solo travel diaries: the queen is dead and i’m in london

photo: alicia lewins

photo: alicia lewins

Studying in Geneva, Switzerland, Kent State sociology and environmental sciences dual major Alicia Lewins made a trip to the British Isles on her own. 


There were two main reasons that drove Lewins to visit the British Isles, with the first being the fact that they speak English. This eliminates one of the major struggles of traveling solo and communicating on your own, as the people around you are speaking in a way you’re familiar with, eliminating the need to translate constantly. Lewins was also driven to the area because of family heritage. 


Departing from Geneva early on Friday morning, Lewins took her first train of many on this trip. She would arrive in Paris three hours later for her connection to London, the first city on her itinerary. 


Between Paris and London, you have to go through customs since you are leaving the Schengen area, adding some time to the transfer. After that, she was on her way to London, arriving around noon. 

photo: alicia lewins

The first stop of the day was her hostel, St. Christopher’s Village, to put her things away and get ready for the day ahead of her. She made a list of places she wanted to visit during her 1.5 days in the city.


After leaving the hostel, she grabbed lunch at a sushi restaurant, which offered an assortment of vegetarian options. Lewins found London and Edinburgh to be quite accommodating when it came to vegetarianism, despite some of their infamous delicacies. 


After having lunch, she hit one of the places on her list: the British Museum. Lewins recognizes the controversy surrounding the British Museum, saying, “I looked at some stolen art as one does in London.” Although filled with beautiful artifacts from all throughout history, many of them were wrongfully obtained or looted during the Age of Colonialism.  

photo: alicia lewins

The weather that day was beautiful, so Lewins decided to head towards Buckingham Palace while it remained nice out, given the United Kingdom’s unpredictable weather. The palace is one of those essential landmarks you have to visit when in London, being a long time home to royalty. 


After leaving Buckingham Palace, Lewins walked around and saw some of the major sights, such as Big Ben and the outside of Westminster Abbey. While walking around the city, she stopped by a coffee shop for a quick pick me up and a phone charge. 


Walking in, she was greeted by the staff, who asked, “Did you hear?” which was met with some slight confusion. “Hear what?” Lewins replied. 


“The Queen is dead.”

photo: alicia lewins

Upon hearing that, Lewins headed straight back to Buckingham Palace, where thousands of people were already congregating to mourn the loss of the monarch. 


“As I walked to Buckingham Palace, flags were lowering and people were congregating,” Lewins said. 


Lewins noted that not many people were crying, and those who were had likely remembered Queen Elizabeth II being crowned. She would stay at Buckingham Palace observing the crowds until it got dark out. 


Lewins made her way back to her hostel, which meant taking the tube. Hoards of people were in the stations – trains were full, walkways were full and everyone was walking the opposite direction she was. 


“It was impossible to navigate the stations,” Lewins said. After making her way through the crowds and onto the trains, she made it back to her hostel where she was able to sit down for a bit and rest. A few hours later, she realized she had yet to have dinner so once again Lewins made her way out to find something open, which ended up being pizza. She opted for a bus this time, looking out the window on the dark and rainy London, having now experienced a major historical moment first hand. 

photo: alicia lewins

As night came and went, Lewins got ready for her second and last day in the city. She stopped at Terry’s Cafe for breakfast, which was one of her food highlights for the trip. Initially, she had planned on visiting some museums for the day, but that became impossible with the beginning of the mourning period.


The only place Lewins was still able to get into was Westminster Abbey, which was open for mourning. No pictures were allowed and the only reason you could be allowed in was to send prayers to the Queen. 

photo: alicia lewins

After that, Lewins headed back towards the Palace, as people were still gathering to leave flowers and gifts for the Queen. Then, because nothing was open, Lewins found herself sitting in a cafe to pass the time for a couple hours. 


Eventually, she made her way back to her hostel, where she picked up her bags and headed for the train station to go to Edinburgh. She would arrive later in the night, making the trip to her hostel in the dark. 

photo: alicia lewins

Because she stayed the night in Edinburgh, Lewins had the full day to explore the city. She would once again find a cafe to have breakfast in before heading out and doing some sightseeing. The museums in Scotland were not closed for mourning, so she was able to visit anything that interested her. 


She went to the National Gallery, which was featuring an impressionist art exhibition, for a couple hours. After that, she made her way towards some of the parks in Edinburgh, as it was a beautiful day. She visited Halton Hill and the Prince’s Street Garden. 

photo: alicia lewins

She then began feeling sick, which meant she would stay in for the evening to get some rest. Waking up early in the morning, Lewins made her way out of Edinburgh and back to Geneva, with the first train being stuck on the tracks for 40 minutes unexpectedly, causing her to be late for the following two trains. 


“You can never expect everything to go your way while traveling,” Lewins said. 


While she was able to get a new train from London to Paris for the same day, her last train back to Geneva was long gone. This meant she was stuck in Paris for the night, so she got a hotel to get some rest, as she would be able to leave in the morning. 

photo: alicia lewins

Despite all of the unexpected circumstances during her trip, Lewins still thoroughly enjoyed the British Isles and solo travel, visiting Florence later in the semester as well. 

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