By Elena Eberwein, FFE 2012-13
I’m just gonna say it: I think I fell in love this weekend. London is my soulmate of a city. I loved everything about it, I didn’t even mind the cold and the rain because there was just so much to do and see!
Our adventure began the Wednesday of our 10-day October break. My two friends and I left for Pisa, where our flight was departing, in the early evening. We had friends who had left earlier in the day for London, but we decided we wanted to save money and buy the cheap late night flight.
On our way to the airport we stopped at the leaning Tower of Pisa, just because we could. My first thought when I saw it was, “Wow, it really is leaning!” It was so surreal to see this tower I’d only seen in pictures standing right in front of me. That feeling is more and more common as I’ve begun traveling to places I’ve only dreamed of.
We grabbed some big 5 euro margherita pizzas and headed to the airport. We checked in quickly and then waited and waited… and waited. Our airline was called RyanAir and is known for their extremely affordable flights around Europe, but they are also not the most organized. The prices are worth a tiny bit of stress though in my opinion. Our flight was supposed to be at 10:20pm, but we didn’t board until about 11:45pm.
After a 2-hour flight we arrived in London about 1am their time. We checked into customs and got some new stamps on our passports then found a nice coffee shop to set up camp for the night. We knew it would be too late to get into the city and into a hostel, so we found comfy chairs and planned the next day’s journey and slept for a few hours.
Around 8am we went a bought tickets for a shuttle bus to Victoria station and slept the 2 hour ride into the city. We got to the station and figured out how to buy travel cards and also bought 2-day London Passes. With these passes you can see 55+ attraction for free over the course of 2 days, which ended up saving us a good chunk of money. We attempted to navigate the world famous London “tube” system, and were successful in finding the stop where our hostel was. We got off at Fulham and Broadway and made our way to the Queen Elizabeth Fulham hostel. We dropped off our luggage because we were too early to check in and ventured back into the city.
We had heard of a free walking tour starting at Green Park, so after grabbing a lunch of hot soup, we met up with our group at the statue of Diana. Our tour guide was adorable and super funny from the beginning. She was originally from Northern Ireland but studying and living in London with her boyfriend. In our group there was a couple from the Nertherlands, 2 guys from Malaysia, a girl from Argentina, a girl from new Zealand, and a guy from Australia who’d just spent the past 3 months motorcycling around the midwest of the US. Needless to say we had quite a fun bunch.
We started our tour in Green Park, and from there we saw Buckingham Palace, St.James Palace where we took pictures with a guard, Trafalgar square, the Houses of Parliament, the Prime Minister’s street/door, the place Olympic beach volleyball was played, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and the London Eye. Along the way she told us quirky fun stories only an insider would know. For example, there’s a small sculpted nose sticking out of the side of a building near the Parliament Houses. People thought it was to make fun of the Duke of Wellington and his abnormally large nose, but an artist put it there years ago to symbolize how Parliament had their nose in everyone’s business. Guards and officers on horses will rub it for goodluck whenever they pass by it. There was also a story of a drunk who snuck into Buckingham Palace in the 80’s and smoked and had a conversation with the queen. It was a tour full of fun facts like that. Our guide doesn’t get paid an actual hourly wage, and survives on tips, so I gave her a few pounds she most definitely deserved. I felt like I had a much better understanding of London culture and history after those 3 hours.
We headed back to the hostel and found our friends who had gotten there the day before us and checked in. Then we went back to the city again to get some fish and chips! Our tour guide had told us about a place called Golden Union, and though it took a little bit of time to find it, it was worth the confusion.
The next day we were up at 8 and and the train station by 8:30. We ate some quick breakfast and met up with friends at the station. The travel cards aren’t valid until 9:30 am so we waited for a little bit then hopped on the tube. We went straight to Westminster pier where we used our passes to go on a city cruise of the St.Thames River. On the cruise we saw Milennium Bridge, the Tate Modern, the National Theatre, London Bridge, Tower Bridge, the Shard of Glass (tallest building in the city), and the London Eye up close and personal.
We got off at the Tower Bridge stop and headed over to the Tower of London.We utilized those passes again and skipped all ticket lines to get into the Medieval Palace. We then were also able to see the Crown Jewels of London exhibit where Queen Elizabeth’s coronation outfit and crown was on display, among other jewels and outfits of the same grandeur. Before leaving, we ate the most delicious vegetable minestrone soup at the Tower Cafe that warmed us up a bit.
But before getting on the tube to go to the London Bridge we spotted a Starbucks. We couldn’t resist the temptation of decadent hot chocolate, so in a moment of weakness we went in and waited in the monstrous lines for a taste of home. It was well worth the wait. With our hot drinks in tow, we hopped on the tube and headed to the London Bridge to use our passes for “The London Bridge Experience”. Basically what happened was we were given a brief dramatic history of the bridge by a bunch of actors dressed in industrial London attire and speaking in thick cockney accents, then were corralled into the tombs and crypts of the bridge for the scariest, creepiest, nastiest haunted house I’ve ever experienced. My friends and I definitely had to stop and take a breather after that one.
Our next stop, thanks to our pass, was Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. On the way there though, we stumbled upon Borough Market, one of the most famous fresh food markets in the city. My first purchase was a simple oatmeal chocolate chip cookie: the true taste of home. We meandered through the giant market and sampled anything given to or laid out in front of us. By the time we got through the market, we’d basically had a full meal.
We kept walking along the river until we arrived at our destination of Shakespeare’s Globe. We went inside and explored the museum until our tour began. Our guide was enthusiastic and well-informed. She really knew what she was talking about and was able to keep us engaged throughout the tour. She took us into the Globe, a replica of what Shakespearean theaters used to look like. It’s still an active theatre, though weather permitting depending on where your seats are. I’d love to go back and see a performance there someday.
At this point we were hungry again. Seems like travel always ends up being based around food. We walked over the Millennium Bridge, also known as the Wibbley-Wobbley Bridge, snapped some lovely photos, and got on the tube to Chinatown. We found an all you can eat chinese buffet and stuffed ourselves as typical college kids tend to do.
Afterwards we tried to go to a movie theater on our pass, but we hadn’t read the fine print that said free movies only until 5 with it. So we went back to the Fulham Broadway station where they were showing James Bond Skyfall in the theatre upstairs. It was epic. Seeing all of this wild action and adventure happening in places that we had been walking on earlier that day, as well as the same ‘Wimbledon’ tube train we’d been riding crashing through to the street; it was definitely a surreal experience.
The next morning we got up and headed to the station again to snag some breakfast. We realized that right down the street was another attraction on our pass: Chelsea Football Stadium. We went in, checked out the museum, and were taken on a complete tour of the stadium. We sat in the seats, saw the press room, the dressing room of both the home and away teams, and also got to sit in the dugout. Football is such a huge part of European culture. The Chelsea vs. Manchester United game happening the next day was going to be ten times bigger than any Yankees versus Red Sox game. They keep security everywhere, and alcohol isn’t allowed in the stands, yet fans still manage to get out of control. In the stadium there are 42,000 seats, yet only 3,000 are reserved for away fans. I’m definitely going to try and get a little more into football over here, possibly go see a Fiorentina game sometime!
Our next stop was Westminster Abbey. We had trouble trying to find the front door, but then realized it was closed early on Saturdays. St. Margaret’s church, right next to the bigger one, was still open though, so we went in there. We sat in a pew and just absorbed the serenity and peace in this gorgeous church. The insides were beautiful and intricate with frescoes and details.
After this we made our way to Kensington Palace, home of Will and Kate and many monarchs before them since the 1600s. On the way we snagged free hot chocolates at Crrush, an organic drink shop, courtesy of the London Pass yet again. It was rainy, but we made our way through the park to the monumental palace. Inside we explored the king and queen’s separate chambers while learning history throughout. We also saw Diana’s quarter’s which was wonderful. They had some of her most famous and controversial dresses on display. We learned the sad story of Queen Victoria and her 18 miscarried or still-born children. Her one child that did live, William, died 2 days after his eleventh birthday, so all hopes of a child inheriting the throne was gone. She died a terrible death as well, and when she died her coffin was dropped down the grand staircase leading from the queen’s chamber. Such a sad life and death. I guess it’s not easy to be a queen.
After this we gave into temptation and went to “Tkmaxx” to do a tad bit of shopping. I was able to find some cute things, for non-outrageous prices surprisingly considering how expensive London is. Then we got on the tube again to try and get back to Borough Market, but it was closing up as we got there. So we walked along the river looking for a place to eat and ended up in The Gourmet Burger, where I had the best falafel burger of my life. They even gave us complimentary “monkey nuts” or peanuts that were also delicious.
We kept walking along the river until we got to the Tate Museum of Modern Art. We explored inside and found some very interesting art, to say the least. There was live art going on too: a demonstration of people walking back and forth along the giant entry way at different paces each time they went back and forth. I felt like I was in a scene from “The Happening”. I got to see some Picasso which was very weird yet impressive, as well as some really impressionistic Nazi propaganda. You truly need hours to explore that museum though, its the MoMa of London.
Our night was not over yet! On our passes we saw you could go iceskating and Queen’s Bowl and Skate. So we headed there. I did about 1 lap, fell on my butt and got off the ice. But I had fun taking pictures of my friends and enjoying the disco-like atmosphere. We were only there about a half hour and then headed back to Fulham Broadway.
I needed to get some sushi before I left London, so in the station right before they closed I got a good little assortment from Yo sushi. It’s a neat place, you pay by the pre-made plate as it comes around the counter on a conveyor belt. It was expensive but worth it. I definitely miss my old job back home selling sushi for a living.
We went back to the hostel, gathered our bags and friends and went to Victoria station. We got on our shuttle bus to the airport and camped out there for the night after stocking up on Cadbury chocolate. Our flight left at 7 and turns out it was daylight savings, so our sense of time was completely off. We got in around 9:30 to Pisa airport after a very turbulent ride in. We took a few trains to finally end up back home in sweet Firenze.
It’s so funny to call this place my home. Sometimes I catch myself thinking about it and really realize how lucky I am to be where I am. I have the ability to travel to different countries on the weekends. I’ve made friends from all over the United States, and some from other parts of the world. I have supportive family and friends back home that I know will always be there for me even thousands of miles and time zones away. I am a freshman in college and I’ve been places some people will never get to go in their lifetime. I’m going to continue to embrace this culture, this beauty, this life that I’ve adopted. This opportunity is so rare and far between, I’m going to seize every chance I can to continue to learn and grow from it. Life is so amazing right now.