Spring Break Part 2: London!

Let me begin this post by apologizing for the lack of updates… I’ve had a lot to do for school lately, in addition to interviews for internships, volunteer positions and extracurriculars.

The weather has been absolutely gorgeous in Rome for the past week and a half or so. It’s been in the 60’s and hasn’t rained and hopefully won’t for a while. It’s going to be difficult to go to Helsinki next weekend for that reason alone, but more on that later.

So, SPRING BREAK!

We left our hotel in Paris on Sunday morning and headed for the international train station, where we got our passports stamped for the first time since coming to Europe (our student visa gives us the privilege of going through EU security, so we don’t need stamps). Then we boarded our train (sometimes called the “chunnel” train) that took us under the English Channel to London.

We arrived at King’s Cross Station (yes, THE King’s Cross from Harry Potter, though on the international side, not the regional side) and bought our Oyster Cards to take the Underground to our hostel. The Oyster Card is a reloadable card that is cheaper and easier than purchasing a day pass. Emily and I found this extremely accommodating, especially because everyone that we talked to spoke English. It was almost like being in the U.S., but not quite.

Check in time at our hostel wasn’t until 2:00 P.M., so we walked around Hammersmith (the part of London we were staying in, also once home to Lily Allen…) for a while. We grabbed a cup of coffee at Starbucks and then shopped for a bit in TKMaxx (I don’t know why it was TKMaxx instead of TJMaxx, but whatever). We also stumbled upon a movie theater and used book store. We dropped into Tesco so I could quickly pick up some toiletries that I had strategically left behind in Rome as to leave more room in my bags and then checked in.

From there, we decided to stop first at Covent Garden, one of London’s main shopping districts.

Loaded with tourists...

We shopped for a while and walked around, enjoying the ability to understand people around us and the sales associates in the stores.

This whole alley was so colorful!

We stumbled upon Chinatown, not realizing how close we were to the West End.

We walked around for quite a while. It wasn’t terribly cold, so we embraced the adventure and kept going.

We found Piccadilly Circus... By accident!

Everything on this street looked so much classier than it would have elsewhere.

Emily and I then grabbed dinner at a place simply named “The Diner.”

Easy enough to remember, huh?

They served typical American fare. We each got a cheeseburger, fries and a chocolate shake. It was a meal that truly reminded me of home.

I added peanut butter to mine for an extra level of goodness.

We then hopped on the tube and headed back to our hostel for a night of much needed rest.

The tube!

We started off day two of our English excursion (gotta love alliteration, right?) with a trip to Buckingham Palace. Before heading over, though, we decided to pop into Hyde Park to see what all of the fuss was about.

It so happens that Hyde Park is just that; a park.

We got to Buckingham Palace right in time for the changing of the guard. Unfortunately, since the guard only changes once every two days in the winter months, there was a HUGE crowd around the palace and the surrounding parks. We couldn’t really see, but we could hear the parade of guards coming toward the palace.

This picture shows just a small number of the people that were in attendance.

We weren’t sure that it was the changing of the guard and some other people were confused as well. One woman was visiting from outside of London and asked if Obama was in town, since he was supposedly coming the week we were there. Though we were excited at the thought of our President being in the same foreign country that we were in and at the same time, we asked a policeman who kindly told us that it was just the routine changing of the guard.

Since the Royal Palace has upped its security measures in recent years, we were unable to take a photo with a guard. I can’t remember if the guards were outside of the gates I visited in 2008; we never got to get close enough because we were crunched for time.

This is the closest we could get.

We decided to take a walk through James Park while we decided what we wanted to do next.

We spotted where we wanted to go next over the tops of the trees in the park: The London Eye.

Emily and I made a list of things that we wanted to do in each place that we visited. At this point in London we had already crossed a lot of things on our list. As we made our way to the Eye, we passed Big Ben and Westminster Abbey.

I even managed to get a double-decker bus and London cab in this picture.

We crossed the bridge over the River Thames and finally got to the Eye. The wait in line for tickets was intimidating, but proved to be quite efficient (dissimilar to the system that Italians have established for waiting in line..).

The Eye!

The view of the city from The Eye!

We were so high... Everyone and everything looked so small!

After exiting The Eye, we decided to walk back towards the river and check out the Globe Theater. Apparently, the Theater is reserved on weekdays for school presentations, which meant that we would have had to wait until after 4 P.M. to see a play. We decided to walk toward Tate Modern and cross Millennium Bridge instead.

While we were walking to the bridge, we ran into my friend Gen from Loyola! We had been trying to decide on a place to meet up and my phone wasn’t cooperating. But it turns out we didn’t even need it.

Gen and I are both part of our university's programming board, ((dop)).

After talked with Gen for a while about the rest of her spring break plans, we came to Millennium Bridge. Millennium Bridge was featured in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Millennium Bridge and St. Paul's Cathedral.

Emily and I then stopped for lunch at a pub. She had traditional fish and chips and I had a traditional cottage (shepherd’s) pie.

It was delicious!

After lunch, we walked to the Tower of London. This is probably one of my absolute favorite places in London, even if it is a tourist attraction. There is just so much to see there.

The Tower!

The Tower of London is also home to the White Tower.

The White Tower is really cool because it is home to the armor used by a number of kings throughout the ages. It also includes artifacts gifted to the Royal Family and the Kingdom by other countries.

We then went to the Jewel Tower. This Tower holds a majority of the Royal Family’s Crown jewels. They have a number of priceless pieces on display, including trumpets from the Queen’s coronation.

After the Jewel Tower, we walked around the outside for a bit. We saw the monument that was dedicated to all of the people that were beheaded, most of which were beheaded by Henry XIII.

Inscribed along the circumference of the monument were the names of the guillotine's victims.

We also saw the royal ravens, kept merely because of King Charles's superstitions.

Upon exiting the Tower, we took a look at Tower Bridge.

Emily and I, still full from lunch, took a quick stop at Starbucks (we were taking full advantage of our love for the coffee company) and then decided to walk around Oxford Circus, London’s largest shopping area, for a while.

We made a stop at the biggest Topshop that I have ever been in. It was five floors!

As many of you know, Topshop will be taking over the recently vacated Michigan Avenue Border’s location. Michigan Avenue, among other things, will look completely different when I return to the states. I can only imagine what else will be different.

After shopping for a bit, we returned to our hostel. The next morning, we got an early start and decided to head for London’s main department store: Harrod’s.

Harrod's was HUGE. Emily and I bought cookies from the bakery inside.

We went back to Buckingham Palace so that we could take a look at it when there weren’t thousands of people standing in front of it. We eventually walked through St. James’s park again and ended up in Trafalgar Square. We stopped in a book store there and I purchased a novel written by Stephen Fry.

Emily and I then walked back towards West End, where we attempted to get student tickets to see Les Miserables. We were told to return later. We walked back through Chinatown, contemplating places to eat for lunch, though we couldn’t get Chinese, as we were given peculiar looks when we asked if any of the food contained MSG (Emily is allergic).

I grabbed a chicken bun from a street vendor for a snack.

We eventually ended up at Chipotle. England is the only European country that is home to Chipotle. I don’t particularly like it, but I was satisfied with a cheese quesadilla, chips and guacamole.

Emily and I wandered around for a while after that, waiting for it to get closer to 6:00 PM, the time that we could finally try to by tickets to a show. While we were unable to get student-rate tickets to Les Mis, we managed to score some balcony seats.

The play was phenomenal and made me want to read the novel again!

After getting some much needed sleep, we hopped on the Tube and went to Abbey Road. I must say, I wasn’t as impressed as I thought I would be. To me, it just seemed like any other road, but with a camera live broadcasting your attempts to take a picture online.

Underwhelmed.

We then decided to go to the National Gallery. They had a great collection of paintings from a number of artists. My favorites were two of Van Gogh’s paintings: Still Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers and Van Gogh’s Chair.

The National Gallery!

The National Gallery also offers a great view of Trafalgar Square: 

After visiting the museum, we spent the rest of our time relaxing and taking the time to reflect on everything that we did during our stay in London. We departed the next morning for Dublin.

I apologize for the length of this post, but I felt that I had to do my trip justice. I will post about my weekend here in Rome after I post about Dublin. Both will be posted this week. Keep checking for updates!

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About Austin Sears

I'm a junior at Loyola University Chicago majoring in sociology and minoring in urban studies and photography. The purpose of this blog is to document my semester abroad in Rome!
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One Response to Spring Break Part 2: London!

  1. grandma marge says:

    Dear Austin, It sounds like you an Emily are having the experience of your life. What memories you arose from my trip there. We stayed near St. James Park in Shepards Square. I have the CD from Le Miserales you can have. I loved the tower and at the top was king henry 8 in his armour and you did they exagerate the size of his penis. I was there first and then ,my sister came logging behind. I laughed so hard when she saw his armour her mouth dropped open. it was hilalrious. My shepards pie I had looked more like a beef pot pie. it was delicious. What kind of internships are you looking into. in the U>S> or in Europe. No pictures of Emily. but plenty of pictures of food. take care love and miss you, grandma marge

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