Saturday, May 26, 2012

Day Three: Orientation, Neighborhood, and East Side of London

This morning was orientation over at the Florida State building where we will be taking our classes- lots of information, not a lot of fun. But hey, we learned stuff. We were split into groups again for a scavenger hunt of sorts around our neighborhood (our classroom is super close to our house), and it was actually really helpful in orienting me to where we live and what's around. We went through Brunswicke Centre which had lots of awesome shops and restaurants and a cool market that's there on Saturdays. We finished our scavenger hunt and ended back at the house, got lunch money, and went back to the market to have lunch.

I got the best empanada ever- mozzarella and tomato and basil...yummmmm. Got an awesome dessert too- a tart with custard cream stuff and strawberries on top, so delicious. Best food ever. I'm trying to go to every market London has...they're seriously the best and I'm in love.

We went grocery shopping for laundry detergent and such at Waitrose (the biggest grocery store we've been in so far). We had to be back at the house by 2 and then we were off to the East End of London. I had no idea until we got there, but the east end is definitely not as nice as the west end where we are staying. It felt much more sketchy and definitely less nice... We had a tour guide to take us around, but I hardly could hear anything he said and when I could hear him, it was all about Jack the Ripper and murders around the area and I really wasn't engaged in what he was saying at all. It was the longest afternoon EVER...either really hot in the sun, or pretty chilly and super windy in the shade, and it wasn't a really exciting area at all. Not the best afternoon, but at least we saw it. No real need to go back.

After the three+ hour tour, half the group went to Diagon Alley from Harry Potter and the other half of us found an awesome vintage market that sadly was closing right as we got there...but we're definitely going back soon. Such cool stuff to look through!

We came back to our neighborhood and Amanda and Kelly and I got dinner at The Spaghetti House- I got a four cheese pizza that was awesome.

After a little chill time at home, a group of us went out to Oxford Circus to go shopping- TOPSHOP (British classic!) and H&M. Seriously so cool. expensive. A reality check about how poor we really are... Fun to experience though. We'll go back for sure.

Came back to the flat, and just hanging out and such this evening- another early morning tomorrow!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Day Two: Tower of London and Westminster Abbey

After a ridiculously deep night's sleep, we were up and ready to go at 9 am. We had to hurry and get to the tube to head to the Tower of London to meet our tour guide, and it was quite the adventure basically running up and down a million flights of stairs and escalators to navigate through the tube, but we got there on time. The weather was GORGEOUS! Not a cloud in the sky, cool breeze, warm sun. Perfect day.

The Tower of London was awesome- our tour guide Debra led us through the whole time and I learned so so much. We walked around the perimeter at first and got some history and info on the Tower, which really helped me understand what we were there to see. We were along the Thames right by the Tower Bridge, and the best part was seeing the bridge actually go up in the middle to let a ship through! Apparently this doesn't happen all the time, and I'm so glad we got to see it!

The Tower of London itself was really impressive architecturally and so much history is there with beheadings and queens and kings and such. The Crown Jewels were incredible to see- so ornate and insanely intricate and just so much bling. Way too much for my taste honestly, but they were really cool to see in real life. Couldn't take any pictures in there though.

We went through the original Tower of London building too- saw all the armor and weapons and such and did some interactive things too, which was fun. Definitely glad I live in the time period that I live in.

Jubilee Diamond

dragon armor?

After the Tower tour we were off for lunch on our own, but most of us stuck with Rusty and his daughter Erin- I am definitely not ready to conquer the tube on my own! We went toward Westminster Abbey and ended up eating at The Abbey- I got a plate of spicy nachos that were really yummy and nowhere near filling, but we were given money for lunch and there wasn't much under the price limit so I got what I got. Being vegetarian hasn't been too hard yet- all menus and even stuff at the grocery store are labeled with "V" which makes it super easy to find what I can eat! Yay London!

Also, Westminster Abbey is right by Big Ben. Hello, most known London attractions!

Big Ben

Westminster Abbey
No pictures were allowed inside, but it was beyond beautiful. We did audio tours and basically just listened to the highlights, but it was really cool and I learned way more than I thought. Lots of people are buried in there...who knew. There was a really cool exhibit right as we were leaving with pictures of the Queen visiting the Abbey throughout her life as it's her diamond jubilee year, and I loved it! It made a lot more things about the Queen and the royalty here make more sense, and it was so fun seeing her throughout her life and at different occasions, even Will and Kate's wedding! So excited for the jubilee events now!

Finally got some pounds from an atm today and went grocery shopping! Sainsbury Market was where we shopped- it was similar but still pretty different from back in the States. Smaller, fresher, more fun. Got some stuff just to have here when we have free nights and meals, and some new food I've never tried (Digestives cookies- apparently they're awesome). Groceries were about 10 pounds, not too bad. Got shampoo and conditioner and toiletries stuff at Boots- a CVS kind of store that was nextdoor. Got a little lost with the group I was with getting home from shopping and wandered into Camden, but got back no problem. Ate food that was provided for us here at the flat and passed out for a nap and really haven't done too much this evening- all this walking and still jet lag and everything has made me so tired! Got to get ready for tomorrow's adventures.

I love it here. Everything about it. London is awesome and I love that I'm actually LIVING here. So surreal and so incredible. I'm so blessed, and I'm not taking any of it for granted.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

I'm in London!

It's 11 pm here, and I don't know when I last slept or really what day it is or what exactly is going on...but I'm in London, and I LOVE IT.

Our flight left Dulles later than expected due to the storms, but it wasn't bad at all. I sat next to an awesome lady in probably her 40's who had the coolest accent (a mix of a dad from Trinidad and a mom from England). She was cracking up at all of us students because we were sitting around her, and it was so much fun talking to her. Two of the girls sat in front of me, and two were across the aisle, and my roommate was a few rows back from us all, but it was so nice having all of us together on the flight!

The flight went well overall...we got supper (mine was a weird vegetarian curry that I didn't like at all, so I didn't really eat much), I didn't sleep hardly at all and couldn't get comfortable for more than like five minutes which was horrible, I watched "The Vow" and got a complimentary glass of white wine which was fun and super exciting, and a toddler had a seizure and got really sick which was scary and freaky and definitely eventful!

We landed in London about 7:30 ish. There was a super long line to get through the border patrol, and it was RIDICULOUSLY hot and sweaty in there. Anyone who wants to convince London that air conditioning really is a good idea, be my guest! We would all appreciate it greatly. None of us had problems getting through, which was great, and Professor Greene (or Rusty, as we all call him) was there with his two daughters to meet us!

We took a big charter bus (just for the few of us) to Madison House where we are staying, and it was about an hour's drive. It was annoying stop and go traffic but it was fun seeing the sights, even though I was really ready for sleep and food.

We arrived at Madison House (pics will come eventually) and had some time before we had our orientation meeting, so we crashed for a quick nap. We have flats, and there are five floors. Mine is one flight up from ground level, which is really nice and convenient. I share my room with Amanda, who I knew through mutual friends, and love already!

desks between my bed and Amanda's
Our flat has a room with the girl who is our RA, and another room that two girls share, two full bathrooms, a kitchen area, and a living room with couches and desks. It's way more than I expected! There were exactly enough hangers in my little wardrobe for all the clothes I had, which was perfect. We have twin beds, a little nightstand with some drawers, and a wardrobe each!

my bed before we unpacked!
We had an orientation meeting and lunch (sandwiches, chips, and fruit from Pret which were AWESOME). Learned lots of information that I don't really remember, and then we had a few hours to do whatever we wanted before a group outing. We unpacked and put up pictures on our bulletin boards and then met at 3:30 for a group adventure!

We each were assigned a street in the West End (one of five "fingers" and were given a sort of scavenger hunt to lead us through the street toward the end goal of the National Theater where we all met back up. We stopped at a great little bakery along the way, but I didn't get anything as I still haven't found an atm (or really been looking) so I can change money over. We crossed Hungerford Footbridge and finally got to see Big Ben and the London Eye from afar and take some pictures, and it finally felt like we really were in London.

stopping along the Hungerford Footbridge
There was a really cool book/art sale under a bridge by the National Theater that we loved exploring too. We got snacks (lemon crunch cake for me) at the National Theater and relaxed for a bit and then left from there to explore more, with Rusty leading us and stopping at various points along the way to tell us about the sights.

Our route took us along the south side of the Thames River, stopping to see the modern new skyline of The City of London, by the Globe Theater (where we saw other people we knew that are here on a different JMU trip!), and across the Millenium Bridge to St. Paul's Cathedral, then down for our first ride on the tube to take us back near Madison House for dinner at wagamama, a delicious asian place where I got an awesome vegetarian noodle dish and a great fruit juice drink!

The Globe Theater (not original location)

walking across Millenium Bridge toward St. Paul's Cathedral

Tower Bridge

St. Paul's Cathedral

All16  of us ended the night at a local pub, which was so much fun. We mostly got flavored ciders and shared stories and had a blast...a total success of a first day/night in London!
our table! half of the whole group

Off to bed to try to beat this jetlag once and for early to the Tower of London in the morning!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The last Richmond days.

It's Sunday. I'm in Richmond.
On Wednesday, I'll be in DC.
On Thursday, I'll be arriving in London.

It doesn't feel totally real yet. My room is a mess and my suitcase is mostly packed (and hopefully under the weight limit...), but I still can't really wrap my head around the fact that I'll be spending two months abroad.

I can't wait to be in London, immersed in a totally new culture and way of life. It's going to be such an exciting experience!

Expect blogs often, as I want to record and remember everything I'm doing while I'm there!

I will have internet access fairly often and will be able to check Facebook, Twitter, my blog, and my email! Feel free to send mail too- ask me for my address :)

Email me at, connect with me on Facebook, or just ask me for my international phone number to text me or for my address!

Enjoy life in the USA, or wherever your travels take you this summer! Keep in touch.