Our trip to Europe has been the best professional development that I have ever invested in as a teacher. To see the distant wonders that you have always studied and taught about in class, to really be in the presence of historic sights like Westminster Abbey, is an experience that will personally change you no matter your profession. For me as an educator, and I know this sounds crazy, it made my teaching feel “real.” Let me explain. Before our travels, I had only seen pictures of the historic places that I cover in class with my students, or maybe I would catch a glimpse of Buckingham Palace on television. When you see the sights that you have only dreamed of, it takes time for the initial shock to wear off. It also takes time to process and debrief all the information that you learn from traveling and how you will translate that information into success for your classroom.
I want to describe the process that I am still going through after visiting the historic district of Westminster in London, and hopefully, I can add some insights if you are planning on taking this educational journey yourself. I will warn you that on this journey, you will be walking A LOT.
Before I arrived in London, I didn’t know that Westminster was an actual city within London- people from England will call it a borough. The City of Westminster contains many historic sites like Westminster Abbey, Westminster Palace (here you will find Parliament and the Elizabeth Tower that holds the bell referred to as Big Ben), Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, and the Winston Churchill War Rooms.
If you want to visit all these sights for educational purposes, I have a couple of suggestions. If you are getting over jet lag on your first day, your mind will not be able to absorb a whole lot of information. Do not try to take on any museums until you’ve had time to rest. If your flight lands at Heathrow, go down to the Underground (Londoners call it “the Tube”) and take the Piccadilly line all the way to the Green Park Station. This will put you right in front of Green Park- one of the most beautiful parks in all of London. There are places around Green Park Station where you can drop your luggage. Then head on over to Buckingham Palace (unless the Queen has invited you, you and your foggy brain aren’t getting in, but you may catch the changing of the guards). From Buckingham walk down “The Mall” toward Trafalgar Square. You will have St. James Park on your right until you reach “Admiralty Arch.” Walk through the arch to have the wonder of Trafalgar Square reveal itself to you. This is a beautiful part of the city and you will also find places to use your debit card to get some pounds (also called quid quite often in London- Quid and Pounds are the same things), treat yourself to afternoon tea, or eat at a cozy café.
I loved everything about London, but if I had to pick a couple of places that benefited me the most as a history teacher it would be the Winston Churchill War Rooms and Westminster Abbey. You will have to pay to get into both venues, but it is well worth it. I suggest going to these places on the same day by taking the Underground District line to Westminster Station. (Watch your time of day here at this station because it is a busy part of London. Avoid the rush hour times between 7:30-9:30 & 16:00-18:00)
One of the most wonderful experiences that we had on our entire trip was walking up out of Westminster Station for the first time and seeing Big Ben towering over Westminster Palace and Parliament (Londoners will refer to Big Ben as the Elizabeth Tower if you want to sound fancy pants). You can also see Westminster Abbey and all its glory just beyond the huge statue of Winston Churchill. I found it most convenient to go to Westminster Abbey before walking over to the Churchill War Rooms because it is right there as you exit the subway station. We bought our tickets to get into Westminster Abbey (this self-guided tour has an audio option that you will need to pay extra for- DO IT- it is very helpful in navigating the building and has great information for teachers), and we witnessed centuries of English history from the coronation of all the Kings and Queens of England, to the recognition of literary giants of the English language (no pictures are allowed inside Westminster Abbey, but it's an experience I will never forget, even without the photos).
(A video I made for my students after leaving Westminster)
When you leave Westminster Abbey, walk back through the square that has the huge statue of Winston Churchill in it. Walk down Parliament Street and take the first left on King Charles Street. Walk down to the end of King Charles Street and you will find the War Rooms. The staff here is phenomenal, and they welcomed us at the front desk with smiles and warm greetings. This humongous underground complex is referred to as the CWR’s (Cabinet War Rooms) and was built in 1938 to protect the nerve center of the British government while under constant bombing by Nazi German V1 and V2 bombers. Prime Minister Winston Churchill conducted military affairs from this network of underground bunkers from 1939 to 1945. Your audio tour will describe each room to you and there are detailed scenes that take you right back to that era. This tour was one of my favorites and I highly recommend that you go if you are in Westminster!
Don’t be afraid to travel to a foreign place. I had one major fear when we arrived and that was driving! It didn’t take long at all to realize that even if I had the means to get a rental car, I would not be able to drive on the opposite side of the road and car.
No worries. Public transportation in all of England, especially in London, is FANTASTIC. It didn’t take us long at all to figure the Underground subway out and it was super cheap. My main recommendation to anyone traveling to London is to learn the Underground, and DON’T DRIVE. Save the stress of driving and parking to someone else, you are there to dance with London- not fight with her.
You can ask us questions via our Instagram page @TeacherTravelSabbatical , email Ashley.Bible@teachertravelsabbatical.com, or leave a comment on this blog post!
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