Backpacking Stop 1: London

I kicked off the month of June with a 6:30 a.m. flight to London where I would meet some of my best friends from home for the typical post-graduation backpacking adventure. London was the first stop, followed by Barcelona, Milan, and Venice. Like my last multi-city trip, I’ll write a post for each so people don’t get overwhelmed by my thousands of pictures and many travel stories.

Preparing for London, I imagined it to be like New York City, a large, expensive, crowded, international icon that would probably be too busy and modern for me to appreciate. But still I went because I couldn’t move to Europe and not see London. Plus this was an opportunity for me to reconnect with some of my British friends from study abroad.

However, I am pleased to say the city did not disappoint and the atmosphere felt completely different from New York. Only a few skyscrapers dotted the skyline, and most of the other buildings had unique character, so while it was a bustling urban environment, I could still feel the old European charm. The atypical sunny weather may have had some impact on how much I liked it—we only had one rain storm that lasted maybe 30 minutes! The fact that I could unapologetically speak English for the first time in 5 months also put me in a better mood. My only complaint was that most of the sightseeing tours cost a lot more than I expected, so knowing I would definitely return to London in the future, I decided to save those experiences for when I’m not traveling on a backpacker’s budget.

I got to see so much of the city in three days. My bus from the airport dropped me off at Paddington Station, so then I walked across beautiful Hyde Park to get to my hostel. The park was vibrant with coffee shops along the perimeter, dogs running freely through the grass, and locals and tourists alike strolling along the paths. I had my heavy backpack on my shoulders, but I still took a lot of time just to wander and see where I would end up. And being the runner that I am, I was desperately wishing I had brought my sneakers so I could take part in this outdoor culture (my backpack was not big enough to fit running clothes and my chunky shoes).

After meeting up with my friends from home who I hadn’t seen in almost 5 months and dropping off our backpacks at the hostel, we headed down to the Thames River to see all the sights down there. I had my first experience on “the tube” and I can officially say it puts the D.C. metro to shame in terms of price and efficiency. We saw the famous Tower Bridge and then continued walking down toward Big Ben. Walking along the river was pleasant until we got to the London Eye, where there were just tons of tourists. We got a nice view of Big Ben and the houses of Parliament and then we crossed a bridge to get closer. This was definitely the area of the city where tourists flock, but rightfully so considering everyone has seen the bell tower at some point in movies, TV, etc. For me, it brought me back to watching The Parent Trap and One Direction videos (I know feel free to make fun). That evening, we went to a traditional English pub and had beer, fish and chips, meat pie, and mashed peas (do not recommend unless you want a mouthful of starchy baby food).

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Our second day, we met some of my British friends at Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guards ceremony. Although we got there nearly an hour before it started, we still didn’t get perfect spots, but we were close enough to at least see the parade in the circle in front of the palace. I’m still glad we got to go, and the marching band played some lovely ABBA tunes. Our only rain storm hit in the afternoon, but after it cleared, we got panoramic views of the city from the (free!) observation deck at the Tate Modern art museum.

Our last stop in London was the world-famous Harrod’s department store in the ritzy neighborhood of Chelsea. It was about the size of Macy’s on 34th street in New York, but way more expensive. We mostly walked through the food section and I succumbed to temptation and spent £4, or about $6, on a salted caramel cronut. But hey I’ll splurge on food over designer brands any day.

In the evening, we took a train back to my friend Connie’s home in Cambridge, and I got to see all around the university and town. It was a calming change from London until I woke up the next morning to tons of messages asking me if I was safe. It’s not quite what you want to see at 6 a.m. but always nice to know that people care about you. I quickly searched the news to find out there was an attack on London Bridge the night before. We hear about these attacks all the time nowadays, but it really puts everything into perspective when you’re actually in the area. I was just near London Bridge earlier that day and my friends from home were still in the city. I’m glad  everyone I knew was okay, but it’s heartbreaking to think about other tourists just like me who were not.

Okay enough of the somber tone. I’ll be going back to London in July for an even bigger study abroad reunion and I already can’t wait. For now, stay tuned to hear about my six days in Barcelona.

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