I am sitting right now in my kitchen, back at home in Illinois. It all seems quite surreal. Five weeks ago, I left on a plane for England, and now the whole adventure has come to an end. Even though I felt ready to return to see my friends, family, and my little beastly dog, leaving was a lot harder for me than I was anticipating.
Alright, alright, enough of this sappy business and on to all the fun we had in London for our very last weekend!
Starting off on Friday, the afternoon wasn’t too eventful- we just wandered around, got some food, checked into our hotels, and made a game plan for the night. A bunch of us wanted to go to the Evensong service at Westminster Abbey, so we figured out how to take the underground tube system to get there. For anyone who has taken the tube, I’m proud to say I successfully minded the gap!
The church was incredible. As with all the churches, cathedrals, and abbeys that I saw on this trip, the architecture was so impressive. The cathedral ceiling seemed to be miles high, and everything was full of intricate detail. I was amazed even before the service began.
I had never been to a traditional Anglican church, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. It was so different than the more contemporary churches I belong to at home and in Charleston, but it was really beautiful. The chorus that sang the hymns was amazing, I really could have sat there and listened to them harmonize all day. My favorite part of the service was the Anthem that they sang, written by John Donne (1573-1631)
“Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening into the house and gate of heaven, to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness, nor dazzling but one equal light, no noise nor silence, but one equal music, no fears nor hopes but one equal possession, no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity, in the habitation of thy glory and dominion, world without end. Amen.”
The abbey also had this engraved in one of the stones on the outside. I really loved it.
After the service, we were all pretty hungry, so we walked around the city in search of a warm, hearty meal. We ended up at a place called Spaghetti House. I ordered their two-course meal, with delicious bruschetta and a salad full of all my favorite things. It sure hit the spot!
While we wandered around after eating, we ended up at the National Gallery, and went in for a quick 30-minute run-through before it closed. We were already planning on going the next day, so we just got a little head start. Once it closed, we ended up walking through Leicester Square, and getting some Ben & Jerry’s for dessert before making our way back to our hotel for the night.
The next morning, we got up bright and early to get breakfast right when it opened, so we could get out and start our day in the city. Our main plan was to head back to the National Gallery, but since it didn’t open until 10, we spent the morning getting a little last-minute souvenir shopping in. We got to the gallery just a few minutes before 10, so we sat outside on the fountain in Tragalgar Square, taking pictures and people-watching. But once those doors opened, we made our way in and scattered, each taking our time looking at and admiring all the paintings.
After studying the ideas of picturesque, it was really cool to roam through the galleries and see some of the examples that we had talked about in class. One that I was really excited to see was The Hay Worth, a painting by John Constable.
Right on schedule, we met up outside the gallery, went and grabbed some lunch, and started heading over towards The Globe, where we had to meet at for our play at 1:30. It was a beautiful afternoon to walk along the river, and of course to stop for something delicious. Anna couldn’t resist the smell of these roasted peanuts being sold by a street vendor, and bought some as a treat for us all.
We had about an hour to kill before the play, so we stopped in to check out the Tate Modern art galleries. You know, I have always had a special appreciation for art and love admiring great paintings, photographs, and sculptures, but I have to admit, the “abstract-ness” of 99% of the pieces in the Tate were a bit too much for me, meaning I don’t understand how a plain canvas or a tangled mass of ropes hanging from the ceiling can be considered art. I guess it’s just my own artistic ignorance.
After getting lost somewhere in the maze of the fourth floor galleries, I finally found my way to our meeting place. Poor Helen nearly had a nervous breakdown because I was late. But we all made it out, and walked over to The Globe to get in line for the show. Since it was so brilliantly sunny out, we were given these fashionable sun hats to wear. We were all pretty excited about them.
I have to say, after all the amazing things I did and saw the past five weeks in England, I think seeing Midsummer Night’s Dream was the perfect way to end the trip. The cast was so amazing, and I was laughing throughout the entire thing. I had never seen Shakespeare performed, so this was a totally new experience for me, and now that I’m home, I’ve already started looking into getting tickets for the Shakespeare Theater in Chicago. The only bummer of the event was that it got super hot when the sun started beating down on me, and my legs sure felt it after standing for the 3 hour performance. But hey, at least we can say we got an authentic peasant experience at the Globe.
After the show, our whole class went over to the pub next door, The Swan, to hang out and have some drinks. As we say there, we started seeing some of the actors and actresses coming in for a drink after their performance. It was cool to see them out of character and in normal street clothes.
Soon, my stomach started to grumble, so Helen and I headed out to make our way back to one of our favorite restaurants in London, Burgers & Cocktails! I honor of our return, I stuck with my first meal there and was a repeat offender of “The Matador” burger. It was even better than I remembered! Juicy burgers and a mound of sweet potato fries make this girl one happy camper!
This last night was such a great way to finish out our time in England. Helen and I walked around, finding our way back to Leicester Square. As we sat in the grass, we made up the life stories of all the people and couples that passed by. At some point, the “well, what should we do now?” question was asked, meaning “so, are you ready for ice cream yet?” We we walked over to B&J’s, and enjoyed our ice cream while remembering back to all the fun times we had on this trip. I am so thankful that I had this girl to share this whole adventure with. I couldn’t have asked for a better roommate, sanity-keeper, encourager, travel buddy, and friend.
The next morning, we all headed down to the hotel lobby with our bags, said our final goodbyes to our professors, and drove off in the coach to Heathrow. I wasn’t anticipating getting emotional about it, but as we rolled away, I couldn’t help the tears from falling down my face. It didn’t feel real, I couldn’t believe that we were actually leaving.
Now that I am home, I am really enjoying looking back through all the pictures and thinking about how much I truly enjoyed this trip. It pushed me out of my comfort zone, allowed me to explore an entirely new part of the world, brought me to meet a ton of new people, gave me an incredible experience in my education, and taught me a lot about myself. A quick shout out of thanks goes to Dr. Hanlon & Dr. McGregor, our amazing professors who dealt with all of us for the past five weeks. I speak for all of the students in saying that this trip would not have been nearly as incredible if we had been led by anyone else. I already miss them both, and their spunky daughter, Tilda, who we all absolutely adored.
For anyone who has ever considered making studying abroad part of their college experience, I cannot encourage you enough to go for it. I promise, you won’t regret it. It will go by way too quickly, you will see and do amazing things that you would never imagine possible, and you will come back changed for the better. For me, it’s been so hard to admit that it is over, that I don’t get to wake up in a manor house every morning and get to hike through the English countryside after class, but I know that I still have a full summer to enjoy before heading back for another year at EIU!
Thanks to all the students who made traveling through England so wonderful, to all my friends and family who supported me and followed my journey on through this blog, and thanks to the study abroad office at EIU for making all of this possible. And a final thank you to God, who blessed me with this amazing experience that allowed me to grow in so many ways.
And with that I say, cheerio.