I have always had a fantasy of being a fiercely independent Jane Austen character, jaunting about through the English countryside. And last fall, I was able to fulfill that dream by having my first solo, international adventure.
I decided that there was no better way to celebrate my 23rd year of life than by challenging myself to travel abroad alone. As I take daily inspiration from Elizabeth Bennett and Queen Victoria, it was a no brainer to choose London. At first, it seemed daunting: Would I find friends? Or would I just be that weird, sad American drinking at the pub by herself? But, in truth, I was too excited to stop myself from booking the flights and planning my next adventure.
Once I emerged from my tube ride from Heathrow Airport, I was in awe of the combination of modern and old that defines the architecture of London. One of my favorite parts of traveling is observing how each city, place, and culture build their lives. The architecture of London is a puzzle of modern glass and steel with historic old brick and stone. One block you are admiring the royal glory of Buckingham Palace , and the next block, viewing your reflection in a sleek office building.
Anyone who has travelled with me will tell you, I love exploring big, old buildings. Whether it’s a castle, fort, or a witch’s cabin, you’ll always find me in a forgotten corner of an old structure. I was most excited to see Kensington Palace because of my love of Queen Victoria. I was able to look out into the gardens from her bedroom window.
Food: Fish and Chips
While food is always a top priority for myself, there was no pre-determined culinary goals for this adventure across the pond. I’ve previously considered the English culinary experience to be quite tame, but the variety was a bit of a shock. In the afternoon, I was a classy lady, sipping on delicate china, elegantly enjoying her afternoon tea. A few hours later, I was in the pub, chowing down some fish’n’chips and having a few pints with the lads. Easiest way to get a good pint in London: be the only American girl in the pub!
My little jaunt to London had a pretty strict budget, so for most of my meals, I tried to discover yummy, local street food for just a few pounds. I prefer my street food like I like my men: cheap, easy, and mouth watering. Luckily I found a couple spots in London that had both.
Sometimes the greatest parts of a city are hidden in history museums. I knew as soon as I booked my flight, I wanted to spend hours roaming the galleries of the British Museum. The huge halls, and grand staircases brought me to an endless sea of gorgeous artifacts and new knowledge. I gazed up at sculptures from Ancient Greek, the Roman Empire, and Babylonian Empire that I had studying during my two semester of art history classes in college. I won’t lie, I definitely got lost! Yet, each time I would find an exhibit worth the detour. I was able to transport myself around the world for the price of a trip to London!
One of the largest galleries is home to the Explorers exhibit. Containing artifacts from the Age of Discovery, the great hall is lined with bookshelves and littered with memorabilia from historical figures of the time. The British Museum would not be as impressive if not for the power of the British Empire during this time of exploration. The English were able to obtain such a wide collection of other cultures’ pasts due to military strength and technological advancements.
While museums are one of my favorite things to do when traveling, my bank account is weary of those huge ticket prices. That’s why whenever I discovered sign stating “Free Admission” I squeal with excitement. I was making my way down London’s maze of streets when I stumbled upon such a sign. I took yet another detour entering into the National Portrait Gallery. With a large collection, I was able to view the portraits of many influential people spanning hundreds of years and all having their unique style. From famous scientists and politicians to royalty and Elton John, each portrait I saw expressed a part of the subject’s personality.
Every adventure you take, you always take away a lesson learned. My first solo travel taught me that life, just like London, is full of contradictions. I can be both a lady at tea and a lad in the pub. There were moments when I would get nervous: such large city and so many people. But I that quickly faded, and a sense of belonging came as I would walk to streets everyday. Some moments I felt alone, wandering down an old part of town. Then, I would stumble into a tourist trap, where there were hundreds of other travelers just like me. I ate delicate pastries and sipped elegant teas, and threw back the pints in the pubs. I twirled my way through Kensington Gardens. And I bumbled through the Tube. London is a beautiful chaotic mixture of modern life and the old brick and stone. The city will now always remind me of the crazy contradictions that make life so beautiful.