Back to My Roots – London, Part 1

By Troy Stiles, ISA Marketing Communications Manager

There are a lot of reasons people choose to study abroad and there are a lot of reasons people choose a particular location in which to study abroad. One of those reasons can be family history and genealogy.

Personally, I have family ties to England, Ireland, Netherlands and Germany (among others, I’m sure). For this series, “Back to My Roots,” I planned a 15 day whirlwind, whistle-stop tour of ISA program locations that I not only wanted to visit, but also had a little family history. Over the next several weeks, I’ll share my experience in London, Scotland, Ireland, Netherlands, and Czech Republic (it’s not Germany, but it’s geographically close).

So, are you ready? Here we go.

The first 12 hours in London…

I’d never been to London before and I had honestly done very little to prepare myself for this particular part of my journey.

London just happened to be my starting and ending point and I had a total of about 36 hours to explore the city. Twelve on the front end of my journey (Part 1) and 24 on the back end (Part 2). “Just enough time to get a sense of the city,” I thought.

While I didn’t know a lot, the one thing I did know was that the procurement of an Oyster Card would be essential to my stay. This is essentially a prepaid subway pass that allows you to bypass having to purchase an individual ticket every time you want to board public transit.

I had packed light for this trip – one backpack, which I carried on the flight. Upon landing, I grabbed my pack and, followed the signs, and headed straight for the Underground station at Heathrow where I quickly found the information counter to purchase my Oyster card. I chit-chatted with the attendant and asked for the best route to get to the Nottinghill area of the city. This is where the ISA flat that I would be staying in is located.

Could I have figured out the route on my own? Yes. But it never hurts to ask for help and I’m glad I did. At the exact time I was to be arriving at the flat, one of the largest festivals in London happened to be going on that day (The Notting Hill Carnival celebrating the rich Caribbean culture of the city) on the exact street I needed to get to.  The customer service agent informed me of this, along with the fact that most of the Underground stations near the festival were closed. She broke out a make and laid out an alternate route for me to take to arrive as close as possible to where I needed to go. (Lifesaver!)

Three packed trains later and I arrived at my stop. We emptied onto the street, I got my bearings and started walking. The closer I got to the flat, the more and more people appeared. Eventually I was walking in a sea of humanity. This was a Parade with a capital P. Not like the kind I’d ever experienced in the US. There were no barriers, just people packed from sidewalk to sidewalk for as far as the eye could see. Semi-trucks (lorries) outfitted with huge speakers blasted Caribbean music while dancers followed along wearing brightly colored traditional costumes. Everyone was enjoying the festivities. And then there was me. I felt like a fish out of water – totally out of place – wandering through the parade with my huge backpack trying to locate the flat.


I finally found it and met up with Kathryn the ISA London staff intern. (It was awesome to have a person with local knowledge there to meet me while I got settled in.)

We chatted for a while and she gave me some great suggestions on places to check out and then I was off to explore.

I decided that I would go out for a walk since I’d just spent 10 hours on a flight and needed to stretch my legs. So, swimming back through the sea of people, I headed towards the Westminster section of the city. On my way, I walked through Hyde Park and saw people lounging and having picnics and paddling around.

I strolled by Wellington Arch on my way to Buckingham Palace where I arrived just in time to watch the changing of the guard.

I continued on through St. James’s Park toward 10 Downing Street and was starting to wonder if I’d ever arrive. I passed the Churchill War Rooms and finally started getting glimpses of the famous Big Ben.

I spent some time wandering around the area – checking out the Palace of Westminster and wandering the Westminster Bridge to see the London Eye – and then I realized I was starving.

I found a pub, scarfed my meal and hopped on the Underground back to the Notting Hill. I had a flight catch early the next morning and by this time it was getting late.

The parade was scheduled to have finished up an hour or so before, so I was thinking that the streets would be less crowded when I got back. I arrived at my stop and was completely wrong. The sidewalks were still jam-packed with people and now it was dark. I’ll admit, I got lost. It was a new city and in the midst of all the commotion, I got turned around. I was exhausted from a long day of travel, a long day of walking, and just wanted to get back to the flat, shower and go to bed.

I ended up walking about 20 minutes in the wrong direction and didn’t realize it until I got to the entrance to Hyde Park again. Hey, wait, this looks familiar! I weaved my way back through the crowds, arrived at the ISA flat exhausted. It was just day one of this adventure.

I showered. Set my alarm. And went to sleep.

I hadn’t been in the city for even six hours and I was already set to leave.

A quick night’s sleep and a short walk from the flat to Paddington Station, I boarded the train to London Stansted Airport via Liverpool Street Station and I was on my way. Next stop….Scotland.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of my London experience on 2/13, but the next stop on my journey is Scotland.

Would you like more information about ISA’s programs in London?


Author: International Studies Abroad (ISA)

Since 1987, International Studies Abroad (ISA) has provided college students in the United States and Canada the opportunity to explore the world. ISA offers a wide variety of study abroad programs at accredited schools and universities in 73 program locations throughout the world.

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