You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.
That quote from Samuel Johnson is oft repeated about London, with its masses of people and never-ending pulse of life. Despite the characteristically gloomy weather of this grand city, you can’t help but feel yourself pulled into its energy, as you too push through the tunnels of Tube stations underground or jostle on its packed sidewalks.
But first, I owe a little explanation. A stubborn head cold put me out of commission of writing about my spring break until now, and there’s also been the scary realization that I’m over half-way through with my semester. Time is running out, so every moment is precious: to wander through the gardens, to visit that museum, to enjoy a leisurely dinner at home. It’s strange to think how quickly this semester has already gone by––and really, how fast this year has gone by.
And when you’re with the people you care about, it’s even more shocking how the minutes seem to whizz on by. For spring break, I jetted off to the British Isles. Though I’ve been to London and parts of southern Ireland before, this time it was to reunite with Shawn, who is studying abroad at the University of Bristol for the semester. I met Shawn in London for the weekend, then traveled to Bristol, Bath, and Dublin over the course the week. It was cold––and sometimes rainy––but I loved playing the role of tourist once again.
First stop, London!
I arrived in London on Friday afternoon, after an uneventful flight from Florence to Heathrow and a train to Paddington Station. I met up with Shawn at the McDonald’s––not because we were stereotypical Americans (or maybe we are), but because (pro tip) it’s the most reliable place for free WiFi at Paddington. On the first night, we waded through the rain to find our Airbnb host in Tooting before eating a wonderful dinner at The Laughing Gravy.
Over the next couple days, it was time to hit the museums! It’s not a trip to London unless you visit the British Museum, the gigantic building that houses all of the precious archaeological artifacts that the English looted from other countries. As such, when we weren’t taking pictures of ourselves mimicking statues, Shawn and I spent most of our time at the museum arguing whether the artifacts should be returned to their home countries or not.
We also spent an hour or so wandering through the halls of the Tate Modern, pondering the meaning of life (or why some things are considered art).
We also walked around the city itself, a worthy attraction all on its own. There are truly few other things like watching the light in St. James’ Park at sunset.
During the weekend, we also took the Tube everywhere. London has the wonderful privilege of having the most beautifully designed public transportation map I’ve ever seen––something we dutifully studied over the weekend whenever we’d have to make our long journey back to our home base at Tooting Broadway.
We also made sure to take advantage of the many food options in the city! Asian fusion, anyone?
Bristol: Writing on the Wall
On Sunday night, we took a late train to Bristol, where Shawn is living for the semester. Bristol is a large city in southwest England, with a population around 430,000. It’s also home to two universities: the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England.
The coolest thing about Bristol is its huge street art scene. There are a number of active street artists in Bristol, and the city is also the hometown of the famous street artist Banksy, who was made famous in the documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop.
It was Shawn’s reading week when I visited, so we spent lots of time in coffee shops as he worked on midterm essays.
There was lots of procrastinating involved.
I enjoyed meeting his British university friends and seeing what his life is like in England. Luckily, the University of Bristol campus is beautiful!
Plus, the British have a way of saying things just so.
I especially found it entertaining how Brits greet their friends with a somewhat indifferent “You all right?” or “All right?” instead of the usual American “How are you?” While that’s a perfectly normal greeting in the U.K., I kept thinking that people thought there was something wrong with me. Nope.
Bath: The city, not the room
One day, we took a day trip from Bristol to the city of Bath, which is about an hour away by bus. It’s a beautiful city, full of gorgeous blocks of houses, a meandering river, and quaint neighborhoods.
Right off the bus, we found a beautiful, grassy park by the river.
Along with sightseeing, I played paparazzi for the week. I present The Many Faces of Shawn:
Of course, the main attraction in Bath is the site of its ancient Roman Baths. The city was first established as Acquae Sulis around the 60s A.D. over a natural hot springs in the area. For centuries––and even today––visitors came to the city seeking out its special waters, throwing money and objects into the pools as an offering to the gods. In Georgian times, the spa garnered popularity once again as a resort town.
At the end of the museum, you could taste the water from the hot springs itself! (Though my expression can tell you how that water actually tasted.)
For several quid more, we purchased our ticket to the Roman Baths with an entry to the Fashion Museum, which houses one of the largest collections of historical and fashionable dress in the world. The museum started out with several exhibits on historical fashion from the Georgian Era, then ended with more contemporary collections. Each year, the museum selects an individual to chose the Dress of the Year, which is selected to reflect that year’s fashion trends.
My favorite part, however, was the dress-up section full of Georgian-era garb. Jane Austen, eat your heart out!
We also spent time wandering the city itself: churches, gardens, and boulevards, oh my!
Near the end of the day, we found a park with this fantastic bucket swing. A perfect way to end our day trip?
I sure think so.
Next post: Spring Break, Part 2 – Exploring the city where everyone looks like they’re related to me… Dublin!