Landing in London

Hello again everybody! It's safe to say we're all moved in and cozy in our London hotel. Typical Todd and John style, they've been keeping us plenty busy with incredible speakers and events.

 

Getting to London was, in a word, eventful. Sometimes you begin to wonder if you're just not meant to be in a hurry. Normally in such moments, I prefer to be sitting on a beach with a glass of lemonade in my hand listening to waves and the wind, but we had the fortune of slowing life down in the middle of public transportation.

 

It all began with us promptly getting out of our Copenhagen hotel Sunday morning and heading to the station. Being the savvy travelers we've become we had no issues getting to the station, but the ticket machine threw the first curveball of the day. Apparently we ate too much during the group meal or Todd and John went on a shopping spree and flagged the trip credit card because the ticket machine told us the account was blocked. After much confusion, various purchasing techniques, and realizing you could only buy 9 tickets at a time, our professors were kind enough to spot the class with their own accounts.

 

Feeling back on track, we raced to the train and sat down for the long ride to the airport. Just as we were getting off, the lady who checks tickets made it to our group. By this point, were were all accustomed to saying "we're in the group" whenever these people walk by, because it's much simpler to have our fearless leaders hold on to the tickets than try to distribute 28 of them every time we travel.

Normally this isn't an issue. The funny thing about tickets in Denmark, however, is they are not considered valid unless they're punched. Since we were in such a hurry after the credit card dilemma, we forgot to validate our purchase. Apparently the policy for not having a ticket is to give a steep fine. That is a steep fine to every individual in our class. Understandably, Todd quickly began presenting our case to avoid being penalized for a little misunderstanding while I pulled out my camera and moved into position just in case he happened to get handcuffed. This sort of opportunity doesn't happen everyday.

Luckily, the conference with additional security decided we were dumb enough Americans to make a sincere mistake, and let us continue on our way without a fine once we punched the tickets. Thinking we were over the hurdle, we scurried into the airport to check our bags. It turns out, in Copenhagen they prefer you get your own boarding pass at a kiosk. It also turns out, we didn't know we needed a barcode from our order to scan. After walking from one help desk to the next like a long row of ducks, slowly blocking various lanes of traffic with our enormous group, we managed to get a special lane opened for us to fix our travel inadequacy. While the worst was officially over, we still got to enjoy hearing our plane had maintenance issues and got to wait in the airport a bit longer. Not to worry, Todd and John made the most of the opportunity and let us feverishly debate hot topics from the trip in small groups.

Landing in London, we had one final test of patience. I don't know all the details, but I believe our passes for the underground in London could not be purchased in bulk, so each card had to go through the transaction process. As you can imagine, it took a while. When our leaders hadn't returned after a matter of many minutes, we began to suspect that it was in fact a survival test to see if we could make it to the hotel on our own accord. A little disappointingly, since chaos seemed to be the theme of the day, Todd and John returned and successfully guided us all the way to the hotel.

Ready for some relaxation, we quickly found our rooms and set down our bags. Walking in the door of this place was immediately a nice change of pace. On either side of the entrance were two cozy studies, complete with comfortable chairs and a small book library. The building seems to be primarily vertical (my room happens to be at the top of 56, breath-taking stairs for those wondering) with three sets of staircases and connecting hallways at each level.

The best part of this place, hands down, is the breakfast. They take your order, and combinations of fruit, porrige, tea, coffee, hot chocolate, eggs cooked in a variety of ways, toast, sausage, bacon, baked beans (apparently it's part of a British breakfast), and grilled tomatoes and mushrooms are available everyday. If there was ever a motivation to wake up in the morning, they've got it figured out. Topped with an insanely polite, yet rule enforcing, staff, it makes the hike up to the bed everyday worth the effort.

Besides the travel and hotel, I suppose I should mention some of the class aspects we've had in our first couple days. Our first activity was a walking tour from a man that could point out the significance in a chipped brick and tie it into a historical movement while naming the year and the person that most influenced it. His knowledge of the area was incredible, as well as his ability to make intelligent stabs at social norms and smile quietly to himself while I tried to keep up. He struck a new appreciation with me for detail, and also made me realize how sophisticated the word "gentrification" sounds with a British accent. Later that day, we met with Navid Akhtar, a TV producer from Gazelle Media. He helped further our understanding of the portrayal with Muslims in the media and made a great case for the necessity of context to truly understand any story.

The following day, we made our way to the East London Mosque to get another tour and opportunity to ask questions. During this session, our topic seemed to focus more on understanding the details of Islam as a religion, rather than many of our other talks extending past beliefs and practices into impacts and current perceptions. Later that afternoon, we made our way to the London police station and were presented with a great explanation of their counter terrorism methodology. Our presenters were more than willing to answer our many questions, and even generous enough to send us with a bit of swag. Not only can I feel like a true cop drinking coffee out of a police mug, and I have a little notepad to pretend I'm a detective like Sherlock. Watch out London.

As a bittersweet moment for me, we had our last group meal that night. We were joined by a graduated Luther student and some of his friends, who were kind enough to spread out and entertain us for the meal. We packed a small Indian restaurant and quizzed our local guests to learn American stereotypes apparently include fat and loud. Also, we found out the the only people that really talk on the tube are usually crazy. Sure explains a lot of the looks I've gotten when asking for directions. The food was excellent, and I quickly learned that "medium" is Indian for "prepare to swallow immense amounts of rice and feel the spice in your ears."

After the first couple days in London, I think we will all be just fine spending a few more days, but the whole trip seems to be flying by and the end is actually starting to feel near. My emotional well-being would probably be in trouble, but luckily I still have the breakfast to look forward to everyday. As always, thanks again for reading and look for another update later in the week!

Ben Harney

Part of our class waiting in the tube for the next train.
Big Ben and the London Eye at night in London.
The group posing at the end of our historical walking tour.