Travels: England

London

I have often heard people say that New York has the best transportation in the world, but I’ve been to New York, and it’s nothing to London’s transportation system. The streets, for one thing, are way less clogged in London, despite the fact that most of the cars are taxis, same as in New York. I took a lot of trains when I was in London, which was occasionally hard as some of the trains didn’t go between certain stops for repair work.

The gum littering the streets reminded me of the ancient coins on display in the British Museum. Looking around as I walked, the whole city looked like modern day New York had been dropped on the pre-WWII architectural world, which is to say: exciting.

People in London – and possibly all of England – don’t seem afraid of being themselves and I don’t think I’ve seen such a wide variety of clothing anywhere else. Granted, I do go to a private school with a uniform, but that does affect my exposure, but that’s okay. I also don’t think I’ve said “sorry” so many times within 2 weeks, but that has more to do with the crowds than anything else.

On Christmas Eve, my family and I attended a carol service at St. Martins in the Field. A couple days after, we went to St. Paul’s Cathedral for an evening prayer service, and on our last day, we went to Westminster Abbey for a Saturday afternoon service. After the service at Westminster, my mom commented to the person holding the door that we had been to more services in the 2 weeks in England then we had gone to since the beginning of school.

In ways of museums, we went to the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. As the British Museum is huge and we only saw it on our second day when we still had jet-lag (despite the fact that my sister and I had collapsed onto our bed at 3 pm and slept for 2 hours the night before) we didn’t get much ground covered, so I made sure to visit the European history section and then my dad and I wandered a bit in the section with the big artifacts from Egypt. I’m definitely going back there one day. In the VA, they had an exhibit on wedding dressed from 1774-2014 that my mom, sister, and I walked through. Some were interestingly designed, some were incredible beautiful, and some where just weird, but they all had a story. We also looked at the jewelry, which was absolutely stunning until you got to about the 1970’s and then in got a little weird, but still kind of pretty. They also had swords, which was cool. After that, we looked at costumes and stages designs that had been used for various performances (They even had the costumes from Disney’s The Lion King on Broadway).

At the end of one of the days (they all have sort of blended together by now) we decided to see the London Eye. First, we went to the London Dungeons, which is probably the most “touristy” thing I saw as it takes you through the darker parts of London history. Not my favorite thing, but it was interesting to see it portrayed that way rather than walking through a museum, which is also not my favorite thing. After that, we went to ride the London Eye. Now, in winter, the sun starts setting in London at about 4:30, so by the time we got into one of the pods at 7ish, everything was thoroughly dark and the city was lit up. I don’t think words can express just how beautiful it was up there, all of the buildings tiny below and the lights looking like the sky had decided to brings the stars all the way down to Earth.

Another thing I saw at night: Buckingham Palace. Really, we just walked through the garden in front of it and then took pictures at the gates, but that’s okay. I mean, it is someone’s home after all, so even that is a little weird. Before that, I saw Churchill’s War Rooms, which was really cool as I’m a massive WWII nerd. One of my favorite things I learned from that was Churchill called the plans for his funeral “Operation Hope Not”. I also learned that he never did very well in school, which I suppose is just another example of someone growing up to be great who teachers expected would fail in life. Grades aren’t everything, kids.

And it would of course be weird to go to London without doing something in the ways of theater, so my family and I did a tour of The Globe theater, which was really cool and our tour guide looked a bit like Ed Sheeran, so that always helps. And oh yeah! This is what we did before London Dungeon and Eye! I knew I would remember at some point. Other thing we did with theater: went to see Jersey Boys at Piccadilly Theatre. I was very impressed by how well the actors did New Jersey accents and the singing and dancing was great.

One of the days, we went to Hampton Court, the palace of King Henry VIII, and lost my mom. The have a lot of the rooms set up and in this one section, the Georgian section if I remember correctly, they had set up mannequins with paper clothes and on the clothes, who the people were and what they did were spelled out. In the Henry VIII section, they had a replica of his crown as the original was melted during the Civil War (if I am remembering my dates correctly). Speaking of crowns, we also went to the Tower of London and saw the Crown Jewels. Our Beefeater guide was really funny as he told us the history of the place, including the two missing princes and all of the beheadings.

On Christmas day, we took a walking tour of London with a focus on Charles Dickens. Our guide had a PhD on Charles Dickens and because he was American, we could actually understand everything he said. Woohoo! Also, thank goodness for Pret a Manger, because otherwise my family would have been very hunger on Christmas Day. Actually, they were very helpful the entire trip. For those of you who don’t know, Pret a Manger is to England what McDonalds is to America: everywhere. Luckily, the similarity ends there. Pret a Manger is organic and really, really yummy and all of their food is made the same day as you eat it, and I was actually willing to have mustard on my sandwiches.

My piece of advice to you: do not go see Harrods on Boxing Day. Boxing Day is basically the equivalent of American Black Friday, meaning everything is crazy. My dad and I braved Oxford Street, one of the main shopping streets before meeting my mom and sister to see Harrods, which we were in for about 5 minutes before realizing that the crowd was too big and leaving, just in time for it to start raining. Actually, that was the first rain we had had since we got to London, which was a little surprising.

One of the last things I saw: The British Library, which, as an avid reader, was very exciting. Unfortunately, however, you need a pass to go “wander the stacks” so after wandering the entirety of what I could see, I found a seat against a pillar on the cat-walk of the top floor and read The Hobbit and occasionally watched what was going on down below.

 

Bath

For a couple of days, my family and I went to Bath.

If, for whatever reason, you don’t know yet, I am a huge Jane Austen fan. Therefore, on our first day, we went to see Jane Austen’s house in Bath. After that, we checked out the Assembly Rooms and the Fashion Museum before the girls headed off to shop and my dad went to an art museum.

On the second day, we saw the Roman Baths before and Bath Abbey. Basically: it was a day full of religion and spiritual places.

By this account, Bath seems really boring compared to London, but it’s really not. In actuality, we just did a lot more pointless wandering in Bath than we did in London as that’s almost entirely what you go to Bath for. It was really cool, though, to see the place where on of my favorite authors lived.

 

Observations from everywhere

  • The love their privacy in the bathroom. It feels weird to say that to a huge audience, but it’s true. every single bathroom I went to, whether it be in the train station or the hotel, had floor-to-ceiling enclosed toilets. It was hard coming back to America after that.
  • The commercials are really weird and the commercial breaks are really long. An example of a commercial: there was a bear speaking the lyrics of Bohemian Rhapsody in a commercial for going to the beach for vacation and then a bank (at least, I think it was a bank) had one where a meerkat parent touring Africa left it’s kid in Africa with other meerkats because “he seem[ed] very happy [there]”. Weird, right? And then with the commercial breaks, my sister and I found it weird that we could actually get up and do things like brush our teeth or take a shower during a commercial break and not miss any of the show we were watching.
  • People always say the food there is bad, but it’s really not. I liked the smaller portion sizes, too. People also say that the English don’t like coffee, so I was astounded by the number of coffee places there.
  • Considering it’s the original English-speaking country, there sure were a lot of people there who weren’t speaking in English as they walked down the street. It could just be tourists, I know, but it was still really interesting. Usually America is described as the melting-pot, but England isn’t that far behind.

 

All in all, I had a lot of fun and am looking forward to going back one day.

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