Thursday, 19 January 2012

London Calling

 There are a few cities so engrained in our cultural imaginations that their very names are evocative—Paris! New York! Tokyo! And, of course, London. To most American minds, the word “London” conjures up a wealth of images: Big Ben, the Tower of London, stern-faced guards, bobbies, tea and crumpets, bad teeth, Sherlock Holmes, the Queen and the ubiquitous red double-decker buses.  

Shockingly enough, these stereotypical images associated with London do no justice to the incredible diversity of experience possible in the city. On the trip to London last weekend, my friends and I saw so much in only two short days, but barely scratched the surface of what this city has to offer.

This trip was beautifully structured in that it was not structured whatsoever. So long as we were back on the buses at 10 AM Sunday, we had absolute freedom. London has faced many threats during her storied history, but I was a little concerned about her ability to withstand 150 extremely eager American college students descending upon her in a mad fury of tourism, shopping and general lunacy.  Luckily, both the city and the students seem to have remained largely intact.

Cassie, myself, Amanda and Emily in front of the Museum
I spent the whole trip with four other girls, Emily, Cassie, Amanda, and Lesley, all good friends from UE. Being the history nerds we are, we started our adventure at the British Museum on Friday morning. According to the uncontrovertibly  reliable Wikipedia article I am currently skimming, it houses about 8 million objects and boasts the world’s largest collection of ancient Egyptian pieces, most of which were gleefully pilfered in the 1800s, I might add. The museum was fantastic; my favorite was the medieval section, but the Egyptian and Classical were also fascinating, and there were many more parts which we did not explore; one can only look at so 
many engraved cups before they start to run together.

We had lunch at a fantastic little café not too far from the museum called Bush and Fields Café Italiano. If you are ever in London, eat there. I mean it. Paninis and pasta. I had a goat cheese, arugula and roasted vegetable panini. It is the best thing I have eaten in England so far.
More walking ensued. Actually, an apt summation of this trip for us would be “more walking ensued.” We figured it at over 20 miles in the two days, 18 of which were street. In order to a) save on cost, b) get to actually see the city and c) feel like Superwomen, we completely eschewed public transportation.  Sunday felt like death, but it was very much worth it.

There was some shopping (five girls in London? Hello H&M and Topshop!) and much sightseeing and photo taking, but we made our way down to Westminster Abbey in time for evensong. In fact, way too early for evensong, and it was freezing, so we spent a full hour playing with the ornaments of  Henry VIII and his wives in the gift shop, but I digress.

Evensong was glorious. We were there early enough that we got to sit with the choir, which further enriched the experience. I would not describe my religious leanings as particularly Anglican, but the service was really quite moving. The music was simply divine.

‘Twas already evening by the time this was over, and we did a bit more shopping as we trekked back to the area around our hotel. And it was quite a trek; Westminster was a rather long way from the Royal National. We didn’t get back in the area until about nine, and had an average dinner at a diner very close to the hotel. Then a quick stop at Tesco (basically a cheap convenience-type store) for soda and snacks, and we retired to talk the night away in the hotel. I should explain—none of us are really nightlife people. An evening of good conversation and resting our tired feet (backs, thighs and knees) sufficed both evenings, rather than the potential nights of debauchery and vice that could have ensued. My room was comprised of Amanda (fellow blogger!), Lesley and I, and we had a glorious time recounting our adventures and planning the next day.

After a rather poor excuse of a breakfast the following morning, we were once again headed out, this time to the Tate. Which was really, really far away. The gallery itself was…odd. I got to see John Everett Millais’ painting of Ophelia, and J. W. Waterhouse's Lady of Shalott, which are two of my all-time favorites. There were some very beautiful pieces in the museum, but also some modern ones that I did not understand in the least. It was laid out quite strangely—a room of 18th century portraits would be surrounded by a room filled with strange iterations of the phenomenon known as “modern art.”
Buckingham Palace
More photos and exploration on the way back. We tried to take different routes each time, the better to see more things. Had lunch at Pret a Manger, which is more or less similar to Panera, and was really quite delicious. And, most importantly, inexpensive. Popped into Harrod’s for a few minutes; Lesley and I gawked at the incredible selection of delicacies at the food counter, which included truffles, one kilogram of which would pay for more than a full year at Evansville. We got lots of haughty looks from salespeople; it was if we were carrying neon signs saying “BROKE COLLEGE STUDENTS.”

Finally, we went to Buckingham Palace to take some pictures. Afterwards, we trudged back to the hotel, went to a pub, and spent the night as we did the previous one, laughing, talking, snacking on this and that, and occasionally pinching ourselves to remind each other that we are in London!

Trafalgar Square
To sum up: London is expensive, but you can do it on the cheap. We bought meals (and could have done it for less had we just made sandwiches, but that seemed a little sad), but went only to free attractions. We walked everywhere. And although a couple of us (yes, myself included), did a little shopping, that was unnecessary—we would have had a great time without that. Architecture: amazing. Art: incredible History: unbelievable. I had a fantastic trip, and cannot wait to go back and get to know this unbelievable city a little better. 

1 comment:

  1. Gina, sounds like you had a great visit in London. I was at Harlaxton last semester and visited London a lot. You have to use their public transportation, it is amazing and really not that expensive!