This was my last full day in London, and I had an ambitious schedule that, as you might expect, didn’t go quite as planned. Failed plan #1: waking up at 7AM and leaving by 8. I know what you’re thinking. Why did I even think that was a possibility? I was thinking that I used to wake up at 5:30 every day, so why would waking up at 7 be a big deal? Well, it’s different when you don’t actually have anyone counting on you… and when the room is cold but it’s so nice and warm under the covers.
By the time I dragged myself out of bed and pulled myself together, it was about 9:30. I had plans to go on a walking tour at 11, so I killed an hour in Hyde Park before meeting up with the group. Hyde Park is one of the biggest parks in London, and Kensington Palace, the official residence of Prince William, Kate, and Prince Harry, is on the far west side. I didn’t make it that far though… not enough time. Failed plan #2: the other six things I planned to go see before 11.
The tour was a nice change of pace. I’ve spent so much time over the last three days wandering around in circles and trying to make plans, and it was a welcome change to not have to think about directions or where to go next for a couple hours. I just followed along and learned things. We saw Buckingham Palace (and apparently the queen was actually there, according to the flag), watched the changing of the guard from a distance, and then walked over to St. James Palace to see the changing of the guard there up close. I’ll be honest, yes it was interesting, but I can’t say I understand why people get so hyped up about it.
Afterwards, I had an appointment to go to the Sky Garden. It’s a “park” on the top floor of a 525’ tall building, and you can go up for free with a reservation. I’d say that the calling it a park or a garden is a bit of a stretch, but yeah, there are some plants up there. Either way, it’s a cool setup. You can walk all the way around and see out in every direction, similar to the Tate Modern terrace except that it’s about 300’ higher and there’s glass in between you and the view. Pros and cons!
My last stop of the day was the Evensong service at St. Paul’s Cathedral. The building is absolutely amazing. It reminded me of a lot of the churches in Rome… there’s an awesome dome and a lot of incredible detailing. The service was great too! I didn’t get the prime seat that I got at Westminster Abbey, but the music and the sermon were both very well done. The building is huge and there were a ton of people there, but somehow it still felt intimate. Plus there was audience involvement in the singing, and there’s nothing better than singing a beautiful song and hearing everyone’s voices melt together and become one. Good job, acoustics. What a way to end the day!
I got to hang out with Sosane today!! She doesn’t have classes on Tuesdays, so she came down to London for the day to hang out with me! I met her at the train station, but first I went to buy another jacket because it’s seriously freezing here. I can’t believe that I was complaining about the heat two days ago…
Seeing Sosane in “normal life” was beyond weird. I think she didn’t even recognize me because it was the first time she’s ever seen me in non-athletic wear. In case you’re wondering if Ghana friendships can survive the transition back to our regular lives, the answer is yes! I know it’s crazy how fast we got close to one another. For example, my friendship with Sosane was pretty much built in two weeks. It’s real though. It’s not just a friendship of circumstance… like just because we were all there and didn’t have any other options, that’s why we spent time together and became “friends”. No, these people are awesome no matter the context, and I’m lucky to be able to call them my friends.
We grabbed lunch and spent some time catching up before heading to the Tate Modern, a modern art gallery. It’s another free London museum, and it’s located in an old power plant which is cool. The whole museum is massive… an addition was finished earlier this year to create more gallery space. The best part of the addition is a terrace on the top floor where you can walk all the way around the building and get 360 degree views of the city. It was cool to be able to see everything from that perspective.
We probably spent most of our time at the museum on the terrace. Once we got inside, we could only tolerate so much modern art. Don’t get me wrong, I love art, and sometimes even modern art. There are other times though when everything is so weird that I can’t deal with it. I’m just glad that I went with a friend because then you can pretend you’re art experts and come up with interpretations of the exhibits. Everyone does that, right? Right?
Once we’d had enough, we drank hot chocolate and walked around the city until it was time for Sosane’s train home. We said a rushed goodbye in the underground as my train pulled up, and it felt like another “see you later” goodbye. Today just felt so normal… meeting up with a friend in the city and hanging out for the day… that I can’t believe it’s not. Anyway, I’m back on my own tomorrow, and I’d better get some planning done so I can make the most of the day.
You know what I LOVE? Red eye flights! There’s nothing like getting 4-5 hours of EXTREMELY restful sleep on a plane and then having to function like a human (rather than a zombie) for an entire day.
My flight got into London Heathrow at 5:30AM, and from the moment I was woken up by our plane’s bumpy landing, I wanted to go back to sleep. No such luck. I spent some time in the airport bathroom, trying to pull myself together, before going to get my bags and start the journey through customs. Culture shock #1: I used tap water to brush my teeth (we couldn’t ingest tap or well water in Ghana… we only drank bottled/mineral water there!). Culture shock #2: I had to battle with the sink motion detectors in order to do it (motion detectors? Whattt?). Once I washed my face and brushed my teeth, I felt at least like a semi-human which was probably as good as it was going to get. Onward to customs!
Have you ever travelled alone? Before this, my only solo travel experience was a brief work trip to San Diego earlier this year. I considered that my test run for this whole trip. It’s kind of a weird feeling. You arrive in a new place, and there’s no one expecting you. There’s no one at the airport to meet you. You have to figure things out on your own. If I hadn’t let my parents know I landed safely, no one would have even known I was there (besides the British government but that doesn’t count). I felt a little nervous and excited all at the same time. Luckily, in London, it’s easy to get around because of the tube, so all I had to do to get from the airport to my hostel was follow the signs to the underground, put some money on a transit card, and hop on. Easy! (As soon as you’ve used the subway in one city, I’m convinced you can do it anywhere. They’re all basically the same.)
I think I might be a little paranoid because the entire time I was sitting on the tube, I thought that people were staring at me (this might be a carryover from 3 months of thinking that people were looking at me and it actually being true). My mind was screaming, “they know! They know!” Know what, you ask? I’m not sure. Know that I don’t belong? Yes, it doesn’t make sense, but that’s how I felt. It’s like I was an alien, trying to blend into a foreign planet (not that I know what that feels like, but let me imagine). So yeah… culture shock #3: everything.
I almost managed to convince the people at the hostel that I was normal until I asked if they had hot showers. They looked at me like I was, well, an alien, before saying “yes” but it sounded more like “duh is that really something you need to ask?” To be fair, probably no one has ever asked them that question before. Culture shock #4: readily available warm showers. With running water.
I dropped my stuff at the hostel and hit the streets. Before I did anything else though, I went and bought a scarf, hat, and gloves because HELLO cold weather. Geez. I forgot what it feels like to not be sweating constantly. Culture (not really culture but whatever) shock #5: seasons and cold weather. Anyway, enough about today’s culture shocks. The other thing about travelling alone is that you need to be self-motivated to see things and do things, otherwise you could spend all day sitting around. You have to make decisions. That’s not one of my strengths, so this is good practice for me!
The rest of the day was spent enjoying museums and the architecture of the city. An awesome thing about London is that the publicly funded national museums are free! My first stop was the National Gallery. The building is amazing, and it houses thousands of paintings. I obviously didn’t see them all, but I’m a big fan of more “modern” (as compared to like 15th century…) paintings and was sure to go through the entire 18th-20th century collection. The building was just as cool as the art, and I had fun exploring the different rooms.
After that, I kept on the museum path. My next stop was the Victoria & Albert Museum, a decorative arts and design museum. They have a few different types of exhibits there, and my favorites were in the materials and techniques category. I could have spent hours looking at the glass, ironwork, and architecture sections alone, but I had a schedule to keep!
Right next door is the Natural History Museum, and in my opinion, the best part of that museum is the building. I did no prior research, so when I walked through the doors, I had no idea what to expect. The entrance hall is seriously magnificent. I’m not even going to try to describe it… you need to just look at the pictures.
My last stop of the day (I’m impressed that I was even still functioning at this point) was Westminster Abbey for the Evensong service. The best way to see a church is by going to a service, partly because then you can go for free, but mostly because then you can experience the building the way it was meant to be experienced. Churches were built to be used, and they’re even more beautiful when you see them in action. The Evensong service is great because it’s mostly singing which means you can really appreciate the acoustics. Plus, I don’t think it was as crowded as a Sunday service since they have one every night. I got there early enough to sit in the choir stalls! Those are the fancy looking seats in the area where the choir sits, right behind the choir benches… aka where the big shots sit. No big deal. I would have taken a picture to show you except that photography isn’t allowed inside the church (and I’m a rule follower). The service was beautiful, the choir was great, and the cathedral was freezing (seriously though… about halfway through I wrapped my scarf around myself like a blanket).
By the end, I was falling asleep in my seat. Between the angelic singing and my cuddly scarf, it was a losing battle. I picked up some dinner on my way back to the hostel, and after I take a too-long hot shower, I’m going to hibernate.