In the summer of 2011, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel Europe with People to People Ambassador Programs. Although we traversed six countries, England was the most vibrant and exciting one of all. My journey began after a seven hour flight from Charlotte, North Carolina to the Gatwick airport in London. Ironically, our first real footsteps did not occur on European soil at all. In fact, the first site we toured was a patch of land belonging to the United States and dedicated to John F. Kennedy. Later that day, we explored the grounds of Windsor Castle, one of the Queen’s homes. The shopping district surrounding Windsor is marvelous, sporting couture shops as well as souvenir stores.
We continued our British Experience with a tour of Hampton Court Palace. It is here that 16th century King Henry VIII lived with each of his six wives. Reenactors roamed the halls, and unlike American attractions, tourists are permitted to touch some of the antiques.
On day two in London, England, we took an in-depth bus tour of the numerous sites. Highlights included Westminster Abbey, Scotland Yard, and Saint Paul’s Cathedral, all of which we only drove by. Our first real stop of the day was at Buckingham Palace. Excitement coursed through our veins as we impatiently waited for the Changing of the Guard. People gathered in swarms as the stiff sentries took their positions and began marching up to the building. We spent an extremely short time at Buckingham Palace, but our tour guide ensured we made the most of it.
Next, we drove to the iconic Tower of London. Although it was home to many leaders, Richard the Lionhearted most notably expanded the fortress into a complicated deathtrap for any attacker. Beefeaters strolled through the grounds. Where did this unusual name originate? No one really knows for certain. The most exciting part of touring the Tower of London was viewing the crown jewels. Security is maximized, but the restrictions and long waits were worth viewing the priceless gems.
We ended the day on the West End where we viewed the Broadway production, Million Dollar Quartet. It was a remarkable musical about the night when music icons Elvis Pressley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins performed together.
On our last day in England, we rode the London Eye, the largest Ferris Wheel in the world, reaching a whopping 443 feet. The sheer structural brilliance of the Eye was almost as mind boggling as the view. However, on our way to a lecture by House of Commons member Patrick Nichols, we discovered that a giant protest was being held on the streets of London because the retirement age of teachers was raised five years. There were over 75,000 protestors in London alone. Brits shoved signs in our faces and shouted profanity as we were whisked through the streets.
We did make it to the lecture at the London School of Economics, and Patrick Nichols wowed us with his speaking abilities and knowledge. The presentation lasted less than an hour, and afterwards we strolled Covent Garden, a flea market-like area of the city. Here, we witnessed the unimaginable feats of a professional contortionist. This was our last British hoorah, for we were soon whisked away to Portsmouth to dock a ferry to France.
Overall, London was a magnificent city comprised of historical significance, modern technology, and diverse culture. Something in my blood told me that this drizzly city was home. I have longed to feel that electricity since, and I hope to explore London a dozen times more one day.
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