Love London Weekend: A Taste of Culture

Prague, Rome, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, Dublin, Barcelona, Athens, Vienna.

As a young American studying abroad, the marketing of must-visit tourist destinations screams for a weekend get-away with your best friends. Travel agents thrust brochures into your hands with pictures of lavish museums, palaces, castles, night clubs, brewery tours, war monuments and cultural markets. You visit Ryan Air and Easy Jet on a daily basis. You have flight price status email alerts sent to your email…

When you settle down for several months abroad it’s easy to grab a calendar, circle your free weekends in red marker, whip out your credit card and start booking trips—especially when your home-base is a major world metropolis like London, with frequent and (relatively) reasonably priced planes, trains, buses, and ferries abroad.

Once you figure out maps, tube stops, good restaurants, favorite museums, where to party and where to buy show tickets, you create a comfort zone. Now that I’m in the third week of my trip, this is definitely the case for me. I’m in a rhythm of London life. But, this past weekend, I learned that just by staying in London, I am traveling. I capitalized on the SU Love London weekend opportunities and checked out the city for myself. Love London is a series of events Syracuse University puts together showcasing London’s finer aspects–show tickets, bike tours, dog racing, walking tours, Broadway, historical tours, and market visits, just to name a few.

Sure, I love travel and I think adventure is a necessary staple of life. But this past weekend, to my delight, I rediscovered that travel doesn’t always mean strapping on a backpack and blowing doors… Here are four London-stand-outs that get an A+ and that I’d recommend to anyone visiting:

Romeo and Juliet Ballet: We saw this ballet performance at the Royal Opera House located a two minute walk from the Covent Garden Tube stop. I’ve seen the play several times before, and like most ninth graders in America, I read and analyzed Shakespeare’s text thinking I was all intelligent…and stuff. I had never seen a ballet before so when the thick gold tassels pulled back the large maroon velvet curtains, I really didn’t know what to expect. The costumes were intricate and lavish—a swirling array of dancers told the story of two doomed lovers without speaking a single word. The musical notes soared from the Orchestra pit to my seat on the top level, kissing the white and blue decorated ceiling and plummeting back down through the five tiers of viewers. In the final scene where Juliet and Romeo die, the audience was stone-silent. I don’t think anyone breathed in that moment. The dancers came out for the curtain call to thunderous applause. As a writer who uses words to communicate, the fact that dancers could use their bodies and facial expressions to physically show an entire story brought my respect for the art of communication to a whole new level. If you ever visit London, see a ballet.

Tip: Dress up! We all wore dresses just for fun thinking it’d be a great night out, but when we arrived to the Royal Opera House, everyone else was decked out too. I cringe to think about the looks we’d get if we showed up in jeans…

Billy Elliot: We saw this Broadway show at the Victoria Palace Theater across the street from the Victoria Tube stop. The show was entirely different than a ballet, and I highly recommend all London visitors to see at least one Broadway while they’re in town. The young boy who played Billy was no older than 12 or 13 but his dancing and singing was singularly the best. There was one point where he jumped on top of a piano and front-flipped to the ground. Each number was a combination of ballet, tap, jazz, and show dance and each song was delightfully choreographed with energy. Even if you don’t like theater or musical theater, it’s worth going to get an inside glance of the theater itself.

Tip: You can take pictures of the theater before the show starts so bring your camera. It’s beautiful inside.

Bike Tour: This was my favorite part of the weekend. Syracuse set up a guided bike tour around London, and even though we went on streets with regular traffic and crossed the main bridges, there were no casualties or accidents. I was terrified of riding in crazy London and there was one point when a huge double-decker bus glided past us on the bridge, but it showed me how easy city riding actually is. If I lived here permanently, I’d definitely purchase a bike. We met down at a wharf across the river early Saturday morning and visited much of the city: Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, St. James Park, Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, Covent Garden, and several memorials. Along the way, our guide would stop and talk about each place, putting everything into historical context. When we rolled into the bike rental shop three hours later, we were all sad to say goodbye to our bikes. We left with a much better visual map of London in our heads and a new confidence to explore London. I mean, hey, if we can survive London on bikes, we can do anything. Tip: Bring gloves if it’s not summer, you’re hands freeze.

Tower of London: I’ve been here a few times before, but Syracuse set up its own privately guided tour with a professor who knows absolutely everything. He gave us an architecture-historical tour of the tower, (much different from the Beefeaters–Queen’s guard–who tell you who killed who and who slept with whom). We saw the crown jewels (a London-must) and we learned about both the exterior and interior of the tower. It’s worth a visit when you’re in London and definitely get a guided tour so you know what you are looking at. Tip: Dress warmly–most Tower buildings aren’t heated.

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