Feel free to read this post in a British accent because I can assure you I’m typing in one.
With the aid of a bus, three trains, and two Dramamine, I reached London ready to explore and eat! All forty or so of us Baylor students crammed ourselves into the already-packed subway cars, our huge hiking backpacks poking at the innocent passengers who smiled and spoke politely in their beautiful British accents. The fast, quaky feel of the tube tunneling underground shifted my mindset into city mode, but we soon discovered that London is filled with a hundred more different atmospheres throughout the city when we split into our groups of friends and began walking the streets.
There’s the ritz and glamour of towering glass-walled hotels, where you can have tea time for about £52 (around $100). One street over are clubs that have dress codes, where music pounding from behind the white doors overpowers the street’s soundtrack of heels clicking on the sidewalk and classy black taxis swishing by. Wisps of warm air filled with pungent spices rush by your nose on the streets with Chinese, Arabic, and Lebanese influences—as you pass by restaurants you can almost taste the raspberry smoke from street-side hookah. There’re the ancient settings within the city, where you can step behind the floodgates of a castle and trek your way through its cobblestone village, learning about the warriors and prisoners who once lived and fought there. The dodgy/lively parts of the city lie buried past other sections—bags of rubbish lie discarded on the streets, and drunken blokes smile at you and hobble their way to the next pub. Scarves and purses rule the department store shelf space in the trendy parts of London, and enough shoppers make their way to this arcade (outdoor mall strip) to keep over sixty shoe stores within one square mile in business. There’s royal London, where the beloved queen resides; bobbies guard the surrounding streets, and the queen’s royal guards stand frozen (in more way than one) past the tall golden gates of the palace.
There are so many more aspects of London that I haven’t even seen… but four days is just not enough to experience every part of the city and visit most all of the tourist spots.
When you go to London, a few of the must-do things on your list are probably take a picture in a cute red telephone booth, ride a Double Decker bus, eat fish and chips, and maybe meet Prince Harry and convince him you’re his future wife. For me, other than visiting Platform 9 ¾, on my must-do list was seeing the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace. We were lucky enough to navigate our way straight to the palace early enough to stand in the right spot, see the guards marching while playing regal tunes, and to get a close up of their staunch, straight faces under those furry black hats. Then we piled up close to the fence to watch the actual changing of the guard occur. We waited and waited for the special moment to happen, and meanwhile we listened to the surprising musical choices by the royal band (“The Circle of Life” and the upbeat theme song to “Hawaii Five-O”). Behind us, the royal guards with flowing red robes and tall golden hats rode past on horses, which was much more interesting than the motionless guards within the gates of the palace. I turned around to watch the red-robed men for about five seconds, and within those five seconds, the guards changed places—and I missed it. So I made it all the way to Europe, all the way to England, all the way to London, all the way to Buckingham Palace, all the way to the gate where I have a decent view, and I miss the guards actually changing places. I also didn’t get a picture in a telephone booth, didn’t ride a Double Decker bus, and didn’t convince Prince Harry to marry me. I might as well have just edited my must-do list to eating fish and chips…
But we did get to see many, many of the tourist spots! Here’s what we did:
–Tower of London (one of my favorite parts of the trip!)
-Saw the play Billy Elliot at the Victoria Palace
-Did the London Eye (a huge Ferris-wheel type thing where you get to see the entire city from up extremely high)
-Saw a Scottish man playing the bagpipes
–Westminster Abbey (went to a service)
-St. Paul’s Cathedral
-Went to Bath, where we saw the
-Roman Baths, the
-Bath Abbey, and went to the
-Jane Austen Centre
So, right when we’d almost mastered the tube, adjusted to looking the right way when crossing streets, discovered the deliciousness of fish and chips, and began thinking about money in pounds instead of dollars, we were uprooted and put back into life in the Netherlands, where pounds are just what you put on after eating too much fresh-baked bread and creamy butter.
You can look forward to meeting some of my travel companions in one of my next blogs!
PS: Here’s a story for you. While we were touring the outside of Buckingham Palace, we heard an interesting (and very true) story from our tour guide about a man who once climbed the fence of the palace, climbed into a window, found the queen’s quarters, drank a bottle of her wine, and sat on the edge of her bed smoking a cigarette—while she was in it. When the queen woke up and saw him sitting there, the man calmly said, “I just want to chat.” She picked up the phone and frantically said, “Bring me cigarettes and an ash tray, now!” You’d think this would be an odd enough request from the queen that somebody would immediately go to check on her, but nobody answered her request for fifteen minutes. Needless to say, many people lost their jobs over the incident, but the funniest part of the story is that the man who broke in was only charged with stealing a bottle of wine. The queen didn’t want to bring attention to the crime and didn’t want to be a witness in court, besmearing the royal image. The man later went to jail for one year for committing another crime, but he is out now and has written a book about his experiences. I’ll let you decide what you think the moral of this story is…