Coming Soon . . .

11150310_10205496686528802_8092689660992222963_nGuess where I’m going this summer? Hint: It’s London!

I’ve been to London before, back in 2012. My family had been planning this grand England adventure for years, ever since it was announced that London would be hosting the 2012 summer Olympics. Extra adventures to Germany and Rome were also tacked onto the trip, and that four week vacation was basically the highlight of 2012 for me (which is saying a lot, because I also turned 18, graduated high school, and saw my favorite band in concert that year).

But the five-or-so days I spent in London could only show me so much of the jolly ol’ city. Major sites I missed out on: Warner Bros. Studio Tour, The Globe Theater, and The British Museum. You can bet these will be top of my must-see list when I go back in three months.

I’ll be doing a three week study abroad program through Fresno State, which also provides four units of G.E. credit, a new tablet, and an opportunity to take a weekend trip outside of the city. I’m hoping go take the Chunnel to Paris, but we’ll see. I’m super excited, and want nothing more than to skip over these last two weeks of school and the beginning of summer so I can just go already!

Plus, I’ll be blogging religiously while I’m there since I’ll actually have something interesting to blog about. So stayed tuned… very shortly I’ll be saying HelloLondon!

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Jet Lag, Stairs, and Settling In (London Day 1)

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Guess what Guess what Guess what?! I’m in London you guys! *happy dance*

I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced going to a place like this for the second time. The first time, everything is new and you’re just trying to take as much of it in before it all disappears. Now, there’s still a sense of surrealness (I can’t believe I’m here!) but also mixed with a sense of familiarity (I can’t believe I’m here again!) It’s interesting traveling with a group of people who haven’t been here before, too, apart from the professor. I get to see their first reactions to things and remember how strange and wonderful an experience this all is.

There aren’t many stories to tell yet since the first day was mostly traveling and settling in. Our flight was 9 1/2 hours, direct, and I didn’t sleep at all. I tried. I honestly did. But between back pain and dry eyes, I couldn’t make it happen. This made it pretty difficult to stay awake until nighttime, as we got in at around noon and it doesn’t get dark here until about 8 or 9.

We’re staying in flats called Richmond Court, located near Holland Park and Kensington. I have one roommate, Faith, who I had met a few times in the weeks leading up to this trip to get acquainted. Our room is aaaall the way on the top floor, which is probably the fourth or fifth floor, and is only accessible by… you guessed it: stairs. Hauling up our luggage and groceries was killer. But I expect to have massive stair-climbing thighs by the end of this trip. I will conquer them!

Speaking of our flat, here are some of the only pictures I’ve taken so far…

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The view outside our window. That building down there is actually an old church.

Our kitchen. The open door around the corner there goes to the bathroom.

Our kitchen. The open door around the corner there goes to the bathroom.

Our living/dining area.

Our living/dining area.

Our bedroom area. I slept on the bottom bunk last night, but I might try out the top one just to see.

Our bedroom area. I slept on the bottom bunk last night, but I might try out the top one just to see.

I didn't get a pic of the outside of our building, but here's a map showing our location in London.

Google maps view of where we’re located in London. 

Yesterday my roommate and I did a little grocery shopping since we have a kitchen and don’t have to eat out all the time. We showered, unpacked, and walked around the neighborhood with the rest of the class a little bit. For dinner we got pre-made sandwiches from Tesco, which is like the market Fresh & Easy. And then we did as many creative things as our groggy brains could think of in a futile effort to stay awake. I think we finally crashed at around 7PM. We woke up this morning around 5:30.

And that’s really it so far. Today the class plan is to walk further into the City and tour a museum. Faith and I then plan to go out to the Harry Potter studios tour. So more updates and pictures to come!

Street Performers, Sore Legs, and Harry Potter (London Day 2)

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Today mostly consisted of walking. Lots and lots of walking. We met up with the class at around 10, and then proceeded to get our Oyster Cards (a convenient pass to get on the trains). I love the Underground here. The map seems confusing and intimidating, but once you do a couple of transfers it’s really easy to get the hang of. While we used the trains quite a bit, we still walked a lot more. Our professor really wanted to get us situated with where the major sites and places were in London.

A lot of it looked familiar, but I didn’t quite remember where it was all situated. I still don’t, to be honest. It’s one thing to look at a map and know where to find everything, it’s another to walk around and figure it out. Especially when you use the underground transportation; that really messes with your sense of direction.

But at least each station gives you a little history lesson.

But at least each station gives you a little history lesson.

So we walked basically from the Holland Park area up to Buckingham Palace, through St. James’s Park, and over to Trafalger Square for lunch. The Palace and Park were strange to walk through because the last time I was here they were decorated for the Olympics. Flags and Rings everywhere… St. James’s is where we’d seen the volleyball matches, but now the stands are gone.

It's still gorgeous.

It’s still gorgeous.

Along this route we passed through Covent Gardens, where the famous flower market from My Fair Lady used to be.

Flowers have been replaced with Chanel.

Flowers have been replaced with Chanel.

We stopped to watch a street act called “Man with Big Balls.” He had several audience members come up to toss him soccer balls, which he juggled while balancing on top of a big circus-like ball. One girl from our class, Tavia, was picked to hold the circus ball while he jumped on it. He made lots of jokes, most of them innuendos, and it was hilarious.

You just had to be there.

You just had to be there.

We stopped a lot for photo ops, so we ended up being a couple hours off schedule. It was around 3 that we got to the main class project for the day: the Museum of London. This was one of the only museums I’d gone to last time, so I guess it worked out that we rushed through. Faith and I had plans to go to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour at 6, but we needed to leave by 4:30. So we quickly toured the section we were assigned to write a class blog posting about and then headed off.

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Not before a quick selfie with this guy.

To get out to the tour, we had to transfer a few times on the underground to Euston station. From there, we then had to buy separate tickets to Watford Junction, since it stop outside of London and our Oyster cards wouldn’t cover that far. After queueing at two ticket stations and being told to go somewhere else for what we wanted, we finally got on the right train. Online it’d said the average journey was 20 min… ours, of course, took more like 40. We then had to take a shuttle to the actual venue, another 15 min, and basically we got there with only 3 minutes to spare. What a crazy mess!

Made it!

But we made it!

The tour was so worth it though. Once we no longer needed to stress out, we could finally get excited and nerdy about the Harry Potter movies. All of the sets, props, and costumes there were the exact onces they used to make the films. You could walk through the Great Hall, go inside the Hogwarts Express, and interact with a few other things too. My phone tells me I took about 300 pictures, so once I get those sorted out I’ll put them in a separate gallery for you to look at and experience vicariously.

Here's a little teaser to hold you over until then...

Here’s a little teaser to hold you over until then…

Getting back to our flat didn’t take as long, but it was still late when we arrived. We picked up dinner (at 10 PM!) from a place called Chicken Shack because we were desperate and that’s all that was open. I’ll also be creating a food gallery for all the meals I have here so you can check that out, too.

Now we sit here tired and sore, wondering what the rest of these three weeks are going to be like. London is a crazy amazing city, with so many layers of history down every street. I can’t wait to experience the rest of it!

Though maybe not the crowds...

Though maybe not the crowds…

The Tower, Homework, and Random Observations (London day 3)

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We started off today with our first official “class” time, held at a place called Vincent House. We were supposed to have our own conference room-type set up, but they had our reservation mixed up so we just sat in the lounge area for today. We used these few hours to write about yesterday’s tour of the Museum of London. You can read the post I collaborated on here.

The street Vincent House is on has beautiful flats that are very obviously for the wealthier part of society. Their facade had that gorgeous white, cream, and faint yellow coloring, with cute little balconies, trim, and foliage. I’ve decided when I move to London, I’ll live here.

Hey, no one said dreams had to be realistic.

Hey, no one said dreams had to be realistic.

After class we picked up some lunch. I forgot to take a picture of the sandwich I got yesterday from Pret A Manger (pronounced pret-uh-mahn-zhay), a popular pre-made sandwich shop, but it was pretty darn good. Another sandwich shop, Eat, is in competition with Pret, so I tried a sandwich from them today. It was really good, too. Now I’ll have to make my own sandwich and really see which is the best.

We ate lunch once we got to the Tower of London. I’ve toured this one before, too, but it still doesn’t cease to amaze me how there’s this old stone fortress in the middle of a modern business district, and how millions of people from all over the world come to walk around in the same place that British royalty, prisoners, and long-dead soldiers once lived in. Does that not blow your mind?

And people here just walk by it on the way to work like it's no big deal.

And people here just walk by it on the way to work like it’s no big deal.

The moat was drained and filled quite a while ago, and in it today they were preparing for a jousting tourament this weekend, the first one at the Tower in 8 years. I don’t know if it’s possible to go, but I’ll be looking into it tonight.

Once inside, we joined one of the warders for a tour. I couldn’t tell if our guide was the same I had last time or not, but he was pretty funny, too. Yelling at everyone, making fun of the French, making history jokes…. I heard that the warders don’t just protect the Tower, but they actually live there. Wouldn’t that be a great job? Of course, you’d have to serve at least twenty-or-so years in the military in order to qualify, and I’m sure repeating the same stories and jokes to a crowd of unpredictable people might get old. But compared to a boring office job? Yeah, it’d be great.

"The E-R stands for errr, as in, Errr Majesty. Now if you have any other questions, keep them to yourself."

“The E-R stands for errr, as in, ‘Errr Majesty. Now if you have any other questions, keep them to yourself.”

The end part of the tour landed us in St. Peter Church, a small little chapel with quite a history. The remains of Henry VIII’s two executed wives lie buried beneath it, and several other notable people were laid to rest in the adjoining cript. The ceiling had been made for Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, out of wood from Spain so that she could pray to God under trees from her home land.

After the tour, Faith and I ended up doing our own thing again, choosing to first go through the White Tower.

Everything has to be called a tower here at the Tower.

Everything has to be called a tower here at the Tower.

In the past this was used as living quarters for the royal family and other nobility, as well as a prison for traitors to the crown (or people who just said something the king didn’t like). For the past couple hundred years-or-so now, it has housed the “Line of Kings” exhibition. Bascially a display of armor worn by past kings and their horses. It was interesting to see how certain pieces were once mislabeled in order to sound more impressive, or because the records and technology weren’t available to correctly identify them until recently.

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Don’t know how that face coming out of it helps, but at least the horse looks like a badass.

We were also able to go below ground in what used to be wine cellars and dungeons. It’s now a gift shop.

Flags not for sale.

Flags not for sale.

We also looked at the big attraction: the Crown Jewels. There was quite a lot of bling in this exhibit, from golden maces back in Charles II’s time to golden plates used for special feasts to the bedazzled crown of Queen Elizabeth II herself. Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed inside, so you’ll just have to come and see them yourself some day.

If you can make it past the guards.

If you can make it past the guards.

We wandered around the Tower until closing time, learning about how it was once a zoo, spotting the infamous giant ravens, and taking pictures of prisoner graffiti on the walls. By the time we made it back to our flat (after half an hour of searching in vain for a pastry shop), my legs were on fire and my feet about ready to fall off. When exactly am I supposed to be used to this?

Medieval graffiti: taking it to the next level.

Medieval graffiti: taking it to the next level.

Some little cultural things I’ve noticed so far that I feel compelled to mention… First, the fashion. In the touristy areas of the Tower and Trafalger Square it might not be so noticable. But in other areas and districts, you can tell what’s “in” among Londoners. Apart from the business-wear that’s also very common, men tend to wear really tight pants with button-down shirts and nice shoes. Women usually have an all-black look going on with ankle boots or flats. I’ve also noticed this thing with striped shirts; it seems popular among the Asian tourists as well.

Speaking of Asian tourists, I noticed several groups of Korean school kids about. One group had badges over their necks that said something like “Western Culture Trip.” Why is this not a thing in America, I ask you? Why can’t we have Asian Culture Trips, or European Culture Trips for our youth? I’m sorry, but Korea gets more cool points from me on this one.

Final thought: my snot is black. Maybe you didn’t want to hear about that, but I feel like it’s important to know. It’s not something you would expect or think about, but it is what it is. You spend enough time in a city and taking trains underground, your snot is going to be tarnished with smog and soot. And probably second-hand smoke, too, because like the rest of Europe, Brits love to have a smoke. So now you know and won’t be freaked out when it happens to you.

But in case that was too unpleasant for you, enjoy this...

But in case that was too unpleasant for you, enjoy this…

Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio Tour

Boatride Down the Thames and Sitting in Both Hemispheres (London day 4)

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I’m becoming more worn out every day, but my excitement and enthusiam is still strong, so hopefully that energy can get me through writing another post!

Today was full of firsts for me, unlike the last few days where we mostly did and saw things I’ve already experienced (minus the Harry Potter tour; go ahead and check out those pictures here). But today I got to go a bit outside the City and tour Greenwich!

A naval town, if you couldn't tell.

A naval town, if you couldn’t tell.

We (the class) traveled by boat this time, winding our way leisurely down the river Thames while snapping pictures of all the iconic sites from a different angle. I got quite a lot of photos, so here are some of my favorites:

Once in Greenwich we stopped for lunch in a little food stand -type area. Well, it was lunchtime, but I ended up getting a desert crepe because I’m an adult and can make those kinds of decisions.

These are what fun adults look like, kids.

These are what fun adults look like, kids.

We then toured the ship Cutty Sark. I’d never heard of it, but apparently it was the fastest trading ship in the 19th century. It mainly imported teas and sheep wool. It suffered a fire several years ago and required renovations, but now it’s open to the public again.

The second ship I've been on this year.

The second ship I’ve been on this year.

It seemed to be more of a kid-oriented attraction, but it was still cool to learn a bit about ship life.

And take pictures of nautical things.

And take pictures of nautical things.

Afterward we walked through the Royal Naval College and past the Queen’s House.

Of course only a Queen could live here.

Of course only a Queen could live here.

I believe it was one of the Jameses or Charleses who had it built for his wife. We tried to tour it, but it’s currently closed for rennovations. I guess its 400th anniversary is coming up or something.

But they didn't close off the balcony, so we're good.

But they didn’t close off the balcony, so we’re good.

We then trudged up a little hill to get to the Royal Observatory. Here we learned about the long process of figuring out how to calculate longitude while on the seas. I’d never realized how difficult it was and how long they went without any accurate tools.

The most important invention in history, the placard claims.

The most important invention in history, the placard claims.

The Prime Meridian line was also up here, but an hour-long line to take a picture with it made me and Faith get creative.

One part of the line isn't more official than the other, so why not snap a pic over here?

One part of the line isn’t more official than the other, so why not snap a pic over here?

Faith and I then went back to our flat (after walking another half hour looking for a bakery in a different direction; this time it was a success!) to cook a spaghetti dinner and relax our tired bodies after such a packed week. This weekend we’ll be left to move at our own pace and see some additional things we’re interested in. We’re still working out what those things are, but top of the list at the moment is… Pub!

Look, I'm royalty, too!

Look, I’m royalty, too!