The Victoria Albert Museum is the perfect place for theater fans. The theater section impressed me the most. From costumes to props to set models, I spent a significant amount of time in this section of the museum reading and taking pictures. The set models were my favorite. They’re small and detailed and transported me into a whole other world. The Swan Lake model was my favorite as it was the most detailed and otherworldly.
After exploring the Victoria Albert museum, I went to Harrods. The massive department store of six floors holds everything from shoes to food to furniture. As a chocoholic, it was really difficult for me to pass by the sweets stands. Up several floors there were unique shoes and I have a thing about unique furniture so that was a good find too.
I’d taken the metro in Disney World, but I’d never taken an actually tube/metro/subway system until London. I like driving my car, but I do miss the tube. Mainly because I could navigate it without getting lost, and something about navigating the tube made me feel more mature. Maybe it helped me realize that I could live in a big city without losing my mind. Though I’d still like more space and trees.
For class, we took the tube to Covent Gardens, split into two teams, and did a scavenger hunt. Rushing past cute little shops, we had no time to roam and look in places. If we’d have been smart we would’ve done one question on the scavenger hunt and then roamed around. We did end up going back later in the trip to see what we missed though, and my team won the scavenger hunt.
After a quick jot back to the flat, some girls and I decided to look for Twining’s Tea Shop. Twining’s is a major tea brand in London which I didn’t know until I got there because I don’t drink tea, but I figured I’m in London; I can’t not drink tea. Pulling up the shop on my phone I took on the responsibility of direction person. I’m only slightly directionally challenged. What I wasn’t prepared for was all the diagonal roads. In American cities, roads form blocks. In London, there’re roads cutting through everywhere. My GPS recalculated several times before we finally got lost. It told us to cut through an office/apartment complex. We walked past the guard, who didn’t say anything, but every turn we took ran us into locked gates. It was a beautiful complex (as seen in the picture above). But it eventually gave us bad vibes as it was quiet and we saw other tourists stuck like we were. We ended up going back out past the guard and backtracking pretty far before making our way to the tea shop where I tried a bit of cold berry-tasting tea. London didn’t turn me into a tea drinker, but maybe I just haven’t found my tea yet.
I’ve gone as far as Hawaii with my high school band and I’ve gone to Canada with my family, but traveling to London for a short study abroad wasn’t the same thing. With band there were tons of people and structure. In Canada my parents took care of the money conversions and customs. But in London it was on me. I had my professor and classmates to lean on, so I wasn’t ever alone, but it was an adjustment.
There are a lot of pre-traveling steps to take like booking hotels and flights and converting your money. However, the study abroad program provider took care of lodgings and things so I’ll start with leaving the airport.
Step one: As you ride from the airport to where you’re staying, look out the window and gawk at everything.
Step two: Drop your stuff at your flat/hotel/hostel without unpacking anything or settling in and explore.
Step three: Tour with someone who knows the area.
Step four: Forget the path you took and use a map.
Step five: Go to the express grocery store and buy plastic bags because you didn’t bring a tote.
Step six: Almost get hit by a double-decker bus crossing the street because pedestrians do not have the right of way. But double-decker buses are Londony so you get brownie points.
Step seven: Stay up as late as possible unpacking so that you can kick jet lag.
I’m not an adventurous person when it comes to food, but in London I decided to go for it. Going to a foreign country and eating American food would take away from the experience.
I started with Nando’s. I ordered a chicken burger with medium sauce. I took off the tomato and lettuce because I’m not a vegetable person. I could’ve eaten Nando’s every day. I’m all about spicy things, so I would’ve loved to try more of the sauces.
Moving on from chain food, I went to a restaurant and ordered the very British chicken and leeks pie with mustard sauce. The leeks made me hesitant because they’re a vegetable that I’d never had, but I ordered it anyway. The crust was perfectly flaky. The sauce warmed my insides. The leeks didn’t taste much which was good. I’m a picky eater, so finding something that I like that isn’t a chicken sandwich or noodles is a big deal.
When I was waiting for a Jack the Ripper tour outside one of the tube stations, I ordered vanilla ice cream from a food cart. I usually prefer chocolate, but the vanilla ice cream in London is much creamier than in the United States. Plus, I got a chocolate flake in it so I was happy.
I’d passed so many Pret a Mangers that by the second week I had to grab lunch at one. I picked a ham and cheese sandwich from the cooler and they heated it for me. It was pretty average.
There’s the stereotype that British food is bland, but aside from less sugar in the cookies and muffins I hadn’t really noticed. Then I got a chicken and bacon sandwich in Stratford-Upon-Avon. I ordered it without tomatoes and lettuce as usual, but I left the bacon on. I don’t like bacon, so I don’t know what compelled me to leave it on. I’m glad I did though. The bacon was the only thing that gave the sandwich flavor, but even then the flavor was salt. That was the worst thing I’d eaten in Britain.
Fittingly, the best thing I ate in Britain was also in Stratford-Upon-Avon. I went to tea place and ordered a Cajun chicken and mango chutney sandwich. The sweet and spicy was perfect. I’d been hesitant since I didn’t know what chutney was and mango isn’t my favorite fruit. It was amazing, even though I had to get it to go and eat it on the train back to London.
The last thing I tried in London was a lemon tart for breakfast. My choice was between cherry and lemon, and the lemon tart looked more appetizing. I’d never had a tart before, but the gooey filling hit the spot.
I plan to go back to London in the future, and I’ll definitely try more things along with re-visiting my favorites.
I’d left America before, but I went to Canada. Does that really count? My most recent two week trip was to London. As a suburbs girl I was worried about the usual things: crime, crowds, and traffic. But aside from traffic, several crowded tube rides, and black boogers from air pollution, I found the city easier to live in than I’d anticipated. Grocery stores were close. The tube was easy to navigate.
As far as being in a different country, the lack of language barrier really helped. However, there were some surprises.
Lack of water fountains: I might’ve seen two water fountains the whole trip. I’m not a crazy water guzzler, but access to water is nice.
Paying to use the restroom: I only had to pay once, 50 pence. This was the hardest thing to wrap my head around. No one wants to think about counting out change when you have to pee. It’s as ridiculous as the luxury tax on tampons.
Paying for grocery bags: The first day in London I went to the grocery store. It was an express store so it was cramped and people were zipping through. I went to a self-check out with my basket full. After discovering the bag fee, I didn’t make that mistake again.
Pedestrians don’t have the right of way except for in zebra crossings: I almost got hit by a double-decker bus multiple times.
The stoplights or almost anything to do with driving: The stoplights in London go from red to red and yellow before turning to green. Why that happens is beyond me. Cars drive on the left side which is obvious. Signage is different. I’m so glad that I didn’t drive.
Ice in drinks: Personally, I don’t care for ice in my drinks, but Americans are accustomed to having our drinks packed with ice. In London, you’re lucky to get three ice cubes.
Restaurants: Americans are used to fast paced service, and I’m not a patient person. Going to a restaurant in London was frustrating as no one is in a hurry to serve you. I sat at a restaurant for twenty extra minutes waiting for the waiter to bring my check before I realized that I needed to flag him down.
Pound coins: Any amount under five pounds you will get in pound coins which will mingle with your change and make purchasing things more stressful.
Lack of AC: London weather is so nice that air conditioning is basically useless, so many places don’t have it. It got up to eighty degrees two days during my trip which meant propping open all of the windows in the flat.
Converters: Using converters so you can charge things and plug things in is a nuisance, but it’s easy.
Regardless of all the little things, London was amazing and I’ll definitely be sharing more about it as the week goes on.