The first stop on our Contiki tour through Europe was my beloved London. I first fell in love with (the idea of) England when I was a wee high school-er who dreamed of a life of charming cottages, green countrysides, and chilly afternoons spent in warm cafés. I blame Pride & Prejudice, Harry Potter, Love Actually, and The Holiday for filling my head with romanticized notions of the British country and culture—thus indirectly creating the American Anglophile that is the author of this blog today. It wasn't until I studied at Oxford two summers ago, however, that I got to experience firsthand the beauty of England and the prestige of its lively capitol, both of which blew my expectations out of the water (romanticized notions and all). I knew I wanted to go back as soon as I left, and the desire to return only grew stronger throughout my final two years of college. Needless to say, come January 2014, I was elated to find a European tour that not only began in London, but ended there as well.
Kristen and I arrived at Heathrow Airport around noon on July 11th, a little disoriented from the 9-hour flight yet eager to adventure out before our meet-and-greet with the tour group. From the airport, we took the tube to Russell Square and checked into our hotel first thing. Next on our to-do list was find food, as neither of us had eaten much on the plane. Naturally, we scampered to the nearest pub and wolfed down some local grub (bangers and mash for me; shepherd's pie for Red) and a couple half pints of hard cider. Once our tummies were content and energy tanks full, we headed out to explore the neighborhood.
For those of you who've never been, Russell Square is a quaint garden park with large trees and beautiful rose bushes—perfect for peaceful strolls and summer picnics. But the best part about the green sanctuary? It's only a five minute walk from The British Museum, one of London's must-visit attractions (and a piece of Heaven for history/culture buffs). As big as this place is, we only had time to hunt for a few of the museum's highlighted artifacts, including the infamous Rosetta Stone.
Wandering through the halls of the massive building brought back sweet memories of a similar day-trip two years before, when my life looked a whole lot different than it does now. It made me miss my college days and the small joys of being an English major, including the excitement that would come over me when discussing a new book in class, long evenings spent writing papers at Kerbey Lane, and numerous wine nights celebrating a passed deadline (or just avoiding homework altogether). My previous life as a college student suddenly seemed so appealing as I stared at the Lewis chessmen through the glass.
But isn't that how it usually goes? That "grass is always greener" mumbo jumbo? Being in England for the second time conjured up a whole host of emotions that I was too exhausted to analyze or express at the time. Or perhaps I simply knew better than to fixate on the past when there was so much potential in the present moment—as well as a wealth of good memories in the making. There's no harm in reminiscing, of course, but it must have been in that hour or so that I realized life is too short to entertain wistful bouts of nostalgia.
Even though it was a warm 70-something degrees outside, the two of us were dying for a cup of coffee by the time we had made our way through part of the museum. (Not even the world's most fascinating artifacts can keep this girl's attention after 24+ hours sans sleep.) It was almost time to meet the rest of our travel buds, so we downed the caffeine like water before walking back towards the hotel. The info session was short and sweet, thank goodness, which left plenty of time for mingling over drinks at The London Pub.
Our fifty-person group was mostly made up of 20-somethings, like us, but Kristen and I were surprisingly two of maybe eight tourists from the United States. (Just to give you an idea of the demographics: Australians outnumbered every other nationality, and there was only about one guy for every three girls. A few newly married couples joined us, but most were single. Many were first-time travelers to Europe.) Let me tell you, these people were ready to party! As you can imagine, the only thing Kristen and I were ready for by this point was a night of uninterrupted sleep. Who could blame us? We had to be up and at 'em at 6 o'clock the next morning, wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, to catch the coach ride, and then the ferry, to our tour's first official stop: The Netherlands.
See you later, UK!
|| second post on Amsterdam to come soon! ||