Happy (belated) Easter everyone! I hope you all had a great holiday. Although it was my first Easter spent away from home, I had a busy and entertaining weekend in London. I did not have class from Friday-Monday, and since I’m done for the week at noon on Thursdays I had quite a chunk of time without classes. Unfortunately, the weekend was extremely cold and I was informed later that we have been in the midst of “the coldest March in London since 1962.” Despite the cold, we explored the city a lot and I crossed several items off my “London to-do list.”
After class on Thursday I headed with my friend Emily to Liberty, which I can now deem my favorite department store in London. We explored the sections of fancy stationary, cute London-themed cards and household decorations, bath items, garden accessories, and various other areas of interest. After Liberty, we ventured over to Hamley’s, London’s giant toy store. Although I was not looking for toys for myself, I was curious to see this famous London landmark. Unfortunately, we decided to go on the Thursday before Easter, and the store was packed with wailing children, stressed parents, and overall chaos. However, it was still interesting to see the store, and I enjoyed the lego-royal family and all the extravagant toys the store had to offer.
The next day, Emily and I headed to Brighton for a day trip on the train. Brighton is a coastal town in England famous for its pier, pebble beach, and beautiful buildings such as the Royal Pavilion. Despite the wind and cold, we had a great day exploring the beach and the surrounding town. The town was covered with little shops, a food market, and charming parks; we enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere and the opportunity to see another part of England. We had fish n’ chips for lunch at a seaside restaurant and talked to some of the locals in the shops, causing us to enjoy the English-feeling of the town.
After taking the train home from Brighton, we toured Parliament on Saturday and visited platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross station (the platform featured in Harry Potter). Parliament was incredible – the building has been used for hundreds of years, and while the House of Commons is relatively unadorned and simple, the House of Lords and its adjacent rooms are incredibly ornate. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and we learned a lot about both the history of the building and the operation of Parliament. We also visited some of the more superfluous rooms, such as the golden, statue-littered lobby and the Queen’s robing room, which is used once of the year when the Queen delivers Britain’s version of the state of the union address. We also were able to see Big Ben from close range and examine the outside of the building more clearly, so overall the experience was great for my political science side.
At King’s Cross station we found platform 9 ¾ almost right away. After taking the tube from Westminster station, we walked into King’s Cross and immediately saw a huge line next to the small platform along the wall. Once we explored further, we found that the line was for platform 9 ¾ and people were being ushered through the line to take pictures. They had props set up, including a Gryffindor scarf and the Hogwart’s cart with an owl cage with which to take pictures.
After showing some visitors one of our favorite bars, the Monarch, on Saturday night, I attended a church service on Easter Sunday at St. Paul’s cathedral. As I’d visited before on a field trip I knew it was beautiful, but seeing the masses of people and the incredible organ playing was a moving experience. Afterwards I visited the National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery, two of the renowned art museums in London. At the National Portrait Gallery I saw many amazing portraits, but my favorite was the one of Kate Middleton. Although the rumors of the portrait making Kate appear old were partly true, I still thought it was an accurate representation and it still captured her beauty. At the National Gallery I had to fight the crowds to see the paintings, but I saw some incredible Monets, Renoirs, Rembrandts, a Michelangelo, and other famous paintings for free. After paying exorbitant amounts to see Van Goghs and Rembrandts in Amsterdam, I really appreciated London’s system of donation-only museums.
Once we were finished with the museums, we traveled to Hammersmith Bridge to see the famous Oxford-Cambridge boat race. The most important college sporting event in London, people lined the Thames with flags, t shirts, and signs in order to cheer for their favorite teams. Although we did not know much about either team, the crew race was entertaining and we loved experiencing the excitement radiating off the British fans.
The next day we attempted to visit London’s Natural History museum, which is supposed to be a trip worth taking. Unfortunately, the Easter crowds were still out in full force and we were deterred by the extremely long lines. After awhile of standing in the midst of flurries with little progress, we decided to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum across the street to see the exhibits I hadn’t seen before. Although this was crowded as well, the crowds were less overwhelming and there was no line to enter. The third floor, which was closed the last time I visited but contains the jewelry and theatre exhibits, was interesting and led to a culture-filled day in London.
On Tuesday I began the regular grind, rushing to finish my schoolwork and ready myself for Paris over the span of two days. I saw a play on Wednesday night with my theatre class based on two Chekov short stories that was enjoyable and had a beautiful set. Although my favorite play was the one I saw the week before, Paper Dolls (the story of five Filipino drag queens in Israel), the night was enjoyable and relaxing after two days of packing and frantically finishing homework.
At 5 am Thursday morning I headed to the train station with four of my friends from school. Psyched to be taking the train rather than going through the hassle of airports, we felt as if the two and a half hour trip to Paris was a walk in the park. I napped for almost the whole trip, and when we stepped off the train, onto the Parisian metro system, and walked off to see the Louvre, I was excited and refreshed.
Once we walked into the courtyard in front of the Louvre, we were amazed by the faint sight of the Eiffel Tower in the background, the glass triangles that were the entrance to the Louvre, the stone fountains, and the elaborate façade of the Louvre directly in front of us. Being classic tourists, we took a great deal of pictures in front of the courtyard. Our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower was absolutely breathtaking – I’ll talk about the tower later. We also made sure to take pictures of John Cena, the action figure that I’d taken with me at the request of Ben, my boyfriend. Although he only got John Cena for Christmas, he took a few funny pictures with him and asked me to bring him on my trip to Paris. My friends and I had a lot of fun taking his picture throughout the weekend with various monuments – some of our best were John Cena kicking over the Eiffel Tower, John Cena on top of the glass pyramids in front of the Louvre, John Cena doing a handstand in front of the Arc de Triomphe, and John Cena holding a passport.
After arriving at the Louvre, we visited Venus de Milo, the winged angel, and one of the most famous paintings in the world, the Mona Lisa. Although the crowds were overwhelming and the Mona Lisa had a huge crowd in front, the art was beautiful and I understood why the Louvre has obtained the reputation it now holds.
Next, we found our hotel and went out for dinner at a French restaurant. My favorite part was the French onion soup, which has always been one of my favorites and felt authentically French. We ate near Notre Dame and were excited to see the elaborate front of the cathedral at night. Eventually we went back to the hotel to meet our three other friends who were arriving on a later train. Exhausted from our day, we fell asleep and readied ourselves for the busy day ahead.
Bright and early the next morning we hopped on the metro, bought train tickets, and arrived about forty-five minute later in Versailles. An area outside Paris proper, Versailles was the lavish palace built by Louis XIV in the 17th century. The building was gold-encrusted, and the rooms inside were no less extravagant. Again, the crowds were intensely thick, but the building was interesting to see and was beautiful in its extravagance. My favorite room was the Hall of Mirrors, which had seventeen full-length mirrors across from seventeen full-length windows, making the room seem extraordinarily airy and light. After leaving the palace we wandered around the gardens, which were covered in topiaries, daffodils, and trees that had not yet bloomed but had leaf buds that looked as if they were soon to open. The cold wind was chilling us to the bone, but we enjoyed the gardens and I wished I had been able to see them in full bloom.
Next, we headed back to Paris, bought crepes (I got a nutella and banana one), and got in line to go up the Eiffel Tower. Up close, the wire, manmade structure was beautiful and looked exactly as I had imagined it. After taking pictures and reveling in the sight of the Eiffel Tower up close, we arrived at the front of the elevator line. An adventure in itself due to the slanted angle of the tower and the tiny escalator, we took the elevator up to the second level of the Eiffel Tower in a matter of minutes. The view of the city was incredible; I could see the Arc de Triomphe, a sparkling gold domed building, the top of Notre Dame, and sprawling buildings reaching far into the distance. The wind was howling, but we ignored our physical discomfort to appreciate the amazing sight in front of us. After standing on the top of the second level, we took the elevator up to the third, and top, level of the Eiffel Tower. Fortunately, the top level was enclosed by glass in order to prevent the wind from becoming too severe. The third level of the Eiffel Tower had extra exhibits, such as a map of different cities around the world and the distances to them. As I saw cities such as New York and Washington that were thousands of miles away I felt very far from home, but the signs were cool and gave me a sense of where I was located in the world. The sights from the top of the tower were even more breathtaking, and after coming down we all felt empowered and in love with the Eiffel Tower. After looking in a gift shop at the bottom my friend Kim was almost pickpocketed, but luckily she looked down at her purse in time and we were able to save the situation.
Afterwards, we found a restaurant for dinner after much price-checking, ate a quick meal, and headed to the Arc de Triomphe. An arch in the center of the city, the Arc du Triomphe is the meeting point of several (maybe six?) major Parisian roads, including the Champs-Elysees. After walking the 200-odd steps to the top, we waited at the top while watching the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower “sparkles” every hour with hundreds of white lights that are attached. Although the tower is lit up for the entirety of the night, it was amazing to see special lightshow at 10 p.m. sharp. We cheered as the lights began and our excitement never wavered for the five minute duration of the flashing lights.
The next day, we woke up and visited the Musee D’Orsay, a museum known for its Monets, Manets, Renoirs, and Degas. Psyched that, like every other attraction in Paris besides the Eiffel Tower, we were able to visit the museum for free with our student visas, we spent some time in the museum and then walked to Notre Dame. After waiting inside, we were able to enter Notre Dame and walk around the cathedral. I felt slightly rude because a service was taking place during our visit, but we were still allowed to enter as long as we remained silent. The old, gothic feel of the cathedral was chilling and beautiful, and the vibrant colors of the stained glass windows were a huge focal point. Happy to be able to enter the famous cathedral, we felt even more fortunate when we realized that 2013 marks the 850th anniversary of Notre Dame.
Afterwards, some of our friends on an earlier train headed back to London while the rest of us went souvenir shopping. We explored the little stores, and in order to kill time, investigated the surrounding streets and the quaint gift, cheese, bread, and other shops filling the streets of Paris. In this manner, we pleasantly passed the time and were soon ready to board the Eurostar back to London. Sadly, I accidentally left a poster of a black cat that I had bought myself at the train station (much to the confusion of the non-English speaking station guard when I asked if I could go back through the station) but overall the trip was incredible. Paris greatly exceeded my expectations, as I was worried it would be a tourist-filled, dirty city rather than the charming, beautifully romantic city in which I found myself this past weekend. This coming weekend I’ll be enjoying a much-needed break in London, exploring the London sights I haven’t yet seen as my days here begin to dwindle. Again, I’m sorry for the late blog post, but I’ll try to get my schedule back on track for this week! Thanks for reading!
Written by Sophie White, UNH Class of 2015.