The City of London and London the City Part 1: The North Bank

While trying to come up with a clever title for this blog post about visiting London, I found myself drawing a blank. I decided to save the titles “I see London, I see France” and “Eye see London” for other blog posts (when I visit France and when I see London from the famous London eye-future posts). After about 30 seconds of trying to come up with a title, I got bored and decided to simply google “London’s nickname.” I know that several cities have nicknames such as “Sin City” (Las Vegas) or “The City of Lights” (Paris), so I thought titling this post with the nickname of the city would be suitable. I then found out that London is nicknamed “The Big Smoke” due to the large amount of air pollution it used to put out (no wonder they don’t boast their nickname like Paris and and Vegas do). Not that sinning is something to boast about, but neither is air pollution… Anyway, after going through all that trouble and going off on this tangent, I then remembered something about my tourist trip to the city and chose an entirely different title, which I will explain the significance of later on in part 2 of this post. Moral of the story:my inner thought process is a constant mess and even I don’t understand how I ever get anything written. Also, I have decided to divide this blog post into two parts for a couple of reasons: 1. To save you from spending centuries reading a single post. And 2. I know I haven’t been the best at updating this blog, so I’d like to at least add another post even if I’m not quite finished with it yet. So without further ado, here is Part 1 of my first bout of London adventures!

Now I’ve been to a lot of pretty big cities in my lifetime: Barcelona, Madrid, Paris, New York City, San Diego, Los Angeles, Indianapolis, and Orlando, to name a few. But never in all of my travels have I seen anything like London. For the seven hours that I was in the city, I must’ve uttered the phrases “This is crazy” and just plain “Wow” a thousand different times. You always see pictures of the Clock Tower, the London Eye, and the Tower Bridge, but you never really grasp their utter magnificence until you see them in person. Then is when you realize just how small and insignificant everything else seems in comparison… But before I get ahead of myself, let’s start from the beginning!

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We (the exchange student tour group) arrived along the North bank of the Thames river right across from the London Eye at around 10:45am last Sunday, the 22nd. From there, we were allowed to either take a guided tour of the city, or go and venture out on our own. Since one of my good friends had already been to London before, she volunteered to be a sort of personal tour guide to save one of our other friends and me from the embarrassment of traveling with a massive, obviously foreign tour group. The three of us took off on our own and began to explore the sights.

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The first stop on our little tour was Covent Garden, which is a small district within London that has a lot of cute shops and restaurants. It’s quaint, but oh so beautiful. As we walked through the aisles of shops, the beautiful sounds of violins and cellos rang throughout the atrium. On a lower level, a few street musicians had gotten together to serenade the audience that had gathered around. I stopped and stared down at them over the rails, smiling in awe that I was there in that moment in a beautiful part of such a magnificent city. It still feels unreal now. We listened for a bit before moving on to our next stop: Leicester Square.

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Leicester Square was a much larger area, and was a lot more populated than Covent Garden had been. It was mostly filled with restaurants and a few shops here and there. These shops included a four story M&M store and a massive Lego store that had a line outside to get in that wrapped around about a thousand times. As it was getting to be around lunch time, we decided to sit down and eat in a pub. Ever since I had arrived in England, I’d wanted to try actual English fish and chips (stereotypical, I know) and this was the first real chance I’d gotten. We chose a pub called The Moon Underwater, as it seemed decently priced and, well, quite British. The three of us sat down at one of two open tables and began wondering how the heck pubs worked. We tried watching to see how other people ordered, if there were waiters, etc. but couldn’t really tell what was going on. I was forced to take the incentive of going up to the bar to order, which ended up being surprisingly painless and easy. All three of us ordered fish and chips and I was terribly disappointed, only because now I’ll never be able to order fish and chips in the U.S. again considering England’s is loads better. It must’ve been something about the batter, but that cod was the most delicious fish I’ve ever tasted-and I’ve lived on the coast my whole life. The fish came with chips (hearty french fries) and peas (a common side served with meals here). I ate it all, aside from the few chips which I tucked into my purse to feed to the squirrels in St. James Park later on. After a satisfying meal, we continued on exploring and walked through Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square. These districts contained more shops and restaurants, so we didn’t spend too much time here and instead moved on to bigger attractions.

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We walked a good ways past the National Galleria where there were three Yoda impersonators and one Shrek impersonator outside. They have a lot of strange street performers here, and an odd obsession with Shrek. We continued on and found ourselves walking alongside St. James Park on our way towards the one and only Buckingham Palace. The whole walk was surreal. You could see the palace from a mile away, but the closer you got, the more real it became. Unfortunately, the Queen was not in when we visited, but it was still something to see those guards standing stock-still, not even batting an eye. We left the area, and to my dismay, didn’t go back to St. James Park so that I could feed the squirrels (I then ended up with smashed chips in my purse, as I had forgotten about them until the next day).

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After walking for a good distance, we came upon Westminster Abbey, one of the most famous churches in London. Since it was a Sunday the Abbey was not open for viewing, but even seeing the outside of the Gothic style building was a feat in itself. There were several statues of famous past figures just across the street from the Abbey; figures such as Nelson Mandela and Ghandi were displayed for all to see. From this part of the city, you could see Westminster Abbey and Parliament to the right, the clock tower straight ahead, and the London Eye in the background-quite the picturesque view. When I first saw the clock tower, (generally known as “Big Ben” although Big Ben is actually the name of the bell inside of the tower, and not the actual tower itself) I was not impressed. For some reason, I expected it to be bigger and grander than it was. At first, it just seemed like any old, large clock tower. But the closer I got, the bigger and grander it seemed, and it hit me just how amazing it was that I was standing beneath one of the most iconic landmarks in the world (or at least in England). After marveling at the large tower and all the iconic buildings around us, we walked across the bridge so that we could explore the other side of London, the South Bank…

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