Almost a month has passed since I first arrived in the United Kingdom, and I have so much to say. I have been on an incredible journey and learned so much about different cultures and attitudes, not only from the Brits, but from other people worldwide. School has started, and I am busily adjusting to my life in Cardiff. But let me back-track. I have had an incredible week in London that you don’t know about yet….
Let’s look back to January 18 while I was still in London. My cousin Jenni and I became the ultimate tourists, driving first to Abbey Road Studios. I definitely had to make my Beatles pilgrimage out there and cross that zebra crosswalk. I’m sure the cars and traffic weren’t too happy because they had to wait until I crossed the crosswalk before they could continue. I was taking my time.
Abbey Road sign
Front door of Abbey Road Studios
The famous zebra crosswalk
We parked at a nearby parking garage, but this garage had the most elaborate cars: Porsches, Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Bentleys, Audis, Mercedes…you get the picture. I did find the coolest Mini in this garage as well. The car was detailed as if it was an X-ray. There was a skeleton that looked like it was driving on the side of the car, and the hood showed an x-ray of the engine. It was so creative and so cool. After buying some Beatles souvenirs at a local shop, we took the St. John’s Wood tube to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the Guard.
The sweet Mini. Notice the x-ray/skeleton
I wish I was taller. Buckingham Palace is a madhouse for tourists, especially during the changing of the Guard. I saw most of the ceremony through some man’s video camera because I couldn’t see over the heads of the crowd. The Guards weren’t donning their more famous red coats, but instead they were wearing lavender purple. Don’t worry, they were still wearing their tall, funny hats. After we saw most of the ceremony, we took the tube from Green Park to Westminster to check out Parliament, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey. We came out of the tube station right at the bottom of Big Ben, and it was so grand and beautiful. I took lovely pictures of the amazing architecture. Across the street of Parliament was Westminster Abbey. I have never been inside Westminster before, but unfortunately, it cost £16 just to get inside, including the student discount. I passed, but I still plan on going inside sometime before I leave.
Changing of the Guard
Big Ben and I
The back end of Parliament
The front of Westminster Abbey
We made our way back to the Westminster tube station. This tube station was not like the rest of the tube stations: it was high tech and extremely modern. It was a very impressive station. We were both getting hungry for lunch, so we made our way to the best place in town: Harrods. Now that is an impressive department store. The wall and ceiling decorations were breath taking, and the food halls were gorgeous. We took an Egyptian themed staircase/escalator up to a café and had lovely sandwiches and tea. Everything about Harrods was grand and definitely attracted a certain demographic (usually people that have lots of money to spend). After lunch, we made our way back to the food halls and bought big, beautiful cupcakes and a bunch of mini cupcakes for the kids. I had a red velvet cupcake, and we also bought flavored marshmallow cubes.
Hanging out at Westminster tube station
Cupcakes galore at Harrods
The following day on Thursday, I met the Chewing Gum artist. Jenni and I found him on the street working on two pieces of gum, and he stopped to chat with us for a few minutes. He was a local artist who paints on old gum from the sidewalks and turns them into works of art. He has gotten a lot of recognition in the art world around London, and even in New York.
Meeting up with the Chewing Gum Artist
Later that evening after dinner (fish and chips), Jenni, Jon, and I went to the Duke of York Theatre to see a play called Backbeat. Here’s the synopsis: Backbeat is the story of how the Beatles “became” the Beatles when John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Pete Best, and Stuart Sutcliffe embarked on their journey from the famous docks of Liverpool to search for success in the seedy red light district of Hamburg. The compelling triangular relationship between the band’s original bassist Stuart Sutcliffe, the striking German photographer Astrid Kirchherr whom he fell in love with, and his best friend John Lennon, became an intrinsic part of The Beatles’ story – and put them on an unstoppable trajectory onto the world stage. Obviously, I just copied that from the website, but it was fantastic! It was raunchy, hilarious, had great music, and I would really like to see it again. The actors who played Stuart, John Lennon, and Paul were fantastic! When they were playing, they actually looked like the Beatles! The Paul actor had all of Paul’s head movements perfectly, and he looked just like him. The only small hitch was that the actor was not playing lefty (of course that would bother me). The actor that played John was spot on with the way he bounces. Even for the brief time Ringo was in it, the actor played a perfect Ringo. He smiled constantly, and played his drums just like him. They had such Liverpool accents that even Jenni and I were having a hard time understanding occasionally. There would be laughter in the crowd, and we were clueless, unsure on what they said. At the end, the actors played a few Beatles numbers which got the crowd up and we all sang and danced. I screamed and sang like those darn Beatlemania girls. They played “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Love Me Do,” “Twist and Shout,” and so many more.
On Friday, it was time for me to leave the Alpert house and move to Notting Hill where my Butler orientation was taking place. I traveled by tube, and the one hour it took to travel from Muswell Hill to Notting Hill was the most miserable time on the Underground to date. I had my giant suitcase and bags with me, and the stations had neither escalators nor lifts (elevators). I had to make a transfer from the blue Picadilly line to the red Central line at Holborn station. Worst station ever for lots of luggage! It only had stairs! Once I made it up and down the stairs to my platform, I almost couldn’t lift my big suitcase onto the tube itself! There is a tall gap between the platform and the tube and that was miserable; I seriously thought the tube was going to start moving with my suitcases still on the platform. I finally reached Notting Hill Gate station, walked up more stairs (my arm was seriously about to fall off), and made it to the exit. The only problem: I couldn’t fit my giant suitcase through the exit in time, and the gate closed on me. I was essentially trapped and couldn’t get out because my Oyster card already scanned me for leaving the station. I was definitely miserable, and I had to get Underground personnel help me out. Finally, they let me through a restricted gate and I was free. One of them even helped me carry my bags up the final set of stairs, and I was at street level.
The rest of the weekend was very touristy. Friday evening I had a joint dinner at Wagamama, a chain Asian restaurant, with the rest of the girls in my orientation (5 going to Cardiff and one headed to Bristol). We were from all different parts of the States: Fargo, Madison, Kansas City, North Carolina, Michigan, and of course me from Chicago. After dinner, we decided to go to a pub called The Windsor Castle. It was a cute pub with a big heated outdoor patio. Half of us got drinks, but the minute we started asking questions about the different beers, they decided to card us and give us some nonsense about how we needed to be 21 past 7 pm (it was 6:45). They weren’t denying us drinks per say, but we got the hint that they didn’t want American students at their pub, so we finished our drinks and left. Not cool.
The next morning we had orientation at Butler’s London office. We talked about how to succeed in the British academic system, and we talked about differences in studying compared to the American system. School is very different in Europe compared to the United States. Getting a degree at university in the UK only requires 3 years, and you only take major classes; there are no general education requirements. Lectures are only once or twice a week, but there is a lot of independent reading a student needs to do. Assessment is done by either an essay or exam at the end of the semester. There might be a presentation due during the semester, but there is essentially no “homework.” Your homework is basically reading up for your final essay or exam. It takes a lot of personal responsibility to succeed.
After the morning’s orientation, we all had lunch and traveled to the Duchess Theatre to see The Pitmen Painters, a play about northern England miners who become painting sensations and artists. It was very good, but it was extremely long: 2 and a half hours. I’m pretty sure all of us dozed off at one time or another because it was a very long day. The audience was mostly an older crowd, but if you made the slightest noise, audience members would look and yell at you. I adjusted myself in my seat, which made a little noise, and the person in front of me looked back at me as if I was making a racket! Ridiculous.
The rest of the evening was spent taking a nap and walking around London’s Kensington nightlife. Unfortunately, one of the girls in my orientation had her purse stolen at a Starbucks. Her purse consisted of all her cash, all her credit and debit cards, local UK phone and iPhone, and her license/ID. Basically the only thing she didn’t get stolen was her passport, which would be the worst thing to lose. Apparently, she had her purse behind her chair (why? I don’t know) and that’s how it got stolen. I think she underestimated how easily it was to get things stolen in a big city, and what a hard lesson to learn. It was kind of ironic because we talked about personal safety and theft at orientation earlier that day.
The following day we had hop on, hop off tour bus tickets that takes you all over London. We went past Baker Street and Burberry, and we eventually got off at Trafalgar Square. We took great pictures of the lions and of the National Gallery behind it. We split off into 2 groups and had lunch. My group walked our way to Picadilly Circus and around Chinatown. Chinatown was decorated for the Chinese New Year that day (Year of the Dragon), and it looked stunning with gold and red lanterns hung up everywhere. We eventually found a pub and had fish and chips, with a half pint of beer (it was only lunch after all). I found that it does not matter what time of day it is, beer is accepted at all hours. We met back up with the rest of the girls and walked to Parliament, running into the royal horses’ museum. We saw some horse riders in red coats and pointy metal helmets. After Parliament, we walked through St. James Park and made our way to Buckingham Palace. The Union Jack was flying at Buckingham, and that usually means the Queen is there. We took our tour bus from Buckingham to Hyde Park, and that’s where I visited Speaker’s Corner. It was full of soapbox orators, which are people standing at least 6 inches from the ground, and they are able to say (or yell) anything they want. The audience can choose to listen to whomever they want. All the ranters that day were ranting about religion; what an unoriginal topic. Close to Hyde Park was Marble Arch, a giant arch that was used for public hangings back in the day. It was actually very pretty, despite the context it was used. We took the Underground from Marble Arch to Notting Hill where we relaxed at our hotel until 6 pm.
Girls from my orientation on top of the lions at Trafalgar
Chinatown getting ready for the Chinese New Year
Fish and chips, with a beer
A horse at the Royal Horse Museum
Royal Horse Museum with the London Eye in the background
I love the telephone booths, but I don’t think I would ever make a call in one
At St. James Park
The statue in front of Buckingham Palace
Listening while at Speaker’s Corner
Marble Arch, the site for public hangings
We had the opportunity to take a ferry along the River Thames from Parliament and the London Eye all the way down to Tower Hill. It was beautiful at night. The London Eye was lit up in blue and Big Ben was lit up in green. On the river, we passed the OXO building, a Shakespearean theater, the Savoy Hotel, Millennium Bridge, London Bridge, and we finally came to our destination at Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. We were on the ferry for maybe 20 minutes, but it was a beautiful and breath taking view of the waterfront. After the ferry, I had to meet up with Jonathan at the Savoy Hotel. It was an extravagant hotel that had people in the bathroom give you a towel to dry your hands, and you had to give them a tip. It was extremely fancy, and definitely not for most people’s bank account. The girls from my orientation and I were way underdressed; most people were wearing elegant gowns and tuxedos. It honestly reminded me of a James Bond film. 007 always got put in these elaborate hotels with beautiful people.
London Eye along the Thames
Parliament and Big Ben, from a distance on the river
Tower Bridge (not the London Bridge!)
The next morning was Monday, January 23, and we were on our way from London Paddington Station to Cardiff Central Station. The two hour train ride in first class was wonderful, and this is where my life as a Cardiff University student began….
British word of the entry: Fancy dress. It does not mean wear fancy clothes, it means dress up in costumes. I learned that the hard way.
I found my favourite pub: the Sherlock Holmes pub