I have been in London for a week, and it has been exhausting but amazing. There is so much to do in London. I feel that, even after spending two months here, I still will not have seen everything. My friends and I have seen so much this past week that it seems incredible that we have also been attending class.
We went to Westminster Abbey and saw Big Ben (Apparently, Big Ben's real name is Elizabeth Tower). Westminster Abbey has been a burial site for monarchs for centuries. We saw the tombs of Elizabeth of York, Henry VII, Elizabeth II, Mary I, Mary Queen of Scots, Margaret Douglas, Catherine Knollys, Anne Neville, Anne of Cleves, C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll, and many more. The architecture was beautiful with tall, stained-glass windows, and the history was fascinating. Two must-sees for anyone visiting London for the first time!
One day, my roommate and I took the train to see Hampton Court. I'm a big history nerd, so I was particularly excited to see the palace where King Henry VIII lived. Hampton Court is beautiful! Half of the palace is recreated to look as it would have during Henry VIII’s reign. The outside is medieval-looking, made from stone with towers. We saw Henry’s kitchens, wine cellar, apartments, and chapel. There is a recreation of Henry’s privy council, in which you can sit on the throne and listen to the king’s privy councillors “speak” through video monitors. The other half is made to resemble the palace during the time of William III. This half of the palace is baroque, with tall archways. Surrounding the palace are beautiful, lush gardens full of fountains, trees, and flowers that have just bloomed. The gardens are slightly elevated above the Thames River, so the view is beautiful. In the fountains, there are swans swimming. In one of the gardens, there are even orange trees. We even saw the world’s largest - and Guinness World Record-holding - vine. Hampton Court is any history lover's dream!
After going out for dinner one night, my friend and I had our pictures taken at Platform 9 ¾ in King's Cross. At the platform, professional photographers with Hogwarts scarves let you choose your House to wear for a photo. Next to Platform 9 ¾, gift shops sell scarves, robes, wands, books, and all Harry Potter merchandise imaginable. The line can be long to get a photo at Platform 9 ¾ but it is an unforgettable experience for any Harry Potter fanatic!
Even the classes visit many places. My class, on contemporary British politics, took a field trip to Cambridge, where we toured the different colleges of Cambridge and learned the differences among them and about each college's famous alumni. Later, we went punting on the River Cam. Punting is like canoeing or kayaking but with a different kind of boat. It's a lot of fun especially, if you can get someone else to do the physical punting. We also experienced British politics first-hand by watching a general-election debate at the Cambridge Union. Another day, my class toured the Houses of Parliament, learning the difference between the Commons and the Lords and how they come together to form a single Parliament.
It has been a great first week in London and I'm so excited to continue exploring this city!