London Called and We Answered 

Written by Valerie

It is so satisfying when things come perfectly into place. My friends and I have been wanting to visit cities in Europe that are adorned with Christmas decorations and have Christmas markets scattered around. We searched the internet and discovered that London was starting to have their Christmas markets the weekend of November 17th. Coincidentally, one of my GTE friend’s birthday was that same weekend. We put two and two together and decided on plans for the weekend. London, here we come! 

In no time, we began to get everyone together and solidify the plans for our London trip. The hostel was booked along with all the flights and trains. London became one of the cities I was looking forward to visiting the most on my study abroad journey since I started learning more about the modern dynamic of the area. I saw how much diversity there was. Its influence could be seen in the food and music scene of London. Granted, I love hearing different languages and their accents, but it was so enjoyable to be able to be in an English-speaking country. 

Once we arrived, we soon realized that during this season in the United Kingdom, the sun sets at four in the afternoon. Even though the time difference between Metz and London is only one hour, we were thrown off by how early it got dark outside. Our minds were struggling to fight the feeling of it being nighttime against the reality of the time of day. We found ourselves eating lunch at a chicken shop, a London staple, as the sun was descending. However, our waiter was kind enough to offer to make us an itinerary so we could visit all the must-see attractions in the short time we would be in town. My travel buddy and I finished up and headed for the Tube, the underground metro lines in London, to meet up with the rest of our friends at the hostel. 

Now that we were all settled in, it was time to go out and explore. I don’t know if we were just seeing things or if there was an actual resemblance, but we were surprised at how much it looked like Atlanta at night. Many European cities have laws around how tall buildings can be, so it is rare to see skyscrapers and other high-rise buildings. This gave London a very different look to the other cities we have visited up until now. Even though parts of the city looked very modern, other parts put into perspective how old the city truly is. This was another experience where my old history books came to life. Seeing Westminster Abbey, a church with nearly a thousand years of history that hosted royal coronations and weddings, along with a red double-decker bus all while standing next to a pub with a red telephone booth outside had to be the most British corner in town. 

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to London even though there was not nearly enough time to see everything the city had to offer. Traveling with my friends meant endless laughter, even in moments like the time when we made a mistake and accidentally ended up an hour outside the city. London, I thank you for all the good memories and expect to be back soon to make some more. 

Places In Europe That Felt Like Portals to New Universes

Written by Swati

I am fully in the thrall of finals, but I wanted to get a quick light hearted post up about some of the highlights of my travels. This is a highly condensed list, but they’re the ones that’ll hold the brightest lights in my heart.

  1. Writer’s Museum in Edinburgh, Scotland

If there’s anything you’ve learned about me the past few months, it’s that I r e a d. And when I have the time and mental energy for it, I write. Going to the Writer’s Museum in Edinburgh was a particularly special experience for me because it felt like I had stepped back into time, and walked alongside some of Scotland’s most notable writers. Literary giants like Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of Jekyll and Hyde, Sir Walter Scott, author of Waverley, and Robert Burns, a Scottish poet. Each of them had a floor dedicated to their lives and work, and personally, I connected the most to Robert Louis Stevenson. He was a sickly child, but learned the importance of travel and widening your perspective from a young age. Much of his life’s memorabilia centered around a love of travel and desire to see more and experience more. Edinburgh as a whole is a beautiful literary city paying homage to Sir Walter Scott through their train station and the Scott monument. And I’ve never found a place that settled so quickly into my bones.

  1. Venezia, Italy

When I was a child, my mom would say the only way to keep me put in a single place was a body of water. I was a pretty tireless child, switching hobbies like changing outfits and belting songs on my bed that could be heard from a floor away. The only magic that kept my attention long enough to stay still was moving water. And Venice was pure magic. I wrote in a previous blog post that Venice must be God’s favorite place. I still feel that way, the whole city feels like a dream sequence. I went the day after Carnival ended, so I got the added effect of empty cobblestone streets and uncrowded ferries. Bonus points go to the two nearby islands, Murano and Burano, chock full of colorful houses and beautiful craftsmanship in the form of molten glass and lace. 

  1. The First Floor of the Shakespeare and Company Bookstore in Paris

I’m not sure if I gave Paris the real love it deserved this semester. My weekend there was very fragmented and in the hustle-bustle of group travel, I didn’t have a chance to sit and enjoy the atmosphere as much as I would’ve liked. Paris is an acquired taste, but the Shakespeare and Company bookstore saved the trip. Everything about the store is the living heart of a writer. The shopkeepers are very strict with photography and demand respect, but I burned every moment into my brain. Gentle piano strokes dance in through the doorway of the first floor. I felt myself at every age. 7 and digging through the “big-kid shelves” at my local libraries, 12 and leafing through ‘A Farewell to Arms’ by Ernest Hemingway, 17 and cozying up in a corner with my journal in hand, 21 and gingerly tracing the antique typewriter in the side room. If there’s anywhere in Paris that’s pure magic it’s the Shakespeare and Company bookstore. 

  1. Menaggio, Lake Como, Italy

This might be cheating because 2 separate cities in Italy are on the list, but what can I say? It’s a country worth making movies about. Every inch has its charm. But Menaggio was a quiet lakeside town, tucked away north of Lake Como. The people have the brightest smiles and shopkeepers tuck sprigs of lavender in the corners of windows and spritz perfume by the entrances. In Menaggio I skipped rocks, collected seashells, went perfume shopping, and skipped through the streets with a gelato in hand. Menaggio is summer “city-fied.” If there’s one feeling I hope everyone feels, it’s complete and total peace and contentment the way I felt it in Menaggio. I also ran into a group of teachers on a reunion for their study abroad a few years prior who encouraged me to adventure far and wide. It’s the only way the heart stays young and the soul grows old. 

  1. Interlaken, Switzerland

I stand by my judgment that Switzerland is a fake country. The water is fake, the Alps are fake, the cheese is fake, the chocolate is fake, everything about it feels straight out of a simulation. Straight dream life, too perfect to be real. But Interlaken is a treasure. Look up and see the Alps, look down and see the emerald water of Lake Thun. The flowers are otherworldly, the water is diamonds on ice, the trees silk leaves, the pages of books coated in gold, the whole country effervesces. 

Special Mention: London, United Kingdom

You know I had to do it. The different entities within the United Kingdom have just stolen my heart whole, but London is in a league of its own. Scotland, Wales, and England each have their own unique charm, but something about London will stay with me for the rest of my life. The city felt like something I’ve always known, somewhere I’ve always been ready to be, I sent messages back to friends telling them I’d finally found somewhere I’d never leave. Not many loved London the way I did, but that’s the beauty of travel, you run into the things you need the very most right when you need them and you find the things you never knew you were looking for.

From London With All My Love

Written by Swati

April 13th 2023

London, London, London, how I truly love you. Being in London is like slipping on your old favorite shoes, flipping through your favorite childhood book, finding a sweatshirt that fits just right. Wandering through Kensington and Westminster, I felt my heart fill up with the greatest sense of belonging. London bookstores feel like a boost of glucose straight to your bloodstream. A perfect mix of classics and currents, well-loved second hand treasures and mint condition newly printed novels. So many cornerstone female and feminist authors hail from these streets: Virginia Woolf, the Bronte sisters, and Mary Wollstonecraft. I spend many hours digging through bookshelves to find their stories and muses. Life in London is a thrill, it’s a city that’s exciting, it’s a city that’s inviting. Londoners, in my experience, also went out of their ways to help me. At the British Library, a man drew me a map to his favorite bookstores nearby and told me to be safe in the protesting Parisian streets when I Ieft England. Two elderly women stopped me on my march to the train station to let me know my backpack was open and made sure nothing fell out. Every upbeat pop song that dances through my head feels just right in the city. The brick architecture, the newly restored Big Ben, the London Bridge that is not actually falling down. It feels like the buzz of New York with the charm of Paris. As soon as I stepped off the platform at St Pancras International Station on Thursday morning I put on the rose colored glasses of life and didn’t take them off for six full days.

I spent my first and last day in and around books, The British Library, where I registered myself for a library card (my favorite souvenir!), and three bookstores, Waterstones, Judd Books, and Collinge and Clark for collectors. Taking the day to settle in and pop into shops while strolling the streets was the perfect beginning to my London adventure. I ran into the Thursday afternoon street market by University College London and found an Indian street food stand run by a Tamil man, from the same hometown as my mother, who made chicken curry that tasted the same as my grandfather’s. I spent hours flipping through old novels and found books written by the philosopher I met on the train in Italy. Over the next few days I saw the London Eye, Big Ben, Kensington and Buckingham Palaces, walked the streets of Soho and Chinatown, spent a morning in Wales, fell hard for the Phantom of the Opera, and indulged in English breakfasts and tea.

London is not just a place, it’s a feeling. High tea with delicate sandwiches, flower petals falling between pages, sun sparkling on the Thames. My mother says I fell in love with London before I even knew what love was. And after this past weekend, I can fully attest to that. I love people watching on the Chube, despite how slow it is. I love afternoon strolls in the Kensington Palace gardens, the fields gently caressed by clusters of spring flowers. I love walking down the streets and seeing black trench coat-clad shoulders and simple leather bags, haphazardly layered gold necklaces. I love the hum of traffic along Portobello Road, the jewelry stalls in Camden Market, the busking in Covent Garden. I like to think London taught me what love is. As soon as I stepped off the platform, it was at first sight that I fell. Dearest mum, you could’ve made me English. What a shame. Never mind the past. London, I will be back. For a year or two at the very least, the better part of this lifetime if I’m lucky. 

Where to Rest My Eyes

Written by Swati

March 25th 2023

With UNESCO World Heritage sites on every street corner and historic memorabilia in every city, it’s difficult to give everything the attention and care it deserves. Parts of Europe have developed history and culture over centuries, some over thousands of years in the case of empires, with preserved artifacts marking some of humanity’s most groundbreaking accomplishments. Especially in cities in France, Italy, and Germany, dozens of museums populate towns, and I found myself struggling knowing where to put my eyes. Behold: the black door. This black door found in the room next to Michelangelo’s David caught my eyes in Florence. After about a half hour sat in a corner analyzing the realistic curves and features of David, Googling what he means and why people travel across seas and over mountains to see him, I found myself wandering over to the next room: half in awe, half in mental exhaustion. I stumbled upon the door. It was in the least ostentatious corner in the museum that gave me reprise from the lifelike marble and classical instruments throughout the museum. I found myself wondering what secrets lie beyond. Is it an uncovered exhibition? A storage of old masterpieces? More likely than not it’s a room filled with dusty chairs and stanchions to guide lines of people, but the possibility of something exciting kept me there for a moment longer. 

Guides and walking tours are great wells of knowledge in new cities, and they have information that many cannot amass during their first visit to new places, but it can often get exhausting trying to follow the routes and stay interested in old fun facts and historical tidbits. Don’t get me wrong, the right tour guides and the right instructors can interest you in just about anything, but we all tire of the same things at some point.

In order to break up the monotony, I signed up for a chocolate making class on a whim after talking to a pair of girls on Spring Break in my Bruges hostel. After a few days of admiring architecture, I started to wonder just what else there is to do in new cities any more. Of course there are the local delights: food, desserts, tourist attractions, but after nearly three months of walking up and down streets, you tire a bit. In my head, one thing never gets old: books and waterways. I find water the most relaxing part of nature, and I think the best when I watch waves lap over each other, but to break up the routine I wanted some new experiences that are specific to a place. The chocolate making class ended up being the most exciting part of my Belgian excursion this past weekend. Two and a half hours of sneaking bites of hardened chocolate and swoops of ganache, I was in heaven. I was in a class of fifteen, including a couple from London and about a dozen Americans studying abroad in different parts of Europe. Our instructor was the perfect amount of informative, encouraging, and hilarious, which encouraged me to sign up for more experiential days on my upcoming trips! I hope you’re looking forward to hearing about the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland and paragliding in Switzerland soon. 

I realize now that we are hitting the point of exhaustion. Somewhere along the way, streets blur together and the beauty and excitement of seeing new places wanes. It’s not that travel isn’t the most liberating and exciting thing in the world, it’s that the real world checks back in upon our weekly arrivals in Metz and sooner than later homework turns to exams turn into projects that were assigned weeks in advance. It’s later than I thought, with only 6 weekends left. I thought I would tire of the nearly full-time travel sooner. It must be the spring blooms, welcoming in the sunshine, putting on a parade for her. With the strikes and travel delays, we’re wearing out in transit, and there can be too much of a good thing. Sundays that used to be spent wandering cities, expecting to take the last train back, have turned into getting to the train station first thing in the morning and crossing my fingers that all legs of my journey still exist. But hardships wither in the face of comfort. And updating friends on the wild transit schemes and making it back safely are more things I can look forward to.

London Sunday

After a brief hiatus, Blanca is back on the blog to detail the end of her trip in the British capital. Join her as we flash back to February for the tale of Blanca’s delightful Sunday in London.

Tuesday, May 12th, 2020 | Written by Blanca

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

I’m of the opinion, after having stayed for a mere weekend, that London is an extremely underrated city.  The architecture, the wide array of food, the marvelous and uber-convenient London Tube—what more could one possibly want?  I had actually planned to return to London 3 weeks after the weekend on which I visited in February, but that regrettably didn’t end up happening, so I thought I’d instead wrap up the details of my trip and some of my observations of England’s capital city.

Stratford, London
Stratford, London

When I left the Airbnb in Stratford for the day, it was raining again.  No surprise there.  I decided to take the Tube to London’s Notting Hill district, perhaps best known for its quaint townhouses and the Portobello Road Market, which is housed along Portobello Road, running the length of Notting Hill.  While I went with the intention of seeing both, unfortunately the Portobello Road Market is closed on Sundays.

The colorful, whimsical Portobello Road
The colorful, whimsical Portobello Road

It turns out I was just a day too late: the Portobello Road Market is a Saturday street market that boasts countless vendors, most notably clothes (fun fact: Vivienne Westwood got her start at Portobello Road Market!) and antiques.  But no matter!  Some stalls were still open, allowing me to peruse the unique trinkets—delicate porcelain tea sets, glass miniatures, ornate pewter candelabra—inside.   A handful of vintage and charity shops were also open, so I popped into a few; since there isn’t a perfect American equivalent, I was curious to see what they looked like.  In Goldsmith Vintage, I was greeted by racks of faux fur coats and stacks upon stacks of vintage Levis that made walking through difficult.  As it appears, vintage stores live up to their name.

The iconic, charming white townhouses of Notting Hill
The iconic, charming white townhouses of Notting Hill

London probably has the highest concentration of white townhouses of anywhere in the world, but those of Notting Hill have a particular charm to them.  Maybe it was because the sun was intermittently peeking out, between bouts of unpredictable rain, so that the rows of white houses, with their curved carved ornamentation and swirly railings, resembled low-hanging clouds.  In any case, seeing the architecture I’d admired for so long in-person meant that I was certainly on cloud nine.  Notting Hill is also home to quaint shopping and food locations, including a fabulous bookstore decked head to toe in classics with gold-bound covers.  For lunch, I stopped for a bite to eat at a ramen spot called Tonkotsu.  Did I mention how great London’s diverse food options are?

Traveling on the London Underground is such a great experience! No wonder the oldest subway system in the world is still around; they got so many things right.  I was pleasantly surprised to find the Underground platforms spanking clean, as well ventilated as a subground system can get, and with frequent and punctual train arrivals.  Take some notes, MARTA.  That being said, I decided to forgo the crowded Tube in favor of walking.  If the weather permits, I always love doing this in large cities, since strolling through neighborhoods is when, I feel, the character of that city really comes out.  London is an exceptionally unique one, with some of my now-favorite architecture and plenty of open green spaces, so this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.  Following streets lined with small cinemas, cafes, and specialty shops, I walked from Notting Hill, which is in the northern section of the district of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, through to Kensington.  

The Churchill Arms Pub and Restaurant in Kensington
The Churchill Arms Pub and Restaurant in Kensington, which was unfortunately overbooked for the day. Remember to reserve in advance in London!

Kensington was my last stop of the day before meeting up with everyone else for dinner—which, speaking of, is nearly impossible to get at a sit-down restaurant without calling to reserve in advance.  This is especially true for large parties, so be sure to make a reservation if you don’t want to be waiting for over an hour for some biryani (which was, however, extremely worth it).  Kensington also has some beautiful architecture, especially its red brick townhomes, so I opted to stroll through its tranquil and quiet residential neighborhoods, probably to the bewilderment of those who lived there.  

Kensington townhouses
Kensington townhouses

My final destination was my favorite: the Design Museum in Kensington.  Europe has some fantastic museums, and I made it a point to go to as many as I could, but it’s no surprise why the Design Museum won the European Museum of the Year Award in 2018.  It exhibits product, industrial, graphic, fashion and architectural design, and my inner Industrial Design minor was jumping for joy.  Some of the installments at the time displayed the evolution of electronic technologies and design projects unique to London; the latter included a case study into a potential project that repurposes the animal fat waste from London restaurants, which was interesting for a number of reasons.  Apparently organic fatty materials cannot end up in London’s sewer system—understandably—so they are instead carted away by special trucks.  This is just one of many sustainability issues today, but it was encouraging to see that there are people who are taking the initiative to address the problem in a thoughtful and conscious way that would, in turn, benefit London.  After visiting so many museums that exhibit the work of the likes of Monet and Michelangelo, learning about the aspects unique to the current city was surprisingly refreshing and a perfect note on which to end my trip to London.

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.

A Near-Disaster in London

Karsten and friends ran into some issues on their trip to London in October! Check out his latest blog for the full story.

Sunday, October 20, 2019 | Written by Karsten

After our HTS field trip to Electricite de France (EDF) Cattenom, Julia and I headed to London to meet up with DJ. We booked our train tickets and our Airbnb nearly two weeks prior, and we were all so excited to be able to understand everything that was said to us. However, upon arrival and messaging our hosts that we were on our way, we received a response that took us by surprise: they could no longer host us, as their pipe from the toilet had exploded. There we were, outside of the London train station at 10:00 P.M. with no place to stay. We headed to the nearest hostel with decent ratings and asked if they had three places for two nights, and luckily for us, they did. We put our stuff in the room, planned out what we wanted to see for Saturday, and went to sleep.

We got up on Saturday and headed towards the London Bridge. It was extremely cool to see the iconic bridge near sunrise. We walked across the bridge and then found a bagel place for breakfast. After breakfast, DJ split from us to head to the Imperial War Museum, and Julia and I headed towards the Buckingham Palace. From there, we sat in Green Park for a little and then went across town to the shopping district for lunch.

Getting there there was more difficult than expected, though. The street we had to cross had a one million-person protest against Brexit. I guess that’s what we get for going to London the weekend before Great Britain was supposed to leave the EU.

We decided to continue on, so we just walked alongside the protest, took a couple of pictures, and walked across and out the other side. After seeing a couple of high-end car dealerships and a couple of stores, we found a fish and chips place for lunch. It was extremely good and a ton of food for the price.

Next, we went to Harrods to check out what was outside, as I knew the place is famous for what supercars are parked out front. On the way, we were able to walk through Hyde Park and, in typical London fashion, we got rained on. DJ met back up with us on the way to Harrods. After seeing what was parked outside, we decided to walk in for a little only to see that everything was out of our price range. Another group of GTL students was in London for the weekend, so we met up with them at Nando’s for dinner and then headed back to the hostel for the night.

On Sunday, we went to the British Museum. The highlights from the museum included seeing the Rosetta Stone and an Easter Island head—you know, similar to the talking one in Night at the Museum. After a couple of hours there, we headed for lunch, and I had Bangers and Mash. The only food that I felt was missing from this weekend was a traditional English breakfast, but oh well. From lunch, we went back to the main station to catch our train back to Metz. Besides being able to understand all of the words around us, one big highlight from the weekend was definitely being able to try a lot of traditional – stereotypical even – English foods and trying tea for the first time. Despite the price, London is easily one of my favorite cities that I’ve been to during this semester, and I hope to come back one day.

There Is No “S” in Hotel

Noa gave hoStels another try during her trip to London, and this time around it was much better! Check out her latest blog post to get some ideas on what to do during your trip to London.

Hello again!

I am now the self-proclaimed cheap flight-finding queen. After my 20 euro trip to Milan, I have become slightly obsessed with finding cheap flights because they are less stressful than trains. With trains they can just sort of cancel them, give you no other options at 1 AM, and when you ask for other options they pretend to Google things for 25 minutes until telling you in German that you could take a taxi for 400 euros.

That being said, I quickly found a cheap trip to London for the next weekend! My friend and I decided we would give a hostel another chance since it wasn’t as last minute as Amsterdam. Also, for those who don’t know, one of my best most avid readers, my 12 year old sister, kindly sent me an edit saying, “you wrote hotel wrong, you put an s in it btw just lettin’ you know.” Just in case any other 12-year-olds reading my blog are confused, hostels are a version of a hotel that you do not want to stay in. The s stands for “super bad.” 

When we got to the hostel in London, called the Wombat, it was actually “Super great!”  Everything was clean, the staff was really nice, and there were no cats in our beds. We got in really late so we went to bed, and the next morning we had a free breakfast at the hostel before we all split up. I visited Oxford Street and walked around all of the shops until I met up with my friend in Chinatown to drink boba. I may be inconsistent about posting my blogs, but at least I am consistent about my nutrition. From there we decided to head over to Camden Market, which I absolutely loved. It reminded me of Pike Place Market in Seattle a bit, but also those indoor jewelry markets in NYC. Definitely up my alley. I love unique jewelry and art vendors, so it was really fun to see.

After the markets we met up with our third friend at an incredible taco restaurant. I cannot remember for the life of me what it was called, but they were exactly what I needed. The most exciting part of London for me was that a few days before with the help of my families convincing, I bought a ticket to see the Book of Mormon. I was worried spending a lot of money on a ticket, but let me tell you that after watching that show I would pay triple what I had paid for. It was by far the funniest show I have ever seen. So crude and hilarious, and the cast was so talented. I have not stopped listening to the music ever since, and I can’t wait to watch it again one day.

To end the night my friends and I sat at a jazz speakeasy, which was really nice. We met a good group of people that had recently graduated from Cambridge, and we spent the rest of the night hanging out with them. The next morning we woke up after only a few hours of sleep, walked around Notting Hill and Kensington Palace, and headed back for the flight home.

These weekends are extremely quick but every one of them has left me with memories that I hope will last me a lifetime. I am feeling really lucky recently and am thankful for everyone in my life. I’ll definitely let you all know about my spring break as soon as I have another chance to write!

For now, thanks for reading!

Some Fun-don in London

Maddie enjoyed a visit to London – and not only for the engineering feats along the way, but also for the history she can tie back to her classes!

In mid-October, we decided to go across the pond and spend the weekend in lovely London! (I’m not sure if “across the pond” can be used for going across any large body of water, but I like the phrase so just bear with me.)

Our trip began with us taking the Eurostar train LITERALLY UNDER THE OCEAN! I still can’t get over how marvelous modern engineering is that somehow, we as a species managed to run a high-speed train under the sea. The Chunnel links France and England under the Strait of Dover, sitting at 250 ft below the sea bed at its lowest point, and with its undersea portion stretching a total of 23.5 miles (37.9 km), the longest of any tunnel in the world. Actually going through the tunnel was pretty underwhelming because, you know, it’s just darkness like any other train tunnel, but thinking about the sheer amount of water that was sitting above us made it more exciting.

The fish and chips to go was a nice idea in theory—in practice it was messy and difficult, but still delicious!

Upon disembarking at St. Pancras station, we were quite hungry, so we decided to walk to a restaurant serving a quintessentially British food: fish & chips. We got our orders to go, but fish & chips proved very difficult to eat without forks and while walking, so we sat down on a deserted curb to have our delicious feast, then took the Tube to our AirBNB.

On Saturday, we had a leisurely morning and ate lunch at the ubiquitous Pret a Manger. (I found it ironic that the classic London fast food chain has a French name.) Then, we went to go see the British Museum. Even without the incredible exhibits it houses, the sheer size of the building was impressive—the center of the museum is a huge open expanse of white marble, with sunlight streaming in through the roof and a massive stone pillar of rooms rising out from the center of the cavernous space. Highlights of our visit included the Rosetta Stone, giant Egyptian statues, and an interactive exhibit about a man mummified thousands of years ago.

Soren showed us the Royal Courts of Justice building in London. The pointed arches and circular window are reminiscent of Gothic cathedrals, which we’ve been studying extensively in HTS 2084 at Georgia Tech Lorraine!

At the museum, we met up with one of my best friends from high school, Soren, who’s currently studying abroad at the London School of Economics! After we were done wandering around the exhibits, he showed us around his campus. We saw his dorms, a couple of lecture halls, and the giant LSE library, among other places. He’s studying there for a year, but he’s only been there for three weeks so far, so it’s a very different feeling for him than for us, who already have two months at GTL under our belt. Seeing how he’s just starting his study abroad experience really made it hit home that we were already halfway done with ours.

Lastly, we decided to go to the famous Brick Lane for dinner to get Indian food! The whole street was filled with different Indian restaurants, with people outside each one trying to entice customers to choose theirs. We chose one based off of reviews we had read beforehand and chose several dishes to share between us, including butter chicken, chana masala, vegetable biryani, and naan, of course.

Hannah and Sarah with our delicious Brick Lane meal!

Overall, we had a marvelous time in London with good friends and good food, and I would love to visit again someday to see more of the bustling but beautiful city!

Stepping out of My Comfort Zone in London

Sometimes things don’t go according to plan, but Georgia Tech-Lorraine has always been great at teaching students to think on their feet and embrace every opportunity for what it’s worth – and Quinnell’s trip to London was no different. Check out her latest blog post!

The London Eye and The London Aquarium

The best thing that I have learned to do since being in Europe  is stepping out of my comfort zone when traveling, realizing every place I travel to is unique and incomparable and going with the flow of things. During my trip to London, I had the opportunity to remind myself of the lessons I have learned over this semester about not being afraid to step out of my comfort zone. London is a place I always dreamed of traveling to since I was younger; I dreamed of peeking my head out of a quaint, red telephone booth and being surrounded by British accents. From my visit, I was able to live my dream and also be faced with a few realities that come along with traveling such as rainy days and changing plans.

My first day in London was jam-packed with tourist locations, sightseeing, and yummy food. Arriving in London, I expected to be surrounded by thick British accents while standing across from the Elizabeth Tower, commonly known as Big Ben. What I did see and hear was slightly different from what I expected: Big Ben was completely covered in metal ladders and construction equipment, and the British accents I heard were nearly what I thought they would be (they were the usually more diverse accents of tourists). Even though I was not able to see Big Benin its full glory, I did see the London Eye, Parliament and Parliament Square, and take my cliché picture in a telephone booth. It was also exciting to visit the Buckingham Palace and see the British flag flying high above the palace, indicating the Queen was home. The best part about the first day was going to Chinatown! I walked under the little red lanterns that decorated the sky, and saw Asian cuisine and shops and live street performances. That first night, I was able to see London come alive at night. Another fun thing that I did that night was going to M&M World! Even though I am not much of a chocolate person, I could not resist creating my personal multi-colored M&M goodie bag.

Buckingham Palace (the Queen was home!)

When visiting London, I was able to eat delicious food and experience the best that the city has to offer. Some of the most relaxing and interesting places to visit were: Hyde Park and Speaker’s Corner; seeing Harry Potter fans walk around with glee at Platform 9 3/4; visiting an exhibition on women’s suffrage in Parliament; browsing through Liberty, the shopping center that inspired Oscar Wilde; seeing infamous artwork in the National Gallery; and strolling in Piccadilly Circus. While I was there, I ate food from different cuisines; I had sweet and sour chicken at a highly rated Chinese restaurant, a traditional flavored infused Sri Lankan lunch, and breakfast in a modern café near Leicester Square.


Liberty Shopping Center

When traveling to different places, I highly recommend finding hidden gems in the city and not being afraid to ask locals what to do! The second day of my trip in London started out gloomy, rainy and slightly disappointing as the places I visited either were booked, expensive, or obstructed from a good view with the rain. Here is where going with the flow and exploring different activities comes in with traveling! That morning after regrouping with coffee, I decided to break away from the group I was traveling with for an hour to visit Leadenhall Market. As I walked under the overhang of the closed market, I was in awe at the beautiful architecture of the market, photographers taking advantage of its emptiness, and embraced the peace of the market. While I was there, I able to get a picture of myself taken by young filmmakers and photographers, and also get advice from them on the best things to do in London from a local perspective. As a result of having a 10-minute conversation with some people and asking for a picture, I was able to figure out what to do for the rest of the day in London!

While London is known for royalty, Winston Churchill, and landmarks like Big Ben, it has a lot more to offer than just that. This trip was good for me because it reminded me to not compare places that I travel to on a ranking scale. Every place, culture, and experience is different and that is what makes traveling such a great experience! At the end of my adventures in London, I was able to realize this and overall look at the experience as something unique on its own.