It has always been a childhood dream of mine to visit London, England. I’ve read countless novels that took place in this city, which had whetted my appetite. Back in 2010, while I was an undergrad student, I went on a French study tour through my university and had a layover in London on the way to Paris. I never counted it, but now I can say I’ve officially been in London, England!
I will be completely honest. The first thing that came into my mind was “Thank God most people speak English!” Everywhere else I’ve traveled to, I had to work through language barriers. Yes, major cities in Europe have people who speak English, but sometimes it is still hard to communicate. Once I landed into the airport (and had a few complications at the border patrol), I felt confident communicating. After I got settled into the place I’m staying at, I had little difficulties finding the places I wanted to see because everyone speaks English! As I walked around London on day one, I couldn’t help but think about how it’s a nice way to relax and not worry about language barriers.
Traveling with Friends
Throughout most of my year here in Europe, I have traveled alone. This time was different. I had planned this trip with two friends I had met during New Years in northern Poland. While I thoroughly enjoy the experience of solo traveling – learning crucial life lessons and meeting new people along the way – it was a very welcome change to experience London with friends and have church support. My friends and I were able to stay with the Newbold College recruiter, who was situated in the heart of London. This gave us the ability to walk and see most of the places we wanted to see. Our host went above and beyond, making us feel welcomed and going out of the way to help us. Having my two traveling companions and a friendly host made me feel at ease and included.
London Landmarks and the Rosetta Stone
During the first full day in London, my friends and I saw most of the major landmarks in London: Big Ben, the Eye of London, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, and Cleopatra’s Needle. When I pulled out my camera, I discovered that the battery died, but thank God I had my iPad as my backup. While most tourists take pictures with a smart phone or a decent camera, I looked like a dork holding up my iPad for all my photos. Still, it’s better to look like a dork and have all of these pictures to help me write this blog then not have pictures at all.
What I looked forward to seeing the most in London was the Rosetta Stone. I had reminded my companions all week that I really wanted to see it and we had to go to the British Museum. When I finally gazed upon the stone, I was in awe. This stone helped crack the Egyptian language. With out it, how much of our world history would still remain a mystery to us? As a true Rosetta Stone fan, I purchased a Rosetta stone mug and a Rosetta stone USB drive.
For one evening, our host took us to Newbold College where we would spend Friday night. Our friends took a train to Bracknell where the college was located. Newbold is a small Seventh-day Adventist college, but the students who attended the school came from several different countries. We didn’t get to meet very many students since it was Easter weekend, but those we did meet were friendly, telling us about the school and where they came from. During the evening, I heard two guys in the lobby area play contemporary Christian music on the guitar. I couldn’t help but think about how much I missed live contemporary Christian music. In fact, during church service the next day, I couldn’t help but think about how much I missed listening to sermons in English and singing contemporary music.
Hyde Park and St. James Park
There are two large parks that we visited in London – Hyde Park and St. James Park. With spring upon us and celebrating the Easter weekend, I was excited to see all the flowers in bloom, especially the tree blossoms. The swans were in the pond, the grass was green, and the leaves were returning to the willows. Both parks were pleasant to walk through, and we spent some time in one of the parks every day we were in London.
The Soapy Smith of London and Drunken Encounters
There were two interesting characters that my friends and I encountered during our time in London. The first was a drunken woman we met on the train from Waterloo station to Bracknell. At first we didn’t realize she was drunk. We were looking for empty seats on a crowded train, and she smiled at us and warmly greeted us. It wasn’t until she shook our hands in greeting, and held mine for several awkward sentences, that I realized that she was wasted. We spent almost the entire trip listening her say that she’s “drunk as as skunk” and then complain about the social sponges who abuse the welfare system, which would have been an interesting discussion to have with her if she was more sober. Then at one point she sprayed her perfume on all of us.
The other interesting person that we encountered was someone I like to call the Soapy Smith of London. For those who don’t know who Soapy Smith, he is a famous con artist during the Klondike Gold-rush. Instead of breaking his back and digging for gold in the Yukon, he made money off of stampeders in Skagway, Alaska through gambling and trickery. One of his many famous games of trickery was “Find the nugget” where he and his friends would trick stampeders by hiding a small gold nugget under one of three cups. The cups would be shuffled around and then someone would guess where the nugget was hidden. If they guessed right, then would win money. However, like all con artists, they would cheat to make sure they would win and the stampeders would lose.
This con artist in London, located right next to Tower Bridge, was no different. He also played the “Find the Nugget” game, but using a pompom ball that would make it easy slip into another cup without anyone noticing. My friends and I spent a good twenty minutes watching the con artist play his game. We watched people make and lose anywhere between 40 to 100 British Pounds, but there was a pattern. There were at least three people around who kept on playing, making and losing around 100 pounds. When they did lose, they were suspiciously not upset. They just kept on playing. It made the rest of us certain that they were winning so that outsiders would think they have a chance at winning. Like I said before, this man was a Soapy Smith.
Fighting Homesickness with Food
As much as I like Poland, the variety (and quality) of restaurants is lacking. The type of food I missed the most was Mexican. While I didn’t go to an authentic Mexican restaurant, sadly, I did have my fill of Chipotle. It was very American of me to want Chipotle, but I hadn’t realized how much I missed it until I was in London.
That was not the only time I had “Mexican.” We went to two other restaurants that severed Mexican food, taking advantage of opportunity. We did eat other types of food. Twice we had burgers, and on one occasion, pasta. There were other foods, snacks, and treats that we found in London that I missed from home, which included Doritos. Reese’s, Orange juice with pulp, and hummus with pita bread. Oh, and I bought a bagel too. Can you believe that Poland doesn’t have bagels?
Going Back to Poland
It was hard to go back to London, and it wasn’t just because I had to wake up at four in the morning to make my flight. London felt like returning to home, even though it wasn’t home. It had so many things that I could resonate with. From food, to language, to church services in English with live contemporary music, made me feel like I was home even though I was not. If I had traveled straight to London from America, I would have looked for all of the things that are different. While I did notice the obvious differences (like how every drives on the wrong – I mean left – side of the road), I observed what was similar and felt like home. While I wouldn’t want to live in London, I’d definitely plan another trip in the future.