London Orientation and Arrival
After leaving the farm with some sadness, I made my way on the coach to the “bus station” at Victoria. I thought this would be like bus stations are in other UK cities – very obvious, large spaces filled with buses – but it was basically just another stop on the street. So then I proceeded to circle the area around Victoria for about a half hour in the heat and humidity (it’s been the hottest fall weather in England since the late nineteenth century. Thank God it ends tomorrow). The subtlety of signs in England is very charming in the countryside, but in London it’s just annoying. I suck at cities. I got lost five or ten times in 48 hours total spent in London. I even got lost in Victoria station, looking for the part leading to the underground!
After finally figuring out where I needed to go and which tickets to buy, I made my way at last to the hotel.
Before the group dinner I wandered a little around Tottenham Court Road and ate lunch. Dinner was served buffet style in a nice restaurant, and right afterwards I went off in search of the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey because I heard they were only twenty minute walk away.
It was a fun walk. People were spilling out of pubs, which is something I continued to see throughout my stay in London. It was cool to see all of the most famous sites of London at night, since I’d only seen them in daytime last year.
Then next day was MY BIRTHDAY! It was the weirdest birthday ever because no one really knew it was my birthday at all, but Butler had a lot planned for us. We had a meeting about English culture vs. American culture, then one with Lord Taverne about British politics (he’s in the House of Lords), and then lunch and a meeting about safety. The last meeting was one for our individual colleges. All of the speakers were really funny.
After getting myself a quick dinner, the walking tour of central London was next on the agenda. It was a lot of fun. All of the history was really interesting, and reminded me that I was still in London despite the herd of Americans around me. The tour did not go to the REALLY famous places that I was sure it would go to, like Big Ben and that sort of thing, so we learned a lot of interesting new facts about less-visited places. Plus, the tour guide was really nice. A few times during the tour he had “beer questions”, where he’d ask a relatively hard question and then offer to buy a pint for the first person who answered it correctly. Also, when I was walking between him and the road he physically moved me to his other side! At first I was confused, but when he said it was a chivalry thing that his mom made him do I realized that he was doing what gentlemen had to do in Victorian times! They always had to stay between a woman and the road because the side of the road was more dangerous, and it was also where the filth from horses collected. It turns out he knew other rules of Victorian gentlemanly behavior, such as the fact that a gentleman will always walk behind a lady when they are walking up the stairs and in front of her on the way down, so he can catch her if she falls.
Anyway, the tour ended in Covent Garden, and the guide told me where I could get myself something sweet for my birthday. I ran off to Le Pain Quotidien, a really expensive but delicious-looking cafe that I’d seen in New York once. I got a delicious raspberry tart. Then I went to the theater to see a play for which Butler had bought us tickets, The Woman in Black. I realized I’d left my ticket in the hotel, but one of the Butler staff brought extra tickets and I ended up with a better seat! The play was great! I didn’t think it wasn’t as scary as some had said it would be, but it was pretty scary for a play.
After we walked back to the hotel, I was about to go back to my room when I realized that I REALLY wanted a frozen yogurt with raspberries from SNOG!, a place that Butler had suggested for us as a place to go at night. I almost turned back when I got lost a couple of times (the usefulness of a GPS should not be overestimated). But in the end I finally made it, and the guy at the counter gave me a medium instead of a small even though I’d insisted on the small (the medium was only 5p more).
This morning we had a talk about traveling around Europe and the weekend trips that Butler sets up. Lunch was at another classy restaurant. Afterwards I hung out in a park in Soho for a while before returning to the hotel to go to Mansfield. Immediately upon getting back I decided to get my unpacking over with before going to a party for visiting students at the JCR.
It turned out that there were a lot of Oxford “parents” (each fresher gets a “mom” and “dad” to help them adjust to Oxford life) there. I met my “dad” briefly, but my “mom” won’t be here until tomorrow. I also met my “brother” or “half brother” or whatever – a second year student that Chris and Anna (my “parents”) “had” last year.
The party tonight was great – Americans and English people were really mixing and I get the sense that it is part of the Oxford experience to hang out with people from all over the world. I’ve already started to make English friends, and we have plans to watch Downton Abbey (a Masterpiece Classic period drama) together on Monday.
Walking back from the JCR, I already started to feel that I belong here – I’m not a tourist and I’m not just passing through on my way to the farm. I am beginning to understand the reason that so many Americans go abroad to Oxford. Oxford isn’t just prestigious academically and in an incredible city – the social aspect of Oxford is one of the most unique experiences possible. It’s very English and traditional, but there are also thousands of people from other countries here and everyone takes part in centuries-old traditions. It’s pretty cool.