Hello from Wales! Life has been pretty busy lately in annoying way that involves actual work. But that’s probably a good thing because this past weekend in London felt like a vacation, so I needed to get back to reality. My name is Morgan Bakies and I spent a whole paid-for weekend in London seeing everything!
It’s nice see your scholarship tuition money actually being used in a fun, useful way. This past weekend was London Weekend for all of the Illini studying abroad in the UK. We came to London wearing bright orange to see the sights and meet other people who were having the experience of a lifetime living in the United Kingdom. It was a jam packed weekend of awesomeness!
After a three hour train ride and confusing walk to the hotel, we settled in quickly before leaving for dinner to have “Chicago style” pizza. The last pizza I had was with a number friends from Illinois at Pizzeria Due in Chicago, so it really could not compare to this:
But it was still really good! Afterwards, we traveled on the Tube (London’s subway system also known as London underground) to the West End theater district. There I had my first view of the London Eye lit up at night and downtown London. I also saw Spamalot which was a fun Monty Python musical with a mix of the best material from Monty Python and the Holy Grail and some funny other side plots. It was late by the time it let out, so we decided to travel back towards our hotel before it got too late. The night ended with a large group of us sitting a cozy pub, talking and laughing. In my opinion, that’s how every night in Britain should end.
Inside the West End theater.
The next morning, I got up a little early and decided to do some exploring. Our hotel was in Notting Hill, a place made famous by Julia Roberts’s movie. I did not find a book shop dedicated to travel, but I did find Hyde Park only a five minute walk from the hotel which was even better. So I strolled along the trees past the Princess Diana Memorial Playground which looked to be a massive jungle gym of things such as sailboats. I watched as couples strolled hand in hand through the morning mist while dogs chased sticks their owners threw. As I walked passed a pond full of swans, I noticed a large white statue. Approaching it, I discovered that the statue was Queen Victoria and behind her stood Kensington Palace. It was a complete and utter surprise. So I strolled through the Kensington Palace gardens before walking back to the hotel to start the itinerary for the day.
We took a two hour bus tour of the city to see everything. We drove past the other side of Hyde Park, through shopping areas, some of the most expensive apartments in London, and finally stopped for pictures at one of the most iconic places in London. Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and the London Eye are all practically sitting on top of each other in London. And what’s more? All of them are absolutely beautiful. It was amazing to see these famous structures and I can’t wait to go back and see more of them, especially Westminster Abbey. Our tour guide even took us to the inspiration for Diagon Alley after hearing we were Harry Potter fans!
Lunch was at a Turkish restaurant, which was interesting. It’s always fun to try new things! Afterwards, there was a photo scavenger hunt which had us running around London like lunatics. The best parts of the scavenger hunt were actually not scavenger hunt related. At Covent Gardens, we watched a very, very cute magician perform tricks. He included Lindsey in a card trick and let her keep the card she drew. He told her, “If you sleep with that under your pillow, I’ll turn up there tomorrow.” Everyone laughed at the joke but Lindsey. “I would not complain about that,” she said quietly. After this, we went into a candy shop that looked like it was Honeyduke’s out of Harry Potter. It was so cute, so of course Lindsey and I had to try some British candy. Just so you know, British toffee is really good, but impossible to eat because it’s like an oversized Milk Dud.
The evening ended with a cooking lesson where we made our own burgers, which was neat. They were delicious, of course. Some people, including Sam, went to catch another West End performance after dinner. Lindsey and I decided to continue exploring the city with some other friends, walking through Chinatown which was in the midst of the Chinese New Year celebration.
We took a path alongside the Thames and taking in the city. Eventually we crossed the river and walked back into the city. At one point, we rounded a corner and St. Paul’s Cathedral was all of sudden looming over us. It was breathtaking and I was completely in awe. And, becoming one with British culture, we also ended Saturday night in a pub drinking Spiced Apple and Rhubarb Cider together. We made friends with the women sitting next to us who gave advice on where to visit, while asking questions of us about place to go in the US. Also, at one point, Mumford and Sons came on over the speakers and that, my friends, was perfection.
Sunday was a much more unpleasant day because it rained almost all day to the point where all of us were soaked to the bone, despite raincoats and umbrellas. We went to the Tower of London in the morning and saw the Crown Jewels. It was amazing. The diamonds didn’t look real they were so unbelievable. It was so cool to be in a place I’d only read about in history books: where Anne Boleyn spent her last days on Earth, where the two princes were imprisoned by Richard III, and where (as my high school English teacher Ms. Drew likes to remind me) Charles Darnay was imprisoned for a short time in Tale of Two Cities. This ended the official London Weekend, but we fortunately had five more hours before departure.
The last few hours in London were spent running all over the city to see the last sights on our checklist. We traveled to King’s Cross and took a picture at a trolley crashing into the barrier at Platform 9 & 3/4. It was worth the line and satisfied our love for Harry Potter.
We then went onwards to find Buckingham Palace where we took some pictures, despite the rain. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to talk to any of the beefeaters and see if they could maintain their composure, but hopefully we’ll get to do that next time we go to London.
To end our stay in London, we went to an Italian restaurant in Notting Hill where we consumed warm delicious food. We talked about how wonderful the weekend had been and how much we couldn’t wait to come back. It was so wonderful and I feel so fortunate for having such an amazing weekend in such great company. Six hours on a Megabus later, we were back in Swansea, completely satisfied with the trip. I cannot wait to go back and climb to the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral, see Westminster Abbey, visit the British Museum, explore Hyde Park more, etc. But it’s okay that I didn’t get to see everything because that means I still have so many things to look forward to.

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