Jan. 14 — 4 days after arrival

Two of London's famous red telephone booths, spotted in South Kensington.

Two of London’s famous red telephone booths, spotted in South Kensington.

I’ve been here for 4 days and already I’m in love with my new city. I don’t have much time to write now but I’ve had the opportunity to take a bunch of (unedited) photos, some of which I have uploaded here. I have the luck of living in the South Kensington neighborhood of London, an absolutely beautiful and safe section of the city. I’m a four minute walk from the tube and about a three minute walk to any number of grocery stores and pubs (and Boots, which I already love).

After a weekend of living it up in the pubs and exploring South Ken, we finally have started to settle down and do things as one large group. Today, as part of our study abroad program, we were able to take a boat trip down the Thames (the London version of the Charles River) all the way to Greenwich, London, a gorgeous neighborhood filled with students and cute little shops. Walking around, all you hear is music — we heard a student practicing the trombone in his dorm room and another playing a song on the piano as we checked out the Cutty Sark, a beautiful ship parked permanently on land. I’ll blog more later, but for now, here are some pictures.

Jan. 21 — 10 days after arrival

This blog post was originally posted, as written by me, on http://www.freepblog.wordpress.com for my college newspaper’s blog (via my college newspaper, The Daily Free Press).IMG_2639

A week into my semester abroad, I still feel like it’s not really real yet.

I’ve been to Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, Big Ben, Parliament, pubs (so many pubs) and clubs. I took a boat cruise down the Thames and even visited “Platform Nine and ¾.” Everything is gorgeous and so old and historical. It has been so fun sightseeing; we’re off to the Tower of London today. Still, though, it feels like I’m on vacation with a bunch of friends — except, on a budget.

One of the hardest things to adjust to — besides learning to look the “wrong” way when crossing the street — has been living completely on my own. Last semester, I had an apartment, but I was always at The Daily Free Press or my restaurant job and rarely had time to cook real meals for myself. Here, though, it’s been all home-cooked, all the time. We really can’t afford anything else with the exchange rate (which sits at almost two dollars for every one pound) and with our estimated travel budget. So, it’s been chicken and veggies pretty much every night for dinner.

My roommate and I have pooled our spending and split everything from trips to the grocery store, to cooking and dishes. It’s been a great system but definitely has been a big adjustment, along with sharing a kitchen with 14 other girls, all of whom live in my flat.

Before I got here, I decided one of my main goals would be to travel. I’ve been looking forward to seeing all parts of Europe since I can remember and realize this is the perfect opportunity. We’re going to Dublin next weekend, where luckily enough I have a friend there we can stay with for free. We’ve got a bunch more trips planned, too — all around the U.K., Ireland and the Netherlands, for now, with our bigger trips still up in the air.

I think what has struck me most about London is how massive and how international it is as a city. Every place we’ve been, we’ve met people from all over the globe. Other Americans, a ton of French people, Lithuanians and — my personal favorite — two businessmen from Copenhagen we met on a pub-crawl. It’s been much harder to meet Brits than I figured it would be, but I think that’s because of the neighborhood we live in (South Kensington). It’s very expensive and not home to too many locals. I’ve set another goal for myself this week to meet more people from in and around London. There are a bunch of local universities around that we might go check out.

All and all, it’s been an amazing first week and I couldn’t be happier with my choice to study abroad in London. As far as classes go, I’m taking a British media and culture class and a class focused on foreign corresponding. I can’t wait for those to begin next week!

Feb. 2 — 24 days after arrival

This blog post was originally posted, as written by me, on http://www.freepblog.wordpress.com for my college newspaper’s blog (via my college newspaper, The Daily Free Press).IMG_1010

You could get almost anything you’ve ever wanted and more at Notting Hill’s Portobello Road Market.

Stretched out along a winding road in downtown London, the famous market takes on a life of its own each weekend. There are booths overflowing with all manner of things, including beautiful jewelry, vintage records, handmade leather journals, crappy used CD’s and real fur coats.

If that weren’t enough, there is food and drink from every corner of the globe available to anyone who wants it. Among other things, I saw Spanish paella, Italian bruschetta, Belgian waffles and an endless selection of French cheeses.

Musicians line the streets, serenading shoppers all day long. Stands open bright and early and some don’t close up shop until dinnertime. Locals and tourists alike can mill about all day long and never get bored. My friends and I killed several hours there, just taking in the sights. We browsed around a vintage rock t-shirt shop, ate delicious crepes and made friends with merchants.

The Portobello Road Market was a lot like street fairs at New York City, but had a completely different vibe. Everyone was friendly — with the exception of one guy at a vintage record booth who was a complete jerk to my friend for no good reason — and encouraged us to look through their goods and had no issues if we chose to not part from our money. I took pictures freely and was met with many friendly faces along our (long) walk up and down Portobello Road.

Notting Hill itself is beautiful, too. Many of the houses have colorful exteriors and the whole neighborhood had a cheery feel to it matched by no other place I’ve yet encountered in the city. There were cinemas and off-beat pubs and artist shops on every corner. It felt like SoHo in New York City, except less retail-oriented and much cozier.

The only downside of my day was that we didn’t accidentally bump into Hugh Grant (who lives in the area!) or see the famous blue door, made iconic by Grant’s fittingly titled film, Notting Hill.

Afterward, we hiked on over to Harrods, a department store famous for its luxury goods and its absolutely unrivaled food court (if you can even call it that). The store’s confectionery department alone is enough to put any foodie over the edge — truffles of all shapes and sizes filled glasses cases on every wall. There was also a fresh fish market, gourmet butcher shop and a raw oyster and champagne bar. Harrods also boasts an amazing beauty department and clothing section, as well as a transport system they called the “Egyptian escalators,” where shoppers zip up and down on escalators bedecked with gilded sphinxes. While riding up and down, we were also serenaded by an opera singer in a full ball gown.

My friends and I bought some chocolates that were expensive but worth every penny. Needless to say, I’ll be back if my wallet ever recovers.

Feb. 9 — 31 days after arrival

This blog post was originally posted, as written by me, on http://www.freepblog.wordpress.com for my college newspaper’s blog (via my college newspaper, The Daily Free Press). Also, there is no photo gallery this week — there will be one next week!

If you know me at all, you know I am crazy about the Winter Olympics. From ski jumping to curling to skeleton, there isn’t one event I don’t enjoy watching.

As an avid skier and general athletic enthusiast, I grew up on snow (I was a competitive alpine ski racer for 13 years starting from the age of 5 — I learned how to ski at the age of 3). My parents have always joked that I can ski better than I can walk, which, according to the many scars on my knees, might be true.

So, as you can imagine, realizing that I was going to be in a foreign country for the entirety of the 2014 Sochi Olympics sort of stressed me out. How was I going to be able to ensure I could watch Ted Ligety fight to win his second Olympic giant slalom gold medal?

It turned out to be easier than I had imagined.

Luckily, the British Broadcasting Corporation, also known as BBC, allows no advertisements and thus has no incentive to embargo events until prime time.

Unlike NBC back in the U.S., BBC is paid for directly by citizens of the countries in which it is broadcast. Everyone who buys a television in the U.K. has to pay a “license fee,” which funds BBC and its many channels. For a color television, this fee is £145.50 per year, according to BBC’s website, which is equivalent to approximately $238.60.

So, this morning, even before I got out of bed, I was able to live-stream the men’s downhill medal heat right to my phone via BBC. And I haven’t had to miss many events. I got to catch Hannah Kearney, my favorite Olympian – who, before her U.S. Ski Team days, skied for the Waterville Valley BBTS just like I did – capture the bronze medal in women’s freestyle skiing as it happened.

My friends and I also got to see the opening ceremony in real-time, unlike all our friends back in Boston and all over the U.S. (it was also interesting to see Americans tweet about the show later on, and to see them react to what we had seen hours before).

BBC also does a good job broadcasting all performances for each event. So, regardless of how well the U.S. does, we over in the U.K. can watch our hometown heroes compete, which has made watching the Olympics a much more patriotic, social event for us expatriates. We’ve spent the last few afternoons and nights crowded around the basement television, dinner plates in our laps.

Speaking of which, I’ve got to run and catch the re-airing of the downhill competition. There’s no way I’m going to miss an opportunity to watch Bode Miller’s (kind of disappointing) run again. Go team USA!

March 31 — 82 days after arrival

This blog post was originally posted, as written by me, on http://www.freepblog.wordpress.com for my college newspaper’s blog (via my college newspaper, The Daily Free Press).IMG_2644

When I stepped off the plane at Heathrow Sunday night on our way home from Amsterdam, I breathed a sigh of relief: “We’re home.”

This got me thinking, almost at once: is London really home? At what moment does the line between “tourist” and “resident” blur? Is it when you no longer need to refer to the subway map? Is it when you get used to everybody’s accents? Is it when you start taking your city for granted?

Luckily, I’m not the sort of person the latter can happen to. I still wander around South Kensington, craning my neck to take in every little detail like it’s not all going to be there when I get back. While none of it feels new anymore, it’s still breathtaking in its own right. To this day, I’m in awe that some of it belongs to me — at least for a little while.

I’ve been here for 82 days and I’m still having new experiences all the time. Whether it’s visiting a new place, meeting someone new or learning a new British custom, I’m constantly taking in new information.

Still, I feel like I really do have an established place here — I’ve got my day-to-day routine, my ever-changing schedule and my own little network of people. My job helps with this, of course. Every day, I’m in my office from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. doing tasks, interacting with people, watching projects begin and end. I’ve got go-to lunch places and little jokes with coworkers.

And yet, I’m not convinced that it’s my right to say that London is my home.

Concord is home, for sure — Boston, too. Soon, I’ll move back to Massachusetts and then New York City and carry on my normal life back in the states. However, it wouldn’t be right to classify London as a “pit stop.”

What makes London so homey is not that it’s beautiful or comfortable or even “Americanized” — it’s the people and my life here. It’s having a job in downtown London that I commute to and from every single day. It’s that the people at the coffee shop next door know my order and my coworkers know how I take my tea. It’s that I love my friends here and feel extremely lucky to be with them, both in London and in our travels. It’s that I know where and when to go.

My friends and I don’t talk about our semester’s impending expiration date (which is less than a month away). We don’t want to “go back to reality.”

Isn’t this what this is, though? Sure, we have a privileged life here in London, living in beautiful South Kensington and traveling every weekend, but it’s come to be our own little niche of the city.

For these four months, this is and has been our reality, and I’ll be sad to see it go. Until the end of April, I’m going to keep enjoying it.

Below is a slideshow of my parents visiting my London home.

April 14 — 96 days after arrival

This blog post was originally posted, as written by me, on http://www.freepblog.wordpress.com for my college newspaper’s blog (via my college newspaper, The Daily Free Press).IMG_3518

After a sad departure from my internship on Thursday, it was really nice to spend a weekend in London. Even though we live here, it’s hard to feel like we’ve seen all the city has to offer with our full-time jobs.

Friday night started off with a bang — after farewell drinks with my work colleagues, my friends and I met up in Shoreditch, an up-and-coming neighborhood in East London. Shoreditch is a part of the city that has become increasingly gentrified. Filled with bars and clubs, it’s a trendy area we felt we had to check out before we returned home to the states.

After checking out a fun club there, we made our way over to Hoxton, another area with the same trendy feel. The club we went to there, the Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen, was three venues all in one: a lounge, a bar and a club and was an awesome way to end the evening. My roommate and I danced on stage with a random stranger for the better part of the night and had a blast.

Saturday morning, we woke up and headed over to Camden Market in Camden Town. After almost a whole semester in London, we were so happy to finally be able to check out the famous market in northern London. It was absolutely packed with shoppers, merchants and Londoners just milling about. There were a bunch of different markets — Inverness Market, Horse Stables Market and Camden Lock Market, among others — that we explored for hours.

Even though I didn’t buy anything, I was tempted all day; we passed hundreds of food vendors from all over the world, dozens of clothing merchants and people selling knick-knacks that could satisfy any shopper’s needs.

The next day, we headed out the door at 10:30 a.m. We made our way over to Canary Wharf to catch some of the London Marathon. The six of us grabbed a pint at Smollensky’s and watched runners pass through the city’s financial district at the 18th mile marker.

Next, we took the Docklands Light Railway to the O2 Arena to check out The British Music Experience. We learned about the history of British music from the 1940s onward and even recorded songs in their on-site studio (the highlight was definitely either our rendition of “Wonderwall” by Oasis or of “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees.) We saw outfits worn by David Bowie, Jimmy Page and the Spice Girls and got to look at a selection of Sir Elton John’s glasses.

After a tour around the museum, we took a gondola over the River Thames to see the Olympic Park. We all love the Olympics and loved checking out the site of the 2012 summer games.

After a long day of sightseeing, we went back to one of our favorite pubs, called The Mayflower. We hung out on their deck, overlooking the Thames and London’s glittering skyline before heading back to South Kensington. It seems crazy, but I think we’re ready to start our last full week abroad.

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