01 August 2008

Õpilastega: London

Six 12th graders from Tapa Gümnaasium and I were in London from Friday, July 25 to Tuesday, July 29. I had my wallet in my back, left pants pocket; DK's Eyewitness Travel: London Pocket Map & Guide in my back, right pocket; my Oyster card in my front, left pocket; and my "handy" (as the Germans call cell phones) in my front, right pocket.

We again stayed at the London Backpackers Hostel across from the Hendon Central Tube station on London's north side. Over the course of four nights, I had roommates from Mexico - sisters on their way to Rome and a Ph.D. student coming back from a conference in Glasglow; Switzerland - a junior at university majoring in biology going to an intensive English course in Edinburg; Canada - a photojournalist who was a little vague about his assignment in London; Germany - a young woman putting off starting university; and Oregon - another young woman who had just flown in from China where she is teaching English.

The weather was fantastic. So I hung out in Hendon Park - just half a block from the hostel - in the morning with a cup of coffee and one of London's dailies and in the evening with a proper doner kebab and brochures from the museums we had visited during the day. One evening, I watched a group of Indians play cricket. Yes, maybe it moves a little faster than baseball, but I think you would still need a beer, some peanuts, a "Kissing Cam", and fireworks to really enjoy the game.

On this trip (by the way, my second in two years), for the very first time, I walked around the Brompton Oratory in Knightsbridge, walked along the Princess Diana Memorial in Hyde Park, walked through Southwark Cathedral in Southwark, and finally - after more than 25 years - got to Brent Cross Shopping Center, a 10-minute walk from the hostel and probably a 15-minute drive from Finchley, where I lived in 1982 during my semester in London with Rosary College.

Like last year, on the day of our departure, from the time I got to the school in Tapa to the time I got through passport control at Stansted Airport, I second guessed myself: Is it a good idea to organize a trip like this? Am I doing too much? Am I taking too many risks? Is it too much responsibility for me and too much to ask of students? What will their parents think when they tell them about the hostel? the snack food meals? the crowds of people? Then, in London, first in Camden Town and then at Oxford Circus, I saw groups of kids, younger than the students from Tapa, smoking, of course, speaking Spanish or Italian, and, eventually, huddled around a twenty-something adult in a blue EF shirt, listening for details about what was going to happen next, as soon as so-and-so appeared. So, yes, I re-assured myself, it is a good idea (certainly not a novel one). The more I do it, the easier it gets and the more the risks are minimized, or at least anticipated. I like the hostel (with a full kitchen and renovated bathrooms), the neighborhood (with the park, a grocery store, and Brent Cross), transportation from Stansted and to central London, and, well, while I would pay 22 pounds to see Vanessa Redgrave in the Year of Magical Thinking at the National Theatre, even with a real job, I don't think I'd pay 16 pounds to go into the Tower of London, especially when the British Museum, the National Gallery, the Tate, and the Wallace Collection are free.