For our IES Spring Break, I decided to go England. I was lucky that my train could leave as it was only two days after the heaviest snowfall in northern France/the Parisian region in nearly 25 years, paralyzing the area and resulting in cancelled flights and trains in France and Germany. The French army had to be called out to rescue stranded drivers and highways were deadlocked. My train set out, a little slower than usual, Thursday morning against a French countryside draped in white. I’ll always love the way fresh snow looks, despite how difficult it makes walking on city streets and my fervent hope that I won’t see any more of it till next winter.
I got to London bright and early, dropped of my bag at the hostel, and hopped on the Tube to Trafalgar Square. Despite everything I’d heard to the contrary, it was a sunny day in London and despite patchy clouds the streets and ramparts were suffused with light. The whole of Trafalgar Square was as impressive as the giant lion statues that characterize it, and I spent a while mesmerized by the giant fountains. One of the things I love about the European cities I’ve visited it how many spectacular things are in a walkable space, and I made my way down and around Parliament House/Victoria Tower and to the Thames, which happened to be right next to Westminster Abbey. While I didn’t make it inside of Parliament, I did spend a solid hour taking in Westminster with the audio guide, enthralled by the elaborate tombs and chapels and particularly the Poet’s Corner, which immortalizes many of the greatest British writers. I strolled around Buckingham Palace and the gardens before indulging in the National History Museum. As the sun set, I walked through Kensington Gardens, even getting to feed some rather pushy swans when a nice couple gave me some bread. My day ended on positive and negative notes: I had unfortunate mix-up and didn’t end up meeting up with a friend for dinner, but I did explore the Covent Garden area, which includes London’s famous theater district, and met some interesting travelers (including French people!) at my hostel.
The next day my friend who’s studying in Brighton came up, and as she’s very interested in armor and war gear, we went straight to the Tower of London. Our Yeoman guide, or “Beefeater” (don’t know the origin of the nickname, unfortunately), filled us in on the gory details, including an execution that involved a decidedly bloody chase, and led us to the crown jewels. I would love to wear one of the crowns and I’m sure I’d learn to carry the weight of those enormous diamonds, emeralds, and rubies, with a regal grace. In the evening, we went back to theater district and were disheartened to find that all of the big names were sold out or hideously expensive. However, we did manage to catch the new masterpiece, Viva Forever, a musical based on the Spice Girls, heroes of my early childhood.
Paris is characterized by many things, or has many trucs, as you might say in French. These include a gray winter atmosphere and a reflective attitude of nonchalance and somberness, not to mention an abundance of black coats. London has a very different feel, and perhaps it was the sunlight, being on vacation, or the gorgeous open market I discovered next to my hostel, but to me it was lighter and seemed to mix more of the English countryside and a “hearty” pride into the central parts of the city. And although it was true to its reputation my second day, rainy and very cold (although not nearly as northern Sweden, according to a girl from my hostel), I was sad to leave.
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Helena Archer is a sophomore at the University of North Carolina studying public health, international studies, and creative writing. She loves all three, and is thrilled to be able to develop her interests abroad. During her semester in Paris, she hopes to engage and immerse herself in French and Parisian culture, and also to examine immigrant and francophone presence and relations. Helena loves hearing and telling stories, and can't wait to discover more of them in Paris.</span></p>