Places to Go//

Places to Go: There's greener grass in London

As I rolled into Bristol with two suitcases, I wondered how this place — with its cafés, Wills Memorial Building, Gothic tower rising against the skyline and a small room with maroon curtains — would become my home for the next four months.

I had no idea how much adventure awaited.

I soon embarked on my first solo trip to London. It felt like a dream to cruise through the city and see the red double-decker buses and classic telephone booths I had only seen in pictures. Strolling among the topsy-turvy buildings, through the Seven Dials and Covent Garden, I walked past layers of history, including Charles Dickens’s overcrowded, unsanitary, Victorian-era London which mirrored my course studies at the time.

Visiting London again with friends, Christmas lights lit up the historic sites in the cold winter air, with humongous bells and a Christmas tree at the entrance to the Covent Garden market. Lights were planet-shaped on Carnaby Street and angel-shaped on Regent Street, these, called ‘Spirits of Christmas’ were my favorite.

People say the grass is always greener on the other side, but why did the grass actually seem greener in London?

Meandering through St. James Garden, among the swans dancing on the lake and the willow trees waving from above the water, the greenery was tinted lime green. The cityscape was cream white: Buckingham Palace, the domed National Gallery with pearl marble pillars and the historical, ivory buildings seen from the National Gallery with their many windows outlined the busy intersection of the street.

I was having a typical London experience at this point, rain pouring and pelting upon me from the murky sky. But this didn't mitigate my wonder seeing Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Bridge, where I marveled at the details of their Gothic Revival-style architecture visible across England, with square towers and points jutting against the sky.

Particularly when I was walking about, I was struck by a rectangular monument engraved, “Women of World War II,” which held sculptures of women’s attire from the time. Looking at the sculpture, I had an opportunity to look back on that part of history and took a moment to think about hardships during the war.

On my third visit, I went underground to the Churchill Museum, learning about a time before prosperity — a time of war when people sought shelter when bomb alarm bells sounded. This was juxtaposed with another piece of history unraveling before me, with the Palestinian protests ongoing overhead. After coming out of the museum, my friend and I walked through a protest where people were waving Palestinian flags and chanting “Free Palestine.” I thought about how I had come out of learning a part of war history underground, only to come out and encounter another history of conflict.

Although I had had a marvelous time seeing London, I was glad to go home to my flat in Bristol and snuggle up in bed, weary from travel. In truth, more than my London adventures, the highlight of my exchange trip was in Bristol. My Bristol stay was underscored by pub trips, where I still crave their half pints of apple cider, cool and refreshing down my throat. Exchange parties, home visits to my British friends’ houses and birthday parties where people sang ABBA at the top of their lungs. The Wills Memorial Library became my second home, where I spent hours reading Milton’s Paradise Lost and Ancient Rome texts for course essays.

My flat was no longer an empty room but a familiar pink building beside yellow and sky-blue flats, silhouetted against sunsets.

Now, back in Vancouver, when I ride the bus, sometimes the scenery flits past and I am suddenly back in a bus in Bristol. Every so often, I think about how my friends must be in their Bristol homes, laughing and living life in their corner of the world too. Although I always want to go back to Bristol and visit the friends all over the world who converged there, I also know that those four months in fall could not be replicated and will always be a special memory.