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Extraordinary London

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Written by Jamie Shannon.

The Royal Wedding had completely captured my interest for the past six months and when it finally aired April 29th, I could not help but miss ‘my’ magnificent city of London. I associate the city of London with the best experience of my life thus far, my study abroad trip. I had the luxury of having to call this amazing city home for a full six weeks which, if I am being honest, was far too short.  Nothing compares to London and its exhilarating atmosphere, the city always leaves you craving more.

I decided to apply to study abroad on a complete whim. My parents didn’t even know that I applied for this little journey until the day that I told them that I was accepted and that I would be leaving for England in 8 weeks. Needless to say, they were less than thrilled at first, but they are pretty good about letting me create my own experiences of the world. Did I mention that no one that I knew was joining me on my adventure? Yes, I flew 4,000 miles away from home to live in London for six weeks and had not met a single person that would be in my group. Hey, it was an adventure and I Word of advice for all parents out there considering this, LET THEM GO! Study abroad is the best thing that your child can do during their college career besides obviously receiving their diploma. It completely shapes and develops one’s view of the world around them and will be truly beneficial in their future careers.

I left for London in the afternoon so that I could sleep on the plane and arrive on London time the next morning. I flew into Gatwick Airport instead of Heathrow Airport because it was significantly cheaper. Also, I found out later that I had much less of hassle than the other study abroad students. I did, however, have difficulty getting from the airport into downtown to my flat. I thought that I could find my way downtown via train and the tube, which is entirely possible, but not worth the stress that ensues. Please learn from my experience and take a taxi or reserve a transfer from whichever airport that you choose to fly into. They are a little on the expensive side (around 100 pounds or so) but well worth it. Miraculously, I found my way to Russell Square, 3 and a half hours later I might add, while lugging two exceptionally large suitcases up and down various sets of stairs at numerous different tube stations throughout London; Never again. Our flats at Bedford Place, just so happened to be right around the corner from the University London where our classes were held, the British Museum, our favorite pub the Fitzroy, and the famous Tottenham Court Road.  Once everyone gathered together and received our keys and roommates for the next six weeks, we decided to take off to explore the city. I would highly suggest purchasing a well charted map because unlike most streets in the United States, London’s streets are not arranged like a grid but rather they seems to go every which way.

After plenty of sleep and allowing our systems to register London time, our professor gathered everyone together and handed us our Oyster Pass (for the tube) and a ticket for the hop-on hop-off famed red double-decker bus. I would highly recommend purchasing one of these tickets. It is by far the easiest way to get around London to all of the essential places to see such as Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Tower of London, and the London Eye. You can get on and off any red bus and essentially pick and choose with ease the attractions that you wish to see.

The London Eye was one of my very favorite sightseeing activities. We decided to go in the evening so that we could watch the sunset while riding the giant Ferris wheel. The name London Eye fits perfectly because the giant structure does exactly that; it oversees the city and gives its riders a chance to view London from an entirely different perspective. The ride is approximately 30 minutes long and prices range from around 15 pounds to 30 pounds depending on whichever extras you would like to add such as priority boarding or a private ride.

If you are a Harry Potter fan, I urge you to head down to King’s Cross to attempt to find platform 9 ¾ and the shopping cart that appears to be running into the brick wall. It is definitely the place for the perfect photo opportunity. From what I have been told, they tend to move the shopping cart around so that it is somewhat difficult to find, but you always know that it will be near platforms 9 and 10.

The changing of the guards is an event that you must take part in, while in London. Every day around 11:30 a.m. a ceremony takes place at Buckingham Palace to change out the guards who have been on watch all night. This exciting event provides commoners a slight glimpse into the Royal Family. It was amazing to me that this ceremony, which seemed to me more like a parade, took place every day (weather permitting). The ceremony begins at 11:30 a.m., but I would suggest arriving around 10:30 or 11 a.m. because it tends to get pretty crowded especially in the summer.

Abbey Road is also a must, especially for all of you Beatle fanatics out there. I would suggest taking a taxi to the spot where the infamous album cover was photographed because London cab drivers know the city unlike anyone else. Our driver knew exactly where to drop us off at and even gave us a little interesting information along the way.

My experience of London was different than most because Michigan State University’s contact in London, Mallory Wober, is an eminent figure throughout the city and has connections with places that the general public is not allowed such as Bloomberg, Ogilvy, the BBC, Parliament, along with several others. Parliament, in particular, was quite interesting because we visited some of the offices of the members of Parliament and part of our class that day was conversing with one of the representatives in a sort of roundtable fashion. We also were able to attend a meeting in the House of Commons and witness some intense debates between the representatives.  Bloomberg was a fantastic sight visit; the offices are remarkable and the innovation behind their communication strategies is extraordinary. There are no walls in the building; everyone’s office is out in the open including the CEO’s. They believe that in order to have the most efficient communicative strategies, they literally must break down the barriers which in this case are literally the office walls. Being a communication major, this visit of course fascinated me.

Our professors took us to Cambridge for a day, where we had the luxury of having class lecture inside the walls of the famous Cambridge University. We also became skilled in the art of punting. Instead of choosing the option of having a professional take us out on our punting adventure, a group of us decided to conquer the task ourselves. Punting involves using an exceptionally long pole to move a flat-bottomed boat down a river. Unlike oars, the pole is long enough to push against the bottom of the river to move the boat along. It was much more difficult than we had anticipated, but definitely an adventure. Each of us tried it once for a little bit and then we let the strong boys take over for the rest of the day. I suggest the visiting the historic city of Cambridge and seeing the traditional building structures, everything is very antique-style.

In recent years, Classic Travel has become increasingly more involved with Michigan State University’s prestigious Study Abroad program. We have the ability to plan your student’s trip and ensure them an excellent travel experience. We can even arrange for parents to visit before or after the program. Study Abroad is an experience unlike any other and if you as a parent or student have any reservations about traveling abroad, I highly recommend London and the United Kingdom. It is extremely safe and you will be able to put your mind at ease while you child has the experience of a lifetime. Travel makes one see the world through an entire different lens and we at Classic Travel is more than happy to assist you in planning your adventure!