In the latest jealousy-inducing episode of my life, I arranged myself a little solo trip to Western Europe, where I spent the all-too-brief week of my spring break in London, taking day trips to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, and Bath (a 3-in-1), and Paris.
The benefits of traveling alone are that if you love yourself, then you will always be in good company, that you can go at your own pace, that you can focus on experiencing your surroundings instead of being distracted by any sideways chatter, and many more. I can’t wait until my next chance to take myself to a new country and start an adventure all over again.
I’m writing this post so I can relive my own experience, so that you can live vicariously through my photos and descriptions, and so I can provide some travel tips if indeed anyone is inspired to follow in my footsteps.
That is indeed a lengthy introduction, so here goes.
Where to Stay
I stayed in a hostel in Saint Pancras called Clink78. Saint Pancras is the northern London neighborhood with the famous Kings Cross Station, where I had access to six tube lines, the rail, and Platform 9 3/4 every day. It really was an ideal location.
If you are going to stay in a hostel however, remember to bring all your toiletries with you, including towels, and if you want super sound sleep, come prepared with earplugs and eye masks. Most of my stay was comfortable, excluding some unpleasant smells, but sometimes groups do come in during the wee hours of the morning. I stayed in a 12-Female “Deluxe” Dorm, because that was my preference and I booked in advance, so I had no issues during my stay. Although, I have to admit, my travel dreams of sitting around and finding a soulful travel buddy was not fulfilled. Nighttimes here, I sat in the bar/common area for hours just minding my own business and only struck into a conversation once.
I had gotten in the night before and woke up at a reasonable time, given jet lag and all that (they are four hours ahead of Boston).
The first thing I did at the airport was to get an Oyster Card (deposit £5) and top up so my transportation was covered. I took the “Tube” from Kings Cross to Embankment, where I walked to the famous Trafalgar Square to begin my tour of London.
After taking in the sight, I wandered into the National Gallery, the building overlooking the square. I looked at most of the art before deciding to move on.
I found my way to the Westminster Abbey and Palace, Big Ben, and the Eye. Sitting outside of the abbey, that’s where I had my lunch – a nutella and powdered sugar covered waffle.
Then I took a stroll through St. James’s Park – the Bird Cage walk, to be exact, and passed through Green Park to find the Buckingham Palace.
Next I passed under the Wellington Arch and then walked some length through Hyde Park. I left and ducked into the Royal Albert Hall nearby before returning to the Serpentine Gallery and Kensington Gardens/Palace.
I caught a bus on which I met a young composer, George, from Florida, left him at the subway, and rode to Hampstead Heath, an area on the northern outskirts of the city. I walked to the Parliament Hill Viewpoint, where I had myself a picnic (a smoke salmon sandwich and a fruit tart, which I picked up at the RAH) and watched the sunset. It was windy and cold but also astoundingly beautiful.
London doesn’t get much more classic than my first day there, folks.
Today I had arranged a rendezvous with my good friend, Kasirha, at the British museum at 10am. To get there, I took a walk from my hostel through the Regent Square Gardens, St. George’s Gardens, Brunswick Square Gardens, The Brunswick (a shopping complex), and Russell Square.
I got there about an hour early and decided to go through security. This is where I learned my lesson and got my pepper spray confiscated. Turns out, these things are illegal in this country. I should have done my research. I got through without anything more severe than a scolding, but frankly this only happened because I was an honest American. They asked me if I had anything on me so I told the truth. It was probably the most civil turning over of weapons ever witnessed. Story over. On with the day.
I sat down under the giant glass dome and resumed reading The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood. When Kasirha and I finally found each other, I met her cousin as well, Taylor, and ended up spending most of the day together. We saw mummies and skeletons, Japanese art and ancient artificats, and stopped for a bite at the museum cafe before moving on and walking over to the Covent Garden Market.
The Covent Garden Market houses Apple Market, South Hall, Jubilee Hall, and a performance space, which we all went to and enjoyed. Besides picking through antiques and soaps and teas, I procured for myself a genuine English bowler hat for £25.
This is also where I discovered that my period had started. Great, I thought.
We bid our farewells, and now alone, I walked over to St. Paul’s Cathedral early for their 5pm Evensong. If I could pick an hour of the most beautiful sight and sound during my trip, this would have been it. My words won’t do justice to either the intricacy of design or vastness of construction I saw when I stood inside that space.
But my day wasn’t done yet! I still aspired to catch a show at Shakespeare’s Globe before the evening ended. So by 7:30 pm, I was standing in the cheapest row overlooking this tiny wooden stage where they were performing The White Devil, by John Webber. Another item off the bucket list.
I walked to the tube station Monument and found myself cozied up in the hostel shortly afterwards.
Well, the first thing I did on this day was to pay my tribute to the great Holmes. I took the tube to the Baker Street stop and found the Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221B Baker Street. I payed for a ticket and spent a long time there looking at all the detail bringing the stories to life, the wax statues, and I even got a ‘maid’ to take a picture of me. Great times.
I took a walk through Regent Park and then took the tube from there to Oxford Circus. I had arranged another rendezvous with a friend from Welles – Catherine. I was early so I walked around the area and eventually relaxed for a quarter of an hour in Hanover Square. We ate and caught up at Sketch, that restaurant Insta-famous for its pink tea room.
Funnily, I realized that this amazing meal was the first one I had sat down for in a restaurant during my entire trip. I had been eating out of my backpack, which was totally fine with me, because I was hitting so many places and making good use of my time, but I was glad to take this time and relax off my feet with a friend.
I paid a visit after lunch to the famous Hamleys toy store in Carnaby, where I felt like half a kid again.
It was about 4pm when I made it to the Tower of London and looked around everywhere until closing time an hour and a half later.
Oh, but my day wasn’t complete until I met up with Kasirha again for dinner at the Diwana Bhel Poori House. This one, I would have crowned the meal of the trip. I can’t remember any of the names of what we ate, but we giggled at the three stooges of the waiters and many other things. Kat left to return to Vietnam the next day, but we got to share one last commute from Euston Square to Kings Cross.
This was the day I woke up super early to make it to the Victoria Coach Station Gate 1 at 7:45 in the morning.
Like, super early. 6 am, because there was no way I was planning on missing that coach.
I had booked a tour with Premium Tours to see Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, and Bath. And that’s exactly what I did.
John was our tour guide and Steve was our driver. Hey! If you ever read this, I just want to say that I really enjoyed that day and to please continue being the engaging history buffs you are. I’m sorry I had no tip for you but I think that every moment on that crazy train was worth it. Good luck!
By the time we got back to Central London it was 8:30 so I called it a day and went back to the hostel.
Now this, THIS, was the crazy ambitious day.
I had endeavored to see all of Paris on this one beautiful day.
And since I am Gloria Sun and I wanted to, I did.
Okay fine, I only got a taste. I’m far from calling myself a local, but I studied enough of the maps and walked through enough streets to know what it might feel like to stay here long term.
I woke at 6 am again, because there was NO way I was missing that flight. I made my way to the Gatwick Airport, Terminal South, where my 9 am Vueling airline flight was departing for Charles de Gaulle.
I got off the RER en plein the Latin Quarter. Wow. So I’m here. Center of the City of Lights. So I walked along to the St. Michel, crossed the Seine river, and found myself facing the Notre Dame.
I went inside, of course, but there was so much to see and so little time. Well, I rambled on until I saw a cafe and decided to participate in the national sport (ahmmhm… people watching..ahemm) and settled in for a planche de charcuterie at a brasserie.
I walked to the Pompidou, but they were on strike. Perfect, because there were other things I was interested in anyway. (I’m positive.) I went to the Palais Royal and sat down on one of these pillars for a little while:
Then I went to the Louvre right across the street, but the tickets were sold out. Again, that was all right with me, because I knew it would have taken a full day to see all the exhibits anyway, and that’s all the time I had.
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“To discover the mode of life or of art whereby my spirit could express itself in unfettered freedom.” _________________________________ . . #parisjetaime#topparisphoto#pariscityvision#pariscartepostale#seulementparis#parisweloveyou#parismonamour#parismaville #jamesjoyce#aportraitoftheartistasayoungman
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“You look ridiculous if you dance You look ridiculous if you don't dance So you might as well dance.” _________________________________ ― Gertrude Stein, Three Lives . . #gertrudestein #parisjetaime#topparisphoto#pariscityvision#pariscartepostale#seulementparis#parisweloveyou#parismonamour#parismaville
So I crossed the river and spent remainder of the afternoon at the Orsay, where I got my picture taken in front of this big, classic clock:
At around 4:30 I decided to catch the Montmartre Discover Walk that I had researched earlier, and took the metro to the station Blanche. A kind local helped point me in the right direction and inform me of the transfer I needed to make.
When I got out of the station, I had arrived just in time for the 5 pm tour, in front of the (in)famous Moulin Rouge. We were taken through the streets where Amelie supposedly lived and I saw cheese shops, fruit stores, and all sorts of quirky Parisian things. I touched Dalida’s boobies, walked past the houses and studios of famous painters, and finally went to see the Sacre-Coeur, which apparently the French have a hatred for.
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I sought to hear the voice of God and climbed the topmost steeple, but God declared: "Go down again – I dwell among the people. _________________________________ John Henry Newman . . #parisjetaime#topparisphoto#pariscityvision#pariscartepostale#seulementparis#parisweloveyou#parismonamour#parismaville #montmartre#newman#poetry#churchflow
After the tour ended I knew I had to go back and get some cheese (what else could I have for dinner here in Paris anyway?? #classic) so I got a fromage box to take with me on the road. I made a stop at the nearest Monoprix to see how the locals shopped and I procured a shampoo and face cream which will serve as lasting (and useful!) souvenirs in the immediate future, and a choco tart and pistachio macaroon in addition for dinner.
I had until 10:00 pm to finish my sightseeing, so I made one last stop. I took the metro to reach the Arc de Triomphe, from where I departed again to see the Iron Lady. That’s where I had my dinner and spent some quiet time in the busy square.
When I got onto the bus, I made friends with a kindly older man named Rudolph and talked quite a bit with the lady sitting next to me until we decided to sleep. In the morning, I saw her until we both got on the tube at Victoria and went our separate ways, and we will probably never encounter each other again.
I’ll have to admit, yesterday was a tad bit exhausting because it crept over until today. I reached my hostel at something like 6 am and continued hanging about there until 11. Then I felt the daylight burning away and decided to go see the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum (they are right across the street from one another).
I slowed down for a carrot cake and cappuccino in the V&A cafe, where the room was gorgeous and I absolutely knew I had to spend some time in there.
The next stop I made was at Piccadilly Circus. I knew that the billboards and flashy signs were all down so that I wouldn’t get the Times Square vibe, but I caught a street performance. There were a pair of gold paint covered humans posing as statues, and a group of boys doing some street dance.
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"nothing else, night, content, unable, unwishing, to recall desire, or sight." _________________________________ #ilovelondon#thisislondon#instalondon#london_only#vscolondon#timeoutlondon#igerslondon#toplondonphotos#london_mastersp#londonsbest #chasinglight #poetry#blackandwhite
My last stop, late in the afternoon, was at Monument. I walked to the church ruins of St. Dunsten in the East and spent some more quiet time there. Various online sources had recommended this underrated spot, but it was Kasirha’s description that drew me there. She said it was like Rivendell, and I could kind of see why.
I won’t lie, first of April and I lay in my bed all morning watching Doctor Who. Because what better place to watch it than in St. Pancras, London?
Anyway, after that binge was done I took the tube to Shoreditch and visited the Spitalfields Market to experience the unique shopping world in London. That’s where I procured a leather belt cut on the spot to my specifications, a pair of Swarovski crystal earrings that thread through my multiple piercings, a clock made from a Pink Floyd Division Bell vinyl, and two t-shirts (one for Joyce, of course).
I visited the Dr. Martens down the street and got myself a pair of Chelsea boots with a student discount and I traded the pair on my feet for these fresh ones. (In case you didn’t know, the brand originated in England.)
I kept walking and reached the Brick Lane Market. That place was a treasure trove, but all I could take without feeling like a loaded camel was 3 mini cupcakes from a Fairy Pan stand, and two posters – one of The Beatles, and one of Kurt Cobain.
But I wasn’t done yet. I kept walking and reached the Columbia Road Flower Market, where I had a picnic after buying a Mars Bar and two pieces of fruit from a small grocery store.
For my last night in London, I snuggled again into my sheets and finished the first season of the 10th Doctor and began the second. Another good, albeit self-indulgent day.
Departure. But since my flight wasn’t until late afternoon, I wouldn’t leave the city until I had visited the Tate Modern. I put my luggage into the bag check and I made my way through all the exhibits that were open to non-members. On the top floor of the building, I munched on a chocolate muffin and a latte and took in the view.
A few hours later, I was on the Thameslink on my way to Gatwick. Returning to freshman year. A return to normalcy and routine. And as usual, I will keep calm and carry on.