So apparently there’s an actual studying part associated with “study abroad”? Who knew, right?
Sorry for not updating in uh… I guess it’s been two weeks now. Oops. Last week I was bogged down with lots of field trips around London with the school and prepping outlines and essays and whatnot because this current week was not only my midterms week, but Lauren (best friend from home) came to visit as well!
So needless to say it’s been an extremely busy two weeks. However, that makes for a lot of updates so pour some coffee and prepare yourselves
Thankfully all exams are finally finished with, Lauren and I got to see some really cool stuff together, and we’re leaving for spring break this weekend! So many activities! Here’s a run down of all the trips, sights, and other stellar things I’ve experienced during my leave of absence:
- Leeds Castle and Canterbury Cathedral
Two Fridays ago, the school sponsored a trip to Canterbury and Leeds Castle. Canterbury is a really sweet little town with markets in the street, some really cute local places as well as plenty of commercialization and chains, and of course, a big cathedral. I’m really sorry and I feel like I’m sort of betraying the English culture by saying this, but it’s becoming very difficult to get excited about cathedrals after seeing so many. Eventually I had to give in and admit defeat because actually no, after a few abbeys, churches, and cathedrals, the architecture no longer looks unique to me. Especially when you finally arrive at 10:30 AM after failing to nap on the tour bus because your super-enthusiastic tour guide will not stop talking for an hour and a half and a dark church filled with dead-silent tombs isn’t really where you want to be spending Friday morning. Just saying.
Leeds Castle was much more exciting for me than Canterbury. The inside of the castle itself was not as impressive or exciting as others like Windsor Castle, but the grounds were absolutely stunning. It’s about a twenty minute walk from where the buses and cars can park up to the actual castle, which was really enjoyable thanks to all of the interesting birds, signs with jokes, peacocks, waterfalls and rivers, and plant life along the way. The castle is beautiful, which was probably the main reason why we were fortunate enough to be able to see a wedding party!! The beautiful bride was taking photos with her bridal party and groom amidst the tourists and employees wandering about; only down side is that it was absolutely freezing, but thankfully she had her stellar maid of honor trailing along to hold a winter jacket for her between photos.
- Winston Churchill War Rooms
First off, I would just like to say thank you to Suzy for insisting that I take the War Rooms tour. It was timed between two other trips and didn’t seem so interesting, but I actually really enjoyed it! Call me oblivious, but I had no idea that Churchill was such a cool guy and I loved learning all about where he ran the show from underground. We arrived a little late to the War Rooms because we did a walking tour ahead of time, but I was one of the last ones to leave the tour and could have probably spent at least another half an hour there if the building wasn’t closing for the night. The tour guided us through all the different rooms where Churchill and his associates lived and worked during the war as well as a museum all about Churchill’s life. Definitely something I would recommend to anyone who is visiting London and has any remote interest whatsoever in any type of history… or even those who don’t, because it would probably still be interesting.
- Olympic tour
The third school-sponsored trip of the weekend was a tour around Olympic Park. This walking tour brought us through the area where recruitment for all of the opening ceremonies happened and where they were practiced, by a bunch of different venues where sporting events took place, and near Olympic Village where the athletes stayed. Unfortunately we couldn’t go inside any buildings or actually get close to many, but our tour guide was incredibly knowledgeable and we learned a lot about what it took to run the Olympics. For example, Cadbury was a huge sponsor for the events and anyone who was working or at all associated with the Olympics were given all the chocolate they wanted. They are also planning to open Olympic Park to the public sometime next year, and it is supposed to look like an actual park; pretty much anything that is not a building or some sort of structure will be covered with grass and flowers.
Occasionally the school gets discounted tickets for musicals in London, and this past week I was fortunate enough to be able to see Wicked for £20 (compared to the £60-something they normally charge). I’ve always wanted to see this musical (I already knew half the music) and it was AWESOME! Our seats were stellar, the stage was amazing, and the actors sure could sing. I left wondering if the monkey people can walk normally after working the crouching-tiger position night after night, how Elphaba stayed so incredibly green throughout the entire night, and if Londoners actually throw out all their garbage from the food they eat in the theater and if so, how we can make Americans do the same.
- Blenheim Palace and Oxford
This past Friday the school sponsored yet another trip to Blenheim Palace and Oxford. Castles are another example of something that, as amazing as they are, tend to blend together after a while unless they’re something super special. Blenheim Palace was pretty sweet, but the best part was by far the gardens; I’ve never seen such extensive and intricate gardens, and we had only seen a few. The rooms themselves, however, looked pretty much just like any other rooms in the several castles I’ve seen during my time here. One cool thing though is that Churchill lived in Blenheim, which I never knew before visiting, and the palace had been used to film many a movie.
Oxford was also a very nice area. Although we couldn’t go inside any buildings or get a real tour around the university (apparently they charge for all the tours… rude), we had a lovely lunch in a cafe and did some shopping around the historic area. Oxford is cool because there are so many different schools within the actual university, and they all have their own quirks and reputations. I never knew exactly how large Oxford University was, but it was a nice place to visit (and buy my first rugby shirt! Yay )
- Lauren coming to visit
This current week begins (and ends) with my best friend from home coming to visit all the way from the states!! Lauren came in last Saturday morning and is staying for an entire week. I think it’s a perfect amount of time for someone to visit because, especially when staying with someone who is actually living in London, you can really experience the culture (as opposed to just all the touristy stuff) and see everything you want to if you make time. Lauren did a lot of exploring on her own, but together we made it down to the Tower Bridge for some photos, to the financial district to see some cool buildings, and to Abbey Road. We also made it on the London Eye, into an art gallery, and to afternoon tea Unfortunately like I said it was my midterms week so I was in class/studying for a lot of the day, but we got to see a lot together.
It’s so nice to see my best friend again, and one of my favorite parts is being able to watch someone else be as excited about the city as I was when I first got here. Although I am reminded how much I love it here every single day, some of the characteristics that make London unique from America have become so normal for me that I don’t notice them anymore. Really simple things like crossing the street, the lack of garbage cans (but uncanny – punny, I know – cleanliness) in public areas, trying to buy things, and certain things like that I don’t even notice anymore so it’s funny to be reminded how different it actually is here. I’m still experiencing new things every day and am still caught off guard sometimes by differences between London and America, but it’s pretty stellar to watch someone else experience it for the first time too.
So there you go, the majority of the past two weeks of my life. Some other fun things that have happened include my first experience trying to mail real letters across the Pond (no worries, post offices here take just as long – if not longer – to get through than in the United States) and trying out some new dishes (see below).
I also made it to Borough Market to do some preliminary research for my Sociology project. In my literature and film class, we have to do an ethnography on a particular subgroup in London. After visiting Borough Market, which is full of history and directly under a tube station, I decided to do my project on French traders in the market. I really love London markets, so I knew I wanted to work with some aspect of that culture. There are plenty of stellar options, but I chose Borough Market because it is a magical place filled with tons of vendors and so many different kinds of foods – they have everything from butchers (saw plenty of skinned rabbits which was cool… not) to cheeses on cheeses on drunken cheeses (infused with alcohol) to ginormous meat sandwiches to veggie smoothies to sweets of all kinds. I could have gone through my entire bank account, but I restrained by buying some Vietnamese curry for lunch and some fudge for the road.
I was going to do my project on fudge traders, but since I did my senior year research project in high school on chocolate truffles, I figured I should try something different. So instead I’m satisfying my love for the French culture (and hopefully pleasing my dad, who still wishes I had studied abroad in France hah) by working with French traders in the market. There are a few different stalls that specialize in French products and cuisine so it should be interesting to see who will actually work with me.
Anyways thanks for reading if you’ve made it this far! I realize it’s been a while, but I think I covered everything. Next update will be after my spring break (Paris, Dublin, and Galway!!) so hang tight!
And thus, with some final words from my man W. Churchill:
With love from London,