My Wee Trip To Scotland

This past weekend I took a short trip to Edinburgh, Scotland with my friends Raleigh and Kelly. We woke up at 3:30 AM to catch a bus from Roehampton to Baker Street in Central London, and then the easyBus from there to Stanstead London airport. It was quite an early morning, and we made it to the airport in time to see the sunrise. Since it was only a short weekend trip, we didn’t have to bring much at all and I squeezed all my stuff into only a backpack. Plus, easyJet and Ryannair flights only allow really small pieces of luggage to carry on, or else you have to pay like 40 pounds extra. I’m already nervous about having to pack for my 11 day reading week trip and squeezing everything into a tiny duffel bag! Anyway, our flight was a quick and simple hour in the air, and before we knew it the three of us were on the ground in Scotland. We took a short bus ride from the airport into the main part of the city, hopped off, and found an adorable café to eat breakfast because we were starving by then. Kelly ordered the traditional Scottish breakfast, which is almost exactly like an English breakfast, but with the addition of Haggis (I will explain that a little later on). I got a delicious ham and cheese sandwich with a fried on top! With full stomachs and droopy eyes, we found our hostel after a short five minute walk… keep in mind we did ALL of that travelling and managed to get to our hostel on Friday morning at 11:00 AM. Impressive stuff. Because our room wasn’t available at check in, our hope to lie down for an hour was quickly crushed, and we ventured back out into the city.

 

The hostel we stayed at was called Castle Rock Hostel and it was such a cool place. For some reason it seemed kind of hippie-ish to me, with weird paintings on the walls and all sorts of various strange decorations.  There was a range of all different kinds of people staying there, but we finally got put in a room later that day with ten beds, which were occupied with at least four other Americans which was really awesome. The hostel had a big “backpacker” kind of vibe and was just really chill, colorful, and fun. The hostel was also in a perfect location. It was literally RIGHT next to the breathtaking castle and also only a minute’s walk away from two main roads of restaurants and shops. Edinburgh itself isn’t the biggest city ever, although it is the capital of Scotland, but it was the perfect size to explore for just a weekend. I also liked that it wasn’t too big so we had the opportunity to walk everywhere we wanted.

    

So we continued to explore Edinburgh ourselves that morning, walking up to the castle (which is actually above a volcano) and taking pictures with the amazing view at the top. The road leading up to the castle is called “Royal Mile,” which we also walked down and stopped in many little shops with souvenirs and Scottish things. Almost all the shops sold different variations of the same things: postcards, Union Jack printed items, cashmere scarves & gloves, hats, earmuffs, knitted sweaters… that kind of stuff. They also really played up the Scottish phrase “wee,” meaning little/small, and so many stores had the sign “a wee gift from Scotland.” Scotland is also known for its whisky (spelled with no “e”), and the Royal Mile even had its own Scotch & Whisky Experience attraction. There were so many places selling items with the tartan print (or plaid-like design we know). We had a good time browsing through all the stores, especially since going inside gave us a little warmth. The two days we had in Scotland were beautiful and sunny, but REALLY COLD at the same time, especially with the wind blowing. Raleigh and I decided to buy matching hats because we didn’t want our ears to freeze off!

      

   

After walking around a bit, Raleigh, Kelly and I found the meeting point down Royal Mile where they offer a free three hour walking tour of the city. We signed up quickly, got some hot chocolate from Starbucks to warm us up, and joined a group to see some more of the city. Our tour guide’s name was Julia and she was originally from Australia, but has been living in Scotland for about six years. She took us to different places all really close to each other in the central part of Edinburgh, and pointed out places with historic value. She also told some really entertaining stories about brutal consequences for law-breaking back in the old days. We had a 15 minute break in the middle of it, and she suggested to go buy the soft drink “Irn Bru.” It isan orange drinkk that I bought from a convenience store, and is Scotland’s number one soft drink… apparently selling more than Coke and Pepsi combined! I tried it with some pretty high expectations, but honestly it just tasted like cotton candy medicine and I ended up throwing it out after a few sips. I’m still glad I tried it though! My favorite part of the tour was when Julia took us to Greyfriars Kirkyard (a cemetery) and gave us some history about it. She told us a story about a dog named Bobby, who was owned by the graveyard’s night watchman (John Gray). They were inseperable for two years until the owner died, and left the dog all alone. For 14 more years, Bobby returned to sit on his owner’s grave each day until the end of his life, and is now referred to as “the most loyal dog in the world.” His grave is right outside the graveyard and has a statue in front of a restaurant in his name. Greyfriar Bobby’s statue is the number one most photographed statue in Scotland! You can now add me to the list of the tons of people who have taken a picture with the adorable dog statue. It was such a heartbreaking story!

The tour ended at one of the center areas of the city called Princess Street Gardens, where we took a few more pictures, and continued walking on the other side of the city called New Town (our tour mainly consisted of walking around Old Town). The main street in New Town is called Princess Street and was a lot more modernized compared to the streets by the castle in Old Town. There were tons of brand name stores, and we couldn’t help ourselves from taking a look in the massive Primark there (my favorite UK store, with cute and inexpensive clothes)! I ended up buying two scarves because it was getting even COLDER, and they were really cute.

We got dinner at a little pub in New Town called The Black Rose which was really good. Kelly ordered Scotland’s traditional dish: Haggis, Neeps, and Tatties. Yes, the name makes it sound so weird! We learned that haggis is actually chopped up sheep organs mixed together with suet (other animal fat), oatmeal, and seasoning. Honestly, it looked as gross as it sounds actually. However, when in Scotland…… I actually tried it. It didn’t taste horrible, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the spices and stuff. Neeps and tatties are just weird ways of saying turnips and mashed potatoes! After dinner, we made our way back to the hostel right around sundown. It snowed a little bit on our walk, and we got some really pretty pictures of the city with the sun setting.

After a long, cold, exhausting first day of exploring, Raleigh, Kelly and I decided to hang out in the hostel’s main common area (a large room with a huge long table, couches, and a pool table) where a pumpkin carving contest was going on that night. We hung out for a little, and then went into the movie room which plays a movie each night at 9:00, and watched American Psycho. Once the movie was over, I literally passed out in my bed and called it a night.

The next morning, we got up bright and early (8:30 AM!) in hopes of taking a bus tour around other parts of Scotland for the day. However, I made a call to the tour company and we quickly learned that there were no more openings for that day. Somewhat disappointed, we decided to find a place to eat breakfast and figure out an alternative plan for the day. We found a restaurant that served American style pancakes, so obviously I ordered them. That breakfast definitely made the start to the day a lot better! We walked around a bit more, took a short look into the National Portrait Museum, and then spontaneously went to the train station and bought a round trip ticket to the city of Stirling! The train ride to Stirling was only 40 minutes, and we got off ready to explore some more. Like Edinburgh, the city of Stirling was also somewhat small. Our first stop was the Stirling Castle (you really can’t get enough of them in Scotland)! While this castle wasn’t quite as big, it definitely had a better view from the top. You could look out and see the city and surrounding towns for miles! That view was definitely one of the highlights of the trip!

We walked around Stirling for the rest of the afternoon, taking pictures by a pretty cemetery, old buildings, and men in kilts. We also found the main street area with shops and a mini market place, where I sampled some delicious fudge. After a few hours, we were ready to get back to Edinburgh for the evening.

That night I convinced Raleigh and Kelly to do a pub crawl with me… we heard of a cheap one for only 12 pounds and it seemed like a lot of fun. So quickly grabbed dinner at Subway (I know, so American of us), and found the meeting point for the pub crawl. After being in line for five minutes, we found out that that particular night was a Halloween themed pub crawl and cost 24 pounds (that’s almost $40)! Being the broke college kids that we are, we had to back out of the pub crawl that night, and decided to get a nice dessert at a café since we had rushed dinner.

We ended up eating in The Elephant House, which was one of the places that Julia pointed out on our walking tour. The Elephant House is actually where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter! The restaurant/café actually looks over that cemetery I mentioned earlier, and JK Rowling would sit and look out at the beautiful view from the window. She even got some of the character’s names from gravestones (like Tom Riddell)! It was really cool to see the inside of the place and they definitely made sure people knew its significance… it had a big sign outside saying “The Birthplace of Harry Potter.” The three of us each ordered chocolate cake and hot chocolate/tea and had a lovely time sitting in the warmth of the cozy café. After dessert, we went back to the hostel to join in on movie night again, which happened to be Jackass 2, and finally went to sleep after another long day of adventure.

So that’s my trip to Scotland for you. I know it was super long, but like I said in other posts, I want to remember as much as I can about my experience studying abroad! I have decided that I think I like listening to the Scottish accent even more than the English accent, which is actually a pretty big deal considering how much I love the English one (or accents in general). I’d love to travel back to Scotland someday to see more of the beautiful countryside and other popular places like Loch Ness (where the Loch Ness Monster, AKA Nessi, is supposed to have lived)! And if I ever get back there, I’ll make sure it’s during the summer time so I don’t almost freeze to death like this time!

I’m now preparing for my reading week trip to Barcelona, Rome, and Dublin. Can’t wait for some more adventures!

Weekend Part Two: Chelsea, Harrods, and Visiting Lauren!

On to Saturday (10/20)…

The weather was a lot nicer, and Raleigh and I took two short bus rides into the Borough (town) of Chelsea, which I have officially decided is where I will live if I ever buy a future London home. The area was absolutely beautiful. Just from walking on the main street (King’s Road), I could easily tell this place was an affluent community. The architecture and structure of the homes there were to die for, and the shops along the main street were very “posh” (fancy/upscale). There were tons of stores pertaining to interior decorating/design, like wallpaper and nice furniture. Take a look at the pictures and you can see what I’m talking about. Raleigh and I did some research, and I found a place to eat with AMERICAN BREAKFAST FOOD (which I have really been missing), so obviously, we went there. The restaurant was called the “Chelsea Bun” and claimed to be somewhat like an American Diner. Being the breakfast lover that I am, I was thrilled. We devoured our big brunches (consisting of pancakes, sausage, bacon, eggs, and tea) and I was completely satisfied after that meal. The only thing that could have been better was the size of the pancakes (they were tiny!). I need to go back there soon.

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We continued walking around Chelsea, found the River Thames and walked along a pathway with beautiful fall scenery. We also found the Royal Hospital Chelsea, which was a gated estate-like building with a large grassy field. It still serves its original purpose from the late 1600s, functioning as a home for retired soldiers. Next to that was the National Army Museum which we strolled by too.

After getting our fill of Chelsea and gawking over the beautiful homes, Raleigh and I made a short 15 minute walk to Harrods! Let me say this… it was the absolute most magnificent, yet depressing, part of my day (depressing because I have never felt so poor in my life)! Harrods definitely didn’t disappoint, and lived up to its reputation as Europe’s biggest department store. I was absolutely amazed at everything that was in there. We walked in on the ground floor and the ENTIRE floor was only dedicated to selling handbags… every single brand you could ever imagine. I think there must have been at least five stories, with each floor divided into sections, or smaller rooms specializing in an area, such as formal evening gowns (Raleigh’s favorite). I really enjoyed the massive shoe section. They were fabulous. Being around all those high class brand names was really cool, but completely unrealistic to purchase ANYTHING there. We also found our way to the Harrods shop section of the store, which sold tons of branded Harrods merchandise like key chains, bags, magnets, etc. I plan on going back to get a souvenir of some sort, probably a mug! The last section that we ventured into was Christmas World. Yes, it is true… they have already set up and opened an entire section for CHRISTMAS before it is even Halloween! I thought it was a little odd that Christmas World was opened this early in the year, but it got me even more excited for the holidays, and England apparently starts getting into the holiday season a little earlier than America does. Raleigh and I took some more pictures at Christmas World, fondled a few more expensive pairs of shoes, and left before we became clinically depressed for feeling dirt poor. We called it a day after leaving Harrods, and made our way back to campus.

After getting back on Saturday evening, I decided to take a trip to visit my friend Lauren who is also studying abroad this semester in London. She is my friend from back home in New Jersey, and did a good job of convincing me to see her even though I was exhausted from my day in Chelsea. I took two bus rides to get to Ealing (the town where her flat is), and about an hour later I arrived at her place. It was really awesome to be able to see a familiar face from back home. Even though Lauren and I don’t go to the same college (she goes to University of Delaware), it was so nice to be able to catch up and talk about our mutual friends at home. We got a late start to going out that night, and eventually made it to Central London around 12:30 AM after a tube and bus ride there. The group of us decided that paying 10 pounds to get into a club was a little steep, especially at the time of night already, so we went to Chinatown, got some food, and headed back to her place in Ealing. Overall, not the best night of going out, but it definitely was an interesting experience to see Central London at night and to meet her friends! I told her that she now needs to come visit me and my campus!

I slept over Lauren’s flat on Saturday night and made my journey back to Roehampton Sunday afternoon. I figured out a quicker way to get back so it only took me about 40 minutes instead of close to an hour (proof that I really am learning my way around this place)!

So that’s my weekend for you. It was one of the best ones I’ve had here so far and I’m so happy to be exploring and seeing as many parts of London as I can. This coming weekend I’m going to travel to Edinburgh, Scotland with some friends… I am so excited! More updates to come soon!

Weekend Part One: Central London Adventure!

WOW. What an adventure-filled weekend it was. I have realized over the past few days that I really don’t want to waste any more weekends just sitting around campus and hanging out in my flat… that’s NOT why I’m here at Roehampton, only EIGHT miles away from Central London and all it has to offer (yes, I did the research from Google Maps). Before this awesome weekend, it was a pretty normal week with class, basketball and naps. However, Raleigh and I took a night trip into Kingston on Wednesday night (10/17) to get dinner and a movie! I had also planned to stop in SportsDirect (a cheap sports store here, like Modells) to look for some basketball “trainers” (AKA sneakers) and some more workout clothes. Who knew pretty much every store around here closes at 6:30 during the week!? It’s so annoying. Besides the disappointment of the store being closed, the night was really great. We ate at this really popular restaurant called Nando’s, known for its delicious grilled “piri-piri” chicken, where you get to choose your level of hotness, and sides like corn, chips (AKA French fries), beans, coleslaw, etc. It’s really good, but maybe a tad bit overpriced for what you get… which is actually what I have to say about every single place since London is so freaking expensive! Anyway, after dinner we went to see The Perks of Being a Wallflower with Logan Lerman (my new love) and Emma Watson. I read the book over the summer, and thought it was a fantastic book-to-movie adaptation. It was also interesting to hear Emma Watson speak with an American accent while we were in England (she did a good job though)! So that was my fun day during the week…

Now onto my fun-filled weekend!

Friday morning, I woke up “early” (like 10:30 haha) and took a day trip into the city to be touristy and explore some places I haven’t been yet. I went with Raleigh, Sinead, and Eliza… and was really happy to have Sinead lead us around a little since she’s English and knows how to get to most places. You will see from the pictures that the day ended up being really crappy (cold and rainy, shocker), but honestly it was one of my favorite days here so far. Our first stop was in Chinatown, which wasn’t as big as I had expected but still a really cool area with a big Asian feel to it. It was basically a few small streets with one Chinese restaurant next to another, all with ducks and other meat hanging in the window. We ended up eating lunch at a Chinese buffet after doing our research to find the best one for the least amount of money… so college.

After Chinatown, we walked just a few streets over into Soho. I didn’t know much about the Soho area, but quickly learned it is one of London’s main gay areas, and also a big place for nightlife and some sex shops. So during the rainy day it wasn’t as busy as I had hoped, but walking around there was still cool to explore. Soho also is becoming a more upscale area, a fashionable district with nice restaurants/cafes and media offices. We took a quick look around, and decided to head to some more touristy places.

Next was Trafalgar Square. It was only about a five minute walk from the Soho area, and after a few turns and walking a few blocks, we stumbled right into the center of it! Trafalgar Square is probably the prettiest area I’ve seen in Central London so far. As one of London’s most popular open tourist areas, there is a lot to take pictures of. After doing some research (thanks, Wikipedia) this is what I learned about the area: The tall column in the center is called Nelson’s Column, built to commemorate Admiral Horatio Nelson, who died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. There are four HUGE lion statues at its base, there to “guard” it. There are also a few really pretty fountains there that really add to the scene. Apparently, Trafalgar Square is a popular place for public gatherings, such as political demonstrations, sports events/parades, and a great New Year’s Eve celebration (which I will just miss). The other really pretty building in the square is the National Portrait Gallery, which is cool to look at but we didn’t go in. I’m really excited to go back near Christmas time to see the big tree that they place in the center! If you want to learn more about it, here’s where I found some interesting information… read the part about the pigeons if you have time! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trafalgar_Square

After Trafalgar Square, we kept walking towards Charing Cross, down Whitehall Road, and got to see a bunch of historic and important buildings. We stopped to admire some buildings such as Horse Guards Parade (Army Headquarters) paired with The Household Cavalry Museum, and most importantly “Number 10,” on Downing Street, which was heavily guarded. Number 10 is also known as the headquarters of “Her Majesty’s Government”, and the official residence of the Prime Minister, David Cameron! It is one of the most famous addresses in the world and could only be seen through a gate. Nevertheless, it was still cool to be outside and look at the place.

Continuing straight, we walked right into Big Ben and Parliament Square, which I saw already before but obviously is still one of the most beautiful places to visit in Central London. Right next to that was Westminster Abbey, which I haven’t seen, so we took pictures outside of the main part of the church. It cost around 15 pounds (like 25 dollars) to go inside and see it, so we decided that the outside was cool enough to see for the day.

After walking around in the cold and rain, we were officially over being outside. What better than to have an afternoon tea break (and snacks) in Central London. So we hopped on the tube, found an adorable café in Covent Garden, and demolished our afternoon snack. Hands down, this café was my favorite part of the day. I ordered a pot of English Breakfast Tea (which I’m OBSESSED with now), and a chocolate croissant. Amazing. The girls also had some delicious pastries too (fruit tart and biscuits with cream and jam). Eliza’s hot chocolate was to die for.

And that ended our day of adventure in Central London!

London: Public Transportation

So, if you couldn’t tell from the title, this post will be all on my experience using London’s public transportation…

CARS:

While not having a car at college may sound like an inconvenience to friends in America, it is definitely more of a blessing than a curse that I’m not responsible for a car while I’m here. Yes, cars can be convenient at times here, ESPECIALLY when I need to go food shopping, but the bus and tube systems really aren’t too bad. I was nervous about figuring out the routes and stops for busses and trains before coming here, but going with friends and figuring it out in a group is much easier than I thought. But as for driving, the first thing everyone knows about England is that they drive on the opposite side of the road than we do in the US. I still remember that first moment of pure confusion when I realized my bus was in the left lane instead of the right: I had just gotten off the airplane, which had a de-boarding process of passengers taking steps down to the open outdoor ground at Heathrow, and immediately got onto a shuttle bus that took us around to the correct arrival terminal. After a minute of taking in the fact that I had just finally stepped foot on London ground, I realized I was looking out the window at little street of cars going “the wrong way.” I was so caught off guard, and I couldn’t help but smile. I also remember the first time realizing the driver’s seat of the car is on the opposite side than I’m used to. I was outside on Roehampton’s campus on the main street, watching cars going the opposite way. I focused on one car’s passengers, and noticed a guy reclining with his eyes closed in the front left seat of the car (the driver’s side that I’m used to) and gasped quickly, thinking the driver was asleep at the wheel. It was then that I realized that obviously the cars are built where the driver’s seat is the front right. Duh. Nevertheless, it freaked me out for a second there!

A huge majority of the cars here are really small and there are a ton of old fashioned ones. It is extremely rare to see a truck or bigger van/SUV. The taxi cabs here are really cute and all generally have the same look, but are decorated a little differently with advertisements for brands and shows to see. I’ve taken a cab twice since I’ve been here, but only when it was really necessary because they are pretty expensive compared to just figuring out the tubes and busses and paying for those.

Another thing about driving here: DRIVERS ARE CRAZY. They are always in a hurry and really DO NOT stop for pedestrians unless they absolutely have to at walkways. If you jaywalk across the street at the wrong time, don’t expect a driver to slow down. They will beep aggressively and you will have to jump backwards onto the sidewalk (Brits call it the “pavement” here), feeling like an idiot trying and scared half to death from trying to cross the street while cars are zooming by. I learned very quickly to be extremely cautious when crossing the street. A lot walkway spots on the street have writing on the ground saying which way to look for cars, which helps a lot!

Gas prices (here gasonline is called “petrol”) are also insanely expensive (like, even more that what we’re used to in the US), and parking is nearly impossible near the city. Public transportation is where it’s at!

THE TUBE:

When I first got here and we had the Photo Frenzy day at the beginning of the term, the tube seriously scared me. It consists of a bunch of different colored “lines” (example: District Line, Piccadilly Line, Circle Line), and you have to figure out what stop is paired with what line. There are certain tube stops where you can switch lines and then get to your destination, so it involves a bit of thinking and a lot of paying attention when the train stops and announces the name of the stop! Or course, all of these unfamiliar stops and maps made me nervous. However, I can proudly say that I’m really learning the routes and once you know the bearings around London, it’s really not too hard to figure out. I actually enjoy riding the tube more than anything else here! It’s fast, easy, and reliable! If you want to have a look at the map, the closest tube stops to Roehampton are Hammersmith and Putney Bridge! Hint: they are both on the District line.

BUSSES

I take the bus the most out of any type of transportation. Roehampton is surrounded by a few other great small towns that have places to shop, eat, and walk around. Figuring out bus routes is probably one of the more complicated things I have to do here, but now I am extremely familiar with them and know what number bus will take me where (and what direction… that can get confusing). For example, if I want to go into Hammersmith and shop at Primark there, I take the 72! Some busses near Roehampton (like the 265) are more local and are only one story. But there are tons of different busses (with a higher rider population) that are DOUBLE DECKERS. I was so excited to ride my first English red double decker bus… the first chance I had, I sprinted up the stairs and sat in the first row. It’s pretty cool being on the second floor and looking out onto the road, but now being up there isn’t anything too special. It’s a place we have to go if the bottom part is filled and that’s about it! Haha.

As a frequent traveler on the public transportation here, I invested in an Oyster Card. This is basically a card that you have to tap whenever you get on a bus or go on the tube. There is a small yellow sensor pad that you touch the card to and it deducts money from the Oyster card. Each bus ride is 1.30 pounds… so you can imagine that I am constantly topping up my Oyster (topping up = adding more money)!

That’s my spiel on London’s public transportation. I hope I didn’t bore anyone to death. I like to write all this stuff down, not only for some blog followers to read, but for my own personal reasons so I can one day look back and remember everything London has to offer… even the details on how I got around!

Bye for now!

Update!

It is currently Sunday afternoon, and I sit here writing this post as I lounge in my pajamas, hair in a huge messy bun, eating my yogurt and granola breakfast while leisurely sipping on my hot English breakfast tea (so delicious). Life is pretty good when you get to sleep in!

It’s been a little while week since I last posted about my whereabouts (sorry) so I’ll just give some basic updates as to what I’ve been up to…

The past two weeks did not consist of any super special adventures or explorations, but I have been doing a few fun things! I go to class three days a week, for about three hours at a time, so you can just imagine all the free time I have to do whatever I want! On the two days I have class in the morning, I usually just come back after and take a nice long nap (a necessity for every college student). I actually can’t believe how much I really do sleep here. I do admit that I like to go to sleep pretty late (sorry mom, I know you’re not a fan of that), but the fact that I can sleep until almost one in the afternoon is pretty ridiculous! However, don’t think that I spend all my time here sleeping and going to class… I’ve been doing a few other things with my life too!

I am officially a member of the Roehampton Women’s Basketball team now, and we practice two nights a week (Mondays and Fridays), and have games on most Wednesdays. If you have read my previous posts on the trials and taster session, I was a little discouraged when it first began. However, I’m really enjoying playing now that the final team has been made and we have a coach (Kenny) who comes to lead practices with drills and actual structure. While I am one of the better ones, there are a few girls who actually know how to play and that was a huge relief. The girls on the team are all very welcoming and friendly. Most of them are from England, but we do also have a girl named Aina from Barcelona, Spain, and a girl named Stella from Greece. I’m the only American but it’s cool to be playing with girls from other countries! Aina and I are only here for the term, and the girls constantly complain about us leaving in December and beg to us to stay longer (it’s nice to be wanted)! Not only have I been playing twice a week with the girls, but Coach Kenny has also allowed me and two or three other girls to practice with the men’s team after ours is over on Monday nights. They also practice on Tuesdays (when the girls have off), so I went to that practice last week as well. The men’s team is pretty good and has a lot of really athletic guys, so playing with them is a big challenge for me. But I am so thrilled to be getting back into shape, and working on improving my skills with guys since they are pretty intense. The guys practice is a lot harder than the girls; Kenny runs them a lot more, and I’m dead tired after it’s over… but nothing is better than that feeling of having a great workout. I was really sore the days after those practices, but it was definitely worth it! The other thing that is great about their practices is that they really do accept the few girls who want to train with them. A lot of them have confidence in me to keep up with them and play… which I love! We also had a social about a week and a half ago where some of the girls and guys from the team went bowling. We all played two games and divided up teams so the girls and guys got to know each other. The night was really fun because I got to know some of the players pretty well and it was good bonding time for the teams. I hope we get to do something like that again soon!

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The men’s and women’s teams also had our first “friendly” games (AKA scrimmages) this past Wednesday against another local school called Kingston. We didn’t have too much practice time before this game came up, so we couldn’t really run any plays and had to improvise a bit. Kingston was a really competitive team, and got a big lead in the beginning of the game. I was a little frustrated with how our team started out, but the second half was really competitive and we made an awesome comeback. My team ended up losing by about 10-15 points in the end, but I was definitely pleased to see an improvement by everyone as the game went on! The guys played after our game was over, and it was so much fun to watch. Even though it was only considered a “friendly” (or scrimmage), there was a decent turn out for spectators who came to watch, and the cheering got really intense between fans. The game went into overtime and the guys ended up losing by one, unfortunately. Honestly, I think both of our teams could beat Kingston, and I’m really excited to get to play them again in the regular season!

Besides basketball, the other part of my social life consists mainly of hanging out in Newman with my fourth floor friends. Some of us watch movies together and make food and just hang out in general. My own flat is really quiet and the girls really like to keep to themselves, so I just have to deal with where I’ve been placed and venture out of this building to actually have some human interaction. However, the other day Mayte (my flatmate from Spain) posted a proposal for a flat dinner on the fridge and everyone seemed interested so we may do that sometime in the next week or so. I’ll definitely post on how that turns out. When I’m here in my flat, I like to chill out and keep in touch with friends… which I’m doing a pretty good job with! I love the people who really make an effort to see how I’m doing, and I really do miss things about Wilmington (such as the warmth, beach, dining hall, and PEOPLE there). When I’m not Skyping or Facebook chatting anyone, I’ve been watching the show New Girl online. I started watching from season one about a week ago, and I’m already caught up to the most recent episode as of last night. That show is SO good. I love/want to be Zooey Deschanel! Now to find yet another show to start watching… any suggestions?

This past Friday night (10/12) was another Bop dance with a “commando” theme, which basically meant camouflage/army-like style… no, it did not mean wear no underwear (haha)! Having missed the Bop before that one, I was pretty excited to go out and have a good time. Even though I do not own any army-like clothes, I managed to try and somewhat fit the theme with a little face paint, a green shirt/jacket (thanks Eliza), and combat boots. Not too shabby for a last minute outfit. The night ended up being really fun as we danced to tons of American music and mingled at the bar and on the deck with friends. The night ended with devouring a “Bop burger,” which is what we call the burgers that we can buy for three pounds from a little burger booth right outside of the Student Union where Bop is held. It’s a pretty smart idea if you ask me. I was starving by 2 AM!Image

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Yesterday (10/13), Raleigh, Eliza and I woke up and took a 20 minute walk to Barnes, a local town right down the road from Roehampton. Barnes isn’t too big, but it was the most adorable little town that I’ve seen here so far. On Saturdays from 11-2, there is a little farmer’s market set up right next to a beautiful lake with ducks and swans. We took a walk around the market and looked at all the delicious food the vendors were selling. There were stations for fresh fruits and vegetables, homemade bread, cheese and dips, cookies, cupcakes, freshly squeezed fruit juice… and much more. Obviously, having the enormous sweet tooth that I do, I bought an “American style” chocolate chip cookie from a dessert booth. It was delicious. Raleigh bought a baguette and some pesto and hummus dips to snack on later, and Eliza tried the fresh apple juice from another vendor. To describe the farmer’s market it one word: yum. We continued to walk around a bit outside of the farmer’s market, stood by the pretty lake, and then explored the little town where we came across a few really cute boutiques and thrift shops to browse through. Overall, the afternoon was really nice, especially since the sun was out and shining, and I definitely plan on going back another Saturday to buy more delicious baked goods from the one of the booths!

So that’s my update for now… I think I’ll actually try to be productive with my day today because my classes are starting to pile on the homework and I need to get my brain juices flowing. Maybe it would help if I actually changed out my sweatpants that I slept in. With that being said… it’s time to go! More to come soon.

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London: Weather & Clothes/Fashion

Weather:

Since I’ve been here so far, I’ve definitely experienced the “good” weather London has to offer (and by good I mean actual sunshine in the sky on a mild day, yet still around 65 degrees… not my ACTUAL definition of good, but it’s good enough for here). However, the bad weather has probably been outweighing the good recently. The first week I was here, and for all of Freshers week, the weather was actually pretty good… meaning no rain the whole time (but still pretty chilly)! Once Freshers week ended, it’s been pretty rainy and cloudy most days. The rain here is a lot different than the kind I’ve been used to in Wilmington the past two years. In Wilmington, we are all prepared to expect a torrential downpour lasting anywhere from 10 minutes to 2 hours, and then the sky clears up and the sun comes out like nothing happened… it’s so weird, but I love it. Here in London, I cannot say that the rain only lasts an hour. When it starts raining, it doesn’t stop for hours. But it isn’t that crazy downpour that Wilmington is known for, the rain is pretty calm and steady here. Each week the temperature seems to drop a few degrees colder so I am gradually adding layers to my outfits and definitely rocking my Ugg boots already (I know some people from Wilmington will be jealous that I get to wear fall clothes now, but trust me I’d rather be wearing shorts and tank tops)! Well I guess that brings me to my next little category…

Clothes/Fashion:

The general fashion here is quite different than what I’m used to back at UNCW, and in America in general. It seems that everyone dresses up ALL the time… to class, to hang out, to go out, to walk around… people are always (generally) looking really nice. For girls, boots and scarves are really popular. Those are the two essentials for outfits apparently. Girls also really like oversized sweaters and LEGGINGS. Lots of leggings (for a bit more of a casual look). I bought another pair already because I find that I’ve been wearing them a lot too! When it comes to jeans, they are ALWAYS skinny, and a lot are printed with a pattern or some cool color. While a lot of these items sound really typical for American fall clothes too, I’d still say the fashion is a little different than how we would wear things.

One really obscure item that I’ve seen a lot of girls wearing that I just cannot ever bring myself to wear is something I like to call “galaxy leggings.” I don’t actually know what they’re called, so that’s the best I could come up with. They are sold in plenty of stores and I see girls wearing them all the time. Basically, they are just printed leggings with different galaxy designs (like outer space). They usually have a black base but also have tons of other colors on them with like stars and planets and stuff. It’s so strange to me! But I guess these leggings are a really popular trend that I will probably never try…

Being in London makes me want to dress nicer all the time. As much as I want to roll out of bed and go to class in a sweatshirt and leggings, I know I’ll look like a scrub and then reluctantly put on a pair of jeans and a nice top. I also am tempted to try wearing stockings with more things, like skirts and dresses. As much as I hated stockings before, the weather here is getting colder so if I wear something with my legs showing, I may freeze to death eventually.  And I have to admit, I think stockings under something a bit more casual really dresses up the outfit a bit… we’ll see if I can rock it! To go out, there is a wide variety of things that girls wear. A lot wear clothes similar to our (American) going out clothes, but I feel like everything here is a bit more shiny and sparkled! Also, apparently high heels are essential if you want to get into the really nice bars/clubs in Central London. As much as I hate wearing heels because they hurt my feel, I guess I will have to suck it up when I eventually go out in the city (and I will make sure to report back on that)!

The main difference in the girls dress here is that they wear TONS of makeup. So many girls have caked-on foundation, fake stick-on eyelashes, and huge gashes of eyeliner (top and bottom) applied to their faces. And that is just for class… imagine the next step up when they go out at night! Something that I have tried once is red lipstick for a night out. I can admit that I did like the vibrant color it added to my face, so I’m actually looking into buying some kind of red lipstick for myself to take home! I’ve also noticed a lot of girls also like to dye their hair really blonde or really dark… and its always done looking nice, straight, and down. Just some observations.

There is even more of a difference in style for the guys here as compared to their style in the US. While skinny-ish jeans are becoming more popular for guys in America, the guys here wear those all the time. They are definitely not as jock-ish as the ones I’m used to, so they hardly ever wear sweatpants and a t-shirt to class like the style I’m used to back home. Also, colored pants are a little more popular here than at home. So it’s really common for a guy to be wearing jeans or pants with a nice button up or something. I do have to say I like that guys look nicer here, but sometimes it takes away from their masculinity. I don’t know, I haven’t decided which I prefer more!

SO IN CONCLUSION… I am pretty content with all the clothes I brought from home. I wear my combat boots a lot, and try to add on a scarf to my outfit when needed. However, I’m still looking for a knitted, chunky scarf to keep me a bit warmer when it gets freezing out! And as for the rain, we definitely try to cope with it the best we can. And there ARE the occasional nice days with sunshine which I make sure to embrace when I get the chance. And to look on the bright side… here’s 35 reasons rain is better than sunshine: (TAKE A LOOK!)

http://now-here-this.timeout.com/2012/07/16/35-reasons-rain-is-better-than-sunshine/

(favorites: #1, 25, and 35… obviously.)

That’s all for now. More London observations to come!

Schoooooool

So it’s been a good three weeks since I’ve been living in London and I have so much to say about how different the American daily life is than the English daily life. I never realized how much different their terminology for certain words and phrases were. I knew things would be different, but I’ve compiled a list of things I’ve noticed and just general observations about life here in London. I have a lot to say about some things, so I’m just going to start off with the schooling differences in this post, and cover other areas another time!

 

School:

The equivalent of America’s “college” here in the UK is called “Uni.” If someone refers to college here, they are actually talking about their high school(ish) experience called Sixth Form. The levels here are:

Nursery- like our pre-school

Primary school- like our elementary school, but ages 5-11 (so, up to our 6th grade)

Secondary school- a mix of our middle school/high school, roughly grades 7-10

Sixth Form- this is like high school, but only the equivalent of our grades 11 and 12. But the weird thing… they call this college! So confusing.

I also now know that “uni” only lasts three years here, and English schooling obviously never uses the terms freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior. Once in uni, they call first year students “freshers,” as I have mentioned before, or just “first years.” The next two levels are just called “second years” and then “third years”… the terminology is definitely not as fun as America’s. I think there’s more meaning and pride when you get to finally call yourself a “senior” rather than a “third year.” But that’s just me.

When it comes to classes here, the class size and lectures are actually very comparable to the ones I’ve experienced in the USA (some smaller, some larger lecture sized), with typically the same teaching methods by professors using PowerPoints, encouraging class discussions, leading a general lecture. However, there are a few big differences such as class length and assessments. Each of my classes only run once a week, but they last three or four hours each. Luckily, all my teachers are nice enough to let us have a 15-30 minute break in the middle, so I end up going back to my flat and getting a snack to last me through the rest. I’m really lucky because my classes are held in the two buildings literally RIGHT next to my flat building, so it’s only a 2-3 minute walk… score! As for grading, the teachers only have two or three assignments scheduled for the entire term. For example, my media class is only graded on an essay plan (1200 words, 30% of my grade), and the actual essay at the end of the term (2500 words, 70% of my grade)… and that’s it! Attendance doesn’t really factor into my grade (to the best of my knowledge) but all my teachers make us pass around a sign in sheet each class so maybe there is a penalty if you miss. However, it’s not really explained in the syllabus (or “module booklet” as they call it).

Also, when it comes to buying books, most classes use so much more online material for students to access and print if they want. Only some classes require one larger textbook to purchase so that’s good that I don’t really have to spend much money on books like we do in America!

Because class only meets once a week here (for the most part, there are some exceptions), it is expected of uni students to put in more individual study time outside of class to review and do the readings. I found that the homework assigned is definitely heavier than they assign at UNCW, but that’s also because we cover more in one class period because it’s longer. I haven’t decided yet if I like this English way of only having class once a week (with more homework), or if I prefer the typical American way of meeting twice or three times with shorter classes and less homework. I’ll figure that out pretty soon I guess. After all, it’s only the second full week of school!

 

A Little About Roehampton:

I haven’t really fully gone into detail about Roehampton yet, so I think it’s fitting to add a little information about it on this post. Roehampton University is London’s only campus university, and was also voted one of the most beautiful campuses in England, which is completely understandable when you come and actually see it! My pictures don’t do it justice, but there is a beautiful old building towards the middle of campus called Grove House, which dates back to 1792! It is used more as an administrative building now, but I walk by it all the time to get to the Student Union and also get a pretty view of it on the way to the gym. Campus also has a few really pretty ponds with ducks always hanging out there. Squirrels are EVERYWHERE and scare the crap out of me sometimes when they dart out across the walking pathways. Raleigh and I have also spotted a fox before! Needless to say, the campus doesn’t lack wildlife because the wooded areas and other vegetation host a lot of different animals.

Campus also has a decent amount of places to eat on campus, including Starbucks, Costa (another popular chain coffee shop), Trattoria (a pizzeria), Peri Peri (chicken place?) and a few other spots. Howveer, students here do not have meal plans so everything gets paid for out of pocket. I honestly have barely eaten at these places because I buy a lot of food from Asda and make easy meals in my apartment. It’s probably healthier that way… and cheaper too! (I really do miss my meal plan though… and all-you-can-eat dining halls!)

The Student Union is one of my favorite parts about this campus. It’s a gathering place for everyone during the day, and especially at night. There are couches, a pool table, TVs, and a mini stage for some live entertainment every once in a while. Most importantly, it’s where the bar is (haha)! I think I need to go there more often on nights I find myself sitting in my room with not much to do (kind of like this one acutally). We’ll see!

Other campus facts:

About 8,000 students go here, and the girl to guy ratio is something like 75% to 25% (not in my favor, unfortunately). Campus is 54 acres! It is divided into four “colleges” which are basically sections of campus. I live on the Digby Stuart college and we are the lions, sporting the colors blue and yellow. It’s funny to have intercampus rivalry instead of other rivals outside of this uni. However, two of my classes are on the Frobel college part of campus, which is literally right behind my building so I don’t really understand why they even divided it. The other two colleges are called Whitelands and Southlands. Everyone who lives on the Digby Stuart part of campus likes to occasionally sing a little fight song which basically repeats “I’m Digby til I die!” The beginning of Freshers week had a lot of that singing spirit. Roehampton is really well known for its education and dance programs too.

Here’s a great link to some awesome images of campus, if you’re interested and want to see a little more:

http://www.roehampton.ac.uk/Find-US/360-panoramic-gallery/

 

So that’s a little bit about how school is different here. More posts to come about other daily observations!

 

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TRAVEL PLANS!

So it’s official. I’m going to be a world traveler during these next few months! I have spent the past two days gathering information, planning, and booking flights, hostels, and busses with friends and finally have the finalized itineraries! We planned two shorter weekend trips, but I’m most excited about our “reading week” (AKA a whole week off of school) where I made tons of travel plans. Check out where I’m going…

Weekend Trip to Edinburgh, Scotland: Oct. 26-28, Hostel: Castle Rock (with Raleigh)

READING WEEK TRIP (get ready for this…)

BARCELONA, SPAIN: Nov. 1-4, Hostel: Mediterranean Youth Hostel (with UNCW friends Kelly and Megan)

ROME, ITALY: Nov. 4-7, Hostel: Legends Hostel (with Kelly and Megan)

DUBLIN, IRELAND: Nov. 7-11, Hostel: Ashfield House (meeting Raleigh, Liza, and probably Chelsea)

*note: I’m so close to convincing Sinead to do this entire trip with me too!

Weekend Trip to Paris, France: Nov. 30-Dec.2, Hostel: Young and Happy Hostel (with Raleigh)

So that’s it! Seeing it all written down like that doesn’t look THAT impressive, but believe me when I say researching and booking those flights and hostels took HOURS to do! My hope is that some other friends join the Edinburgh and Paris trips too. I’m thinking Chelsea will probably do at least one of them, and Sinead is seriously considering doing the same reading week trips as me, plus Edinburgh! I also can’t wait to see what Paris looks like in December when it’s close to Christmas time, beautiful I bet.  I cannot tell you how excited and actually relieved I feel after doing all that. Raleigh was with me when I booked that first flight to Paris and when I actually clicked the confirm button for the flight I kind of freaked out for a second with excitement and nerves. I can’t believe how I’m just making all these plans myself. I feel so grown up. After booking the first trip… I was totally on a roll. We looked into getting the cheapest, but best deals on hostels and mapped their proximity to the main attractions at our city destinations. If you’re curious about these places, definitely Google what the hostels look like (and obviously I will post pictures once I’m actually there). Staying in those places will definitely be an experience, but hey, I’m a young college kid. Why not!

Besides these excursions involving flights, I’m now going to start planning a few day trips that are a little closer in England, like trips to Bath, Bristol, Stonehenge, Kew (Botanic Gardens), and more local London places like Camden, Westminster, Abbey Road. Plus Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, and definitely go see a show or two in the theater district here. I still have SO much to go see! All this travel planning has really got me thinking. I can’t wait to see what these next few months have in store for me! That’s all for now 🙂

Kingston, Superhero Bop & Notting Hill

Hello all! Let me begin this post with Friday’s (9/28) trip to Kingston, a local town near Roehampton with lots of great shopping and food only a 15 minute bus ride away! Raleigh, Liza, and I first got on a bus going in the complete opposite direction (we were in a rush and jumped on without thinking), but we quickly figured out how to hop busses and find a stop that was going to Kingston so it wasn’t the end of the world. I’m actually starting to figure out my way around so it’s a good feeling to somewhat know how to get places using public transportation. Kingston was such a great area for walking around to shop and eat. However, the weather turned crappy on us really quickly (as in rainy and cold) right when we got off the bus there. We still made the most of our time by stopping in a pub to eat, browsing bakeries (so tempting, but I didn’t get anything), and looking in a few of the stores. I definitely would love to go back there soon on a nicer day because there is a lot more exploring (and window shopping) to be done! The weather got a little better towards the late afternoon and I got to see an awesome rainbow over Kingston which was really cool. We also saw this cool art structure that looked like a bunch of those red English phone booths toppled over like dominoes. Obviously, I had to get a touristy picture!

On to Friday night’s bop dance, which was superhero themed. After stressing pretty much all week about not having a costume to wear or any good clothes to put together for an outfit, I embraced the opportunity I had at Kingston and went into Primark with Raleigh to hunt for something (anything) superhero related. There are pictures of my outfit and what my friends wore here so you can check it out. I was basically my own version of a general comic book superhero, and really proud about those boxers I found last minute! Bop was a pretty fun night, the DJ was okay but I loved getting ready and hanging out with the Newman crew in our silly outfits. We are like one little family and I love that they have adopted me into their flat (I’m there ALL the time).

Liza (comic book superhero?), Chelsea (Robin Hood), Raleigh (Captain America), Me (comic book superhero?), Kelly (Catwoman), Sinead (Mustache Man)

Saturday (9/29) Raleigh, Kelly, and I planned a day trip to Notting Hill and Portobello Road! I still have yet to see the movie (with Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts), but I plan on watching it soon because Raleigh brought it with her from home and now I can appreciate it more! We went to the bookstore where some of the movie was filmed and took some more touristy pictures there (of course). But besides that, walking down Portobello Road was really a unique experience. I’ve been to my fair share of outdoor busy marketplaces, but this place was really interesting. Notting Hill has the reputation for being an affluent, fashionable area, and its architecture in the area really reflects that. Portobello Road runs right through Notting Hill from the north end to south end, and is known for its weekend market, specializing in a large section of antiques and another of fresh fruits and veggies. We walked around for a while and ate at another pub where I finally ordered my own fish and chips dish (which was really good)! Overall, our day at the market was really awesome and I definitely plan on going back another weekend to maybe buy some cool gifts for people or just look around some more since we didn’t even get to see it all. Next time I go, I also plan to hold out on eating at a restaurant there and buy food from the tons of vendors on the street. There were SOOO many options for food, such as kebabs, falafel, burgers, chicken, stir-fry, crepes, and so much more. Now I’m hungry all over again, great.  Overall, great day. The Notting Hill tube station was really pretty too. I learned even more about travelling on the tubes because this little day trip required taking a bus AND the tube to get there… I’m definitely more comfortable taking public transportation and we didn’t get lost at all this time!