Saturday, June 2, 2012

Oxford for a day

Yesterday (Friday) we had a group outing to Oxford. We had to get ourselves by tube to Paddington train station by 9:15 to take the train there all together. Paddington has a tube station and train station all at one place. The train ride was fun- it was super early and I was exhausted so I just watched everything fly by my window (backwards) and dozed off until we switched trains after about 45 mins.

Rusty always photobombing

We got to Oxford and met up with our tourguide, Felicity.

It was a cooler and overcast day- finally the typical weather I was expecting. Our tour took us around the different college at Oxford and we learned a lot about how their university and college system works, which is really different than ours. We saw areas of New College where parts of Harry Potter were filmed which people thought was cool (I still haven't seen the movies so it didn't really mean much to me).

Oxford is GORGEOUS, basically. I love you, JMU, but you aren't as beautifully historic as this place. School is still in session, so there were students everywhere which was cool too. Prettiest place we've been. We saw their dining hall too...D Hall doesn't even compare.

Just look at how pretty Oxford is:

college chapel

college gardens

some of the girls


The actual university is mixed in all around the town, so there really wasn't a "campus". We went to a covered market for lunch after our tour was over and I had my first official (veggie) full English breakfast!

After lunch and awesome cookies from a really sweet old man, we headed across town to the river to go punting! Basically, punting is a long, flat, close to the water boat that a chauffeur guy pushes with a super long pole off the bottom of the river. We went four to a boat and I was with my roommate Amanda, Liz, and Griffin, and it was SO much fun. I'm so glad we didn't choose to try to do it ourselves- it was much more fun to just relax and take in all the beauty around us.

After punting, we wandered around shops on Broad Street (like in Richmond!) and ended up at The Eagle and Child- the place where my man C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien used to hang out and write! SO COOL, I couldn't stand it. I was in a place where C.S. Lewis wrote the books I love so much. Not real life.

castle we found 


or heads?


we hang out with CS Lewis

We had to hang out in Oxford until after 7 because our tickets were for an off-peak time, so we found a tavern that our punter recommended as a good experience for what Oxford is really like. We got dinner and some people got drinks and we killed time until we could take the train back!

We got back to London about 8ish or so and just hung out at the flat with most of the group all night.

Today (Saturday) Amanda and I slept in, went out and bought postcards, went back to Paperchase, went back to Covent Garden to shop and eat lunch, and then came back to the flat to write postcards and do homework and relax. We had dinner back at the flat and have just been hanging out today...who knows what's planned for tonight. The Queen's Jubilee stuff starts tomorrow- yay!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The last day of May

Well, we ended up not going to the Trafalgar Square opera thing last night. A bunch of us ended up going out to dinner in Covent Garden at a cool little pizzeria place (I swear I eat more pizza and Italian food here than anything else...). The owner was hilarious and made fun of us a lot throughout the night, but it made it fun and entertaining! I got a DELICIOUS panini that didn't fill me up at all, but was so good nonetheless.

After dinner, we went off in search of a pub and ended up wandering over into Piccadilly Circus and Trocadero area, finally settling at St. James Tavern. It was the birthday of one of the girls in our group and she ended up joining our group later on in the night. We beat the rush at the pub- it ended up getting so busy! We definitely were the youngest ones in there- apparently the pub scene is more for older people. Oh well. I enjoyed it!

We spent a while at the pub and then took the tube back home where we all kept hanging out in our flat pretty late- none of us had any classes today so there was no real reason to head to bed early.

Today was a FREE DAY. No classes or any group activities! I slept in til about 10:30 which was AWESOME, and then spent a few hours taking notes for class in my new notebook, working on my blog post for my solo class (you can check it out at if you're interested in a more in-depth analysis of my class outings), and writing some postcards and such.

Around lunch time, five of us headed out to go back to Camden Town to revisit the things we had seen earlier this week when we went. It was much cloudier and chillier today and I was not totally prepared in my outfit choice, but it ended up being fine. I think the gloomy weather affected my mood a lot, because I was not feeling being there at all. All the stalls have basically the same things, so every sales person basically attacks you when you walk in trying to make you buy their stuff, and I was not in the mood for it. I basically just followed the group around in a weird daze and didn't buy anything or really pay much attention to anything. Not the best day, but oh well.

We spent a few hours there, and then took the tube back home and went to Sainsbury's for some groceries. Grocery shopping is a much more often thing in Europe, which I really like. It was sprinkling a little bit when we were walking home. I had a sandwich and veggies for dinner, took a power nap, and got back to work on my blog. Today has been such a blah day, but hopefully tomorrow and our outing to Oxford as a group is more fun!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Wednesday May 30

Today was the day I had my class where I'm the only student. It was in the flat below mine instead of in the FSU building, which is really nice and convenient especially when it's just me. My professor is an awesome Canadian/Dutch woman who is so sweet and "really lovely" as Charlotte said. She kept commenting on how brave I was to stay enrolled in the class even though it's just me, but I really loved the dynamic from the start.

It's definitely different in a one-on-one setting, with all the attention on me. The class is Writing in the Public Sphere and we talked a lot about how I personally defined the "public" and how I think it has evolved over time, and we had a really good discussion about the distinctions between the public and private spheres. It was interesting with only my input, and not the ideas of other students to bounce off of, and it's going to take some getting used to. It went really well though, and she had lots of good feedback on what I was saying.

She asked me a lot about my personal interests and passions and I'm going to have a lot of say in shaping how the class goes. If there are outings I don't want to do or will be doing for another class, she gave me the total freedom to think of other things I want to do, and to think of ideas for how we can go about the class assignments as it's just me. I'm going to be writing a separate blog for that class to reflect on the outings, so I'm excited about that.

Our outing was a Bloomsbury walk, and I was really hoping it would be new sights and information, because we have done quite a few walks around the area already. It was focused on public, semi-public, and private spaces, so we stopped at all the squares (park areas) and learned their history and backgrounds, stopped at homes of various famous characters in history, saw many education sites (University of College London) and ended at the Wellcome Museum (a free museum totally open to the public with AWESOME body/health exhibits that we explored separately to look at museums that are free and what is associated with them).

At one point, we were stopped at one of the squares where there was bus bombing a few years ago and we were talking briefly about it when a man who worked nearby stopped to talk to us. He had been standing on the street when the bombing happened, and he was describing exactly what it had been like in those horrific moments. He has first aid training and was able to help right at the scene and it was incredible and devastating to hear his personal experience with something that seemed so far away from anything that could ever happen in the serenity and beauty of that square. It was incredible hearing his story and so unexpected. Londoners are awesome and have such cool stories when you can meet them and hear about them.

It will be such an awesome class and I'm really glad I stayed enrolled. It's going to be a really unique experience.

Amanda and I finally made it to Paperchase after I got back from class and had some lunch- it's an incredible three level store that has tons of journals and stationary as well as books and art supplies and gifts and home decor and a cafe, etc etc etc. I spent forever in there, even after Amanda left to get to her class. Such a cool place.

I took a much needed nap for a bit, am working on this blog, and tonight there's an optional group outing to Trafalgar Square for a showing of the Royal Opera that hopefully we will go to- weather permitting! I think it rained during my nap, but hopefully it's done for the day/night.

London is home already. It feels like this is where I live, 100%. Such an incredible, amazing, unforgettable experience, and it's only been a week since I left the US.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tuesday May 29

Today was day two of classes! I had Media & Society at 9 am with everyone in our group but one girl. Our teacher was a sort of older guy with less of a British accent who ended up being very interesting and entertaining and SUPER knowledgeable.  These classes all seem so awesome and interesting and just totally worth taking and I'm really excited for them all. He lectured for quite a long time, but gave us a break to go to a nearby cafe for coffee (I got a cappuccino that was delicious but super strong- it made me so so shaky and dizzy afterwards). We talked a lot about what media is defined as and what society is here, which was really cool.

Our outing was to the West End and we walked the whole time and stopped at different places along the way. I keep being amazed by how much there is to see and learn about just in our area of London- it's seriously awesome. Every tour is so distinctly different and I love it. We found awesome areas of Covent Garden that were all colorful and where hippies originally was really cool.

A group of us had lunch at the last remaining Jewish deli in the West End- Gaby's Deli, and it was delicious. I got a falafel, hummus, salad pita wrap that was SO good. It was really neat to have lunch with our professor with just the six of us and to get to talk to him on a more personal level. I already love that about this program- we are getting to know our professors really well and I think that adds so much to the experience overall.

We had to hurry back to the classroom from lunch to get to the next class- Culture By Design. Our professor was younger and American and instantly really fun and cool- we all love him already. It was a super easy going and light hearted class and I think I'm the most excited about the subject matter for this one, even though I'm really excited about them all. This one seems so intriguing already- studying culture much more hands-on and seeing how things such as branded spaces affect people, etc. He kept saying we are going to "look closely at stuff." Can't wait.

Our outing was to Camden Town- SO COOL. Right when we got off the tube, we were in a totally new world it seemed. It was the original place of punks and you could totally tell. Everything had a punk rock trendy vibe and it was overwhelming and overly stimulating but really exciting at the same time.

entering Camden Market

leaving Camden Market

Our assignment was to either go off by ourselves or in pairs and get lost in Camden Market while making a list of 10 things that told us we were in London, 10 things we could see anywhere, and 10 things we had never seen before. Easy enough right? Yeah, not so much. I knew we were going to be doing a media analysis later on based on our observations, so I kept trying to find so many deeper meanings to everything I was seeing, and it was a lot to take in and process.

Some examples of what we experienced: tons of American pop music playing in all the stalls, every kind of person/race/ethnicity/fashion styles/languages/hair colors, etc., lots of the same things being sold at different places, no price tags on clothes, distinctly London things like a Dr. Marten's store, the tube map on shirts, oyster card holders, etc.

It started getting really chilly and windy as we were finishing up- it was the first time I've seen a cloud in the sky the whole time we've been here. Maybe we'll actually get the rain and cold weather I packed for?! Thankfully Mom sent me some more summer clothes- I definitely didn't pack for the weather here at all. Oops.

Hopefully we'll do something else tonight once the interns are out of their meeting- it's hard coming back after a long day and being so exhausted, but at the same time, I don't want to waste a whole evening just laying around the flat when there's so much to see here. Maybe we'll do some shopping...who knows.

My last class is tomorrow- I'm the only student in it! It's going to be an interesting experience but I'm really looking forward to it.

Life in London is awesome. I honestly could see myself living here and never coming back to the states. Learning about society and politics and government and education and everything as well as actually living the life, with shopping and cooking and getting groceries and getting around transportation and everything is showing me so much of real life as it would be if I lived here, and I haven't found a single thing not to like about it yet. Maybe I'll come back here after I graduate....

Until tomorrow!

It's a few hours later now and Amanda and I just got back from an around town adventure! We were heading out to try to find a stationary and journal shop we had heard about, but turns out everything closes at 8pm during the week so everything was closed that we were trying to find. We ended up just walking all around town and figuring out where we were all on our own and seeing so many awesome things in the process. We ended up back by the British Library where I went for class yesterday which was really cool, and I was able to get us back home with no problems! Making my way around this city on my own is the most satisfying and empowering experience.

We stopped at the grocery store to get ice cream- side cream is not a thing here at ALL. We've been craving it all day and couldn't find any ice cream places! Even at the stores, it's all completely frozen over and there's hardly any of it. It's really weird. We found some little containers of yummy ice cream and sat outside to eat it and then finished our walk home. It was about 2.5 miles total- we tracked it when we got back!

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Such a good day. I'm going to sleep well tonight.

Monday, May 28, 2012

May 27-28

Day three and I already didn't blog every day. Oops.

Yesterday (Sunday), we were up and out early for a Royal London walk with our awesome tourguide Deborah from the Tower of London day. We headed out on the tube and got to a park where a HUGE 10K was going on- basically so many people and lots of things closed off that got in the way of our tour a lot.

family home of Princess Diana

so. many. people.

the best view we got of Buckingham Palace
We are going to go back to Buckingham sometime soon to see everything we didn't get to see (Changing of the guards and such). We saw a lot of old and gorgeous houses where famous people lived, as it was a very rich and royal area of London.
Number 10 Downing Street- where the Prime Minister lives

why we took a picture by this just baffles me...we aren't female war vets. oh well.
that horse loved to try to eat us... hence my very far away leaning stance hahaha
Our tour ended in Trafalgar Square where we got Pret again (never gets old, seriously SO GOOD) and took a bunch of pictures with the lions and sat and ate in some shade and people watched for a while. Such a good afternoon.

We had more orientation meetings later- a talk from a police officer about a bunch of different safety things and things to be aware of while we're here.

We finally got our money for the week (YAY) and then had some time to kill before dinner.

We had dinner out at Rusty's house (about 30 mins on the tube) in more of a suburban and super adorable neighborhood area! The faculty member in residence every semester lives there, so Rusty is there with his daughters now. The house was awesome, with a really cute backyard garden area where most of us ate. We had pizzas and pasta and salad and tiramisu for dessert and it was the best night with the most hilarious conversations ever. This group of people is awesome and so much fun.

We headed back around 10ish or so to our house, I finally was able to skype my parents (horrible video connection that didn't work at all) and Kyle (perfect connection, thankfully!).

Today (Monday) was our first day of classes! I had Media & Politics at 9 am over at the Florida State University building where JMU has a classroom. The professor was a quirky British man with a completely mismatched suit on and an obsession with saying "Seriously!" in the cutest accent when he's trying to make a point. It was awesome and hilarious. We talked a lot about differences between politics and media in the US versus the UK, which was really interesting. It was about an hour and a half of going through the syllabus a little, and then just discussion and lecture. At like 10:30ish we headed back to the house for a quick stop and then our class (8 people) and the professor were off on our outing to the British Library. We walked there and I'm not totally sure where it really is, but it was massive and very cool looking.

inside of British Library


We were there to see the Magna Carta and talk about the foundations of government and politics here in the UK, which was really cool. The British Library is similar to the Library of Congress. There were different exhibits like a musuem throughout it, which is where we were today. After we saw the Magna Carta and our professor talked to us for a while, he left and we were free to roam around on our own. We walked around the area where we were and it was SO COOL. We saw original documents and journals and such from Leonardo da Vinci (so intricate and in his mirrored writing style, just so cool), lyrics the Beatles wrote on the backs of envelopes and scrap paper, journals of Charlotte Bronte (her original handwritten copy of Jane Eyre), the writing desk and glasses of Jane Austen, Shakespeare's works, etc. I couldn't get over how cool it all was to see right up close. This place is awesome.

We (me and three other girls from class) got Pret again for lunch (is this an addiction? Quite possibly) and walked back to the Russell Square garden to eat which was just so London and so awesome and I loved it. The parks here are the JMU Quads of London, and I'm in love with them.

We stopped back at the flat to drop stuff off, grabbed our grocery bags, and went to Waitrose for some breakfast foods, fruit, and cider/wine. Amanda (my roommate) had class and a play tonight, but when she got back, we made our first dinner at the flat! It was such an exciting and grown-up experience. Cooking for ourselves is going to be tricky without a kitchen full of all the little things you forget about (salt and pepper, etc), but I'm so excited about it.

Tonight's menu was whole wheat pasta with chunky vegetable sauce, asparagus, and a rose wine! We were so proud of ourselves, it was crazy. It was delicious! Hand washing all the dishes after wasn't so fun...definitely miss dishwashers. But we have tons of leftovers and it's way cheaper than eating out and much more fun, so it's going to happen often. Wine out of coffee mugs since we don't have wine glasses was super classy too. :)

so excited about our meal!


Best part of the day was seeing one of my best friends from JMU who is here for a different program and is living just three houses down from me on the same street! We met up outside our houses and chatted for a while and then went to her flat to continue catching up and it was just the best thing. It was so great to see someone from home and feel like we were back at JMU hanging out again, I definitely needed it. It's hard being away from my small group and the JMU and IV community and my family, so it was a good taste of that, and just fun to chat and hear about her London stories and share mine too!

Two classes and outings tomorrow- busy day ahead (as always)!