• Madelynne Juenger

Lessons From London

Being in a different country is a very strange experience. Most of the time I feel as if I’m playing a part in a movie or floating through a dream, and reality doesn’t quite hit me until a car almost does. (I still haven't gotten used to this whole driving on the left side of the road thing yet.) Everything around me is strange in the most beautiful and exciting way, and it’s hard to believe that I’m only on a new continent and not an entirely new planet.

If I were to close my eyes and conjure up a vision of the perfect place, it would definitely include lots of flowers, endless cups of tea, bookstores, and of course, buildings that resemble castles. And by an amazing stroke of luck, if I were to open my eyes currently, I would see lots of flowers, endless cups of tea, bookstores, and oh, actual castles. Is this Kensington or is it heaven? I’m confidently leaning towards the latter.

Though I've only been in London for less than a week, I've picked up quite a few bits of information that I thought I would share, because it turns out you learn more important things strolling through the streets than you might in a classroom. You also learn a lot when you are a bumbling tourist trying to navigate a new city.

Important Lesson Number One:

Kensington Gardens is a lovely place filled with gorgeous, winding trails of flowers, greenery, trees, and also a palace. So, yes. It is straight out of a fairytale. I'm still working on getting Kate Middleton to adopt me into the royal family, but don't worry. I'm determined and no amount of royal guards can hold me back!

Until I get accepted as a royal, however, I shall have to be content spending my days dreaming on a bench in the gardens. Which is lesson number one. Kensington Gardens is the perfect place for reading, daydreaming, doodling, and all of life's enjoyable leisurely activities. It is tucked away from the business of the city, but has all the fun people watching opportunities of a popular street. Also dogs. Everywhere. Enough said.

Important Lesson Number Two:

London has crazy squirrels. Through my nineteen years of life, I have come to the conclusion that animals have very different personalities depending on the city that they live in. Virginia Beach squirrels are timid, Philadelphia squirrels are a bit spazzy, but London squirrels must be a whole different species entirely.

While peacefully enjoying a book in the gardens the other day, two squirrels came over to my feet and stared expectingly up at me. Upon noticing they were searching for food, I gently moved my feet around to scare them away, however, this did not deter them in the slightest. They continued to crawl over top of my shoes until they realized a boy across the trail had innocently begun to open up a granola bar. Little did this poor boy know, but he was about to be in over his head. The squirrels quickly scurried over to him, scaled his legs like a tree, and made their way comfortably into his lap to steal a piece of his snack.

I would have been absolutely terrified and jumped straight out of my shoes, but this boy was happily enjoying his Cinderella moment. He soon had a whole crowd of tourists around him taking turns holding the squirrels and feeding them. They saw a photo opportunity, but all I saw was rabies.

Important Lesson Number Three:

Look both ways before crossing the street. And then look again. And then again. And then again one more time just in case. Because you will forget that cars drive on the left side of the road and that apparently London drivers have a need for speed. Refusing to acknowledge either of those facts is simply a recipe for disaster.

However, if you happen to be strolling through Kensington safely on a sidewalk, then it wouldn’t hurt to glance at the street a few times here too, because Londoners have great taste in pink cars.

Important Lesson Number Four:

Parliament has lovely chai tea lattes. And also lovely people.

I’ve been a bit afraid to chat with locals because I’m scared they will hear my accent and automatically assume that I’m an annoying American tourist. And although I may definitely be all three of those things, I still don’t like people making assumptions about me, thank you very much. But then the other day, while I was being my typical tourist self in Parliament and purchasing a Big Ben mug, the cashier told me that I had a nice accent and I just about had a heart attack. Firstly, because he said it in a very cool British accent. And secondly, because I have never been complimented on that before (mainly because I’ve never quite left America before other than on a trip to the Bahamas). But thanks to this kind cashier, I am no longer afraid to talk to people and I shall resume my awful habit of non-stop chatter.

And last but not least!

Important Lesson Number Five:

Listen to your tour guides, because they know what they’re talking about. It’s kind of their job.

The student organization that has made this incredible trip possible, supplied us all with tickets for a bus ride to get to know the city a bit better. We were all a tad sleepy and jet lagged, but thankfully I stayed awake and heard our guide mention that the view from the One New Change building is absolutely beautiful. I checked just to be sure. And yep. Absolutely beautiful.



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