I traveled to London after leaving Austria to spend a few days with my friend Harmony, who is currently living there attending graduate school. Considering the fact that the last time I was in London I had a mild panic attack, had a stranger pass out and fall into my arms, and ended up having to be rescued by three Afghani men before spending the evening riding the tube home with people throwing up all around me (yay, New Years Eve!), I figured things could only go up from there. And after a frustrating attempt to get home from the airport that ended up taking longer than the flight, I began a seriously amazing week.
I saw pretty much all of the touristy things you can see in London — Buckingham Palace, Big Ben & the Houses of Parliament, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (we stood in the commoners section & saw part of a show!), Harrods & Oxford Street, Sherlock Holmes’ house & restaurant, and Tate Modern. Harmony and I went on a Harry Potter tour and felt like big nerds until we met the other people on the tour, who take that term to a whole new level. Watching a bride & groom taking their wedding photos at King’s Cross Platform 9 3/4 was perhaps my favorite moment of the trip.
One of the best things about visiting a city with a friend who lives there is that they know all the local spots to go, many of which would never be in a guidebook. Harmony took me to some amazing restaurants and coffee shops, markets and cool neighborhoods. Borough Market, with its open air food stands and celebrity sightings (we saw Eddie Redmayne & stalked him) was one of my favorites, as was the Spitalfields area, Greenwich, Columbia Road flower market, and of course, picturesque & quaint Notting Hill. We ate fish & chips, saw people coming out of an event at Buckingham wearing top hats & fascinators, and rode the double decker bus with a drunk man who used ‘God Save the Queen!’ as a cuss word replacement when he fell down, so I’d say we had the quintessential British experience.
We took a short train trip to Oxford one day, and it was just as beautiful as I imagined it would be. Gothic architecture, picturesque ivy covered stone buildings & lush green courtyards, years of history and a huge cultural impact on the world. I loved everything about it. We saw the beautiful Christ Church College & Courtyard (the birthplace of Alice in Wonderland), Bodleian Library & Radcliffe Camera. Merton College, where Tolkien wrote Lord of the Rings, is said to have the highest grades + highest expulsion rate of the university, which no doubt breeds geniuses like Tolkien. All Souls College, the most prestigious of the bunch, is said to have the hardest entrance examination in the world, where students are given one word and are asked to write an essay about that word. Our guide told us one student got the word ‘the.’ Another got the word ‘bravery,’ and in the spirit of his assignment, wrote simply ‘This is bravery!’ before handing it in. He didn’t get in.
The accents in Oxford were incredibly dreamy, which I was informed had more to do with social class & education than location. I had learned in the previous days that not all British accents are created equal, and some are actually quite terrible. Oxford was actually quite small, with the University dominating the city, but it was charming beyond words. A change of pace from the hustle & bustle of London — a city where one can find anything the heart desires. As Samuel Johnson once said:
‘When a man is tired of London, he’s tired of life.’