On October 7th, I kicked off my graduation trip to Europe starting with the United Kingdom. My impressions of the UK prior to visiting were primarily shaped by reading Harry Potter as a child, studying the Industrial Revolution and Britain’s role in the world wars, reading Shakespeare plays and other English literature, and watching the London Olympic Games. I’ve wanted to write this blog entry for a while, but there is often little time left when I get back to the hotel every evening, and I use the remaining time for planning the next day, or I’m just too tired. But today I’ve finally set some time to do it, writing from Paris, France.
My first impression as I flew to London Gatwick from Halifax, Canada is that the land is extremely fertile. The long miles of fields below me are all green and vibrant, whereas this time of the year in the Canadian prairies I would expect nothing but yellowness. When I landed, the temperature was almost 20 degrees Celsius, whereas my home in Calgary was about freezing point. London is also slightly further to the north than Calgary by latitude.
When I landed, I was instantly amazed by London’s extensive subway system. During my stay in London I never had to wait more than 2 minutes for any subway to arrive on any of the lines I’ve been on, even late at night. It is also a quick, cheap way to get to many places within London, beating the traffic on the road above ground. Train stations are also located at the same place as subways, connecting London to other places on the island. I suppose in many North American cities the population density just isn’t dense enough to support this kind of amazing infrastructure.
On the first afternoon in London I visited the British Museum, which contains artifacts from different civilizations of the world since the ancient Egyptians and Greeks. The most memorable part of the museum for me were the Egyptian mummies, whose evolution through different eras was showcased in successive rooms of the museum.
On my second day I took a day trip to Oxford, the oldest English-speaking university in the world. I learned the name Oxford is quite literal – it is named after the place with shallow water where ox crossed the river. For me, the most amazing thing about Oxford is that many of the greatest minds in history have left their footsteps here, some of whose work I’ve read include J. R. R. Tolkien (The Hobbit) and Oscar Wilde (The Importance of Being Earnest). It feels splendid to walk on the same grounds as they did during the past.
As a fan of history, my third day in London was mainly split between the Tower of London during the morning and the Churchill War Rooms during the afternoon. While the former tells many stories about England during the medieval ages (also contains the old Roman wall), the latter tells stories of Winston Churchill during his entire life and especially the crucial years of World War II. It it fascinating to stand in what was once the most important room in the European theatre on the Allies side.
I wrapped up the day in the area by taking a stroll to Buckingham Palace, the park around it, and the British parliament. Before going back to the Swiss Cottage area, where I lived, I went to King’s Cross Station to pick up my train ticket the next day to Edinburgh, witnessing the real Platform 9 3/4.