Usually, when Americans think England, they think fish and chips, double-decker buses, red phone booths, Harry Potter, and of course, English accents (bloody hell!). Officially having been to London, I am pleased to report that these stereotypes are true, right down to calling elevators “lifts.” My friend Kaitlin is studying in London, with an exchange program similar to mine. Her program, however, is shorter, and she’ll be going home in just a few short weeks. Going to see her was part two of my saga known as “Semana Santa,” and I was overwhelmed with excitement when she found me in the airport the Monday I left Dublin. She had been visiting a friend in Dublin at the same time as me, so the plan was to meet up right before our flight, fly together, then head back her dormitory. I went with Crystal to the airport around two to see her off, even though my flight didn’t leave until around 10. For some strange reason I was in a giddy mood, be it because of the thrill of traveling or overwhelming amounts of caffeine in my system, so Crystal and I ended up spending a few hours in the airport together, having real talk and laughing our faces off, much to the dismay of people around me. In my defense, we had to make the time pass somehow. She left around five, and I went to buy Starbucks and a burger to tide myself over while I waited. I am forever in debt to the Starbucks industry for making my day with something so simple as a 5 dollar/euro Frappuccino. I will pay the price just for 20 minutes of pure bliss. When I went back to my terminal, I found a comfy spot on the floor, put my iPod in, and leaned back against my backpack to do a bit of writing. There’s something about the hustle and bustle of the airport that breeds inspiration. There is an air of excitement. People scurry to get to their destinations, lugging along suitcases, bags, and whatever else they can carry. I often wonder where they’re all going and what their story is; I guess it’s not always easy to shake the journalist in me.
I was contemplating the people around me, when I glanced over my notebook and saw someone charging toward me. She tossed a box to the ground, sprinted across the airport, and wrapped herself around me. Only later did I discover that the box contained a piece of pie. Now that’s true friendship: tossing your pie aside to hug someone. Kaitlin was my first friend from Oswego. We met each other orientation day, both scared high school students, not quite sure what to do with ourselves as we walked around the campus. Three years later, there we were in an airport on the other side of the world. It was strange to see someone so familiar in such a foreign environment; strange, but comforting. She ended up arriving only an hour and a half after Crystal left, and the time passed pretty quickly as we sat on the airport floor, talking about our lives. The next thing we knew, we were boarding our plane with RyanAir, and making our way to the lovely city of London. We didn’t touched down until around 11:30 and didn’t actually make it back to her dorm until after 1 a.m., after taking two buses and walking for about a half hour. She lives quite far from the airport, but luckily the view on our walk was phenomenal. We had to cross this bridge that had an incredible view of of the river and was lit up. It was encompassed by beautiful brick and modern buildings on either side. The bridge itself had a series of black antique-looking light poles. When we finally arrived to the University of Roehampton, we barely made it to the bed before passing out. Traveling can be draining.
The next day, Kaitlin and I decided to have a picnic in the biggest park in London, Richmond Park. The scenery was fully-equipped with greenery, rolling hills, and tons of deer everywhere you look. When we woke up, we went to the town over (Putney) to buy groceries and concessions for our picnic. When we got back, we made ourselves a timeless classic: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We ate our sandwiches in the park and walked around for a while, taking it all in. Younger couples sat together and lay about, while older people were walking their dogs and children were chasing deer. It was very relaxing after our hectic travels the day before. That night, we went to a restaurant called The Railway, where I indulged in some of the most delicious chicken I’ve ever had in my life and, of course, a coffee 🙂 I even managed to try some of Kaitlin’s fish and chips, because it is the specialty (yes, me, trying fish!). When we went back to her dorm, we watched some shows and ate a ton of chocolate cake.
The next day, we ventured into the actual city center to see some of the major sites. We took our trusty double-decker bus to get there and sat on top so we could see out over the city. Riding these things can actually be a pretty frightening experience– the drivers seem to play a game where they get as close to things as humanly possible. It’s certainly a different perspective riding up there, though. Instead of seeing people pass by, you look down over people who seem a bit smaller than before. You see tops of bus stops, instead of the actual stops, and trees become difficult to maneuver under. The slap of tree branches against the bus wasn’t always the most comforting thing in the world, but it was definitely cool to be seated so high up. Our first stop was Piccadilly Circus, which is essentially the Times Square of London; lots of bright advertisements, numerous department stores, and a fountain in the middle (though that would be more of a Puerta del Sol influence). From there, we started walking and saw Trafalgar Square, the famous home of four gigantic lion statues situated around a column that nearly touches the skies with a statue resting on top. The lions are so big that not only can you climb on them (with a great deal of difficulty getting up), but you can probably fit a small class-size of children on one of the lion’s backs. I attempted to scale the lion and jump on its back, but surrendered when I realized there was a very real possibility of me falling many feet below. The square, however, was beautiful with two huge fountains and a giant clock that counts down the days until the Olympics. All over the city, people are preparing to host the classic event, and it was so exciting to be there in the months leading up to it!
From there, we grabbed a Costa Coffee, the Starbucks of London (though they have a ton of Starbucks, too) and walked to the Houses of Parliament. The building was the epitome of Gothic architecture: brown and gray, with tall, pointy columns reaching up toward space. Along with the Houses of Parliament, we got to see the giant clock tower that holds Big Ben! Just passed that, we crossed over a bridge that covers the River Thames and runs parallel to the Millennium Bridge, which I discovered was used in the final book of Harry Potter. Talk about cool stuff. Situated between the two bridges is the London Eye, the biggest Ferris wheel in all of Europe, with a diameter of about 400 feet. The carts are actually these giant pods that fit about thirty people, and from the very top, you can see almost all of London. Despite Kaitlin’s overwhelming fear of heights, I, being the good friend I am, dragged her on it and it was definitely an experience of a lifetime. Down below, everyone looked like an ant. It took about a half hour or more to go around the whole thing, and afterword, I took Kaitlin to Pizza Hut as a reward for her going with me. And yes, people, sometimes it’s okay to do the American things! Pizza Hut never tasted so good.
Over the next two days in London, we hit up the Globe Theatre, Buckingham Palace, and Abbey Road, yes THE Abbey Road. Ever since my high school classes with Mr. Spitler and Mr. Franco, it has always been a dream of mine to see the famous Shakespeare theater in London, and on the day we went, I was in all my nerdy glory. Standing outside the globe made me feel right at home, and I was so happy to see that it was just like the pictures, a white and brown cylinder with the middle cut out. We took a tour of the theater and learned about how it was part of a rebellious culture back in the day and was burned down and rebuilt. Buckingham Palace was equally huge and exquisitely designed, suitable I’d say, for a royal family. Outside, there were the cliche men you see in all the movies, donning Red suite jackets, black pants, and those tall furry hats. They marched with purpose to and from both sides of the grounds, and carried their rifles close to their chests. I was slightly disappointed to realize that they didn’t actually stand there, unable to blink an eye while people move around them, but hey, I’d imagine that would get pretty boring after a while. On the grounds of the palace, itself, was another giant fountain (those things pop up all over Europe) with angels surrounding it and a golden eagle resting on the very top. Thousands of coins shined in the pool of water that surrounded it, each one holding the wish of some passerby. Kaitlin and I made our own wishes and went to the royal gardens, which were alive with some of the most vibrant and well-maintained flowers I’ve ever seen. I guess that’s one of the benefits of being the Queen of England: you get to have nice things. Oh, to be royal, if only for a day! However, my favorite part of the whole trip was most likely our trip to Abbey Road. For anyone who isn’t a huge fan of the Beatles like myself, Abbey Road is the famous road with the crosswalk that the Beatles used for one of their album covers, and the picture has since been reprinted in posters like the one I have back home in the States. As a tourist destination, it wasn’t that exciting, because it’s literally just a crosswalk, but there was a decently sized crowd of people stopping traffic to have their picture taken crossing there. It was awesome to think that I was walking in the same place the Beatles did years ago! On the opposite side of the road is Abbey Road Recording Studios, but we weren’t allowed to go in. Outside of the studio, however, the wall was completely graffitied with quotes from Beatles’ songs or messages from fans that had visited over the years. I added my own little lyric and signed my name.
These two trips were truly unforgettable experiences, and ones that I know I’m going to remember all my life. It’s incredible to learn about things for years and see pictures, then actually go there and see that picture in front of you in three dimensions. I’m going to have stories to tell for years to come. As the Beatles said, “There are places I remember all my life, though some have changed. Some forever, not for better, some have gone and some remain.” These places will remain with me forever.