I arrived in London late on Saturday night and took a taxi to my hostel. The taxi was so cool – a very old looking black car that was not old at all. The ride to my hostel lasted less than five minutes.
My hostel, Clink 78, was an old courthouse that was converted into a youth hostel – a very cool concept. If you want, you can pay extra for a room inside an old jail cell. The Internet cafe was in an old courtroom that still had all the traditional courtroom furniture. You could literally access the Internet from the judge’s stand! Another courtroom was converted into a movie theater.
One of my favorite quotes
On Sunday morning, I woke up early and walked back to Kings Cross Station where the inner nerd in me came out! I found Platform 9 3/4 and took my picture with a cart going through the wall. For those of you who aren’t complete dorks like me, Platform 9 3/4 is the secret entrance that all the students use to get onto the Hogwarts Express in all the Harry Potter books.
King’s Cross Station
Platform 9 3/4
Afterwards, I started to walk back to my hostel when I saw something that made me feel like i was back home in New York – a Starbucks next to a Pret A Manger next to a McDonalds across the street from a KFC and a Subway Sandwich Shop. I went into Pret to grab a breakfast sandwich before heading back to my hostel to meet my Dad’s cousin, David.
A taste of America in London
Prior to this Sunday morning I had never met David or his wife, Joan. When I decided to come to London my Dad asked them to give me the grand tour of London, the city they’ve lived in or around for the majority of their lives.
I met up with David first and we walked down to the Covent Garden – a shopping area that used to be an fruit and vegetable market. It was in the middle of London’s theater district, so it was quite a busy place. We then walked down to a Starbucks for a cup of coffee and to wait for Joan to meet up with us.
When Joan met up with us we headed for a hop-on, hop-off tour bus they arranged for me. Since my time in London was so limited, they felt that was the best way to see London. We saw Big Ben, the House of Parliament, the London Eye, the Tower of London, the Tower Bridge, London Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Baker Street, Hyde Park, and many other places that I can’t remember.
London Tower Bridge
I really like this picture of Big Ben with the London Eye in the background. Please excuse the random person’s head!
After our bus tour, we took a boat cruise from the London Tower to Big Ben. Then, I took the cliche picture in front of Big Ben and another inside of a Telephone Booth.
After dinner we went back to Joan and David’s house for a cup of tea and some cake. We took a look at some pictures from our family reunion a few years ago which was pretty cool. Then, we all went to bed and I “crashed out” or quickly fell asleep. This morning, David took me for a quick tour of his town – Epsom. It is the home of the world famous Epsom Salt and the well known Epsom Derby. David showed me where the Derby takes place and also took me to a lookout that had extraordinary views of London. The town itself was gorgeous and it had a small downtown area with everything you need.On our way back to my hostel to get my bags we stopped in an English pub to chat over a beer. After grabbing my bags, David and Joan took me to their house in the suburbs for the night. We went out to another English pub to grab a bite to eat and I tried steak and ale pie. It was really good!
The Derby Grounds
The following morning, Joan cooked a full English breakfast with coffee, eggs, mushrooms, pasta, bacon, sausages, and toast. It was great! After breakfast, we drove around the English countryside. We saw a castle, but couldn’t go in it because they were filming a movie called “Jack and the Giant Killer.” The castle was owned by King Henry VIII – the king that had six wives, beheaded a few of them, and broke England away from the Catholic church because the Pope refused to grant him any additional divorces. Then, we drove part of the route of the Olympic cycling race next summer. It looks tough! We also drove up Box Hill which is part of the race course and it had awesome views of the English countryside.
View from Box Hill
Panoramic view from Box Hill
After this, we went to one more English pub to chat before going to Gatwick Airport. When I arrived at Gatwick, Easyjet’s computers had crashed and they had to check everyone in by hand! It was chaos, but the computers were back up after about a half hour. Then, I said bye to David and Joan and hopped to my gate.
I absolutely loved London. After seeing Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam, and Paris it was very clear why we get along so well with the UK. The British are more similar to the US than to any other country in Europe. We have the same ideals and very similar tastes. I felt like I was back home. I would not say I was homesick, but a trip to a city that spoke English and was familiar to me was definitely welcomed! I definitely need to come back to London. There is so much to do and I barely scratched the surface! Next summer? I think yes.
My hosts, Joan and David, were great. It was so nice to meet family members I had never met before and they were so nice and welcoming. They made my visit to London even more enjoyable than I could have imagined!
I’m back to Rome now where I have three days of classes before heading to Venice this weekend with my school! Not too bad, is it?
Note: This post was originally published on April 4, 2011 in a blog entitled “Romeing Around Europe” which chronicled my study abroad experience.