Today a few friends and I decided to take the "tube" as it's called into central London to walk around and see a bunch of the famous "tourist" sites. It turned out to be really easy to get there and we got to see a lot more than I had expected. When I had first arrived, I was very surprised by how modern all the architecture was. I had expected London to be more like Paris where almost all the architecture is true to the 1700-1800s style. There is truly a huge range of architectural styles in London; however, especially on campus. I haven't yet taken pictures of campus yet, but one of these days I will. When I went into central London, however, I got to see a lot more of what I had expected - there were old-style buildings abound!
We took the tube to the embankment station where we could immediately see the London Eye and Big Ben.
As we were walking along the River Thames, we were walking along what's called the "Victoria Embankment" which is basically just all the stuff that has been built up over what used to be the marshy bank of the Thames. We found this little gate which one person noted, "this was built before America was a country!"
Also along the embankment we saw "Cleopatra's Needle," a giant obelisk brought over from Egypt. It was really cool but apparently the harsher British climate has really worn down all the hieroglyphs.
It was decorated by a two cool sphinxes.
Since there are a bunch of USC people, we had to do a "Fight On!" picture.
We walked along the Thames until we passed by Big Ben (and an anti-war protest going on outside Parliament).
Also along the Thames, we encountered a lot of quintessentially British things. For instance, there is no "trash" in England, there is only...
And of course we saw some of the famous double-decker buses.
Also along the street along the Thames, we saw a couple WW2 memorials. Neither was particularly large but it was a nice reminder of the horrible consequences of such wars.
Next up, after quite a long walk, we finally made it to Buckingham Palace! I really wanted to go on a palace tour, but I don't really think those are open to the public normally. Also - the guards weren't wearing the traditional red uniforms. Apparently they were all in their grey winter uniforms. I didn't realize, however, that the style of the uniform was different depending on where you are from.
The palace itself was quite nice and all the shops around were Royal Wedding crazy. There's all kinds of Royal Wedding memorabilia available. What I couldn't believe is that the ENTIRE street out in front of Buckingham Palace was completely full.
What's deceptive about this image, however, is that there is a huge raised fountain surrounded by a round-about separating this area from the actually palace gates. People would not only be unable to see because of distance, but also because there was a giant fountain in front of them. Anyway, the palace looked lovely and the gates were very ornate. There were also parks and gardens off to the sides of the palace which were quite nice.
We finished off our day by visiting the world-famous department store, Harrods, which shouldn't have been that long of a walk but we went to far and had to double back. We ended up asking people on the street for directions three times before we finally found it. We got to see some really nice shops and quaint houses along the way, though, so it was actually quite nice.
Harrods can't really be described as a department store because first of all, there's only one, and second of all, it is alone the size of a mall. It has four levels and basically everything you could think of. Everything from clothes to touristy items to a grocery store. Furthermore, all the departments are separated into rooms so the layout makes you feel more like you're walking through a house as opposed to the open floor plans of most American department stores. On the bottom floor, there was a large wine cellar. I have yet to find a British wine anywhere (apparently the climate is terrible for growing grapes, so I suppose that's understandable) but I ended up consulting with the wine advisor and picking out a nice French red burgundy. I have yet to taste it (because I want to pair it with some really good cheese and crackers) but I'm just so excited to start keeping track of all the wines I taste in the awesome wine journal my mom gave me for Christmas!
After Harrods, we finally called it quits and I headed back to my room to relax for a little while before going out again to a different pub. So far it seems like going to the pub is really an almost daily experience, even for the local British students. At the pub we met up with a couple fellow study abroad students and their British flatmates. After the pub closed we went back to their flat to hang out in their kitchen and get some insider tips from the British students. We also learned that there is a thing called "reading week," a week in February where there are no classes so students can catch up on their work. All of us American students were like - "do you ever go to class?" Not only do they have the entire month of April off, they also have a week in February off? For real? Sounds like there is so much time available to travel! I can't wait to get started seeing the rest of Europe!
Anywho, today I slept in pretty late (not surprising considering how I've been up past three every night since I've gotten here...including tonight) and went grocery shopping with one of my flatmates. I was really glad he went with me because the entrance is kind of hidden from view by the car entrance and I'm not sure I would have been able to find it very easily. I have a bunch of stuff I need to get (namely food and toiletries) but I finally got a duvet and cover! My first few nights have been pretty cold with just a blanket but my new duvet is quite warm. I also got a fairly cute green cover that came with a pillow case and bed runner so my bed looks a lot more spiffy now. I also found out that one of the previous tenants left a bunch of plates and cups and such so I don't feel quite so lost as far as cooking goes anymore. Also, my flatmates are all super nice and offered to let me borrow a bunch of their stuff.
Tonight, we had our first "flat dinner." One of my flatmates who loves to cook made a delicious Vietnamese soup. Afterwards, we spontaneously decided to make a chocolate cake completely from scratch making our own whipped cream from actual cream and a delicious cocoa and golden syrup topping with a layer of nutella. It was really really delicious.
Even though we started dinner at 7, we ended up not leaving the kitchen till after 1am because we were chatting and hanging out. There's only one other study abroad student in our flat and he happens to be from USC (although I didn't know him before) so we spent a lot of time telling our flatmates about what it's like to go to school at USC. They all seem fascinated by the greek system since they don't have anything like that in the UK. Mostly they can't believe that the stuff they've seen in movies about it actually happens. Well anyway, it's getting late so I'm going to wrap this post up but I've been having a really great time here in London! I enroll tomorrow and hopefully I can sort out my timetable (ugh, all my classes clash!). I have two weeks before I have to finalize my schedule and I want to go to a bunch of different lectures so I can see what I'm interested in before I make a final decision. Anywho, I've really been enjoying it so far and it's only just beginning! I can't wait to really get in the swing of things!
More to come soon :)