How London Surprised Me
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How London Surprised Me

The English capital was not everything I expected.

How London Surprised Me
Wendy Perrin

Over the intersession, I was lucky enough to study abroad in London. I enrolled in the "Experiencing London Theatre" class and set off for the great city on January 5 with 18 other students and two professors, Brian Rose and Sean Sullivan. Throughout our ten-day trip, we saw eight theatre productions, went to a high tea with the New York Times' international theatre critic and took a tour of the Globe Theatre, among other things. Between these excursions, we were given free time to explore the city and go on day trips outside of London. While experiencing this rich, beautiful city for the first time, here are some things that surprised me.

1. Cleanliness
London is a bustling metropolis – double the size of New York City and home to people from all walks of life. But contrary to what you may associate a big city with, London is shockingly clean. One night, we were walking back to the hotel and realized that we never saw any loose change on the sidewalk. The tube (subway) didn’t smell like anything – which is exactly what I want the tube to smell like! The trains were new and boasted with plush individual seats. There was no litter on the floor or the platforms. There were no trash bags weighing down the curb. I was pleasantly surprised by London’s cleanliness and their apparent commitment to it. With barely any garbage cans out on the street, I was impressed by how clean they still managed to be.

Friends who traveled to London before me warned me that its residents can be rude enough to rival the stereotypes about New York. I wasn’t nervous about that but felt that I should keep my guard up. However, a tube rider rejoicing with me after finding his headphones in his jacket; the friendly bartenders and waitresses at every pub we went to; and the man who launched into his life story after we asked to pet his dog told me a different story. The people I met in London were friendly and talkative and welcomed us with open arms.

3. No standing ovations
As an avid theatregoer in New York, it surprised me when we went to our first West End (London’s equivalent of Broadway) show, “Matilda,” and my friend was asked to sit down during the curtain call. Although we only saw two West End productions out of eight, it seemed that British audiences saved their standing ovations for truly notable performances or didn’t give them at all.

4. London's age is showing
This may simply sound ignorant, but I was truly shocked at how old England is. Not a lot of the architecture in London survived the Great Fire of 1666, but most of the buildings show an incredible amount of intricacy and reside on twisting roads not meant for practical, modern driving. The Tower of London itself is verging on its 1,000th birthday. While in Oxford, we passed a pub that boasted its 1218 establishment. And this pub was fully functioning with electric lights and taps at the bar. My friend from Cambridge told me that while she was in the United States, buildings from the 1800s are meant to impress visitors. However, she lives in a house built in the 1800s. Try again, America. It really put into perspective how young the United States is, compared to the rest of the world.

5. Everything closes early
Also expected from a large city is a thriving night life. And while pubs are usually open until 1 am and nightclubs run on their own schedule, many markets and shops close before or soon after the 6:00 dinner rush. In addition, the tubes stop running at midnight and only specialized night buses run 24 hours of the day. The new 24-hour tube has just been introduced on the weekends and people are both excited and angry about it, as evidenced by the tube strike that occurred while we were there.

6. Pubs are part of chains
I believed that every pub in London was an independently owned restaurant, but that is actually not the case. Many pubs are part of chains, such as Wetherspoon, Fullers, Sam Smiths and Chef & Brewer. However, most pubs have different names and I never felt as though I was eating at a chain restaurant. Each pub has its own individual flair.

London surprised me and delighted me. If given the opportunity, I would definitely return.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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