Well boys, we’re finally here.
This is last day of my semester abroad.
As sad as that is, I have a lot to reflect on and be grateful for. Like the fact that today was full to the brim with London fun, and now I get to recount it all right here!
In summary, a few friends and I scurried around a small section of Hyde Park before leaving for our final class session at the National Gallery of Art. On the way, we passed some parliamentary buildings near Buckingham Palace and even caught a view of the marching queen’s guard. Once we made it to the National Gallery, we saw some of the most famous paintings of all time, many of which we’d learned about during our time at Oxford. Afterwards, I recruited some more friends for a second exploration of Hyde Park, complete with the strange phenomenon of feeding green parrots. We of course had to enjoy one final high tea in the afternoon, and finally, it was back to the hotel to pack for the journey home. However, we got to have one last, fantastic European meal.
So you can see, it was really a huge day! Definitely living up to the reputation of my last day in Europe for the foreseeable future. (Updating in 2021, I feel like an oracle considering that I haven’t been much of anywhere)
Hyde Park: part 1
Immediately after breakfast, my friend L and I crossed the street from our hotel to the Marlborough gate at the Northwest entrance of Hyde Park (technically it’s half in Kensington Gardens, half in Hyde but I think the whole thing is pretty much Hyde park). This section of the park is the Italian Water Garden.
Impromptu photoshoot at the Italian Water Garden at Hyde Park
Under the morning’s cloudy gray sky, the Italian water garden was chilly but elegant. The garden consists of four square shaped fountains that you can walk between with greenery on all sides. The tower facing the four pools is actually the pumphouse for the fountains, but I never would have guessed that considering how much it looks like a monument.
Pumphouse looking over the Italian Water Garden
Next we walked down the wide, tree-lined paths that lead deeper into the park. Since it’s November, the leaves are now changing AND shedding. It reminds me of my mom’s Halloween ceramic village at home.
Walking below the yellow leaves at Hyde Park
Every once in a while, a huge monument will pop out of the blue in the middle of a path, like this equestrian statue or this triumphant arch:
Randomly passing massive monuments in Hyde Park
Even though we walked for about an hour, I feel like we only covered a small portion of the park. Thankfully, we got to go back and see more of it later!
March of the Queen’s Guard
En route to the National Gallery of art for class, we just so happened to pass through the street leading to Buckingham palace just as some kind of guard procession made its way down. I didn’t know whether or not it was the queen’s guard specifically because instead of their trademark red uniforms with the puffy hats, these guards were sporting gray, trench coat uniforms.
Watching the marching of the Queen’s Guard outside Buckingham Palace! I guess we just have insane luck when it comes to catching parades
After looking it up, it turns out that the queen’s guard wears gray uniforms in the late fall and winter because they are warmer.
That makes sense!
For all that they put up with from tourists, they deserve to be comfortable.
I feel quite lucky to have seen the march of the Queen’s Guard, especially because it was accidental! For some reason, that was never part of my itinerary, but it is one of those things that people consider a quintessential London experience.
There was also one guard on a horse posted at the tourist’s entrance to the Buckingham palace, which allowed my friends and I to see them up close.
Shout out to the sign, I was neither kicked nor bitten
London’s National Gallery of Art
The National Gallery of Art is impressive both outside and in, I mean, just check out this view from the front steps:
Checking out the viewz from the stepz at London’s National Gallery
While we waited for our class to gather, I watched the many, many street performers doing their thing on the steps. Some of them perform magic tricks, and some dance, but all of them wear flashy costumes.
As the name would imply, the National Gallery of Art features England’s most valuable collection of paintings, though not all of those paintings are from England.
Included in the collection is one of my favorite paintings, Jan Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait. If you’ve been reading here for awhile, you’ll know what a fan of Van Eyck’s I am. And so seeing this portrait with all of its symbolic little details left me ~star struck~.
For example, the singular candle in the chandelier is symbolic of the eye of God
Another of Jan Van Eyck’s masterpieces here at the National Gallery includes his Portrait of a Man. It’s widely speculated to be a self-portrait, though his intent was to show off how talented he was at drawing draperies, as evidenced by the iconic red turban:
There he is, the legendary Van Eyck himself
Some other famous paintings here (and also my personal favorites) include the Portrait of Doge Loredan, The Battle of San Romano, Baldovinetti’s Portrait of a Lady, and Venus and Mars. Seeing them all was so much fun, I enjoy academia the most when you’re working with your study subjects in person. There were so many of the paintings that we studied here that we spent hours at the gallery. My “museum stamina” is much higher now than it was at the beginning of the semester, so I’m happy to admit I was able to enjoy being here the entire time.
There’s also a whole wing of the museum dedicated to Van Gough’s paintings, and so if you’re a big fan like me, this is also a necessary stop!
Van-go and see the chair at the National Gallery of Art to show support for our favorite one-eared wonder!
Finally, I present to you, my new favorite painting at the National Gallery of Art:
If I don’t look like this in 20 years then what’s even the point?!
One Last High Tea
After our class was relinquished from our final lecture at the gallery, we had the afternoon free until dinnertime.
And what better way to round out our time in England than with one, last afternoon high tea? Though don’t remind me, I know I’ll miss it dearly back in the states.
My travel-savvy friend M found a lovely and quiet little place where we could all enjoy the classic pot of tea and scones with margarine and jam.
Mmmmmmm… tastea 🙂
Back to Hyde Park
Like I said before, Hyde Park is just so big!
So a group of us returned to see more of what there is to see. On the way, we passed by Kensington Palace, which M was excited to see. Though it was late afternoon at this point and so the palace’s lovely gates are closed.
Walking past the gates of Kensington Palace
Entering the park from the West, we hit the Long Water/Serpentine Riverfront almost immediately. In such a big park, the waterfront provides some direction to walk in. Lots of ducks all around, and of course, swans! Don’t expect me to get anywhere near them, though.
As you can see, I did not approach the waterfront, that is swan turf
I’ll tell you which birds I’m not afraid to get near- Hyde Park’s very own green parrots!
I like to think my grasp of geography is pretty good, and so I can say with confidence that London is quite far from the equator. So it was a shock to pass by a group of people enticing bright green parrots to land on them from the trees above!
The story goes that sometime back in London’s long history, a flock of parrots escaped from a cargo ship and made their home here in Hyde park. Surprisingly, they thrive in cold and chilly London, and some ornithologists even consider these Hyde Park parrots to be their own subspecies!
Regardless, they are more than comfortable with landing on your arm, all you need is a peanut and some resolve.
There is a Hyde Park parrot actually on my hand… what a world!
I didn’t have any peanuts on me, but thankfully there were enough discarded peanut shells on the ground to make do. I would hold up my arm, lock eyes with a lurking parrot in one of the large oak trees, wait for him to consider, and then prepare to be dive-bombed! I flinched every single time one landed on my arm with its wildly flapping wings and dug its little claws into my sweater for purchase. It was just so wacky to be holding a “wild” parrot in the middle of London, of all places!
Last Supper with my Semester Abroad Classmates
All too soon, the day waned and it was time to head back to the hotel to pack. Thankfully a semester’s worth of packing and moving constantly means that shoving all of my belongings into monstrous backpack is practically muscle memory at this point.
So after packing up one last time, we all dressed up to the nines and walked to the restaurant together. Do I feel a little like a kindergardener when all 30 of us walk down the street together? Yes. But will I miss all of the goofing and joking that we’d do along the way? Yes!!
Dinner was nothing short of fantastic. Salmon of course, with this being England, with a presentation that looks like a work of art. Then chocolate mousse cake for dessert with a little purple flower on top and some nice wine. The salmon was cut sagitally (biology term hehe, I’m not sure what the culinary term is) which I’ve never seen before, but it’s wonderful.
A fantastic last meal with my class. Normally I’m super embarrassed when taking pictures of my food, but I’m glad I did it this time
The best part, of course, was hanging out with my classmates. I didn’t know very many of them before leaving for Europe (only about 4 of them), but I’m so happy to realize that many of us have become quite good friends along the way. I suppose eating, exploring, and moving constantly, and trying to draw statues with poor results is great for bonding. I hope we’ll all remain close back in the states!
As for reflecting on the semester abroad experience, I plan to give that its own post, and will link it here when (and if) it actually gets done!
As for London, I can comfortable say that it’s awesome! I appreciated having visited once before to knock out lots of the quintessential London experiences, as this time, I felt less pressure to run around and was able to just enjoy being here. That mindset allowed us to stumble upon lots of random, fun London things like the marching of the Queen’s Guard and feeding the Hyde Park parrots. Definitely a lucky day. Of course, there’s still so much left to see and do, and I definitely plan on coming back someday. 🙂
If you’re reading this, thank you for reading and come back soon!