Apple of my (London) Eye

With all that is going on around the globe, we hope to provide a bit of distraction through some wonderful travel stories. Enjoy this excerpt as Blanca recounts her exciting weekend in London.

*Disclaimer: This story takes place in February before the travel restrictions and shelter in place mandates.*

Sunday, April 19th, 2020 | Written by Blanca

I’ll admit this title might be a bit misleading, as I have actually never been on the London Eye; I am a fan of neither heights nor ferris wheels (the latter of which has always seemed a bit precarious for my liking. I mean, a huge wheel spinning around mid-air that could at any point detach and roll across the streets, wreaking havoc over the city and the passengers along the rim? No thank you).  I can now say, however, that I’ve been in London! Despite only having a weekend there, the sights and experiences were like no other, and the city has secured itself a place on my (now rather lengthy) list of cities that I absolutely love.

I arrived at London’s St. Pancras Station just after noon on the first Friday of Georgia Tech-Lorraine’s spring break, courtesy of the Eurostar, and immediately noticed how bleak and grey the skies were—it might always be sunny in Philadelphia (ha), but all those stereotypes about how it’s always dreary and rainy in London are no joke.  Luckily, the city itself shines brightly enough that the sun isn’t needed for a lovely weekend (although its presence is certainly appreciated). Having just arrived, the only thing on my itinerary that day ended up being taking a quick trip to SoHo to do some window shopping and to grab a bite to eat—after which I highly recommend the beef massaman curry at Rosa’s Thai Cafe Carnaby—that evening.  

The City of Westminster

The next morning, I woke up bright and early, ready to tick some London attractions off my bucket list.  Departing my Airbnb, I took the historic London tube to Westminster, where I did a spot of sightseeing. Take my following words with a grain of salt, as I tend to find major tourist attractions rather underwhelming (looking at you, Eiffel Tower), but I didn’t find there much to see.  Of course, Westminster Abbey was a sight to behold, especially when I remembered its celebrated history, and the Palace of Westminster was as grand as it is in photos; maybe it was the dreary grey London skies or the scaffolding enveloping the Big Ben, but I was becoming quite blasé with tourist attractions and the crowds of people they entail.

The Great West Door of Westminster Abbey

Leaving the crowds of the Old Palace Yard behind, I took a scenic walk through Westminster, finally arriving at the Tate Britain, which houses much of UK art since the Tudor times.  Entry is free, as it is for many London museums, so I was able to see some impressive works of English art at no extra charge—I even stumbled upon Sir John Everett Millais’s iconic ‘Ophelia’ in one of the galleries.  Having not been aware that the acclaimed painting was housed there, I imagine I was just as shocked as whoever found Ophelia submerged in a lake to have found Millais’s ‘Ophelia’ at the Tate. Talk about a pleasant surprise!  Prior to entering, I also joined the Tate Collective, so I snagged a ticket to a traveling exhibit, ‘British Baroque: Power and Illusion,” for £5 (something I highly recommend if you’re a student looking to see the temporary exhibits as well).  After seeing so much of the notable Flemish and Italian art of the Baroque period in other museums and collections, it was fascinating to see the British contribution to the art movement and its unique characteristics.

The Tate Britain

After the Tate, my next order of business was picking up some iconic fish and chips.  I opted for takeaway from The Laughing Halibut in Westminster and brought my (very late) lunch to the banks of the Thames, watching the occasional boat and many a tourist pass by.  Around the time I finished my chips—I have to say that I still prefer Belgian frites over any other type of fry—the wind had picked up, so I left my perch by the river and was on my way again.  Heading west through St. James’s Park (some greenery at last!), my walk brought me to Piccadilly, a recommendation of a friend, where I discovered yet another architectural marvel: arcades.  

In architecture, arcades are a series of contiguous arches; Wikipedia lists the High Medieval arches of Place Saint-Louis in downtown Metz, which many GTL students may recognize, as a prime example of an arcade.  From my Wikipedia research, I also learned that many medieval arcades included shops and vendors, so “arcade” has morphed into a term for a group of shops in a single building, regardless of architectural form. Nonetheless, I greatly appreciated the covered walkways of the Piccadilly, Royal, and Burlington Arcades and peeked at the quintessentially British tailoring and bath shops housed within.

Burlington Arcade

As I was not in the market for men’s suits or luxury cosmetics at the time, I wrapped up my arcade window shopping, exiting the Burlington Arcade into London’s famed Bond Street.  Apparently there are two sections: Old Bond Street (which links to Piccadilly) and New Bond Street, but this distinction typically isn’t made in everyday usage; moreover, I, like many other ignorant tourists, was only familiar with the conglomerate Bond Street as a prestigious shopping hub.  Nevertheless, ambling up Bond Street as the bright, warm lights illuminated the elaborate displays of luxury retail stores and art galleries (including the historic London Sotheby’s office!) proved to be the perfect way to end an exciting and culture-filled Saturday in London.