It’s so weird to think that I’ve been here for nearly five weeks already – the time is flying by! Every day I experience something new in London; whether it be accidentally stumbling into an alleyway that housed the first coffee shop hundreds of years ago, applying for a library card at the main branch of the Kensington and Chelsea libraries and then realizing the majority of the books are written by British and Indian novelists thereby leaving me nearly clueless in a library for the first time or walking into a café with my friend Catherine in the hopes of getting a baguette and instead eating the best thin-crust pizza I have ever had, I always seem to be learning something new or thrown out of my comfort zone. And I LOVE it. A lot of the places my friends and I find, we find by simply walking around and happening upon them – visits to Notting Hill, the Tate Modern art museum and Camden for nightlife have all resulted in us finding used bookstores tucked away in an alley, where to get the cheapest ice-cream cone and most importantly, how to use the night bus transportation system!
Camden Market is fantastic, though it is a trip you’ll have to set aside an entire day for. The Camden Markets are located in Camden Town, North West London, and are easily accessible by tube. The Market is comprised of six different markets – Camden Lock Village, Camden Lock Market, Inverness Street, Camden (Buck St.) Market, Camden Stables Market and the Main Streets. Each market has its own distinct atmosphere and sells something different – vintage clothing, alternative apparel, incense, home furnishings, accessories, antiques and more! The markets just keep going and going – situated along Regents Canal in old warehouses and horse stalls, you’re walking on cobblestone roads and everywhere you look is something new. People are making all kinds of food – crepes, Chinese dumplings, Scottish sandwiches, homemade orange juice, Peruvian dishes, Japanese teriyaki…there are even stalls dedicated to donuts! What I love the most about the markets though is the collection of people that are there – while there are a lot of tourists, there are also a lot of Londoners, and it’s nice being in a place where both of these groups get along seamlessly. I’ve already been back to Camden multiple times and will continue to do so as the semester continues (I’m on semesters here – weird!).
Even my classes are proving to be a mini “what’s what” of London. From the tours my professor in my History of London class takes us on every week, I have been able to see where the Diagon Alley scenes in Harry Potter were filmed, the exact spot where the Great Fire of London began in 1666 and from an exhibit at the Museum of London, learned that obviously my calling in life is to become a cobbler. What?! Just kidding about that last part, but my classes have been providing me with a lot of opportunities to go to places that I wouldn’t have otherwise. In my history class, I have walked through alleyways that still have the stones that were inlaid by the Romans nearly 2000 years and in my Art In Context class, I have been all over London attending openings of exhibits at privately owned galleries. However, one of the best places I have visited is Shakespeare’s The Globe Theater, an open-air theater located along the banks of the Thames by the Tate and the Millennium Bridge, for my Shakespeare English course. For the past two weeks, my friends and I have taken the tube to Mansion House station, walked along Upper Thames Street and then across the Millennium Bridge [which at dusk provides a beautiful place to stop and look at the city], and continued onto the Globe where we saw performances of Henry IV Parts 1 & 2 and The Merry Wives of Windsor. The cast was incredible, even when it was down-pouring during Henry IV Part 2! Though it is only £5 to stand in the open-air section, I don’t think I would have thought to look into seeing a play at the Globe, or by the time I did, it would have been too late – the season ended on October 9. Most importantly, all of this hands-on learning is proving to be very beneficial to how well I understand the material being taught in class.
How can I talk about visiting all of these places without mentioning the Tube? London’s underground transportation system, known as the “tube,” includes 13 train lines that can get you virtually anywhere. I am no more than 10 minutes away from three tube stations [High Street Kensington, South Kensington and Gloucester Road] and the station I most frequent, Gloucester Road, is serviced by the District, Circle and Piccadilly lines. I am closer to central London, which is why I have access to three lines, but if I lived in Putney or Canons Park, both more outside of London, I could only take the District or Jubilee line, respectively. Traveling on the Tube is an experience in itself. The trains for each line are all decorated inside to differentiate between them (this really comes in handy when you don’t check the front of the train and need to figure out if it’s a Circle or District line train); for instance, the poles on the Piccadilly trains are navy blue, the same color as the Piccadilly line on the map, the Hammersmith and City lines have pink poles, the District line has green patterned seats, etc. The tube stations themselves are also interesting – the closer you get to Central London and the more popular stations, all have a certain flair. The Baker Street station, home of Sherlock Holmes and FIVE tube lines, has Sherlock Holmes’ infamous face on every tile on the walls. Westminster tube station is so modern, it’s as though you’re walking through a space station, whereas Gloucester Station has high-arched ceilings made of exposed brick that transports you back a hundred years in time. A tip known by all Londoners and told to me by one of my professors is that there are usually three minutes between each stop – and this piece of info has certainly come in handy.
I spent a weekend in Paris two weeks ago and like many, fell in love with the city. However, despite all the crepe eating, Eiffel Tower visiting and Montmartre walking, the best part of the trip was when I was traveling home on the coach [bus] from King’s Cross station to my residence hall in Kensington. As I looked out the window and recognized all of the roads we were on, I was hit with the feeling of relief – relief that I was coming home. And that, in itself, was pretty cool.