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5 Things I Wish I'd Known before My London Study Abroad Experience

5 Things I Wish I'd Known before Studying Abroad in London | CosmosMariners.com

After my first trip to London in 2003, all I could think about was how quickly I could return. When I stumbled upon a study abroad fair at my university during my freshman year, I discovered a way to combine my love of school with my love of London and started a long journey towards adding overseas education into my academic resume.

My London study abroad experience made a big impact on me as a college student, and the experience I had in England exceeded every expectation I had going into it. If I could go back in time, here are five things I'd tell myself before I began studying abroad in London.

A First Timer's Guide to London: Where to Visit, Eat, Sleep, and Shop

A First Timer's Guide to London: Where to Visit, Eat, Sleep, and Shop | CosmosMariners.com

Are you headed to the UK? If so, you cannot leave without this first timer's guide to London, where I'll share where to stay, what to eat, what to do, and where to shop.

Why London is Worth a Visit


Of all of the cities that I've visited, London remains my absolute favorite. Why? It's a combination of the deeply layered history, the vibrant and distinct neighborhoods, and the dozens of iconic sites. I've had the chance to visit five times over the last 13 years, and I find something new to discover--and love--about the city every time I go.

London was the first city I visited on our first European trip. It was my home away from home during my study abroad program in college. It was where I realized the depth of my British literature obsession...which would ultimately lead me to get my graduate degree in English.

Yes, the weather can be moody (to put it nicely) and you'll never be fully dressed without an umbrella in your bag, but if you can look past that, London can be one of the most phenomenal trips of your life.

In this article, I'm going to share what you need to know for your first trip to London. It's by no means a comprehensive list of things to see or do in the city, as that would be nearly impossible on just one trip (or even 10!).

What I've offered below should give you an overlook into this fascinating place on your first trip to London and, hopefully, whet your appetite to come back and explore even more deeply.

How Studying Abroad Changed My Life

How Studying Abroad Changed My Life | CosmosMariners.com


In early June 2005, I clutched my passport in my sweaty hand and waved goodbye to my parents and my sister in the Atlanta airport. I wanted to cry because I was terrified, but I was even more worried about putting on a brave face for my family. I'd thought about this moment for months, and I didn't want to spoil it by sobbing into the shirt of a TSA agent. Plus, I'd juggled four part-time jobs over the preceding year to afford the tuition and room and board, and I wanted to at least pretend I was getting my money's worth.

I was almost 20 and embarking on what would be become one of the most pivotal moments in my life: studying abroad in London for a summer through the IES London program.

At the time, leaving my parents, my sister, and my boyfriend (who'd eventually become my husband many years later) to explore one of the world's greatest cities seemed like a great way to spend a summer.

It seemed like a great way to get some of those once-in-a-lifetime college experiences--you know, those that you keep rehashing for years to come.

It seemed like a great way to cram a few more credit hours into my already packed college schedule. (And yes, this was a particular goal of mine, as I was--at the time--heading to law school in a few years and wanted to create the most stellar academic C.V. possible).

Yet, if I'd known at the moment of sheer terror and excitement what I know now about my study abroad experience, I would have plowed over everyone waiting in that TSA line in the hopes of starting it sooner. (To my parents--don't worry, I still would have missed you the same amount!)

It was only 6 weeks, but it changed everything.

With my roommate Nicole in front of the Abbey Road Studios
I learned that people are the same, even halfway across the world. Before living in London, I'd been on many, many trips with my parents, several of which were outside the country. But, since I'd never been completely on my own before, I'd never fully realized how much people are alike even when culture and distance divides us.

I had bus drivers kindly help me find my stop when I was confused (which was pretty much every time I took the bus for the first two weeks).

I had Tube workers patiently (oh, so patiently) help me figure out how much was on my Oyster card. Again. (This was back in the dark ages when no one had a smartphone to check these things.)

At the bookstore, at the grocery store, at the open air markets, I would bumble my way through things. I was just one person in this big city, and it would've been so easy to push me to the side or be annoyed with me. But, 99% of the time, I was met with friendliness and patience, something for which I will always be grateful.

Brighton Pier on a day trip. Don't laugh at the pink sunglasses--they were really popular in London that year!


I learned that it was okay be alone sometimes. In a city of 11 million people, it's easy to get lost in the faceless crowds of residents, commuters, and visitors in London on any given day. You could be anyone--or no one. While I made some great friends through the program, I enjoyed taking my school books to a nearby park to read alone, or sit on the Tube with a hundred other nameless people all going our own ways. Up until that point in my life, I'd always felt that I needed someone with me--my parents, my sister, my boyfriend, my friends. But I didn't. I managed just fine on my own.

Stonehenge (not the time I got to go into the circle!). And again, more bad sunglasses. Apparently, this was the summer of poor eyewear choices.

I learned what it was like to fall completely in love with another culture. That summer was the time when I realized what it meant to be an Anglophile.

I studied Shakespeare's plays before taking my position with all of the other groundlings to see a performance of Macbeth in the Globe.

I poured over new foods with strange names in the grocery store: Hob Nobs ("nobbly oaty bits"), digestives (which are nowhere near as disgusting as they sound), mustard mayonnaise (a strange concoction of condiments that tastes neither like mayo or mustard or the combo of the two), and spotted dick (which is TOTALLY not what you're thinking of, you perv. It's a type of canned pudding. Duh.).

I learned the variances in British accents, and, by the end of the session, could more or less tell you from where a person hailed in the British Isles.

I was obsessed with the minutiae of Britain and all of the big stuff and everything in between. And, nearly ten years later, I'm still going strong.


I learned that, even in the face of great loss, what people want most is each other. I happened to be on a bus on the way to a field trip in Trafalgar Square when the news began to break about the 7/7/2005 terrorist bombings. A Tube car and a double decker bus had been hit and over 50 people died that day: cell phone communication was impossible for hours, planes were grounded, and there was so much confusion everywhere. London as a whole reeled from the news in the hours after the attacks, but in the days afterwards, I saw how strong London was.

That week was supposed to be a joyous one--London had just found out that it had won the 2012 Olympics bid, and there was a huge celebration planned in Trafalgar Square to official announce the good news. Instead, that celebration was converted into a public rally to remember those who'd died and to call for peace. I stood shoulder to shoulder with people from all over the globe, people who, for that one day, were united in our desire to be one with London.

The night that my friends and I stood in line to get the newest Harry Potter book fresh off the press. I had to put down a 5 pound retainer and then wait in line at midnight to get the book, that bag, and that sweet raincoat!

I learned that it's more important to follow your heart than your pocketbook. As I mentioned earlier, I was still planning on going to law school at this point in my academic career.

And go to law school I did...for a year. I was so miserable by my second semester that I dropped out, the first time in my life that I'd actually failed something. When I tell you that I loved school, I'm telling the truth. I. LOVED. IT. I'd never not been good at school before, and I was floundering in law school.

I didn't like school anymore. I stopped going to classes. I stopped doing my homework. I stopped enjoying the thing that, heretofore, had been the reason I got up in the morning.

So, I took some time off after law school, got a job at a little stationery shop, and thought. And thought. And thought.

All that I could remember for those months was how happy I'd been back in undergrad, taking classes, writing and researching for my English major. I keep coming back to one class in particular: Modern British Novels. It was taught by Julie Charalambides, who, aside from having one of the coolest names ever, was one of the greatest teachers I'd ever had. We read seven novels that summer--I can still tell you the titles of all seven--and I poured over every single one. 

I thought about those novels while I worked long hours in that stationery shop. I thought about what I wanted to do with my life. And then, one day, it dawned on me: I'd go to grad school to study more of those modern British novels. 

Two years later, I walked across the stage at the University of South Carolina to get my M.A. in (you guessed it!) British literature. And not just any British literature--modern British literature. It took five years after I came home from London to learn that final lesson.

But that's what a study abroad session does: it sneaks up on you in the best way possible, and before you know it, you see life completely differently.

In the Cotswolds


Did you study abroad? If so, where did you go?

Note: if you're interested in a London summer study abroad program, I cannot recommend IES enough. I'm not getting paid in any way to say that--I just loved my time there that much.

3 Hidden Experiences in and around London

3 Hidden Experiences in and around London | CosmosMariners.com


London is, in my opinion, one of the greatest cities in the world. As Samuel Johnson said, "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life." One of the wonderful things about London is that there's always something new to see or do, another restaurant to try, another alleyway to explore.

There's this great novel by Geoff Nicholson, Bleeding London, in which one of the characters tries (and fails) to walk every street in the A to Zed. No matter how long you've lived there or how many times you've visited, London still has mysteries to discover. 

During my time in London (a decade-long love affair that includes four glorious trips and a study abroad stint), I've tried to crack some of the city's secrets. If you've seen the usual sites--Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, and the like--here are three experiences that will help you deepen your understanding of London and the surrounding area

Hidden Experiences in and Around London | CosmosMariners.com

1) The Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London. 

Pretty much everyone in the world recognizes the Tower of London; it has, after all, been around since William the Conqueror's early reign almost a millennium ago. Most people don't know about the ceremony that takes place each night as a symbolic way to secure the property. Tickets are free, but since a very small number of people are allowed each night, you'll need to book way in advance. 

Hidden Experiences in and Around London | CosmosMariners.com
Yes, I was THAT close to Stonehenge!

2) Getting up close and personal at Stonehenge. 
The first time I visited, I was disappointed. The regular visitor path keeps you from getting too close to the stones, and there wasn't much context for the site other than what you learned on the audio guide. 

However, on a more recent trip, I went on a sunset tour of the property with one of the archeologists studying Stonehenge, and whoa, what a difference the guide makes. We drove around the entire property (which is much larger than you'd think), looked at the burial grounds located across the roadway from the main site, and then got to see the stones up close (really close: I could have touched them if I hadn't been worried about toppling something over!) 

Multiple outlets offer similar expeditions, and they don't come cheap--but if you're interested in learning more about this UK landmark, it's money well spent.

Hidden Experiences in and Around London | CosmosMariners.com
Hello, all of you sad souls that stood out in the rain for three hours. I, too, know what it's like to be on the other side of the gate.

3) Changing of the Guard from behind the gates of Buckingham Palace. 

If you've ever been to London, chances are you've squeezed into the giant crowd that forms each morning to watch the Queen's guard. I had the chance to see the ceremony from a unique perspective: from inside the gates! 

While I had to stand off to one side up against the building, I had an unparalleled vantage viewpoint for the ceremony--when the Irish Guard (with their mascot, the Irish greyhound) came by, I could almost reach out and pet the dog. (N.B.: not a great idea.) This is, unfortunately, one of those events where you have to know somebody that knows somebody (as was the case when I visited--one of my travel companions knew of someone who knew Prince Philip's secretary), but I supposed you could just write the royal secretaries and beg. The worst they can do is say no!

Would you be interested in doing any of these? What lesser known attractions or experiences have you done in London?

The Caledonian Sleeper: Getting from London to Edinburgh in (Cramped) Style

The Caledonian Sleeper: Getting from Edinburgh to London in (Cramped) Style | CosmosMariners.com

When traveling between London and Edinburgh (two of the UK's best cities in my opinion!), you have a couple of transportation options: driving and flying are popular choices, but you could always go the hitchhiking or running options. I would not recommend the latter two, as the chances that you would be found in a ditch are fairly high on both.

And then there's my favorite option: the train.

The Ultimate Guide to London

The Ultimate Guide to London | CosmosMariners.com


If you're looking for the best of what the UK has to offer, you're going to want this ultimate guide to London.

As I've mentioned just a few times a million times here on the blog, I'm in love with London. My first trip was in 2003 where I fell head over heels for the city, and I headed back for a study abroad session while in college. My love runs so deep that I devoted two years of my life to studying the post-World War II novels set in London as a part of my master's thesis. 

It stands to reason, then, that I'm the first to sing the city's praises. And that's pretty easy to do because London has SO much to see and do.

Here's my ultimate guide to London, my favorite city in the world. (It will probably be yours, too, after you finish doing all of these!)

10 Great Books to Read If You Love London

10 Great Books to Read if You Love London | CosmosMariners.com

Anglophile. Bibliophile.

I've come by those titles honestly, as I received two degrees in Literature, taught English at the college level, studied abroad in London, and completed my M.A. thesis on post-World War II British novels. I know you're dying to hear more about my thesis (ha!), but we'll have to table that discussion for another post.

Sometimes I really, really miss London. But, most of the time, I can't just get on a plane and make my way to merry ol' England for a few days. Instead, I do what I do best and bury my nose in a book. These ten reads make me long for the winding alleyways, layered history, and warm pubs of my favorite city.

Greenwich

Folks, we've reached the end of the line. I've said (nearly) all I could say about my England 2012 trip with my home school students. It's been a fun way to revisit this gargantuan marathon of a trip, and I promise that I'll do better about posting about my future travels in a more timely manner. :)

We did three things in Greenwich. If you're planning a day there, let me advise you: do NOT do all three of these things in one day. You will hate yourself because you will be super rushed. Spread them out over two days. 

With that being said, onward into the Greenwich day recap!

Guildhall


With only two posts left on my England 2012 trip recap, I feel like I'm deep into territory that most tourists don't even consider. Like Andy from The Office said, "No hits. Deep tracks only!" 



I didn't mean to do it, but I kind of ended with a couple of deep tracks. They're still awesome, so you can rollerskate to your heart's content...or not. 

Getting back to Guildhall. 

Lloyd's of London: More Than I Ever Wanted to Know about Insurance

On my England 2012 trip, I ended up in Lloyd's of London with four kids. 

As anyone with any experience with children can probably guess, there was a fair bit of whining and multiple rounds of "When are we leaving?" (In their defense, we were getting ready to leave for our private tour of Stonehenge, which turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip.)

They were also more interested in riding the elevators than learning about insurance or trade risks. I can't blame them, as those elevators were pretty darn cool. 

Lloyd's of London

What to Do at Hampton Court Palace with Kids: Secret Rooms, Queen Victoria's Wardrobe, and a Tudor Maze

What to Do at Hampton Court Palace with Kids: Secret Rooms, Queen Victoria's Wardrobe, and a Tudor Maze | CosmosMariners.com


If you're visiting London with kids, you cannot miss a trip out to Molesey, where you'll find my favorite of all the Tudor palaces. Here's what to do at Hampton Court Palace with kids from the usual sites to the lesser known touring options.

London Library

Does anyone else love the smell of old books?

When we were little, my sister and I used to go to the library. It was a super small one since our town only had a couple of thousand people. Those poor books didn't get out much. 

My sister used to rummage through the children's section and smell her way to the good books (at least, according to her). She didn't care when it was made or who wrote it as long as it had the right smell. 

So much for judging a book by its cover. Clearly, whoever came up with that adage never smelled an old book.

Stratford-upon-Avon

Or, how all of my Literature dreams came true

When I traveled to London and the surrounding area in June 2012, I knew there were many things in store for a literature-loving kid like me. 

After all, I was the English/Language Arts teacher for the kids who were on the trip with me. 

When the mom and dad of the homeschool program asked me for my input on the trip, I immediately suggested a visit to Stratford-upon-Avon (and a trip to the Harry Potter Studios, but that's a post for tomorrow. Literally. I'm posting about it tomorrow!). 

Throughout the school year preceding the trip, I'd focused heavily on Shakespeare's influence on later works. We even had "Little Shakes," my stuffed William Shakespeare doll that I got from the Unemployed Philosophers' Guild. (It comes highly recommended as a teaching tool for those of you who are teachers or who homeschool.)

Now, Little Shakes was returning to his homeland. And I was making it happen!

Cambridge

Cambridge University | CosmosMariners.com

Are y'all as excited as I am about my upcoming trip? If you missed the announcement, check it out here! I'll have most posts on the planning as I get a little closer, so definitely come back...

Where were we in our London travels before I interrupted to bring you news of my upcoming travels?

Ah, yes. 

We'd just visited Stonehenge at sunset and then rested against Buckingham Palace as we watched the Changing of the Guard

What's next on our jam-packed itinerary?

We're headed out of London to a town called Cambridge that's home to a little institute of higher learning called Cambridge University. You may have heard of it.

Buckingham Palace: Changing of the Guard

As I mentioned in Friday's post, I'm revisiting a trip that I took to London and the surrounding area back when I was teaching in a homeschool program. 

Better late than never, right?! (Plus, the majority of these sites have looked the same for hundreds of years. I really doubt they've changed that significantly since the summer of 2012.)

Let's kick off the week with a behind-the-gates review of the Changing of the Guard. 

Yup, that's right. 

Stonehenge: Getting Up Close and Personal

Stonehenge: Up Close and Personal | CosmosMariners.com

Back when I was working at a homeschool program here in Charleston, I had the opportunity to head to London for three weeks with four of my students, their parents, and my fellow teacher. One of the places that we were visiting was Stonehenge, something I wasn't super excited about since I'd been twice before and had disliked just anti-climatic visiting this world-famous site was.

However, this visit surprised me and completely changed my thoughts on Stonehenge. For how that happened--and how I managed to get really up close and personal with the inner stone circle, read on!

In the program, I taught these four kids (all siblings) English/ Language Arts; that entire school year, we'd worked towards mastering some of the most important classic British literature within my capacity as a full-time English tutor. I was so excited to share one of my favorite places in the world with these children whom I'd grown incredibly close to over the course of the school year. 

A few caveats about this trip:
  • While I helped plan some of the trip, most of the tours and logistics were finalized by the parents. Until myself, they are far from budget travelers and spared no expense on this trip. It was fun to see one of my favorite places (London) from a five star travelers' perspective!
  • Whenever possible, I haven't included pictures of the kids because they aren't my kids. Just trust me when I say that I usually had four pairs of little hands clinging me to 90% of the time. 
  • I tried to take decent pictures, but between teaching on the go and supervising four kids under the age of 11, my camera work is definitely sub par. Forgive me.
As I mentioned, I'd been to Stonehenge before this trip, having visited with my roommate while I was studying abroad in London. We did the usual tourist version of Stonehenge as we walked around the stones at a distance while wearing our audio tour earphones:

Stonehenge: Getting Up Close and Personal | CosmosMariners.com
Hey, look! It's college Natalie at Stonehenge! (Don't worry--both my personal style and sunglasses have been replaced since this photo was taken.)

This visit, though, was different. 

The family decided to book a private tour with one of the archaeologists that works the site; he and a colleague drove us around the Stonehenge site in 4-wheeled-drive vehicle, giving commentary and theories as we got to different spots. 

The Stonehenge site is actually much larger than most people realize. If you're inside the tourist area (where the stones are), look back over the road to the higher ground. Where that ground peaks and has tree cover, there are several grassy burial grounds that archaeologists believe are linked to the rest of the site.

Stonehenge: Getting Up Close and Personal | CosmosMariners.com
You can't see it, but the stones of Stonehenge are just beyond the dip in the field. 

Our tour took place at dusk, and it wasn't hard to imagine people gathering around this important site thousands of years ago. 

After visiting the burial site, we headed back into the vehicles and drove over to the more recognized part of the Stonehenge site. 

Stonehenge: Getting Up Close and Personal | CosmosMariners.com
DO YOU SEE HOW CLOSE I AM!?!?

There, the guide let us right up next to the rocks, where we were treated to fun facts and theories about the cutting and moving of the rocks.

Stonehenge: Getting Up Close and Personal | CosmosMariners.com

We even saw a carving that the guide said was basically ancient graffiti--something that you'd never be able to see from where the normal tour takes you!

Stonehenge: Getting Up Close and Personal | CosmosMariners.com
I am touching Stonehenge. STONEHENGE, people! (But only with the tip of my finger very, very lightly. I don't want to be the cause of one of them falling down.)
As the sun set, there was a mysterious, almost creepy feeling that hung in the air. We were standing in the middle of the Stonehenge circle, and we watched the sun go down between these massive, ancient pillars. For once, the kids I was traveling with were quiet, seemingly aware of what a unique moment we were experiencing. 

Taking a private tour isn't anything that I'd ever considered because I'm the queen of budget travel, but the experience was definitely one that I will always remember. If you're looking for a cool way to experience one of the world's most recognized landmarks (and you're willing to shell out some cash), I'd highly recommend the sunset tour of Stonehenge.

Stonehenge: Getting Up Close and Personal | CosmosMariners.com

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Have you visited Stonehenge yet? What did you think? What's one travel experience that you're glad you splurged on?
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Sunday Strolls

New to the site?
Learn about our other adventures from the UK Extravaganza 2011: 


As our UK vacation came to a close, we wanted a little time to rest and enjoy our last moments. So, for our last day in London, Landon and I decided to wander around and just do whatever came to us...which is not too hard to do in a city as busy as London. We ended up going back to central London, and spending time in the Leicester Square/ Covent Garden area, just shopping and picking up last minute souvenirs. 

Brunch at Covent Gardens

While shopping in Leicester Square, we came upon the European premiere of Happy Feet Two, so we stood in line to see the celebs come in.

Someone's coming--everyone get ready!

It's Elijah Wood, I swear!

Check out all of our loot!

BEST. TRIP. EVER.

Pretty Antiques and Theatre Shrieks: Portobello Road Market and the West End

Portobello Road Market and West End Theatre | CosmosMariners.com

New to the site?
Learn about our other adventures from the UK Extravaganza 2011: 

Saturday mornings in London definitely require a trip to the Portobello Road Market in Notting Hill (like the movie!). It's pretty much the coolest farmers market ever--there are blocks after blocks of food, antiques, clothes and souvenirs.

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Portobello Road Market and West End Theatre | CosmosMariners.com
the view of the beginning of the market from the start of Portobello Road


Portobello Road Market and West End Theatre | CosmosMariners.com
with one of the delicious, freshly made doughnuts we got from one of the street stalls. It was as big as my face, and I ate the WHOLE thing.
After we had eaten our fill of doughnuts and after we'd bought some gorgeous sandstone owl bookends and a new wool cape for me, Landon and I tried to make the Jack the Ripper walking tour. However, the Circle Line on the Tube had other plans for us (Transport for London kept shutting down different lines for refurbishment so they'll be ready for the Olympics next summer) and we couldn't get to the meeting area for the tour. 

So! We rallied and decided to head to my old home-away-from-home in Chelsea. I was so excited to see my old residence hall from my study abroad program back in 2005 (it's the big, tall building on the middle/ right side of the picture below):

Portobello Road Market and West End Theatre | CosmosMariners.com

We cruised King's Road and ducked into the Waterstone's there for a few books by my favorite British authors, then walked to Knightsbridge (it's quite a trek, but we had our trekking boots on). 

Next stop: Harrod's!

Daniel Radcliffe's Hogwarts uniforms from Harry Potter (part of the Harry Potter store inside Harrod's)

To finish off our crazy-busy, but super awesome day, we got all gussied up (as my grandmother said) and headed out to see The Woman in Black in the West End.
Check out my new cape!

Dinner was at Wagamama's in Leicester Square (another must-eat in London!), and then we hurried to the Fortune Theatre for the show. 

The Woman in Black is about a retired lawyer who feels the need to recount what happened to him in his youth. As a new lawyer, he is sent by his firm to deal with the estate of a reclusive old woman. On his trip, he finds that the townspeople don't like to talk about Eel Marsh House and what happened there. The lawyer dismisses the stories as just that, but ultimately, he discovers the truth about the woman in black. The play is based on a book, and now, a movie based on the play (starring Daniel Radcliffe) is coming to theatres soon. I will definitely go see the movie...though I'll be peeping through my fingers in several spots!

Portobello Road Market and West End Theatre | CosmosMariners.com


I knew the play was supposed to be scary, but I don't know how a play could actually pull that off. I was so wrong! I jumped, screamed and generally had the BEST time. And to top it all off, only two actors carried the entire play. It was one of those plays where everything--the stage lights, the acting, the mood, the dialogue--to create this one awesome experience. I love when that happens! Check it out if you're in London--it's the second longest running play on the West End, so it should be there for a while.

What's your favorite thing to do in London? What West End plays have you seen?

London Calling


New to the site?
Learn about our other adventures from the UK Extravaganza 2011: 

I was personally very excited about the last leg of our trip, which included a few days in London. I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad in London several years ago, and this was the first chance I'd had to return to my favorite city in the entire world!

On our first day in London, we headed to two of London's most popular attractions: the Tower of London and the British Museum.
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The Tower of London:


The British Museum:



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High tea? Yes, please! 

There are few things in life that I love more than a pot of English Breakfast tea, some warm scones, strawberry jam and clotted cream. And if you're ever in London, you should definitely take in the afternoon tea at the British Museum--it's about half the cost of the Ritz, but has just as much ambiance (and it helps that the food is also crazy delicious!). 

My study abroad school, in the heart of Bloomsbury. I loved being able to wander around the British Museum in between classes! It was so weird to go back there--so much has happened in my life since 2005, but everything looked exactly the same.

7/7 Bombings

Hands down, the scariest moment I've had abroad was being in London on a bus the moment that another bus and a subway train was bombed on July 7, 2005.

I actually should have been on the Picadilly line--the one that got bombed--but I had a field trip that day, and so, took the bus that morning. I knew something was wrong when people kept pouring onto the bus--it seemed so much busier than normal morning rush hour. I was almost to my destination, Trafalgar Square, when a woman comes running down from the second story of the double-decker bus yelling, "There's a bomb on a bus!" She was so scared that she wrenched open the doors to the bus while the bus was still moving. Luckily, it was approaching our stop, so she didn't get hurt.

Everyone quickly got off of the bus. As soon as I stood on the pavement, I head sirens. So many sirens. I haven't ever heard that many sirens in my life--and I hope I never do again. They seemed like they went on and on and on for hours that day. That's one of the most vivid things I remember.

I met my teacher at the foot of the National Gallery--there were only 6 of the 8 students in my class, and she didn't have any cell phone service. We were all scared because no one knew what had happened yet. The National Gallery closed, so we headed just across the street to the Crypt Cafe at St.-Martin's-in-the-Fields Church. My teacher bought us hot cocoa to calm us down while she tried to get anyone from the school on the phone.

Finally, she got through to another teacher, who took my class over from Julie, my teacher. She had to walk for miles and miles to get home to her family because all of the public transportation had been shut down. My teacher led us from central London, past Buckingham Palace, through Belgravia to our resident hall in Chelsea. It seemed like we walked for days, but it really wasn't more than two hours or so. The other teacher tried to keep us moving, and didn't want us to get distracted by tv or radio, so we still were unsure about exactly what had happened. Everyone we walked past was panicking, running all over, so we knew, whatever it was, was very, very bad.

By the time I got back to the residence hall, it was 2:30 in the afternoon--I'd left for school around 8 AM. My roommate had called my parents when the bombings happened (around 9 AM UK time, 4 AM US time), so they were completely panicked by the time I was able to call them. Turns out, the American Embassy had called them to let them know I was missing for those 7 hours. I cannot even imagine getting that call as a parent.

Luckily, everyone in my school was safe and sound; some of them had gotten stuck on the subway, and others had been asked to stay in the school building until the buildings around the bus bombings had been searched.

Not everyone was lucky. Over 50 Londoners lost their lives that day--many on a double decker bus near Russel Square and others on a Picadilly line subway. Over 700 others were injured in the bombings.



I hope I never have to go through anything like that again.