Visiting a city like London with a school group is so different from visiting it by yourself. We had a very tight schedule to keep, but still got to do/see a lot of things! We spent the first day in Canterbury, where we saw the cathedral and then had free time in the city for the afternoon (these kids LOVE to shop!!). Then in London, we saw...(deep breath)...Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, St. Jame's Palace, the White Hall (the big avenue from the Palace to the Thames), Trafalgar Square, Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the Science Museum, Oxford Street, the Museum of London (the history of London), the Tate Modern Art Museum, the London Bridge Experience (a sort of horror museum), Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, Millennium Bridge, Tower Bridge, The City (financial district and oldest part of London), St. Paul's Cathedral, famous buildings like the Gherkin and the Shard, and the London Eye. Many of these things were simply seen from the outside. The royal palaces are only open 2 months of the year for visits and there is a hefty entrance fee for churches. I think entrance to Westminster was 18 pounds for an adult. However, most museums are free because they are subsidized through the lottery. So we did a lot of walking and museum visits.
|Buckingham Palace. You can't tell because there wasn't any wind, but the flag was on top of the |
Palace, meaning that the Queen was in.
A few things really stuck out to me as the highlights of the trip. The first was getting from France to England by the Eurotunnel under the English Channel. I always knew that you could do that, but I didn't exactly know how it worked. You actually drive onto a train that does the journey for you. It takes 35 minutes to get from one side to the other. It's actually a very smooth ride, although it is strange to feel yourself descending and knowing that you are going under the water and then coming back up. But as you can see below, there are just small windows so you can't see anything.
|The outside of the train we drove onto|
|The inside of the Eurotunnel train|
|Remains of the Roman wall around Londinium|
|the London Eye|
|From the top, looking across the Thames to the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey|
For me personally, the trip highlighted how English we are in America. Obviously the language was familiar, although it took me about 48 hours to switch my automatic responses to English, such as "Excuse me" from "Excusez moi" while walking on the street. It was fantastic to have some familiar foods, like an English breakfast with eggs and sausage, fish and chips, and even Pike Place at Starbucks. The Starbucks in France, at least the ones I have seen, don't have Pike Place on the menu. I saw squirrels finally, and the students' reaction to them was hilarious!! Squirrels are a rare sight to see in France, or at least in my region. But more than that, even just basic behaviors like getting a coffee to go and drinking it as you are walking down the street. I wouldn't think twice about seeing someone do that or doing it myself, but our driver for the week commented on how strange that was for him to see. Unlike the big cities in France, where buildings are short and they try to keep similar architectural styles throughout the city, London is a random mix of old and new. There are still small, brick and stone buildings and churches that exist from 300 or 400 years ago, but they are right next to a skyscraper that was built 10 years ago. In this way, I really felt like I was just in Chicago. Old stone and brick buildings mixed with new glass and steel buildings and skyscrapers give the city such a different feel than the small, Haussmann-style cement buildings with terraces.
These similarities did 2 things to me. First, it made London much less exciting to visit than Paris. Some of that is also my deeper knowledge of Parisian history, so I understand the significance of more places than I do in London. But overall, Paris just feels more exotic and different. Don't get me wrong, I had a wonderful time in London and I feel so lucky that I was invited to go on this trip, but the similarities made it less intriguing (although that could also be the constant concern of not losing students along the street!). Secondly, it made me homesick. For a little while, I felt like I was in the US and I realized just how different my life is in France from what I'm used, even if it's just little things like getting my coffee to go. The familiarity of everything was just refreshing. I did buy some doughnuts and cheddar cheese on the last day so I could bring some of it back to the France with me, but that will only last for a little while. By feeling like I was in the US, it made me realize how nice it will be to come home.
From London with love