over the River Thames, and then all the way to The Tower of London. (Common theme of this trip: I get us from point A to point B –overall very good with directions. However, small flaw: I say something is just a short walk and it ends up being more like 30+ minutes and killing our feet, my bad. I tiredly described this as I have bad depth perception and that has been the running joke of my navigation skills). Once we finally got to the Tower of London it was actually several different towers surrounded by stonewalls. We got to walk along the tops of the walls, see the torture chambers, inside the towers, the ravens, and the best part: the Crown Jewels. I couldn’t take pictures, of course, but these were the biggest diamonds I’ve ever seen in my life, one of them being over 530 carats. They had the coronation china on display as well with my favorite piece being the punch bowl that could hold 144 bottles of wine. I loved learning more about the history behind the jewels, the stories of the towers, and the famous executions that occurred all where I was standing. Right outside the Tower is the famous Tower Bridge, which is more massive and beautiful that I imagined or any picture can do justice. We ran out of time to explore Hyde Park and Kensington Palace at the end of the day, so to make it up to me my friends made sure we went to the gelato shop I had been drooling over during our walk to the hostel the past 3 days.
At the end of our stay here I left London in love, not ready to say goodbye, but also ready to return to Paris (something I always hoped I could do but never thought I really would). The city was so posh and I am completely into it. I loved how everyone was dressed and talked, the flawless architecture and flats, and how clean and organized the city was. It was perfect to get my first taste of getting around a big city before being thrown into entirely different cultures, and new languages every couple of days. As with every city I have seen, I really hope one day to return. I feel as if I could live here for years and never get bored or run out of things to see. Since London is only a short train ride from Hull the likely hood I’ll come back is high, especially since I’ve recently found out the London Zoo has sloths and I’m having major withdrawals. So until then, I can’t wait to share about my other adventures!