And Then, We Invaded London, On Foot

Hello internet people! The times I get to say that are admittedly fewer when I’m gallivanting about the UK, taking myself many places without wifi, and certainly without my faithful Sony Vaio, who I have cheerfully dubbed Ronaldo. However, that doesn’t mean I’m not writing it all down and keeping it all fresh in my lovely little brain to share with you all!

This past weekend, I went off to LONDON! Yes, the city I’ve dreamed of visiting since I read Harry Potter, and saw Amanda Bynes in What A Girl Wants, and probably even before then, although the time in my life before I knew those books and that movie is a hazy and scary thing. Was it everything I dreamed?

Yes and no. It was everything I could have hoped for, but like anything in real life, it was different, and it was more than I could have hoped. I always wanted to come here, to see Big Ben, and the London Eye (which admittedly I have been a little transfixed with ever since I saw it function as a transmitter for alien tech in an episode of Doctor Who) and Buckingham Palace, and Westminster Abbey, and on and on and on. Admittedly in my youth, there were grand dreams of magic, both the sparks shooting out of wands kind and the kissing a gorgeous British guy in a boat kind, but I knew better than to expect either of those things on this trip (a girl can dream though, right? Can you hear me, Rupert?). What I did expect, however, was that I’d have a fantastic time with the wonderful friends I’ve made in college, and the new friends I continue to make here at Harlaxton itself.

So, the trip itself. We boarded not one, not two, but THREE coaches (or buses, as you probably know them) and proceeded to enjoy the very anticlimactic activity of sitting. For two and a half hours. During which time I did a bit of sleeping, admittedly, regardless of my early determination to watch the landscape pass me by. And then, sleepy and a bit irritable, we rolled up to the hotel, the name of which I should probably remember but I confess I really don’t–was it the royal something? No idea. Anyway, in a terrifying cloud of American-ness and noise (of which I am not proud) the 100-odd of us huddled into the lobby, where everyone proceeded to talk very loudly and annoy a groggy Amanda to near murderous proportions (don’t worry, I haven’t actually killed anyone). Eventually, we were handed our room keys and went to investigate the new and exciting world of British hotels.

Lo and behold, our adorable, if small, room! Lesley, Gina and I claimed our beds, investigated our facilities–which included a water boiler, fit for making a spot of tea, and some interesting milk stick things to go with, and then prepared ourselves to go walk around and see what was near our hotel.

The real adventure, of course, came on the morrow. We had a nice complimentary breakfast, which consisted of toast, rolls, and cereal (meat and things were extra, and as poor college students we didn’t bother with it), and then prepared ourselves for the great walking tour of London.

What possessed us to walk the entire way, without aid of bus or subway or taxi? Well, money, of course. This isn’t the “wealthy person’s blog”, now is it? Besides, we wanted to have the chance to duck in anywhere that struck our fancy, which we did on many occasions.

Anyway, we started our tour off with the British museum, where we got to look at some fabulous old stuff. Then we headed out to find lunch, which we did in a spectacular find–a little Italian cafe called Bush & Fields. It’s not far off from the British Museum, and I recommend it entirely if you happen to be in London. Just have a look at my DELICIOUS ham and mozzerella panini if you’re unconvinced. Plus, the service was fantastic. (Oh, and they aren’t paying me. No one pays me to talk about things.)

Refreshed from our glorious food (and the even more glorious luxury of a bottle of Diet Coke, a beverage they don’t serve in the “refectory” here at Harlaxton), we headed off to do more adventuring/walking. And boy did we walk. We ducked into some bookstores, little tourist shops, H&M, Top Shop and more as we made our way past Piccadilly Circus (the one with the lovely signs, such as for McDonalds and Coke, very British) and Trafalgar square (where we stopped to do a photo op with the fountain, etc).

Our destination for the day was Westminster, where we planned to attend the evening service, called “Evensong”. There were two reasons for this–one, some of us have more strong religious leanings than yours truly, and wanted to see a service. Two, you can have a peak inside the Abbey for free, rather than paying, if you attend service. Now, if you know me you know that I’m a rather precariously perched agnostic, meaning I haven’t really got a clue what we ought to believe and don’t know that we really can. But there was something in Westminster that touched even me. It’s hard, standing in that gorgeous cathedral, dark except for the eerie glow of candles lit for prayers when you first enter, looking up at a ceiling that looks so far away it may as well reach the heavens, that made me feel more strongly than ever that there has got to be SOME purpose to it all. If people so long ago would erect such a building, if such a building full of people who’d once been alive and people who’d once prayed there was still standing… I got a chill, but in the good way. The service was nice, and had a little card explaining what to do so that I wasn’t lost and confused per usual. If I had any connections with God, however, they were in the silent prayers I conjured on the way in and out, but I think that in itself is something spectacular.

After that, we made our way BACK towards the hotel, ducking in for some dinner at “The Diner” after an awkward realization that in some restaurants you have to order an entree and they charge an automatic gratuity of 12.5%! Needless to say we ducked out of THERE (so be wary, travelers) and that’s how we ended up in the diner, a quaint, if touristy, little restaurant where I had some delicious penne in some sort of sauce that I couldn’t pronounce.

Can you believe that’s only day one? Well it was. The next day, we took off on foot yet AGAIN, heading to The Tate art museum, where a gloriously geeked out Amanda stared up in awe at the ORIGINAL Lady of Shallot painting that I have admired since I was a very little girl and first encountered the Tennyson poem of the same name (which I actually memorized once, because I am insane).

We also encountered, utterly by chance, the glory that is TK Maxx, the U.K extension of TJ Maxx. To bore you with a bit of history for the company by which I am employed (slash will be employed by again hopefully upon my return to the states), the branch has this different name because, apparently, when TJX Companies spread out they worried the name “TJ Maxx” would get them all confused with an already existing chain, called “TJ Hughes”, about which I know nothing. Thus the European TJ Maxx became TK Maxx, and was also made very fancy and to have two stories and a magnificent bench for sitting (I have no idea that these things were related, but they were there). We did a bit of browsing, then returned to the cold and to the walking.

From there, which had been a trek in and of itself, we ventured to Harrods, a magnificently gigantic and expensive department store that I’m told is a MUST when in London. I saw some ridiculously priced chocolates, incredibly fancy pens, a Dalek lunchbox, and printed toilet paper. Ducked in to Pete a Manger for lunch, which was another magnificent find, if a bit less of a surprise since they’re on every corner. We declared it the British Panera, and it was quite good.

Refreshed AGAIN, we trekked on, and on, and on. We walked through several parks, had a pit stop at Buckingham palace, and then headed back to the hotel to rest our tired (and in some cases even bleeding) feet. After a little news and showering, we soldiered on to have dinner in, yes, an actual PUB! Can you tell I was excited? I was excited! I had a jacket potato (or as we call it, a baked potato) stuffed with mushrooms, cheese, and all sorts of gloriousness. It was fantastic, just the carb-filled glory that I needed after a day of walking. And walking. And walking. From there we headed to Tesco, a lovely little convience store, to get some drinks and some chocolate (and of course my new addiction, Maynard’s Wine Gums). Gina, Lesley, Emily and I had a quaint little girls night in in our rooms, and eventually we all got into bed, and the three of us watched a bit of Bridget Jones before we went to sleep. All in all, a second day full of walking, of sightseeing, and of generally attempting to experience the culture of London.

The third day, we departed for home, stopping along the way at Hampton Court Palace, a beautiful and luxurious location that was inhabited by the infamous Henry VIII. Wearily, we toured the splendor, had a spot of hot chocolate in a nearby cafe, and then finally boarded the coaches and made that lovely 2 1/2 hour ride (which became a nap) back home to Harlaxton manor, where of course we all returned to the reality of our homework–after we uploaded the pictures on Facebook, of course!

And there it is! In short, and lacking much of the detail I COULD give, if I wanted to bore you, my first trip to LONDON! Those of you who know and love me will be happy to hear I did not, in fact, go off chasing ANY ice cream trucks in search of Rupert Grint. I was too distracted with the glory that is London–though there’s always next time!

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