London Nostalgia: 1 Year Anniversary

As I’m writing this blog post, I’m sitting on campus outside on this beautiful day, sipping on my Dunkin Donuts caramel iced coffee and eating a breakfast sandwich. Life really isn’t bad. However, I can’t shake the nostalgic feeling I have to head back to London. While sitting in the sunshine with a Dunkin treat is probably one of my favorite things to do, I’d happily sacrifice all of it for a plane ticket back across the pond.

Today marks exactly one year since I landed at the London Heathrow airport to begin the most exciting three month journey of my life. As many of you know, this blog used to be dedicated to my study abroad experience and sharing my travel stories with family and friends. I’ve found myself occasionally clicking back and reminiscing on all the cool things I did last fall. I’ve recently had the strongest urge to just escape from my insanely busy life, ditch my commitments, and go travel the world. Today is definitely one of those days. I never really made a reflection post about how my study abroad experience has changed my life, so I’m using this as a mini-reflection piece.

While I had my ideas about what London would be like, I never expected to experience all the amazing things I ended up doing overseas. I joined the Roehampton basketball team, made a few best friends, travelled to Scotland, Ireland, Spain, France and Italy (twice), and learned a whole lot of stuff about myself.

I know that if I went back to Roehampton today, things wouldn’t be the same. Some of my basketball friends have graduated, my flatmates would be gone, and the Newman 4 crew won’t be living in Newman anymore. Can someone get me a time machine please?

My semester abroad really introduced me to the idea of true independence. While I’m used to being relatively far away from home, three months in another country takes being “away from home” to another level. All I have to say is thank goodness for Skype. The experience of travelling on my own has also helped me grow. I can now take on foreign cities/places with determination and confidence. My sense of direction is so much stronger, and my “street smarts,” as my dad would call it, has improved too. I feel more cultured and drawn to foreign people since returning back to America. Travelling and seeing all the things I did is truly the opportunity of a lifetime (not to sound cliché).

I can’t wait until the day that I visit London again. I need a job that travels. A lot. Since all of this reminiscing is starting to make me sad, and because I have to get to class, this post will now come to an end. Maybe I’ll Skype some of the Newman 4 crew soon to put me in a better mood!

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Roehampton Basketball

I’m dedicating this post to the amazing friends I’ve made since I joined the Roehampton Women’s Basketball team! I know you guys are fans of this blog… so here’s your shout out (ANGELIKA cough cough).

Thinking back to my first few practices with the team, I can easily say that we have made so much progress throughout the season. There are a few moments that I will always remember about playing Roehampton basketball, the first being our first win of the season. It was Roehampton’s first win in a LONG time (according to some of the returning players) and we played St. George’s, a school near Tooting in southwest London, winning 95-26. Obviously, the other team didn’t have much talent at all, but I was still really proud of our girls for doing their best and playing seriously the whole time. Coach Kenny pushed us to win by as much as we could because there aren’t too many opportunities like that in the league we play in, and in the past apparently other teams have won games by an even bigger margin (ouch). While I felt a bit uncomfortable taking that much of a lead, we did the best we could on practicing aspects of the game we needed to work on (spreading the court, cutting on offense, help defense) and didn’t think too much about the score. The win was very refreshing, especially for the girls who have been playing for a few years, and we rode the bus home with good spirits.

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The other memorable moment was the very last game of the semester… when I got to experience something in a basketball game that I’ve never done before. I believe we were playing Surrey University and we had the lead the entire game (up by maybe 12 to 15 points at parts). However, the away team started making a comeback in the last quarter and made it a tight game. With about 10 seconds left, the other team made a cross-court pass to a girl going long for a layup, putting them up by 2 points. As the clock ticked down, we inbounded the ball and a few passes were made until I ended up with the ball in my hands at half court as everyone started counting “3… 2… 1” I dribbled a few times and threw the ball up towards the basket right over half court while two defenders ran at me. The ball sunk right into the hoop and the girls knocked me down on the floor. That was the last I saw for about 3 minutes as my entire team, and the boys team who were watching, piled on top of me screaming and shaking me. I was curled up in a ball on the court with my eyes closed and all these people freaking out about the shot. After a few minutes, the referees got everyone off the court because I had to shoot a foul shot (which I completely forgot about), and ended up missing because I was so shaken up (literally). I can easily say that was one of the highlights of my entire basketball career and my experience abroad. We won by a point. I felt like crying from excitement right after that. It was an incredible feeling. If I took that shot another thirty times, I don’t know if I’d make even one of them again. But the fact that the ball went in that time was just completely awesome. I really felt like a superstar for a second there.

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Not only was my involvement in basketball an excellent way to work out for me, but I never realized how much of a social aspect it has in my life. I’ve been playing basketball since maybe second grade (around 7 years old) and over the years I have gained lifetime friends from the sport. I am beyond thankful to my parents for getting me involved in a sport that I could play for many years in my life, and it is truly something I enjoy doing. I know that I made the decision to not play basketball in a possible D3 college, which I definitely do not regret, but I still have my club basketball team back at UNCW, and my teammates at Roehampton for those three months. So thank you dad (he will love this shout out). You’ve pushed me throughout the years to be the best player that I could be, and you were and always will be my number one fan (and number one critic), but I love you for it.

Basketball at Roehampton has helped me gain so many more friends (from both the girls and guys teams) and it was a way to get my mind off of school and other worries and just go play on the court. I loved that I could look forward to practices throughout the week, and games on Wednesday afternoons. I could work on improving more of the fundamentals during the girls’ practices, and loved running and keeping in shape when playing with the guys (who treat me like one of them, and don’t go easy on me when I’m playing)! I had told some of the girls that we needed to have another social or get-together for some team bonding… I even suggested a “psych party” like my team did in high school where everyone brings something to contribute to a team dinner (like an appetizer, drinks, or desserts) the night before a big game. So at the very end of the season, we had a goodbye get together for me and Aina (another international student from Catalonia). Both the girls and guys teams went roller-skating at a campus social and after that we went back to the girls’ flat for pizza and games. I am so grateful for all the teammates who came to our going away party and appreciate the gifts you guys got me and Aina. I appreciate you guys more than you know. You all helped me grow not only as a basketball player, but as a person. I learned so much from you and I am so thankful to have met each and every one of you Roehampton basketball players. We had our ups and downs during the season, but I wouldn’t change anything! I’ll really miss you all. Please keep me updated on the next term and I wish you all the best of luck! Cheers!

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Winter Wonderland, Camden Market, & Digby Xmas Dinner

So time is ticking. I have 13 more days here in London. WHAT. As I write this, I have a billion things that I need to get done: schoolwork, cleaning, visiting London attractions, saying bye (gosh I don’t want to think about it all)! I haven’t mentioned it in my blog yet, but my mom is coming to visit me here and fly back home to America with me. I am so so soooo glad to have her here at the end of the semester so I won’t be as stressed packing up everything and shoving it into my suitcases (luckily, she will bring a large suitcase that I can fit even more stuff into, woohoo)! My mom gets here early on Dec. 13 (A WEEK FROM TODAY, AH) and we leave for Venice Dec. 14-16, then back to the USA on Dec. 19. This is insane.

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

So anyway, in my attempts to do everything I want to do in/around London, I have been taking little day trips to places recently. A little less than two weeks ago (11/23), Raleigh, Sinead and I went to Hyde Park for the opening night of Winter Wonderland. I expected it to be like Rockefeller Center’s Christmas decorations, because we heard there is a big ice rink and winter decorations, but it was a lot bigger than I had expected! It was more like a winter/Christmas theme park/carnival! There were tons of rides that you could buy tickets for, mainly carnival rides like fun houses, rollercoasters, bumper cars, dropping rides, spinning rides, swinging rides… everything! Before reaching all the rides, there was a long path of vendors/booths that sold Christmas themed things, like ornaments, decorations, lights, candles, and much more. They also advertised “mulled wine” which is very popular around the holidays. We took a look at a lot of the fun Christmas items and then ventured into the ride area. Mixed in with the rides were TONS of food vendors everywhere, selling ALL types of carnival foods you can imagine. The one thing I noticed that England doesn’t have (I had Sinead confirm): funnel cake! I thought that they must have that token carnival snack, but apparently people in England don’t know what funnel cake is. So sad. Anyway, we ate our way through Winter Wonderland, first getting Galaxy hot chocolate. I then proceeded to get a crepe with banana and nutella. We then ran into a large part of the park that was German themed (I don’t really know why, but there were tons of booths selling sausages and beer). The bratwurst looked too tempting to pass up, so I ended up getting one of those too. Yeah, it was a bad eating night… but so yummy! Sinead, Raleigh, and I wanted to buy tickets for the biggest fun house we could find, but right when we got there they were closing the rides. Oh well! We spent another 20 minutes watching people pay money to try and win some carnival games… particularly the impossible basketball one with insanely bouncy balls, hard rims, and a stern backboard. Not too many people won prizes, but it was fun cheering people on.

So that wraps up my night in Winter Wonderland. I may bring my mom back to check it out! Here’s the website for it if you want to check it out a little more: http://www.hydeparkwinterwonderland.com/

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Camden Market

Raleigh and I ventured off campus the other day (12/4) because we still have places we want to explore and I am officially done with classes as of TODAY (Yay more free time.) I have friends who have been to Camden Town before, which is just a little north of Central London, and they said it’s definitely a place to check out. The Camden Markets is the fourth most popular visitor attraction in London, and is divided into a few different sections (Lock Market, Stables Market, Lock Village). It is also known to have an alternative/punk vibe to it. There were lots of tattoo parlors and piercing places… it was definitely the most edgy place I’ve seen here! The main street has plenty of shops that sell ALL types of souvenirs possible with a London theme… mugs, magnets, key chains, postcards, shot glasses, posters, etc. I ended up buying a bunch of things to bring back for friends, and a few things for myself too! There was a section that had so many different food vendors of all kinds: kebab, Chinese, Mediterranean, American, and more. Raleigh and I stopped for lunch at a place called Woody’s Grill and had kebab, which is basically meat carved off a rotating cylinder of chicken or lamb and put in a pita wrap with lettuce, sauces, and some other toppings if you so desire. It was really good, and something Raleigh had been craving for a while so I’m glad we went. Other parts of Camden Markets sold lots of clothing, particularly tank tops with cute designs on them, and some other typical touristy t-shirts too. There was so much to look at in each section of the market… I could have been looking at things there all day!

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We had our fill of the markets once we decided we spent almost all our money for the day, and then took the tube into Covent Garden (closer to central London) to get afternoon hot chocolate and a snack. After walking around in the cold, the warm café was just what we needed. I hadn’t been to Covent Garden in a little while, and once we got there it was so pretty to see all the Christmas lights they put up. London does a fantastic job of decorating for the holidays. They are super obsessed with lights, pretty trees, and other winter décor for the streets! I love it!

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Digby Stuart Christmas Dinner

We got back to campus that evening, and I had an hour of downtime until getting ready for the Digby Stuart Christmas Dinner. All students a part of the Digby campus were invited to a nice dinner hosted by the university, and for ten pounds we got a three course meal and some wine. It got crowded really fast, so I sat with Raleigh and my flatmate Sami who happened to be there too, but got split up from Liza and Sinead. The food was a lot like what they gave us for the free thanksgiving dinner for American students. We had parsnip soup and break as an appetizer, and the main course was turkey, stuffing, gravy, brussel sprouts, potatoes, parsnips, and “pigs in a blanket,” which were actually sausages wrapped in bacon (delicious). For dessert they gave us a weird “pudding” which wasn’t really pudding but a cake with a strange consistency and covered in white sauce. I didn’t like it… and it takes a lot for me to not eat the dessert! They played some Christmas music throughout the dinner and had a singing group come in and sing a few carols as well. Overall the night was okay, but I can’t complain about the unlimited wine! I also really liked that we got to dress up for the event too!

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More to come soon about some last minute adventures before I leave to go home!

My Belated Thanksgiving Feast

Yesterday (11/25) I had the pleasure of hosting a belated Thanksgiving feast with some friends at my flat. I honestly was one of my favorite, most memorable nights here yet. Raleigh and I decided that we wanted to show some Brits (and an Australian, Eliza) how a real American Thanksgiving is done. Plus we just wanted some more Thanksgiving food too! So on Friday (11/23), Raleigh and I ventured to Asda and bought the makings of (almost) a FULL Thanksgiving feast. It was bit harder to find what we needed in an English grocery store, but we managed to get some alright version (or weird brand) of what we needed.

 

We planned to have people over here on Sunday night for dinner and spent almost the entire afternoon preparing (starting at 3 PM). I can’t take much credit for cooking the meal… Chef Raleigh did a fantastic job. I assigned myself the positions of chef’s assistant and DJ for the afternoon. We blasted Christmas music, jammed out, and prepared all the food for our friends to come over around 5:30.

My mom was so anxious to hear about our cooking experience in my kitchen, awaiting news of something going wrong with the meal . However, much to her dismay, Raleigh and I (mostly Raleigh) did a really good job and everything turned out to be DELICIOUS. Way better than the Roehampton mock-Thanksgiving dinner we went to the other night.

The meal consisted of:

A real roasted large turkey breast, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, green bean casserole, and an appetizer of baguette bread with sliced apples and warm brie cheese.

Is your mouth watering yet? Well I haven’t even described dessert!

There were a total of seven of us who attempted to devour the huge meal: Me, Raleigh, Chelsea, Eliza, Sinead, Zack (Sinead’s boyfriend) and Mat (Chelsea’s boy). So overall, three Americans, two Brits, one Australian, and one Belgian. Quite the mix for a Thanksgiving feast, but at least we all came with big appetites! Note: there are SO many leftovers!

After seconds (and maybe thirds for some), we all reclined in our chairs feeling stuffed and happy. I made sure everyone was properly full because it’s not thanksgiving without feeling insanely stuffed yet still trying to shove food down your throat because it’s so good. We waited a little while, and obviously found some way to make room in our stomachs for dessert!

Eliza was kind enough to bring over two pies (an apple one, and a mixed berry one) with some vanilla ice cream, while Raleigh and I provided a nice big layered chocolate mousse cake (not as traditional, but Asda didn’t carry pumpkin pie in the store). Obviously I went for seconds on dessert because I’m a chocolate freak and couldn’t resist. After we all ate literally as much as we could, we decided to make the short walk to the Union (the campus bar) for a group trivia game that they hold on Sunday nights. Our group came in third and we won a redeemable free pizza and glass of wine at the pizzeria on campus! Pretty good prize I must say.

So that’s pretty much all about my belated Thanksgiving with friends. I will always look back on that night as one of my fondest memories here at Roehampton. The Christmas music, festive food, and colder weather really got me in the holiday spirit and I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited for Christmas. It’s just around the corner… less than a month as of yesterday! That’s all for now… can’t wait to get to basketball practice tonight to attempt to not feel obese anymore haha!

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Thanksgiving Reflection

It’s a day late… but HAPPY THANKSGIVING! Everyone should be enjoying some Black Friday shopping right about now. This was the first ever Thanksgiving that I had to spend away from my family… and I didn’t know how much I’d miss them when the holiday actually came around. Every year, my entire mom’s side of the family gathers at my grandma’s (Gigi’s) house to have a proper American Thanksgiving feast with all the makings (turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, veggies, salad, bread, pies… I could go on!).

As I sat in my children’s lit class yesterday on the actual holiday, I couldn’t help but be jealous of all my friends back home spending time with family, reuniting with friends, and cuddling with beloved pets. I scrolled through my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to see endless pictures of happy college kids at home as if they’ve been away forever and have never seen their pet before so they have to take a million pictures with it. Honestly, if I were home I’d do the same thing (miss you Roxie)! But it was the fact that I couldn’t which made me feel homesick for the first time since I’ve been here in London. A few days ago (Nov. 19) marked the one month countdown until I come back home to New Jersey. I do admit that when it’s time to go home I will be the happiest girl alive. But I feel like I still have a lot to do here in exploring London/other parts of England and I’m not sure if a month (with limited weekends) will be enough time for me to do it all! It’s kind of stressful when the time starts ticking for real.

I’m going to try not to stress and just do as many fun things as possible until that day (Dec. 19th) comes around and it’s time for me to board the plane. London is REALLY into the holiday season and celebrating all things Christmas, so there tons of places to go see that are elaborately decorated for the holidays. Today I’m going to see the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland and the lights on Oxford Street! (pictures to come soon from this visit)

But back to Thanksgiving… while I was pretty bummed yesterday to not be home, the amount of people who took the time to reach out to me over here and say “Happy Thanksgiving” was all the cheering up I needed. There are SO many things I have to be thankful for. Being in London has completely opened my eyes to even more aspects that I should feel fortunate to have (especially in America).

Last night, however, I did get the opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving with some other Americans which I took advantage of. It was absolutely nothing like how I celebrate the holiday at home, but at least I got to eat a bit of the traditional Thanksgiving food. Roehampton invited the American international students to a pretty fancy Thanksgiving dinner since they knew the large majority of us won’t be going home for the holiday. I went with Raleigh and Chelsea, and was a bit disappointed to see they made an assigned seating chart which didn’t put us at the same table. However, I did have a chance to meet some people from other areas of the states and even though we were from all different parts of America (Hawaii, California, Pittsburgh, New Jersey, North Carolina), we all could come together and bond over missing home, and other aspects of American culture that England just doesn’t have… especially food!

I got to have a nice conversation with the girl from North Carolina and we bonded over missing sweet tea, southern accents, and country music. I really am beyond excited to get back to UNCW next semester! It was really nice to see other people have the same minor homesickness as I did yesterday. But we all came together for a good dinner. And the best part… it was free! The food they served us was okay… they got the turkey and stuffing right, but they had some weird mashed potatoes and included brussels sprouts and parsnips in the meal (obviously not part of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner), but at least they had some pumpkin pie to top off the meal at the end!

After my own dinner, I got to go back to my room and Skype my entire family at Gigi’s house which really put a smile on my face. Thanks for the love everyone!

I wanted to write this blog post because home means so much to me and I’ve realized it even more since living in London for over two months now. So with that being said, in honor of being thankful during this holiday, I have made my own list of a few things I’m thankful for…

The things I’m most thankful for this Thanksgiving:

-Obviously my amazing family and friends who support me while I’m here in London. I can’t even begin to say how much it means to me to have people reach out to me while I’m here to say that they are thinking about me and miss me. It’s the best feeling in the world to feel loved. And I want to say that I love all my family and friends back in American unconditionally.

-My new closest friends here. They help keep me sane while I’m away from home. Specifically Raleigh, Chelsea, Sinead, Eliza, and Kelly. You all don’t know how much you have helped me through this study abroad experience by just being a friend to me here. Without all of you, I wouldn’t have wing-girls to go out with, buddies to travel with, and friends to hang out with. And I couldn’t be happier that most of you will be back in North Carolina with me next semester so we can continue our friendships there. You girls are the best.

-This study abroad experience in general. I know that by the time these three months are over I will never have appreciated America more than I did while I’m here, but living in London has opened my eyes to so many different cultural things. The accent, the food, the manners, the travelling, the fashion, the weather. I honestly don’t think my school education is what I will take away from “studying” here… it’s the fact that I was immersed in this interesting English culture for three months and how different it really is from what I’m used to in America. I feel so incredibly fortunate to have the resources to be here for the semester, and even more to travel while I’m here!

-Being an American. The dollar isn’t as expensive, we have all the best movies and songs, Kraft mac and cheese, grape jelly, big cars and parking lots… the list goes on. I never thought I’d be thankful for all of these things, but being away from everything for a few months really makes you think!

-Skype. Can’t think of a better way of keeping in touch with my friends. I get to see their faces, hear their voices, and show them how pale I’ve gotten here already!

-Good health and good fortune. No explanation really needed.

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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!