London: Day 1
Our bus weaved through the streets in a fashion that I was unacquainted to. Everything was slightly off and unfamiliar. Cars drove on the left side and not the right; our driver’s seat too, was on the “wrong” side. Signs were of odd design and license plates were significantly smaller. It was such a surreal experience to be exposed to two unique cultures in the span of a day. While The US and Britain are similar, so many slight changes will make you stop to take notice!
We had now passed countryside now and the beauty and history of the city was now in full. The sites beckoned us to visit them and the sidewalks begged to be explored! I wanted nothing more than to throw myself off the bus and run about this grand new city. After threading through London, we arrived to the Copthorne Tara Hotel no later than 10 AM. It was situated on the East Side of Town near the bustling Kensington area, rife with high end shopping, wealthy estates, and couture.
Upon our arrival, our study abroad leaders gave us passes to the underground railway known as “the tube” and all participants gathered together in the common area of a nearby school. Introductions were made, fun facts were shared, and icebreakers were played. Luckily, because of our fancy hang up at the airport in Chicago, most of the Illinois participants already had a nice bond with each other on the trip. Twelve people down, twelve more to meet! By the time our first (and slightly awkward) meeting had adjourned, all of those who were on the delayed plane were starving, myself included. We’d been famished since taking flight with the only salvation being microwave dinners and tiny bags of peanuts. A small group of my Chicago cohorts searched frantically for food. We entered an indoor shopping area and quickly discovered a small sandwich shop named Pret a Manger and I admittedly had a tough time ordering my first meal in Europe. The establishment offers a variety of health and quality inspired pre-made salads and sandwiches. Like a moth to flame, my Italian roots drove me to the prosciutto sub sandwich.
Now when I went to checkout, instead of asking if I’d like my meal here or to go as they would in the states, they asked if I want to “have it” or “take it away.” At first I simply thought she was speaking another language. What she was saying simply didn’t make sense! After I’d asked her 3 times to repeat what she said I finally understood what was meant by her question. My cockeyed stare had turned to sheer embarrassment. Only 2 hours in London and I’d already made myself look like a jackass American. Perfect! While I swiped my card for my prosciutto sandwich and water the cashier asked where I was from. I hung my head a bit and shamefully answered. I didn’t quite know the sentiment held by the locals yet and didn’t want to give myself any more trouble than I already had coming. She seemed to shrug it off and share a laugh with her coworkers but that was that. It was embarrassing sure, but hey, it happens.
Snapback to the sandwich! When in the U.S., premade food usually sucks ass and tastes like cardboard and liver but this sandwich tasted so fresh and decadently flavored. I think we Americans often get hung up on quantity over quality and we forget that sometimes balance and proportion can make something average become outstanding. This sandwich was no ordinary sandwich! It was remarkable and I was so taken aback by the difference in quality. I was spellbound; by a sandwich! Who knew? Alright, I think you get the idea now, and thankfully, this treat staved my hunger for a little while longer. After all, we still had a half day bus tour of London ahead of us and my the sheer exhaustion from travel was already enough to handle.
The bus ride, in all honesty, was a blur. Being sleep deprived for the past 3 days now due to excitement, discomfort, and beverages (aka liquor) made this padded seat on a charter bus nothing short of a dream. It wasn’t long before the amplified voice of our tour guide became a quiet hum in my ear as I drifted off to another world.
The bus hissed to a stop and I opened my eyes to where else but our hotel. Now that my friends had a grasp on the town from the tour that I slept through, we decided to go out and explore. It was around dinner time and the first thing that came to mind was a taste for fish and chips. We went to a small pub just down the road and the bartenders that helped us were nothing short of amazing. They were very willing to help and engaged us from the moment we walked in. With full stomachs and high spirits, it was time to see the sights. We began the long walk to Big Ben and the London Eye.
Even in recollecting the moment my eyes first laid eyes on Big Ben, I still have butterflies in my stomach. The architecture was so unique and I really couldn’t believe my eyes. Pride, happiness, solace, and any other pleasant feeling you could imagine rushed through me. I had made it to the place I thought I’d only see in photos. I was living my dream.