By Jean Hyun Kim
It started off as just a suggestion from a friend asking if I wanted to travel to UK and France. Then it became a whole few days of planning, buying tickets, and arguing. But after all the grueling 2AM meetings and hundreds of dollars evaporating for plane tickets, we set foot in the soils of Europe.
My friends and I went to UK first. Excited but worried at the same time, we stepped outside the Gatwick airport and breathed in a wisp of cold, (and maybe not so) fresh London air. There were signs saying “Underground” and people speaking in the classic British accent. We had a full English breakfast then walked to countless landmarks. We walked 30 minutes to the Tower Bridge, rode a subway (or rather, the “tube”) to the University College of London, the British Museum, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, and Big Ben — all in one day, with maybe one or two hours of sleep.
The next day, we decided to move separately, according to our own plans. So I slept in, and then went to Tate Modern, a modern art museum. I ruminated over the countless beautiful artworks that piqued my interests, walking around for 2.5 hours. But the real “art” came when I stepped outside. I could hear an old man speaking into a microphone, somewhere behind the people riding their skateboards. There, I found an old man with gray hair, telling a joke to people with a guitar around his neck.
“Last night I went to the fish and chips shop. And I said to the man: ‘Can I have fish, chips, and mushy peas, please?’ He said, ‘Certainly! Would you like that wrappin’?’ So I said, ‘Yes, please!’ So he went: ‘fish, chips, mushy peas, fish and mushy peas! Oops, sorry about the rappin’.”
Then he went on to sing classics, like “Wonderwall” by Oasis and “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King. It was a beautiful moment. His soft voice echoing, River Thames running behind me, people walking on by with occasional wiggles with their children. Amongst them was me, a visitor, but at the same time never more invited.
Listening to the songs in the background, I walked across a bridge (apparently it was the bridge from Harry Potter) and saw the Saint Paul’s Cathedral without even planning to, and soon met my friend studying in UK for the first time in three years. It was a small dinner, with burgers and fries, but we caught up with each other, filling in the three years.
Soon came the next day, and decided that the day would be dedicated to “touring like a Londoner.” We went to the Borough Market and bought some cheese, went to Piccadilly Circus to get some afternoon tea (definitely overrated in my opinion) and then went on the London Eye Ferris wheel (as all Londoners casually do). On the London Eye, we saw everything.
Everything was underneath our feet and visible despite the bad weather. On one side would be Big Ben, and on the other would be — well, nothing much. But the beautiful architecture, with few to no skyscrapers obscuring the view, spread across the entire field of view, stretching to the horizon.
Soon after, we went to the infamous Kings Cross station, where we (sadly) did not take a picture in front of Platform 9 and 3/4. But we walked around, visiting small shops and sitting down in front of a small river, singing Korean songs in unison. It was a slightly drizzling day, and singing in the rain in the middle of London was as romantic as it could get — though, we realized that we had been sitting on a wet bench and that our pants were soaked. And this is how our last day in London ended — with soaked pants.
The next day, we went to Kings Cross again, this time to take the Eurostar to France. In just two hours, we set foot in French soil. As a person who was more excited about France than UK, I was looking forward to walking down the French street, breathing in the Parisian air. And when we got there, the streets did not disappoint. Beautiful architecture adorned with nostalgic lights scattered throughout the streets, people kissing on a bridge with a beautiful view of the Eiffel tower — it was just the way I had imagined it.
At night, we walked to the Eiffel tower. Paris at night was even more fantastical. The yellow hue of the street lights, people drinking at small outdoor tables. Then came a beam of light. We did not recognize where it came from, but it shot through the sky like the Batman call signal. And as we slowly walked toward the source of the light, we soon realized that it was coming from none other than the Eiffel tower itself.
The Eiffel tower was beyond expectations. It was gigantic, with shining bright yellow lights sparkling throughout. It could be seen from almost anywhere in Paris, and it blended perfectly with the low rise buildings and the yellow lights — it was magical.
The next few days were a blur. We went everywhere, from the Versailles palace to the Louvre. We saw everything from the infamous Mona Lisa to Van Gogh’s portrait. We would walk into random parks with beautiful cherry blossoms, buy croissants from a bakery, and visit film sites for movies like Midnight in Paris and Before Sunset.
When I came back to New York City after the adventure, everything was just a little less magical. The first time I had been to NYC (last thanksgiving), everything had a touch of surreal modernity to them. Yet, now it was gone. But when I walked around once again through the streets of NYC, I saw groups of people in awe of the towering skyscrapers and bright neon signs — to them, the place was just as magical. Perhaps to Londoners, London is a boring old city. Perhaps to Parisians, Paris does not have the same romantic element I saw. Perhaps, just perhaps, everything is always as beautiful as when we first saw it.
About the Author: Jean Hyun Kim is a freshman from Seoul, South Korea, majoring in psychology and performing & media arts. One of his favorite travel destinations is Paris, France because of its ability to stir up nostalgia for a memory he never had.