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Culture Focus

Spring Break Travel Diaries

Alice Hakvaag March 4, 2019

Day 1- Flight and landing in London

When I get anxious about travel, I like to make sure I simply leave very early. This is the main reason as to why me and my friend Maggie arrived at Newark Airport five hours early for our flight to London. Those hours flew by, however, and soon we were on our way across the ocean. I even managed to get a few hours sleep in!

Upon landing and leaving the airport, we made our way to King’s Cross, where our hostel is. After dropping off our bags we dashed off to meet friends we hadn’t seen all semester at a pub called The Court. We caught up over burgers and thickly-cut fries, washing it all down with ciders. We decided to walk back to King’s Cross together, where we swung by the famous 9 and ¾ platform from Harry Potter. Be forewarned, there is quite a line. I wasn’t particularly set on getting a picture, but the hundred or so people I saw were, and weren’t going to budge.

Me and Maggie decided on a night in to prep for tomorrow. Museums and more walking is in our future!

 

A church seen on the way to the pub

Bread for sale outside of King’s Cross

Day 2- South Bank

In an attempt to get our sleep schedules on track, Maggie and I woke ourselves up at 8am to walk over to the South Bank. Our main destination: the Tate Modern museum, home to countless works of modern art by artists from around the world. As we crossed the Millenium Bridge, we saw that the Globe Theatre was right next door to the museum, so we made a quick detour to stare longingly at the theater where Shakespeare himself performed.

We spent three hours in the Tate, and we only saw two floors. Five exhibits are permanent, free exhibits, while two others are ticket-only. We didn’t have the stamina to pay to walk around any longer, so we took a lunch break and headed over to Burroughs Market. Stalls and stalls of stands selling meats, ciders, cheeses, and turnips filled this covered square underneath the train tracks. Maggie bought a cup of fresh grown and brewed chai tea in an attempt to keep herself awake.

Finally, we walked along the river Thames. From the riverbank we could see the House of Parliament, a scaffolding-covered Big Ben, and the towering London Eye. We thought about riding it, but like the platform 9 and ¾ yesterday, there was a winding line and a hefty ticket fee. We walked back across the river towards our hostel, and I think we’ve earned our sleep today.

Passing St. Paul’s Cathedral

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

The river Thames, the London Eye, and off in the distance Big Ben

Day 3- The British Museum

We slept in today, and I was only woken up by the three Portuguese men who were getting ready at around 11am. Maggie and I headed out around lunchtime, looking for a place where we could get full for cheap. We stopped at the Queen’s Larder, a pub with the most friendly barkeep I’ve ever met. I held the door open for her, and she let us get behind the bar and take pictures. She recommended getting to the British Museum in the mid-afternoon, since by then the midday rush would have faded.

She wasn’t completely wrong, the line to enter the museum was around the block but moved quickly. The museum loomed above us, and seemed to only get bigger when we got inside. The British Museum has 5 floors, each floor has roughly two or three wings, and each wing is devoted to one area of the world. We started with the Mediterranean, moving through Europe and the Greeks. Downstairs was the impressive Egypt exhibit, with the original Rosetta Stone tablet as a highlight.

We finished up with a smaller exhibit on the Americas, then headed out. Maggie desperately needed some new shoes after all our walking, so we spent the rest of the day wandering through a shopping district. My rule is that I have to do something educational or culturally enriching before I go shopping, and I think I’ve met that challenge.

The Queen’s Larder

The Egyptian wing

The Rosetta Stone

The Renaissance collection

Day 4- Kensington

My friend Shelby is also here for spring break. She’s here to visit our friend Jay while they study abroad. Today Jay had class, so the three of us went to her favorite museum: the Victoria and Albert museum. It’s a series of collections of artifacts and sculptures, ranging from all eras of human history. My favorite hall had a large cast of a tower in Italy; it’s so tall that not only did they have to cut the tower in half, but the building had to be built around it when arrived.

After grabbing a bite to eat, we decided to walk through Kensington Gardens over to Kensington Palace. The gardens are more like a park, with large grassy fields and ponds, fountains, and memorial statues scattered throughout. It was a beautiful day, and we saw a flock of green parrot-like birds that would have sat on our hands if we had any food for them. We got a little lost, but finally got over to Kensington Palace. It was… a little underwhelming. I thought it was a parks maintenance building when we walked up. The statue of Queen Victoria was more interesting to look at than the building. I’m sure the inside is sufficiently full of history, but at this point I had to leave the group–I was off to see a show.

The Globe Theatre offers £7 standing room tickets, and I am more than willing to stand for three hours if it means seeing a Shakespeare play in the building Shakespeare was performing. On tonight was Edward II, a historical play about England’s King Edward II and how his noblemen brought him to ruin after he gave an Earlship to his lover. It may be because I’m a theater student and am just getting better at this kind of thing, but I didn’t have to struggle to understand the first ten minutes of the play, which I’ll attribute to the actor’s clear performances. Halfway through, I was able to snag an empty seat up close and personal to the stage, much to the relief of my aching feet.

Victoria and Albert Museum

Tower in the Victoria and Albert Museum

Green parrots at Kensington Garden

Statue of Queen Victoria in front of Kensington Palace

The Globe Theater

Day 5- Trafalgar Square

Maggie was in charge of what we were going to do today, so we ended up on a mini bus tour. Instead of paying £20 for an open-air bus, we found a bus route that took us past several big sections of town, eventually stopping at Trafalgar Square. Trafalgar Square reminds me a lot of Times Square in New York City, complete with an M&Ms store and a Hard Rock Cafe coming soon. It still manages to have some of that Old London charm, however, even with the billboards.

We stumbled upon the National Gallery, probably the smallest museum we’ve seen so far, but still impressive in it’s collection. Works of Vincent Van Gogh, Leonardo DaVinci, and Raphael are just a fraction of what’s on display here. As with all the other museums, we got in for free: all public museums in the UK are subsidized by the government, which means they are paid enough to keep doing good work by the state and receive extra in donations. This upkeep of the arts is a point of national pride, something I think that the United States could take a page from.

Around the corner from Trafalgar is London’s Chinatown, where Maggie got a donut from the highly-recommended Donut Time and I picked up my favorite Japanese snack. We munched on our sweets as we walked over to St. James Park, a smaller park that is surrounded by several impressive government buildings and wartime museums. At the far end of the park is Buckingham Palace, a far more impressive building than the palace I saw yesterday. We sat at the foot of the large statue in front as the sun went down and then turned in early for the night, we have one afternoon left and then we’re on a train to Amsterdam!

Trafalgar Square

Chinatown

The statue outside Buckingham Palace

The Coward Theater on West End

Day 6- Travel

We were checked out of our hostel by 10 a.m. this morning, and we decided to spend our time around the station we were leaving from later in the afternoon. We treated ourselves to a traditional English Breakfast, composed of beans, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, eggs, toast, and black pudding. The goal was to be full until we were in Amsterdam later tonight.

We walked over to the Charles Dickens museum, a small museum in the first house that he owned. We learned about how and why he wrote about food the way he did, since he himself loved preparing and eating food. Afterwards we walked around the corner to Gay’s The Word, a local gay bookstore. Maggie and I both picked up something to read and headed to the train station.

Europe is so exciting for me because you can get anywhere by train. It helps that the trains themselves run incredibly smoothly, and I easily could have fallen asleep if I did not have that new book. We rolled through three countries in five hours, and finally made it to Amsterdam. I didn’t see much through the windows of the Uber we got from the station, but I can tell already how beautiful this city is, even in the dark.

Day 7- Centraal Amsterdam

I’ve stated my rule before: I have to do something historical before I’m allowed to go off and blow my money on fun things. That’s why I found myself heading towards the Anne Frank House at 9 a.m., only a quick tram ride from the hostel. This relatively small museum is built into the office building Anne Frank and her family hid in for two years during World War II. It’s a very well-designed space, and in under two hours I finished up, stopped for a traditional Dutch pancake, and was heading back to meet up with friends.

It’s at this point, my rule being fulfilled, I started my day of debauchery. We walked across town to Amsterdam Centraal, the touristy hub of the city. We found ourselves the closest “coffee” shop and all bought weed cupcakes, affectionately marketed as space cakes. We then found ourselves a pub and sat in it for an hour or so, before deciding that we needed some heavy food, and fast. We rounded the corner and found a small little restaurant that served one thing: huge baked potatoes with an array of toppings. Mine came covered in cheese and garlic sauce, and sat like a warm brick in my stomach.

We decided to go back to the hostel and nap in preparation for the night’s activity: the red light district. Rain was starting to fall as we arrived at another bar that was right above the canal before grabbing some Italian food further down the block. The red lights were easy to see on the shining pavement, and we found ourselves alongside a canal all lit up in neon. Between the windows full of scantily-clad women tapping on the glass and the coffee shops, I was sure even the most cavalier of people in America would be blushing. We certainly were; what place allows all of this to just be out in the open? A place that’s far more relaxed about everything, that’s what.

 

Day 8 – More Museums

If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m a museum person. Maggie and I were up bright and early to go to the Van Gogh Museum today, located in Museumplein. Like Philadelphia’s Avenue of the Arts, Amsterdam’s “museum square” is a green-filled square surrounded by museums. The Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk Museum, the Poëzie Museum, and the Moco Museum, all house art from the 1500s to the present, making for an impressive sight that I could easily spend two whole days in.

When we were finished at the museum, we met the rest of our friends in Centraal to catch a canal tour. We got on a more commercial boat with enclosed seats and an audio guide, and spent an hour sailing beneath canals, seeing the different neighborhoods, and learning about the history of the development of Amsterdam. Our guide was very frank about the housing market. Despite a lot of the houses being created as a cheap option, now it seems every single one of them is expensive.

We finished the day by walking over to the Bloenmarkt, a world-famous tulip market along one of the canals. It’s still a bit early for flowers, but almost-blooming bulbs were being sold in pots for €3 each. A nearby market was selling art and food, completing the picture underneath one of Amsterdam’s historic churches. Tomorrow is a pretty free day, I just hope my feet last that long.

 

 

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