Exchange Diaries Edinburgh: New Year’s Eve in London

Styna Tao was in Edinburgh on exchange this fall. She’s be sharing her experiences every three weeks as a regular contributor to Lifestyle.

As the crowd chanted the New Year’s Eve countdown, I looked all around me to take in the moment.

I’m sitting on a railing on Tower Bridge, an iconic London landmark, surrounded by old and new friends staring at the fireworks peeking out from behind city buildings.

My seven months in Europe (and Africa for four days) was coming to an end and I’m sorry to leave.

I’ve gained so many new experiences, discovered new cultures, learned history and art, and developed new friendships in these last few months.

Like a true Londoner, I didn’t buy a ticket to see the fireworks. This is the first the show has been ticketed, in effort to curb the number of spectators from 500,000 to 100,000.

Instead, I looked for places where I could watch fireworks without having to enter the viewing zone. For me, this exemplified the immersion of my time abroad — I’m not a tourist here, I’m a resident and I have some local know-how.

Tower Bridge has even more special significance because it’s often mistakenly called “London Bridge” by outsiders, which is a different inconspicuous bridge downriver.

It’s knowing little details like that and sharing the local scorn for external ignorance that makes me feel like I belong.

After I rang in the New Year with the crowd, I took to the tube (or subway as we Canadians call it) with the rest of the party-goers and easily recalled the lines that I had to take and stops to get off.

One of the skills gained during these months that I’m most proud of is the ability to navigate public transportation systems, especially in different languages.

It’s crucial for inter-city navigation, and I’m always so pleased when I can walk confidently towards a platform knowing exactly where I’m going without consulting a map.

During these seven months I’ve lived for the most part in London and Edinburgh. These two places had their individual charm. The variety of activities and architecture in London has made every weekend interesting, from attending exhibitions to watching football matches to strolling along South Bank.

I’m also fond of the hilly cobblestone streets of Edinburgh, as much as they’re detrimental to my footwear, and I’ll dearly miss the friends I made in my group projects.

Edinburgh was a good place for studying, but also a gem to discover. The city looked like an old town come to life under the sun, and the perfect setting for ghost stories in the rain.

During some weekends, I ventured into other parts of Europe, and while I may not have visited as many cities as some, I strived to stay at least three days in each city to get a feel for the atmosphere and culture in each place.

Some highlights include eating honey from a hive in Ireland, having picnics on the Nicoise beach, sleeping under the stars in the Moroccan desert, passing the Sagrada Familia every day in Barcelona, meeting the best travellers in Berlin and getting lost amongst the canals in Amsterdam.

I sleepily made my way to bed at 3 a.m. on Jan. 1, hardly believing that it’s already 2015. London is where I started my time abroad and this is where I’ll end my travels.

It’s given me a wonderful summer where I was both guide and tourist in the city, and a fantastic holiday season where I experienced English traditions like Christmas pantomimes and pudding.

When I board the plane to return to Canada, I know that I’m already planning my next trip back.

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