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  • Devin Gackle

Journals from Across the Pond: 3 Days in London, England (Day 1)

Our fifth day of the trip began with a journey to London via Cambridge, where we stopped for lunch. Cambridge is most obviously known for Cambridge University, but it’s a busy town even without it. I got the impression the rest of the town contained the same subtle posh and historic charm as the University.

We only had a few hours to find something to eat and explore—luckily for us there was a market going on in a town square. There my usual group of four found an amazing Belgian waffle tent, run by an actual Belgian! He was very nice, and we chatted with him while he whipped up our fluffy, plate-sized waffles. Mine had banana slices and a dark chocolate drizzle on top—easily the best waffles I’ve ever had.

After our fill of sweet deliciousness, we took to wandering the streets, popping into shops and an open courtyard of Cambridge University, which was just as idyllic as you can imagine. We made our way to St. Mary’s, a historic church, and climbed its steep tower steps to the lookout at the top; from there you can see the whole city, quiet and bustling at the same time.

With our time up, we walked back to our bus, taking in the sight of people punting on the river along the way. And with that, we were on to London.

Our first top was our hotel, which was actually pretty swanky, where we settled in before meeting our EF guide in the lobby. Here she handed us each an oyster card and a Tube map, and explained how the Tube system worked before leading us to a Tube station that would take us into the heart of the city. Since we had gone straight to the hotel, this was our first real impression of the city.

I don’t know how to explain why I loved the Tube so much, but I did. It might be because it’s a glorious feat of convenient and easy public transportation, but it also may be that it’s freaking cool, and knowing how to navigate it made me feel like part of the city.

We exited the Tube at the Piccadilly Circus station, and followed our guide about the vast, crowded streets, through Trafalgar Square, and finally to Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Sadly, Big Ben was partially covered, because it (and Elizabeth Tower) are in need of repairs and will be under renovation until 2021. (Side note: For anyone wanting to visit London in the next few years, don't let this ruin your trip! In my opinion, it's still worth seeing, and London has so much else to offer tourists and locals alike.)

We crossed Westminster Bridge and stopped just on the other side, where our guide set us free to explore. We split off into our usual groups, and mine didn’t have to go very far to find some fish and chips for dinner.

After that we just started walking along The Queen’s Walk. I think this was my favorite part of my time in London; it was one of those times when having no plan is the perfect plan. We strolled along the Thames River, taking in the river-sights, like street performers and colorful, double-decker food trucks.

We took photos with the London Eye and the river in the background, in front of Blackfriar’s Bridge, and outside Shakespeare’s Globe. Here we crossed back over the river via Millennium Bridge, the elaborate architecture of St. Paul’s Cathedral straight in front of us. We walked around it, stopping at a bright red telephone booth for a quintessential tourist photo op. It was a very picturesque afternoon!

Our last stop was King’s Cross Station; my Harry-Potter-loving friends of course had to visit Platform 9 3/4. If you envisioned the bustling platform from the movie—think again. There is a very elaborate Harry Potter store there at the station, and next to it is a large brick wall that serves as the platform photo op. There’s a cart for you to pretend to push and a wand for you to hold; a photographer works with who I’ll call the scarf person, whose job is to throw the scarf on cue so that it looks like your scarf is flying in the wind in the picture (which is also effective if you choose to jump.) If you want to do this, expect a line!

Yes, I did get a picture!; I chose a Ravenclaw scarf because I’d been told that’s probably what house I was. And even though it wasn't as meaningful for me as it was for my friends, I still enjoyed it.

Other than that, we didn’t do anything that evening but walk around the city, and I loved it. Even at night the city pulsed, vibrant and alive, and it was exactly the kind of travel vibe I’d been looking for.

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