Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Tour of London

So London! Just a recap that whilst in London a group of us had no clue what we were even going to do so we randomly joined up with a free tour of London group. It was honestly one of the best decisions we had made thus far on our trip. The guy had begun the tour with a talk about Guy Fawkes day (or bonfire night) and the reason that they had celebrated it yearly on the Saturday closest to November 5. It's pretty interesting stuff and I would highly recommend a read through of it online at some point.

Anyways, we then we down the road a bit and turned up at Westminster Abby. The church where royals are married, baptized, etc. etc. What a building, it was absolutely beautiful and the history of it is amazing. Apparently it costs money to actually tour inside the building, but at 5:00 PM everyday they suspend all collection and hold a church service that anyone is welcome to attend. So if your looking to actually see inside the building for free, this is the time to go.

Following this we walked towards the place where Winston Churchill bunkered down during the war with his Officers. Apparently it really wasn't that safe and if they were to have actually hit the area in which he was hiding, he most likely would have died. How it would've changed everything.

We then shuffled our way along and got to see the last glimpse of the old London skyline in the distance as most of it was burned down or destroyed in the war. In the process of rebuilding they went with a red brick, so many of the white buildings don't exist anymore in London.

We got to walk through a park in which the Royals would place all of the animals given to them by foreign dignitaries and the such. It's now home to many different small species, but the elephants and extravagant animals have long since gone from the area. I guess there's on record somewhere that they would buy a barrel of wine each day to give to one of the old elephants in order to keep it calm and satisfied with living in the English weather. Almost sad if you think about it really.

This here is Prince Charles' home. He wasn't in at the time because a different flag would be flown if he was.

This is one of the guards outside of his home. Caution: they anger very easily and will shout at you in a heartbeat. Someone down the line leaned over the chain fence and I almost messed myself as he hollered at them. At least they take their job seriously.

 And finally... Buckingham Palace!!!!

We didn't go right up to it, but apparently the guards carry serious weapons nearby so I was alright with that. Interestingly enough the front part that everyone sees is actually home to the servants that work within the Palace walls. The Queen's quarters line the entire right side of the building. Additionally, the Palace wasn't even initially made for the Royal family. They had an entirely different place of residence and someone else built this as their home. When the King went through it he demanded ownership and bought it from the man. Before they moved in though they let the original owner live there until his death. I botch the story a bit so again, look it up. So many interesting things to learn about over here! Here are some pictures of the original home to the Royals:

It's only a few minute walk away from Buckingham Palace, yet it sits off the road a bit away from everything else. I honestly don't know what they do with the building nowadays but I know it's still owned by the Royal Family.

Our guide ended our tour at the true heart of London which is marked with the large tower at the right of the photo. The blue rooster is an art piece that gets rotated out every couple of months. The meaning of it I don't know really (nor did our guide). But it was interesting to see it nonetheless. Oddly enough they were having a NFL rally of some sort on the day we were here so everyone was celebrating American football at the time.

As in life, nothing truly comes free, so after we tipped our tour guide  he led us to a pub where we only paid 6 to get a burger, chips, and a drink. By far the cheapest food you'll find in Central London. So, in the matter of a few hours we were able to successfully hit every tourist spot that we had intended to see while we where there without any planning shockingly. So, like I said previously, if you ever see a guide with a bright orange umbrella in London that says 'free tours' follow him. It'll be the best decision you could make.

We were pretty tired after the tour so we found our ways through the Underground once again towards South London and our second hotel for the night. We found some great Thai food to eat and tucked in for the night.

The last day we were there we had decided to travel back into Central London to see Madame Tussand's Wax Museum and the Sherlock Holmes Museum, but by the time we got there we realized the line to get into the wax museum was two hours long and we were ready to get going. I did get to see 221B Baker Street though, so I can die a bit happier.

The weekend trip was exhausting, but it was worth it 100%. I got to see so many new sights and it was amazing to be in a city with so much history! I'd love to travel back to see some of the stuff off the beaten track, but for now I have enjoyed much of what London has to offer! Until next time London!

London Part 1

WOW! London is such a blast! And though I am so grateful to have gone, I am definitely so happy that I chose to attend Edge Hill over a school in London because it is so packed with people there! Going to London is most likely going to be my only trip whilst I am over here because I’ve found that travel costs more than I wanted it to and I am trying to live here on a budget (why I don’t know, but it’s too late to go back now). 

I found that it’s always better to travel with a group so me and some friends found a deal online to get our train tickets to London for a total of £30 round trip through The Great Escape. Tickets outside of that range didn’t even start out at that price so I recommend looking around in order to find the best deal for traveling. We left on Friday evening and the train ride took almost four hours (something we were not anticipating). One of us read the tickets wrong so we figured that we would be there in about 2.5 hours, and our gurgling stomachs and aching butts hated us at about hour 3. So another tip, be wary of the distance you are supposed to travel. Double-check times of everything!

If you haven’t noticed by now, we really just winged the trip, thinking that it would be easiest. In some respects this worked, others not so much. We had booked our hostels the week before we left and found out that they fill up really quickly. So, we could only book them for one night, causing us to have to carry our bags with us throughout London on Saturday in between our check-in times. Additionally, as we travelled so late to go to London, We didn’t arrive to our first hostel until 11:30 PM and someone was sleeping in one of the beds we were supposed to have. Awkward when they turn on the lights on six strangers to figure out what’s going on.

When we woke up the next morning we didn’t really know what we wanted to do, so we set off to find an information which passed us by this large museum. It's called the Cutty Shark, and beside that I don't know much about it apart from it's massively beautiful. Right near it though was a tourist information center and they were kind enough to help us figure out what tickets we would need for the Underground and the trains we would need to go on in order to find ourselves in Central London. 

Which I promptly messed up. #oops. Good thing someone else in the group could navigate our surroundings. In the long run it did help us kind of figure out how the Underground worked, but it took us just a bit longer to get where we were going. In the end we came out where we were supposed to at Westminster and right before our eyes was Big Ben and the London Eye. 

Kind of a shock when you're expecting to have to walk everywhere in order to find someplace to go. After mountains of pictures we kind of decided to just walk around in order to find other places in the city. Lucky for us on our way to find Buckingham Palace we stumbled on a free tour of London and decided to just tag along since we had no idea what we were doing. This turned into the best idea any of us had during the trip. So although they say don't talk to or follow strangers, if you see someone carrying a large orange umbrella near a statue of Winston Churchill in Central London, take the chance because you will see a lot more than you would've even thought of in the city!

 I'm going to end this post here only because the places we saw on the tour will take us some space!


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Some Dos and Don'ts of Travel

Hello everyone! I know it’s been ages since I posted but the truth is there hasn’t been too much to talk about lately. Time here falls into a rhythm just like home and I’ve been occupying myself mostly with class. This past weekend I did get the chance to go to London and can’t wait to tell everyone about it. But, until I post about my trip later this week I figured I would try to do an informal list of Dos and Don’ts of travelling that I’ve figured out about while I’ve been here. By no means is this a complete list and I’ll most likely add to it as my time here passes.

Bring a backpack on your initial journey over.
Not only is it great carry-on, it’s great to have when you take smaller trips to places while you’re here.
Know the dates and times of your travel.
We thought our second train down to London was only 20 min, only to realize it was 2 hrs and 20 min. Needless to say we weren’t prepared for it.
Keep any needed tickets in easy-to-access areas.
This is especially helpful when you’re taking the Underground or quickly transferred transportation services because you don’t want to be the person holding up an entire line whilst you dig for your ticket.
Book early if you plan on staying in a hostel.
We booked ours days before we left and ended up in having to carry our backpacks through London because we didn’t want to travel from Central to South London and back again to explore the city.
Realize you will get lost.
And it’s okay. It’s the only way you’re going to really explore a place. As long as you’re with other people you will eventually figure it out. I led us astray in London and we got on the wrong Underground tube, but we figured it out and it only took us a bit longer than normal. It only made us understand the tube that much more.
Bring good walking shoes!
You essentially walk most everywhere here and it’s much better to just bring something your more comfortable walking in then having to buy a new pair of shoes to break in while you’re here.
Budget (and stay on it!)
            I’ll be honest with this one, although I budgeted how much I was able to spend while over here, I didn’t budget weekly amounts and have realized I’ve been spending too much money in the beginning weeks that I’ve been here. Also realize that there will be costs that you’ll forget about, some here include money for doing laundry (to wash and dry a single load is about £3.20), miscellaneous food, and general grooming products (shampoo, conditioner, body wash, face wash, hairspray, etc.) to name a few.

Travel alone.
Take this as you want, but I personally found it much more fun to experience different cities with other people as opposed to being alone. In addition you have comfort in knowing there are other people around in case you get lost, need to find something, etc. etc..
Be naïve.
Realize that no matter where you go people can be shady. Maybe not in Ormskirk per say, but in the bigger cities you may visit rules are different. Although nothing has been taken from me I still operate on the idea that pickpockets are most everywhere. They even broadcast the warning in the train station themselves. Just be smart about where you’re carrying items at all times.
Over pack.
I’m quite wishy-washy on this one as I only came to England with one checked bag and a carry-on and wish I would have brought more. But in my trip to London I wish I would have brought less because it was such a bother to carry everything. Basically, pack your essentials in local travelling and I would suggest bringing whatever you may need for the entirety of your trip (within reason!).  

I’ll add more as I go along and figure things out. In addition I’ll post soon about my trip to London!

Happy Devil's Night to all!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

First Week of Classes

It’s come and gone and I’ve survived my first week of classes here in England! I must say that the set-up is very much different here compared to the US, but I’ve found it’s almost better. The classes (or modules) do tend to be four hours long, but they’re generally split into a 1-2 hour larger lecture with a two hour smaller seminar group to discuss the key elements glossed over in the larger group. All in all, I really enjoy the set-up and the classes don’t seem nearly as long once you start.

On top of classes I’ve finally found my footing here in Ormskirk itself. It’s definitely a smaller town, but since there’s a University it seems to support itself quite well. The center of town is only a 10-15 minute walk away from campus and if it’s raining or you don’t feel like walking there’s a free bus that runs to town every 15 minutes. There are about four main roads that contain many clothing shops, coffee houses, drug stores, etc. that fill really most any of your needs while away from home. The only difference between here and the US is the early closing times and the tendency to not be open on the weekends. This really isn’t too much of an inconvenience in the end though because it’s easy enough to pop into town after a morning class to get anything you really need.
I also took a trip to Liverpool this week. It’s not that far from Ormskirk and they have a large assortment of shops, restaurants, and street performers to keep anyone entertained for hours. We discovered Primark (a cheap clothing shop) and let me tell you, it’s next to impossible to walk out of that store with nothing in your hands. Four floors of clothes, accessories, and shoes would make any wallet weep.  

We also explored the street where The Beatles frequented and played before they ever really ‘made it’ and it was amazing to see the great prevalence they still have everywhere you turn here. I’ve also heard that there’s a church somewhere around the area that was bombed during WWII that stands as a homage to the people lost. I’m looking forward to returning in order to see more of the history of the city!

Overall it’s been a great first week of class and I look forward to the rest of the semester.The weather has been absolutely gorgeous and I fear for the day when the rain starts and doesn't stop!