Playing Tour Guide, Stonehenge & Bath

Its been just over a week since I last wrote a blog post, but so much has happened in that span of time! With only eight full days left in London, everything seems to be going at lighting speed around here. Let me catch you up.

First off, my family came to visit last week! I picked them up from Heathrow on Friday morning and threw them right into the mix as we took the tube into the center of London. They brought four suitcases with them, but we were able to “easily” manage lugging them up the tube stairs! (Really, we did!)

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With them here, I was back in tour-guide mode. Soon after dropping their bags at the hotel, we headed outside (literally out the back door as the hotel was on the London Eye Pier) to the London Eye! Luckily, we had pre-booked tickets and the line was pretty short so we were on the Eye in no time!

While the London Eye is definitely a really cool experience to take advantage of while in London, I’ve learned its not the only place to get great views of the city. For much less, or for free, you can visit other locations in London to get a sky high view. Two of my favorite vantage points include the top floor of the Switch House at the Tate Modern and the Sky Garden. Both are free to the public and great alternatives to the London Eye. If you are interested in going to the Sky Garden though, be sure to keep checking their website up to two weeks in advance in order to reserve spots.

After the London Eye, we walked around the South Bank for a while and then made our way over to Covent Garden. There, we went to a Three Phone store to get SIM cards for my mom and brother. For only 20 pounds, they were able to get a SIM card with 12 gigabytes of data on it to use for their week here. Later in the week, my family was leaving to travel to Ireland where their phone would also be usable. If you are staying in London for longer than a week or will be traveling in surrounding cities, getting an international SIM card is a great option rather than paying the outrageous data packages offered in the states for international travel.

On Saturday, I took my family on one of my favorite walking trips to see my favorite part of London! We took the tube from Westminster to Ladbroke Grove in Notting Hill. We started at the end of Portobello Road Market (my absolute favorite market London has to offer), and made our way all the way down until we reached Notting Hill High Street. From there we walked to the north entrance to Holland Park, a new favorite park of mine. In Holland Park, you can find the Kyoto Gardens, a Japanese garden complete with koi fish and peacocks! What more could you ask for?

We then made a pit stop at the Design Museum on Kensington High Street. This is my favorite museum in all of London as it focuses on both old and modern design of all types including furniture, electronics and logos just to name a few topics. The stop at the Design Museum was also a good break from all the walking we had already done.

From there, we walked to Hyde Park and visited Kensington Palace and the Kensington Gardens which were in full bloom. Everyone was getting hungry, so we made our way to Nando’s in South Ken for lunch!

Post lunch, we made a stop at Harrod’s, the worlds largest and most expensive department store, for my dad. It was quite the interesting place, with a large food court (fancy!), and tons of boutique stores inside (fancy! think Dolce Gabbana and Versace). Quite the day.

On Sunday morning, we got up early to take a train from Waterloo Station to Windsor. We were visiting one of Her Majesty the Queen’s royal residence’s, Windsor Castle. We were able to get there right as they began letting people in and didn’t have to wait in line for long. We toured the grounds, which were beautiful, and then went inside the State Apartments. The coolest part about the visit was that the Queen was actually there at the same time as we were! She spends Easter at Windsor Castle every year, so it was really cool to see her “standard,” aka her flag, outside signaling she was there!

On Tuesday after class, I took my family to Victoria Train Station where they took the Gatwick Express to the airport. They were off for Ireland for the next few days! It was so great to finally see them after being apart for almost four months! Only a week till I see them again, this time at home!

Today (Friday), I took a day trip to both Stonehenge and Bath with two friends from the flat across from mine. Abby, Brooke and I enjoyed having a photo shoot in front of the infamous rocks. They were big. Apart from that, there wasn’t much to Stonehenge apart from the beautiful rolling green and yellow hills. SO PRETTY. The English countryside is stunning in the spring!

We then boarded our bus again and traveled to the Roman City of Bath. Because it was a Bank Holiday, Bath was incredibly crowded. We had about three and a half hours in the city, but an hour and a half was devoted to touring the ancient Roman Baths. The Baths were really cool, but also really gross. The water was a bright green color and you could see filth floating around in it. We were specifically told not to touch the water as you were highly likely to get sick if you did. It was amazing how many people you could see ignoring these simple instructions and touching the hot, germ-infested, bath water. Why people, why?

As I write this post, I’m currently waiting for my laundry to be done so I can pack for my final trip abroad. Tomorrow I leave bright and early for Glasgow, Scotland! I’m taking the train and can’t wait to see Scotland! Apart from that, I also can’t wait to see Ed (again)! Until then!

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Because I had to include this photo.

Oh hey, there’s school too?

Day 5 in London

This was a sad, sad day.

I was uploading photos from my camera to my computer and bumped my camera off the couch. It fell. The lens bent. There were tears.

Luckily, as my mom says, “all things are replaceable.” And so I ordered a new lens. A new expensive lens. Yay for being a klutz.

To clear my head, I went for a run through Hyde Park. I guess I didn’t realize how big the park was before because as much as I tried not to get lost, I did.

I found myself running through zig-zagging paths, never really sure which side of the path I should be running on. I’m still confused about which side of the sidewalk to walk on here. People walk on both the left and right and there seems to be no correct direction. What a confusing place to be.

Anyways, I eventually found myself at a river that goes through the park. While it was kind of a dreary day, it was still very pretty. Birds were swimming in it and people were still out and about everywhere. I attempted to make my way back out of the park and passed a memorial to Princess Diana on the way out. There is always something more to discover in Hyde Park!

I quickly showered at the flat and then put on the nicest dress I brought with me then made my way back up to High Street and to the Royal Garden Hotel which is neighbors with, you guessed it, Prince William and Duchess Kate who tend to reside at Kensington Palace.

While I am not a tea drinker, the experience was still pretty cool. It was quite posh and all of us felt pretty out of place at the super fancy hotel. They served cute finger sandwiches that I heard were good, some little cakes, macaroons, tarts and such for dessert and lots of tea. I had apple juice. It was great!

During our time at tea, we also had to sign up for excursions offered through FIE at subsidized prices. The site crashed due to so much traffic to it, but luckily I am happy to say that I will be going to see The Lion King, Wicked and wait for it…HARRY POTTER WORLD! I cannot wait!

Day 6 in London

The first day of classes. Oh joy.

Really though, I’m one of those weird people that actually enjoys school and having class meant more structure to my days so I was actually pretty excited for school to begin!

I went in early to Foundation House to see about switching my Media in Britain class from one time to another. I currently have that class on a Friday, (there are only TWO classes offered on Fridays and I somehow was lucky enough to get it). No one else in my flat had a Friday class and therefore everyone was able to start booking weekend trips to other countries and I could not. So I would not be able to travel. More on that story to come.

My first class of the day was Infiltrating the Art World. Local artist Faisal Abdu’Allah came in to talk to us about his art. Abdu’Allah has also taught classes at UW-Madison and has had his artwork featured in the Chazen Museum. You can check out his work here. Abdu’Allah then took us on a field trip to the London Print Studio.

There, we met an artist who works there named John Phillips. He told us a lot about the history of art in London and the impact that the London Print Studio has had within the city and especially within its surrounding neighborhoods.

While the field trip was cool, what wasn’t cool was almost being late to my second class of the day. There was a tube strike on this day, so the tube wasn’t running and we had to take one of the double-decker city busses to get there. It was about a 30 minute drive plus there was traffic and a 15 minute walk back to Foundation House after we got off the bus. Not ideal. Luckily, I made it back with five minutes to spare. Thank goodness I’ve basically become an Olympic speed walker from my short time here in London.

My next class was British Life and Cultures and my professor was a cute old British man. He had a very sarcastic sense of humor and liked to joke with all of us, mainly at our own expenses. The class seems like it is going to be really interesting though and we are going to go on many field trips in the class as well.

So far, classes were good. On to the next day…

Day 7 in London

So. I woke up early this morning to go into Foundation House AGAIN to talk to the woman in charge of scheduling to change my classes. Granted, I had already emailed her once about it, to which she didn’t respond, and had gone in the day before as well to see her.

I walked upstairs to see her, and just my luck, she was not going to be in today because she was sick.

Great.

The other woman in the office took down my information and my schedule change requests and said she would email Zehra about it.

So I went home.

Once back at the flat, I decided I was going to start booking flights and trains and hostels for the weekend in Dublin, Ireland despite not being able to change my schedule yet. The night before, everyone had booked their trips for the upcoming weekend and I decided I was going to as well.

She will get my email and she will change my schedule is what I kept telling myself. I will go to Dublin and all will be fine.

I ended up emailing Zehra again myself as she didn’t seem to get the other woman’s email and contact me after two hours. So I emailed her myself.

Another hour later, still no response. The class I was trying to switch was in less than two hours.

So I ended up calling the FIE office. They said they would attempt to contact her.

More time went by so I called again. I needed a response and it was becoming ridiculous. I was told that she would not be coming in, but would be working from home and responding to emails. Not mine I guess.

I left for class early and stopped in the front office, the receptionist finally got her on the phone. I think I had finally gotten across to her how badly I needed my classes changed so she put me in the classes I needed.

THANK GOODNESS.

So I went home again, this time to change my outgoing flight on Thursday, as I was now in the Media in Britain class I needed that goes until 5 p.m. on Thursdays. Luckily, I was able to change the flight for a small fee, but now everything is straightened out and I couldn’t be happier! My stress levels have definitely dropped.

At 6 p.m., I headed back to the Foundation House for my Media in Britain class. The professor is from Australia and she seems quite quirky but passionate about all things media in Britain. We learned a lot about the British Broadcasting Corporation today. The media system in the U.K. is nothing like that of the system in the U.S. so it makes it really interesting to learn about.

After class, I went with my friend Sophia to London Bridge. It was about 9:30 p.m. so the whole river was lit up and very pretty. I love taking night trips to the heart of the city and I don’t think I will ever get tired of it!

Another day of classes tomorrow and I believe I am going to explore more of Hyde Park before class at two. Until then!

 

 

 

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.