Classes ended yesterday. Definitely bittersweet. We had one final breakfast together in the GEO center before heading our separate ways. My mom was supposed to get here shortly after but her flight was delayed. So, I went out one last time with a few friends, and now I am waiting for her to arrive at Russel Square. It's crazy that I've already been in London for five weeks. It's also pretty crazy to think of everything that's happened during that time. Am I a changed person? Absolutely not. What I did gain, however, is a new appreciation for home. The knowledge that traveling alone can have low points. It is lonely, confusing, and a bit terrifying at times. It is also one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever had. Where there is confusion there is room for new understanding. Where there is fear there is room for courage. And where there is loneliness there is room for new friendships. Traveling to a place with nearly no connections creates an opportunity for new perspectives from all over the world. I have never thought of myself as an independent person, but now I know I can be. Please, if you have the opportunity to travel somewhere alone, do it. You won't come back a "changed person" as many travel blogs suggest, but you will come home with new confidence and a better understanding of yourself.
Last night, as one last thing before my final paper is due and my mom arrives, I went to see Grouplove. Tickets were only £15 and I knew it would be a fun show so, why not? It ended up being a really cool night. I met some really cool people and danced to good music.
Coming in to all of this, I knew I wanted to visit Scotland over a weekend. However, the trip had been ambiguous in terms of timing and who was going. Long story short, I ended up booking everything this last Thursday. This I do NOT recommend. It took a miracle to find a hostel available and almost resulted in us standing for the entirety of the 4 hour train journey. We arrived in Edinburgh late Friday night, so I found my hostel and went straight to bed. On Saturday morning, I booked a tour of the Scottish highlands. I had to roll out of bed around 7am (while trying not to wake up the eleven sleeping people in the room) to catch the tour bus. The tour lasted 12 hours, but it was hardly boring. From Edinburgh, we went through Sterling, Glencoe, Iverness (where we took a boat tour on the Lochness), and Perth. Afterwards, I met up with a few people from class at Stramash, a live music pub. I was able to reach out to one of the bands to get an interview for my final art feature. The music scene in Edinburgh is very fun; lots of dancing, talented musicians, and even bagpipes. The next morning, I took a tour of the Edinburgh castle before heading back to London. Many rulers of Scotland once lived here, including Mary Queen of Scots. From the castle, there are wonderful views of the entire city. What amazes me most is how medieval everything still feels. In London, there is such a huge contrast between old and modern. In Edinburgh, everything still feels so ancient and beautifully preserved. Almost like I was walking through an episode of Game of Thrones, just with more tourists and Scottish heritage shops.
My Art assignment this week is to write a review on the conceptual art exhibit at Tate Britain. In the 70's, young artists began to break out of the strict, technical rules which constituted "art". Instead, they thought that the mere articulation of an idea is artistic. Though a bit text heavy (and in my opinion - pretentious), this exhibit tells their story.
Although BBC does not run official tours as of last year, my international news professor was able to get us inside. Andrew was previously the editor of BBC World Service News, where he worked for 35 years. Thanks to him, we were able to tour the building, sit in on a radio broadcast, and meet some amazing faculty.
I am fortunate enough to be able to say I live in central London. The International Hall (IH) is about a three minute walk from Russel Square Station where I can hop on the tube and go just about anywhere in the city. There is a lot to see in London, and I realized that I had not taken enough time to explore the Bloomsbury area where I'm staying. Like the rest of the city, there is a lot of history here. My room faces a beautiful park where Virginia Woolf would sit and read. George Orwell lived directly next door to IH, and Charles Dickens house is directly behind my classroom. The AHA/GEO center is roughly a ten minute walk from IH and you'll pass loads of adorable cafes (I recommend Tutti's) and picture perfect 17th century homes. The center itself dates back to the same century so it definitely has character. The stair steps are about three-quarter the size of my feet (I wear a size 8) and my classroom still has the original wooden paneling. Just south of the center is Theobalds road which eventually runs into Southhampton row. Both streets have great spots for lunch breaks. If you like Vietnamese, I recommend Banh Mi Bay, amazing and inexpensive. Further down Theobalds road is the British Museum and LOTS of places to eat. If your looking for pubs, the Marquis Cornwallis, Lamb, Rugby Tavern, and Perseverance are the closest. I visited all besides the latter. The Lamb and Rugby Tavern have a little more character, but I wouldn't order food. Lastly, and perhaps the most convenient part of the area, Bruinswick Square is directly outside of IH. It is essentially an outdoor shopping mall and has food, coffee and shopping. Waitrose is where I did all my food shopping and Boots is great for cosmetics. Tescos is right across from Russel Square and it is comparable to a 7/11. It is also one of the only places open 24 hours. Nearly everything in London closes around 10pm (or 22:00). So Tescos is a lifesaver when it comes to late night snacks and bottled water.
Tip: I wouldn't try the Tescos sandwiches
I finally made it to the quirky city of Brighton today with several classmates. We caught an early train and made it there before noon. It was a beautiful day with rare blue skies. I think the entire country thought it would be a good idea to visit the beach today too, it was crazy! We sat on the pebbly beach, dipped our toes in the water, walked down the pier, and (of course) ate famous fish N' chips. I also had the worst margarita of my life, it came in a martini class and didn't seem to have any tequila? Anyway, I really wanted to make the trip to Beachy Head (England's tallest chalk cliffs) from Brighton. We bought tickets to Eastbourne by bus, an hour journey. Though it was beautiful drive, it was terrifying. We sat at the top of the double decker bus on the skinny, country roads and the driver flew down them. We did, by some miracle, eventually make it to Eastbourne. Unfortunately, when we finally figured out how to get to Beachy Head from there, we had missed the last bus. So, we had a couple pints and got back on the bus towards Brighton (it wasn't quite as bad the second time).
Tip: don't buy margaritas in England
Rather than class, I had two excursions today. Andrew Whitehead, my international news instructor took us on a tour of Fleet Street, London's old newspaper district and one of the most historic areas in the city. From there, the Arts students ran to catch a tube to the National Theatre for Swan Lake. I wasn't sure if I would like the ballet, but it was absolutely captivating. Is it too late to become a ballerina?
By some miracle, I was not scheduled one class or excursion on this fine Wednesday. Though I originally planned to go to Brighton, I ultimately decided that may be better to save for a weekend and chose to explore London a bit more instead. So, I finally made the trip out to see Abbey Road Studios. As cliche as it is, I love the Beatles. I grew up with their music, blah blah. Anyway, this was very exciting for me. From Russel Square, it takes about 30min to get there by tube, but it only a short walk away from the St. Johns Wood station. The crosswalk is filled with family's trying to recreate the iconic Abbey Road album cover, some with their shoes off. Poor motorists trying to go on with their day are lined up waiting for a chance to get past them. Of course, I had to walk across. It was surreal to walk in the footsteps of such greatness, despite how touristy the place had become. The actual studios were closed to the public as they are still used. However, a shop opened up directly next door with all the Beatles merchandise a cliche fangirl can imagine.
This morning, on my near-impossible quest to find a bagel in the city of London, I ended up exploring the streets of Shoreditch. The neighborhood was once industrial before it was abandoned in the second world war. Before long, young artists flocked to the area, filling the empty warehouses with art studios and makeshift flats. Today, it has sadly become subject to gentrification and most of the artists have been priced out of their homes. The closest comparison I can make is to trendy SE Portland, with its vintage markets, dancing hairstylists, and coffee served out of old taxi cabs. Still, I couldn't help falling in love with the wonderfully weird streets of the East End. Vibrant street art still covers the walls and buildings. I walked the entire length of Brick Lane and passed dozens of markets with street food to die for, a Jimi Hendrix impersonator, and a thriving Bangladeshi community towards Whitechapel Road. It highlights the character and diversity that I love so much about this city. And yes, I did find a bagel (beigal?). It was rainbow. I wouldn't recommend it.