I arrived in Geneva, Switzerland with my mother to stay with good family friends for a couple of days before the program started. We spent a day exploring the old castle of Gruyere and the Cathedral in Lausanne before taking the train back to Geneva. It was wet and rainy, but extremely fascinating. Though I know very little about architecture, I can still appreciate it. I loved Geneva. I found the history interesting and the transportation easily accessible. I found my eight years of primary school French helpful, though a bit slow, and I was relieved to fly on to London where the national language is English.
Driving through London, I was struck by the diversity. There were restaurants from all over the world and multiethnic neighborhoods that all seemed to blend together as we drove by. I knew London was an international city, home to thousands of ethnicities, cultures, nationalities, and languages, but it was still very new to me. In fact, I hardly heard any British accents through my first few days. It seemed as though nobody’s first language was English. Once settled into our hotel, my mom and I purchased oyster cards and explored the tube. Initially, I felt overwhelmed by the crowds and the lurking feeling of the unknown. I felt lost, and everything felt complicated. A “small town” girl like myself had no idea what to do with all of this new information.
The first day, we went to King’s Cross Station to take the tube to The Tower of London, and I was determined to figure out how to take the tube. Imagine my anxiety when the most direct line to The Tower of London was closed for the weekend. The next question became: Which lines take us the closest to our destination while changing as little as possible. Turns out, it wasn’t hard. The signs in the station are very direct, there are tube maps everywhere, and each stop is said aloud along with any tourist destinations on that stop. When in absolute doubt, don’t be afraid to ask for help. I have found that Londoners are very friendly and willing to tell you where you need to go. They may even give you some good pubs to visit.
The Tower of London was amazing. We didn’t go to see the Crown Jewels, but it was still very interesting. The dark history of the building and its use of torture as well as some of the famous prisoners it housed, such as Mary Queen of Scotts, were described in detail as we walked from tower to tower. They have rebuilt or renovated some parts, but you can see the clear difference between those parts and the original building. There is also an amazing view of London Bridge from the towers with the boats passing underneath. My favorite part was the graffiti written by the prisoners into the walls of the tower. The amount of time and effort in carving ones name, doodles, or quotes into the wall are both admirable and chilling. How much time were they in there? In some cases, for the rest of their lives. There are also hired actors walking around, interacting with the visitors and telling the tales of the Tower, which was very amusing. All in all, it was a good choice. Afterwards, we finally went home and went to a local pub for fish and chips and a pint. It was delicious.
For all my Harry Potter fans, I must say the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio Tour was the best decision of my life. It is a huge studio, now full of sets like the Great Hall, Diagon Alley, and The Burrow. Everything was a real prop, costume, and set from the film. Walking around the big studio, it was easy to see how thousands of people could work on these films. There were tons of interactive things to do as well like taking a picture on a flying broom or sitting in Hogwarts Express. There was a section for every aspect of the film making process such as how they filmed the Quidditch scenes, special effects, animal training, costume and make-up, and creating and building the sets. Then about halfway through the tour, we grabbed a butterbeer from the Back lot café, which I was told is only one of four places that sell it. My favorite part was the end of the tour where you walk into a room with dramatic Harry Potter music playing in the background, and you see the to-scale model of Hogwarts, which they used to shoot aerial shots. It was fantastic, and I am not the least embarrassed to admit it made me a little emotional. It was the best way to end my summer vacation before starting orientation and classes.
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<p>My name is Analise Ober, and I am a junior at University of Puget Sound studying Sociology and English. I am from Minnesota and enjoy hockey, being on the lake, and (of course!) writing. This is my first trip to London, and I hope to experience a lot here and can’t wait to share it with you. </p>