After returning from Switzerland I was faced with hard reality
and a wake-up call. I had two weeks left and so much to do! I spent two full days writing papers, and cranked them out in A+ form. I started working out like a mad woman – jogging through Kensington Gardens every day after class. One day
I came home to find a care package from my boyfriend Tom, with gifts, letters and pictures – (this conveniently made me more excited than ever to see him). I said goodbye’s to my professors, popping sparkling champaign with my English
professor and getting drunk in the last class; and had a “Secret Santa” party amongst our flat mates. We Americans wanted to leave London in style, so on one of our last nights we rented a pimped out party bus which took us all around London for over three hours – stopping at our favorite spots for pictures and toasts to our time spent together.
Next came the dreaded Finals week which every college student must experience, even when 3,000 miles away from campus. Two massive Globalization essays and four exams later (all in 3 days), I was done! When I left my last exam, walking to the tube in the rain, massaging my aching wrist from all the writing, I felt exuberant knowing I was halfway done with my final year of College.
I spent that night packing, squeezing in some last-chance bonding time with what were now close friends, and holding in my growing anticipation of returning to the land of the free. Our group said final goodbyes with a drunken private party at our favorite Notting Hill bar, ‘Tex Mex’. One by one my fellow travelers made their way home. I was the last to leave. My last day in London_ the bustling, adventurous, extraordinary city I called home the past four months, was Friday, December 19th, 2008.
After buying souvenirs and saying my final and tearful goodbye to my friend Cat, I dressed my best and hauled my luggage to Heathrow Airport. My emotions were completely scattered, though I was mostly excited… I had barely slept the night before. It seemed like just the other day I was arriving at that very spot, completely unaware of what was to follow. Looking back, there isn’t a thing I would change. I can say with confidence that I learned more in those four months than I ever had. I was thrown into unfamiliar situations and tackled them solo, made genuine friendships with people very different from myself, experienced eclectic cultures and destinations completely new, and fell deeply in love with travel. It is a chapter in my life I will never forget.
My flight home was long and exciting. As I felt the wheels of the plane touch down on American soil in Chicago, my heart was racing. After surviving baggage claim, I finally saw my Tom, greeting me with a dozen red roses. We shared a kiss that said it all, and as he picked up my suitcase and we walked out the door hand in hand, I felt overwhelming comfort in being taken care of again.
I knew I was home…
With just 33 days left on European soil, I still had a lot ahead of me. I had reconfirmed my prediction that city-living is definitely for me. Public transport is second nature, walking is the best way to get around, and food is easily accessible and, for me, on the go. My life has been delightfully hectic – packing and unpacking between weekend trips, frantically throwing coins into the laundry machines down the street, taking sunset jogs through Kensington Gardens, while squeezing in time for studies Monday through Wednesday. I seem to have mastered the London rudeness and race to anywhere walking down the streets, where everyone is a participant whether willing or not.
The past week I had enjoyed a trip to the Sherlock Holmes museum and a day in Regent Park with my English professor – and a delicious meal of duck at an Asian restaurant downtown. Before I knew it Friday morning had arrived and I was awoken by my alarm clock. I headed to Paddington Station to greet my first visitor in three months…
Colleen, Erin, and I have been glued at the hip since we were
awkward pre-teens with matching school uniforms, so it is no wonder that four months proved too long a stint to stay away. Their ten-day visit to London would commence just in time for Thanksgiving, and pull me out of the homesickness funk I was trying to avoid. Colleen arrived first sans-cell phone, and ignored instructions to meet me at the gate to the tube. After about twenty grueling minutes searching for the lost Irish girl, I spotted her in a train station café sipping espresso with an old English man. I guess she just couldn’t wait to enjoy some English culture… Erin met us a few hours later at my blue door in Notting Hill, and the group was successfully reunited across the big pond they call the Atlantic.
For the next ten days I was determined to play the ultimate tour guide, taking my companions to favorite spots I had discovered in London. We started out day one with Big Ben, the London Eye, and some street performers before lazily entering a pub where we would spend the rest of the evening
imbibing on some scrumptious ginger cocktails. Shocker. We continued this pattern of sightseeing –drinking – sleeping, (rinse and repeat), for the next week. But not to disregard the food. Oh the food! (My diet and exercise regime would have to resume post-visit).
Erin, Colleen, and I enjoyed just about every corner of London I could muster the energy to explore. We shopped in SoHo, Oxford Street and the opulent Mayfair area, and dazzled ourselves in Harrod’s. While I was at class, they would explore what I had seen and got history lessons at the Tower of London. We consumed several days’ worth of calories in delicious restaurants as compensation for busy days on our feet. We caught the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace, strolled the beautiful Hyde Park, Green Park, and Kensington Gardens, took photos at Trafalgar Square and pretended to be interested in art at the National Gallery. We crossed Millenium Bridge to explore the Tate Modern museum at night, tried to get into Hogwarts at Platform 9 and 3/4, and caught live shows in Piccadilly Circus, (they saw ‘Dirty Dancing’ while I went to ‘Oedipus’ for class). We haggled for trinkets in Portobello Market, and even enjoyed a movie getting us ready for Christmas time back home. Our nights out were some of my favorites spent in London; I think we managed to patronize 50% of the pubs in London.
Thanksgiving Day was particularly memorable to me. We dressed our best and attended mass at the famous St. Paul’s Cathedral, which was holding a special ceremony for American visitors such as ourselves. That night we sought
out a traditional turkey dinner, which proved unexpectedly difficult to do. We ended up at a cheesy, overcrowded joint (fairly named ‘Big Easy’)which took two train rides and a long hike in the cold to find. Once we were finally seated, however, the food proved sufficient and reminiscent of that which our families would enjoy back home six hours later. We toasted red wine to our warm holiday spent with the family we choose ourselves… friends.
For pictures of our London trip as a threesome, check out Erin's albums by clicking the links below:
ALBUM 1 ALBUM 2 ALBUM 3 ALBUM 4
When the study abroad program offered a free trip to Bath, England, I jumped at the chance. Located in Somerset (in the south west of England), I boarded the comfy bus and
enjoyed an eventful Saturday outside of the city. I paired up with pals Megan, Kailee, Tory, and Kiersten for a day of exploration and shopping. The charming town of Bath is
complete with gorgeous architecture, a deep history from centuries past, and a bustling village to top it off.
The Roman Baths were our first stop, following a “tour” with embarrassingly aged telephones we dutifully pressed up to our ears trying to interpret the muffled facts. I gave up and braved the Baths sans-tour, making up my own history as I went. The Baths were built as a public spa complete with cold, hot, and bubbling pools for the Romans in 60-70AD. The dilapidated buildings were reconstructed in the 12th century, but the blue-green water from the bubbling hot pool remains. Tourists can walk the entire building and explore the history – though no one is allowed to swim. Too bad… the moldy bacteria-filled water was really calling my name.
Feeling a bit silly and immature, our foursome prematurely left the Baths themselves to explore what the city had to offer. We
discovered none other than: food. Handmade fudge, taffy apples, and scoops of gelato filled our eager bellies until we felt sick. We walked the cobblestone streets aligned with unique shops, and came across the gorgeous waterfront to
gaze at the Royal Crescent, a half-moon of houses at the edge of the lake which was built in 1767. Our day in Bath was one we made our own, turning away from the tourist track and enjoying the small pleasures of the memorable town.
The next day I joined friends Xanthy, Blake, Pierson, Will, and Brock in braving the phenomenon that is European football, (a.k.a. soccer). The rain and cold did not stop a single crazy fan – so nor it would not stop us. We joined right in at the Putney Stadium, playing the part by screaming obnoxiously at the rival teams below us, fighting for victory. The killer truth is beers are no longer allowed back to the bleachers, (which came as no shock after observing the fans’ fanatical behavior sober), so Xanthy and I chugged a few at half-time. The football match was certainly something to experience; the sport is something that defines European culture – and the fans’ passion for their teams proved just that. I could no longer tell you who won the game or what the scoreboard read, but seeing the professional battle first-hand was
something I won’t soon forget.
That Thursday night was notable as group of about twenty of us ventured to a new club called Ruby Blue in the city to celebrate my roomie Natalie’s birthday. We rented out some tables and danced the night away…turning the sleek British club into an American funhouse.
Another memorable night in London was a visit to the
hot club, ChinaWhite. Though these pricey venues are not a place I frequent, it is something to see – especially when an A-list (at the time) American celeb is a patron that night. A group of us dressed our best, (a friend got us on the snooty list), and made our way to the exclusive club. I sipped vodka rocks to stay in-budget, asking the bartender to fill the glass as much as he could…
Later came the main event: Lindsay Lohan. I know, who cares. But at the time she was much more reputable, and being a fan of the flick Mean Girls, I was pretty pumped. The most fun part was getting caught outside when she happened to be arriving. Oh, the paparazzi!! Literally 50 or more husky men toting massive cameras and running up and down the street with news of the celeb’s arrival was a play in itself. Naturally I joined them when Lindsays’ sleek black SUV dropped her off in front. So there we were: fifty paparazzi and me in heels. Obviously I was trampled a bit – and I mentally vetoed paparazzi as
a potential occupation. The rest of the night was spent in the VIP section (can’t remember how I snuck in) stalking Lohan and ultimately getting a spot-on photo, and scoring free bottle service. Good times…
The next weekend it was off to the Czech Republic and Germany!
While I rarely spend even a full week in London at one time, the days I am there are usually spent wisely. In between riding the tube to class and writing papers at the University library, I squeeze in London time and soak it all up as much as possible. I spent 5 weekends straight away from London, but found plenty of time to explore in between.
For one, after returning from Adventure Weekend my flatmates and I celebrated an elaborate American holiday… that known as Halloween. Not to be diluted by Britain’s lack of holidays, we dressed our best and had an in-house party, “trick-or-treating” between each of the 20+ rooms. Each person’s room had a different theme and shot… ours for example were complete with a whip cream splash in your face! We had Barbie and Ken, a nerd and gym teacher, the Village People, three blind mice, a banana, a cow, hippie, USA and UK, and a cross-dresser to top it off. Also in lieu of the 2008 Presidential election, we had our very own Barack Obama, John McCain, and Sarah Palin. Our crazy shot party was complete with snacks and decorations.. and a late drunken night. We showed London!
Another notable London event was the Globe Theatre tour I took where we were shown the intricate replica of Shakespeare’s playhouse itself lining the River Thames. It was educational but failed to leave a big impression. I also enjoyed a top-line play called ‘6 Characters in Search of an Author’. It was a dark, bizarre, creepy but cool rendition of a unique script and great acting. We got to meet the actors afterwards and discuss their methods. I also discovered a new bar ‘Roadhouse’ which reminds me of a biker bar in the Midwest, but has a fun crowd and good music.
Millenium Bridge looking at the Tate
Another day in London I took the tube down to Piccadilly Circus to munch on a Cinnabon and people-watch, then stare at Big Ben for a while, and go on a solo trip down to Millenium Bridge and the Tate Modern Museum. I spent hours roaming the massive museum exposing myself to some strange art, some beautiful art, and some dumb art to be frank.
Another cloudy weekday I decided to somewhat spontaneously leave my cozy room and tube it to Buckingham Palace. I sipped Starbucks coffee with the Queen (not), and spent some quality journaling time on a park bench in Hyde Park.
Finally, a bar/restaurant we have discovered in Notting Hill, Tex Mex, is definitely worth mentioning. The Mexican food is delicious, we have become regulars and be-friended the bartender Sam and watress Maria, and they give us free drinks every time we show our obnoxious American selves! The best part of Tex Mex is the insane list of fancy three-layered shots that goes on to over 200 types! They are delicious and strong - a great mix when needed after a jam-packed day fighting the city...
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The last few weeks have been filled with absolute excitement - and a bit of euphoria. The day I flew in I arrived at 7am London-time and was successful in staying up the whole day even though it was 1am on my body. I was uber-productive in unpacking, settling in to my gorgeous triple-room boasting a fireplace, streetview window, desk, closet, and bed. I bought a cell phone and plan (the cheapest of course), bedding, and the boring necessities. The first days were full of these nominal tasks in between orientation meetings from our study abroad coordinators. I learned so much about the differences between America and London that I should be aware of - (politically, socially, etc.) It was interesting to be thrown in to a culture I had assumed was quite like my own, but really has a unique character.
Back to the details -- I am living in a huge mansion with four floors of bedrooms and several shared bathrooms. My "flat mates" consist of 25 eclectic Americans from all over, West coast to East. I am one of two from Chicago. So far, I love everyone_ we have a great camaraderie and have had a blast getting to know eachother at all the local pubs getting "pissed" (drunk). Our blue-doored mansion lies on a quaint street in the heart of Notting Hill, the posh, trendy, and fashion-forward neighborhood of London. The area is adorable and has a massive market on Portobello street once a week... I can't get enough!
With part of the gang at our favorite spot down the street, 'Tex Mex'; me in front of my flat
I am, strange to say, already beginning to feel like a 'Londoner'. I can navigate the Tube getting to and from class with ease, am getting used to the Pounds instead of Dollars, am learning the beers, and have picked up on some slang. I feel llike Europeans have it right on certain things -- entertainment, politics, the media system (which relys on viewers as the money-maker, not advertising), drinking norms (can you say "pub at noon?"), and fashion. One thing they definitely get WRONG is food! God it's just so bland; nothing compared to the states.
On a more boring note, I am here for class afterall. I only have 4 classes, 3 hours a week each, and on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays. My goal is to truly take advantage of the 4-day weekends by exploring London and mostly traveling to the many Euro-cities calling my name. My classes are Globalisation/Regionalisation, London in Literature (LOVE my professor who takes us to pubs to discuss books!), Theatre in London (I get to see broadway shows all the time!), and British Media. I like them all and am sure I'll be fine, as long as I force myself to squeeze in time for studies in between travelling.
Since being here, I have explored Notting Hill, walked the lush Kensington Gardens several times, been to many-a-PUB and CLUB in Piccadilly Circus, gone to the Theatre, explored my "Uni" campus, been to the movies (the popcorn lacks flavor), rode the London Eye, and stared at Big Ben! I have explored Westminster Abbey, Portobello Market, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, and the many museums. It's safe to say I'm on a London high... or maybe it's all the day-drinking at the pub... Cheers!
I literally just boarded the plane. It's large, and a bit more opulent than my more recent flights. I have a window seat on the left - next to a rather figgity man who seems to have 'flight phobia'. (My seat is 25A). I can hear British accents chattering all around me, as I did for the first time of the trip while waiting at Gate C19 for the last two hours. I can't believe this day is finally here!
My emotions have gone from stressed due to packing issues, incredibly sad and heart-wrenching to leave Tom, my parents, and friends -- to now pure excitement, anticipation, and fear of what's to happen next.
When I arrive, I expect to meet tons of new faces, see the beautiful city where I will be residing for the next four months, and learn all about the university, the people, culture, food, and overall differences in the way of life in the UK vs. US.
Although I am overcome by sadness every time I think about Tom and how hard it will be to be apart for so long, my goal in Europe remains the same. I want to embrace every moment, learn as much as possible, adapt to a culture completely unlike my own, and grow as a person.
I know the semester will fly by in the blink of an eye and I'll be back on a plane coming home for Christmas-time in Chicago before I know it -- so I plan to experience as much as possible and enjoy every opportunity overseas!