After a relatively low-key day, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on how these travels have changed my perspective on what it means to be abroad.
Yesterday we went to London again for a trip to the British Library. This is probably one of my favorite sites in England because of the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery. There were no photos allowed in the actual gallery, but everything from Jane Austen’s writing desk to lyric scribbles from the Beatles to the Magna Carta is in this dimly-lit room, free for public viewing.
After the library, we got to duck into a little pizza restaurant across the street. Not to be a snob or anything, but I know good pizza- authentic Italian and otherwise. Founded in 1965, Pizza Express boasts of its American Hottest pizza, which comes with pepperoni, hot green and roquito peppers, fresh red chili, spicy hot soft ‘nduja sausage, tomato, and buffalo mozzarella, finished with torn buffalo, mozzarella, fresh parsley and chili oil.
The American Hottest. As an American pizza fanatic, I cannot say this was the hottest pizza I’ve ever tried. The flavor was excellent and the chili added a unique heat mixed with the sauce in little pesto-like puddles of spice. I find the authentic Italian pizza style with the clusters of mozzarella very appealing as well. It helps the pizza-consumer enjoy the freshness and of the cheese as a compliment to the other toppings. On behalf of America, I thank Pizza Express for a very good shot at an authentically Italian, British at-heart and spice-level, and American-styled pie. I’m definitely glad I tried it.
After our trips through the museum, we got to go our separate ways for the day. For a couple of us, this meant a trip to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard, Westminster Abbey, and Harrods department store.
Harrods was a must-see as well and I was dying to know what all the hype was about. I wasn’t dissapointed. And that was before I left the chocolate station.
This chocolate is coated in 24k gold
In case you thought I was joking.
Literally every bit of this stuff had me entranced. It was like being in a museum where the taste buds are the eyes into the chocolatier’s soul.
Do you think a totally kitschy line like that ought to get me a free sample? No? The guy behind the Belgian chocolate counter didn’t think so either.
The trip through what little bit of Harrod’s was eye-opening in that oh-my-Gucci, why didn’t I wear heels, no wonder the people behind the channel counter aren’t offering me a perfume spritz, sort of way.
The trip to and from Harrods was even more enlightening. I and two other students set about this day trip once we broke off from the group. What ensued was nothing short of a migration. The thing about traveling abroad for the first time that so many cannot understand until they’ve done it- the simple trip to a point of interest involves anywhere from 2-5 modes of transportation-all with their own selection of bus changes, delays, long lines, and scurrying through those little metal twisty things that admit you to the right side of the train station…and then try to eat your luggage before you can roll it through.
Patience and map-reading are skills that (when you’re like me and don’t come by them naturally), you cultivate out of necessity.
This is another reason why having a group comes in handy: at some point one of us is going to get this right. An added bonus: we can take turns wearing the tourist cone of shame in the form of giant map stretches out 4 feet in front of us that we can present pleadingly to the nearest train depot coffee shop barrista.
To give you an idea of what a trip from Paddington rail station is like: observe the scene below:
See the people staring up at the screens watching for arrivals? The dude with the sandwich trying to scarf something down before sprinting to the platform? This is the norm.
I’ve found I really enjoy the rush of traveling by tube and train, but there are times (like for instance when I’m over a mile below ground in a tiny train making physical contact with strangers crammed against every side of my body) when it gets stressful.
The biggest culture shock, aside from tear-inducing upper-echelon chocolate, is the transportation. I may not be completely acclimated, but I definitely appreciate how it’s useful. Having so many people trying to navigate London on foot at would time would making navigating buses and vehicles through the streets impossible.
Additionally, this allows the people who can’t afford to live in the city a means to get to and from for work and to take part in the culture. Having a diverse group of people is vital in a tightly-packed city because it keeps the area alive with different modes of art, music, architecture, and (my favorite) food.
Long lines and packed trains are part of a way to stretch the city’s reach and influence and maintain its inner growth and development as an internationally-valued culture hub.
It’s an important part of the metropolitan lifestyle and helps me navigate better to chocolate.
I consider myself an enlightened traveler.