This year, I ventured a few miles further than I normally do over spring break. My mom and I took a trip to London to visit my daughter who is studying abroad there this semester. Studying abroad is, quite simply, an unmatchable experience! For five months, my lucky daughter gets to call London home. Her field trips include ventures to the Globe or the British Museum or Oxford University; her weekend trips include jaunts to other countries – she’ll have visited no less than 20 destinations by semester’s end. I’ll never tire of tauting the benefits of abroad study to my students. It’s the one period in life – before grown-up responsibilities settle in – to experience so many cultures in so little time, on a little student budget.
Sharing in my daughter’s giddiness, I already have a list of must-dos when I go back some day in the not-so-distant future!! London is everything friends and colleagues said it would be and more. I have so much to share with my students, friends and family, and I’d like to share a sample of my experiences with readers here . .
Saturday – Greetings and catch-ups, walking around and getting to know the wit and wisdom of London 🙂
After 11 hours of travel (including a layover in Newark), I was surprisingly not fatigued upon arrival at London on 10:30am. I was too excited to see my daughter greet us from so many miles away:
I almost instantly noticed how much more user-friendly London’s public transportation, the Tube, is. With the infamous “Mind the Gap” auditory reminder along with easy-to-follow maps at every corner, even I felt fairly comfortable to travel independently. Impeccably clean, the Tube makes daily transport a rather pleasant experience.
Artwork is everywhere!! Check out what greeted my mom and I every time we stepped off of at the Charing Cross station to get back to our hotel, Citadines Prestige Trafalgar Square. . . . .
If only the Chicago train stations decorated the walls this way . . . if only . . .
My description of the Tube would not be complete without mention of the stairs!!!! I did not step into any gym for 10 days (shocking for me) but walking the stairs of the Tube kept me refreshed. I’m not just talking a few steps here and there; I’m talking at least two – three flights at a time followed by another set just around the corner. I wish I would have taken a picture to show here. U.S.A. take note – build MORE stairwells!! It’s no wonder the obesity rate is lower in this country. With no other option but these stairs, Londoners work hard for their fish and chips!!
Sunday – Tower of London, Big Ben and House of Parliament
I have so many pictures and new knowledge to share from this visit . . The Tower, the keeping of the ravens, the Crown Jewels, the Royal Beasts. Stay tuned for a SlideShare I’ll be sharing with students and posting publicly. Here’s one of the shots:
Monday – Buckingham Palace, Harrod’s, Sherlock Holmes Cafe
This may have been the very coldest day of them all. We consistently endured windy temps in the low 30’s all week – not typical, as many Londoners assured. While I was too excited to let the cold air stop us from following the itinerary that Arianna diligently planned, waiting for the 11:00am changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace was particularly painful on this blustery day. My mom and I were lucky enough to arrive early and stand directly next to the gate; however, that meant enduring the cold longer. Once it became literally impossible to take anymore pictures because my fingers just would not fing and once it became apparent it would take an hour to leave the vicinity based on the growing crowd, we made a judgement call to take shelter in the Buckingham gift shop during the end of the changing. I was still enthralled by the Palace, by the guards, by the Royalty – cold or not! During a warmer climate, I look forward to return and walk through the Palace gardens.
Next stop – Harrod’s for afternoon retail therapy . . . London style!! Harrod’s is unlike any other department store. It is more expensive than Nordstrom’s and more theatrical than Nieman Marcus. Spanning 7 floors on over 4 acres of lavish space, I still don’t understand the layout even after visiting with my daughter and returning by myself. Wow!!!! That’s all I can say. Harrod’s makes shopping a true rich experience in itself. It is a must-see if only to gawk at the beautiful array or stop at one of its uniquely delicious restaurants or cafes . . . like the Milk Bar where we indulged in ice cream.
A visit to London would not be complete without fish and chips. My daughter, mother, my daughter’s roommate and I each had the fish & chips entree at The Sherlock Holmes Cafe only steps away from my hotel in Trafalgar Square. Yes, my eat clean diet was absolutely out the window for this trip! Thank goodness for those stairs. . . .
Cultural difference I had a hard time getting used to: At most restaurants, tipping is not customary. In fact, it may be frowned upon, regarded as insult. A few venues include gratuity on the check but, for the most part, it is not expected. Also, Londoners know the more healthful way to enjoy their meals – slowly. Servers do not bring the check until you ask for it nor do they seem to care how long you sit.
Tuesday – The National Gallery, Westminster Abbey, “Book of Mormom”
My mom and I spent this morning perusing the beautiful collections held at The National Gallery. Full disclosure: when I stood in front of Blue Dancers by impressionistic French painter, Edgar Degas, I cried. Studying the authentic brush lines in total awe, the realization I was standing before the original of one of my favorite pieces overcame me. Unfortunately, shooting photos is not allowed in the Gallery. I have pictures from the British Museum that I’ll share in a SlideShare later.
The afternoon was spent at Westminster Abbey, where Prince William and Duchess Katherine wed. Simply put, it is beautiful!!! It is a must-see and walking through this sanctuary is humbling. All week I kept my eyes open for the Duchess or even perhaps the Beckhams – no such luck. 🙂
The night belonged to “Book of Mormom” at Prince of Wales Theatre. Oh my goodness – there was hardly a minute not filled with laughter. While I felt just a wee bit sacrilegious at points, I give it a definite A+!!! “Turn it Off” and other catchy tunes are still rolling in my head. Fun little tid bit – they serve ice cream inside British theatres during intermission. Best cookies & cream ever!
Wednesday – The Globe, St. Paul, Duck & Waffle
English Teacher’s Dream!!! I am most definitely creating a SlideShare for this. Stay tuned over the course of the next couple of weeks as I will share experiences here with students and readers before we begin our study of “Romeo & Juliet” in the classroom. In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek:
St. Paul’s Cathedral – My mom and I were very humbled to attend a full service here at St. Paul’s. I was one of those wide-eyed little girls who adored Princess Diana and glued to the television when Prince Charles and her wed. The cathedral was very familiar to me from that memory. It was haunting in many ways. No photos allowed here. . . . I have outdoor shots of the beautiful architecture only.
Duck and Waffle – Oh my, I would never even think of putting duck and waffle in the same sentence much less same plate!! Let me tell you, it is one heck of a combination . . . . a thick, warm waffle with a flaky duck leg on top garnished with a fried egg. Maple cinnamon syrup is served on the side to dip the dish. This entree can be found at Duck & Waffle, a two-year old fine dining restaurant found on the 40th floor of London’s Heron Tower. (take the Liverpool stop) A+ to this!! It’s a repeater.
Thursday – Borough Market
My daughter was here previously on her own and couldn’t wait to take us! The labyrinth of fruit and vegetable stalls and fine food purveyors collected under London Bridge is one of the oldest and largest food markets in the world .
What I ate along the market): Various cheese samples, grilled cheese, warmed brownies, softball-size meringues, prune tarts
Friday – PARIS!!! We took a 5am Eurostar train from London to Paris and spent the day in this romantic city. Paris is everything I imagined and more. This special day deserves its own post, From Paris with Love.
Saturday – Cafe in the Crypt, Notting Hill
Cafe in the Crypt is in the basement of the Church of St Martin in the Fields but don’t let the word “basement” fool you. The cafe is a gem of baroque architecture, a venue for breakfast, lunch and evening concerts. I’ve never been to a more elegant “cafeteria or basement, for that matter. This picture doesn’t do the architecture justice. Oh and yes, the food is delicious. I experienced my first authentic English breakfast here:
A trip to London would not be complete without a trip to Notting Hill. While the bookshop made famous in the movie by the same name with Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts is no longer there, my daughter and I got more than a little excited when we stumbled upon a similar such shop. And no, they don’t have any Winnie the Pooh. 😉
Our day in Notting Hill consisted of walking around the neighborhoods, checking out the fashion and food markets, and trying on hats.
Sunday – Trip Home with one stop in Toronto
Not that I’ve frequented many airports yet, but London’s Heathrow is by far my favorite thus far. The good folks that planned this airport made waiting for a plane a rather pleasant experience. There are toys scattered for wee ones, there is a plethora of good eateries to choose from and one can certainly leave her last pounds and pence in England – sooo much shopping including small Harrod’s flagships. I was a particular fan of the comprehensive bookstore. Much to my mother’s dismay, I got lost in my own little world more than once in many a bookstore.
The depictions and pictures above comprise a portion of this trip-of-a-lifetime. It is so very true that life is richer through the collection of experiences rather than the collection of material goods. My daughter will forever remember and be forever changed from her experiences abroad. In turn, I am forever grateful for our special time together in this now not-so-foreign land.