Großbritannien – London – Kirchen und Paläste

Several of the trainees had plans to visit London. While I had spent a few days there on my last trip to Europe, London is a great city with tons to see; I didn’t need much convincing before I was agreeing to tag along. With so much there I decided I could experience new parts of the city and have more great experiences without “doubling up” too much. As an added bonus, a friend of mine whom I met in Barcelona on a study-abroad trip has been working on an assignment there. Spending some time in the city would give me a chance to catch up with him.

We flew out Thursday evening after work. I had a very pleasant first experience with the bus service in Stuttgart – for 2.50€ I caught a direct bus from the office to Stuttgart airport; the trip took around half an hour – not bad at all for rush hour. My progress slowed down when I made it to security, however. For reasons unbeknownst to me I found myself in what the locals were calling a “historically long line”, which is never a term you want to be associated with. Several people were snapping pictures on their phones, presumably surprised at the wait time. Luckily I had given myself plenty of time and was travelling light – before *too* long I made it through and met up with some other trainees who were also on my flight.

We touched down at Stansted airport shortly thereafter. I had spent the flight listening to the score from Les Miserables, the Beatles, and a few other British artists on my phone. Cliché, perhaps, but I was excited. We decided to save a little money by opting to split an Uber rather than taking a bus or train service. A few of the guys freaked out when they were faced with riding in a seemingly-mirrored vehicle. The drive into town took a while but eventually we found ourselves crossing Tower Bridge and knew we had arrived. We grabbed  some cheap Chinese food and my friends got settled into their AirBnb. Around midnight I left for my friend’s place. It was 30 minutes by bus or a 45 minute walk, so I opted to take the walk to get a feel for the city. I made it to my friend’s without incident. We played some cards and headed to bed before it got too late.

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“The Shard” from its base
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The London Eye on the Thames
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Parliament on a chilly morning
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“Big Ben” looms over a phonebooth

On Friday my friend had work, so I made my own way across town. I bought an Oyster card, made sure to “mind the gap”, and headed towards Parliament and Westminster Abbey. On the way, I passed by “the Shard”, bustling with commuters making their way across town. I made it to Westminster before the rest of the trainees I was meeting, and took the opportunity to walk around and grab some pictures of the beautiful buildings and river before meeting up with the group at our first stop, Westminster Abbey. The interior of the building is stunningly decorated, with intricate details, rich monuments everywhere, and a refined charm. The Abbey hosts coronation ceremonies for the British monarchs, and is the final resting place for some of the world’s most influential individuals including Newton, Darwin, Shakespeare, Dickens, as well as members of the British aristocracy and monarchy. Standing somewhere with so much history, amid the giants you read about through all of your studies, is a humbling experience. I spent awhile basking in the tranquility of it all to take everything in.

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Westminster Abbey

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Buckingham Palace from the courtyard
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The palace gates

Exiting the abbey, we strolled through St. Jame’s park on our way to Buckingham Palace. We didn’t go inside but instead just wandered around the gates, taking in the sights and crowds at the Queen’s home. After wandering around the palace and park, we made out way up to Trafalgar Square, where we saw a street performer and did a little people-watching. We grabbed lunch (I opted for bangers and mash, naturally) up near Piccadilly.

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The National Gallery at Trafalgar Square

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Getting our limbo on at Trafalgar Square
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Statues overlooking the square

My friends wanted to head over to the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge. I had toured both of these on my first visit to London, so I broke off from the group and made for the Natural History Museum instead. The museum had tons of cool free exhibits. Plate tectonics, dinosaurs, Darwinian evolution, human evolution, and other fossils were on display at the museum. Some of the displays were more geared towards children, but I really enjoyed the dinosaur specimens and seeing the plate tectonic displays.

After wandering the museum for a bit, I made for Kensington Palace and the nearby gardens. Having grown up in New Kensington I was amused to go see the original. I know the gardens would be much prettier in bloom, but seeing the hedges and the grass was still a nice quiet break from the hustle and bustle of the city. I got up close to some of the many birds here. Wandering the gardens, I came across a huge memorial to prince Albert before departing to meet back with the group.

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The Albert Memorial at Kensington Gardens
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Kensington Palace
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The Kensington Palace Gardens

We met back up at St. Paul’s Cathedral. By now, the church was closed to visitors, but we were lucky enough to happen upon an evening singing service. We were able to step into the back of the church where we were treated to beautiful choral music. I was struck by how many military figures were honored here – I had never seen so much of a war theme in a religious building before. We sat in peace and observed the service for awhile, took in the beautiful roof and the decorations, and took our time before stepping out for our dinner.

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St Paul’s Cathedral
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The dome at St. Paul’s

We made for a quick restaurant to grab fish and chips before meeting our tour guide for a “Jack the Ripper” tour. I won’t spoil the story for you by recalling all I learned on the tour here – if you haven’t heard of the killings I would encourage you to read about them. Our guide did a good job of building suspense and revealing intrigue as he walked us through the eerie sites where the events took place. Between stops we had chances to ask him questions about London then and now – our guide was very knowledgeably and happy to explain things in great detail when we asked. I’m happy to have done the tour.

After the tour we stopped into a pub to grab a drink and relax. I’d describe the pub we chose as “casually ornate” – there was a nice whitewash and gold-trim aesthetic but the atmosphere felt lively and casual. We discussed the highlights of our day, theories about the murder mystery, and plans for the next day over drinks. Naturally I had Guinness as it’s so much better here than in the US.

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Tower Bridge in the evening on my way back home

Tired from a long day, I split off from the group to meet back with the friend with whom I was staying. I did not stay up too late and called it an “early” night around midnight. There’s a lot more to tell of my London adventure, but in the interest of brevity and punctuality I’ll leave it here for now. Check back soon to hear more about what I did with the rest of my time in London. Until then,

Best wishes and safe travels everyone,

– Ben

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