So, a whole 7 days across the Atlantic Ocean in London, England has passed. Each day I fall more in love with this experience and the different areas of London. I will admit, at first, everything was exhausting before I even got on the plane. My junior year at Virginia Tech ended busier than ever with finals and work. I knew it would all pay off, but honestly I arrived to the airport just wanting to lie down in my bed at home a bit longer and spend more time with my family.
I had no clue what to expect of the trip at all. I had never been to Europe and have not been on a plane in years, much less on a 7 hour overnight flight across an entire ocean. I shed a tear after parting with my mom to go through security and to my terminal, yet I figured the airport out and it was not difficult at all. Then the teleportation-like traverse landed my open book and I in London and the pages are filling up beautifully.
In the first few days, jet-lag, exhaustion, and soreness took their toll on my group and I for sure. We got to tour beautiful landmarks of London and with my body catching up to my teleported body, I almost feel like I did not fully grasp the environments. Everything felt unreal for a while, though extremely amazing. After everyone arrived to our flats, we went out into the city for dinner; naturally being fish and chips. I passed out at about 8PM after that and woke the next morning for a walking tour throughout the Old City.
Something I instantly found myself loving about the city was the mix of classical and modern architecture. Some older buildings were even reinvented with innovative modern additions. There was a juxtaposition in the streets that caught my eye and kept me looking at every structure around me. The tour ultimately led to one of London’s architectural masterpieces, amongst other things, St. Paul’s Cathedral. Architect Christopher Wren’s masterpiece stands as its own force in amongst the city bustle. With an interesting fusion of architectural and artistic styles throughout the space, the inside proved itself to be even more stunning than the exterior.
I was especially touched when I learned that it was the building where the Princess Diana was wed. Then after an almost never ending series of stairs to the top was an overview of the city, from the buildings we had crossed paths with on the tour to the London Eye and more. Through my tiredness, it really put me in the surreality and awe of where I was even more.
On day two, we started the day at our education center and then were sent off to the renowned British Museum. The museum has thousands of historical artifacts, including many that I learned about in art history courses, from Egyptian mummies to Japanese prints. In the evening, we saw our first play, All My Sons, at The Old Vic Theatre. The theatre was stunning inside, making it a shame that no photos were allowed. On day three, we embarked on a boat tour through the vein of the city, the Thames River.
Before even getting on, closer glances of the Eye as well as Big Ben and Westminster Abbey were captured. Then on the boat, the we traveled through the picturesque Tower Bridge before entering eastern districts en route to Greenwich. Greenwich resides more independently from the structurally heavy city, with beautiful fields of green between buildings such as the Queen’s House. The Queen’s House was my favorite part of the secluded area. The rooms were full of amazing paintings and Victorian interiors design. I closely looked at just about every piece, and when my eyes landed on a work by one of my favorite painter Kehinde Wiley, I knew who it was by before even seeing the label. I loved the diversity of art and artists within the royal space.
Thursday, day four, began groggily and ended wonderfully. The group exhaustedly toured the great Westminster Abbey. It reminded me of Harry Potter and inspired me with it’s stained glass windows and extremely detailed architecture. I hope to make myself go again as I am now alive enough to give the beauty the energy and attention it deserves. Later in the day, I ventured off to a concert by myself. This sounds scary and I was hesitant before coming to London, but as I got used to going around and using the tube for transport, I actually felt safe going off on my own.
Coincidentally, a Kpop singer name Sunmi who I adore began her Europe tour in London and since I missed the chance to see her in the US, it seemed like fate to go to my first Kpop concert while across the world. Besides the concert being stunning and unreal, I really enjoyed being out on my own for the first time. I finally began to feel like I was in the UK once apart from my VT peers and interacting with British people. I made friends with a girl at the concert alone and spoke to other people around me, with them a bit confused by my accent and why I was in England for a concert.
After the concert, I met up with a mutual friend and her friend who were also at the concert. They let me hang out with them and we went to eat and walked the lively Soho streets chatting. I also got a bag full of foreign chocolates courtesy of my new friend. This night was a turning point into liveliness in the city from my exploration of independence as well as push to social interaction with the people of the UK. I at last felt awake and almost positive I was in London.
Inspired by my bravery to explore on my own the previous day, on day five I decided to roam through a nearby park and found myself in the gorgeous rose garden of Queen Anne. I quickly found myself using up exposures from my film camera on several of the bunches of bloomed, colorful flowers, most bunches having cute names and phrases to go with them.
After covering all of the garden, I found a sitting spot at a tree and began journaling with souvenirs I had gathered from excursions. In just five days I had done so much and there would somehow be 24 cycles of 24-hours to go. The day ended with the group attending our second play, Small Island, at the National Theatre and the show was outstanding. I almost cried, I stood and clapped, and I want to get a copy of the books it is based on as soon as possible. There was also yet another stunning view of the city on the river as the sun set during intermission.
For the weekend, we have no schedule, but that only opens us up for more empty expectations to be exceeded through exploration. We ventured to a more hipster artsy part of the city, I dropped off my first roll of film to be developed, and I saw Platform 9 and 3/4 (which unfortunately is a pricey photo op!). On Sunday, today, I discovered another place I will need to return to; Brick Lane.
My roommate and I were supposed to go for the market, but instead we got trapped in a wonderful underground mall of vintage clothing. I love fashion photography and street style, so in my time in the city, fashion of the people is something that I have been loving most, and even semi-creepily snapping inspiration pictures of. I am an awful shopper, but I am eager to return the the vintage shops on Brick Lane and drops some pounds on something new.
Ultimately, a lot has been covered this week and as I said before, I almost do not see how it can keep going, or get more amazing, but I am excited because I know it will! There is so much more scheduled for my group and so much to uncover in free time. I have not even began to cover the art museums!
London has pleasantly surprised me with its kindness and unending beauty. How will I be able to experience all of it? I already want to return with my family and while I miss them, I am eager for what this week has to give. I feel like I am being fueled with fresh livelihood, style, culture, and independence. I am ecstatic that I am fully alive and thriving in this amazing city!