Touring London at Lightning Speed
I never really made a study abroad bucket list before I left for Belfast. My daily planner had a small list towards the back where I would jot down a few countries I was interested in every now and again, but nothing was set in stone. Ultimately, my plan was to take advantage of every opportunity that came my way while abroad. I knew going into the semester that I wouldn’t be able to visit every country in Europe and beyond, but I was open to get as many passport stamps as possible.
Some of the trips that I went on were to countries that I hadn’t even thought about visiting before, like my spring break trip to Belgium. Prior to that trip, I had no idea what there was to do in Brussels or Bruges except eat waffles, chocolate and fries, but Ryanair made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: plane tickets that were only $32 round trip.
side note: Ryanair have totally raised my expectations for future plane ticket purchases. My dad said I was crazy when I complained about paying over $150 for another trip I was planning after break. [update: the more expensive flight was definitely worth it]
One place I knew I had to visit before I went back home was London. We were just a hop, skip, and a plane ride away the whole semester. Billboards all around Belfast advertised cheap flights, so Cassie, Natasha and I decided to go on a whirlwind trip to London and Stonehenge the weekend after the London Marathon.
We left on Friday after Natasha’s class, got to our hostel around 1 am on Saturday, and took a 9 pm flight back to Belfast on Sunday, and used the Monday Bank Holiday to our advantage and spent the day recovering from the trip. Our two goals were to see all of the touristy sites around London and then visit Stonehenge. Before the trip, we all contacted friends, family, friends of friends, and any other connection we had to England to get as many travel tips and advice as possible to maximize our sightseeing.
One neat thing about study abroad is getting the chance to not only meet new people from all over the world, but to also get in touch with people from back home. While in London, I met up with my college roommate’s best friend, Emily. We had never met before, so why not meet up for the first time in a foreign country?! Cassie, Natasha and I spent Saturday morning touring the Tower of London (we got an awesome discount using the Whym app). Billy the Beefeater’s tour started in the grassy area around the tower grounds that used to be a moat. There was a little fair taking place in the grassy moat that we didn’t have time to look at, but the whole experience reminded me of a Renaissance fair I went to in Florida when I was little.
After exploring the tower grounds, we walked along the River Thames on our way to meet Emily. We walked through markets, big bubbles, under bridges, by street performers, and through crowds of people enjoying the beautiful day. The walk took a little longer than the 50 minutes my maps app promised, but we were still able to find Emily in Trafalgar Square. On our way to lunch at Nando’s, Cassie freaked out a bit when she saw a sign for Dunkin Donuts, only to discover the store sold donuts and not coffee. (five months without DD is a long time)
Emily was the best tour guide ever! She had mastered a route that took us by all of the popular touristy sites and even allowed for leisurely walks through gardens and time to stop at shops. What made the quick trip to London possible was the fact that we could visit most of the sites and simply take a picture before moving on to the next stop. I definitely would love to go back someday and explore the museums I’ve heard so many great things about or see a West End show, but I’ll have to wait until I have more time and a bigger budget.
Emily’s tour included:
- St. James Park
- Buckingham Palace
- Westminster Abbey
- Big Ben
- The London Eye
And we saw so much more on our walk throughout the city! We dropped off Emily at a tube station and at the same time met up with Natasha’s friend’s sister and friend who are also studying in London! We enjoyed dinner with them and took the tube back to our hostel. We thought it was going to be an early night, but instead we chatted for a bit with our roommate and his friends from Morocco who were actually living in Belfast! What a small world!
We got up bright and early on Sunday morning to head to Victoria Station to go on our bus tour to Stonehenge. We picked a half-day tour from the company my cousin Sarah suggested so we could fit in to our quick trip. Even though so many people have told me going to Stonehenge is overpriced and boring, I think it’s pretty cool to say that we’ve been there because even though they’re just rocks, they’re really big rocks which such a neat history! As an anthropology major who has studied archaeology, I really enjoyed listening to the audio guide describing the construction of the site, its ceremonial use, and the people involved with Stonehenge. On the day we went, there were Druids protesting along the walkway from the visitors’ center, which certainly added to the excitement of the visit.
After catching up on some sleep on the bus and eating lunch in London, we took the train back to the airport. Though our visit to England was quick, it was a blast! And totally worth the cold I got that kept me in bed for four days straight the next weekend.