Day 11 – Wicked Homework!

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Tuesday was certainly a great day. I woke up with no worries (hakuna matata, am I right?) because BAM I had no classes. It felt so luxuriously easy and natural to just wake up at 9 without worrying about finding the right building or room; I was completely calm and at ease. I made myself a bowl of cereal, sat down with some Youtube videos, and began enjoying my morning.

Then I remembered I had homework to do. Siiiiiiigh.

I have a short essay due Sunday (and every Sunday until I leave QMUL) that I had to work on, so I whipped out the poem I had to write it on. After a couple minutes of barely glazing the page with my eyes, I returned to Youtube. The poem would have to be done later. In case you’re asking, I have half the essay written (don’t judge).

Jen came back from class and we were off to Westfield Stratford Mall to hit up Primark; I needed some new pillows desperately. The one provided by the college is so thin and grossly uncomfortable that to even feign comfort I had to fold the pillow in half, a feat that was surprisingly easy. So, we set out for Primark with pillows in mind. I also figured I’d look for a slightly bigger purse as well seeing as the purse I am currently using doesn’t hold most items larger than four inches. Once we entered the mall, we actually took a turn into Marks & Spencer, a department store that reminded me a lot of a Macy’s / Nordstrom type deal. It was gorgeous inside with higher-end groceries and teas, multiple cafes, and multiple floors to house the cafes. Finding a random obsession with interior design, we ran up to the homegoods floor.

While everything is quite expensive in Marks & Spencer, it does seem like good quality. You’d have to go and check it out yourself, but I would say that if you have the money to spend, go for it. It seems like it would be worth your while.

We entered Primark, bought pillows and a purse, and set back out into the mall. I had a hankering for some Starbucks, so Starbucks we bought. I purchased some weird mango tea drink that tasted like heaven, so I made a mental note for future reference. Although I do appreciate the frequent Starbucks littering every corner of London, they are ungodly expensive. If you think the States are bad, just take a gander at British prices. If my memory serves correctly, a small frappacino was 3.25 pounds (roughly 5 USD), which is insane for such a small and sugary drink. I’d pay $3.25 for it, but not in pounds.

After Starbucks, there really wasn’t anything else we wanted to see in the mall, so we headed back to campus. After all, we had to get ready for the biggest part of the day: WICKED! Jen and I bought tickets to see Wicked for about 17 pounds for pretty decent seats. They were up on the next level, but they were aisle seats with a pretty clear view of the stage below. I was so excited, but first I had to worry about travelling the Tube during rush hour and then finding a place to eat. Then, of course, we had to worry about getting to the theater in time. PHEW.

The Tube was surprisingly not busy, but finding a place to eat was still difficult. We wandered around the London Chinatown and took a gander at each menu to find decent prices, but it still took a while to assess each place and look at the food options. We finally decided on the Golden Dragon (or something like that; they all sound the same) and I was unimpressed. I ordered a standard chicken fried rice, and the chicken kind of seemed undercooked. I only ate a couple pieces that looked normal enough and I didn’t get sick, but the taste in my mouth afterwards was pretty revolting. The rice itself was fine, but I did have to add a bunch of soy sauce to taste. Jen’s food looked good, or at least the dim sum did. I’ll let you figure out what that is for yourself; it’s heavenly.

We departed from the restaurant and instantly began looking for a map to start out trek to the theater. After about forty-five minutes of walking around at lightning speeds, we finally reached the correct theater to see Wicked. I was really excited! All in all, the show was fantastic and everyone involved did an amazing job. I was blown away by Defying Gravity almost to the point of tears, but my feelings weren’t really any less for the rest of the songs. It was enjoyable, hilarious, depressing, intriguing, and so many other descriptive words. I would most definitely recommend it to anyone, even if you’re not the biggest theater-goer. The seats were cheap enough, the view was decent, and the vocals were fantastic. I couldn’t ask for too much more!

All in all it was a good day, even though I did want to flop and sleep at the end of it. Unfortunately, I ended up staying up quite late to read for my class for this morning… again, don’t judge. I only have one class left this week, so I am looking forward to that. And although I still have to finish my essay for Sunday, I am certain it will get finished. You know, eventually.

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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.

Day 4 – Museums Are My Favorite Places

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Yes, it is true. While in the States, I don’t really go out of my way to make a trip to any museum. This may be partly due to laziness, but the main reason is because of the money it costs to enter any of the museums around and away from my area. Luckily, London knew just what to do with that qualm. Most of the London museums are free to the public, except for maybe an extra couple pounds to get into a specific limited-engagement exhibit, and that means that they are full of people. There is something amazing about seeing museums filled with wondrous artifacts and ideas just teeming with people eager to see those items. It makes the whole atmosphere more authentic, in a sense. People go to these museums because they actually want to see great art and monuments; you can tell from the avid picture-taking and gawking from afar.

Because┬áJen, Nicole, and I have gone to the Natural History Museum already, we decided to traipse on down to the British Museum. By far, this is my favorite museum out of the ones we’ve visited. They had so many amazing pieces (including the Rosetta Stone!). The building itself is so large that we have to go back to finish the rest of it, but I certainly don’t mind. I was constantly stunned by beautiful clocks, intriguing artwork, gruesome mummies, and strange stone horse heads. It is truly a place not to be missed!

After a rather brisk jaunt through the museum’s gift shop, we departed for Oxford Circus to do some impromptu shopping. Primark was our first stop and I purchased a pair of navy blue cat printed pajama bottoms and a maroon-and-white Hogwarts jumper (ooh that British terminology!). I have no post-purchase regrets. Then, after an extensive search through Primark’s three (or is it four?!) floors, we headed into Boots for necessities. As we exited Boots, I spotted a vibrant sign for Waterstones, the British equivalent of Barnes & Noble. Guess who went inside and guess who bought something? Yep, me.

I leafed through plenty of books and smelled them to make sure they were quality, but the only book I picked up and bought was “Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them” by J.K. Rowling. Now, you’re probably thinking “hey, you can buy that in the States!” and yes, you would be right. However, I don’t own any copy of this little book and thought a London-purchased copy would be perfect. I’m not sure if all of the editions have this, but my edition has scribbles in the margins from Harry, Ron, and Hermione that offer insight into the content each in their own ways. I am truly in love with this little companion book, and no I am not in the least bit embarrassed to say so.

We decided the trip home would be better done on the bus seeing as we had bags, but the cards were not in our favor. There was an accident (my guess is a horrible one) on one of the streets our bus was set to go down and the police blocked off the street completely with police tape. We sat at a light for at least a half hour watching it go green to amber to red to amber to green over and over again. We almost debated hopping off the bus and catching the Tube, but we ultimately remained on the bus. After a quick (she said sarcastically) U-turn, our bus took us on an accidental scenic tour of some beautiful churches and architectural structures that we wouldn’t have gotten to see otherwise. So, I guess, every moment has a silver lining. Though, I do feel bad for whoever was injured in the accident.

As I finish this blog post, I return from the second fire alarm of the night. I am tired, exhausted, beat. Goodnight, world!

Day 1 – London, Here I Come!

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I left Newark, NJ on September 12th in the evening to arrive in London //Heathrow on September 13th, early in the morning. Between the excitement of the adventure, the sadness of leaving my family, the nausea from the turbulence that refused to cease, and the amazing selection of movies in the airplane roster, it is obvious I didn’t get much valuable sleep. The sleep I did receive (about 2 hours’ worth… 3 if we’re lucky) was fitful and frequently interrupted, most often by the constant reclining of the wonderfully considerate man in front of me. A word to the wise: even if you spring for premium economy (one below upper class, one above economy), you’ll still get that guy who believes it is his divine right to recline completely into your lap. I proceeded to watch movies even with his hairs up my nose, thank you very much (what is true and what is exaggerated is almost indiscernible at this point).

But, let’s back up a smidgen. The family and I left our house about 6 hours before my flight was scheduled to leave in order to accommodate for any possible traffic delays. The day was looking promising; no backups or accidents to be seen for miles! Surely everything would be going my way. My largest concerns entering this flight were my bags or, more accurately described, the weight of my bags. I toted around one large suitcase and a carryon, each with weight limits as designated by Virgin Atlantic. The checked bag couldn’t be more than 50 pounds while the carryon could be no more than 22 pounds. Despite the pound-and-a-half overweight ridiculousness that wanted to be my downfall so close to the finish line, the flight attendant deemed the carryon able to fly. Again, things were going my way!

Not all that glitters is gold, unfortunately.

Even though parting with my family made me quite the sad and unhappy camper, everything began to slowly spiral during security. I hadn’t flown in quite some time before this flight, but I’m pretty certain security should be able to point you in the right direction to keep things moving. But, NO, they stared at me like a cat stares at a mouse in a trap: bored. Unamused. Unwilling to help because you got yourself into this mess, sucker. So, instead, I turned to the lovely woman behind me and asked for assistance on what to do. The spiral slowed to a stop! She answered my questions patiently and I couldn’t have felt better. You just don’t see those type of people as often anymore.

My time on the plane felt like an eternity because of how little sleep I got, but in truth I certainly felt lucky despite that glaring disadvantage. The person sitting next to me was nice and helped me load my carryon into the overhead storage and proceeded to not bother me the entire length of the ride. I’m not sure whether I’m grateful for the silence or sad that I didn’t get to know him at all.

At 7:10 a.m. British time, the plane landed safely at London Heathrow. I was too tired to feel properly excited, but I still felt a rush of energy when I saw the gray clouds and the left-sided driving of London. The only thing about this fantastic city I didn’t appreciate was the customs to get in. The line took about 45 minutes to wade through and the stamping of my passport took another 10 for reasons I’m not quite sure of. When all was sorted out, I found the Queen Mary representatives that would take me to the beginning of this awesome semester! Unfortunately, waiting for the shuttle to get me (and about 25 other students) took another hour and I didn’t leave Heathrow until 9ish. Consequently, I didn’t arrive at Queen Mary’s campus until 11 because of traffic.

Everyone who greeted us at the gates of Queen Mary was accommodating and willing to help, even when I asked the same question more than once in several different ways. They gave everyone care packages with mugs and different things to help chameleon into university life; they were all quite helpful. One of our roommates took us on a walk around campus and beyond, during which I got to see a whole strip of fruit and general wares stands and various food places I would never think to go to. We did a quick walk through (one of??) Queen Mary’s on-campus bars (coming from Marywood that sounds strange) to see what it was like, and I can’t really say I’d want to go back. Kind of intimidating, it is. Maybe I’ll just stick to The Curve or something. Another strange thing is that they sell 6-packs of beer in their on-campus general store, which is probably one of the reasons I had a troupe of drunk (from beer or life?) students outside my window singing “Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” at the top of their lungs. Keep in mind, I live on the 7th and top floor of my building.

I successfully cleaned and organized my room after throwing my clothes every which way in an attempt to unpack, Jen and I had dinner at “The Curve” on campus (I had ravioli which was quite good; but how do you screw up ravioli?), and I went on an excursion via London double-decker bus to Oxford Circus, mainly for Primark because I needed home goods. The bus was fun to ride, especially since I bought an Oyster card! Oh, and how could I forget the stop-in at Boots? There’s just an exhilarating air about British convenience stores that American CVS’s don’t have.

But now that I’m here, I’m settled and enjoying it. My flatmates are nice (yes, even that Jennifer girl) and everyone else I’ve met so far seems really nice as well. Even though Jen and I are the only two American international kids in our flat (the rest are all British; 2 Americans vs. 5 British), we don’t really mind. This whole experience is to explore London (for me anyway), so all of the little college parties and things aren’t really what I’m going for. There are a lot of cool places I plan on going to, and today is a day where I’ll get to see a bunch of them! Maybe if I just keep going on field trips, I won’t have to go to class. A girl can dream, can’t she?

P.S. When in England, ALWAYS use Netflix. Let me tell you, they have the best selection of movies.