Lauren in London: Beauty is in the eye of the traveler
March 2, 2016
I landed in London’s Gatwick Airport on a very un-British day, as far as the weather goes. The sun stretched out its long rays for miles — excuse me, kilometers, into an almost cloudless sky. If I was not continuously picking up random conversations, all held in lovely British accents, I might have forgotten where I was completely. Of course, another clue that I was en route to another destination was my bulbous ‘Mega Pack’ which was securely strapped to me. It loomed threateningly over my head as well as the heads of others who dare step into my semi- tractor trailer-sized turning radius. I’m a terror out on the streets without essentially another person strapped to my back and to my front. Yes, two backpacks. A term coined by the previous ITC group is to call yourself a “pregnant turtle” when traveling with your daypack strapped to your front and with your actual pack strapped behind you. It’s a look. Although I suppose if I were to fall over backward, which has happened numerous times already, with Mega Pack I think I might sort of bounce right off the pavement and back onto my feet.
But back to London. London is exactly what I thought it would be, but grimier. Which is not a complaint actually, just a reminder that this is an authentic living and working city with millions of people swarming around it every day, year after year. It was difficult for me not to become too taken over by the sheer amount of history that seems to be oozing out of the city of London and the country of England itself. Well, it was problematic for me as English Monarchy is one of my favorite aspects of world history. I could spend too much time pouring over a letter written by Anne Boleyn that I saw in the National Library. Probably my favorite souvenir to date is a King Henry VIII mug that has a large pictures of King Henry, but also of all of his wives around the face of the mug. The best part? When you add hot liquid all his wives disappear, because he either divorced or beheaded all of them! Maybe a teeny morbid, but easily the best £10 I spent in London. And for all inquiring minds, I picked up this essential souvenir at a museum right off the Greenwich pier. I never miss the opportunity to go into a gift shop, never, and neither should you! They are often delightfully tacky and full of weird and unique gifts that you shouldn’t pass up even though you may barely have room in your backpack for them.
More cannot miss things to do in London? Walking tours. Our group went on three walking tours while in London on various topics ranging from history in a square mile around our hostel, to a Magna Carter tour to Salisbury and Stonehenge, to another law and government type tour around London’s famed barrister halls and churches. We were able to learn so much more than we could have discovered on our own through very knowledgeable and friendly guides. We actually invited them to spend more time with us after the tours were over! I can accredit our experienced guides, rather than our faulty GPS, for being able to recognize and navigate more successfully out on the streets of London. Another travel tip for London? Before you set out for the day, be sure to arm yourself with an “unlimited” seven-day subway pass! I more than got my money’s worth out of this little card that allowed me to breeze in and out of the subway system without any worries.
The last day I spent in London was gloomy, grey, and drizzly, exactly as a day in London should be. Thinking back over my time in London I tried to think of everything I was able to do in such a short period of time. My day-to-day London schedule was jam-packed and would start with a cacophony of church bells that kept me awake at night and woke me up way too early in the morning. I saw three musicals in three days, had a bunch of cathartic music classes, visited a handful of free museums, probably too many gift shops, and definitely experienced too many late nights. London made me feel terribly homesick, to plain regular sneezy-coughy sick, to lose about a third of my left toe nail in a bloody run-in with a heavy door. But most importantly made me fall in love with this city more than I thought I was already. Another travel tip? Just go anywhere and everywhere.
Lauren Simenson is a student at UW-River Falls.