During the winter break between the fall and spring semesters of my sophomore year of college, I had the incredible opportunity to travel to London for two and a half weeks. My college administered a program where all the sophomores had the chance to “study abroad” for this period of time. Although destinations varied from year to year, the concept was the same-to give students the chance to see and explore another country while earning three credits (in the United States, this is equivalent to a typical college class). And the best part was the cost-all participants were charged a flat fee of $800; the college covered everything else. What’s funny is that less than a week after returning home from London, I was traveling out of the country again to Costa Rica where I would spend the spring semester. The two professors in charge were amazed I was doing so much traveling.
While I was initially dismayed by my year’s lackluster selections when compared against other years (Peru, Brazil, Czech Republic), being that long a time in one of the world’s greatest cities was fantastic. The first week and a half was spent in Hampstead, a small hamlet north of London where we participated in a social learning program (the comparing and contrasting of social welfare programs in the United Kingdom versus the United States). The house we stayed in was the former residence of the doctor who was considered by some to be Jack the Ripper; this was eerily cool. Some days we partook in lectures, while other involved field trips to social organizations in London’s East End and a tour of the Parliament. Evenings were ours, the which was fantastic. Hampstead was a lovely area to stay in since it’s basically all residential, so I simply adored being able to play the part of a resident. The last night there was even spent at the local pub.
The second week we moved to a hotel in the Bloomsbury neighborhood and got to play the part of tourist. Although it was a budget hotel, it was still charming and included a complimentary English breakfast each morning. The bulk of the day was ours although each day did consist of a scheduled group activity (this was generally visiting a famous building together). As much as I loved Hampstead, I liked Bloomsbury even more. It was significantly closer to London’s city center and just had more action going on. On my own I visited Hyde Park (where I with much effort sought out the famous Peter Pan statue), went to the top of the Monument, and even had my first foray into the world of Indian cuisine (there was a great Indian restaurant a block from our hotel that I dined at twice when there).
On a sad note, later that same year London was attacked by a series of suicide bombers and one of the bombs that killed 26 people was detonated between King’s Cross-St. Pancras and Russell Square tube stations. Russell Square was the station that I used frequently during my second week in London as it was nearest to the hotel.
I haven’t been back to London since, eight years to be exact. I would love to return, hopefully soon, since it is probably one of the best cities I have ever visited and I’ve visited a lot. For as Samuel Johnson once said, “When a man is tired of London he is tired of life.” Indeed.