In my typical fashion I procrastinated packing so much that I did not have time to do a pre-departure blog post. I struggled to limit my packing and had to repack my suitcase at least five times, including once the night before leaving at the hotel. I have already learned that it is far easier to pack the bare minimum and just buy supplies here. Before that did not make sense economically but by the end of the trip I will pay a $60 fee two or three times, so yes, it does make sense to purchase necessities here.
My two days in London have been absolutely incredible. I am so grateful this is such an interesting and vibrant city; otherwise I do not think I would have had the adrenaline to see so many fun sights. I arrived in London around 6:30 AM local time, or 1:30 AM EST after a 7-hour flight. When another student and were dropped off at the hotel by an AIFS employee. We briefly freshened up in the lobby and three more students arrived. We decided to not waste any time and went exploring, planning to return later to get our rooms. We visited the Tower of London first, which is such an impressive castle with so much history. We then walked across Tower Bridge and along the Thames.
Thursday morning was a fairly early wake-up call at 7:45. After a lovely breakfast at the hotel restaurant, all of the students loaded onto a bus for a tour of Westminster and the City of London, not to be confused with London. We were able to see Buckingham Palace (unfortunately no royal sightings), Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Parliament, The Tower of London, and numerous churches and bridges. We ended the tour in a large and exciting market with numerous places to eat and a money exchange.
Our first stop after the tour was the London Eye. The ferris wheel was so smooth and did not rock in the slightest. If you travel to London, I strongly suggest doing this, there were spectacular views and it was slow enough that you were able to appreciate your surroundings without taking so long that you felt anxious to leave.
Afterwards, we headed to the National Art Gallery. On our way, one student saw a sign that said “free pictures.” After reading further, we found that a man was trying to take 2,013 people’s picture in the year 2013, so we volunteered to help! He has about 700 left until he reaches his goal. He’s taken pictures of people all around the world; what a fascinating and unique idea and a great opportunity to meet people with great stories.
At the Gallery, we were able to see one of Da Vinci’s sketches of the Virgin Mary, Jesus, John the Baptist, and Saint Anne. His “Virgin of the Rocks” was also there. The Gallery’s other notable piece was Van Gogh’s “Sunflower.” The amount of detail that went into all of these pieces is unreal. They were so clear and detailed that they almost looked fake.
After, we went to Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross Station. Sadly, we could not actually enter the station, as we did not have train tickets, but London has a Harry Potter area outside the station, so fans from all over the world can have a place to go. There is a platform sign with a trolley half-way out of the wall so fans can pretend they are about the enter the magical platform. Employees from a Harry Potter Souvenir shop ran the queue and took pictures of each visitor that could be purchased from the shop. However, they also understood when friends took pictures of each other for free.
We were incredibly fortunate and had two beautiful days in London with clear skies. As we were walking back to the tube station to return to the hotel, a rain cloud started to form so we quickened our pace, and luckily beat the rain.