I write this final blog post from my room in Massachusetts. In the past 24 hours, I have traveled half way around the world to go home. While I miss England, it does feel nice to be back. I no longer have to worry about currency exchange rates or which side of the road to drive on. Everything at home is pretty much the same, except for me.
Studying abroad in England has helped me become a better Maddie. My whole life, I have been a worrier. I plan every day ahead of time, even months before sometimes. I can honestly say that I never knew what I was doing on this trip, and I felt happier for it. We had a busy schedule,but I found myself enjoying everything I was doing so much that I never thought about what we were doing next.
I saw a bumper sticker before I left for the trip that said, “Wherever you are, be there fully.” I think I finally managed to accomplish that on this trip. Not only did I make very close friends, I got to learn about England in a way that I never would have traveling on my own.
I learned about Parliament, more about the country’s past, saw famous works of art and museums. I learned that I like Iraqi food and Indian food. I learned that Churchill had secret war rooms during the Blitz. But most importantly, I learned that there are parts of me scattered in cities I have never been to, and the best way for me to become a whole person is to continue my travels.
Study abroad is a life changing experience and I recommend it to everyone.
My friends and I frantically packed our backpacks on Friday as we prepared for our weekend trip to Paris. We took the Tube all the way to Heathrow Airport (now that we are seasoned underground navigators. The flight was relatively short, lasting only about an hour. It takes me more time to get to my summer home in New Hampshire than it does to get from England to France!
After we departed the airport, hilarity ensued as our taxi driver, James (pronounced Jham in French), persuaded us to sing along to an Alicia Keys’ song. After he dropped us off at the hotel and we unpacked, we explored the area of Vincennes a little bit.
The nice thing about staying in a city outside of Paris was that we got to immerse ourselves more in the French culture. We got our dinner from a family-owned shop and ate a festive meal of smelly cheese and bread back in our hotel. It rained all night, but cleared up for the morning.
Saturday was our day to explore Paris. I have never felt more content than I did having a picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower. We did not even need a map to get around Paris. Every place we wanted to see was within walking distance and was visible in the skyline. In 11 hours, we visited the Louvre, Notre Dame, the “lock” bridge, the Arc de Triomph, and the Eiffel Tower. It was amazing how much we accomplished in one day.
I am back in England now and I still cannot believe that I was just in Paris. It feels too surreal. I have accomplished so many of my life dreams in such a short amount of time.
I was sad to leave, but as our plane departed from Charles de Gaulle airport today, I looked out the window and thought to myself, “We will always have Paris.”
Today was quite the mash up of cultures. We visited the British Library this morning, had Iraqi food for lunch, and visited the Tate Modern Museum to end the day.
The British Library was my mecca. It had all kinds of ancient and priceless texts and documents. It was amazing to see the Gutenberg Bible, the Magna Carta, and Shakespeare’s original works in the same room. It was like a thief’s dream. I was surprised at how many priceless objects were in the same room. Although I could hardly make out some of the authors’ handwriting, it was still really cool to see their notes firsthand.
One of my favorite objects in the room was Queen Elizabeth I’s prayer book. She is one of my favorite characters in British history. It brought our visit to the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey full circle for me. Elizabeth was one of King Henry VII’s (the lustful, murderous king) children. Elizabeth was a much fairer ruler than her sister Mary, who was known as “Bloody Mary,” and her people loved her. I wish I could have held the prayer book myself.
Iraqi food is delicious. It reminds me of the Greek food my family makes, but it has slightly different flavors. Lamb is a common factor between the two cultures, however. Each neighborhood in London seems to have a different atmosphere. There are quite a few Middle Eastern neighborhoods, which adds to the city’s great diversity.
The Tate Modern Museum is verrrry different than the British History Museum or the Victoria and Albert Museum. I couldn’t help but ask myself if some of the things I was seeing was actually art. I suppose art has a different definition for each person.
Paris in two days!
We visited Regents Park today. Right at the beginning of the park is a rose garden, a sea of blushing pinks and mellow yellows. It is amazing how many parks there are in London. Londoners are always on the move. I feel like places like Regents Park are necessary. They give people an opportunity for a mental break from the hustle and bustle of the busy city life and help balance out all of the pavement and cement buildings.
As we sat in the park, we discussed our visit to the Imperial War Museum and the Churchill War Rooms. Tomorrow marks the 100th anniversary of WWI. It is an amazing time to be in England. I have always learned about the wars in a history class, but now I get to see how they impacted the country on a much more personal level. Visiting the museums was a fascinating and sobering experience. I cannot imagine the horrors and heartbreak people went through during the war.
All over the city there have been memorials to the soldiers who died in the war. The Tower of London had beautiful plastic poppies flowering the lawn in front of the tower. Saint Paul’s Cathedral had statues commemorating the war. Everywhere you go in the city, memories of the war still resonate. I am truly honored to experience the 100th anniversary firsthand.
On a more lighthearted note, a few of the girls and I are traveling to Paris in a week! I can’t believe the trip is ending so soon!
This morning started out with a ride on the Thames. For the life of me, I cannot remember how to pronounce the name right. It’s really pronounced like the “Tems,” but I can’t get the hang of it. It’s a beautiful river, though. We had a boat cruise that showed us the riverbanks as one of the staff members pointed out important buildings to us.
The skyline of the city is very interesting because there is a huge juxtaposition between old buildings like the Palace of Westminster, where Parliament is housed, and newer buildings like the Shard, a 87-storey skyscraper made completely of glass. This building especially stood out against the Tower of London, which was established in 1066 by William the Conqueror.
I think the Tower of London has to be one of my favorite places in London. I have grown up reading books like Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth, which has opened a gateway for me to the world of 12th century England. I felt more connected to the place I was in because I had a better sense of its history based on what I read in Pillars as well as what I learned in my history courses. I felt slightly skeeved knowing that Anne Boleyn, among countless others who were named traitors, were beheaded just a few feet away from me.
I’ll try not to think about that too much when we go out for dinner tonight!
Just to show you a little insight into our recent adventures, here are a few pictures! Included are Highgate Cemetery, Kenmore House (very reminiscent of Mr. Darcy’s house in Pride and Prejudice), and an old Victorian amputation theater(re in England!).
Despite my obnoxiously pink Nike sneakers and occasionally strong Bostonian accent, I feel like I am beginning to blend in a little better. It is amazing how comprehending the tube, or London’s underground subway system, gives you a little more confidence.
Over the last few days, I have found myself constantly comparing England to the U.S. There are a few minor things I have noticed, like the British’s tendency to call trash barrels “refuse” or “litter.” They don’t even use the word “exit,” instead they use “way out.” It seems like everything here is so proper and America is England’s misbehaved, brassy younger sister.
Even the people are nicer here. There have been so many occasions in which we have had to ask for directions.People have honestly been interested in the fact that we are from America. Today, I heard some American girls talking, and I was amazed to hear words and phrases I am comfortable with and familiar with. Although British English and American English are extremely similar, they might as well be completely different languages. I feel like a true English major analyzing the two different versions of English.
Off to Oxford tomorrow!
London is such a fast-paced city. It seems like I can hardly keep up with everything. I’m constantly in imminent danger of getting run over by a double-decker bus or a taxi. Everything around me seems to be constantly on the move. Even the city itself is changing constantly. We went through a good amount of construction yesterday, but it was interesting to see how much of the city is changing. It reminded me of all the construction happening back in Massachusetts and Lowell.
Today we visited the British Museum (which is not air-conditioned, much like the rest of London). I found myself lost among the ruins of the ancient societies of Greece and Egypt. I loved imagining the people who owned the jewelery on display, and the clothing. Looking at the mummies was especially interesting.It illustrates humanity’s fascination with death in a beautiful way. At dinner tonight (authentic Indian cuisine!), our group discussed how different cultures experience death. It seemed to be a recurring theme in each section of the museum.
Yesterday we finally got to see Big Ben and go on the London Eye! It was an amazing experience. The girls and I stayed after our program was done for the day and got to see the sun set over Big Ben from the top of the Eye. I think that was truly the moment I realized I am in England. Not a bad place to be.
It didn’t really hit me until I stepped foot in the London airport that I was actually in London. ENGLAND. I am finally here. After over a year and half of waiting for this trip, I am sitting in my new room, waiting for the other girls to contact my roommate and I to go out. I am running on approximately 3 hours of sleep and I desperately need a shower (TMI) but I am ready to take on London.
We had a taxi pick us up from the airport. Our taxi driver was Hungarian, so it was interesting to hear his perspective on England. I asked him the best place to find Top Gear merchandise for my obsessed brother, and he noted some interesting places to visit. I had to close my eyes when he drove close to big trucks; we were already on the wrong side of the road! His steering wheel was also on the U.S. passenger side of the car which totally threw me off.
Chelsea and I are finally settled into our host family’s house. It already feels like a home. I think we are going on the London Eye tonight. I have no idea what to expect for our first day, but I think that’s one of the best parts of this trip. I have no idea what is in store for me in the next three weeks. I have always been the person who plans things at least 5 months in advance. We do have a pretty busy schedule, but I have no prior experience of these places. All I know about them I have seen in movies or read about in books. Now it is my turn to explore England. Luckily, I have a great group to explore with and Rowdy and Charlie Dickens to keep me company.
Since childhood, I have been an avid reader. My grandmother would often supply my reading addiction with books like Harry Potter. I distinctly remember reading the fourth book in the series under my desk in the second grade. These books gave me a magical view of England, and opened my eyes to a world beyond my own backyard.
In just a few days I will be embarking on an adventure. I get to explore London, and although it may not be a land of wizards and witches, it is still magical to me. I have been to Greece once to visit family, so I think it will be interesting to experience a completely different side of Europe. Not only do I get to visit England, I get to go to Paris for a weekend, too!
Keep an eye out for Rowdy the River Hawk, as he will be keeping me company on my trip. My Charles Dickens actions figure will also make a few appearances. Stay tuned!