Any iPhone users out there are probably familiar with the Health app that was added in the latest iOS update. For those who may not know what it is, it’s basically an app that can do a number of things, but most notably it acts as a pedometer. Over the course of the past few days we have been watching the number of steps we’ve taken go up and up and up as we continued to progressively adventure further and further into London. We’ve officially left the city, and have reached over 64,000 steps. That’s about 34 miles done solely by walking. But we were in London. It was completely worth it.
On Thursday evening I got on a flight from Minneapolis to London Heathrow and faced a night of consistently trying to fall asleep, and failing. I arrived in London feeling less than ideal, made my way through customs and border control, found my luggage, and took a seat to try and collect myself. A friend of my moms named Paul was kind enough to meet me at the airport and help me get to the hotel so that I didn’t have to face the tube by myself with a ton of luggage. I will be forever grateful for Paul’s help because I would have been completely lost on my own, and afterwards I had a really good understanding of the area near my hotel and was confident enough to face the tube again later. Surprisingly, the tube was a lot easier to manage than I thought; in fact I rather enjoyed it.
I arrived at my hotel, met my roommate who just happened to be not only from Drake as well, but also headed for Cardiff, which was really great. The hotel is in one of the best locations I can imagine and the only real problem was realizing that you had to insert your key into a box to turn on the light switches. We were in the dark for quite a while. Despite how much I wanted to sleep I knew that I had things I needed to accomplish, which brings me to the first tip of this post: Lauren’s Travel Tip #1 (LTT #1): Don’t try to sleep off your jet lag during the day. Not only will you miss out on exciting exploration activities, you’ll make it harder for yourself to adjust your sleep schedule later on. My main priority at this point was figuring out the phone situation. LTT #2: Know what you need to do with your phone before you arrive in your new country. This is incredibly important in identifying if you phone is unlocked or not, and it needs to be unlocked in order to accept a foreign SIM card, which in my opinion the best way to go about communication, at least in the UK. I got an EE SIM if that helps anybody in any way (for £15 a month I get unlimited texts, 500 talking minutes, and 2GB of data, works for me). Moving forward into my next endeavor was locating wifi, LTT #3 Go wherever you can for free wifi. Luckily the UK has Starbucks and McDonald’s and a ton of other places with free wifi. I went to a McDonald’s and I don’t eat McDonald’s.
Even though I was completely exhausted, I spent the majority of the afternoon with my friend from home Shelbie wandering around the city looking at various places and tourists destinations. We went to Oxford Street, Picadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, and we even found the BBC on accident. Despite how large of a city may be, we were able to see all of these places in 2 hours all by walking, which I thought was really cool. Especially in the area my hotel was we could just pick a direction and walk and we would find any number of huge pieces of London culture. But by far my favorite part of the day was taking the tube to King’s Cross Station to take THE Harry Potter fan picture. Now if I have any tips to people taking the tube it’s LTT #4: Keep your oyster card ready until you are out of the tube station. I didn’t realize you needed to scan out and I was not prepared to be the hold up in a big tube station. It was absolutely hilarious to walk up the stairs in King’s Cross because right at the front there was a huge queue of people standing in front of a wall, which is just a huge example of the impact Harry Potter has made. People travel from all over to stand in front of a wall with half of a luggage trolley to take a picture. And I am 100% proud to say I was one of those tourists.I’m actually studying abroad at Hogwarts.
Friday night was a quiet night out with IFSA at a restaurant called Cote Brasserie (I still regret my menu choice and I probably will for the rest of forever) and some time at McDonald’s utilizing free wifi.
Saturday was an early start and a quick breakfast before a lovely morning walk to the education center we were using for the IFSA orientation talks. We walked into a small classroom and we each received an awesome little tote bag (to use for groceries yes!!) filled with goodies (namely chocolate). There were about 4 different talks over the course of about 5 hours and they were so fun to listen to and informative that it didn’t feel that long at all. Even though the safety talk was slightly intimidating, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of orientation. That afternoon was a trip to the theatre to see Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, and as I have never really been to a big theatre show, it was a really cool thing to experience, and it was down on the bank of the Thames so we could see the river and The Eye and it was really cool.London theatres are really cool.
After food and a short break, The Cardiff Crew (yes we named ourselves) took off on a nighttime exploration of the city. And it was absolutely wonderful, even if our feet were incredibly sore. We walked down past Trafalgar Square and to Big Ben and The Eye and we crossed the river and it all looked wonderful lit up at night. It was a slightly surreal moment seeing Big Ben in person. It has always just been an image on a screen or a postcard, but there it was, towering over us; arguably the biggest symbol of London. I was finally starting to realize where I was. I made it to London.
We closed off the night with a brief trip to the pub and then retreated to the comfort of our hotel to try and fall asleep at a time our bodies were very much not used to sleeping at.
Sunday was our last full day in London and we were up and running all day long. This morning we made ourselves wake up early enough to have a full sit down breakfast before we headed out for our trip to Greenwich. We didn’t really know what to expect for our day but it ended up being a really cool trip. Our tour guide, Tony, was incredibly informative and made the journey very interesting. I think that we should all have our own personal tour guide wherever we go because they always have the coolest bits of information about everything. I think my favorite part of this trip was the boat trip along the Thames. We went past London Bridge, the Tower of London, Shakespeare’s Globe, the Milennium Bridge (which is thankfully fully repaired after the dementors totally destroyed it in Half Blood Prince), the Gerkin, and Canary Wharf. All sites that I was very eager to see. Our final destination was Greeenwhich, which is a really cool historical area that has a university and museum and is where Greenwich mean time originates as well as where the prime meridian crosses. I didn’t find out until afterwards that this was apparently where the big fight scene at the end of Thor 2 was filmed?? I love that movie and I feel so accomplished that I was there. We learned all about the Greenwich observatory, including that even things built in the 1800’s are not accident proof, although it was fun to watch an entire group of tourists with their cameras out waiting for the ball to drop on top of the observatory.
We ventured around the area, and got in a great calf workout walking up the hill, while looking for something to eat. Eventually we settled on Nando’s! A British staple that I was very excited to experience, and it definitely did not disappoint. We had a few minutes after to explore the Painted Hall, The chapel, and The Queen’s House. I expected the house to be more of a historical set up of a house, but it was actually an art museum, which was still pretty cool. My favorite pieces were the Queen Elizabeth and the guy that sort of looked like an overweight George Washington (no offence to that guy I’m sure he was great but seriously look at the picture and tell me you don’t see overweight George Washington). We met up with the group and made the journey beneath the ground to walk in a tunnel running beneath the Thames, a slightly intimidating, yet interesting journey. Which led to an equally interesting journey on the DLR line running all throughout the financial district, which I absolutely enjoyed. I can’t wait to go explore that area on foot sometime.
At the tube stop near the theatre we were at Saturday, we made the walk (again) back to our hotel walking past the Sherlock Holmes restaurant (again), hopefully I’ll get to eat there sometime, and back to our hotel. I took the next few hours to relax before heading out to meet Shelbie, Nick, and Ethan (all friends from home) for dinner! It was really cool to hang out with some familiar faces even though we are all thousands of miles away from home. We went to a place called Byron the Intrepid Fox for burgers (I know, how American) but it was good and we got to spend almost 2.5 hours just chatting and telling each other about our different study abroad experiences. Our night got even more American (we were very un-british now that I think about it?) when we found a pub that was playing the Packers/Seahawks football game. We hung out there and hoped for the Packers to lose, but left disappointed on a Packers interception with 5 minutes to go. Apparently that was a mistake because the Seahawks apparently made an insane overtime comeback. It’s all good with me as long as the Packers lost.
Homies (literally) photo credit @ Nick
I’ve only been gone for about 3 days but I feel like I’ve been going nonstop for about a month. I’ve done so much and seen so many things that it’s hard to believe I only left on Thursday. London was absolutely incredible, and I wish we could have had a little more time to explore but I am crazy excited to take the train to Cardiff and see what that city has to offer.