Oh how I loved London. It was such a perfect place to spend my last weekend of traveling while abroad, thanksgiving and my friend Lexi’s birthday. In a spur of the moment decision the weekend before, I booked my flight and decided to take a trip to the UK, rather than heading back to Vienna for a second time with my program. This decision definitely could not have been wiser as I enjoyed my weekend immensely and am left with some of the best memories from my semester. Of course my experience would not have been nearly as enjoyable if I were not getting to join my two friends Lexi and Emilee, for a second weekend in a row!
The Journey: I left for London around 12 on Thursday, which was the best time I have ever scheduled a flight for, because it allowed me to wake up and double check my packing before heading to the airport. Because London is not in the Schengen area, [which confused me because it is a part of the EU], I had to go through a more meticulous passport check and security. Eventually, however I made it to my terminal and on my way to Great Britain. Arriving was also difficult, and I had to fill out a landing card and talk for a while about where I was going and who I would be staying with. Despite this, I highly appreciated that we were speaking English, and was kindly let through. To get to London, I had to take a train labeled the Gatwick Express to arrive at a station where Lexi would meet me. Through a small bit of confusion, I ended up on another train-but luckily it led me to the same place. When I finally arrived, I was grateful to find Lexi at the station and have someone to navigate me through their ever complex metro system – the tube.
The Experience [Highlights from my time in London]: The London Eye & Thursday Night: We had boughten tickets in advance to ride the London Eye on Thursday, because it was Lexi’s birthday and we wanted to ensure that we got on. Luckily our ticket included a fast pass, so we were in no rush, and took our time getting dressed up before heading out. Rather than facing what Lexi and Emilee called ‘rush hour’ on the tube [jam packed and basically hugging the people next to you] we called an uber, which was a treat because in our dresses, the London air was frigid. He dropped us off right at the London Eye, and pretty soon we were at the top of the most ginormous ferris wheel I’ve ever been on, with an even better view. It was amazing, and really a memorable part of my weekend. After this awesome experience, we headed to the girl’s favorite spot for drinks and tea- Sketch. If you ever go to London, this is a must see. It was so unique and fun, that just walking through the restaurant was a treat; there were three different rooms with decor that was almost ‘alice and wonderland’ magical. A little overpriced, but it was Lexi’s birthday and only a week after mine, so we treated ourselves. Later we headed to a fantastic sushi restaurant to continue celebrating with some of Lexi and Emilee’s friends. It was quite a way to spend thanksgiving, and although it is my favorite holiday, I was not homesick because my day and night was so un-thanksgiving-ish.
Exploring London: Much of my weekend was spent exploring and enjoying the streets of London. The city was beautifully decorated for Christmas, and although it was a bit crowded for the holiday season, I highly appreciated the nice stores and larger city vibe that lacks from Prague. On Friday, we spent most of the afternoon walking around, and even witnessed a part of the city in a mysterious blackout- which was eerie but interesting. One of my favorite parts of the city was Covent Garden, which included a large Christmas tree, market and Ladurée- the best macaroon place.
The BodyGuard: On Saturday we went and saw the musical ‘The Bodyguard’, at the Dominican Theatre. Our original plan was to see Phantom of the Opera, but we went through a discounted ticket group, and there was none left for the weekend. Our disappointed was short lived, however, because The BodyGuard was an absolutely fantastic play, and one of the few things that I was wishing would never end. I love musicals more than anything, and seeing one in London was a dream come true.
Harrods Department Store: Following the play, Lexi showed me Harrods, the large luxury department store, next to Hyde Park. As odd as it sounds, it was such a treat to wander through the store for over an hour in awe of the products. It is so expansive that the store has a top level dedicated just to luxury fragrances, a 7th floor shoe heaven [literally labeled that], the most expensive dress section you can imagine, and a massive food and dessert section area. It definitely was a fun thing to see in London, almost like a museum of luxury products that people actually buy.
Big Ben & Buckingham Palace: On Sunday morning, I woke up early because it was my last day in London, and I wanted to make sure that I would see Big Ben, and Buckingham Palace. My friends had morning plans so I headed off by myself and made arrangements to meet Emilee later at a coffee shop. I honestly didn’t mind viewing these sights on my own, because they are not anything that I would linger at, and just wanted to get a few pictures before heading to coffee. Big Ben was truly beautiful, and much larger than I had imagined! It is sometimes so odd to see these well known monuments in real life, because I have known and pictured visiting them for my whole life. Buckingham palace was a little underwhelming, because it looked like many of the other beautiful buildings that I have seen while here, and the hordes of people were enough to send me on my way.
Hillsong United: The best part of Sunday was after lunch, when Emilee and I headed to Hillsong United, the same church branch that we sometimes visit in LA. It was really fun, and a small reminder of the good things in store for me next semester! When church ended, Lexi met us and I enjoyed a few last hours in the city of London. We ate dinner early at a fantastic place called Bill’s, before I packed up and was on my way to the Airport.
Overall, it was an amazing weekend filled with good memories, and left me with a passion for the UK. I loved the english accents, the streets, the shopping stores, the cute restaurants and the laughs that I shared with Emilee and Lexi. I didn’t enjoy the pound, the prices, or the public transportation; but those are minor details in comparison to the many awesome things about London. I feel as if I could live there in a heartbeat, and was so grateful for this amazing opportunity to visit.