With December looming and the reality that my semester of exploration may soon be over, I booked a ticket and hopped on a low-cost airline headed to the blustery United Kingdom. Ignoring the fact that the USD is now 1.6 to the British pound and that the temperature was about 30 degrees colder than in Valencia, I was ready for a harry potter adventure.
Meryl, Haley, Kathleen and I stayed with one of Kathleen’s friends from Williams who is studying for the semester at London School of Economics. After a delayed flight and shock from the frigid weather, we were greeted with brand new sleeping bags and pillows to make the couch surfing experience more pleasant. It was nice to hear English spoken widely—I felt very close but still very far from home.
We woke up in the morning eager to explore. Our makeshift home was situated in a very good position, giving us optimal tourist opportunities. We wandered around until we couldn’t feel our toes anymore. We walked down Waterloo Bridge, through an adorable Christmas market right on the south bank that offered trinkets and amazing street food. This took us to the London eye, where we crossed the bridge to see Big Ben (oh, I’m sorry, Elizabeth Tower) and parliament. From there we saw Westminster Abby and walked down to Buckingham Palace. Without any time to de-thaw, we were completely frozen. We met up at a pancake restaurant for a warm bite to eat and spent the rest of the night relaxing and watching Love Actually because based in London.
Waking up a little bit stiff from a night on the floor, Meryl and I headed to the Churchill War Rooms, an exhibit about the life and policies of Winston Churchill. This museum is EXCELLENT and anyone who travels to London absolutely must visit it. The beginning of the exhibit is a tour of the war rooms, where Churchill held council during the bombings of London. It was very cool to see the map room with the thousands of tiny pin holes from throughout the war. The second part is a museum all about the life and death of Winston Churchill. This was extremely well done, the highlight being an enormous, interactive timeline in the center of the room with information on every day of his life. From the war rooms we headed to Buckingham Palace to witness the famed changing of the guards, which was extremely anticlimactic.
We had heard about an interesting market in Nottinghill called the Portabella market, so we crossed Hyde park to check it out. It was an enormous market with street food, antiques and nick-nacks. I headed back solo to try to attend an afternoon mass at Westminster Abby but promptly got lost along the way. After wandering down Regent street to see all of the expensive shops that London has to offer, I found myself back at the National Gallery and was able to see Velasquez’s Venus painting and many other European masterpieces. We finished the day with the best Indian food in the world.
Waking up in the morning I was ready to explore more. Breaking from the other girl’s plans, I headed out to walk London alone and it was phenomenal. I began at the British Museum, which is larger than life and holds some of the most interesting archeological finds in the world. There was everything from Easter Island statues to Egyptian sarcophaguses and I enjoyed every minute of it. Facing the cold, I walked down the South Bank, past Millennium Bridge, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, the Tate museum to London Bridge. I stumbled upon a beautiful, old cathedral on the way and stopped in the Borough Market for some free smells, samples, and an amazing piece of carrot cake. Finally making my dream of attending mass this weekend a reality, I visited St. Paul’s cathedral for an afternoon evensong mass, which was the highlight of my trip. The cathedral is too beautiful to describe.
With that, my time in London had expired and I headed back to catch my plane. I had accomplished roughly 1/100 of the things that I had wanted to, and I swore to myself that I would return soon. Next time I return it may not be in the middle of winter with frozen toes, rosy cheeks and Starbucks red cups, but the city is charming in the winter.