My alarm goes off at 2:30 am, pulling me out of a deep sleep. Despite attempting to prepare for this early morning by going to bed around 8 pm, the sound of my alarm is still painful. Still, I jumped out of bed as quickly as I could, using my adrenaline to motivate me.

Flicking my light on, I pulled on tights, a skirt, and a fitted top. My outfit is a monochromatic black, matching the bow in my hair. It may be early for such an outfit, but there will be no time to stop throughout the day. I may as well be prepared. I shoved the last of my belongings into my tiny backpack before heading to the kitchen where I gulped down a cup of steaming coffee and ate some breakfast. Even in the middle of the night, I will always love breakfast.

Accompanied by two of my roommates, I left the apartment at 3:00 am, catching an airport bus alongside the River Liffey at 3:30 am. From there, it’s a 45-minute drive to the airport where we made our way through security and to the gate. It’s my first time flying out of Dublin Airport and my first time flying Ryanair. Needless to say, we arrived in plenty of time for the 6:15 am flight to London Stansted. I was lucky enough to be assigned a window seat along the wing–my favorite seat–and to be able to watch an absolutely stunning sunrise. These simple beauties never grow old to me.

Once in London’s city center, I made my way to Trafalgar Square which we had pre-determined as our reference point for day one. Two of my companies had popped to the hostel to drop their bags so I had time to explore some of the bookshops that were on my list. First, I wandered through Cecil Court, a small pedestrian street with adorable Victorian shop fronts. Since the 1930s, it’s been called Booksellers Row, hence my desire to visit it. I also made my way to Waterstones Piccadilly which is Europe’s largest bookshop. There are plenty of other Waterstones locations but this one in particular houses over eight miles of bookshelves. Absolutely wild. I literally had to be dragged away.

Meeting up with the rest of my group, we walked through St. James Park toward Buckingham Palace. Even before the Palace came into view, I recognized the street leading up to it from years of watching royal weddings, etc. In the park itself, flowers sprang from the ground and birds covered the protected waterway. I simply had to stop and smell the scent of the flowers on the warm wind. Flowers, at the beginning of February. Nothing could be more magical.

Following our brief glimpse of Buckingham Palace, we walked through the city streets to Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. The area is simply beautiful, full of little streets just begging to be explored. Funnily enough, until standing there in person, I hadn’t realized how close these sites were to each other.

That said, we soon moved on, taking the Tube to Camden Market where we spent the afternoon. The Market is literally massive, full of eclectic shops selling leather, vintage clothing, touristy souvenirs, jewelry, and food of all kinds. To be honest, it was rather overwhelming. Online, photos I had seen only showed one strip–that of the colorful umbrellas. Let’s just say it took up probably two and a half hours to find this street. I almost started thinking it was in a different market altogether.

And, at long last, the showstopper that was the evening. For dinner, we went to a restaurant called Bella Italia which was genuinely one of the best meals of my life. The service was amazing and the staff were very aware of my allergies. Eating at restaurants typically makes me anxious but I did not worry the whole time I was here. On this occasion, I splurged on a two-course meal which included tomato bruschetta with delicious gluten-free bread, and a plate of pollo cacciatore even though I don’t typically like noodles. If I’m ever in London again, I will go back.

Following dinner, we walked about a block to the Sondheim Theatre where we had tickets to see Les Miserables. We were practically in the roof, but I didn’t care. Seeing a show on the West End has been on my bucket list forever and to have the show be the story that got me into musicals… It was magical. The set and lighting designs were so intricate and, combined with the music and acting, it was everything I ever imagined it could be.

Day two in London began with an Americano in Costa Coffee. Here’s where things get interesting… obviously, nowhere close had any gluten-free options. To cut a long story short, I did’t end up eating until about 7 in the evening. Luckily, I didn’t feel hungry until then either.

Taking the Tube, we walked to London Bridge which, honestly, was ridiculously underwhelming. It’s literally just… a bridge. Nothing special besides the name. At any rate, we crossed it and walked to St. Paul’s Cathedral where we stood up at the majestic building. After a while, we walked in the opposite direction along the River Thames, passing the Tower of London. Although I have always wanted to explore this historic site, we did not make it inside. Tickets were already expensive and the exchange rate between pounds and dollars is honestly terrible. Traveling on a budget, we simply couldn’t justify the cost. Still, at least it’s an excuse to return to London one day.

Crossing the Tower Bridge, my travel partners and I wandered into Borough Market, home of the TikTok famous chocolate-covered strawberries. The market was packed with tourists and locals on their lunch breaks. I loved the anonymity of the crowd, the bustle, and the vibrancy of foods, colors, and accents. There were so many arrays of pastries and fruits, drinks, etc.

At the end of the market, we popped into a Tube station and traveled to the British Museum. When I say I booked it through the exhibits, I mean it. I had about an hour and a half to explore which may sound like plenty of time, but the museum is massive. Still, I managed to see everything on my list: the Greek, Etruscan, Roman, and Egyptian exhibits, the Rosetta Stone, and the Parthenon exhibit. Standing in the presence of historical artifacts I spent my entire education to this point studying never grows old.

After a pit stop at our hostel in Elephant and Castle, I convinced one of my friends to go to Evensong at Westminster Abbey with me. Bear in mind that Evensong started at 5:00 pm and we left the hostel at about 4:25. We made it onto our train and should have had plenty of time but the train just kept sitting on the tracks with the doors open. Heart racing and palms sweating, I stared at my watch as the time ticked down. We probably sat there for five minutes before the doors closed. By the time we made it to our stop, we had ten minutes to go before Evensong started and a sixteen-minute walk.

We literally sprinted through the Tube station, emerging where our adventure had begun the day before. Sprinting along the Thames, we passed the London Eye as Big Ben began to chime the hour. We were out of time but we didn’t give up. At about five past, we made it to Westminster and were ushered inside. The building is truly majestic and the acoustics of the choir, the organ, and the harp created a melody like none I’d heard before. We recited the Apostle’s Creed and Scriptures were read over us. Sitting in Westminster that Saturday night, my body relaxed and my eyes closed, taking in the Bible in a way different from how I do at home. Worship in different countries reveals the truth of a global church. The word of the Lord is truly living and breathing, even in scheduled services.

Back at the hostel after eating a burger and rosemary-dusted chips for dinner, I set my alarm for 4:15 am. It was yet another early morning and I was absolutely exhausted at this point. But that’s the nature of insane international trips whilst studying abroad. Homework is crammed around adventure. Early mornings lead to forever memories. I’ll never forget riding a red double-decker bus in London or taking a train back to the airport. I’ll never forget absolutely sprinting through the streets, sweating and laughing, to Westminster Abbey.

These are the stories I will tell for the rest of my life.

Published by Anna Stowe

Class of 2026 IES Abroad - Writer's Program in Dublin, Ireland

Leave a comment