Nathan Overlock is an official CAPA blogger for spring 2017, sharing his story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A professional writing and information design major at Cedarville University, he is studying abroad in Dublin this semester.
In this week's post, Nathan tells us about visiting London over the weekend, and the ease of travel in Europe.
“What are your plans for the weekend?” “Oh, just grabbing lunch in the Docklands, then popping over to London for a day or two.” If I’d overheard this conversation a few months ago, I would have thought it was insane. Buying a plane ticket and flying to another country just for the weekend? Impossible. Yet, those words slipped out of my mouth at work on Thursday evening. And, Friday afternoon I tossed some clothes in my backpack, grabbed a bus to the airport, and flew off to London. It was that easy. In fact, the bus rides to and from the airport were the longest and--I’m serious--most expensive part of my trip. Budget airlines, hostels, and common travels make it possible to spend less on a flight to London, Paris, or whichever European city you’ve dreamed of visiting for less than you’ll spend on dinner once you get there.
By flying out immediately after classes on Friday, and booking an early-monday flight that would get me back in time for work, I managed to carve two-full days in the city out of a relatively short weekend. In lieu of actually planning out where I would go and what I wanted to do, I kept my normal habit for visiting European cities. That is, I glossed over researching any specifics sights or attractions, vaguely glanced at a map, wandered until I found a bus in the right direction, swung by my hostel, then headed out with an open mind.
My first impression was just how big London feels, like New York to Dublin’s Boston, with average apartment buildings towering over any buildings Dublin has to offer. Yet, compared to my first weekend in Dublin, I couldn’t help noticing just how easy it was to get around. Clearly marked (and logically named) streets, with city maps at every bus stop and walking maps of local attractions at most street corners do wonders for making a city navigable. That, and the giant ferris wheel looming above the rest of the city's skyline.
After getting a quick feel for the city Friday night, and grabbing dinner at a pub (if you see a Burger Craft sign in the window, drop whatever you’re doing and try the fries), I got an early start Saturday morning, hoping to beat the tourists to all the best photo spots, but mostly just wanting to escape from the unbelievably loud snoring coming from the bed below mine. It took less than 5 minutes to realize just how good a deal my hostel was when I found myself standing outside the Buckingham Palace gates. If you want the traditional tavern experience, where you can eat, hang out and enjoy the entertainment below, and sleep right upstairs, I can’t recommend any hostel more highly than Publove.
Here’s where London differs most drastically from Dublin, though: if you want to spend a day at the museums, tour historical sites, or visit any of London’s iconic attraction, you should plan on throwing whatever budget you have out the window. There’s a reason people splurge on $80-$100 daily London access tickets for all the big sites. But in the spirit of cheap European travel, there’s plenty you can do for free. The changing of the guard was an event I probably should’ve known about, but just happened to stumble upon. I happened to hear music, follow it until I saw thousands of people gathered outside the palace, with police on horseback patrolling through them, and wove my way through the crowds, assuming that with this many gathered there must be someone royale making an appearance. But instead, it was the daily ceremony where one set of royal guardsmen replace the others, complete with marching bands and the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen for a recurring event.
And if you thought my New York comparison was just about the cities size, take a walk through West End, people watching the theatre crowds, grab some takeaway form Chinatown, and eat it while you watch the buskers, musicians, and street artists in Trafalgar square. To me, it was all immediately familiar, but with a uniquely British spin. Also, while its up to you to shell out the money for a tour of parliament or a ride on the London Eye, making your way through the crowds to grab a picture of Big Ben or the London skyline is totally free. As someone who prefers to read their way through each city I visit, I found a bench near each of these spots and pulled out my pocket sized Dicken’s novel, before heading off to Charlese Dicken’s house, the only site I found myself actually paying for.
You’re reading this blog post, so unless you’re either my boss or fiance, you’re genuinely interested in studying abroad. If you find a city you love, a school that meets your needs, and decide you’re going to be adventurous, step outside your comfort zone and move across the ocean, then your first priority must be to experience as much as you can of your host culture and keep up with the courses or internship that brought you there in the first place. Your second priority should be to squeeze every last ounce of opportunity out of your time abroad. From home, “popping over” to London would have required a $900 plane ticket and 30 hours of travel time. But from Dublin, I could go camping under the Northern Lights in Iceland, kayak from sandy beaches to secluded islands in Portugal, or walk through history in Athens and be back in time for class Monday morning. With full weeks off for study and assignments, the potential only expands. Once you’ve seen all you can of your host city, and it starts to feel like home, grab a friend or head out on your own and find a new city to discover.
Nathan's journey continues every Friday so stay tuned.