This past week has completely amazed and exhausted me. I’m realizing that my time here in London is coming to a gradual end. While this is a sad thought, it motivated me to get up, get moving, and see everything I possible could in one week.
Friday – June 19
I’m not particularly crazy about spicy food, but I decided to get out of my comfort zone and go to CAPA’s curry night. I was completely STARVING by the time 5 p.m. (or 17:00 as they call it here) rolled around, so I stopped at Pret A Manger and bought the strangest yogurt I’ve ever eaten in my life. (Sidenote: Prets decorate London the same way that Starbucks decorate the U.S. I’m convinced that after the apocalypse, the world will still have cockroaches, Starbucks, and Prets.) Pret also has wifi, so I lost track of time while surfing the internet and got to Brick Lane about twenty minutes late. I was bracing myself for an awkward entrance, but I slipped into the restaurant behind a few other late Purdue people and sat down just as the food came out. I guess that’s good timing?
I liked the food even though the falafel appetizer set my entire mouth ablaze. No joke, I chugged a good 70 percent of the table’s community tap water after eating that one tiny falafel ball. The spiciness level of the food didn’t exactly decrease much as more food arrived. Fortunately, I had some very soft and wonderful Naan bread to put out the fire. All hail Naan bread!
I woke up at the crack of dawn (okay, it was like 8:30 a.m.) to get to Westminster Abbey before the tourists swarmed. I take super long showers, so I actually wasn’t surprised when I got caught in the swarm anyway. The second I poked my head out of the Underground station, Big Ben and the Parliament Houses towered over me. Even though I’d seen those sites dozens of times now, the view always amazes me. So I joined the Tourist Swarm and took zillions of pictures. All I needed was a Hawaiian shirt and a fold-out map.
I got an audio guide in Westminster Abbey and spent an hour and a half listening to a British man tell me about the history of the building and the people who are buried inside it. The multiple “No Photography” signs didn’t stop me from snapping a few discreet pictures when I got to Poets’ Corner. I’d been dying to see Poets’ Corner ever since I watched a London travel video back in March. The area marks the tombs of famous British writers and acknowledges others like Shakespeare who are well-known but buried elsewhere.
I would’ve loved to just sit in Westminster Abbey and admire it, but I kept an eye on the clock and darted out of there around noon, so I could make it to West End Live. West End Theatre (London’s Broadway) hosts a concert-like event every year where they showcase the best songs from each famous show. The songs are performed by the real cast and I HAD to see Phantom of the Opera. West End Live was free and that attracted a large crowd to Trafalgar Square. I found a good spot near a fountain and seconds later (literally), Music of the Night started playing. The cast also performed Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again and then they switched to a different show. I stuck around for a little while and heard Les Miserables, Beautiful, and Mamma Mia.
I got lunch at the Cafe in the Crypt near St. Martin-in-the Fields and then spent the rest of the day exploring the Wellcome museum (see previous blog post).
Sunday – June 21
Undoubtedly one of the most adorable places I’ve visited was Greenwich (pronounced gren-itch NOT green-which). Some friends and I took the Underground and the DLR (most similar to the monorail at Disney World) to the heart of Greenwich. We spent most of the day exploring the Royal Observatory and the planetarium. Between those two buildings alone, I saw the Prime Meridian, a planetarium show, a 4.5 billion-year-old meteorite, the house where the scientist who discovered Halley’s Comet stayed, and the “birthplace of time and longitude.”
The observatory sat on an exceptionally steep hill that overlooked Greenwich. From the top, you could also see the London skyline pretty well. We decided to splurge a little and get fudge, sour candy cables, ice cream, and mini pancakes (I have no regrets) at the Greenwich market and then hang out by the Thames River.
Monday – June 22
Okay, so I didn’t have a little adventure every day this week.
Tuesday – June 23
Tuesday brought two exciting adventures. The day started very early when we decided to get “day seats” for the show 1984. Before coming to London, I had never heard of day seats, but basically, most theaters will open their doors early in the morning and sell tickets (usually, REALLY GOOD tickets) for super cheap. I started reading 1984 by George Orwell when I was 14 or 15 and never finished it. (Sidenote: I never quit books. Like EVER. When I first open a book, I enter a committed relationship.) It always bugged me that I never finished it, so I was hoping that seeing the stage production would inspire me to finish the book. Needless to say, I will definitely finish 1984. We got front row seats right in the center for £10 and the show itself was positively mesmerizing. Being in the front row amplified all of the special effects. I felt like I was sitting right on stage! I got some serious chills.
Between getting day seats and actually seeing the production that night, I went to Portobello Road, a famous market that has antiques, food, souvenirs, and clothes. Notting Hill is a beautiful area of London and if I lived there, I’d spend all of my money on Portobello Road. I can imagine it gets pretty insane on the weekend, but not so much on a Tuesday at 10 a.m. I bought two coasters, a London bag, and magnets that look like street signs. And a Belgian waffle just because.
Wednesday – June 24
A very frequent internal debate I have at Purdue is whether to do school work or fun stuff. The outcome is pretty 50/50 usually, but being in London skewed that probability. Even though I had to deliver a speech the next day, I decided to go to Late Night at the Science Museum. On the last Wednesday of every month, the museum stays open for two extra hours just for people who are 18 and older and hosts a variety of different activities and speakers. We got dinner at the museum’s cafe, flew a plane in a hilarious first attempt at a 360 degree flight simulator, and sat on puffy pillows for a presentation on asymmetry in art and nature. The professor who delivered the talk was hilarious and charming and I loved how he weaved science and the humanities together. Basically, he was saying that art is more visually pleasing when it contains a level of asymmetry. Similarly, scientists are trying to create an asymmetrical split when stem cells divide. When a stem cell divides, it can either create another stem cell or it can become a mature cell. Creating one of each would be ideal and is now actually possible with “wnt proteins.”
Thursday – June 25
My speech went pretty well even though I only practiced twice after the Science Museum. It focused on Speakers’ Corner, an area of Hyde Park devoted to free speech. For our presentations, we had to partake in a new cultural experience, so I went to Speakers’ Corner (as an audience member, not a speaker) and then educate the class on the cultural insight I gained from it. I didn’t have too much difficulty since Speakers’ Corner has a rich history and the whole concept of free speech doesn’t exist worldwide, so I mainly talked about that.
After class, a group of us went to the Sky Garden. The thirty-fifth floor of London’s “walkie talkie” building houses the Sky Garden, an open-air terrace that overlooks the Thames and all of London south of it. We took a completely silent and ridiculously fast elevator to the top (your ears popped immediately) and explored the beautiful area. The whole time I was there, I kept thinking the Sky Garden looked like a Photoshopped picture you’d see on Pinterest. It was so perfect; it didn’t seem real. A wedding there would be the greatest thing ever.