As the weekend approached, my fellow exchange students and I were trying to figure out what to do. Week 4 was quickly approaching; we were celebrating our near-to-one-month anniversary of moving in! After letting that sink in, I found it absolutely crazy that I’d been in England for about a month. Time was really flying by with no signs of slowing. Suddenly, a realization hit me: how could I have been in England for a whole month without making time to travel to London? I rounded up a small group of my exchange pals and booked a trip from Norwich to London on a coach bus. Before I knew it, it was Saturday morning, and I was making my way through UEA’s quiet campus full of snoozing coeds to wait at the bus stop.
We were about two and a half hours into our journey. Most of us were either listening to music in our earbuds or sleeping to prepare for our big day out… but what was our big day out? What were we going to see? What were we going to do? Eat? Look at? I started to get a bit stressed out, as we were about to reach the Victoria Bus Station in 30 minutes had basically no plans. “Where do you guys want to go first?” I asked. Everyone sort of shrugged and seemed just as clueless as I. My one friend, Dana, who has been to London before, piped up. “The palace, I guess!” The beginning of this story does not sound too promising so far, does it? With absolutely no plans for what we were doing or what we were going to see (besides the palace), and I became nervous because I thought we would just do hours of mindless walking.
What I did not expect was that the mindless walking ended up being the reason that my group came across some amazing experiences. We arrived in London, made a beeline for the palace, took a few pictures, and looked at the skyline. Since we had no plans in mind, we sort of just pointed to where the Big Ben was and said, “I guess that’s where we’ll walk towards next!” And, surprisingly, my control-freak self actually was okay with that. Once I saw the palace and took in the sights of London, I was in pure bliss. We were in London. Everywhere we went was breathtakingly beautiful and melted all of my expectations for a “perfectly planned” trip.
As we circled our way through the streets, turning unexpectedly and haphazardly, I saw street performers playing bagpipes, young adults stumbling from bar crawls, Brexit protesters, and parents strolling their kids along the sidewalk. The buzz that enveloped London was a strong one that Saturday evening — which brought us to stand on the corner of Trafalgar Square, taking it all in. Life was just going on.
As the day wound down, we cut through a romantically-lit park and passed a welcoming Italian restaurant. After walking all day, our stomachs were calling to us. We decided to pop in, as all of us had a mutual love for Italian food, and were seated right away. The warmth from the restaurant comforted our icy noses and the smell of freshly baked bread and pan- seared garlic diffused through the air. And as we sat there, going over our day, catching each other up on our week of classes, I couldn’t help but just revel in the contentment I felt — contentment from our serendipitous travel and a fortunate day that could have easily been lackluster chaos. I lifted my glass for a toast before digging into the 5-star cuisine that had just been laid in front of me.