Ranking European Places I’ve Visited

You’ve heard the corporate bullshit during the first month and a half of the Coronavirus pandemic. Welcome to our new normal, in these unsettling times, we’re all coping with this in different ways, whatever whatever. Days in quarantine consist of some combination of working out, reading, watching movies, playing old PS2 games, and mostly drinking. Quarantine was fun for about five days, but now the cabin fever has set in and all I want to do is be anywhere but my flat (hey look I’m British now).

So instead of not putting pants on for a third straight day, I decided to take a trip down memory lane and rank all of the places that I was lucky enough to visit in Europe before the pandemic hit (thanks Obama). Some criteria taken into account in these rankings includes: amount of visitor attractions and things for tourists to do, quality of local food and beverages, nightlife, accommodations, weather, the overall vibe of the city, and other factors. Also I’m going to say I will only be ranking places that I have spent at least one night in. I’ve been to a few other places around England, but if it was just a quick day trip I won’t rank it since I didn’t have time to get the real vibe of the city. Without any more corporate bullshit or emails from the CEO of a company you forgot you bought something from in 2014, here’s the list.

 

18.) Canterbury, England

I don’t have anything bad to say about Canterbury. It’s a fine little town in southern England with one of the best Cathedrals in the country, but that’s about it. It’s cute, but you don’t really want to spend more than an afternoon there. It has a really nice Subway though!

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Canterbury Cathedral

17.) Glasgow, Scotland

Glasgow itself is like spending a night in the Milwaukee of England. I’m sure if you lived there you would enjoy the city, the nightlife, and the vibe of Glasgow. As a visitor though there’s just not much going on. A cathedral and cemetery are the two big highlights. If not for access to Loch Lomond which is about an hour train ride away, Glasgow would have been a real disappointment, just like Milwaukee.

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Loch Lomond
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Glasgow Cathedral

 

16.) Bristol, England

Bristol is one of the biggest cities in the United Kingdom, and we did everything worth doing there in one afternoon. Know more for its university students doing ketamine than really anything else, Bristol is a place where if you spend more than a night, you need to re-evaluate your life goals.

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The Clifton Suspension Bridge

15.) Cambridge, England

Home of Cambridge Analytica, that other university, and the nastiest Weatherspoon’s known to man, the Regal. Americans, imagine you’re in a Chili’s. Now imagine this Chili’s transforms into a low-end nightclub in the evening. No matter where you are standing in the Regal your feet will stick to the floor. Now also imagine this is the absolute best nightclub in the entire city. This is where people want to go on a night out, not just another option. It’s cool, it’s popular, and it’s a hell pit full of 16 year olds with fake IDs. The Regal perfectly sums up the whole Cambridge vibe, trashy for 800 years and counting. Cambridge also has a really shitty rowing team that’s never beaten Oxford ever, take my word for it and don’t look it up.

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King’s College

14.) Dover, England

The city of Dover itself sucks a lot. If we were solely ranking by how shitty the town was, Dover would be far and away the worst place I’ve visited. It’s the Moorhead of England. The town is small, run down, void of any really good restaurants or shops or anything interesting at all. I will go as far to say that I hate the town. But it does have two major saving graces. The first is Dover has a kick-ass castle. Dover Castle has been menacing and terrifying the people of southern England for almost 1,000 years. It has thwarted invasions from the French, used as a royal residence, and even housed underground operations during WWII. Dover castle has never stopped protecting the British and believe me they need all the protection they can get.

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Dover Castle

The other great thing about Dover are the world famous white cliffs. The white chalk cliffs are high as fuck above the English Channel with a sometimes terrifying path along the top. It’s a great hike, just don’t look up how many people fall off the cliffs every year (it’s probably more than you think).

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White Cliffs of Dover

13.) Bath, England

Pretty self explanatory. Other than the Roman Bath that gives the city its name, Bath has an array of other interesting things to keep visitors entertained for a weekend. The Royal Crescent is a posh part of town on top of a hill with a pretty sick view, also Nic Cage used to own a house there. Right next to the Bath is Bath Abbey, one of the better churches in a country full of old churches. Most importantly Bath is home to the actual bridge that Russell Crowe jumps off of and commits suicide from as Javert at the end of Les Miserables. That’s pretty fucking cool that a bridge in Bath can pass as fucking Paris, not many places can say that. Bath is weird and that’s why I love it.

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Roman Bath

12.) Bournemouth, England

Bournemouth is maybe the biggest surprise on the entire list. When I tell people from the UK that I’ve been to Bournemouth, most are silently judging me while the others ask why the hell did we decide to go there? The answer to that question is very simple. One day after living in England for about six months Jenny decided that since she lives on an Island she really needed to see the sea. That made way too much sense so we planned a cheap, quick trip to Bournemouth and it was fantastic. Bournemouth is a beautiful seaside city with miles and miles of pristine beach. Even though we were there in February, we enjoyed a long, quiet walk up and down the beach with nobody else around to bother us as the English tend to do everywhere we go. It’s basically Dover but not nearly as methed out.

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Old Harry Rocks

11.) Wales, United Kingdom

Wales is where the British go to get away from themselves. Unlike most of southern England, Wales has been left more or less untouched. The country boasts some great national parks, rivers, lakes, and even Snowdon, the highest mountain in the UK outside of the Scottish Highlands. The one issue with Wales that we faced is that the weather is unpredictable. We tried to climb Snowdon on what we thought was a pretty nice day. It started out sunny, got a little cloudy as we hiked, but the minute we started climbing it started raining and eventually fucking pouring. We eventually had to turn around before we reached the top because we could hardly see where we were going and we might have been blown off the mountainside. That is the wettest and probably coldest I’ve ever been, and I was dumb enough not to have a change of clothes or shoes for the rest of the trip. Lesson learned, when going to Wales, assumes it’s going to suck.

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Betws-y-Coed

10.) Oxford, England

Oxford is probably the hardest city to rate on this list because it is where I live. Oxford is equal parts historic, beautiful, interesting, fun, home, but at times can also be 100 percent boring as hell. I always tell people that you can see everything you need to see in Oxford in two days. There are 38 colleges that make Oxford University, a few world class museums, a bunch of old pubs, and even Blenheim Palace not far up the road. Seemingly that’s enough to fill a week long visit, or keep one entertained at all times while living in the historic city. As lee Corso would say, “not so fast”. Oxford is great don’t get me wrong, but there are only so many times you can visit colleges, go to the same museum, or drink at the same albeit cool pubs until it gets a little mundane. Oxford is a small town masquerading as an international metropolis. Being involved with the university and going to formal dinners and balls is a whole lot of fun, believe me, if the trashcans on Broad Street could talk they would tell some pretty great stories about my time at said balls. The highs of Oxford are as high as any other city, but the day-to-day living gets a bit mundane. I guess that’s the issue with a lot of people out there, put them in a cool city like nothing they’ve ever seen before and inevitably they will get bored to some degree. The one thing that would make this place jump five spots in the list is sports. If UK universities had sports like colleges in the United States, Oxford would be like if you put Alabama football, Kentucky Basketball, and Cambridge rowing (like I said, don’t look up how many times Oxford has lost The Boat Race in a row) in one of the oldest, and most beautiful cities in the modern world. Sports make everything better.

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Radcliffe Camera
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Bridge of Sighs

9.) Dublin, Ireland

As we make our way inside the top ten, we somehow hit the most disappointing entry on the list. Dublin is a wonderful city, but it just doesn’t rise to the level of some other better cities on the list. I would have originally assumed Dublin would be higher than the next entry that we’ll see in a moment, but It just doesn’t stand out in any real way other one, drinking. All of the best parts of Dublin involve drinking, as they absolutely should. The Guinness Factory is one of the top five coolest places I’ve ever been, and some of the pubs in Dublin are amazing, but outside of drinking the Irish capital doesn’t offer all that much. I love beer and whisky as much as or more than anyone else, but I need something more in a major city.

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Guinness Factory

8.) Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh is essentially what I wanted out of Dublin; a shit ton of whisky and some other stuff to do. It is number two on the list of places I would want to live if I could live anywhere. It has a super menacing castle in the middle of a city, and a huge crag/hill called Arthur’s Seat just outside of the city center with great views of the entire region. The Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace can get pretty busy, but it is one of the most interesting city centers in the UK. The best thing about Scotland is the people. You can pop int a corner pub somewhere and nobody bothers you and the bartender isn’t a huge tool, completely different than souther England. In Scotland you actually want to be around the people instead of actively avoiding them. Edinburgh is the perfect mix of not too big but bustling enough to be constantly interesting that makes you wish you could pick up and move there.

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Arthur’s Seat
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Edinburgh Castle

7.) Mallorca, Spain

Mallorca is easily the most different place on the list. we ditched the stuffy English market towns for the sunny beaches of Mallorca. We needed a fun, relaxing beach vacation so Jenny arranged everything for my birthday as a surprise. Being the asshole that I am I made her let me guess where we were going, did some key research and figured out that we were going to Mallorca (I’m a fun person to live with I swear). All four days in Mallorca were over 95 degrees (or 35 for you British people who like measuring how hot you are with a temperature system meant for measuring the temperature of fucking water). The heat didn’t stop us from having a great time. We went to some pretty dope beaches that looked like they would be frequented by James Bond. We hiked up a gorge, and even drove up a dirt mountain road in a fucking Ford Focus. I was basically Jason Statham driving that shitty focus up a mountain. The only bad thing that happened on our vacation was that on the last day we were so hot we had to take refuge at the American embassy in Palma, A.K.A the Hard Rock Cafe. It was the only place that we could bank on having air conditioning and it was glorious and I wouldn’t change anything.

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Torrent de Pareis
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Es Trenc

 

6.) Venice, Italy

Venice is unlike any other city on Earth. It is also probably exactly what you would expect from what you see in movies and on the line. It’s beautiful, it’s romantic, and if it is good enough for Indiana Jones, then It’s good enough for me. I’ve never wanted to get lost in a city more than I wanted to get turned around in the canals that the city is famous for. Just wandering around you will have an amazing time. Wandering around we also found a random restaurant and had the best pasta that I’ve ever tasted and it was at the first restaurant we stopped at. As Indy would say “Ah Venice”. The key for us for visiting Venice and most of the other places on this list is timing. We went to Venice in March before the busy season. I can’t imagine how trapped we would be everywhere we went if there were three times as many people there in the summer. You might not think its cool, but visit places during the offseason, it’s worth it.

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Venice
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Grand Canal

5.) Munich, Germany

The most important thing to note in trying to explain how great Munich is is that I went 36 hours only eating pretzels and drinking beer, a perfect day and a half by any calculation. Munich was the perfect lowkey but still big city vacation. It felt like you were in a small german town, but had enough going on to keep you busy for a few days. Not far from Munich is Neuschwanstein Castle, the basis of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at Disneyland. In real life the castle was just a swanky party pad for an insanely coked out German King. It is the coolest castle that I have seen to date. We weren’t there for Oktoberfest, but I imagine that would make Munich even cooler. The only thing that sullies Munich for me is all the trouble I almost got in flying back to London from Munich. I got detained, they searched all my stuff, and even tried to cut open a puzzle I got for my mom. I try to separate that when I think about Munich but it’s hard sometimes to forgive British customs and immigration officers for the shit they’ve pulled with me over the years.

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Neuschwanstein Castle

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4.) London, England

This is where things get incredibly tough on the list. London is an amazing city that I love so much. It could be higher but the reason it isn’t is that I’ve been to London so many times. Almost like Oxford, London feels like home to me. I have almost run out of things to do in London which is crazy because there is so much to do. London is one of the most iconic cities in the world with something for everyone. It has Buckingham Palace, several of the world’s best (and free) museums, and it has some great pubs especially in Soho. I’ve been there dozens of times and still have something new to do almost every trip.

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Buckingham Palace

So why is London only fourth on the list? It lacks a certain charm. At times London can be one of those cookie cutter big cities where everything is at least 30 percent touristy and not completely authentic. It is hard to know if your day out in London is super unique and interesting, or the exact same thing every tourist is doing. London has enough to keep you busy doing new things for years, but it will make you question if what you’re doing is interesting or everyone else’s postcard from their trip to England.

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On top of St. Paul’s Cathedral
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Tower Bridge

3.) Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona is a sneaky top five entry on the list. You probably wouldn’t expect it to compete with some of the most iconic cities in the world, but Barcelona can go toe-to-toe with any city in the world. Just wandering around Barcelona is probably cooler than casually wandering around most other cities in the world. It’s pretty cool that several of the coolest places in Barcelona were built by the same guy, Antoni Gaudi. He built the Sagrada Familia (which is still being built), Park Guell, and a bunch of super cool houses around town.

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Sagrada Familia

The food in Barcelona was pound for pound the best food I’ve eaten across Europe so far. we had paella, tapas, a cone of ham and cheese, and a shit ton of other great stuff. If Barcelona was a basketball player, it would be someone like Scottie Pippen; a great overall player with no real holes in his game, but never the absolute best like Bird, Magic or Jordan.

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Park Guell

2.) Berlin, Germany

If I could live in any city on this list, it would absolutely be Berlin. The German capital is a weird mix of just about anything you can think of. It’s historic, but very modern, high class and artsy, but also extremely blue collar, and a perfect blend of cultures but still sticks to its German heritage. Berlin is a bustling city, but also connected to nature. It is weird to think of Berlin in the modern day when it was the epicenter of so much horror throughout almost all of the 20th century. WWI, the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, WWII, and then the Cold War caused Berlin to be the center of evil in the world for almost 100 years. Who would ever think a city could possibly come back from all of that? Berlin did partly because it never lets you forget about its horrible past.

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Brandenburg Gate

The most prominent reminder of that sordid past is the Berlin Wall. Sections of the wall remain throughout the city, almost haunting it in the background of a busy street or upscale neighborhood. The Berlin Wall is one of the most striking reminders that even though the past is in the past, it still affects us generations later.

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Berlin Wall

Berlin isn’t just a city full of reminders of a world at war. It is a world class city for the arts. One of the most underrated things about Berlin is the city’s world class network of museums. They just built a shit ton of awesome museums in the middle of an island in the River Spree, and then put a bunch of cool stuff in them. Museum island is home to the Ishtar Gate of Babylon which is maybe the coolest thing that I’ve ever seen in a museum, the bust of Nefertiti, and a ton of other dope stuff. Berlin was so close to being number one on this list it still hurts that I had to knock it down to second place. I blame Hasselhoff.

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Museum Island

1.) Paris, France

London is fourth on this list, one of the great cities in the history of the world. London is not and will never be Paris. Paris will always be London’s better looking, smarter, funnier, cooler, and more talented younger sibling. Everything London does Paris does it better. Museums, palaces, random tall stuff, churches, food, and definitely the people. The weirdest thing is, I had almost no desire to go to Paris when I moved to England. Jenny and I always talked about how much we couldn’t care less about Paris, and knew if we ever went we would think it was super overrated and sucked. WRONG!!!

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View from Sacre Coeur

As Timothee Chalamet would say, Paris is hella tight. It is not overrated one bit. In reality everything we did in Paris is probably cooler than you would expect. Again the theme of some of these trips is go in the offseason. We went around Christmas and nothing we did was busy at all. We went to the Louvre, one of the most visited places in the world, and were alone with the Mona Lisa for a solid five minutes. We were alone with one of the most famous things in the world and it was cool as hell. We kept going back to the room later in the day and it would keep filling up more and more until all you could see was people holding their cameras up to get a picture from super far away. The only bummer while we were in Paris was that Notre Dame was closed because of the huge fire in April 2019. Other than that everything was as good or better than you would think it was.

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Notre Dame

Paris is arguably the most famous city in the world for a reason. Even the random stupid stuff was cool. Just getting a pastry at a corner bakery was dope. the food and drink was so good while we were there I even drank a few espressos, which is wild because I’m the most anti coffee person you’ll ever meet. The cherry on the top was the people. You always hear that french people, and especially Parisians are the rudest people in the world. I have a feeling the British perpetuated that rumor to detract from their own shittyness because the French are fine. They made everything that much better.

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Eiffel Tower

It might be lame or a cliche, but of what I’ve seen of Europe so far, Paris is head and shoulders above the rest of the competition.

Finally saw Les Miserables on the West End

What a long strange trip its been to get to this point. Who would have thought going to see one play would take two and a half months, two trips to London, a dozen phone calls and three pairs of tickets.

Jenny surprised me with tickets to go see Les Miserables at the Queen’s Theater in London’s West End when I arrived in England. I was super excited as, surprisingly, Les Miserables is one of my favorites. She got the tickets well before I got to England, and we were all set to go the first week of January. She explained when she bought the tickets from Encore Tickets, she bought two, but when she paid there were four in her cart, and before realizing it she paid for four tickets. She called and emailed the company and was able to have them re-sell the tickets she didn’t mean to buy, so it seemed like everything was fine.

We headed off to London so Jenny could show me the sights as it was my first time there. We got a nice hotel near Hyde Park, and did all the basic London tourist stuff. The first day we walked around Hyde Park, saw Buckingham Palace, toured Westminster Abbey, walked around Big Ben and Parliament. We then took a train to see the Tower Bridge and walk around the Tower of London before heading back. The next day was the big day. We spent the afternoon at the British Museum before we left early to get ready for the show. We first went out fo a fancy steak dinner at one of the trendy restaurants near the theater. It was great and we went all the way with a couple steaks, a bottle of wine and some cheesecake to finish things off. We got to the theater, got our tickets from the box office and went to find our seats. Thats when we figured out that something was wrong…there were already people in our seats. After talking with them, and finding an usher we headed back to the box office to find out that Encore Tickets had actually sold all four of the original tickets that Jenny got, instead of just the two she didn’t want, therefore we had no tickets for our show. We were pretty pissed and headed back to our hotel to fume about the mix-up.

The next day we continued out trip with a visit to a museum. Jenny was on the phone with Encore most of the afternoon to try to recoup our losses and get new tickets after they messed up. After several days of negotiations (they offered to give us only %10 off our next ticket purchase) we finally got a deal that could get us two new tickets for Les Miserables. Las t we we finally got our tickets again and went back to London for attempt number two to see the show. This time we traded a steak dinner for a steak burrito at Chipotle, but we were excited to go. We got in the theater, found our seats and thankfully this time there was no one in them. When the show started and we could finally breathe a sigh of relief knowing that Encore didn’t screw us a second time.

As for the show, it was amazing. The show was everything we were hoping for when we got tickets originally.

The Set: A+ The set started out as nothing but a few probs and I was worried that that’s all it would be the whole time. Then it began to rotate as the actors walked across and blew my mind. Every time they needed to change the setting, the stage would rotate and spin the old set to the shadows and bring the new one out without any struggle. The barricade was insanely intricate. They were able to pull some stuff off that I didn’t think they’d be able to like Javert’s suicide and basically all the scenes at the barricade.

Acting: B+  The only downside from going on a Wednesday night was that we got the understudies for Jean Valjean and Marius. It worked out though because those two actors filled the roles and were great. The only problem I had with the acting was at some points the actors would choose to scream their lines as loud as possible instead of trying to convey a real emotion (mostly Javert) but other than that everything was right on point.

Singing: A  Everyone in the cast was an amazing singer. After being a big fan of the movie, but not Russell Crowe it was great to finally see what the character Javert would look like with an actor who can actually sing.

Seats: A-  We had technically what were supposed to be worse seats from our original seats the first time we were supposed to go. That being said I think I like where we were more. We were on the balcony instead of on the floor, and I think we could see a lot better than where we would have been. We had a birds eye view and I think that helped the set pop and we could see some things on stage that nobody else could see from their seats.

Overall finally seeing the show was a great experience and I can’t wait to go see another West End show. That being said we’ll have to find a different ticket office to work with since we will never use Encore after that experience.

Adventures in Oxford: Attending the Polo Club Ball

Growing up in a middle class home in Coon Rapids, Minnesota, the thought of going to super fancy balls never really crossed my mind. I think the fanciest event I ever went to was a pretty normal wedding. When Jenny texted me asking It i wanted to go to the Oxford Polo Club Ball I thought there was no way in hell we would be allowed in there.

The Oxford Polo Club Ball is one of the most prestigious balls on the University of Oxford calendar. Jenny got an invited from a friend who is in the polo club before I arrived in England. Her brief explanation over the phone was: White tie, at the Tower of London, and a river cruise on the Thames. I thought she was crazy. First I figured there was no way we’d be able to afford it, and second I thought it must be a mistake that we could even get an invite, and someone would eventually tell us that we couldn’t go. After talking about it for a few minute we decided that it wasn’t too expensive, and might be a once in a lifetime event for us that we couldn’t pass up. I mean private tour of the Crown Jewels, dinner and reception inside the Tower of London, and a fancy boat ride on the Thames through Central London, when would we ever be in a position to do something like that again.

Our friend got us tickets and I made my way over to England. Over the next month and a half we were so busy exploring England that I somewhat forgot we were even going to the ball. About a week before the ball I decided it was time to start getting ready. First thing was to decide what to wear. As it was a white tie event, there wasn’t much of an option. As a guy who hasn’t even worn a tux since I was probably 4 years old, I was a little intimidated by the formal evening attire. I had no idea what I needed to get for the ensemble, or how to correctly wear each piece. Luckily for me, Oxford is very versed in formalwear so it was not hard to find a shop to rent everything I needed from. The only other thing I needed to get was cufflinks.

When the day of the ball came, we decided to get dressed and take some pictures by some of Oxford’s most famous buildings with some friends we were going with. There is no more surreal feeling than walking around in the most formal attire imaginable in front of a bunch of tourists. Every time we stopped to take pictures we had several people ask what we were doing, or if we were going to a wedding. It didn’t help either that when I answered them, it was obvious that I was American (and everyone in our little group was American or Canadian), and it just confused them even more.

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After the photo shoot we got on the bus with all the other well dressed people and made out way to the Tower of London. The only problem getting there was that the tower is in Central London. Even though Oxford is roughly 50 miles from London, it took over two hours to get there because London was so busy on a Friday night.

Once we finally got to the tower, we got in smoothly, and the Yeoman Warders gave us a brief history of the tower. There’s a lot of pretty gruesome history that happened in the Tower of London. After the history, we got to take a private tour of the Crown Jewels. The jewels were pretty fantastic, but we were anxious to get to the part of the night we actually came there for, the drinking. We had a very nice champagne reception in one of the museum galleries on the grounds. We got to drink while looking at all kinds of artifacts, it was pretty cool. After the reception we moved to another part of the tower for a four course dinner. Dinner was great, pork and potatoes, with chocolate fore dessert.

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After downing a few bottles of wine between us, we made our way to the last stop for the evening, a boat cruise on the Thames. The boat, thankfully with a fully stocked bar, carried us from the tower west, through most of downtown and central London. Along the way we passed Big Ben and Parliament, along with several other important buildings. But the boat served first and foremost for a vessel for our dance party. It was the one time in the night where everyone could drop the formalities of the ball and let loose a little bit (and also make jokes about being Billy Zane in Titanic).

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All in all it was a great experience, and probably something we would only experience once in a lifetime. I’m so glad we got the invitation and didn’t shy away because we felt we didn’t exactly belong in that world.