Knowing where to go to this year is an easy choice. We decided to visit a global city which is a capital of arts, commerce, education, fashion, and politics. No wonder, it received 16.8 million visitors in 2013 according to the Office for National Statistic’s International Passenger Survey. Known as the capital and largest city in the United Kingdom, London is the destination-to-be for the SISC IB study trip on June 15-22, 2014.
Brimming with excitement and raring to go, we did not mind the 14-hour direct flight from Manila to London. When we arrived at the Heathrow International Airport, we took a tube and went straight to our hotel in Covent Garden. We noticed that air-conditioning units are not ubiquitous in the hotel rooms. What we found instead was a heater. What amazed us, too, was that the sun was just about to set even if it was already nine in the evening!
The next day, as we are on our way to Greenwich, we found ourselves in the midst of a bustling crowd during the morning rush hour. Once again, we were amazed by the scene unfolding before our eyes because it was just like in the movies. We soon realized that it is a no-no to be late in your appointments in the UK and it could be the reason why people are always in a hurry. After getting off the tube, we learned that we have to ride a double-decker bus to get to the University of Greenwich and so, the excitement level rose up again. Another first in the UK!
The Greenwich area is so beautiful and serene. The sight of the old English roses near the Queen’s House, the gigantic Nelson’s ship in a bottle outside the National Maritime Museum, and the beautiful domes of the University of Greenwich designed by Christopher Wren took our breath away. Standing on a meridian line (divides the Earth into the Western and Eastern hemispheres) and touching the 4.5 billion year-old meteorite are experiences of a lifetime! We hoped that we can stay longer but we have to leave for the Tower of London.
We joined the Yeoman Warder’s tour and the Beefeater was amusing as he recounts the history of The Tower. Part of the rich history of the place which we usually just read from history books is the beheading of Queen Boleyn and to be in the very place where it had happened is, for us, surreal. We went to see the Crown Jewels collection and seeing the sparkling diamonds and precious gems gave us goose bumps. What an unbelievable wealth!
Right outside The Tower, we could see the iconic Tower Bridge, which is often mistaken as the London Bridge. We consider ourselves lucky because we witnessed the lifting of the Tower Bridge which is a rare sight. We could also see across The Tower the latest member of the London skyline and that is, The Shard.
Needless to say, London is the best place to visit museums and galleries that is why we did not pass up the opportunity to visit Tate Modern, Science Museum, Natural History Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, and the National Gallery. Realizing that we need to rest our tired feet, we took a respite at St. James Park after watching the changing of the guards at the Buckingham Palace. This left us wishing for more green space in Manila. Moreover, London is known in the world for the best theater scene. In our visit to West End, we had the chance to watch the restaging of the Miss Saigon at Prince Edward Theatre. We were speechless at the end of the show because everything is superb- from the stage production, music, and the actors.
Most importantly, London is the home of the best universities where most of our IB graduates studied. Hence, one of the highlights of our trip was to visit top ranking universities or colleges in the UK such as University College London (UCL), London School of Economics (LSE), Imperial College, and Oxford University.
There are so many things to do and learn in London because of its wealth and breadth of cultural offering coupled by famous landmarks and attractions. As much as we would like to prolong our stay, we know that we have to say goodbye to the lovely city of London. But certainly, this week-long study trip in London has left us with many questions to answer and great memories of increased friendships and acceptance of a completely different culture.
(Rina Gillegao is the IB Coordinator of Southville International School and Colleges.)