By Justin Porter*
The day after I graduated undergrad, I hopped on a plane bound for London Heathrow. Technically, I was there for 21 days to complete my Senior Thesis in Urban Planning and Sustainability. But really, I was there to live the London life.
I arrived with the usual stereotypes of London and all things British in my head: tea is to be drunk, the Queen is extremely important, and fish and chips is a hot commodity. I was excited for this adventure, but living in a different country comes with its setbacks.
Upon touchdown our professor, a Brit, ordered us to stay awake the entire day and fight the urge to sleep no matter how exhausted we felt. Naturally, the first thing I did after the hour-long Tube ride was lie down and take a three-hour nap in Russell Square.
We were staying at The Jesmond, a historic family-owned B&B in the Bloomsbury area, home of Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, and Bob Marley. So imagine Oliver twist evolving to smoke a blunt.
I must say it was a great location and had some of the best accommodations in London. While the twin-sized bed wasn’t ideal for 6’4” body, I made it work – by finding the nearest pub.
The B&B was a five-minute walk from the Northern Line of the Tube and just one block from the closest Pret-A-Manger (a Panera/McDonald’s hybrid aka don’t go), KFC, and Subway, just in case I grew tired of Pub food.
I did. You can only eat fried, greasy fish so much before you earn for fried, greasy chicken.
Also, American fries are better. But maybe they’d be better in France…phew, I was in Europe.
My class never had a classroom (I don’t advise explaining that to British Customs Officers). We spent our days exploring the city in an attempt to dissect the urban environment and where the nightclubs were. As a geography major, this immersion was incredible and helped me learn the city quickly and accurately – especially for nighttime escapades. For the non-geography majors on the trip, it was a pretty view and fun to listen to British accents. One time I admittedly had a bit much to drink and spent the evening talking as though I was British – it wasn’t funny to the Brits.
The first day of class began with a full English breakfast – which I grew to hate, but I forced it down each and every morning. It consisted of one egg, a slice of bacon, baked beans (yes, baked beans), a warm tomato (yes, warm), and a sausage link with toast (no patties, ugh). My only thought post-breakfast each morning was:
Why would anyone eat beans for breakfast?
London itself was exactly how I imagined: rainy, wet, busy, and still beautiful. By the time we rode the Tube to Embankment and crossed the Thames, the sun had emerged. Why not ride to the top of the London Eye the first day?
I don’t know how you could be disappointed by a bird’s eye view of London. Architecture is what makes London so unique; only here can you find a 12th century cathedral next to a 60-story glass office building.
We continued on a boat tour from the Eye to the Tower Bridge, weaving in and out of the bridges that cross the Thames. Our tour paused at the Tower of London where the original city once stood, most of which was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. (For so many bridges, hence water, I’m not sure how this fire happened.) During our tour we once again saw the amazing skyline.
The next 20 days were spent doing most of the same: exploring, eating baked beans, discovering, drinking, observing, and trying to find iced coffee (which the Europeans don’t have).
Occasionally we came across historical plaques engraved into houses. They would say, “John Stuart Mill once lived here” or “Monty Python spent his life here,” as if it was perfectly normal for worldwide celebrities to live in average townhouses.
Next summer they’re installing “Justin Porter once stopped here” on the Tower of London. I’m saving up to attend the ceremony.
I escaped the city twice, to Dover and Bath, both much smaller cities that retained London’s charm while cutting costs because let’s be real:
London was expensive. No, really. It was so expensive. (If you will: bloody expensive.)
For example, I ordered Five Guys one night (it was a weak moment), and I received my bill for one cheeseburger, fries, and a cup of water, and it was £14.36. Seems a bit pricey, but I was okay with it. Once I finished eating I converted it on an app I downloaded to make sure I didn’t spend my life savings.
It was $22.04. For one cheeseburger and fries.
Needless to say, as London filled my head with new ideas and appreciations, it also emptied my wallet. But not so much that I couldn’t continue on a backpacking adventure for the next month through Western Europe.
Stay tuned for EuroTrip, Part 2: Backpacking.
*Justin Porter graduated from James Madison University this summer. You can tweet him or like his photos at @jport93. He's especially interested in talking to you if you want to offer him a job. If you are interested in guest blogging for ATOB, email us at AsToldOverBrunch@gmail.com.