Alyssa Reimenschneider, Study Abroad – London, England

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In the center of the whirlwind city of London, there is a 350-acre patch of semi-tamed wilderness, and its name is Hyde Park.CAPAStudyAbroad_London_Fall2015_From_Alyssa_Reimenschneider_-_Hyde_Park

At home in rural Pennsylvania, I’m used to miles of green, open fields and lush forests, the seasonal scents of cut grass and burning leaves, and moments of intense peace and quiet when I can hear the trees gently rustling and the flutter of birds’ wings in my backyard. I didn’t think I’d be able to find that here, where I am constantly surrounded by people and movement – dodging traffic and hurrying crowds of pedestrians on the street, pressed up against stranger’s backs in the tube, looking out the windows at cyclists and overground trains running between buildings, and drifting to sleep to the distant sound of high-pitched sirens. I’m not used to the heat and restlessness of urban living, and as invigorating as it can be, sometimes I feel like I’m suffocating in the throngs of bodies and vehicles and closely-packed buildings. Sometimes, over the noise of a million other lives in action, I can’t hear myself think.

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So when last weekend came, after a very busy week in a very busy city, I decided to search for inner quietude in the one place I know I can always find it – nature.

I’ve never been to Central Park in New York City, and while I wasn’t entirely new to the concept of large parks within metropolises, I had some doubts as I waited to get off the tube at the Hyde Park Corner station. I had seen a fraction of the park in my first week in London, as I stumbled around dazed and overwhelmed, and it had seemed just as busy and crowded as the city. Hordes of people swarmed up and down the Broad Walk and flocked to Kensington Palace, and I didn’t see much opportunity for relaxation or reflection. Could I really get away from the city in a park surrounded by the city?

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But this time, I entered the park from a different side. Wandering out off the tube, I wasn’t quite sure what I would find. I spotted the nearest wrought-iron gate, complete with a little sign labeled “push,” and, passing through it, I stumbled into a fairy world of Grecian statues, pastel flowers and delicate fountains. There were little circular walkways with picturesque benches tucked behind sprays of budding roses, brightly colored birds flitting between hedges and arched walkways greenly shadowed by a canopy of twisting vines. It was called the Rose Garden, and I was enchanted.

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With my curiosity peaked, I delved further into the green Neverland of Hyde Park, leaving the city farther and farther behind me. Roaming through the heart of the park, I discovered that it contained wonder after wonder, and it was just as complex and surprising as London itself.

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I passed the Serpentine, a sparkling, winding body of water lined with reeds and scattered with swans and geese, beside which people lounged and picnicked as if posing for a Seurat painting. I sat on the edge of the Diana memorial fountain and dipped my hand in the water while children laughed around me. I trekked through wide expanses of long grass where people lay secluded beneath trees or out in the sun, reading or sleeping or talking quietly. I followed footpaths through closely wooded areas where the trunks were mottled and ancient and the fingers of thin branches swept the ground with their burdens of leaves. I stood beneath the golden, towering Albert Memorial and strolled down the sleepy path of the Flower Walk. I watched a couple at target practice beside Kensington Palace and stood less than a foot from a swan near the Round Pond.

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I circled and wove through and wandered aimlessly about Hyde Park for hours, passing waffle stands and Roman architecture, playgrounds and galleries, sculptures and parties on horseback and circles of stones. And everywhere I went, I felt the magic and quiet and diverse energy of an independent microcosm, a world from which the surrounding city was invisible.

I felt the invigoration of a budding romance and the comfort of a gentle sense of belonging. I had found a place that seemed like mine, a place that I could explore endlessly and return to again and again, where I could catch my breath and watch the seasons change. And I know that if ever again I feel lost in London, I can regain my balance by losing myself in Hyde Park.

 

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