Journals from England Fall, (University of Nottingham)
2009-09-29 A sunny weekend in London, the world's capital
A view of Parliament and Big Ben, taken from Westminster Bridge
29 Sept. 2009
This last weekend was probably the most mind-opening weekend of my life. Katie and I took the train down to London and stayed with her friend Portia in the borough of Fulham. London for me has always been the quintessential England, and since I've never been to Europe before this was my first experience in a European metropolis. What a whirlwind it was. Where to begin...
On Friday, we left the university early in the morning and headed out for the Nottingham city centre, where we caught our train to London (which cost a steep 42 pounds " and that was only because we booked it a week in advance; you should book further in advance for a cheaper price). On the train we sat opposite two other passengers, and none of us really started up a conversation so we just awkwardly read our textbooks on the two-hour trip there.
It's nearly impossible to describe the feeling of arriving at a place that you have spent so much time thinking about and trying to imagine. I guess the closest word, albeit an insufficient one, is elation. We wandered out of St. Pancras Station and instantly we were immersed in the sights and sounds of the city. The traffic, the noise, the collective buzz of thousands of conversations in dozens of languages happening all in front of you. It really was quite impressive.
As I sit here and reflect about this last weekend, I realize that I'll never be able to condense everything that happened into a reasonable number of words, so this journal post is going to be more of a guide for anybody who is interested in coming to London in the near future...
- Learn to love mass transit: London's underground railway (the tube, for short) is absolutely the most efficient way to get around. You just have to keep in mind that the location or landmark you are headed for doesn't necessarily correspond with the name of the tube stop. To ride the tube you need to buy an Oyster card (at most convenience stores) with a three-pound deposit, and then you can load it with pre-paid credit for your travel. Each journey costs a little over two pounds, so you can imagine the money can go fast if you are going to several different sections of the city in one day. Sometimes your nearest tube station is still a mile or two away from your final destination, so you'll either have to hoof it on foot or take the city bus lines (which reach each stop about every 10 minutes during the day). For this you can also use your Oyster card (1 pound per ride), so it's good to load up on at least 15 pounds' worth of credit when you first purchase your card.
- Walk around: Once you've reached the sight you've wanted to see, don't be afraid to wander. My favorite times in London where when I would walk around for a long time without really keeping tabs on my location on the map; inevitably, I found myself happening upon a place that I'd seen earlier in the weekend while riding the bus around. Walking really helps you orient yourself; it helps you feel more confident about what you are doing and where you are going. Not to mention it's free. In a city where tourists pay steep prices for many of the premier attractions, walking is a fun option for the bargain-conscious student. You get to see all the sights and, in some ways, you become more connected with the city by wearing yourself out on foot; you get to wander into unexpected locations, travel off of the traffic-filled main roads, and have a change of pace being in a busy city as an observer rather than someone in a hurry to get to a destination, appointment, or meeting.
- Be mindful: It's easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle of London. It's easy to get sucked in to all the tourist traps, to pay high prices, to worry yourself about trying to see everything. My best moments in London were the times when I made a conscious effort to slow down, to think about the magnitude of the places I was visiting, to think about the history of England and its roots in this city. London was founded more than 2,000 years ago by the Romans, and it has been the heart of England throughout its transformation over the centuries, as several cultures merged and matured over battles and wars. For an easy way to slow down and give yourself some time to ruminate over the magnitude of the city, spend some time in any of the city's museums (most have free admission).
Visiting London this weekend was amazing because it made me see how much more the world has to offer, how much there is to see. I think it would take many, many trips to London to see enough of it to be satisfied, and I'm looking forward to another trip there later this semester and more trips in the years to come. As we were sitting on the tube, Katie and I had a conversation about how the people riding alongside us were so completely diverse in terms of age, race, culture, class, dress, and language. It felt like we could be anywhere in the world. I guess that's why London is often called the world in a city. Let me tell you, it's true. Being there made me feel all at once like the world was a much smaller place and like it was an infinitely immense place. No matter how I think about it, London has made me eager for more travel. I'm currently in the process of planning trips to Manchester, York, Edinburgh, Cardiff, and Oxford, not to mention at least six major cities throughout Europe. And, of course, I'll be returning to London again sometime soon.
- Jordan Jacobo