Look at me; I’m a day behind already! : ) Oh, well.
Thanks to the five-hour difference in time zones, our flight departed Newark at 7:00 PM on Friday and arrived in London about 7:00 AM on Saturday. I tried to get some sleep, but that was a bit tough, because they served us dinner, followed by breakfast only a few hours later! Also, the pilot kept waking everyone up to make announcements about turbulence. “Turbulence is fine,” I thought. “Just let me sleep!”
It was neat to watch the overhead screen that showed the plane’s position and altitude. We took a path that curved northward near Greenland in order to follow the curvature of the Earth.
Impossibly soon, the sun came up, and I watched out the window as the ocean was suddenly replaced by green farmland. The roads and fences divided the land in haphazard angles and curves rather than neat rectangles. I wondered if that was the result of having so much more history than my home country.
I realized that despite my mental picture of it, England was a big country. I was going to see London, but that didn’t mean that I was seeing what the whole country was like, any more than all of the U.S. is like New York. Soon, I could see the roads and buildings becoming more and more dense as we neared our destination.
With the plane on the ground, we groggily collected our luggage. The speakers on the plane played songs by British musicians. I still remember them playing the song “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” by The Police, even though I had no idea what it was at the time. (I’m not exaggerating when I say that I would not have even recognized a Beatles song unless it was “Yesterday”! Sad, huh?)
We stopped by our hotel to drop off our suitcases, and at that moment, all we wanted to do was go to sleep. After all, we had been travelling for most of the day until then, and it felt like we were getting in a little past midnight. One problem: It was actualy 8 in the morning, and we had a full day of touring lined up! We piled onto a bus and met our tour guide, a cheery young woman, who began to show us around the city.
I knew that American tourists had a reputation in Europe for being rude, so I wanted to do my best to be polite. The situation prompted me to wonder if the reason for the rude reputation was that Americans were always arriving in Europe cranky because they hadn’t had enough sleep!
Thankfully, the things we were seeing were interesting enough to wake us up. It helped even more to get a good lunch of fish and chips!
One of the first places we visited was Westminster Cathedral. The amount of history in a place like that is staggering. So many famous writers, poets, and kings are buried there– there is scarcely enough room to mark them all. It was very crowded there as people filed through. When I saw The King’s Speech several months ago, I was struck by how different the building looked with no one in it during the rehearsal scenes for the coronation. (Then I found out that they didn’t film those scenes at Westminster. No wonder it looked different!)
We also visited Buckingham Palace. The Queen was not at home, as indicated by the lack of a flag flying on the roof. I’m not sure if that meant that more or less of it was open for guided tours, but we did get to see a little bit of it. I bought some postcards at the gift shop, hoping I’d have a chance to send notes to my parents and grandparents.
After that, we saw the Tower of London. There’s an interesting combination of things on display there– the crown jewels, suits of armor with swords, shields, and maces, and a wide array of torture devices that thankfully aren’t in use anymore. The tradition surrounding the custodians of the tower was really interesting. They wore distinctive black and red uniforms and were also responsible for taking care of the ravens that lived around the tower. A legend says that the tower will always stand as long as the ravens do not desert it. The ravens had colored leg bands to make it easier to identify them; I got a brochure with a list of their names and the colors they wore.
We saw lots of other London landmarks– Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Big Ben, the famous London Bridge, and the new Millennium Wheel. I have to be honest; I thought a Ferris wheel was a really strange idea for a landmark, but people probably felt that way about the Eiffel Tower when it was first built. Maybe I would have felt differently if I had gotten to take a ride on it. : )
At the end of the day, I went to dinner with a small group of my classmates, and we were caught in a sudden downpour on the way back. We were delighted– rain is certainly part of the London experience! It had been a very full day, and I had no trouble falling asleep once I was back at the hotel.