If there’s one city that I absolutely needed to spend time in before leaving, it’s London. You can’t think about England without thinking about London. There are still a lot of people back home who (when asking about my studies here) ask me, “How’s London?” My answer to that is simply, “London is wonderful! But I’m actually in Manchester.” Americans hardly notice, but there’s a definite difference!
“Did you love my London?” my mother asked me. Having lived in London for three years, my mother was probably the most excited about me finally being able to visit it the city. Even though I had been once before earlier in the semester, we didn’t spend much time in London proper. We spent most of our day out at the Harry Potter Studios. So this time around, we planned on doing as many of the typical touristy things as possible!
Soon after we arrived in London, we met up with Ginny (who I would then travel with for the rest of the trip) and the three of us headed straight for the British Museum. I knew it was a very famous museum that draws people from all over the world, and it is on the list of 100 Museums to See Before You Die (which I am slowly working my way through!), but I hadn’t expected it to be quite so big! From the moment we walked in, I was overwhelmed with the sheer size and quantity of the exhibits. That was out first lesson in museum visiting: find a map, figure out the exhibits, and pick out just a few that you want to spend time in. We couldn’t possibly see the whole museum in an afternoon. We did, however, see important things like this:
After the museum, we headed to our first hostel of the trip. We first had to figure out the London bus system, which was much easier to navigate than most cities. At the bus stops they have little digital board that tells you how long until each bus is due to arrive and where each bus is heading towards. I wish they had that in Manchester! But anyway, we got to ride our first red double-decker bus which London is so famous for, and we made our way through the city to our hostel. I must admit, I was pretty nervous about staying in hostels. They seemed inherently sketchy to me. We had stayed in one up in Edinburgh already, but that one was really nice and it was more like a hotel. I had no idea how this one would compare.
As a word of advice to future travelers, hostels are not really like hotels. With hotels you get a private room, your own bathroom, free soap and shampoo and towels, and all sorts of stuff like that. Hostels are generally half the price of hotels, so you certainly can’t expect the same quality from them. On the other hand, hostels are designed for travelers on a budget, and more specifically for students. While in a hotel you are generally there just to sleep and relax, a hostel is designed so that you can not only have a place to stay but you can also meet other travelers from around the world! This particular hostel had a kitchen that the guests could use (provided that we cleaned up after ourselves of course). The beauty of staying in hostels is the fact that they enable you to save money, not only by paying less for a room but also by being able to cook for yourself and save some money that way. One of the nights we were there we made dinner for ourselves, and in fact we met people from all over the world in that kitchen! There were some girls just like us, American students studying abroad and travelling over Spring Break. There was a young university graduate who had a job as a teacher and was renting a room in the hostel because it was cheaper than getting an apartment. And there were many others as well, speaking different languages like German and French.
But I’m getting ahead of myself! After we checked in we headed down the road from the hostel to check out Portobello Road, which was pretty close by. For those of you who may not be familiar with the movie Bedknobs and Broomsticks, you should watch this video to find out why I was so excited to see this particular road:
Ok, so maybe there wasn’t quite as much singing and dancing, but it’s definitely still a market street. Unfortunately it was just about closing time when we finally made it there, but that’s alright. I at least got see a couple of the stalls still up! And still selling cheap souvenirs and second hand stuff.
The next day was jam packed with stuff! We took a red bus sightseeing tour around the city, and we got to see places like Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Downing Street, and so much more. The first place we got off the bus was at the Tower of London, an ancient fortress that is often associated with the deaths of many famous (and infamous) individuals, including my ancestor Sir Robert Devereux.
We were able to see the English Crown Jewels, which I have no pictures of because no pictures were allowed. But believe me when I say they were absolutely beautiful. We also got to see a lot of antiques associated with the royal family, including old fashioned dinner pieces and serving dishes in the most beautiful gold and silver.
After the Tower, we took a river cruise in a very posh little boat down the Thames. We got off at the London Eye, the largest Ferris wheel in Europe, and went for a ride. It wasn’t like a Ferris wheel at a fair, where you’re sitting in a little swing with a lap bar. About ten people all go into this fully-enclosed pod together, where there are benches if you want to sit, but most people just stand and look out of the glass surrounding the pod. Thankfully the floor wasn’t also made of glass, because the Eye rises 443 feet into the air, and it is daunting enough to look out of the glass sides!
After the eye we crossed the Thames and went to see Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. I had really hoped to find the grave of Sit Robert Devereux, who is buried in Westminster, but no such luck. Maybe next time!
It was an absolutely jam packed day, although it might not seem like it. Here are a few other good pictures from the day:
While I really loved seeing London and all of its history, I didn’t love it quite as much as I had expected. Don’t get me wrong, the visit was fantastic! There is so much to see and do in London, I feel as if I could spend days on end there. And London is such an essential part of any trip to the Uk. That being said, I don’t think I noticed quite as much until I went on this trip, but Manchester has really grown on me. I saw London as being overly touristy, and as a result I felt like a lot of the typically British culture that I’ve gotten used to was rather watered down. The people weren’t nearly as friendly as those in Manchester—it’s like comparing Southerners to New Yorkers, if you know what I mean. London reminded me a lot of New York City. Which isn’t a bad thing, it’s just different. The traffic was equally as horrible though. All in all, I did like London, but I don’t think I could ever live there. If I ever had to live in England, I would choose Manchester over London any day. Perhaps I’m a little biased.
After our exciting day in London we had to get to bed fairly early that night because we had a REALLY early train the next morning. Next stop: Paris! 😀