Three days, three people, 24.2 miles of walking, countless photos and unforgettable experiences constituted another amazing weekend of my study abroad experience. This was the longest trip from Aberystwyth I have taken so far, a 5 hour train ride from coastal Wales. Sarah, Julianna and I left Thursday after class and spent every moment of Friday, Saturday and Sunday exploring the great city of London and then departed on Monday morning. London deserves a least a week of your time to fully experience the majority of it’s sights and scenes. As college students on a budget I was impressed at how much we accomplished in the short time we were there. I missed seeing some sights like the Churchill War Rooms but the list of what we did see was far greater. Julianna, Sarah and I were determined to make the most of the trip by braving the vast London Underground (Subway not a fight club), rising early, staying out late, and occasionally turning to my Rick Steves guidebook to avoid the largest crowds. London is of course the capital of England and the United Kingdom. As a seat of power for over 2,000 years it has evolved into a cultural capital and a world leading center for finance. It is the largest city in the European Union, or was since it has now left the EU, and is incredibly diverse. Foods, people, and goods from every cultural background can be found in one corner or the other in this giant city. Undeterred from recent hostel experiences we chose the dictionary hostel in the Shoreditch High Street Area. It was a bit out of the way but the street had a vibrant nightlife and was close to a underground station that could connect us to any sight in London. It was very nice for the price we paid and even had an en-suite that only was to be shared between the 10 people staying in our room which was very convenient. They demanded to see our passport as a form of identification something no other hostel had done before. Would not accept our drivers license or any form or state issued id otherwise. Shout out to Niina for breaking into my room back at Aber and sending me a picture of my passport so I didn’t have to sleep in the street. You rock Niina.
History, shopping and a whole lot of walking.
Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace
Our first stop was Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard, a spectacle the Queens Guard puts on when it changes shifts. We got there early to take pictures but not early enough to get a good vantage point. I thought it took place in the courtyard but the hour long parade brings the Guard from the courtyard to the barracks then to St. James Palace then back to Buckingham again. The ceremony and tradition was a true taste of how complicated Royal Society was and is still. We decided not to pay to go inside Buckingham Palace and save our time for other sights in the day but we did snag some good pictures for the road.
I am sorry to say that a common theme of these grand places in London was the banning of cell phones or photography. Westminster Abbey was the next stop on our tour. Since the coronation of William the Conqueror in 1066, all coronations of English and British monarchs have been held in Westminster Abbey and yes, this is where William and Kate where married. Through history the building has been an abbey, a cathedral and now today is a Royal Peculiar which is a church responsible directly to the crown. My favorite part of British History is the Reign of Henry VIII and his descendants. King Henry broke from Rome after being refused a divorce from his first wife, Katherine of Aragon. Following that was a bloody period of religious turmoil which was partly responsible for the changing of religious status of the abbey. It also killed a bunch of people but we are talking about the church right now.
Besides the wedding chapel for Will & Kate Westminster houses the crypts of over 3,000 Lords, Ladies, Kings and Queens. The Virgin Queen Elizabeth I, the daughter of Anne Boleyn and Henry VII, is buried here across from her rival and cousin Mary Queen of Scotts. If you like history these two queens are worth a google.
Both heirs to the English Throne and threats to each other they lived extraordinary lives that ultimately ended with Elizabeth beheading cousin Mary and Mary’s Son James I taking the Throne after childless Elizabeth’s death. Their tombs are wings on either side of Henry VII chapel. I have inserted a painting of the chapel so you can have a look. It’s breathtaking in person. Westminster is also the burial place of many great poets, writers and scientists. Among the most famous artists entombed in Poet’s Corner is Charles Dickens, George Fredric Handel and Dr. Samuel Johnson. The lines weren’t long and an audio tour was available which was very nice. It made for a great first stop.
Trafalgar Square & Big Ben
Walking out of the Abbey we of course had to stop and get the typical tourist picture with Big Ben. Big Ben or the Elizabeth Tower as it is officially known is attached to the Palace of Westminster and stands at 315 feet tall. Next we made our way into Trafalgar Square where Westminster and the city meet.
As the patron saint of travel (kidding) Rick Steves himself puts it, “Simply put, this is the greatest chronicle of civilization anywhere.” The group wandered the halls exploring Egypt, Greece, the Great Enlightenment and much more. The most famous artifact housed in the Museum is the Rosetta Stone which allowed for the translation of Egyptian Hieroglyphics. After spending three hours in Westminster and three hours here it was time to start the search for food.
Piccadilly Circus & Soho
London is full of vastly different sections of subsections each as captivating as the next. Piccadilly and Soho were the upper crusts of the city. Stores with jackets worth more than my car, the bright lights of play houses and fancy restaurants filled the streets. By chance we came across the theater that was playing the latest chronicle of Harry Potter. We tried to get tickets but they were sold out until march of next year. Maybe I will come back.
For dinner we settled at a Japanese place in an arcade in Soho. The atmosphere was great and so were the pork buns.
After dinner we took the Underground home and hatched a plan for following day.
The day of tourist traps. But in a good way.
We started our day bright and early at Madame Tussauds, the most famous wax museum in the world. We got there at 9, had previously bought our tickets and still had to wait an hour and a half in line. We spent three hours talking selfies with the Kardashians, posing with the royal family, advising president trump and wandering the bowels of the museum when we followed a heard of tourists out the wrong doors, it took us 15 minutes to realize the people leading the large group were lost. Madame Tussauds got her start in the French Revolution making death masks for famous royals that where beheaded. Her renditions of Marie Anoientte and King Louis XVI made her work famous. How it went from severed heads to perfectly measuring Kim K’s butt I don’t know. In any case the museum was a fun excursion. I’ve included my famous encounters in a slideshow below.
Next we headed to the south bank of the Thames River to ride the iconic part of the London Skyline, The London Eye. It is the tallest Ferris wheel in Europe and it’s view can only be surpassed on the observation deck on the 72nd floor of the London Shard. The line and the ticket price was well worth it. The wheel continuously spins as glass pods containing around twenty people are loaded and unloaded. Guests are free to walk about the pod during the 45 minute spin into the sky. I was surprisingly not as horrified as I thought I could be. Incredible experience.
The three of us each had our interests, I enjoyed the history of the Monarchy, Sarah is an Art and Museum lover and Julianna enjoys the cultural experience of London’s people. Camden Market was one of those cultural experiences. What we thought was a flea market meets pintrest was actually a unique eclectic village of artisans, food vendors, and shops showcasing the diversity and vibrancy of London Culture. We looked around and each found a different and unique food vendor showcasing a foreign countries cuisine.
Kings Cross Station
Yes, we went there solely to see platform 9 3/4. Yes, we stood in line for over an hour and a half to take a picture of us pretending to run into a wall. Yes, I am still angry I never got an invitation to Hogwarts. Another tourist trap I don’t regret.
It was someones job to stand at the end of the line and flick every tourists scarf so they looked wind blown. At first I thought this was silly and had to be demeaning for someone who had the job title “scarf flicker” but after I saw how the pictures turned out I have new respect for scarf flickers everywhere. Bravo.
Art, Mass at St. Paul’s and a day full of Towers.
Modern Art is not for everyone. We started out our last full day in London at the Tate Modern Art Gallery. There were two parts of this museum, the modern and the extremely modern. We started out in the extremely modern. This exhibit is called “Blank Paper”. Julianna and I found it comical. Poor Sarah tried to justify it’s exhibition by saying the medium was porcelain but by then we had spotted an exhibition called “Round Stick” that was a colorful round stick and it was no use. That gallery provided some comic relief. Across the room where 6 levels in a line. Little does my grandpa know he is just two levels short of having his tool shed classified as a modern art gallery. The Tate Modern did have much to offer regardless of our poking fun at it. The Building itself was made from a re-purposed factory and was quite stunning. It housed a Monet, a Dali and a Picasso all three of which I spotted right off. I don’t know if you noticed but I used the word medium a few sentences back so you could say I know things about art, I’m hip with the times.
Outside of the Tate Modern it was a short walk to the Globe Theater and Millennium Bridge. The globe is a recreation of the Famous Theater where Shakespeare’s most famous plays were performed. It didn’t didn’t make the list of sights to see but we were able to sneak a picture as we passed it. Millennium Bridge is a steel suspension bridge for pedestrians. It’s nickname is wobbly bridge after it swayed so much in it’s opening year it had to be shut down for two more years to modify out the wobbles. None of us are architecturally minded it was just a great photo opportunity on the way to St. Paul’s.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
Easily one of the most famous sights of the London skyline St. Paul’s dome is among the highest in the world at 365 feet. It’s an Anglican cathedral built after the Great Fire of London. We decided to attend mass at 11:30 that day. The service was incredible, the choir’s hymns echoing through the ceilings, the message as relevant as any modern church and the people in attendance were from all faiths. Taking communion in one of the great churches of the world was a very spiritual experience. I am thankful for the opportunity. Pictures were of course not allowed inside the cathedral during the service. The ceilings where decorated with intricate tile worked depictions of Christ and various saints and the ornate features of the pipe organ and alter where incredible. We were lucky enough to be seated in the third row of the service. I took many pictures of the outside of the cathedral and have downloaded some images from google to showcase the inside.
Tower of London
A palace, a fortress, a prison, an execution site, a menagerie where all once a part of the Tower of London. This ancient building was a thrill to explore. Today it is a vast museum and contains the vault of the Crown Jewels of England. The very crown that the current Queen of England wore at her coronation were inches from me. Protected by some very thick glass but never the less. The tower sticks out in my mind for holding famous Prisoners like Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I. A guided tour took us along the walls of the fortress listening and observing history. The huge grounds contain walls and buildings from drastically different time periods from the 13th century walls to the White Tower of William the Conqueror and to the state of the art vault that holds millions of dollars worth of jewels. The Tower is still guarded by 35 Yeomen Warriors just as it was in it’s conception. Again pictures where prohibited but if you would like to see the crown jewels they are regularly atop the Queens head.
Our last stop was a walk across Tower Bridge and dinner on the banks of the Thames. It was an incredible, busy weekend. Its a working draw bridge that is commonly mistaken for London Bridge. We all had a great time and I am very thankful sore feet didn’t get in the way of our friendship or the tourist triathlon we completed. Thanks guys!
Thanks for reading!