Oh, the Places You'll Go in London, England
Most people when answering that question from a "whole life perspective" often throw in travel somewhere in the mix. The thing is, traveling also takes time and money, which is not always readily available. If you're like me, you're both fortunate and unfortunate in the sense that most of your college besties are pretty much scattered all over the place by now. I was able to spend a year abroad, and now I've got a few BFFs sprinkled all over the world. While you miss your friends and wish they were around to split a pizza or catch a movie on a Tuesday night, this gives even more of an incentive to travel - see a new place (for less cost) while visiting an old friend.
Day 1: The Travel
This summer, I was fortunate enough to have some time off to travel. As it turned out, two of my absolute best friends from childhood were spending the year in England. I prepared and saved for my very first "a hop across the pond," although I would hardly call that 10-hour flight a "hop." TBH, I dreaded the flight, but it turned out to go quite quickly.
We left at night and had dinner on the plane; the movie selection was great. Regardless of the variety of flicks, I ended up watching my all-time favorite, Mamma Mia, (a few times) since I couldn't sleep. By the time I did get some rest, it was breakfast time, and the announcement that we were almost at our destination came on.
I had strict instructions from my friend to "take the express train to Victoria Station." Sure enough, she was right there waiting for me at the station, fully equipped with man power (her boyfriend) since I had not packed for every occasion with an extra suitcase for souvenirs. After landing, I had every intention of doing a little bit of exploring, which didn't exactly work out since I could barely keep my eyes open and nearly fell asleep on the lunch table (no, not really but it sure felt that way). However, after resting and barely eating on day one, by day two, it was go time.
Days 2-4: The Sights
My friend took me all over central London, and on the first day, I was able to see Big Ben and Parliament, attend mass at Westminster Abbey, ride the Coca-Cola London Eye and visit both Leicester and Trafalgar Square (by foot of course). There was actually a musical show of some hit Broadway songs going on in Trafalgar Square, which was the cherry on an already perfect day.
The exploration continued during the week as I took The Original Bus Tour while my friend was at work, and I was able to get three full days for the price of one, so that I could see more amazing London spots like St. Paul's Cathedral, Tower Bridge, The Tower of London, London Bridge and a special showing of King John at Shakespeare's Globe for only £5. These were all within walking distance of each other, which was one of the things I loved the most about London - even though it required a new pair of walking boots. As I was walking, I happened to walk behind a tour group and was lucky enough hear the guide point out the "Wobbly Bridge" from Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince! (Sidenote: LONDON is a MUST VISIT for all Harry Potter fans!)
The next day, I was able to get on the bus and take it to Buckingham Palace just in time for the changing of the guard at 11:30 a.m., which was ABSOLUTELY PHENOMENAL! I would highly recommend this to anyone visiting or thinking of visiting London. I won't say too much more about this because being surprised and whisked away by musical talent was part of the experience.
The bus ticket also came with a free boat ride to the city of Greenwich. I returned to the Tower of London and boarded a small boat to Greenwich. Halfway there, I remembered that there was a pretty good chance that I would be able to see the Prime Greenwich Meridian, meaning I would have the chance to stand over the meridian line and be in two hemispheres at once.
When I got to the dock, I was told that it would be a 20-minute walk from the pier. Not sure who was walking that, but since I gave all my energy into getting there while still having time to see other things and get back on the boat in time to meet my friends for burgers and Mamma Mia, the 20-minute walk turned into about a seven-minute sprint...until I had to go uphill. That part was more of a six-minute "pull on the rail and don't roll backwards," but I finally made it, and although I did not have time to go in and see the observatory, the view was phenomenal, and the feeling of standing over the Prime Meridian line was indescribable.
Once I got back into London, my friends met me at the Westminster Pier, and we went over to Covent Garden for burgers at Shake Shack, which was walking distance from the Novello Theatre, where Mamma Mia was playing. To say that the show was fabulous would not be saying enough; the show was mesmerizing and breathtaking. The whole audience was involved in the show, clapping, singing and dancing along. I went home smiling and singing "Dancing Queen in my head all night.
Day 5: The Platform
By the next day, I was EXHAUSTED. However, I was not so exhausted to pass up a trip to King's Cross Station to see Platform 9 ¾! At the entrance of the station, there are plenty of stores and one large wall with a cart full of all the Hogwarts essentials, including Hedwig! We got in the surprisingly short line to take a picture entering the platform the only way a platform should be entered (at least when going to Hogwarts.) The kind photographers even lent us glasses, wands and a Hogwarts house scarf for the picture. Although there were professional photographers, we were able to take pictures on our cameras or phones free of charge. For a Potterfan, this was truly an opportunity that even my aching legs, which at this point were shaking like Bambi's when he was first born, couldn't keep me away from!
However after lunch, my trooper style momentum died down. I did try to go to the mall and do some local shopping, but my legs were not having it, so instead, my friend invited some of her other friends, and we went for a picnic in Hyde Park. It was absolutely beautiful and was still a new place in London, but I was also able to rest, relax and recover.
Day 6: The Shopping
One word: Harrod's. I didn't exactly shop. I went to explore, and boy, was it worth exploring! Plus, they have a Lauduree (french macaroons) in Harrod's that I could not pass up. The rooms, the art, the architecture - everything about Harrod's was fascinating except for the fact that my wallet was a little too thin to do some actual shopping. However, from the Disney Store to the Writer's Room to the entire floor dedicated to shoes, Harrod's was more than a place to shop, it was like a theme park experience where luxury was the theme.
Days 7: Stonehenge & Bath
This day didn't exactly take place in London, but there are many tour buses that can pick you up at a nearby tube station and take you to these sites and many more. This particular trip costed a little over £55 and included entrance into Stonehenge as well as the Roman Baths. We also had some time to explore Bath before meeting back at the bus point.
Both Stonehenge and the Roman Baths were historically enchanting. At Stonehenge, we were given an audio guide and permission to enter the Museum of Stonehenge to read and learn about the site before actually setting foot on the grounds. After the museum, we stepped right outside outside, and a bus transported us across a Christmas-colored field of poppies before dropping us off at Stonehenge itself.
Each side of Stonehenge is different. I found the audio-guide extremely helpful in pointing out things I did not notice and helping me to better understand the history and the possible reasons that researchers believe the site was created.
After Stonehenge, we were able to enjoy the beautiful countryside of England while on our way to the city of Bath. Our tour guide took us to the Roman Baths, which are located in the middle of a courtyard. There are several artists and performers to watch while waiting to enter.
Upon arrival at the Baths, we were given another audio guide that helped us navigate through the Baths. The entire site and the guides were so enriched with history that made it a learning experience along with just a plain cool thing to see. Seeing the statue of Julius Caesar and recalling the history of Rome really made the experience like a step into a history book itself.
Personally, I also loved getting to enjoy some time to sightsee in Bath. I was able to walk through the nearby park and still visit my personal favorite site, the Jane Austen center, which is only a short walk from the Roman Baths. Despite all the sightseeing and practically being asleep by the end, on the way back we were also able to see the country of Wales as we drove through the countryside!
Day 8: Dover Cliffs and Canterbury
On this day, we were taken on a scenic drive directly Dover with time to see and explore the White Cliffs of Dover, which were absolutely breathtaking. Despite the fact that it was FREEZING, I still was able to enjoy the nature and sights of the cliffs and the black sand over the English channel while at Dover Cliffs. Now, the day that I went it was cold and cloudy, but on a clear day our guide says that we could have been able to see the edge of France from the cliffs.
After leaving the cliffs, we drove through the town of Dover, which is was very pretty as we made our way to Dover Castle, or as they called it, "Windy Castle," and they were right. Although the grounds were cold and windy, the castle made me feel like I was attending Hogwarts as a first year. It was magical, and I couldn't help imagining what its former occupants must have felt as they watched for oncoming ships through the lookout windows.
As I walked down the steps of the castle, I'm imagined the theme song from Once Upon A Time that played every time the Evil Queen walked down the steps of her castle in the Enchanted Forest. At this site, I met some really great new friends, a family from South Africa, which was another amazing part of visiting London. Being a tourist in London also gives you the opportunity to meet other tourists who come from all over the world.
After Dover Castle, we headed over to Canterbury Cathedral. Our package included entrance into the cathedral, which was full of beauty, faith and architecture. Actually, all of the cathedrals and abbeys of England are rich in religious art and are fascinating sites for any guest. After Canterbury Cathedral (which also has a great gift shop that I spent a lot of time in), the writer in me just had to go over to see the Canterbury Tales Experience, which took me right back to the days when I acted out these tales with my high school English class. Canterbury was a cute town with lots of stalls and shopping to take part in during the time spent there.
On both of these day trips. I felt like I had taken a dive straight into old literature books and historical texts like in the show Wishbone. The sites were historically enchanting in every possible way.
Day 9: The Finale
On this final day in London, we went to Wimbledon stadium. We had barely missed the Wimbledon Championships, but just being at the stadium was an experience in itself. We were able to go into the café and the gift shop and walk around the front area for free, but we also had the option to pay for a guided tour. Although we weren't able to do the guided tour this time (but I intend to return), we were able to see enough to feel satisfied. While in Wimbledon, we went on a walk to the park before heading to our last destination of the trip.
What was the last destination? None other that the famous Paddington Station. It might sound silly, but one of my London bucket list items was to visit Paddington Station. If you watched Paddington and your heart melted the way mine did, I am sure you understand. Sure, this last day was about getting some sights seen, but it was also about spending time together. That was what made this adventure so great. It wasn't just about sightseeing and visiting a new country but about doing all of that while also getting to spend time with people who matter.
After an exchange of gifts, it was time to stuff everything back into my suitcases (which seemed much more difficult this time around). I was able to leave London with a heart full of happiness, an eternity's worth of experiences and a memory full of amazing memories that will always be cherished.