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!)

DSC_0923

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!

IMG_0131

Because I had to include this photo.

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.

DSC_0929

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!

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!