vacation from vacation

For my grand finale of travel this semester, I spent five days in London this past week. While I was with Adina the whole time, I also got to spend time with Emma, Andrew, and Hannah for various segments of the trip. It was a lot of fun, and we were able to pack so much into each day.

Adina, Rachel and I woke up at 4 in the morning on Wednesday for the flight to London, and that felt incredibly early. We had to get our boarding passes signed at the check-in desk (perks of flying a discount airline like RyanAir), and the woman at the desk gave me a hard time about my wheelie suitcase. Although that suitcase fits in most airlines’ holders, RyanAir’s is smaller, and it didn’t quite fit. However, I took a chance and said I’d keep it until boarding, even though she said I’d have to check it later. I was nervous about it as we waited to board. Annoyingly, the same woman was standing behind the boarding desk, so she pointedly told me it was now time to check my bag. Adina was nice enough to carry all my valuables in her smaller carry-on bag, but then I realized that I’d need to borrow a credit card (mine hadn’t been working for several days but that’s taken care of now!). Neither Rachel nor Adina’s cards worked in the machine, so I had to resort to my back-up kroners (Danish currency) I keep in my wallet. I only had 400 of those, and the price was 410 kroner. Adina had an extra 200-kroner bill, but the lady said she didn’t have change. So, she suggested I go back before customs and exchange money to get change. I was nervous about missing the flight, but she assured me that I wouldn’t. Feeling overwhelmed and panic-y, I made another mistake of going the wrong way through the customs gate, and the woman checking passports flipped out, yelling that I couldn’t “cross a border” that way. She said I was lucky I was in Denmark, as I could have been arrested in the United States. Scary! I was pretty upset at this point, shaking from the thought of being arrested, but I ran to the 7/11 to get change. He only had 10-kroner coins, so now I have a bunch of those. I went back through customs again and gave this to the check-in person, and finally reunited with Rachel and Adina. It was quite a fiasco, but luckily, my bag made it to London.

We arrived at Stansted airport, and Rachel went her separate way to a train to Paris, while Adina and I headed to the train that would take us into the city. We learned that it is quite shleppy to get to and from airports in London, as they are not really near anything. I often take my 25-minute commute to the Copenhagen airport for granted. We were happy to discover that Citymapper, the app we use to navigate our way to unknown places, works in London, so we used this to get to our hotel. Once we got to the Paddington area, we decided to sit in Kensington Park and enjoy the nice weather while we waited for Emma to get there and start our day. The sun was beautiful, and I even started to sweat through my jacket.

We were able to check into the hotel earlier than expected so we could leave our bags in the room. This was a nice surprise. At this point, it was 12:30, and none of us had eaten since 6a.m., so the first stop was food. Hannah had recommended a cute brunch place called Granger and Co and while we couldn’t make a reservation, the wait was only 15 minutes. I got a plate with eggs, rice, salmon, and salad, and it was delicious. As we ate, we began to catch up on the last few weeks (the last time I saw Emma was in Dublin) and also reassess our afternoon plans, as it was later than we had thought it would be. We moved some activities around on the itinerary and headed out to walk to the tube for the first sight: the famous house from the movie, Parent Trap.

The tube is London’s underground train system, and we have learned that it is quite easy to navigate. We bought unlimited 3-day passes upon arriving in London, and we definitely made the money worthwhile. Because London is a much bigger city than many places I’ve visited in Europe, it’s more time-efficient to take public transportation; this way, we are able to see more throughout our trip.

I noticed immediately while walking around that London has a very similar feel to NYC. Yes, people have British accents, and there are cute European coffees sold everywhere. However, in comparison to basically all the other cities I have visited the past few months, London is the most similar to American culture and style. I saw pedestrians j-walk, people honked their horns way louder than necessary, and the traffic was similar to the pace of a big city.

Something that’s very useful is the white paint on the streets that say “look left” and “look right” as you wait on the curb to cross a busy intersection. Another thing we noticed is that “exit” is always marked as “way out” in the Metro stations and everywhere else we’ve been.

Anyway, we arrived a little later at the Parent Trap house. While commuting there, we had fun quoting our favorite lines from the movie and talking about our favorite memories of watching it. I personally saw the movie for the first time at camp and since then several more times at camp as well as with Eric on long car rides or planes. (We both enjoy the scene when Meredith realizes Hallie has a twin.) We took a picture in front of the house and returned to the Tube station for our next spot: The British Museum.

This place was huge! And the architecture was beautiful. We were a little confused as to why it’s not called the “Imperial Museum” or something, as the focus is more on the world’s development as a whole instead of just British history. Nevertheless, we enjoyed looking at various artifacts, paintings, and objects from thousands of years ago, and we also appreciated the fact that admission to this museum was free.

We had time for one more activity before dinner, so we decided to head to Peggy Porschen, a dessert/tea shop that is completely pink. We had gotten recommendations to go there. After coming up the stairs from our next metro, we noticed that we were in the Broadway district of London, which was cool to see. It was actually a fun experience, in general, to ride the tube to various parts of the city, only to exit the underground area and find ourselves in a completely different neighborhood. We walked around this district a bit before going to Peggy Porschen, passing the Australian War Memorial and Wellington Arch on the way. I was disappointed that they didn’t have gluten-free desserts there, but that’s not why I wanted to go, anyway. Plus, we were eating dinner soon. I enjoyed the pink atmosphere and drank vanilla tea, and it was nice to rest after walking so much that day.

Andrew and I talked on the phone for a few minutes to coordinate our plan for dinner. He was really sweet about wanting to see Emma and me and exchange study abroad stories, even though he had his biggest final of the semester the next day. We planned to meet up in the Covent Garden area, a place with several streets filled with street performers, restaurants, and shopping. We walked around a bit before settling in a casual Italian dinner, where I had gluten-free pasta. It was great to catch up with Andrew, who has had a very interesting abroad experience. His program pretty much has three days of “internship,” where he was overall disappointed to realize he wouldn’t be doing much, plus one day of class on Thursday, where no one takes notes, followed by a day off on Friday for everyone. Talk about not having work. Although London is clearly such an exciting city with a ton to do, it sounded like it’s more difficult to travel from the city as your home base, especially because all the airports are so far from everything. It was also fun to talk about our travels from abroad, especially since we are now ending our semesters and each of us has so many stories to tell. It was around 10:00 by the time we finished at dinner, and the 4a.m. wake-up was starting to hit us. So, we made our way back to the hotel, and it’s safe to say that I fell asleep immediately.

Oh, the other funny thing from dinner was that while Adina was organizing her money to pay, she discovered two 5-kroner coins, and we laughed hysterically at how much trouble that could have saved in the morning when all I needed was 10 kroner. 🙂 It’s even funnier because Adina has never paid with anything in kroner; she always uses her card. So having the two coins was completely random.

We woke up on Thursday for our first full day of London sightseeing. The first spot on our list did not require a tube ride, so we were able to see a little more of our area in the daylight. There was one cute cafe and shop after another, and we stopped inside one of them to get delicious fruit smoothies for breakfast, deciding this was a great go-to spot for the future days we had. My new credit card (thanks, dad) had arrived at the hotel earlier that morning, so finally I was able to pay for myself after several days of paying back friends. Once we got our smoothies, we walked towards Kensington gardens and palace, where Adina and I had stopped quickly the day before. We remarked about how nice it was to be wearing short-sleeves outside for the first time since being abroad! The weather was beautiful. We walked to the Kensington Palace and garden area where Adina and I had sat after landing in London, and we enjoyed looking at the grass, fountains, and sightseeing people roaming around. It wasn’t worth it to go inside the palace, as it was expensive and two of the primary exhibits were closed, so we just took in the outside sights instead.

Next, we took a tube to the Palace of Westminster and the Westminster Abbey area, which is next to the Big Ben. Big Ben is under construction so it’s hard to see the beautiful clocktower, but we were able to look at all the pretty churches in the area anyway. We decided to head to the Churchill War Rooms and Museum while we were close to it before getting lunch. We had to wait on line for a few minutes, but the exhibits were totally worthwhile. After buying out tickets, we entered into underground war rooms where government officials and war commanders met to plan battle agendas and take care of business. Then, we entered into the Churchill Exhibit, where we read and watched interactive simulations about Churchill, as well as his relationship with Stalin and Roosevelt—the big three. I had only briefly covered these people in middle school history, so it was good to be refreshed. I have discovered that I really prefer history museums to art museums, as I think I have more of an appreciation for learning about things that took place. Additionally, I realized as I read about World War II from a British and American perspective that it was only a few days earlier I had been standing in Berlin and learning about the war from a very different perspective. It is so interesting that the same war can have so many different angles, presented with so many different attitudes and focuses. I also appreciated how this exhibit had lots of interactive elements to keep us entertained. For example, there was a touch-screen board to find out more about the letters sent between Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt, as well as private correspondence with their wives. Finally, the last part of the museum involved looking at the other “war rooms,” such as bedrooms, coat closets, and kitchens that were actually used during wartime. All of this took place underground, so the sun was very shocking when we exited the museum.

At this point, it was close to 2:00, and we were very hungry. We decided that we’d have a picnic in a nearby park after picking up some quick items in a grocery store. The weather was too good to be inside any longer. We spent the next hour walking around the general Westminster area and the bridge before sitting to reassess our itinerary and update the rest of our afternoon. I absolutely loved traveling with Emma and Adina, as we are all planners, and we got along great for this trip. I wasn’t worried about it, but it was extra easy.

The next stop was Tower Bridge. Although this is not the “London Bridge,” the Tower Bridge is the one to see, as it’s blue and beautiful, and it is very interesting-looking. After taking a few photos, we decided it was a good afternoon for High Tea—something we did not have definitively on the itinerary but knew we wanted to experience. I am so lucky that Adina found a place that serves gluten-free high tea, so I was not only able to participate in tea-drinking but in the unbelievable experience of the platters of mini sandwiches and desserts. We walked there, even though it was a relatively far walk, so we ended up sitting for a while inside. The store was so cute. My favorite savory sandwich was the roll with egg salad, and my favorite sweet treat was definitely the plain biscuit with jelly. There was also a cupcake, a little brownie, and muffins. And, I had chocolate flavored tea, which was so good.

We were so full after high tea, yet it was close to dinner-time. Instead, we wandered around the area, looking at all the interesting buildings and after-work events. Emma remarked that the buildings in London are a sharp contrast between modern, tall skyscrapers and extremely old, short buildings that are similar to ones in other European cities. It was the last chance to have a relatively early return to the hotel for the days on our trip, so we made it to our last stop of the day: a pub on the recommendations in our itinerary called Liberty Bounds. Adina and Emma really wanted to try the authentic fish and chips, and I was totally fine having a smaller meal, too, since we were still digesting the sandwiches from high tea. We had a really fun time there, and then we headed home. I had enough time to book some reservations for the following days, as well as facetiming Josh and then Maddie, Gillian, and Kelly (my aephi lineage) for G’s purity bday celebration. I got to watch her open the gift we had picked out, too. Many of my close school friends have birthdays this week, and it’s a little strange not to be there with them.

Friday, we woke up and got smoothies on the way to the tube again. The first item on our agenda was watching the Changing of the Guards ceremony at Buckingham Palace. Although it didn’t start until 11, the website said to arrive at 10:15. When we got there, there were already thousands of people waiting to see the guards! It was so crowded. Luckily, we were able to find enough space on a few stairs, and we could just peer over the heads of many other tourists for the start of the ceremony. The music was cool; we talked about how the guards must know how to play in a marching band in addition to being a guard. We were also so happy that the weather was just about perfect again, as we were warm standing in the sun with a nice breeze. I’m glad we got to see the guards, although I thought the ceremony would have been longer. It’s crazy that thousands of people came to the palace to see a bunch of people dressed up in uniform, but we knew it was a London activity we couldn’t miss.

Next, we headed to King’s Cross station just to see the infamous Platform 9 and 3/4 from Harry Potter. I hadn’t realized this was going to be a real tourist sight, but we realized that there were probably hundreds of people in line to take a picture with the sign and the carriage that, in the book, could pass through the wall. We didn’t want to wait on the long line to have the person working there take a picture of us, so we settled for pictures of the wall instead. We were going to check out the Harry Potter-themed souvenir store while we were there, but this entrance line was also very long. After quickly stopping at a nearby restroom, we took the tube to another metro stop.

We spent the first part of our afternoon on Carnaby street and within the surrounding area, which is the London comparable neighborhood to Soho. It was the cutest area! We had a really good lunch at a place called Leon, which is a salad company we’d seen all over the city. We also popped into a few stores in the area and looked at the window displays. After that, we walked down the street to Sketch, a very fancy restaurant that we wanted to see but did not necessarily want to buy the expensive food. Instead, we ended up sitting in the more casual bar area and ordering dessert, but this allowed us to do what we most wanted at Sketch: go to the bathroom. I know this sounds funny, but the bathroom literally looks like a museum, and after seeing the toilet pods and interesting architecture (it looks like a spaceship) on social media and online, we had put it on our itinerary. After taking cool pictures in the bathroom, I had a yummy chocolate tart for dessert after lunch.

Next, we took a tube to the Imperial War Museum, where we only had time to enter the World War I exhibit. One part of the exhibit tried to imitate the experience of living in a trench during the period of trench warfare. After spending so much of this semester learning more intimately about World War II, it was also nice to have a WWI refresher. The museum was also free, which was definitely a plus. We needed to leave by 5:00 to pick up fruit and a card for our seder host family, then going back to the hotel to change into nicer clothes.

Adina and I had gotten funding from Kahal, the Jewish Abroad organization, to go to a London family’s home for the First Seder. We were both excited and a bit nervous about meeting them, but we had already agreed that they were probably very nice people for offering to host us and that the worst case was that it was awkward or not fun, but at least we would have gotten a seder, a nice meal, and an interesting story to tell.

It ended up being so much more than that—completely exceeding our expectations. We took a few tubes and walked a bit in a residential neighborhood before arriving at their house. We were greeted by Maya, the high school-aged daughter. Daniella, Marc, and Adam (the rest of the immediate family) were all ready to say hello to us as well. We started the typical small-talk questions about where we’re from and why we’re studying in Copenhagen before the other guests arrived: Lena, the Greek-Jewish grad student studying for her Master’s in London; Noah and her parents, close friends of the host family, and one other couple, a Rabbi and his wife. There was plenty of loud talking and greetings as we all started to get to know one another. I loved that we were sitting in the living room for the Seder instead of the dining room: Marc said this was to further enable us to “lean left” during the beginning of the Seder.

The Seder itself was very different from any other seder experience I’ve had. For starters, the whole process was a lot longer and drawn out. One example was how the whole Seder was very conversation-based and interactive. Each person had a different Haggadah, so we were encouraged to ask the group questions from our respective booklets. If something was written in a slightly different way, the person could pose this as a question to the group. There was also a game involved with this questioning. In the middle of the coffee table, there was a bowl of walnuts—the kind inside the huge shell, along with a nutcracker. Whenever someone either asked or answered a question, the person would get a walnut as a prize. Additionally, there was celery on the table for an easy snack to munch on; Daniella said she didn’t want anyone to starve as we waited for the meal to begin.

Something else interesting that I’d never had at a seder was a careful following of when specifically we should drink wine. There are four glasses involved in the seder part alone! Plus whatever one drinks at dinner. I only had a glass and a half by the end of the evening; I could never drink that much wine if I didn’t want to be completely drunk. After the seder, we moved into the dining room for the eating portion of the evening. Daniella had assigned seats, and I was placed between her and Adam. I’m glad she did this, as I’m sure I would have otherwise sat next to Adina and talked to our hosts less. While we ate the food (which included plenty of gluten-free options and matzah), I chatted with Daniella about my perceptions of European culture and her perceptions of American culture, which was an interesting contrast. She feels like Americans are always in this pursuit of happiness while Europeans are more driven by productivity, but after considering this later in the evening, I kind of feel like I see the opposite. I also talked with one of the family friends about career paths and how a person could know what job is a good fit, as she is currently in the process of switching careers. I shared my summer plans and interests and said that although I’m not sure exactly what I want to end up doing yet, I know that the best way to figure this out is just to try something.

After the meal and dessert, we continued with the seder. We had told Daniella we were going to leave by midnight, as we didn’t want to be taking public transportation at a crazy hour of the night. When we were just getting back into the prayers, she turned to me and asked if I had to go back, and I was so startled that I assured her we could stay longer. However, after Adina and I talked silently to each other from across the table (we didn’t have our phones in the room, of course), she told me that her watch said it was already 12:25a.m.! I couldn’t believe how the night had flown. When we reached the ending songs at almost 1 in the morning, we excused ourselves, thanking the hosts and our company, and then we decided it was smarter to take an uber home. We didn’t go to sleep until after 2, but I’m glad I got to say hi to my family seder going on already at that time at home.

We slept fast until a little before 9, waking up so that Emma could have enough time to eat and comfortably make it to her flight. She was flying back to Barcelona in the afternoon, but she flies home today already to the United States! I’m so glad she was able to join me and Adina for this trip. We went to another delicious cafe down the street from our hotel after Adina and I left our suitcases with the front desk, and we ate omelets with vegetables. Then, I said goodbye to Emma, and Adina and I continued on our London adventures. Saturday was just such a happy day. For starters, it was 75 degrees and sunny, and we wore sundresses and skirts for the first time since winter, which is always very exciting. We also had an especially fun time walking around, as we were telling stories from school and camp, and we laughed a lot. Our first stop was the London Eye, which had bought tickets for in advance of the day. Luckily, we paid four extra pounds for “fast pass” tickets, which allowed us to cut in front of a very long line. I was super excited for the eye and the view we would see, and fortunately, I was able to distract Adina from her fear of heights. The view was incredible, and it goes slowly enough that we were able to take it all in. When we got off the ride a half hour later, we walked around the touristy area for a while, and we even stopped to get iced coffee and drink it while sitting in the warm sun. It was so nice.

Our next stop was the Shakespeare’s Globe, where I was reminded of all the memories from Ms. Hastings’ classes in high school and everything I had learned about Shakespeare. We bought tickets for a guided tour of the globe, and we got extra lucky because we got to watch an actual dress rehearsal going on at that time! The tour guide was also great and so funny, and he mocked Adina’s accent as sounding like an American in a joking manner. We saw a costume demonstration on the side of the stage, and then we saw the theatre from two different viewpoints: where the rich people would sit and where the poor people would sit. Unlike modern shows, where we pay more money to sit close to the stage, it was more desirable to sit in the back corner of the theatre, as the acoustics were apparently better. Additionally, I couldn’t help but notice the iambic pentameter in each of the lines, as I was trained to listen to that in high school.

As we made our way to Borough Market for a late lunch, Adina and I looked at the locations for everything the rest of the day, and we were ecstatic when noticed we were only a 15-minute walk from all the places. Then, we laughed, as we remembered we had planned the itinerary according to location. However, it was so much fun to be somewhat surprised by how well we had planned the days, as we had tried to look at a map. We were quite pleased with ourselves, especially because this was an itinerary we made together after a whole semester of mapping out itineraries. When we got to Borough Market, we had to do several laps before deciding what we wanted. We knew we wanted big cups of soft serve ice cream as a dessert, so with that in mind, we decided we’d share something at the market as a meal. Something that is really fun about traveling with Adina is that we often have similar tastes in food, especially as we were trying to keep Passover, so bread wasn’t an option. She loves healthy, yummy food, and she likes when I am able to have it, too, which means that I can share things, and it almost feels like I don’t have Celiac sometimes. 🙂 Anyway, we both decided to go a little bit out of our comfort zones for this meal and try a seafood paella. I witnessed Adina’s first-ever bite of lobster, while I agreed that she could eat the bites with chicken without getting nervous that it was all touching the same rice. We really liked the dish, and we ended up just sitting on this stoop to eat it in the sun. Adina also pointed out that the lighting was also great for selfies, so we took a few pictures there.

We had been craving ice cream the whole day, as we were both reminded of summer with the weather we had. So, we walked along a boardwalk to get vanilla soft serve with chocolate sauce, and we, once again, sat in the sun to eat. Our next stop for the afternoon was Tate Modern, a modern art museum. It reminded me of the Louisiana museum in Copenhagen a bit, and I really liked the exhibits we saw. The physical building was huge, and we didn’t have time to see all of it. When it was 6:00, we needed to search for a dinner place, so I used my find-me-gluten-free app to discover an amazing buffet that was sort of like Riz Raz because of the Mediterranean foods. This was a great stop, and then we headed to Ballie Ballerson, the bar with ball Pitts! We had gotten so many recommendations to go there, and we had to book tickets in advance. After getting yummy, sour drinks in the main bar area, we entered the ball Pitts. They were quite rowdy, and Adina and I had to hold hands just to make it to the corner safely, where we could hang out without getting pelted by balls. We got tired of the ball Pitts after about a half hour, so we hung out there only for a bit longer before heading back to the hotel. We needed to pick up our suitcases before heading to Hannah Kahn’s apartment in another neighborhood, where we were staying that night. We got to the hotel to find out her flight from Nice was delayed, so we ended up setting up shop in our hotel lobby for a while and writing notes for our blogs. A little before midnight, we left the hotel to get on the metro, and when we came up from underground in her area, I had a text that she’d be on a 12:30 train, which put her at her apartment around 1:30. It was definitely later than we expected to go to sleep, but it was totally fine. We ended up talking to her security guard, who said it was no problem for us to wait in the building’s lobby, and he even offered us water and coffee. We worked on our blogs some more before Hannah finally got back. It was so much fun to see her! We pretty much went to sleep as soon as we got ready for bed because it was late at this point, but I knew we’d have a lot of the day with her on Sunday.

We woke up on Sunday for our last half-day of London before we’d have to head to the airport. Something that is difficult about London is that none of the airports are all that central, so Hannah often has to account for three or four hours before her flight. That is very different from Copenhagen, and it certainly changes the pace and length of travel days. We headed to brunch in another neighborhood in London, in a place called Monti’s Deli. We had plates of eggs, avocado, potatoes, and coleslaw, and it was so yummy. Then, we walked around an area that was similar to Christiania in Copenhagen, called Shoreditch, as well as a market on Brick Lane. The weather was the same as the day before, and after so many consecutive days of walking so much, it was nice to have a more relaxed schedule, catch up with Hannah, and relax in the sun. At 2:00, we had to head back to Hannah’s apartment to grab our stuff and begin our long day of traveling back to Cope. Saying goodbye to Hannah was almost fun, as I’ll see her next week again! I can’t wait to have more time with her. I was really happy to be with Adina for the travel home, as there were lots of Easter-related delays and lines.

We talked and blogged on the plane to Cope, and it’s hitting me that this is really the last stretch of my semester: the next time I’m on a plane, it will be to New York! That is still about three weeks away, and although I’m so happy to have this time left in Copenhagen, it is somehow weird and sad that I’ll no longer be traveling on weekends. I feel so lucky to have been to so many cool places, and I can’t wait to travel again in the future. I know these next few weeks will be bittersweet: I’m looking forward to seeing everyone at home, but I’ll equally miss Copenhagen and the people here more than I ever thought I would. Don’t worry; there will be much more reflection in future blog posts. I only mention it now as I head into my last section of the semester of all-Copenhagen.

Overall, this was one of the best trips I have taken this semester. It’s so hard to compare cities, as they are all so distinct, but the combination of having so much time in one spot, the absolutely perfect weather, fun company from beginning to end (getting to see 5 close friends in one week!), packed days with so many activities, and planning an itinerary to see a lot of an enormous city made it an unforgettable week. And, I’m really proud of how much I have learned about traveling this semester. I know what’s important to me and how I like spending my time.

Before I wrap up, here’s a brief outline of my next few weeks: starting today through Sunday, I’m going to try and do as much work for my final papers and projects as possible. I’ll be in Copenhagen without my friends this weekend, which means there’s no excuse not to do work. The sooner I write these papers, the sooner I don’t have to think about them. Of course, I will mix in some fun activities. Then, my dad gets here in one week from today. I can’t wait to see him and show him Copenhagen! The day after that, Hannah visits for the weekend, which will be great. After that, I have five days left. I’ll have my Danish oral exam, and there’s a bucket list of things still to do here that Adina and I made. It’s going to be a busy few weeks, but I’ll blog again soon.

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