One day wandering the halls of the British Museum I found myself in the clocks and watches room–surrounded by chimes and the occasional coo-coo, the ticking of the grandfather clocks like I heard in my house when I was little and went to get a glass of water when my family was sleeping. I am constantly confronted by the keeping of time: alarms on my iPhone, exhibits, hell, even London’s most iconic landmark is a clock. Yet despite all this, time is still beyond me.
An hour on the train passes like 5 minutes. A day of nothing turns into night before you’ve even felt the cold air on your face. 10 minutes in lecture can feel like a week. Just barely being abroad has turned into about a month of time.
Time is around me, but I haven’t fully been able to grasp it. So I go, and hope that time follows. The thing about being abroad is there is a general underlying worry that we all won’t see everything we can, that every day won’t be cherished. But that also brings excitement and adventure that was like finding beautiful state parks in Illinois and cool restaurants in Madison, just on a little bit bigger scale.
So as often as I can, I try to make a day’s time special in some way, some memory. Hours that can compile into five months of something special. And then on to American hours that have already done the same and will promise so much more. Here is a recap of some of the time so far.
Monday, Hampton Court
I am never alone at home. At school, my roommates are always sitting on my couch with me, even if we’re all separately on Reddit. I love to stop by places after class, holler before heading back home. During break, I was always always with family or friends or both. I am comforted by surroundings, but in London I discovered having comfort in being alone is so important and so nice, even in small doses.
One sunny, mild day, I took the train to Hampton Court, where Henry 8 lived, as well as others changing the architecture. Because it was a Monday, there was hardly anyone there until a huge group of school teens got there in which I was a little intimated, I’ll admit. I wandered–I do a lot of wandering because I’m lucky enough to have the time and it’s my favorite kind of exploring. Tours are good because they show you what you need concisely, but what about the quiet side garden, and the engraving of someone’s initials from the 1700s on the wood door? So I wandered through the huge, formal gardens. With big triangle trees, green grass, a fountain and swans. Through the side gardens with intricate patterns and pebbles in my shoes. Down huge hallways where the only sound was my boot heels echoing on the ancient stone and wood floors. Hampton Court is just beautiful. Go here and maybe not Kensington Palace, which is more of a sparse museum and less of a preserved experience. Hampton Court still has a museum vibe, but on an off day it’s much easier to imagine how life must have been life eating in a grand dining room or strolling through the gardens or something else of the same ladylike and fancy category.
On Friday I went to Bath, it is a hilly city that’s centered around a Roman thermal bath, as in Ancient Rome-steaming pool in the ground surrounded by pillars. What’s incredible is the excavation of it. Over time they found more and more of what it used to be and it is a full fledged museum now. While very cool, there is also a great big medieval church, Bath Abbey, that is covered in old stones and plaques of those that had been buried there. The ceilings soar, voices echo. When we had some time to kill before our train, we walked back to the Abbey at night, and while the bell chimed 7 pm a bagpiper was playing in the Roman Bath adjacent, so the sound was heard all over the courtyard. I still don’t have any explanation for why that was happening… but it was magic. When we were lost we walked up and up to the quiet top of the village. It was the warmest it has been here and birds were chirping, it smelled like spring and a man quietly worked on the old hotel standing proudly above us. That was probably my favorite part. Being up above the city on the narrow streets really felt like Europe with a capital E.
In the morning I bought a standing ticket to see Alt-j at a huge arena that night. We went early and stood on the front rail and saw every detail of the band and also the lit up faces of the crowd behind us. Alt-j is the only CD I listen to in my car every time I drive 2 hours to Madison, what I listen to with my friends, what I listen to for homework, walking to class, doing nothing, driving through the mountains out West. The spontaneity of it all and the talent of the band left me with nothing but the fullest heart in the world. Sitting on the tube ride home we’d just happy sigh every once in a while because it was truly perfect and I have nothing else to say about it.
I woke up and got on a train to see cliffs with a bag of granola in my pocket and not much else expectation. The town of Dover is not the exciting, quaint sea village we expected. And when we walked to the ocean there was a huge industrial port next door. Then, a man told us very charmingly not to walk down the beach because the police were barricading a fascist protest. Dover is small. Extremely small. The protest was half policemen, half people holding flags. The same man with all his British charm told us to walk down a back street, up a trail, and the cliffs would be there. At this point we were worried. The internet certainly raises an expectation that we had not met yet. Yet the second we climbed up the hill, it all changed. We took a side path onto a wide open field on top of the cliff with views of a big castle in the distance, and sheep on the other side. We were so giddy we were running and jumping and really just frolicking all over that cliff. As you walk, you stand on the edge of the tall chalk cliffs, and the sound of the ocean matching the light blue of the horizon. Stout, wild horses stood on the path. It was extremely charming until I tried to feed one grass and he farted and walked away. We then frolicked away from the horse. We walked forever until the sunset. London is a beautiful city but it is a city. Feeling the sea air and seeing all of that was replenishing and wonderful and all those cheesy nature feelings you can feel. We walked back as the cloudy sky turned pink, and the lights of the port illuminated. Across the ocean, we could see the lights of France. When it gets warmer, I want to go back there, and walk for longer day light, into the next towns and beyond.
And just a last note, social media is a hell of a thing. All of us study abroad students post the pictures of incredible things we see, or think would look nice, but in between those experiences are normal ones too. The days I didn’t cover were mostly school, a pub or two… or three…
Today, I sat and wrote and grocery shopped. Funny enough, it’s already night, and the day flew by. Time, time, time.