June 10th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by Alyssa
If knowledge could be gained through osmosis, I would be infinitely smarter now that I have visited both Oxford and Cambridge during my time here. That isn’t to say that UCL doesn’t have an intelligent and academic environment, but I mean it’s Oxford and Cambridge (or Oxbridge as they’re collectively known). It’s been a couple months since I visited Oxford with a friend, but I have to say Cambridge is probably my favorite of the two just because the town itself seems just a bit quainter; there are bicycles everywhere and lots of little alleyways and cobbled streets which are just things that I love in a college town. Not to mention the fact that there’s a lot of green space and the river right on the college campuses. Being there for just a day made me wish I could live and go to school there. Unfortunately I don’t think that’s really plausible. Anyway I really enjoyed myself and it was nice to get out of London and explore a different area of England. I went on a walking tour of the town (my second tour of England this week, but more on that later) and really enjoyed learning about the history and being able to enjoy the scenery without worrying about where I was going (the streets and alleys were just a tad confusing.) All in all the tour was definitely worth the money and I got to see the campuses of King’s and St. Johns which both had lovely chapels and courtyards. I’ll try and upload some pictures so you can see. The chapel at King’s especially was just HUGE and really breathtaking to stand inside.
My other tour this week was a coach tour of Bath, Salisbury, and Stonehenge. I’ve wanted to see Stonehenge since I got here and I felt that I couldn’t leave without going. The only issue is that getting to Stonehenge can be kind of a pain, hence the tour. While I had visited Bath previously the tour I chose was the best price I could find that included the Salisbury Cathedral and Stonehenge. It was nice going back to Bath anyway. It’s really a nice town for walking around. I have to admit that I was a little nervous about going on a tour by myself, but there were a couple other students also traveling alone so it turned out to be fine and I had a great time. Despite the terrible weather the whole day (cloudy with sporadic showers) I had a lot of fun and learned a lot from both the tour guide and the venues themselves. The Cathedral was definitely one of my favorites of all the churches that I’ve seen during my time here. My only regret is that I didn’t have time to explore the town itself more because of the time restraints on the tour, but that just means I’ll have to come back. Stonehenge itself was a little underwhelming. The audio tour, while long, made that part of the visit worth it for me because of the huge amount of information about the history and myths surrounding the stones. I think without the audio I would have been a bit disappointed, but with it I was able to enjoy my time there (even if all I did was basically walk in a circle around some really old stones). I promise not to make you sit through all the photos I took of it (without the history it might get kinda boring looking at 15 pictures of the same circle of stones lol). So all in all I’m really glad I went on the tour. I’d say it’s one of my favorite day trips from London, but I’m really not sure I can rank my day trips—they’ve all been so fun!
Since I’ve been back from Cambridge I’ve been trying to keep busy in London and visit or revisit all the places I haven’t been or will really miss. My feet aren’t too happy and I keep getting caught in rainstorms, but I keep finding places that make me fall in love with the city all over again. On Wednesday I found an artist at Covent Garden who had beautiful watercolors of scenes in the city (I picked one up for myself) in addition to a couple bakeries and restaurants that looked delicious. If only I had more than one stomach to be able to try everything! Yesterday I finally made it to the Tate Modern. While I didn’t understand or fall in love with everything there, I kept finding paintings that I could have stood in front of for hours just thinking and enjoying them. Unfortunately I couldn’t bring any of my favorites home with me, not even in postcard form (Why must you torture me Tate Modern by not having my favorites as postcards?!). Despite this I did enjoy myself, though unlike the National Gallery I don’t have the desire to go back again and again. I mean I would go back, but I feel like I saw mostly everything whereas the National Gallery is so huge that I keep finding new paintings and rooms to explore. After the museum I went to see my first Shakespeare play at the Globe (first live performance I’d seen of Shakespeare). I could easily go back and see more plays there, though next time I’ll probably pay the 15 pounds and get seats not in the rain and well sitting down. That’s right, being the genius I am I bought a standing ticket (5 pounds) and didn’t think about the fact that it’s been raining on and off all week. It was worth it though. I was tired by the end, but it didn’t rain that much and I found some cover from it. Plus the performers were quite entertaining in their performance of All’s Well That Ends Well. I wasn’t familiar with the play before seeing it (despite reading it quickly the night before online), but it was really enjoyable and the actors were very funny. Not Shakespeare’s best play, but definitely an enjoyable comedy. Hamlet and Macbeth will probably still be my favorite plays by him though. I really wish I had been able to see them performed while I was here (Hamlet was playing at the Globe and Macbeth by the RSC), but I didn’t act soon enough and whenever I checked for performances they were sold out. Alas, I will have to see them another day.
Well I think this blog post has gotten long enough. I’ll probably be writing another one tonight or tomorrow about how I’m feeling now that I’ll be leaving in a week so look out for that one (it might even be published at the same time as this one. Who knows?)
May 23rd, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by Alyssa
It is just about halfway through May and I have just under a month left in London until I’m on a plane back home. It’s an odd feeling. I’m kind of torn between being excited to see everyone at home and knowing that once I leave I might never return, or if I do get a chance to come back I’ll just be a tourist. At this point I just want to move everyone over the ocean so I can see them more often and still live here. But I’m being a little bit unfair. I do love living in the States, being an American and I certainly wouldn’t have chosen a different life than the one I’ve been blessed with. But the change and new perspective has certainly been nice. The relationship between England and the US fascinates me. The difference in perspectives about the home country and the other is very interesting and I’m not sure I’d be able to explain it. But it certainly does make good fodder for a lot of the standup shows here. That is one thing they’re good at here, humor. There’s 3 or 4 comedy news shows that I’ve gotten into here that have similar styles and yet are all still different and really funny. I think they all keep a good balance and keep both countries at equal standing. If you can find them 10 O’clock Live and Stand Up for the Week are two that I’ve been watching here though the shorter tv seasons here mean there aren’t’ as many episodes as I’d like.
Television addictions aside, the title of my blog today actually comes from a song that pops into my head whenever I think of Scotland. It’s called “The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond” and it’s one of those songs where I’ve known part of the chorus forever, but I have no idea where I learned it. Anyway it’s only relation to this post is that I did finally get to visit my friend in Edinburgh and while I didn’t get to go up to the highlands or search for Nessie, I did have a great time in a beautiful city. Every time I leave London and go any considerable distance into the surrounding country I’m always amazed at how beautiful it is (and how many sheep there are). Edinburgh is a beautiful old city very close to nature it seemed. Though this may have been because I spent most of my time in the old part of the city and not in the newer built up areas. The city definitely had a different feel from London, but it wasn’t the small town I was expecting (I probably should have done some research first). It’s definitely smaller than London, but Edinburgh is still pretty big and there’s a lot to see though if you’re keen to do a lot of walking you can probably see a good portion of it in a day or so. I was only there for 3 days, but I felt like I really got a feel for the place. That being said, I definitely could have used more time to get a better feel for Scottish culture. As it was I couldn’t spot too many differences between Scottish and English culture besides different bank notes (though British pounds are accepted too), a slightly different accent, and that the top selling soda is Irn Bru and not Coca Cola. It’s a very interesting drink; it’s bright orange and has a sweet taste that’s like bubblegum but also kind of orange. I can’t explain it. It’s not bad, but definitely very sweet. Probably a little too sweet for me.
I wasn’t ambitious enough to try and climb Arthur’s Seat, a large hill/mountain overlooking the city, but I still got a work out going up and down all the hills in the city. Definitely a different landscape than here in London. I did get to see my first working palace in my time here (since I never did get to go into Windsor and they don’t give tours of Buckingham). I visited Holyroodhouse which is where the Queen stays when she visits Scotland. It was an interesting visit, very informative. My favorite part was probably the grounds though. There were so many beautiful plants and there were the ruins of an old Abbey which was still pretty despite being, well ruins. I also visited the National Gallery while I was in Edinburgh which was very nice. It was set up similarly to the National Gallery here in London, but it was smaller which I kind of liked because I got to enjoy everything whereas every time I visit here in London I get lost and feel like I’m missing important paintings. Anyway the trip was very nice and I had a lot of fun hanging out with my friend. She showed me all the best places to eat. While it wasn’t all Scottish, it was all very good and it was definitely nice to have a tour guide (and a free place to sleep).
This post is almost 900 words already. I wish my essays had been this easy to write. I did finish them though in case I didn’t mention that. It was a very stressful week. But that’s all behind me and I am officially a senior. Now that’s a scary thought. I’m trying to stay focused on what I need to do to make my independent study happen next semester and all the prep I need to do for grad school applications, but it’s really hard when all I want to do is relax and enjoy the rest of my time here. It really is coming to a close. Butler had a farewell burrito dinner Tuesday night for all of us London students. It was delicious, but just another reminder that I don’t have much time left here. I have a lot to look forward to at home, but part of me just isn’t ready to give this up. I don’t have much choice though; they will kick me out of this room on June 17th. That’s just something I’ll have to face when it gets closer.
Cheers for now
April 27th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by Alyssa
Well last week was certainly entertaining, as it always is when I vacation with my family. My parents and siblings all came over to London for the week to visit me and the city I’ve been living in. I’m pretty sure they enjoyed it, but it was certainly different being a tourist, although one who understands the public transit system (mainly the underground). It did have a lot of perks though. For example, most things were paid for by my father (always a plus when you’re a college student) and I didn’t really have to take any pictures because my sister is the photographer of the family (is shutter-happy a real adjective?). And seeing all the places I haven’t been yet was very rewarding. Though here’s a warning for anyone visiting London: there’s way too much to see in a week. Even with planning and the London Pass allowing us to get into most major attractions, we probably only saw ¾ of what I had planned. Though I guess ¾ isn’t too bad when you think about it. We didn’t make it to Windsor Castle or into Westminster Abbey (would have been nice to see where the wedding will be), but everywhere we did go was worth it.
We visited the National Gallery, London Zoo, St. Paul’s Cathedral, London Eye, Kew Gardens, and even stood outside Buckingham Palace during the changing of the guards. Though I have to say, not as much fun as it sounds. Mostly it consists of being shoved by crowds of people trying to take pictures and seeing other tourists getting scolded by police(wo)men on horseback. My suggestion if you’re ever going to try and see it is to get there very very very early so you can get a spot where you can see both gates of the palace, then you’ll have the best view of the whole thing. If you don’t like crowds you should probably skip this tourist attraction. It’s not even high tourist season yet and it was packed tight with people. You can still go see the palace later in the day when the crowds aren’t nearly as thick (at least in my experience).
Well I should get back to writing my final essays now. The past few weeks have been a lot of fun, but also a lot of procrastination. With my family gone and April coming to the end I don’t really have any more excuses. But I have a lot to look forward to. A whole month in London with no work can’t be too bad. And I’ll be visiting a friend in Edinburgh for a few days (if I go buy the train tickets). I’m trying to focus on being here because going home is still a bittersweet thought that I don’t really want to think about. As much as I miss everyone (and foods like cheesesteaks), I can’t help but remember that once I leave I probably won’t ever be coming back (at least not to live here). But let’s not think about that yet. Essays first.
April 18th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by Alyssa
I always think that when I am out of classes I’ll have more time, but somehow I still manage to lose track of time. April has certainly been keeping me busy that’s for sure. I just got back from my trip to Italy, I have 4 essays due in the beginning of May, and my family arrives tomorrow for a week of London fun. I think part of the problem is that I am definitely still in vacation mode. But I am determined to get back on track, so here goes the catch up blog.
Italy was fantastic fun; I’m still smiling about it. It was exhausting, but I managed to conquer Rome, Venice, and Florence all in about a week (8 days). Not alone of course, I was joined in this venture by a friend from home who is currently studying in Edinburgh. She came down to London for a long weekend and we hit a bunch of touristy places along with my aunt who happened to also be in London at the same time. It was very busy, but a lot of fun and it was nice seeing some familiar faces. I even finally made it down to the Globe to see what it looked like. Next step—seeing Shakespeare performed there.
After our long weekend in London, my friend and I took a plane to Rome for a couple days and then a train to Venice and after a couple nights we took another train to Florence where we spent the remainder of our trip together. It was a lot of traveling, but it was definitely worth it. There were beautiful things to see everywhere in Italy and the weather was fantastic (though I was forced to spend 11 euros on sunblock, but such is the peril of fair skin in a sunny country). Although everywhere we went was beautiful and fun, Venice was probably my favorite place. Partly this was because I knew it was somewhere my boyfriend at home really wanted to visit, but mostly it was because it was just beautiful and calm there. Even though it was a busy city, the lack of vehicles combined with the water everywhere gave it a great atmosphere. We visited a couple of the islands while we were there and Burano was breathtaking. I wanted to spend the rest of my trip there. Alas, my train and hostel to and in Florence were already booked. But it was worth leaving for the view from the Campanile in the center of Florence and the wonderful scenery in Tuscany that I saw on a tour we took outside the city one day. I definitely could have stayed in Italy much much longer, but knowing I was going back to London wasn’t too bad a feeling. I did miss it here. Although, I miss some of the food in Italy (We found a fantastic pizza place in Venice and the best pasta dishes in Florence. Let me know if you want recommendations). I’ve been eating school food and pasta since I got back (trying to salvage my budget lol).
The past week I’ve been slowly doing work on my essays (very very slowly), nothing really exciting there. I’m looking forward to the upcoming week with my parents, but I know that I’ll end up having to do some work because of my lack of progress this past week. Oh well. C’est la vie. I’m practicing my French for my family’s visit to Paris next weekend. So excited!
March 21st, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by Alyssa
I can’t believe it is halfway (more than halfway?) through March already. Time needs to slow down or something. On the bright side, this term is almost over and everything has been going really well. So well that despite the fact that I keep telling myself I need to blog (and write in my journal), something always comes up and neither gets done. A lot has happened since my last post. The “Adventure Weekend” in Wales, organized by the lovely London Butler office, was incredibly fun. While I didn’t participate in any of the more risky or adventurous activities like Abseiling or Mountain Biking, I very much enjoyed my two activities. My first choice had been kayaking, but that filled up pretty quickly and I was placed with the group who went to explore Caernarfon Castle instead. I was not disappointed. Our tour guide was funny and very knowledge about the history of the castle and Wales. I learned a lot about its construction. Apparently there’s an arch used in its design that has come to be called the Caernarfon Arch because it was imitated by many later castles. This is almost two weeks later and I still remember that (among other castle facts, but I don’t want to bore you.). Anyway the castle tour was in the morning and in the afternoon I went on a “Hill Walk”. I use the quotes because to me it seemed much more like a “Mountain Hike” which is very different by my own definitions. Expectations aside, the hike was really very nice, if a bit strenuous and there were beautiful views of mountains and the small town we were staying near. I’m going to try and upload some pictures, but I always seem to have trouble with that. Regardless, Wales exceeded my expectations and I would love to spend more time there, especially at the seaside town of Llandudno (though somehow I don’t think that’s going to happen on this trip.) If you happen to be in Wales definitely visit the town, the pier and the water is beautiful and the most of the buildings were built in the Victorian Period so they’re all very pretty. Plus I had some really great fish and chips there!
Since getting back to Wales, I haven’t done much else except coursework. I haven’t even done laundry, though I’m just about out of clothes so that’ll probably happen tonight or tomorrow. My lectures and seminars have kept me very busy with reading, but the end is in sight! Next week is the last week of the teaching term which means that when all the students come back in May it will be all about revising (studying) for exams. I lucked out a bit because all the English courses are full year courses meaning that I don’t have to take exams. I do however have to write 4 essays that are due right when we get back from Easter break (aka April). Yikes! But I am excited about next week and the upcoming break because
- My aunt is visiting London (and consequently me) for 5 days next week
- One of my roommates from last semester at Ursinus is coming to London next weekend
- My family is visiting towards the middle of April for a little over a week
There was something else too . . . oh yeah, I’m going to ITALY! I’m so excited. The roommate who is visiting me is also traveling with me from London to Rome and then to Venice and Florence. I’ll only be in Italy for about a week, but it’ll be a lot of fun I’m sure (even if my bank account isn’t thrilled.) I don’t speak any Italian so that might be an issue, but I’m probably going to get a guidebook/phrasebook of some sort and then just go from there. At the very least it’ll be an experience, right?
Well I’ve covered the Wales and lectures part of my title, but I really should address the pancakes. The Tuesday before Ash Wednesday is known in the UK as Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day. The idea is that you use up all your eggs and fats before the fast of Lent. While a lot of people don’t fast over Lent anymore, they definitely still make pancakes. A friend from home invited me to make and eat pancakes with some friends she had met here and it was really a delicious and fun experience. I have come to realize that pancakes here are very different than in the States. They’re much thinner and more like crepes than American pancakes and while you can put all the same toppings on them, the more traditional topping is a little bit of lemon juice and some sugar. Though I had mine with strawberries and Nutella (I have eaten sooo much Nutella since coming here. I’m not really sure why. It’s available at home, but somehow I’ve just come to buy it more regularly here.) Long story short—I ate an obscene amount of pancakes and was very full and felt like I should be fasting over Lent.
Well that’s what I have been up to. I will try to write again before I leave for Italy. Hope you enjoy a few of my pictures from Wales!
February 14th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by Alyssa
Well it’s reading week and that means my time of being in British lectures is half way over already. Kind of crazy when you think about it, but it’s true. The third term after Easter break is just exams and finals and since the final for my courses is an essay, a lot of my time seems to be free during that term. I don’t really want to think too far ahead though because the end of term means I’m getting closer to going home and I’m definitely not ready to do that.
Yesterday was Butler’s first Saturday excursion of the semester. We went to Hampton Court Palace and then Windsor. I didn’t go into Windsor palace, but in the few hours we were there, there was plenty to do and see around town. Hampton Court Palace was also pretty interesting. I’ve always been interested in Henry VIII so being able to see some of his rooms and the rooms of the monarchs who took over after his children was pretty cool. Some of the wall paintings were just amazing. And the gardens! Even in winter they were beautiful and I really want to go back in the spring when there are flowers. Windsor was just as fascinating, with old buildings, churches, and the castle. I had a lot of fun, though my feet are killing me. It probably didn’t help that I went exploring around the area where I live today. I should probably give them some rest, but there are so many places I want to go and see while I have the week off.
Not much else is going on right now. I’m still getting to know the area and the people around me while trying to keep up with all my schoolwork so that I have time to have some fun. I may be visiting Italy during Easter break which would be amazing, but we shall see. Until then I hope to just keep enjoying all the wonders of the city and the surrounding area. Cheers!