Three years this week, I visited London for the first time. Considering how important this city is to me now and how I actually lived there for an entire academic year, today it is really amazing to me that I never set foot on British soil until I was 20!
My first trip to London was with EF College Break and also included stops in Paris and Barcelona. At this point, I was already a massive anglophile, something that I'm pretty sure emerged during high school when I simultaneously took an AP British literature class, discovered alternative British music, and began consuming tea on a daily basis. My life before this seems so long-ago and foreign! I vividly recall going to high tea at The Dorchester. High tea there is a very fancy affair and I was with a large group of American college students and I am sure we fit the stereotype of loud American tourists quite well. When the waiter brought over the scones with jam and clotted cream, one of my fellow Americans asked, "What do you do with the toppings? Do you put them in your tea?" I may not have been that tea-time illiterate, but I definitely had loads to learn about British culture and society!
I blogged about my first trip to London for EF College Break, which was my first adventure into travel blogging. You can still read the posts here. My new-ness to the travel blog scene is apparent, yet it is full of some good stories I could add to the Dumb Things I've Done in Foreign Countries category! I accidentally broke a grate in Paris because my suitcase got stuck in it (sorry Parisians, I didn't mean to break your grate) and once gave a lecture to strangers about the origin of the phrase "Keep Calm and Carry On" thinking they were on the same tour group. They weren't. I kept calm and walked away.
When I lived in London, I went to Oxford on five separate occasions so it too is a very familiar city. Since this January, I have visited my adopted home of London three times and Oxford twice. During the bank holiday this past weekend, I returned to London and Oxford yet again.
So what is the most recent story to add to the list of "Dumb Things I've Done in Foreign Countries?" Well, I arrived in London from Reykjavik, not realizing that it was actually really, really warm out. I pretty much only brought fleece tights, jumper dresses, and a pair of boots so I borrowed clothes from a friend. One day, I put on the same trainers I had borrowed the day before. Or so I thought. On the tube later that day, I noticed that one shoe was black and the other gray. I found that odd because I thought they were both gray the day before, however, they were perfect inverses of each other so I was half-convinced they were a new style. Around this time, my friend messaged me saying, "By the way, you're wearing two different shoes." I was prepared to rock it and start a new fashion trend, but I was going to Primark anyway to get some summer clothes and found a new pair of summer boots.
Before my year abroad in London, I had a massive Pinterest board and list full of what I wanted to see. You might think that after a year abroad, I would have seen everything that London has to offer. While it is true that my trips to England now mostly focus on seeing friends and revisiting my favourite places and spaces, I am still completing my tourist list.
This past weekend was the first time I climbed to the top of St. Paul's or rode the London Eye. The stairwell in St. Paul's is a metal spiral staircase that goes in dizzying circles between galleries. St. Paul's has three galleries: the Whispering Gallery, which is 257 steps up, the Stone Gallery, which is 376 steps from the bottom, and finally the Golden Gallery after 528 steps, which offers the best views of London. In a way, it was good that I waited until I was very familiar with the skyline as I was easily able to point out iconic buildings and found myself explaining to tourists the pros and cons of each market and recommending my favourites (Broadway Market, Spitalfields, Brick Lane, Borough, and Camden Town). Just me, your resident former-Londonder, cathedral dome dwelling market recommender!
The London Eye, of course, is the epitome of tourism in London. I tried all last year to find someone to go on the London Eye with me, but no one was interested. When climbing St. Paul's, I made friends with a Canadian engineer who was conveniently planning on taking the London Eye the following day. The queue was massive so we paid the extra six pounds for fast track, which was well-worth it. Remember, time is also valuable, especially when in a city as incredible as London! It was gorgeous view and fun experience.
Four of my five trips to Oxford last year were to do a self-guided CS Lewis walking tour. During my first trip to Oxford, I walked in the dark evening rain, clutching an umbrella and reading along with the guide on my phone. I had a terrible habit of not planning out my trip well and arriving just as everything was closing. There was one crowded Friday night, however, when I finally made it to The Eagle and Child, the meeting place of CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, and the rest of the Inklings. I was happy to sip my tea and discreetly take photos of the quotes, but I was not going to play the Narnia board game solo. I was visiting a good friend this trip to Oxford, who I quickly enlisted to attempt the board game with me. Unfortunately, it was missing pieces so we decided to just be content with finally finding the door to Narnia!
Are there any cities you keep coming back to over and over? Let me know in a comment below!
Prior to my arrival in Iceland, I spent a few days back in London. My visit was a mix of seeing friends and former flat mates, completing touristy activities that I somehow didn't get to during my ten months there, and visiting all of my old stomping grounds. The above photo was taken from the steps of the National Gallery. I had always intended to visit there during my year abroad, but never got around to it so I made sure to visit this trip. I think it was good that I waited since I appreciate art more after working at an art gallery last semester.
After a few failed attempts last year, I finally made it to Harrod's Ice Cream Parlour! I also found one item I could afford in the store, a cat colouring book! What a great investment!
London is known for its West End musicals and I had never seen Wicked. It was a brilliant production! Coming in to the theatre, I had no idea about the plot so I found it all quite clever!
It wouldn't be a trip to London without a stop at the Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium! The normal bookings were full so we splurged on high tea.
I like modern Celtic culture and I took a Celtic art class last summer so I checked out the temporary Celtic art and identity exhibition at the British museum. It detailed Celts from continental pre-history through the present day and also featured some of the artwork I studied during my class.
I also visited some of my favourite markets like Brick Lane (which featured the sign below) and Spitalfields.
And, of course, Camden Town!
Some of my British friends and I went to the Wig Wag Bam at the Queen of Hoxton. The roof is decorated like Grimm fairy tales and is full of bonfires.
Those of you who followed my travels last year know how I inevitably have something go wrong in each country. Well, unfortunately this trip was no exception. I went to plug in my phone in my former flat mate's room and it caught fire, turned off all the electricity in the entire flat, and totally ruined my phone. Don't believe me? Just look at the charred photos below! It was the same charger I used all last year so I don't know why it decided to act up when it did!
Charger incident aside, I had a lovely time in London!
Hi, I’m Crystal! I love to travel and am currently a graduate student in Scotland. You’ll get all the best tips and insights from my experiences as a former ice-skating coach in Iceland and former study abroad student. Of the 27 countries I have visited, a type 1 diabetes diagnosis has been the strangest land yet. Type 1 has not slowed down my travels and you'll learn how to take type 1 with you on the road! You can connect with me further on Instagram @CrystalChilcott, or send me ideas of where I should travel next via email: email@example.comHappy Travels, Crystal
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