Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Capital

The good old phrase, 'time flies when you're having fun,' is no joke. It's been a bit over a week now since my 3 week spring break began and I can't seem to figure out where the time has gone. Two Fridays ago, I hopped on a train beginning one of the most anticipated trips of my life and there was no better place to kick it off than in the great capital city of London. 

Red phone booths, double-deckers, and mail posts painted the streets, reflecting in bright ribbons of color on the rain-coated streets; mini taxis splashed by, soaking pant legs and drenching shoes; and busy crowds pushed past, bumping and shoving their way towards the underground railway. Like moles, we sped through tunnels, popping up 15 miles away to find that the sun was still hiding and the rain was still fallingthe intricate system sends tubes flying in every direction, reaching every corner of London.

Walking down the streets lined with elegantly, carved marble buildings and colored doors, statues and museums, I found it impossible to hold in my squeals. Our first stop, the National Portrait Gallery. On the balcony of the great marble building, we looked off into the rainy haze where the London Eye and Big Ben stood tall above the cityinterestingly, the bell inside the tower is named Big Ben, not the tower itself. All around towered 5-star hotels, fancy restaurants, and inside this great gallery, Van Gogh's and Rembrandt's hung casually as if not a big deal.

London is a huge city, very different coming from the small charming streets of York, but I picked up the tube quickly, learning what signs to look for and what trains to hop on and off of. (Interesting fact: the city of London is only a square mile, while Greater London consists of several surrounding districts such as Paddington and Westminster). Initially, the tube was overwhelmingthe map is a spiderweb, each station connecting with different linesbut I quickly got the hang of it and began to look past the frigid wind tunnels, pushy crowds, and sardine-like tube-cars to appreciate its intricate efficiency.

     "Mind the gap."

From Friday to Friday, the days were packed with fantastic tours and museums, including St. Paul's Cathedral and the British Museum where the Rosetta Stone is displayed. But the highlights were Westminster Abbey and the Windsor Castle.

Westminster Abbey, though a church, is practically a cemetery as it holds nearly 400 bodies of important British Kings and Queens, and lords and soldiers, including the famous unknown soldier who died in honor of his country. Queen Mary of Scots, Elizabeth 1, and even King Henry the Vlll are buried inside the church. Towering tall, the building looms over like a shadow of the pasthundreds of funerals, weddings, and coronations of some of England's greatest historical figures were held within these walls. For years, I read about England's Kings and Queens in history books, but to walk on the same floor as them and stand in the presence of the ancient coronation chair was unreal. I had to remind myself I was in a church, not a museum.

Windsor Castle is just fantastic. A great big fortress on a hill, overlooking the city. First built by William the Conqueror, the castle has many Norman characteristics such as the man-made mound the central fortress stands upon. Approaching from a train, the castle appeared from behind a cluster of trees, its powerful fortress standing tall over the small town of Windsor and casting shadows across the green gardens. Oohs and Aaaahs filled the train car. Within the castle, each room was elegantly decorated with gold trimmings, and marble carvings, and great hallways were filled with massive portraits or knight crests; dinning halls were full of antique cabinets, ceilings were painted with masterpieces, and the walls were covered in extravagantly original wallpaper. From the beginning, I fell in love with the castle, but as if it wasn't enough, Her Majesty the queen was IN RESIDENCE.

She invited us to dinner in her fancy dinning hall, no big deal. We're practically best friends now. (Too bad this is a lie).

For the first half of the week, all 25 of us Calvin students traveled together. The stress of getting through the Tube ticket slots was enough, but the unbelievable task was squeezing everyone on the train within 30 seconds. People were smashing their way in,  screaming "GO GO GO," and prying open the closing doorsa few friends had their backpacks closed on, having to yank them through the gap. Madness. Sheer madness. It was miracle we all made it to the same stations in the end.

But the second half of the week, my parents flew in! And so the journey took a sharp turn from the rough hostel life to the comforts of a Marriotafter two nights sleeping on the top bunk of a bed stacked 3 high on a mattress made of sticks and stones in a room with an 18-year-old Italian named Ricardo and a Chinese family who hardly spoke English, the simple task of a footman opening the door for me was a luxury. 

Having not showered in 2 days and wearing the same outfit I slept in the night before, I felt completely out of place when the concierge escorted me to the executive lounge. "You can wait in here for you parents," she said, opening a door to a room full of couches and tables lined with foodcheeses, meats, croissantsa coffee maker that made lattes, cappuccinos and espressos, and a refrigerator full of expensive bottled drinks. I felt like a queen. 

Then my parents walked into the lounge, sparkly eyed and smiley. Their sweet embrace was everything I needed. And so we began the great journey across Europe!

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