I arrived in London on the evening of June 17th. This having been my third time in flying into Heathrow International, the return was comfortingly familiar. I exhaled joy when I made it through the border and consciously strolled to the Underground, emphasis on strolled, because I was ready for the change of pace that Europe always offers. I got on the Piccadilly Line toward Borough, my final destination, and smiled when I heard the British operator announce, “This is the Piccadilly Line toward Cockfosters, please mind the gap.” The chuckle of a clear novice London traveler made me reflect back on my first time catching the Underground from the airport just 6 months earlier. “I remember when I had my first beer,” I smirked.
I arrived at Borough station and walked nostalgically toward Shrabani’s flat. Shrabani is my amazing friend who I would be spending the week with. I studied abroad with her in Cardiff, Wales just to be captivated by her kindness, generosity, work ethic, and her positive outlook on life. Cardiff was actually her second time studying abroad, so she helped me a lot in my transition being a pro traveler at the time.
Anyhow, I was scheduled to be spending this week before Prague with this phenomenal woman, and she was nothing short of a wonderful host and supporting friend: she cooked me amazing meals, showed me many tourist sights which I had not seen on prior visits to London, introduced me to her friends and favorite clubs, had heart to hearts with me and gave great advice, encouraged me to follow my dreams and gave me ideas aiding my future goals, while simultaneously working on her dissertation for her Master’s Degree at the London School of Economics and applying for jobs. If that doesn’t prove how exceptionally multifaceted she is, I will send you her resume (which I asked to read).
Aside from spending time with Bani, who was also a Peer Counselor for the Center for International Programs (CIP) and is featured on the CIP website, some of the highlights of my trip were the sights.
First, was the Tower Bridge, which I had always called the London Bridge, but it turns out the London Bridge is just a plain Bridge right next to the infamous Tower Bridge and is really only good for giving a great view of the Tower Bridge, the real star. This was great information to learn since I had known it as the London Bridge all my life (as do most people). It was breath taking, really. The lights, the architecture, the history… it was magical. Bani and I arrived around sunset as well, thus adding to my enamor. We walked across, back, found a loo, then sat on lawn with a side view of the bridge and enjoyed some ciders and the view. We watched people pass and made up possible stories for who they were, where they were going. The London rain and chill was the only reason to ever leave.
Next, was a double whammy! The Leake Street Tunnel and the London Eye… like what!? Okay, so the Leake Street Tunnel was something a New Paltz professor had mentioned at the Take Back the Night event on campus this past May. She had mentioned graffiti art and how feminist activists often tag there, but I was sold at graffiti art in a tunnel. I told Shrabani I wanted to go and she made it happen. It was so awesome! So diverse, creative, and raw were most of the works. And what was even cooler was that I saw three artists in progress. Next time I make a trip to London, I might tag something on the wall too, even if only a poem.
So after 30 minutes of walking through this tunnel and taking pictures, being inspired, we walked a bit, turned two corners and BAM: The London Freaking Eye! “Holy cow, OMG, WTF” and all the other cliché American phrases was all I thought as my chin dragged across the ground. I don’t know if it was the sudden, unexpectedness of it or its utter beauty, but I was floored. Wow! I had seen it when flying into London just like the Tower Bridge, but geez I didn’t think seeing it up close would be so profound.
View of the London Eye from where Bani and I sat.
Bani and I set up shop in the Southbank Center right next to the Eye, which was also hosting a university graduation. She transcribed interviews while I read The Color Purple; it was perfect. We eventually took lunch outside where we found a bench with an epic view of the Eye, thus we continued our work outdoors.
Another highlight was all of the food experiences, whether prepared by Shrabani or at a restaurant. Also, this cool restaurant and nightclub Bar Salsa which offered both Bachata and Salsa lessons. Studying and reading was another highlight of the week. Bani is an exceptional study partner and motivator. Ugh, it was amazing; a great layover before my trip to Prague.