As in Madison, spring time is upon us here in London. The Queen’s parks are blooming with daffodils. And yes, she actually owns the parks in the city and that includes the swans. Apparently you can not kill or remove a swan from a park without the Queen’s permission. The weather has been so nice this past weekend that we spent the majority of it across the street in Hyde Park which is the London equivalent to Central Park. We rode bikes through the park, sat out and read our books, played soccer, and walked down to Portobello Market. Basically it was a quintessential London weekend, and I say that because Londoners flock to the parks in nice weather. The 625 acres of Hyde Park were bustling with people. It was almost difficult to find a seat.
The other sign that it is officially spring in London was the Oxford Cambridge boat race. The atmosphere around the River Thames reminded me of the Kentucky Derby without the floppy hats. Everybody was out five hours before the race to line the river. There were barbeques, beer stands, and live music. By the time the race came around it was almost an afterthought. We caught a glimpse of the boats for 30 seconds. Something of note, however, was a member of the winning Oxford team happened to be a UW alumni. Ben Ellison studied abroad at UW from England during the 2007-2008 school year. He lived next to my older brother in the dorms. It was weird seeing an alumni halfway around the world away rowing in one of the biggest events on the London calendar.
The warm weather also meant that our History of London class escaped from the classroom to take a walk around the East End of London. Our program is on the West End of the city in Kensington which is one of the safest, most affluent neighborhoods in London. The East End is known for Cockneys, immigrants, and Jack the Ripper. The inflow of immigrants to the East End since World War I has created Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi communities. It felt almost like a different city when walking around the East End. To see a different part of town was fantastic. We got away from the identical whitewashed houses to experience graffiti and ethnic restaurants. The best way to sum up the East End was in history of what is now a mosque on Brick Lane. The building has gone from a Catholic church to the Church of England to a Jewish synagogue to a mosque. The constant and rapid changes in the East End was remarkable.
Spring has also brought about the last couple of weeks of my program. We now have two weeks until our time in London is over. Everyone on our program has loved London, but I get the feeling from everyone that there is no place like home. While I would never trade the study abroad experience for anything, going home will be a real comfort. It will be nice to be around family, friends, and Mexican food. I’m not even joking. You never realize the amount of Mexican food in the States until you go four months without seeing a Mexican restaurant. The two things I look forward to the most about coming home is sleeping in my own bed and eating Mexican food.