From Barcelona I headed to London to visit my friend, Ellie. She sent me exact directions on how to get from Heathrow to Queen Mary University (QMU), her university for the semester. Feeling quite experienced in navigating public transportation systems, I was quite comfortable taking the Tube (London’s metro) for more than an hour to get to her.
I emerged from the train and walked to the university gates where she and another friend from USC, Scott, greeted me. They were both living on campus in dorms (flats). It has been quite some time since I’d been in a dorm, so it was fun being back in that environment. I stayed in Ellie’s room where she had an air mattress and sleeping bag for me. Scott lent me a pillow and Dodgers snuggie. I felt so at home!
I knew that the following day Ellie would be unavailable till the evening because she had an exam, but afterward she’d be totally free for the the rest of my stay. I was perfectly okay with the idea of entertaining myself, but when Scott heard this, he graciously volunteered to be my tour guide until Ellie was free from school! The next morning Scott even cooked me breakfast in his flat before we went on a great walking tour of the city.
We hopped on the Tube and took it to London Bridge Station. From there we passed through Borough Market and then walked along the River Thames toward the London Eye. In a city of 8 million people, I was surprised when I literally ran into my friend, Olivia, another Theta studying there. We then passed by the London Eye and crossed the bridge toward Parliament and Big Ben. From there we took the obligatory red phone booth photos before strolling through St. James’s Park. From the park we headed to Buckingham Palace where I was (not so) surprisingly denied entrance to see my gal Princess Kate. Our final destination was Trafalgar Square. In just two hours, I really felt I got a sense of the city. It was the perfect overview of London.
Scott then headed to class so after I thanked him for showing me around, I took myself to the National Gallery. It was incredible! I saw so many of my favorite paintings including Jan Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait and Bronzino’s Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time. After seeing works by many of the masters, I headed back to QMU to meet up with Ellie before heading to dinner. We had dinner plans with a group of Thetas at a “Mexican” restaurant called Wahaca. It has been so fun seeing my friends around the world!
On my second full day, Ellie was free as a bird and took the reigns as my tour guide. She was fabulous at navigating, scheduling and deciding what to do. We began our day back at Borough Market for breakfast. She had falafel and I had Scotch eggs. After filling up on yummy market food, we walked across the Tower Bridge and passed by the Tower of London. It was very windy, but the skies were clear and sunny for the most part. Ellie said I got quite lucky with the weather.
We indulged in a classic British practice and headed to tea, but since we are young and hip college gals, we went to a trendy and modern tea parlour called Sketch. We enjoyed our tea and scones like the charming young socialites that we are (kidding). After tea we made our way back to Big Ben and stopped outside Westminster Abbey before strolling over to Harrod’s. The only thing we could afford there (and it was still a splurge) was a decadent ice cream sundae with brownies, three different ice cream flavors, hot fudge, caramel and whipped cream. YES.
As if we hadn’t eaten enough that day, we had to scurry from our indulgence at Harrod’s Ice Cream Parlour to get back to QMU and get ready for dinner. Ellie, Scott and their friends had coordinated a big group dinner at Bunga Bunga, an Italian karaoke bar and restaurant. What could be better! Friends, pizza and karaoke.
For breakfast the following morning, we headed to Cereal Killer Cafe in the upcoming and urban neighborhood of Brick Lane. As a girl who loves cereal, this place was my heaven! I enjoyed a custom creation of a variety of cinnamon flavored cereals. Ellie opted for a peanut butter concoction complete with peanut buttery milk.
With our bellies content, we explored the graffiti-enhanced streets of Brick Lane and the vintage shops that lined them. We then made our way to Camden Lock Market where we encountered a variety of market treasures such as lamps, clothes, furniture, food and more. For lunch Ellie and I munched on cheesy treasures from a gourmet mac ‘n cheese stand, The Mac Factory.
To burn off the day’s culinary delights, we walked through a darling neighborhood with streets lined with bright, white and clean looking English houses. I regret not taking a picture of the pretty homes, but my own memories will have to do. We walked to Primrose Hill, a park with a large hill (clever, I know), from which you can soak in a panorama of London. We plopped down on the large grassy knoll and took a breather from the busy day.
Our rest wasn’t too long, however, because we still had one more stop before dinner. We made our way down the hill and over to none other than the Abbey Road. For being such an iconic location, you’d think there would be some manner to monitor the flow of traffic and facilitate the taking of pictures. But no. We had to dart across the street, avoiding regular cars, taxis and even police cars, in order to take a few good shots. Also, the fact that Londoners drive on the other side of the street made looking out for oncoming traffic a bit of a mind puzzle. Now, many have asked how Ellie and I got the following picture and I’m not going to reveal all of my secrets, but let’s just say it might start with “Photo” and end with “shop”.
After a day of somewhat alternative tourism, Ellie and I met Margaret, another Theta, for dinner. This evening’s selection was Thai cuisine at Monkey and Me. For dessert, the three of us headed to Covent Garden for some simply smashing gelato.
My time in London had come to an end and it was time to grab a few hours of sleep before my very early departure the last day. Ellie had been a terrific host and tour guide. Spending time with her – just the two of us – made for easy and fun traveling. I loved seeing London for the first time and can’t wait to get back. So far, London might have been my favorite trip!