Fortress Europa: Day 2 (London)

Day 2 proved eventful and jam-packed, starting early with a meager breakfast in the hostel cafeteria. They served cereal (sans sugar) and bread a.k.a. toast, with peanut butter and jams. A nice breakfast, but sparse considering the day we had ahead of us.

We set off early for St. John’s Cathedral, an Anglican church famous for its longevity and the fact that it alone survived a Blitz raid of the area in 1940. All the surrounding buildings collapsed while St. John’s remained standing and almost wholly intact. We visited and saw the beautiful Romanesque church, and–since it was an old church–it had to have a crypt of famous dead people in the basement. Included in the death party were the likes of: Admiral Horation Nelson, Christopher Wrenn, and Duke Wellington. The church was in a state of repair because the Dalai Lama planned to visit next week for the London Jubilee, an annual event corresponding (conveniently) for the Olympics, as they hope to cash in on tourists.

The tour lasted three hours, and after the group splintered for lunch, and I went to Apostrophe where I ate a delicious vegetarian sandwich and a pear and chocolate tart. Following that we ventured to a boulangerie for the rest of the party to buy scones, then boarded the metro to head to the Imperial War Museum.

The Imperial War Museum attempts to show Britain’s colonial involvement and military conflicts over the past century, with a heavy emphasis on World War II and the Holocaust, as it serves as Britain’s only official Holocaust museum. Taking pictures was disallowed in most of the interesting areas, so I only got a few snapshots of some planes and historically significant tanks in the main gallery. I spent most of my time in the Holocaust and World War II sections, and I spent the rest of my time considering the fact that England has been involved in a conflict every year since 1855. Not good.

The museum was great, and my group  of around 8 spent around three hours there before returning to the hostel. After the long metro ride and walk to the hostel, all the guys fell asleep for about an hour, as everyone knows museum-viewing is inexplicably tiring. We awoke and went to an Indian restaurant to celebrate Andrew’s 20th birthday and has a fantastic time until the check arrived.

The waiter duped us in traditional foreigner fashion, inviting us to eat items we assumed free that actually cost many pounds. Long story short–and I mean long story (we settled the check for around an hour)–everyone paid close to $40 minimum, and Andy in particular ended up covering the loose ends with a gratuitous payment of around 50 pounds ($100).

Everyone seethed quite a bit following the dinner, which was a shame because the food was marvelous and the conversations were hilarious. We went to a pub nearby and everyone drank to forget the injustice done to us. Fun fact: I ended up paying around 22 pounds, the equivalent of $44  for a nice, but supposedly cheap meal of Indian food.

The bar proved cathartic and everyone had fun during the night and we forgot our suffering. We’ve trekked back to the hostel and need to wake up early to board the Eurostar and head to Normandy. Tomorrow will be a day mostly of traveling, which I welcome as a day to read and relax after two days of no free-time or relaxation.

Overall, a fantastic day and I was pleased to visit St. John’s especially, the newer, Anglican version of the Vatican. Tomorrow we see Monet’s famous gardens, which made many a cameo in his paintings, and we will arrive in France! the place I look forward to the most.

Bad picture of St. John’s Cathedral
From the top of St. Paul’s
St. Paul’s
Imperial War Museum
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Fortress Europa: Day 2 (London)

And Off We Go

I leave in 2 hours for London, where I will rendezvous with the rest of the Normandy Scholars. I packed my bags: one large luggage bag, one small duffel bag for carry-on, and my backpack full of books and my laptop. I brought my laptop so I can blog while I am abroad, and my father even lent me the family camera with which to capture my European travels. People asked me many times before today: “Are you excited?” and I would tell them “Not yet.” Excitement, at that point, could not penetrate the myriad of thoughts in my head. I worried about school work, errands to run, good-byes to deliver, and clothes to wash. I think that before right now, I had always obscured the upcoming trip by pushing some trivial thought up to my head, the attempts of my brain to calm myself. With excitement comes nervousness, and now I certainly am nervous. Many things can wrong while I travel, but no real reason to worry exists. At most, I will be gone for around a month, and my family joins me at the end of the month. I spend more time away from my family during college.

A feeling of gratitude overwhelms me, as I do not think I deserve this trip. Not that I did not work hard during the school year–I did–but that there is no way for me to earn such a trip. I won scholarship and saved money and plan to be frugal, but my trip certainly costs a lot of money. Besides that though, I think how lucky I am I get to do this. My parents never studied abroad, most of the world never will have an experience like mine, and many of my friends who are loads smarter than me do not have the time or money to do what I can. In so many ways, the trip blesses me and I do not deserve it. For that reason and others, I plan on squeezing as much out of it as I can.

As I told Katlin last night, I refuse to reflect upon my semester until after I return from this trip, seeing as how it and my semester interconnect. I will learn more about my 19 fellow Normans than I know about most of my other friends, seeing as how I have never traveled across a continent with many of my friends. Of course, I will see many beautiful sights, the highlights being: (London) St. John’s, Churchill’s War Museum, (Normandy) the beach, Normandy graveyards and museums, Monet’s Gardens, (Paris) restaurants, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Arc d’Triumph, the Louvre, (Berlin) Brandenburg Gate, Concentration camps, Jewish memorials, the Reichstag, and the Berlin Wall.

The food I will get to eat also excites me! I decided to break vegetarianism slightly, as I do not want to miss out on several classics that I may never get to eat again. Some of the meats I promised myself I will eat: fish and chips, sausage in Germany, and some sort of fancy French meat. I will probably eat meat two times a week or so, I will not go overboard, but I decided that I would regret missing these opportunities more than I would be mad about eating a little meat. I will also try some of the alcohol, seeing as how the drinking age is 18 across Europe. I won’t drink much, as drinking is not something I do typically. However, the same rule applies to drink as with food: I do not want to miss out on these parts of the experience. I will drink Guinness and ale in Britain, wine in France, and beer in Germany. Not much, but something with dinner to give me a taste of the country. Especially in France, the food prospects make me giddy. I want to visit boulangeries, patisseries, fromageries, chocolate specialty stores, and definitely a farmers market. Going anywhere in the summer bodes well for vegetarians, as the produce will be abundant and in good quality. I will take pictures, have no fear.

So, the time arrives for me to leave as my mom waits to take me to the airport. My next post will most likely be live from London, unless I take a funny picture while traveling and decide it’s blog-worthy.

Au-revoi!

London!
And Off We Go