London Town

“Who the hottest in the world right now?
Just touched down in London town.”

Yes, I am listening to American Boy by Estelle and Kanye as I recount my London trip. No, you are not allowed to judge me.

We left Wales at the crack of dawn and drove through its hills and valleys to Stratford-upon-Avon, London. When we arrived, we first visited Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway’s house. The gardens were gorgeous. I also found it really mind-boggling how much smaller people were back then, plodding through the tiny hallways and hunching under the minuscule doorways.

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Then we traveled to the center of Stratford-upon-Avon, where we would get some free time to wander around the town and visit Shakespeare’s birthplace (!!!!!)

(As an author who adores Shakespeare, this was a very big deal.)

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It was so delightfully eerie, standing in the same room where THE literary legend was brought into the world, and I  am so grateful to have been blessed with the privilege to visit it.

Shakespeare was born on this bed in the 1500s. Eep!
Shakespeare was born on this bed in the 1500s. Eep!

I went kind of overboard in the Shakespeare gift store… but I have #noregrets. I bought a book of sonnets, an eraser that says “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!—,” a mug with doodles of Shakespearean love quotes on it, a pocketbook version of A Midsummer’s Night Dream, a pen shaped like Shakespeare, and many others. Like I said, #noregrets.

Jasmine and I went off into a little flea market near the center of Stratford-upon-Avon, and bought gifts for back home and also, of course, some delectable ice cream.

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From there, we drove to our hotel in the borough of Ealing in London, dropped off luggage and took an hour of rest, and then we were off again, on the London Underground to Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus.

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Fun Fact #873: Trafalgar Square is named for the Battle of Trafalgar, which was a British victory over the French in the Napoleonic Wars in the early 1800s. The lions in Trafalgar Square are made from melted French cannons. How about that for a big f*ck you to Napoleon, eh?
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Piccadilly Circus, Times Square’s British cousin, was lovely.

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I loved Cool Britannia, one of London’s largest souvenir stores, and all of its cheesy touristy glory.

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And I also loved the London Underground. So much easier to navigate than the NYC Subway system. Sigh.

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The next day, we went on our “expert guided” tour, with a Scottish man named Shaun who was bald and told the driest, most inappropriate jokes ever. I enjoyed all of them. He had lived in London for 20+ years and did a great job of showing us around.

Shaun.
Shaun.

We visited Big Ben and Westminster Abbey…

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(It was so surreal taking a picture in front of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. I remember being 10 years old, watching “What a Girl Wants,” seeing Amanda Bynes flit all over London and thinking, “I want to go there someday.” And there I was! Much better looking than Amanda Bynes now, if I might say.)

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…we walked along the Thames, saw the London Eye, went to Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral, where a wedding was taking place…

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The Victoria Memorial in The Mall, a road that ends in Buckingham Palace on the west end.
The Victoria Memorial in The Mall, a road that ends in Buckingham Palace on the west end.

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(Fun Fact #428: If the Queen is home, inside Buckingham Palace, the flag at the top of the palace will be the Royal Coat of Arms. If she is away, the flag will be the Union Jack. She wasn’t home during our visit 😦 )

Jasmine and I in front of Buckingham Palace!
Jasmine and I in front of Buckingham Palace!
The gardens of St. Paul's Cathedral.
The gardens of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
St. Paul's Cathedral's dome is 365 feet high.
St. Paul’s Cathedral’s dome is 365 feet high.

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Part of the wedding fleet in the Cathedral's park!
Part of the wedding fleet in the Cathedral’s park!

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…and then Tower Bridge. We were lucky enough to reach the London Riviera RIGHT as the bridge began to open. So. Freaking. Cool.

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We had a traditional British fish and chips dinner at The Barrowboy & Banker, and while I must say they weren’t as good as the fresh fish and chips Jasmine and I ate in Beaumaris in Wales, they were still really good. After dinner, my sub-group and I visited Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and it was insane to wrap my head around the fact that the original Globe Theatre had stood on that same property 416 years ago.

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On our last day in London, we started off a bright and sunny morning with a ride on the iconic London Eye. It was a frightening jumping-on process to board the orb-like passenger capsules, but once on, the view was to die for and the experience was outstanding.

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We could see all of London from the Eye. The Shard, the second-tallest building in the UK, at a whopping 1,016 feet high, stood out among the skyline, in all its imperfect beauty.

The Shard!
The Shard!

The ride up was so smooth, you could never tell you were on a ferris wheel – in comparison to the roughest ferris wheel I’ve ever been on, Coney Island’s Wonder Wheel. Now that thing was rough.

After the Eye, we went to see the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. We had the opportunity to run alongside the Guard as they marched their way to the front gates. Again, one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had. Who knew the Guard played trumpets and the drums while marching? (I’m probably the only one that didn’t know this information.)

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After the Changing, we casually walked through the streets of London to return to our bus, and on the way there, I saw Lock & Co., the hat shop shown and mentioned in Kingsman: The Secret Service. Apparently I was the only one who had seen the movie in my group and was therefore very disappointed that I had no one to share my joy with.

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We took the tube to the Camden area of London, more specifically to Camden Lock, where we split up for lunch at the Camden Lock Market. The Camden Lock Market was one of the funkiest places I’ve ever been. It was grunge, it was bohemian, it was rock ‘n roll, it was kitschy, it was diverse; it was a bit overwhelming with so many things to look at and so many different personal cultures to absorb as you walk by.

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The market itself was GIGANTIC, and I know Jasmine and I barely covered half of it in our two-hour time allowance. From fresh orange juice to tapestries to Malaysian food to vinyl records, the Camden Lock Market had everything.

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After Camden Lock, we went to Harrod’s, where I thirsted and drooled over all the designer brands that my closet yearned for. I went to Topshop and super-splurged on a pair of jeans I would have never bought if I was in the States, and that’s perfectly okay. (I’ll feel much better about my Topshop stateside purchases once I can use my NYU student discount at the one in SoHo.)

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To end our last night in London, we went back to Piccadilly, to simply sit, people watch, talk, last-minute shop, and take photos.

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London was everything I wanted it to be and more.

I’m thinking about studying abroad in London during my sophomore year of college, or maybe I’ll want to travel to Paris…

*pulls out baguette and beret*

…which is our last stop on my Europe trip travel posts, and will be coming soon. Stay tuned!

Splendidly,

Kait

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