As our plane descended into London, I searched the ground for any obvious signs that I had arrived in a foreign country. For the most part, the outskirts of the city looked green and nondescript, but then I caught a glimpse of a castle that made it clear that we were in Britain.
While Beau (who ended up being on both of my flights) and I worked our way through the long passport line at Heathrow, we ran into a few different people from our group. My first introduction to the city of London was the somewhat harrowing experience of dragging my heavy suitcase, now missing a wheel, up and down the escalators and staircases of the tube system. After getting situated in the hotel, we convened in the lobby at 2:00 and were led on the train to Westminster. Emerging from that tube station, you immediately
come upon a perfect view of Big Ben; presenting a proper welcome to London. Once we had been debriefed on our itinerary for the next day, my group immediately made our way to Westminster Abbey. I was blown away by the detail on the ceilings and stained glass windows as we wandered through each room of the mazelike structure. I had trouble fathoming how almost every one of these legendary historical figures could be buried in one location. It was amazing to be able to walk through the room where so many coronations and royal weddings had taken place. Some of the stairs were dramatically grooved from the massive amounts of people who had passed through before us.
After Westminster, we wandered around and into Trafalgar Square, stopping in at a pub that was most likely geared toward tourists, judging by the price to quality ratio. Still, it was a good place to sit, compare travel stories, and get to know everyone a little better. The first day overall was a blast, aside from my debit card woes. After it was consecutively rejected at the tube station and in a Pret a Manger, I started to freak out at the thought that it might not work in Europe at all. I was worried enough to call both of my parents as well as my local bank, but I didn’t get any feedback aside from “there’s no real reason why it shouldn’t be working.” Thankfully, my debit card worked perfectly at the ATM, and I finally felt at ease enough to enjoy the trip.
On Tuesday, we headed to Churchill’s war rooms which presented a highly interactive exhibit that drove home how integral the Prime Minister’s presence was in raising the morale of the British people during the torment of the Blitz and then for the remainder of World War II. What stood out to me the most about the exhibit was Churchill’s unique personality. He famously referred to himself as a “glow worm” among worms. He directed several cutting, clever insults to fellow politicians and world leaders. I think I especially enjoyed learning more about Churchill’s eccentricities and who he was as a human being outside of politics. His extensive history of paintings and the menagerie of animals that he accrued later in life were details that humanized him for me.
Wednesday, our free day, was possibly my busiest twenty-four-hour period yet. My group set out to the Tower of London that morning. Although I thought it would look more like an actual tower, that site fully lived up to my expectations. We got a chance to see the crown jewels, the armory, and a lovely collection of torture devices that were used to confine, stretch, and suspend the Tower’s worst prisoners. The portions of the crown jewel exhibit that impressed me the most were the two giant display cases filled with a multitude of pure gold objects, most of which were from the 17th Century. We also got to check out the chamber pot set up from when the castle was originally built in the 1000s. The magnitude of the history in that building struck me in every room. We decided not to go into the Tower Bridge so that we could make it to the British Museum, but we were still able to witness it opening to let a cruise ship through. That was exciting because it only happens at certain times in the week.
From there, we rode the train to the British Museum. That was another mind-blowing experience, and the massive amount of historically significant objects was impossible to imagine without seeing them all in person. The first thing we laid eyes on as we walked into the Egyptian wing was the Rosetta Stone, and I got a close look at all of the individual hieroglyphics. What impressed me most at the museum were some of the statues in the Greek and Roman section, especially how the artists could achieve such specific detail. I am definitely looking forward to seeing more of that type of artwork at the Louvre when we go to Paris.