EF College Break: London & Paris 2017

*this post will be the play by play of my trip and other posts will detail what I packed and other suggestions!*

On April 8th 2017, I got on a a plane by myself, on my way to two cities I’ve never been to, with 30 people I have never met. Everyone at home (besides my supportive parents) were shocked that I was doing this. You’re going ALONE? Yup. I wanted my own experience in Europe, one that was not crowded by my friends, people who have the ability to alter my mood and change my perspective. When its strangers, you don’t really care what they think or what they’re doing. Around 7:30pm, I boarded my Delta flight over the ocean in my brand new Fairfield University hoodie. I sat next to an elderly woman named Susan, who shared clementines with me and chatted about books. Since it was an over night flight, I slept the rest of the way.

When I landed at the London Heathrow Airport at 8a.m on Sunday April 9th, I hadn’t heard from anyone from my group. We had all been chatting previously with our tour director in a group chat, but so far there was silence. I knew to go up to the Tristar Chauffeur Service desk and give them my name and wait for my car. I knew my course of action, but I had no idea what was coming next. So I sat, and waited.

As I looked around the air port from my hard plastic seat, I noticed two blonde girls who looked around my age, rolling their luggage towards the Tristar desk. They looked just as confused and excited as I was. When they sat down a few seats away from me, I went up and introduced myself and asked if they were on the EF trip. Kylie and Madi, two sorority sister from Las Vegas were my official friends for the trip. They were so similar to me and it was so easy to connect with them. We wanted to do all the same things in Europe, and I was so happy to have them. Even though they were friends, they did not make me feel like the odd one out, not for a second. They never whispered inside jokes or tried to ditch me in the street. They welcomed me with open minds and I could never thank them enough for that.

fullsizeoutput_da9

When we got to the Holiday Inn in South Kensington, we met our tour guide, Simos. Simos is a 40-something man from Athens who makes his living showing Americans around foreign countries. He is the brightest and happiest man I have ever met. He gave every single person he met a hug and a cookie upon arrival. He was a great tour guide because he knew his information, rolled with the punches and kept us all safe and happy. It was around 11am when we met Simos and our rooms wouldn’t be ready until 3pm. So Simos gave us our ‘oyster’ cards for the ‘tube’ (metro cards for the subway) and said we could go out and explore. Just like that! We were three girls in a foreign country, sent off into the wild. Luckily, the underground subway in London is very similar to the one in NYC except a lot cleaner. We went down the steps and got on the first train we saw, heading the wrong way. After getting off and reading a map, we made our way to Piccadilly Circus, the tourist heart of London. Around there we found shops and places to eat, but it was very Americanized and most of the stores were ones I shop at all the time. It didn’t really feel like we were in Europe.

Later that day, we parted ways to get ready for our walking tour and welcome dinner with Simos and the rest of our group. I was alone in my hotel room for about 30 minutes when my roommate finally arrived. Her name was Alex and she was from California. The second I met her I didn’t feel as connected as I had with Kylie and Madi, but I was still thankful to have a nice, normal roommate for the trip. 

That first night, a jet-lagged group of 20 somethings paraded behind Simos through the streets of London. He breezed us by different sites and areas to get us familiarized with the area. We eventually got to the restaurant for our welcome dinner. We had a huge area to spread out our tired bodies but the service/food at the restaurant was terrible. Lucky for them, we were all too tired to complain. 

On Monday April 10th, 2017 I woke up in London. I peeled off my blue eye mask to reveal the city I have been dreaming of going to my entire life. On that day, we had to be downstairs for breakfast at 8am to eat before heading out for our tour with a local guide. We boarded a coach bus at 9am and were greeted by Joel, our witty British tour guide who would make us all laugh and smile for the next three hours. From the comfort of the bus with Joel we saw St. Paul’s Cathedral, The Tower of London, Big Ben, Parliament, and the Tower Bridge. The bus then dropped us off outside of Buckingham Palace where we had just missed the change of the guards. That didn’t matter though, we got to see some walk by and the real thing to see was the palace itself.

 

After that, we were sent off on our own again! The four of us wanted to see Big Ben up close, and Simos had mentioned that if we simply walk to the left of the palace and along St. James park, we will see it. Easy enough!

IMG_3707 The next thing we wanted to get closer to was the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. It was about a 45 minute walk from Big Ben and while we could have taken a car, there is a huge reason why I am glad we didn’t. 

We came to a street corner where my google maps app was vibrating and telling me to steer us left. However, we were stopped at the corner by policeman and waited with a crowd as a decorated hearse rolled by.

_95571362_hearsesouthwark_getty.jpg  The car went to the left, the same way we were walking. As we did, we noticed that policeman lined both sides of the street and funeral music was playing through the speakers. It was clear then that this was not a typical funeral. It was that of KC Palmer, an officer who was murdered in the terrorist attack on London a month earlier. The lined policeman went on for 2.5 miles, before coming to the Southwark Cathedral. When we made it to that point, we could hear the efficient speaking through the speakers lining the street and see the funeral from big screens hung off buildings. Although sad, this was such an interesting thing to see and I felt really lucky to have walked that way that day and saw London as a community of people paying respects to those who deserve it. See everything I saw, here.

From there, we finally made it to the Tower Of London and paid just 19 pounds to get into this epic museum. The largest attraction there is the Crown Jewels, which we did not get to see. The line to do so was two hours long and we did not want to waste any time waiting to see something you can just as easily google. With that, we  wandered through amongst hoards of other tourists to see all the history that made up the United Kingdom that we know today. It was all super interesting and 100% worth it to go in.

After that, we all wanted to see the Harry Potter sites that everyone raves about being in London. We sought out to find Diagon Alley which was inspired by a small shopping area which I don’t even remember the name of right now and it included one door that was used in the movie and was 100% unrecognizable. NOT WORTH IT. What was worth it however, was headed over to King’s Cross Station and visiting Platform 9 3/4. At the station they have a place for you to take our picture like Harry running into the platform and a VERY cool gift shop. This is a must for HP fans.

To end our insane day, we got burgers and shakes down the street from our hotel and headed in to rest. WOW. I am exhausted again just thinking about it!!

April 11th 2017 (my mom’s 60th bday) was our free day in London, so we had no tour guide or visit from Simos. Alex wanted to spend her whole day in The British Museum (she’s an art history major so this was pretty huge for her) and the rest of us went along to see it. The museum is free which makes it a HUGE attraction and there were TONS of people. It was hard to even see a lot of the exhibits because of the huge crowds around each one. Alex had booked tours and therefore left Kyle, Madi and I to fend for ourselves. We saw as much as we could (the Egyptian mummies, the Rosetta Stone), and after 3 hours, we were utterly exhausted of history and knowledge. From there, we went out shopping in Piccadilly Circus and I did some damage in Zara, my favorite store there. After that, we met back up with Alex and they wanted to go back to the Harry Potter station to get a picture because the line was too long the day before. I went with them but knew I didn’t want to, and as we all waited in line I said “I’m going to Harrod’s.”

 

I didn’t even really know how to get there but I knew I wanted to, its iconic. With that, I got on the tube by myself for the first time and found my way around a foreign city alone. Harrod’s was easy to get to, with lots of tourist friendly signs marking the subways and streets. Inside Harrod’s I was in an absolute wonderland. It was like an exhibition of fashion and luxury. I poked around a bit but in the end wanted to get a souvenir for my Mom and a book for myself.

On April 8th 2017, I got on a a plane by myself, on my way to two cities I’ve never been to, with 30 people I have never met. Everyone at home (besides my supportive parents) were shocked that I was doing this. You’re going ALONE? Yup. I wanted my own experience in Europe, one that was not crowded by my friends, people who have the ability to alter my mood and change my perspective. When its strangers, you don’t really care what they think or what they’re doing. Around 7:30pm, I boarded my Delta flight over the ocean in my brand new Fairfield University hoodie. I sat next to an elderly woman named Susan, who shared clementines with me and chatted about books. Since it was an over night flight, I slept the rest of the way.

When I landed at the London Heathrow Airport at 8a.m on Sunday April 9th, I hadn’t heard from anyone from my group. We had all been chatting previously with our tour director in a group chat, but so far there was silence. I knew to go up to the Tristar Chauffeur Service desk and give them my name and wait for my car. I knew my course of action, but I had no idea what was coming next. So I sat, and waited.

As I looked around the air port from my hard plastic seat, I noticed two blonde girls who looked around my age, rolling their luggage towards the Tristar desk. They looked just as confused and excited as I was. When they sat down a few seats away from me, I went up and introduced myself and asked if they were on the EF trip. Kylie and Madi, two sorority sister from Las Vegas were my official friends for the trip. They were so similar to me and it was so easy to connect with them. We wanted to do all the same things in Europe, and I was so happy to have them. Even though they were friends, they did not make me feel like the odd one out, not for a second. They never whispered inside jokes or tried to ditch me in the street. They welcomed me with open minds and I could never thank them enough for that.

fullsizeoutput_da9

When we got to the Holiday Inn in South Kensington, we met our tour guide, Simos. Simos is a 40-something man from Athens who makes his living showing Americans around foreign countries. He is the brightest and happiest man I have ever met. He gave every single person he met a hug and a cookie upon arrival. He was a great tour guide because he knew his information, rolled with the punches and kept us all safe and happy. It was around 11am when we met Simos and our rooms wouldn’t be ready until 3pm. So Simos gave us our ‘oyster’ cards for the ‘tube’ (metro cards for the subway) and said we could go out and explore. Just like that! We were three girls in a foreign country, sent off into the wild. Luckily, the underground subway in London is very similar to the one in NYC except a lot cleaner. We went down the steps and got on the first train we saw, heading the wrong way. After getting off and reading a map, we made our way to Piccadilly Circus, the tourist heart of London. Around there we found shops and places to eat, but it was very Americanized and most of the stores were ones I shop at all the time. It didn’t really feel like we were in Europe.

Later that day, we parted ways to get ready for our walking tour and welcome dinner with Simos and the rest of our group. I was alone in my hotel room for about 30 minutes when my roommate finally arrived. Her name was Alex and she was from California. The second I met her I didn’t feel as connected as I had with Kylie and Madi, but I was still thankful to have a nice, normal roommate for the trip. 

That first night, a jet-lagged group of 20 somethings paraded behind Simos through the streets of London. He breezed us by different sites and areas to get us familiarized with the area. We eventually got to the restaurant for our welcome dinner. We had a huge area to spread out our tired bodies but the service/food at the restaurant was terrible. Lucky for them, we were all too tired to complain. 

On Monday April 10th, 2017 I woke up in London. I peeled off my blue eye mask to reveal the city I have been dreaming of going to my entire life. On that day, we had to be downstairs for breakfast at 8am to eat before heading out for our tour with a local guide. We boarded a coach bus at 9am and were greeted by Joel, our witty British tour guide who would make us all laugh and smile for the next three hours. From the comfort of the bus with Joel we saw St. Paul’s Cathedral, The Tower of London, Big Ben, Parliament, and the Tower Bridge. The bus then dropped us off outside of Buckingham Palace where we had just missed the change of the guards. That didn’t matter though, we got to see some walk by and the real thing to see was the palace itself.

 

After that, we were sent off on our own again! The four of us wanted to see Big Ben up close, and Simos had mentioned that if we simply walk to the left of the palace and along St. James park, we will see it. Easy enough!

IMG_3707 The next thing we wanted to get closer to was the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. It was about a 45 minute walk from Big Ben and while we could have taken a car, there is a huge reason why I am glad we didn’t. 

We came to a street corner where my google maps app was vibrating and telling me to steer us left. However, we were stopped at the corner by policeman and waited with a crowd as a decorated hearse rolled by.

_95571362_hearsesouthwark_getty.jpg  The car went to the left, the same way we were walking. As we did, we noticed that policeman lined both sides of the street and funeral music was playing through the speakers. It was clear then that this was not a typical funeral. It was that of KC Palmer, an officer who was murdered in the terrorist attack on London a month earlier. The lined policeman went on for 2.5 miles, before coming to the Southwark Cathedral. When we made it to that point, we could hear the efficient speaking through the speakers lining the street and see the funeral from big screens hung off buildings. Although sad, this was such an interesting thing to see and I felt really lucky to have walked that way that day and saw London as a community of people paying respects to those who deserve it. See everything I saw, here.

From there, we finally made it to the Tower Of London and paid just 19 pounds to get into this epic museum. The largest attraction there is the Crown Jewels, which we did not get to see. The line to do so was two hours long and we did not want to waste any time waiting to see something you can just as easily google. With that, we  wandered through amongst hoards of other tourists to see all the history that made up the United Kingdom that we know today. It was all super interesting and 100% worth it to go in.

After that, we all wanted to see the Harry Potter sites that everyone raves about being in London. We sought out to find Diagon Alley which was inspired by a small shopping area which I don’t even remember the name of right now and it included one door that was used in the movie and was 100% unrecognizable. NOT WORTH IT. What was worth it however, was headed over to King’s Cross Station and visiting Platform 9 3/4. At the station they have a place for you to take our picture like Harry running into the platform and a VERY cool gift shop. This is a must for HP fans.

To end our insane day, we got burgers and shakes down the street from our hotel and headed in to rest. WOW. I am exhausted again just thinking about it!!

April 11th 2017 (my mom’s 60th bday) was our free day in London, so we had no tour guide or visit from Simos. Alex wanted to spend her whole day in The British Museum (she’s an art history major so this was pretty huge for her) and the rest of us went along to see it. The museum is free which makes it a HUGE attraction and there were TONS of people. It was hard to even see a lot of the exhibits because of the huge crowds around each one. Alex had booked tours and therefore left Kyle, Madi and I to fend for ourselves. We saw as much as we could (the Egyptian mummies, the Rosetta Stone), and after 3 hours, we were utterly exhausted of history and knowledge. From there, we went out shopping in Piccadilly Circus and I did some damage in Zara, my favorite store there. After that, we met back up with Alex and they wanted to go back to the Harry Potter station to get a picture because the line was too long the day before. I went with them but knew I didn’t want to, and as we all waited in line I said “I’m going to Harrod’s.”

IMG_3721.JPG

I didn’t even really know how to get there but I knew I wanted to, its iconic. With that, I got on the tube by myself for the first time and found my way around a foreign city alone. Harrod’s was easy to get to, with lots of tourist friendly signs marking the subways and streets. Inside Harrod’s I was in an absolute wonderland. It was like an exhibition of fashion and luxury. I poked around a bit but in the end wanted to get a souvenir for my Mom and a book for myself. I felt so proud that I got there on my own and saw something I wanted to see and didn’t just follow what my friends were doing.

On April 12, 2017 we traveled to Paris on the Eurostar train. This is something I had been excited about because I heard that you can see great views of the countryside from the train. What I didn’t factor in was how fast the train would be going and how motion-sick prone I am. I have barfed in enough cars and boats to know better but in the midst of a European day dream, I forgot. I spent the 2.5 hour train ride with my eyes closer, breathing heavily and trying not to move. When we finally stopped, the girl from the group who’s assigned seat was across from mine met my eyes and said “Are you okay?” Her name was Amanda, she’s a teacher from Long Island and came on this trip with her best guy friend, Chris, who spent most of the trip relentlessly flirting with all the girls. I told her yes but that I just felt super sick that whole ride. She was sympathetic and helped me get my stuff together and checked in with me again on our bus ride to the hotel. Stuff like that, people don’t need to do. She could have noticed I looked a little pale and looked the other day. Her concern for a stranger was much appreciated and was a great example to follow.

I had a bad attitude about Paris. After the train ride, Simos told us to keep our stuff on us at all times and be very aware of pick pocketing. He also mentioned that the ladies should do their best to ignore any men being creepy. And as I looked out the bus window at the streets of Paris, all I saw was trash. It truly is a filthy city. So when we got to the hotel, I found myself very turned off to the whole thing. It got worse when we got to our hotel and Alex and I found that we had to share a bed. This was a mistake on the hotel’s part that would not be fixed until the next day. I am a pretty open person, I am good at rolling with the punches cuz I get punched a lot. But I don’t think anyone would be particularly happy sleeping just inches away from someone they met only 2 days prior.

That night, we were booked on a cruise across the river Seine, something else I was now nervous about getting sick on. I told Simos about it but he encouraged me to try it out. With that, we went on another walking tour in Paris just like the one in London. Simos showed us how to use the metro system and it was WAY more complicated than London or New York. First of all, everything is in French and even when they announce things in English, it is hard to understand. At times tracks are far and seemingly buried within the deep underground tunnels and its very hard to navigate. This made my attitude even WORSE. I was hating Paris. 

When we got to the cruise line, it turns out the had the wrong date for our reservation and could not accommodate all 30 of us on the boat that night. With that, Simos took us all over to the end the walkway by the Seine and opened up bottles of wine, packages of creamy goat cheese and crunchy baguettes. We toasted underneath the sunset on the river Seine and it was breathtaking.

IMG_3789.JPGAt this, I looked over at Kylie and said “okay, maybe Paris isn’t soooo bad.”

After our wine and cheese, Simos took us to see the love lock bridge and the sparkling Eiffel Tower. It was incredible to see these things I have only read about or seen in movies, up close.

Day two in Paris consisted of a rather boring walking tour with a guide I could barely here, who showed us boring stuff. Except Notre Dame, that was cool.

IMG_3792After that, we went to the perfume museum which was 30 minutes and NOT WORTH IT. The hook was that the scents were only made in France and they were not available anywhere else, but still they were not worth it. From there, the girls and I wandered about Paris, found some lunch, and headed to the George Pompidou museum of art. Here, I was trying to be interested but I just wasn’t and my feet were KILLING me. At the end of each day, my Steven Madden sneakers would start to pinch my feet but that day was simple unbearable. I was walking with a limp and I could tell the girls were embarrassed. I didn’t even make it through the whole museum, I went and sat down in the lobby until they were finished. As we hobbled me back to the metro, we passed a Vans store, and I bought new shoes on the spot. They helped, but I still had to head back to rest. For dinner that night, we ordered sushi via uber eats LOL.

The next day was the free day in Paris, and I was on my own. Kylie and Madi went to Disneyland and Alex had tours at the Louvre all day. I reached out to sympathetic Amanda about what she was up to, but she didn’t get back to me in time. So I set out on my own.

I found a Starbucks to get coffee at in the morning. I rode down the only Metro line I understood (it was pink and thats literally all I know) to the shops where I wandered around shopping for souvenirs. I got a ham and cheese crepe and ate it by a fountain behind the Louvre. After that, I met up with the group for our cruise on the Seine and dinner. Dinner was fabulous, especially cuz I basically had a whole bottle of wine to myself and took an Uber home instead of the metro.

At 5am the next day, we were on our way to the airport. At 10am, I boarded my flight in Paris. Eight hours later, at 1pm, I landed in New York. TALK ABOUT JET LAG. My dad picked me up from the airport and the second I got home, I was asleep.

I to this day can’t believe that I just went to Europe and came home, like so many other people do. It seemed so unattainable my whole life and I just did it! Makes me think that maybe nothing is unattainable.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s