After a 7:30 a.m. breakfast, concentrating mostly on a copious amount of coffee, the group took a three hour bus tour of London, which, despite my hopes of not being an absolute tourist, was a surprisingly great way to see the city. It also helped that our tour guide was outlandishly hilarious and the majority of students were delirious from a combination of jet lag and a lack of proper sleep.
On this bus tour it seemed as though we literally saw all of London, although not intimately. We managed to stop at a few of the main tourist spots including Buckingham Palace, St. John’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge and Covent Gardens. Following the tour most students explored London privately or in small groups and, in doing so, I was able to get up close and personal with Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, The London Eye, Trafalgar Square and, after it all, ride on the famous London Underground “Tube”.
Perhaps my favorite experience in London was seeing Wicked at the Apollo Theatre. I had heard so many wonderful things about the play prior to seeing it, having many friends frequenting Chicago for the often sold-out show, and the performance was spectacular. The actors, their costumes, the music, the stage set-ups and the story itself all surpassed my expectations and was entirely worth the 25 pound price tag.
My final night in London ended with the sight of a familiar face, Ms. Julia Mayo aka Jeezy, from my summer internship at Paste Magazine. Julia and I, along with one of her new study abroad friends, met beneath the Marble Arch and spent the evening roaming the streets near her flat and enjoying some Middle Eastern grub while reliving our fond Paste memories.
The evening came to a close with a hunt for an umbrella to protect against the heavy London rain shed and Mars bars to delight in something sweet. The walk back to my hotel was also quite nice. It felt good to breathe in some fresh London air and have some time to myself to explore the streets of London at night. Visiting with Julia in London really was the perfect addition to an already perfect day.
London is lovely. The streets are clean and covered with an abundance of greenery. The people are kind and, for whatever reason, seem to be genuinely happier than the typical American. As was to be expected, the currency exchange is brutally painful. It’s difficult to hand over $100 and be given only half that in the English Pound. Their bills and coins certainly have us beat in terms of appeal as does the beer– also to be expected.
Among other things, I have thoroughly explored Hyde Park, meandered the tourist shops near my hotel and had the chance to pay $4 for a bottle of water, a feat I am determined not to repeat.
It’s been interesting being here with such a large group of American students. To be completely honest, I am finding it slightly difficult. Certainly, I have met some wonderful individuals that I am greatly looking forward to getting to know, but there are also some students that have rubbed me the wrong way in terms of their disrespect for a foreign culture and overall lack of maturity. I suppose it comes with the territory of being a part of a study abroad program.
As I mentioned, my first day in London was spent mostly roaming the park and shops of the West End. Hyde Park is, in one word, magical. The fluffy squirrels come right up to your hand and, in fact, I even spotted one man with a squirrel perched on his bended knee. There were also many beautiful statues, including one of Peter Pan dedicated to the writer who was inspired and created the story within the park grounds. Kensington Palace, home of the late Princess Diana, is also in the park and was stunning with it’s immaculate black and gold gates covered in photos and flowers of remembrance. It was fantastic to say the least.
The night included a delicious feast of Indian cuisine (and $4 water) followed by drinks at Prince Alfred Pub. The Sofa Lounge at the pub was rather enjoyable and seemed like an ideal spot to become a ‘regular’. Two days in London won’t afford me that pleasure, but I’d like to go back before I head to Munich.
Tomorrow, which is technically today, includes a bus tour of the major tourist sights of London, hopefully another walk through the park and most likely some form of pubbing/clubbing.