Monday, October 22, 2012

Mingle Monday: Leah in London

Hey folks! Today I have a special guest that is a really good friend of mine. We went to high school together and right now she is over in London going to school! So I asked her to share a little bit about her journey so far and what's she's been up to! 
Hello! I’m Leah, and I’m currently spending the semester in London, which is absolutely a dream come true.
Normally I attend Drew University, a small Liberal Arts college in New Jersey. They offer this great study
abroad program in London, which is really popular among English, History, and Theatre majors. So there’s a
little bit of everything!

First of all, my program director is OBSESSED with the medieval time period, so we’ve done plenty of walking tours all over the city and seen cool old things. The great thing about London is all the layers: you can still see pieces of the old medieval wall that marked the edge of the city, then where the Romans expanded on top of it, all among the later Tudor, Victorian, and Georgian style buildings (which we’re all experts at by now). Fun fact: because of all the expansion and The Great Fire, general debris, and long periods of desertion, the city of London has actually risen 30 feet since medieval times! We had to go underground to see many pieces of the old walls, which is crazy to think about. 

This is a piece of the original London wall, taken from what would have been outside the
city, but is now just more towards the city centre:

SO. I live in a flat with 5 other girls, on Clifton Gardens (doesn’t that sound lovely??) The area of town is
called Little Venice, here’s a picture of the canals nearby:
Pic. 2
We all get along really well, and once a week on Sunday nights, we take turns making dinner for everyone : )
I’ve never lived in a real city like this, I’ve always been right outside in the suburbs. But here, I take the tube
to class everyday! I can’t drive at all, so we walk pretty much everywhere, take the tube, which is like the
subway, or a bus. I feel more like an adult than I ever have, because there’s no dining hall like at a regular
university, I have to buy and cook my own food and budget money. Which is kind of awesome! Except
worrying about money all the time :/ Also, the exchange rate is killing me! 1 pound = about 1.60 US dollars. It doesn’t seem that bad, but it’s hard to keep in mind that if I buy a coffee for 3 pounds, I’m actually spending nearly $5. It adds up!

On the other hand, the program directors have a whole bunch of really cool events and field trips planned,
which are already paid for in our tuition! We get to see at least 1 show per week at different theatres, which
is awesome. We even got a tour backstage at the National Theatre. This is Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, all restored! I saw “Richard III” and “Taming of the Shrew” here, and the top is still open to the sky over the standing area, like it was originally (we totally got rained on during one):
Pic. 3
Other cool things we’ve had the privilege to do include going to the Museum of London, visiting an exhibit at
the British Library which had old manuscripts and maps of British novels (English major nerd), see Kensington Palace, toured the Houses of Parliament and meet with an actual member of Parliament! In fact, over the next month we will be sitting down and talking with a member of each major party. How lucky? One of my absolute favorite activities was our day trip to Bath, one of the most ancient cities. It had such beautiful architecture and statues, and is known for its spas and soaps, which emerged because it’s the home of real Roman baths:
These hold water that is 10,000 years old, and it is STILL flowing from the hot springs! The
town also had really cool vintage shops, pubs, and a fudge shop. I’m not very religious, but
Bath Abbey was absolutely stunning. Here’s a picture of the inside:
Another perk is that it’s a lot cheaper to travel around Europe than it is in the US. If you plan ahead, you
can get a flight for 20 pounds! Even in US dollars, that would be $32.15. I’ve totally taken advantage of
this and have travelled to more countries in my time here than the whole rest of my life (before college,
I’d never been out of the USA). My roommate, who I was friends with before this semester, has family in
Germany. Sooo, last month we flew to Munich for a long weekend and went to Oktoberfest. It was fantastic. Nothing like what I’d expected, but unforgettable. People were so friendly! And we just got back from our midterm break; my roommate and I went to Barcelona then Paris, and did an overnight each in Liverpool and Nottingham. These. Were. Breathtaking. But I’ll stick to London.

We’re all on a student budget and really want to spend as little as possible, but this city has so many free activities that we can still have a great time. It’s easy to find out about stuff, and our program directors always let us know if they hear of anything. Thanks to this, we got to go the Thames River Festival, which was obviously right on the river. There were vendors selling jewelry, art, clothes, food… And at the end there was a huge firework display over the river. Here’s a view of the Millennium Bridge all lit up, and it was changing colors! (Harry Potter fans – this is the bridge shown in “Half Blood Prince” at the beginning, being destroyed by Death Eaters)
Another really cool, and free, night was the Vogue Fashion Night Out!! Apparently it’s done in New York
every year too, but I’ve never heard of it. A few of us dressed up and went to Oxford Street, which has really good shopping, and stores were open late and had all sorts of fantastic things! One had a live band, one was doing photo shoots, free manicures, one had a real runway show happening, that I got to be front and center for. And they ALL were giving out free drinks: mojitos, pink champagne, wine. It was so much fun! And didn’t cost anything. There are also tons of parks in London. A great one is Peace Park, it has a statue of Gandhi in the middle, where people often leave flowers or candles. It’s a great place to read or have a picnic. Right near that is a college where monks give out free curry every day! How great is that?? You just line up and get a plate of curry with rice and biscuits. Just bring a water bottle, and you’ve saved 5 pounds! I’ve only been a couple times but after that vacation, I’ll definitely be eating more free food.

With all this awesome stuff happening, it’s hard to remember that I am actually still in school and have real
work to do. I got lucky though, and only have classes Monday - Wednesday. So there’s plenty of time to
explore the city! But no excuse to not finish homework… haha.

I’ll stop rambling and just share some fun pictures. Here’s Elizabeth Tower, often known as Big Ben because of the bell inside. I took this during a tour of Westminster:
Something I didn’t know is that the British LOVE gardening, and totally pride themselves on their floral
Pic. 8
What Diagon Alley was based on:
This is a great historic, traditional pub, one of the oldest known, and it’s hidden down the side of a little alley.
Charles Dickens used to frequent it, so my professor for London Literature took us here and bought everyone beer:
Pic. 10
Some really cool architecture. Stuff like this is everywhere, if you just look!
Last one – I thought this was great. It’s not my best picture of Tower Bridge, but it shows how normal it is to these people who probably pass it every day commuting to work or just running errands. Once you live in a place, you can forget its beauty and all it has to offer:
Pic. 12
SO that’s about what I’ve done so far, though I could go on and on! It’s been such an absolutely amazing
experience so far, totally getting out of your comfort zone. I’m so glad I pursued the opportunity and was
motivated to apply, kept my grades up, earned scholarships, everything! I can’t believe I’m already halfway
through the semester… where does the time go? But, I’ve gotta admit. I’m definitely looking forward to
flying home and relaxing at Christmastime. ;)
Wowza's! I hope I can go to London some day, sounds like a really awesome place. 
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