Finally, a tourist in London

Last Saturday morning, I went to Heathrow to pick up my boyfriend, Ethan, from the airport. I was incredibly excited to see him as it had been just over three months since I had last seen him, but I was also excited to show him the wonderful city I currently call home, London.

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Since arriving in London in January, I have primarily been living life in London as someone who both works and studies here. Personally, I have not felt like a tourist here, someone who is only here for a few days to a week, frantically trying to see all the main attractions and sights. Instead, I’ve found myself seeking out different boroughs in London to explore in order to get a full taste of the area, rather than specific attractions. Because of this, I was actually quite excited to “be a tourist for the week” as I haven’t visited many of the main sites London is famous for.

While Ethan was here, I attempted to balance showing him some of the unique, pretty and eclectic boroughs I have visited and enjoyed with the well-known sites of London such as Big Ben, the London Eye, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace and so on.

The same day that he landed, I was able to combine these two ideas as we headed to Borough Market first thing. Borough Market is on the South Bank of the Thames River and is best known for its diverse food options ranging from fresh fruits and vegetables to delicious pastries and full cooked meals from different parts of the world. Being that it was a Saturday morning, it was quite busy, so I was throwing Ethan into the hustle and bustle of London as he had just gotten off an eight hour plane ride. After walking through Borough Market and sampling some delicious pastries, we headed across Tower Bridge and then past the Tower of London which was also really busy.

As if I hadn’t overwhelmed Ethan enough, I took him to a Fulham vs Wolverhampton football match in the afternoon. It was the first football (soccer) match I had been to while in London and the atmosphere was absolutely amazing. While we couldn’t understand any of the cheers, we shouted along anyways. Our seats were between the corner flag and the goal and only about six rows back, aka fantastic seats.

On Sunday, we took a train out to Cambridge for a day trip. While I had previously been to Oxford, I was more excited to go to Cambridge and just have a relaxing day walking around looking at the pretty old school buildings. We wandered through the main part of town and then went towards the river to watch the punters (the people on the gondola-esque boats with the long poles). We had brunch at a really  cute restaurant and then spent the rest of the day walking around.

Ethan’s birthday is in early April, and  as I will not be home for it, I decided to surprise him by getting tickets to a West End show while he was here. His favorite childhood Disney movie was Aladdin, and they just so happen to have Aladdin playing at the Prince Edward Theatre, so I bought tickets for us to go on Monday night. He absolutely loved the show and I was very happy with how surprised he was when we turned the corner and he saw the Aladdin sign over the theatre entrance!

On Tuesday, we took the classic tourist route. First, we stopped at Buckingham Palace, then walked through St. Jame’s Park and then walked through Westminster. In Westminster, we first stopped outside Westminster Abbey and then Westminster Palace to look at the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. We then made our way over Westminster Bridge to get a different view of Big Ben, then went back across to continue walking down Whitehall Street, stopping at 10 Downing Street where the Prime Minister lives, the Horse Guards Parade and finally, we ended at Trafalgar Square. The National Gallery overlooks Trafalgar Square, so we went inside and wandered around a bit before making the walk east to St. Paul’s Cathedral with our final destination being the Sky Garden.

The Sky Garden is one of the few skyscrapers in London and is uniquely shaped, some call it the walkie talkie. It is best known for its top-floor viewing deck and restaurant that boasts a large indoor green garden. It is quite difficult to get tickets to go up to the top, despite the tickets being free. They sell out weeks in advance. Luckily, I had been watching the website and was able to book two tickets for us at 4:45 p.m. so we were able to see all of London in both the daytime and as the sun was setting. If you ever come to London and are looking for a fantastic view of London and don’t want to spend money to go up in the London Eye, I highly suggest getting tickets to go up to the Sky Garden! (Its the cheaper and better version of its skyscraper neighbor the Shard.)

Throughout the rest of the week, I was able to take Ethan to see the area where I work, in the borough of Shoreditch. I work on Brick Lane, which is known for its Indian Food, the Spitalfields Market and street art. While I wasn’t able to show him around most of the day, we still managed to see the market and some street art. On Thursday after I got out of my internship, we took the tube to Camden town where we wandered through Camden Market. Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of Camden, it is quite different from the rest of London. There is more of a hipster and goth influence and is usually quite busy. Ethan had similar feelings about the area, so we didn’t spend much time here and ended up walking to Regents Park and Primrose Hill where we were able to watch the sunset. Primrose Hill also has amazing views of the London skyline and is well worth the climb to the top of the hill.

Saturday morning, we got up bright and early to make it to Portobello Market in Notting Hill. Of all the markets in London that I have been to, Portobello Market tops my list and it ended up being one of Ethan’s favorite places in London as well. We slowly made our way through the crowds of people as we walked down the street. We stopped to get donuts from a street vendor, and they ended up being the best apple and jam (not jelly, that’s not a thing here!) filled donuts we had ever had. Highly suggest! When looking for nice and cheap souvenirs in London, I also suggest going to Portobello Street Market as they have many permanent shops that sell sweatshirts, mugs, t-shirts, etc. and for good prices! After Notting Hill, we made our way back to Westminster and across to the area by the London Eye. We were going to do the London Eye, but had not made reservations and sadly they had sold out for the day. Instead, we decided to do a boat tour of London that actually ended up being really pretty. It was also such a nice day out and I swear I got sunburned as we sat on the top deck of the boat!

The next morning, Sunday, Ethan and I took the tube back out to Heathrow where he was flying out of. We had such a full, fun week and I still cannot believe how much we were able to fit in, despite the fact that I was still in classes and an internship on the weekdays!

Exploring (Part) of Hyde Park and Bus Tour of London

Day 3 in London

We had orientation part two at Imperial College at 10 a.m. on Saturday. While at orientation, they told us more about our classes and internships that we would be taking part in during our time in London.

The academic expectations were primarily the same as they are back home which will hopefully make for an easy transition studying abroad. Meanwhile, our classes are each three hours long which will be quite different from home. Luckily, they told us that instructors will use London as a classroom and there will be many in-class field trips where we will go out in London for half of our class instead of being stuck in a room for three hours.

We can expect to be notified about our internship placement anytime from now until about February 18th which is quite a long time away. Then, there are two days set aside in February as our mandatory internship interview days that we are not allowed to make any travel plans for.

After the orientation, I walked to Hyde Park with my new friends Annie and Allie to explore. Hyde Park is about a 15 minute walk from where I’m living in Manson Place, and is a huge, beautiful space to go to to escape the city. There are so many pathways, dogs are allowed off leash and run freely,and there are birds everywhere near the water. The birds aren’t afraid of humans, and I’m not fond of them, so I won’t be going near the ponds again anytime soon…

We mainly stayed to the southwest side of Hyde Park and made our way over to Kensington Palace where Prince William and Duchess Kate live. It is absolutely beautiful. They have a very pretty walkway on the side of the palace facing Hyde Park and inside is a gift shop, cafe and an area where they regularly give tours of the palace. We walked through the gift shop and cafe which were both very busy.

We continued walking through Hyde Park for a bit, then headed out toward High Street to walk through some shops and then took the tube back home.

Later that evening, we had the FIE welcome dinner at 6 p.m. at Imperial College. They served food and drinks and had a few tables set up for clubs and activities for us to join while studying here. They didn’t have anything too exciting though which was a bit disappointing.

After making a quick stop at home, Allie and I left to go on a quick little adventure. Most of our flat was either going out to the pubs and clubs later that night or staying in, and we didn’t want to do either, so we took the tube from Gloucester Station to Westminster. After walking out of the station, we were immediately greeted by a huge, glowing Big-Ben. It looked incredible lit up at night. We walked on and found ourselves on a bridge over the River Thames. Looking across, we were able to see the London Eye brightly lit up as well as the County Hotel. It was really pretty. It had begun to rain so we made our way back to the tube and back home. It was a fun spontaneous adventure to end our day!

Day 4 in London

At 10 a.m. on Saturday, everyone in our flat got up to take a coach bus tour of London. It was really cool to finally see more of London above ground and have a tour guide telling us more about the history of everything we saw as we drove by buildings and monuments.

Our first actual stop on the bus was at Buckingham Palace. The driver gave us a little bit of time to get out and walk to the front gates. We saw some of the guards and the giant ornate doors at the front of the palace. We didn’t have much time so we snapped a few photos then headed back to the bus.

The next stop was made at St. Paul’s Cathedral. It. Was. Huge. There is a shopping mall across from the cathedral and our driver told us to go to the top floor via the lift in the shopping center for a great view. We did and we were not disappointed. The roof of the building gave a spectacular view of the cathedral as well as the entire skyline of London. It was amazing.

We then continued on the bus tour until eventually the driver dropped us off in Westminster near Big Ben. Later in the day, we were scheduled for a tour of the Houses Parliament, but we had time to walk around a bit and get some lunch before then.

We were walking through Westminster looking at all the buildings and shops. As we were doing so, we passed the building where the Prime Minister lives which is guarded by two guards on horses which drew a big crowd. We continued on until we found a cute little pub to have lunch at. As we were in a highly touristy area, the pub looked like it catered to Americans but also seemed pretty British so it drew us in.

After lunch, we only had a bit more time so we kept walking to Trafalgar Square. A lot of people were out taking photos and exploring the square like us. We spent some time doing that, then headed back down the road we had come down and headed toward the Houses of Parliament for our 3 p.m. tour.

We went through security and then picked up our headphones and audio players for our unguided audio tour of the Houses of Parliament. The trip was required for one of our key courses, British Life and Cultures, so despite it being an audio tour, we really had to pay attention. I wish it had been a real guide who took us through though. The halls and rooms were extremely grand, but also incredibly cold. It was cool to learn more about the history of England’s government though!

We left the Houses of Parliament after the tour and took the tube back to Manson Place. I was exhausted from the day. Most people were hanging around looking to plan trips to other countries for the weekends, looking at the excursions FIE offers that will open up today to sign up for and taking photos off their cameras.

Later in the night, I went to Imperial College Bar with some people from my flat. The bar was pretty nice and I got a lemonade. It wasn’t what I was expecting though as they seem to really like their fizzy drinks here, I think it was made with sparkling water…Guess I will just have to stick to water now. We met some other students there that were also from FIE which was cool. It was interesting to look around though as regular Imperial College students were also at the bar. Being that most of the FIE students are American, it was easy to pick them out as we seem to be much louder and more obnoxious than the Brits here.

After that it was back home to Manson Place for me as I was exhausted from an extremely long day.