One of the most taxing parts of studying abroad was constantly using a different language. I didn’t realize how mentally exhausting it could be until my first few months in France. So by the time October rolled around, I was incredibly ready to take a little break and visit my English-speaking comrades across the pond.
Since Halloween really hasn’t taken off as a national holiday in France (my host sister informed me that it’s too effrayant or creepy for her liking), I came to London just in time to celebrate in costume. Arriving about a week before the big day, I had ample time to explore the many different sites and food options the city had to offer. London is naturally a very popular study abroad location, so I had plenty of Penn kids to join me on my excursions. I graciously stayed with my friend Kelly Chan at Queen Mary University, where she taught me about everything from Londoners’ favorite chicken restaurant, Nando’s, to successfully riding the Tube.
Aside from these staples, we also explored many of the city’s cultural landmarks. One of our first stops was The British Museum. This massive building contained several different galleries, each with their own unique themes. My favorite had to be The Enlightenment Room, which replicated a huge library, full of books from Locke’s philosophy to Darwin’s theories. The wooden space and pristinely bound books drew me in, and the fact that I felt like I was in Belle’s collection from Beauty and the Beast was an added bonus. Another memorable feature was the main entrance’s glass dome ceiling, which was covered in metal inlays. We continued our art kick with a visit to Tate Modern. Far less traditional than the style of the British Museum, we enjoyed several different floors of contemporary works. While I certainly enjoyed the displays on the whole, a few were a bit too far-fetched for my liking. One piece simply placed a plain mirror on a wall as a symbol of self-reflection. In addition to exhibits, London has several different streets perfect for a casual stroll. Some of my favorites included Piccadilly Circus, which reminded me of Times Square, and Brick Lane, which offered trendy vintage thrift shops. If you get a chance to go down Oxford Street, don’t miss the Topshop flagship store, which includes a hair salon, bubble tea bar, and full café (in addition to several floors of clothing.) If you still haven’t gotten enough shopping, check out Harrod’s. The colossal department store can definitely be overwhelming but is incredible to see nonetheless. If you’re there close to the winter, there’s even a gigantic toy section that could rival Santa’s workshop.
Of course, food was also a can’t-miss opportunity in London. My friend and I were lucky enough to pass a storefront for Ben’s Cookies, where we enjoyed freshly baked flavors, including classic Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter and unique Dark Chocolate Ginger. The gooey middle of these sweet treats was a key component. Another great find was Monmouth Coffee. Their café au lait was one of the smoothest I’ve tasted, and the lovely service completed the experience. I also highly recommend checking out the many outdoor food markets in the city. A standout was southeast London’s Borough Market, where you can find temptations such as Nana Fanny’s salt beef sandwich or the Salted Caramel and Honeycomb doughnut from Bread Ahead Bakery. Other food options included the Bombay style Indian cuisine at Dishoom or the custom breakfast at the Cereal Killer Café.
Surprisingly, Halloween turned out to be one of the less exciting nights of the trip. While it was certainly fun crafting last minute cat ears out of the flyers in Kelly’s room, the party scene was just too crowded to find anything fun. Nevertheless, London was by far one of my favorite cities to visit. For any future Penn kids studying in Europe, definitely try to go! And don’t forget to take a picture at an iconic red call box!
– Nicole Luo
Images Courtesy of: Nicole Luo