So here we are nearly at the end of my incredible study abroad. I’ve been all over Europe and traveled around the north of England, but one big thing has been missing. Yes that’s right! I have yet to go to London, the city that most people assume I’m in when I say that I’m studying in England. Fear not I can now say that I’ve been and truly had the full English experience. London is by no means close to where I am living. It is actually a six hour bus ride, but for an American traveler six hours in a bus is nothing. I can’t even get down to New York City in six hours and I live in the same state! For people in England long car trips are like two hours, they really don’t have the travelling endurance that I was raised on.
Day One: Early Bus Ride
We left Lancaster at 3:30 in the morning and traveled down to London using Megabus. This bus ride only cost us five pounds! Gotta love Megabus. So with that said it wasn’t the most glamorous of bus ride. It smelled a bit funny and I had a guy that wouldn’t stop trying to talk to me. I was like it’s 4:30 in the morning and you really need to shut up man!! But we got to the city and our adventure began. We started off with going to the pick up location of our London Passes. The way to the pick up location brought us right past Buckingham Palace, so we started our sight seeing with the biggest one of all. A London Pass is a tourist card that you can buy for a set amount of days and you can use it to get into about 60 London attractions. I highly recommend purchasing one if you are going to do a lot of touristy thing because London is pretty expensive. After picking up the passes we went to the British Museum. This was a nice museum filled with treasures that have been collected over the years. Highlight of the museum was seeing the Rosetta Stone. We then headed to the shopping area of London, but first walked through Piccadilly Circus, which is London’s version of Times Square (it isn’t as impressive, sorry London). We walked, with our backpacks and suitcases, through Bond Street. This is the really ritzy shopping area with Tiffany’s, Ralph Lauren, Burberry, etc. So we definitely fit in! We also walked along Oxford Street before taking the Tube to the apartment that we were renting. It was more outside of the city center than I would have liked, but it was a place to sleep. And boy we needed sleep, but first we ate cake and ice cream that we bought at Tescos to celebrate being in London.
Day Two: The Zoo and Harry Potter
This was actually Thanksgiving for us Americans and sadly that Brits don’t celebrate, but it was a day to be thankful for. We started the day with heading to Abbey Road and walking across the cross walk or as they say the zebra crossing. It seems silly but I enjoyed my stroll and pretended I was one of the boys. We then made our way to the zoo and used the London Pass for the first time. Not a ton to say about the zoo, because it was a zoo. There was sadly no elephants, so I don’t know if they can call themselves a true zoo. They did have penguins, which are my favorites and they always make me really happy. The zoo was also the filming location of the first Harry Potter movie. In the zoo’s reptile house the scene where Harry talks to the snake was filmed.
This day was a very Harry Potter filled day. After the zoo we did some more walking and then went to King’s Cross Station. Yet another important Potter location. Here I got to pretend to run with my Hogwarts cart to Platform 9 3/4. It was a lot of fun and very official. We had to wait in line and there were employees that gave us scarves to wear and took pictures that we could buy in the gift shop.
Then was the real Harry Potter experience! We went to Harry Potter Studio, where they actually filmed the movies. My love for the franchise could not be controlled and I seriously wanted to cry. The studio tour was fabulous, plus it was decorated for Christmas, we came at a perfect time. Everything a HP fan could dream of. I think I took more pictures in the studio than I did on the first day exploring London. In the studio we saw the sets, costumes, props and special effects used in the movies. I walked through Diagon Alley, sat in the Weasley’s car, caught the Night Bus, stood in front of Number 4 Privet Drive and stood in Dumbledore’s office. I can’t put into words how great it was to experience part of where the magic was made. One of my favorite parts was at the end there was a room and in the center was a miniature mode of Hogwarts. It is a scale model that was used for filming exterior shots for the movies. And it was so beautiful! Sadly we had to leave.
Once back in London was ate our Thanksgiving meal in a traditional English pub. I had bangers and mash with apple pie for dessert. That was my epic Thanksgiving meal. The rest of the night is kind of a bumber and I don’t really want to dwell on it, so I’ll make this brief. When we arrived back at the apartment we realized that it had been broken into. My Ipod was stolen and our neighbors also has apple products stolen. The police were contacted; I talked with an officer and filled out a report. We decided to stay the night and then move to a hostel in the morning because we did not feel safe. We also contacted the guy we were renting from to inform him of the situation. I am a very positive person and I did not want this to spoil my trip. I was upset about it, but you can’t let things bring you down. It was the first time I had to contact the police, I kept my form that we filled out as a nice memento of this truly London experience.
Day Three: All the London Tourist Things
We got up early and took the tube to the hostel we were going to be staying at for the rest of our time in London. After dropping off our bags we walked along the Thames to our first stop. We saw Parliament and Big Ben. We walked through Westminster Abbey, which I could sadly not take photos of. It was crazy to be in the same room at Mary Queen of Scots, Queen Elizabeth and Henry VIII. This is such an important site for England, every king and queen has been crowned here, not to mention the royal weddings too. Next we went to Churchill’s war rooms, where he spent most of his time during the war. Then we took a sightseeing tour boat down to the Tower of London. In which we saw the crown jewels (Queen Victoria’s crown is my favorite), the Bloody Tower, torture contraptions, and a lot of armor and military equipment.
We walked up in the Tower Bridge to cross the Thames and head to a spot that I really wanted to visit, the Globe Theatre. Now this is not the original theater, that one burnt down. It is a replica, but it was still really cool to be inside and imagine what it must have been like back in Shakespeare’s time. After the theater tour we hit up an art gallery before crossing the river to see St. Paul’s Cathedral. We didn’t get to go inside because it’s hours didn’t fit into our schedule, but the outside was very spectacular. The we headed off to our fancy dinner at the one and only McDonalds. We keep it classy during our travels. It was a long day of walking so we went back to the hostel. I was in another room from the others, but my room mates where all really nice and I spent my time that evening planning the next days adventures.
Day Four: On My Own
I decided that I wanted to go off and do some exploring on my own. I knew what I wanted to do and I knew that I could do it better on my own. I also just wanted to be alone. I am the kind of person that is content to be alone and doing my own thing, so this was a really nice day to just be by myself. It was something that I needed to do. So after breakfast in the hostel I headed up to Hyde Park.Along the way I saw a bunch of embassies, Harrods (a very ritzy store), and Hans Place(the neighborhood I would like to live in. It was a little park surrounded by gorgeous row houses). Once arriving in Hyde Park I went to what was my favorite place I visited, Kensington Palace. The palace has been the residents of the British monarchy since the 17th century and still today. The palace was decorated for Christmas and they were playing Christmas games. I got to wear a paper crown and sit on a thrown that called out the title I gave myself, The Brilliant Lady of England. The workers were so friendly. I was told by one that the bed I was looking at was the exact bed that James the Pretender was birthed in. So I was very close to history in that room. The palace was very beautiful, every room was so pretty. One section of the museum was dedicated to Queen Victoria and her life as Queen. It was cool to see her things and parts of her life. Also there was a display of the dresses worn by some of the royal women, including Queen Elizabeth and Princess Diana.
After the palace I spent some time in Hype Park. I saw the Peter Pan statue, Diana’s memorial fountain and the giant Christmas market, though I didn’t stay long because it was extremely crowded. I made my way back to Buckingham Palace just in time to see the very end of the changing of the guards, which was nice to experience. A random side note about London is there are always guards on horse and fancy carriages that stop traffic. They also make the tourist go crazy thinking that it’s the Queen or someone important in them. I seriously saw people running to take pictures. I kind of feel that they do this just for show, but who knows.
I then hit up several museums and art galleries throughout the rest of the afternoon. I definitely got some culture during this day. I saw Van Gogh and Kandinsky in the Courtauld Institute Gallery. I went to the only remaining part of the Palace of Whitehall and I sat on a beanbag looking up at the marvelous ceiling. This is the palace that King Charles I of England was executed in front of. Oh England how you have a fascinating history. I saw a changing of the horse guards at the guard museum. I even got a bit of American History by visiting the only Ben Franklin residence.
The last museum I went to was the London Transportation Museum, which sounds a bit boring, but was actually a lot of fun. I got to explore the old train cars, buses and tubes. Did you know that there was originally steam trains in the underground? The rest of my evening consisted of me exploring the Covent Garden and watching various street performers juggle and sing. This part of the city had the most Christmas spirit and everything was decked out in Christmas decorations. I also made it back to Piccadilly’s Circus, which was crazy busy! I did a bit of gift shopping before finding a little restaurant to eat dinner in. I continued my British meals by having fish and chips. After which I found a tube station to take me back to my hostel. Once I got back I chatted with the other two American’s that were in my room, both of which are studying abroad. I packed my bag up, read some Harry Potter and went to sleep.
Day Five: Up We Go
This day was our farewell to London. After breakfast we headed straight to the bus station in order to get a good seat for our journey back to Lancaster. We got the best seats, the ones right in front of the window on the top floor of the bus. We had a great view for our ride out of London and through the countryside. As a whole the London trip was very good. It had it’s ups and down, but it was a great place to visit. Now I can say I’ve done the most English thing and saw most of London.
Until next time…