Day 8 – Being Productive in a Touristy Way

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Today did not turn out as planned, but that’s definitely not a bad thing. Jen, Nicole, Danielle, Michaela, and I had plans set to travel into Leicester Square to purchase tickets to see a Saturday matinee show. After being unsuccessful and disappointed with the seating options for the prices given, we traveled to the theater of each show we wanted to see. We did this in the hopes of being able to get a student or “day of” discount for any of the shows, but the best we got was some helpful advice: come on the weekdays. The box offices open at 10 on all days, and during the week they have fire sales of 15 front row seats for, at the very least, 15 pounds. After being a bit distraught over the unsuccessful attempt to get tickets for tonight, this bit of information was very exciting. We made plans to have a couple of us run down to Leicester Square at some point during a weekday (you could get 2 tickets per person), so the play will happen another day! Now it’s just a matter of which one…

After the long quest to find a play ticket ultimately crashed and burned, we decided we were hungry from our efforts. The selection of a place to eat, though, took longer than expected because our budgets aren’t exactly the biggest. We finally settled on a Pret A Manger (an apparently common chain around these parts) and were satisfied with the results. I bought a chicken caesar and bacon sandwich, crisps, and a water and it cost around 8 pounds. It was cheaper than our other options and it tasted great! I would definitely go back again, though it is a toss-up as to whether it’s better than Eat.

Danielle, Nicole, and Michaela decided to head back to campus, but Jen and I decided we wanted to explore a little bit more. After all, now that my week-long travel Oyster card is expired, the pay-as-you-go is slowly burning a hole into our pockets. We figured that, as long as we were in the area, we’d walk around and see some sights. The worst we could do was get some exercise and save some money while doing it!

First things first, we entered the National Gallery. It was right across the street from where we parted from our friends, so it was the logical place to go! The paintings in the Gallery were absolutely breathtaking and beautiful, some of which I actually studied in Art History last semester which was super exciting. It was amazing to see in person paintings I had studied from a projector screen just months ago! I truly felt so lucky. After prancing around and gawking for an hour or so, we exited and took off on our next adventure: to Buckingham Palace!

We arrived at the ticket booth for the Palace only to find that they were selling tickets for the 3:15 tour… and it was only 1:00. We had hoped to do something in addition to the Palace, so we actually ended up buying tickets for later in the week. I am very excited to see it! But I’m also excited that we were able to buy ahead of time; it left us time for other big sights we wanted to see. Yep, you guessed it, like Big Ben and Westminster Abbey!

It is needless to say we did a lot of walking today. To be honest, I’ve probably gotten more exercise in today than I have ever in my life. We followed maps and street signs all the way from Piccadilly Circus up to Victoria Road, finally ending up in front of Westminster Abbey and Big Ben. We saw the legendary clock tower on the bus tour a couple days ago, but that far-away glance paled in comparison to being close enough to breath on it. Jen and I each took an obligatory picture in a phone booth just in front of Big Ben and took way too many pictures of “just a clock.” After fangirling over an inanimate legend, we crossed a bridge and ended up next to the London Eye and in front of the SeaLife Aquarium. It still amazes me how close all of the big sights are to one another! It certainly helps when you’re on a budget and can easily walk between each thing.

The line to get tickets to the Aquarium was supposedly an hour long, but we decided to wait anyway. Luckily the line (or queue I guess) only took about 40 minutes, and we were inside! It was absolutely beautiful and one of the bigger aquariums I have seen. In recent years, I have developed a certain love for aquariums. I just think there’s something calming to watching and taking pictures of fish swimming around. I also enjoy the shark tanks and interactive activities like touching starfish and sea anemone. It took a couple hours to walk through the whole building, but it was certainly worth it. I’m not sure I’d go back again (because once you’ve seen an aquarium, it pretty much doesn’t change), but I would recommend it. Jen and I paid for a combination SeaLife Aquarium + London Eye ticket for 33 pounds each. We can use the London Eye ticket any day for the next thirty days; I think it was a good deal, considering the tickets for the London Eye alone are 17 pounds each!

The exit of the aquarium spit us out next to the River Thames and in front of a mini carnival. It was cute and all, but certainly a bit overpriced. We simply walked past the attractions and street performers and walked across the pedestrian bridge back to where we had come from. It was time for some dinner!

We wandered a bit aimlessly for a while (after all, we were told we should get lost in London a couple times to fully experience it) before finding a cute alley (those words should never be next to each other) lined with bookshops. We stopped in a couple of them before we reached the end of the alley and saw… that’s right… a Chipotle.

I am not lying when I say that Jen almost had a heart attack. She loves Chipotle more than anything in this world, I’m convinced, so naturally that’s where we had dinner. It satisfied a certain craving I had for American Mexican food and filled me up quite nicely. I topped my chicken burrito off with a Raspberry-Apple juice and called it a successful dinner! Off to the next place, we said.

Since the night was still young, we hopped on the Tube to head to King’s Cross station. We had already been there earlier in the week, but it was only for a short amount of time as we had prior commitments to honor. This time, though, we went with a reason and no time limit. I was going to get my picture taken at Platform 9 3/4! I was so excited to finally get the picture taken. Even though it took a little while to get through the large line, we finally arrived at the front and I was able to select my scarf. Naturally I took Ravenclaw and took my place at the cart. I felt too legit to quit, as the kids say these days! Now that I have my official picture at the platform, I feel like a true Potterhead. As if I wasn’t already one, am I right?

We stopped in the Platform 9 3/4 shop (of course) and I bought a pin with “Platform 9 3/4 King’s Cross London” on it and a lanyard with the same text that holds a “ticket” to Hogwarts. I walked happily out of the store clutching my purchases and felt lighter than air! And to think I thought today would be bad because we didn’t get play tickets.

After agreeing that our feet hurt and that we should return to campus, we hopped on the Tube and took it back. We stumbled into our dorm rooms and now here I sit, writing this post. I am so happy that I got to see all I did today, but I’m even happier that I got to spend it with my best friend! Today was one of those days I would like to put on repeat and never stop; it was that good. If I could bring my family back to see all the sights, I would. In a heartbeat.

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Day 7 – English Induction & Anxiety

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So… today was a rollercoaster of emotions that left me exhausted and (you guessed it) just a bit homesick. However, those feelings did pass and now I just feel exhausted. That’s when you know the school term has begun.

This morning was the final induction I had to attend: the induction for the School of English & Drama. The two women who headed the induction seemed brilliant and nice enough, but the words they were saying seriously worried me. There were a lot of “don’t do this” statements and not enough “do this” ones to balance them out. Overall, the messages they were giving us seemed negative and not at all encouraging, so naturally I had a bit of a breakdown. I had entered the induction with the hopes of switching out my Gothic course for something a little lighter on reading, but then the words they said seemed to tell me that I couldn’t switch. Jen, always the voice of reason, told me to just go ask her anyway because the worst that she could say was no. It was sage (albeit obvious) advice, so I took it.

After waiting in a line of ten students for about forty-five minutes, I finally switched out of my Gothic class without a hassle. The head of the English department (or one of the heads), Dr. Bari, is extremely nice and told me that, despite the stern tone of the induction, they just want us to be happy and comfortable. So switching out of my class was no big deal! Unfortunately the Victorian Fictions class I wanted to replace it with didn’t work in my schedule, so I opted for a Modernism course. Hopefully it isn’t as bad as I’m thinking it will be. -crosses fingers-

After all of the hullabaloo with my classes was sorted out, Jen, Nicole, and I decided to travel to Buckingham Palace for a tour. These plans were thwarted, however, when the random London rain started to arrive. The droplets came slowly at first, but then they picked up speed and fell sideways. Then, as if we were experiencing all of the seasons at once, it started to hail. Shortly after the hail, thunder rumbled through the clouds and cleared up the skies. We were off to Buckingham Palace!

Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, the last tour had already left and we were left with nothing to do. We decided to find Charing Cross Road (home to many amazing bookshops), but I believe we ended up at the wrong place. We walked down a couple streets, our feet throbbing and our legs aching from the extended amount of time we had been walking. Luckily the path we were taking included walks through Green Park and St. James Park, but we didn’t find any bookshops. At long last, we just decided to take the Tube back to campus; we were all exhausted anyhow.

We arrived safely back at campus and went our separate ways. Jen and I made ravioli and watched Memoirs of a Geisha on Netflix (it was quite good, by the way). The flat was uncharacteristically quiet, which was an interesting change, and we were actually able to hear the sound of the movie coming from the iPad. It was a relaxing night and I’m grateful for it!

We then FaceTime’d with my parents because it’s their anniversary (yay! plus I just wanted to talk to them), watched some episodes of Pokemon Indigo League, and that brings us to now. I’m looking forward to a good night’s sleep before the exciting events we have planned tomorrow. Classes commence in three days; best to make the most of the next two in preparation! Though, I do have to find some time to complete the preliminary reading for some of my classes… wish me luck.

P.S. – Happy first week in London to me! I’ve been enjoying my time here so far. Hopefully I can continue to enjoy it even as classes begin.

Day 6 – Broken Buses and American Dining

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Over the past couple days, I haven’t been able to sleep past 7 o’clock due to different engagements in the mornings. Today, however, was a beautiful change as I got to sleep in until 10:30 (GASP). I rolled out of bed, showered, made myself a glass of milk, opened a Poptart, and watched some Youtube videos until it was time to go to the 12 o’clock bus tour me and Jen signed up for. It was promising to be an exciting day!

I will admit I had a rough morning with homesickness (yet again), but I promised myself I wouldn’t ruin this day by being depressed and sad. I hopped on the open-air bus, climbed to the top, and enjoyed the gorgeous weather. Previous weather reports promised rain, but the sky was pure blue with beautiful white clouds. No rain in sight, thank goodness! While on the tour, we passed such iconic sights as Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the London Eye as well as many more. The tour guide was so helpful and informative; I learned so much!

However, once we passed the London Eye, our lovely bus broke down and we were forced to merge with the bus behind us. Obviously the bus behind us was already filled to the brim with QMUL students, so we had to stand in the aisles packed together like sardines and hope that everyone took a shower. Luckily Jen and I broke to the top of the bus and sat three-by-three with some lovely people kind enough to offer, but it was quite uncomfortable. I wasn’t able to walk for a bit after getting off the bus, I was seated so poorly.

Once we returned to campus, Jen and I made an impromptu trip to the Westfield Stratford Mall. Four floors of shops and restaurants greeted our vision once we stepped off of the Stratford Tube stop; I was completely in heaven. In addition to offering the British stores like Primark, America was also well-represented with an American Eagle and various other shops. We sampled face masks at Lush, gawked at expensive clothes in TopShop, and cheered at the sight of a Krispy Kreme (trust me, it felt like a beacon of hope). We stopped to eat at a Chipotle-like place called Tortilla and enjoyed some burritos that claimed to be “Real Californian Burritos.” I’ll take their word for it! Our friend Nicole also joined us for lunch and then we walked about the mall. We bought some delicious cookies from Millie’s, ate them in a Starbucks, and then departed for the Tube station.

We met our friend Danielle and another new girl named McKayla (I’m not sure about the spelling) and headed out for a fun night out. We journeyed to Covent Garden and, although we arrived too late for the markets that close at 6, we found there was plenty to do. The atmosphere was lively and exciting, probably due to the numerous pubs and street performers littering the, well, streets. We found a cute place called “The Diner” that advertised serving American foods. Since all of us were American, we figured we’d test how authentic this American food tasted.

By pretty much all standards, the food was good. I got a chocolate milkshake and gravy fries, both quite up to par. Everyone else seemed to enjoy their food as well! Shortly after paying the bill, we decided to explore more of what Covent Garden had to offer.

We happened upon the London Chinatown and I must say it was amazing. There were so many tantalizing smells wafting from the storefronts that, even though we just ate, I was willing to eat about twenty more meals. While in Chinatown, we came upon a couple theaters for shows we want to see like Les Miserables and The 39 Steps. Both theaters looked gorgeous and beautiful; I can’t wait to return! We made a pact to return on Saturday to see if there are any last-minute discount tickets to see any show. Hopefully we get something good for a decent price!

With Chinatown behind us, we stumbled into Piccadilly Circus and the M&M World London shop. In the shop there were plenty of statues of M&M’s in stereotypical British scenes like the Beetles’ Abbey Road, a double-decker red bus, and others. We took pictures in front of all of them and it was a great time! There were four floors to explore, so there was more than enough to see.

We left the M&M shop and decided to head back to campus; it was getting late. After parting ways with the other girls, Jen and I returned to our flat to see it blissfully empty. It seems like our roommates were able to enjoy themselves as well last night! We turned on Memoirs of a Geisha until about midnight and then I was more than happy to go to sleep. It was overall an exciting and amazing day; I hope to have plenty more of those in the upcoming months. And although the day was exciting and loads of fun, nothing beats a good night’s sleep.