I studied abroad in Grantham, England for a semester in the spring of 2010. Start from the first blog post to follow my adventures throughout Europe!

London, Hever and Brighton.

Friday morning the entirety of Harlaxton found themselves on coaches to London. We had a school field trip to the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery after our second British Studies Exam. We had a pamphlet with all the paintings we needed to see, and it was pretty neat seeing things in real life that we had studied and even analyzed for our class. After visiting the required paintings, we ate our delicious (and by delicious I mean disgusting) sack lunches in the Gallery and then headed to the National Portrait Gallery where we were able to choose which section of art we wanted to view. Of course, I chose the Tudor section and I got to see ALL of my favorite characters of history on canvas. It was so neat and I loved it. There were so many famous paintings I never thought I would see in real life. Yay for field trips!

We caught to Tube to St. Paul’s Cathedral and got a tour of the huge, beautiful building from one of our British Studies professors. Dr. Taylor gave my tour and it was very enjoyable to learn all the ins and outs of the place. We learned that Queen Victoria came to visit the Cathedral during her reign and declared it to be “plain”; the church was then decorated with paintings, murals and mosaics on nearly every inch of space in order to please her. It was really quite a sight to see. We also saw the tombs of several dudes we studied about in class, so it’s always nice to bring things to life (or death?). The tomb of Christopher Wren, the architect of St. Paul’s, was also located there.

We climbed quite a few stairs to the Whispering Gallery which gave a neat view of the city. We learned we could climb higher and took on the challenge, which resulted in climbing a total of 405 stairs to the top of the cathedral’s dome. It was a great view of London and the Thames River (although there was quite a bit of construction going on) but the walking space was less than minimal. It was nearly impossible for people to squeeze past each other, so after 15 minutes or so of feeling completely in the way, we made our way back down the narrow stairs. After a bit more exploring Clay, Chelsea and I went to purchase our “TICKETTTSSS” (as Gordon Kingsley might say) for a Broadway show that night. We went back to collect our luggage from the school coach, which we got after it showed up 20 minutes late. At that point we were pushing time so we grabbed the tub to our hotel, ate some hasty peanut butter and jellies, and changed for our shows.

Chelsea had already seen the Lion King and I had already seen Hairspray, so Clay and I got tickets to the Lion King and Chelsea to Hairspray. The venues were only a few blocks from each other so we took a cab to the area and arranged to meet afterwards. THE LION KING WAS SO GOOD. I love musicals to begin with, and this was seriously awesome. The costumes were ridiculously amazing—they blew my mind. It’s like you knew it was a person in the costume, but at the same time you could totally see the animal it was portraying. Little Simba was awesome and Zazu, Timone and Pumba were hilarious. It was very similar to the movie and seeing how they made it all work onstage was a great experience. Not to mention the little ice creams they sold at intermission—delicious.

The next morning, Chelsea, Clay and I (all accidently clad in our blue button downs) left early in the morning and got on the Tube. We crossed Hungerford Footbridge and made our way to the London Eye. We bought tickets and were ushered into a 4D showing of what the Eye was like. It was pretty neat but the best part was the ridiculously huge glasses we got to wear. The line moved relatively quickly and we found ourselves on the huge ferris wheel that is the London Eye, raised above the city so we could see for miles. It was raining a bit but nothing to ruin the experience. It was fun to point out all the things we knew and recognized in the city. I’m definitely glad I got to ride it!

We ate breakfast at a café called Leon where I had a sausage “bap” and it was quite tasty. A bap is basically just a kind of bread and of course I was fine with that. We continued our trek to the train station (it was a few miles all together) and enjoyed the city along the way. We caught a train to Hever in Kent, and to say Hever is a small town would be an understatement. It was just a group of cute little farm houses that all had individual names and I think you could have counted the residents on your fingers and toes. It was so cute though! We followed my Google map (is the best!) directions to Hever Castle, which I was so so excited to see. Cheslea and Clay weren’t so excited, however, and waited for me in a pub called Henry VIII (how cool!).

Hever Castle is where Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn grew up. Henry would often call on Anne there when she wasn’t at court. She is by far my favorite and whom I find to be the most interesting of his wives and this was something I wanted to see since I knew I was coming to England. It was the coolest feeling walking up the hill and seeing the castle in person. It was pretty small as far as castles go, but really beautiful nonetheless. It was surrounded by a moat and vines and ivy were growing all up the brown walls.

The people working there were super friendly and I bought an audio tour to listen to as I walked through inside. Pictures were not allowed, but of course I made it out with a good 30 photos thanks to my sneakiness. I got to see several Tudor portraits (Hever Castle has a complete collection of the “main characters” of the time, if you will), a replica of the clock Henry gave Anne for their wedding, the dining hall, the room where Anne, her sister Mary and their mother would have sewn, Anne’s childhood bedroom (!!!), and where Henry would have stayed when he visited them. I also learned all about the American who bought the castle after it had been unkempt for many years and renovated it to resemble what it might have looked like in Anne’s time. I also checked out the gardens, which weren’t there when Anne lived there, but were beautiful all the same. It was a typical misty, chilly day in England but I was fine with that as I walked back to the pub to meet Clay and Chelsea.

We made it back to Hever Train Station after the mile and a half walk back from the castle and hopped on to go to our next destination, Brighton. Brighton is a town on the coast of the UK and if you’ve ever seen Rocket Power, you’ll understand what I mean when I say it has a pier. When we first arrived we were ready for dinner, so we went to Harry’s Something or Other where I had amazingly delicious chicken finger type things and mashed potatoes and Clay beat Harry’s Challenge which involved a large piece of fish. He got a certificate and everything! With our stomachs happy, we checked out the pier which was all lit up and looking promising for the next day. We all agreed we could use a good night of sleep so we checked into our hotel, watched the ending of Titanic which was randomly on television, and called it a night.

Sunday morning we walked along the beach until we reached the pier and took in all the carnival food, shops, gamesgamesgames, and carnival rides. We tried to win some suckers off those games where you try to push the coins off the edge, but to no avail. So we gave up and rode a miniature kind of roller coaster called Mouse Trap and I have to say it was the most hysterical ride I’ve ever been on. As our tram was climbing the first hill, Chelsea suggested taping the ride with her flip camera, so she shoved her other camera in my hands and I began randomly snapping pictures as she dug through her purse searching for her camera. I don’t know how she got everything back in her purse before the ride took off, but she did and Clay began filming. We were all acting like idiots, screaming and throwing our arms all over the place, when out of nowhere, Clay screamed, “My seatbelt! It came off—in the middle of the ride!” He kept repeating it over and over again, laughing so freaking hard, and Chelsea and I were literally limp against each other, laughing so hard we couldn’t sit up. We were crying by the end of the ride it was so hilarious.

After watching a couple survive what was called the Super Booster, Clay and I decided to give it a shot. This ride involved the riders being hoisted above the ocean hundreds of feet, and then free falling back and forth until the pendulum came to a stop. Unfortunately for me, I was in the seat that put you facedown over the ocean for 20 suspenseful seconds when all you want the guy to do is press the down button. I was pretty much screaming at the worker to start the ride when he finally did, and I got that feeling you can only get on a ride like that. Of course I loved it after it started! So much fun. Clay and Chelsea rode go-karts next and then we grabbed a lunch of plasticky burgers and spicy Indian food. We sat on the pier and ate, and the weather was nice enough that we didn’t have to wear our coats. It was perfect in the sun!

We checked out the shopping scene in town and ran into a Chocolate Festival that was occurring and offered some interesting pieces of chocolate. We shopped around for a bit in the commercial area, then saw what we could find at little craft stands on our way back to the hotel. When I looked at my phone I realized we probably needed to get a move on in order to catch our train, so we began speed walking back to our hotel. We grabbed our luggage, which was in the luggage check and attempted to find a cab. Unfortunately for us, our hotel was surrounded by streets that apparently NO cab ever comes down, so it took us a good ten minutes to catch one. At this point I was fairly certain we were going to miss our train, which would have been tragic, considering we had to switch from bus to train to train again.

When we finally arrived at that station, we ran to the information desk to see where the buses left from, then sprinted to the bus stop. A bus was pulling away when Chelsea screamed, “Katie that’s ours! That’s our bus!” So like an idiot I ran alongside the bus flinging my arms and shouting until she and Clay realized our bus hadn’t actually left yet—not at all embarrassing. So we got on our bus, followed by our train, then another train, where we were somehow in First Class. It was pretty legit; we got free tea and coffee and huge squishy seats. We got back to Grantham in the evening and caught a cab back to the manor. It was a busy weekend that was full of adventure and accomplishments, and fun as always!

Katie KnechtComment