World Trip: Oxford, England

After the quick forty-eight hours in Dublin, I had a rainy start to my flight back to England – walking through the cobble stone streets with my pack on my back and another strapped to the front, all the while trying to see through my rained on glasses. I must have looked like a very tired traveler, despite it only being the early days of my trip. Arriving back in London alone was very surreal. Walking through Heathrow and down to the tube without an ounce of fear for my back time in England was absolutely wonderful. It felt like coming home to the city I love – it reassured me that whilst I was away for nine months, part of my heart still remained in the crazy, busy city of London.

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I spent one night back on the South Bank – in a hotel this time, as I was sadly no longer a student of Kings College & living with my wonderful flat of ladies on Stamford Street. The countdown to the reunion with my British babes got closer to zero and my excitement was uncontrollable. With a stroke of luck, one of the ladies from the neighboring flat, Chloe, and I were able to catch a Sunday roast dinner before checking out some of our old stomping grounds once again. Living in London this past fall was one of the greatest and enlightening times I’ve had, but it’s incredibly strange when you have this group of friends that are so insanely kind and comforting, best friends you might say – but they live across an ocean. I was just having a talk about this with a few of these ladies the other day – how did we get so lucky to meet lifelong best friends in a brand new and exciting city?

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While I only had a quick night in London, the amount of homesickness for this city that I’ve had all year subsided with just a few hours of roaming around.  In the afternoon, I decided to catch a train out to the west to Oxford. One of the ladies from my flat, Lydia, grew up in Oxford and was at home for the summer – so instead of meeting up in Cornwall for our music festival (which I’ll most definitely write about later), we decided that I could come stay for a few days and see the outrageously classic town of Oxford.

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The taxi from the train station to Charles Street was quite short, only about ten minutes, until a grinning Lydia stood outside her adorable blue front door waving hello. After a few excited yelps and a big hug, I was meeting her wonderful family and setting my backpack down in my room for the next two days. That night we decided to stay in and Lydia’s mom cooked us a delicious meal of sautéed fish, buttered potatoes and a lovely strawberry pavlova for pudding later on.  Of course, the night would not have been complete without an everlasting game of Monopoly (which I won with some incredible stroke of luck, because in the history of my games of Monopoly, I’m quite sure I’ve never won). Finally my jet lag was subsiding and my bones were feeling tired enough to let me have a restful night of sleep in Oxford, thankfully.

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When the sun began shining through the window, I woke with a smile – waking up in a home rather than a hotel is relaxing.  Hearing the bustling of people downstairs rather than the stark silence that comes with a hotel morning made me feel, well, more at home. Lydia’s mom had a pot of tea waiting in their gorgeous naturally lit and modern kitchen along with fruit salad, toast and all the fixings. I’ve got to say, British families certainly know how to be hospitable – each and everyone of the families that I’ve had the pleasure to meet have been so welcoming.

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After a sleepy Lydia woke up, we were dropped off in town center to get some last minute supplies for our adventure to Boardmasters Music Festival the very next morning. Of course, I couldn’t visit Oxford without a few historic sites. We roamed around Christ Church campus of Oxford University to tour the grounds – walking past the a few of the original sites in the Harry Potter movies, my inner fangirl was most definitely doing cartwheels. With our provisions in hand, we ventured to the Covered Market to have lunch at Giorgina’s Cafe.  The brightly painted, poster covered cafe looked like a scene out of a early 90’s film – playing soft music, smelling of freshly baked goods & chatting people of all ages.  In lieu of a taxi, Lydia and I walked though winding streets back to her home, so we could spend the night rainproofing our bags and putting the finishing touches on all our camping gear for the next leg of our adventure.

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With one last look at the forecast for the next morning in Newquay, Cornwall, we knew setting up our tent in heavy rain and whipping winds would be tough. With multiple bin bags lining our packs and raincoats laid out to wear, we tried to catch a few hours of sleep before our early morning wake up call to the train station.  The next update will be all about the do’s and don’t’s of camping at a music festival and the reunion with some of my London ladies.

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Hampstead Heath

There’s something to be said about walking around, mindlessly wandering without a plan.  You might get off the path for a while, but the best things are unexpected.  I really do enjoy time to myself (maybe I’m a friendly introvert?) just walking and taking in the atmosphere. With no class yesterday, I took the tube to Hampstead and lost myself in the changing colors and breathtaking sights of the heath.  The green space in London removes you from the busy, crowded life and leads you to open spaces that give great sights for a clearing of mind. Here are some snapshots of my day spent walking around in autumn wonderland – enjoy and happy fall, wherever you are in the world!

IMG_0910 IMG_0874 IMG_0903 Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset IMG_0883 IMG_1005  IMG_0916 Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetWhat is your favorite autumn memory?  Any good music recommendations for this gloomy London weather?

 

Stormy Days + Marylebone

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I think autumn has come to stay in London. Each morning I wake up to cool winds and slight fog. Some people get depressed in this kind of weather – not me, this is my absolute heaven. I think I was made for days exactly like this.  There’s just something so wonderful about being bundled up while walking the streets, even if there’s a little rain mixed in, it’s not so bad if you get a hot cup of coffee at the end.  So when the forecast was 80% thunderstorms all day, I chucked on my heavy raincoat, loaded my pockets with tissues for my DayQuil resistant headcold and headed out for a new adventure in London.

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Of course, Michael Buble’s ‘A Foggy Day in London Town’ was playing in my earphones as I made my way to the tube station. My two ultimate favorites, cold weather & the crooning king, made for a good start to my (sickly) day. I was off to Marylebone to check out the High Street and find a little coffee shop to hole up in while I read my course book – see Dad, I am doing school work! So when the stop before Marylebone was Baker Street, I jumped off to see the Sherlock Holmes Museum. Do yourself a favor and go watch Sherlock if you haven’t already. It’s fantastic.

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The museum was fun, relatively cheap and included the set from the BBC series exactly as it seems on TV. I was just waiting for Sherlock to walk through with some solved crime spilling out of his mouth. From there, I headed further north and came across a little hidden gem. The Paddington Street Gardens were just a little gate on – you guessed it – Paddington Street, and it was a nice green space to take a break from all the large buildings in the area. The garden was created in the 18th century as extra burial space for the old St. Marylebone Parish, where over 80,000 graves were dug. It is still consecrated ground, although the tombstones have been moved with the exception of the mausoleum due to its tasteful design.

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As I turned on to Marylebone High Street, I ran right into Daunt Books – store I found on a list of 20 best bookshops in the world. Of course, I was going to spend a good chunk of time there. There’s something about bookstores… the time that you can lose just flipping through a good travel book or finding the perfect novel for a cozy evening of reading. The roof of this store was all glass, and I kid you not, the second I set foot in the store, the clouds began to release all their rain. It was magical. I sat there and listened to the rain with a big smile on my face because at that moment, life was pretty darn good.  

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Daunt Books has several locations throughout London, but I think this is by far the most beautiful of the settings. Marylebone has so many different shops up and down the little streets, ranging from high fashion to small and independent. The walk around the area is a great place to get lost for the day, if you must.

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By the early afternoon, my throat was sore and I was in need of a serious pick me up. I had heard of this cool coffee shop, Kaffeine, in a YouTube video by one of the many London vloggers I watch. Only a quick 15-minute walk from the Marylebone High Street, Kaffeine was bustling with a young crowd of baristas and businessmen coming for a mid-afternoon coffee. I sat down with a decadent chocolate brownie and a flat white for a much needed body recharge.  A quick break turned into an hour due to the novel I was reading for my Berlin studies class – Alone in Berlin is a tragic and captivating story of Nazi Germany.

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As their sign says, the coffee made me strong enough to get through the 15-minute walk to Oxford Circus, where I caught the tube back to Stamford Street and a little nap. Days like these are so perfect and fun. Adventuring is my kind of sightseeing – just choosing a point on the map and then figuring out the smaller details as the day goes on.

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In the last four weeks, I’ve found my niche within the city and I’m growing incredibly fond of it. While it’s impossible to not think of the countdown to my flight back to the States, there’s no time for crying, because I’ll just have to figure out a plan to move back here eventually. I’m currently on my way to Edinburgh for a quick weekend trip and exploring with some friends, so keep your eyes peeled for a Scotland post sometime early next week!

Day Trip: Windsor, Bath & Stonehenge

I’m not usually one to take the tours that make you stand out as the ultimate tourist, because half the fun of traveling is to fit into the local lifestyle, right?  This weekend, I gave into the tourist desires and took off on a day trip to Windsor Castle, the city of Bath and Stonehenge.  At 7:30 AM, I met up with four other study abroad students from the US and we started our walk over to Charing Cross where we would catch the tour.  After some troubles with getting our ticket, we were scurrying across the Hungerford Bridge and praying we would be able to snag a coffee somewhere along the line, because it was just too dang early for the speed we were going.

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With a hot coffee in hand, our tour started towards Windsor Castle and the famous private school, Eton.  It was a thirty minute ride and our overwhelmingly enthusiastic tour guide, Graham, filled the time with fun facts about the area.  Did you know that 93% of the current Parliament attended Eton? And the reason the Union Jack flies at all times on the castles is due to the day Princess Diana died?  It used to be that the royal flag was only flown when the Queen was in residence, so there was no flag to fly at half mast when the public heard the news. Now the Union Jack flies constantly, in case there is ever another tragedy.

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We didn’t buy admission to the actual castle, so Hannah, Rebecca, Elena, Westley & I found ourselves in a pub at 11 AM with mimosas as the rain came down.  Around noon, we had to make our way back to the bus through the torrential downpour for the next leg of the tour.  Due to the storm, Graham decided to change our route so that we would see Stonehenge with clear skies – off to the city of Bath we went! It was a two hour journey west and the most beautiful scenery of the English countryside passed by.  As we came into the Cotswolds region, I was astounded by the views – I don’t think it gets much better than the countryside. I can imagine moving to this area with a small house outside of the city and a running a little bakery in the town – whoops, sorry for the daydream.

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In Bath, we first went to the Roman Baths which were built upon a old hot spring that had healing qualities (it cured an Irish prince of leprosy but I was trying to avoid thinking about that… because EW).  The main pool was green from the minerals, but it was so interesting seeing the steam rolling along the top.  A quick walk through was enough for us, so we went exploring into the city streets.  Bath is a very small town, but it has a great combination of modern stores and the quaint countryside shops you would expect.  The Bath Abbey was hauntingly beautiful. The moment I walked in, I was awestruck by the vaulted ceiling with a canopy design.  Churches hold so much history – there were headstones along the walls that told of the many people buried around the Abbey dating all the way back to the 1600s.

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As we approached the Salisbury Plain, we saw the Westbury White Horse – during the Dark Ages, ancient people dug into the soil to create a picture of a horse and due to the chalky ground, it is visible from miles away (google it and you’ll be amazed).  It is now maintained by the English Heritage Council. Finally, we made it to the Stonehenge visitors center, where we boarded another bus that would take us up the actual historical landmark.

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Walking up to 5000 years of history is not something I do on the daily basis, obviously, so as we approached Stonehenge I tried to think of all the things these rocks had seen. It is not exactly clear why the actual Stonehenge was built, however with the new technology they have found that the rocks came from up to 130 miles away around 4000 years ago.  The Roman philosopher Tacitus was the first to document this strange landmark as a temple to the sun.  Modern historians now believe it was constructed as a temple to the moon during the time when the United Kingdom was connected to Scandinavia by glaciers.

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After an 11 hour day, I was back in my tiny dorm exhausted from a day of traveling and was beginning to feel the cold that I’ve been sleeping off this week.  This day trip was so worth the embarrassment of being a true tourist because of how much we accomplished in the short time we were out.  In the words of our tour guide, it was a “lovely jubbly diddly die tip top pop” day!

Shoreditch & Spitalfields

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So far, I’m two weeks into my time in London and I’m making a promise to myself now – I will explore a different area of London each week on my day off from university.  And by putting this promise out there, I’m hoping you readers hold me accountable to that, since I don’t want to come home regretting not exploring my area enough. This week, my University of Washington adventure buddy, Westley, and I decided to catch the tube to Shoreditch in East London for an afternoon of walking around and hopefully not spending too much – I guess my wallet is just on a diet? Losing a few pounds every day… (that was horrendous, so sorry)!

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We ended up in the Indian and Pakistani neighborhood of London and regardless of the directions I had, we weren’t stumbling across the promised vintage shops.  After a few misguided turns, we found the entrance to Old Spitalfields Market – an open square with vendors selling cheap goods and vintage designs. It was as if we stepped into a heaven of fun and interesting shops beckoning us with their window displays. We decided to try out the Wagamamas (Asian-fusion deliciousness) on the balcony of the market which gave us an ariel view of all the shops and let us plan our afternoon shopping.

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Back in the States, there’s a store called All Saints that sells the absolute best leather jackets along with so many other chic items – and the only issue being that they are ridiculously expensive.  In short, I’m obsessed with this brand.  When we came across the All Saints in Spitalfields, we learned that it was the flagship store and that the lead designer was just downstairs working on a few products. I was stunned and eventually depressed when the trying on all the amazing clothing and realizing I just don’t have the funds for these additions to my wardrobe.  One day, one day, All Saints I will own your merchandise.

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I’m constantly impressed with the historic buildings at each corner around London and then all of a sudden, the modern buildings are placed right next to them.  It’s really beautiful to see two different architectures up against each other, somehow educating you of the past and present simultaneously. Shoreditch is full of intersections like this, there are so many beautiful shops and old landmarks and randomly you’ll see a modern building from the next neighborhood at the end of a street. photo 5

There’s no doubt that the United Kingdom is well known for their tea – and I love having a good cup before bed…but I miss coffee. It’s so expensive here and rare to find actual ground coffee in a grocery store so you can make it yourself! Enough with the rant – in Shoreditch there was this amazingly modern cafe called Brooklyn Coffee that reminded me of (and made me tremendously miss) my New Yorker sister and the fun times I’ve had traveling there as well. And it was a welcome site to have a latte in hand as I roamed the streets of East London.

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If you’re into a younger feeling in a neighborhood, Shoreditch has that along with artistic graffiti on the streets near the tube stop, Spitalfields Market for the cheap and funky goods, the vintage market open Thursday through Sunday for all the your retro desires. There are loads of book stores, record shops and quirky house stores along the streets – so basically a trap for anyone with a few pounds in their wallet, since it’s impossible to leave without having done some shopping. Even though we were only 8 stops away from Central London and our campus, the differences in the neighborhoods are fantastic to see and explore.

Any suggestions or recommendations for which neighborhood of London I should explore next?

Until next time,

Laura Reed

Market Heaven

I am the kind of grocery shopper who could spend an hour roaming the aisles of Whole Foods, reading ingredients and looking at all the different choices. My roommates back in Seattle often have to look through the store to find and remind me that I’m just there to pick up a few essentials, not the entire organic supply of ingredients. Weird? Maybe, but I guess that’s just the culinary-obsessed chef side of me. IMG_8599Now, I really dislike the word ‘foodie’ – it seems like over the past five years, this word has become hip and trendy.  People use it to sound like they know all the ins and outs of the food world.  It’s become so mainstream of a word that it makes the concept of markets overproduced. So excuse me when I say, I visited absolute foodie heaven the other day. Two words – Borough Market.  IMG_8593Only a twenty minute walk east of my new flat in southeast London, this massive market that spans across a few blocks is every food-lover’s dream. I thought I’d seen it all – after living in Seattle (home of Pike Place), visiting Chelsea Market and Union Square Market in New York, and countless others – but no, this by far tops the list. Fresh vegetables from nearby markets, loads of cheese and charcuterie shops, and gourmet prepared food carts with delicious smells emanating from them.  Apart from the wonderful smells and sights inside the market, the walk there wasn’t too shabby either. Passing the Shard and walking through Southwark is a fun and easy walk to do on a Saturday afternoon. IMG_8584As we walked around, I heard the trains rumbling above the marketplace and it jostled me from my mindset of amazement. It seems like the last week has been a serious vacation.. walking around to a new neighborhood of London each day, exploring and meeting the people around my complex. I feel like I’ve been floating around all week, not really grasping on to the fact that I actually will be living here for the next fifteen weeks. The only thing I know for sure, I’ll be coming back to Borough Market to pick up my produce each week and maybe a fun artisan bread or cheese.IMG_8605I’ve never been introduced to the delicious summery drink of Pimm’s – being that I’m not legal in the states just yet.  It’s so delightful and light and was the perfect accompaniment to the group of American students meandering through the crowded market. It seemed like every person in the bustling center had a cup with them, so why not join in on the fun?!IMG_8662On Sunday morning, I found myself awake early and needing to do something.  My morning run started off easy, thanks to a sore ankle, but became fantastic with the breathtaking sights I ended up at.  I had a basic route of heading east in my mind and seeing how far I could get and after a wrong turn, I looked up and saw the beautiful Southwark Cathedral.  The church bells went off at that moment and the magical feeling of being in such a historic setting was almost too much for me to handle. IMG_8645Only another ten minute run past the church, I wound up at Tower Bridge and the Sunday morning walkers were out and about.  I had to pinch myself because being able to randomly end up there was definitely overwhelming. I took a mid-run break there to take in the post-card worthy site before I began the run back to the flat. So, week one has come to a close, but I’ve got so many more to look forward to in London and adventures waiting to be planned.

If you’re an avid food lover, you should book the ticket now to visit Borough Market, it’s well worth it.  What’s your favorite culinary city? Tell me in the comments below!

London Beginnings

London. The journey I’ve been waiting for all summer long has finally started.  In the four days that I’ve been here, I’ve come to the conclusion that there will be a day when I move here (sorry Mom & Dad, guess you’ll have to settle for an annual trip to England)!! Landing in Heathrow, I was tired from the baby who thought sleep meant crying and nervous that I wouldn’t be able to get my Student Visa as easily as I thought. Of course, there were no issues at customs and my tiredness soon was cured with the excitement of driving (frighteningly) through the city on the opposite side of the road. King’s College met me with a sign at the airport exit, ready to help with getting a cab to take me through the Fashion Week traffic into central London. IMG_8475It was supposed to be a forty minute commute to my new home, and with the added traffic on a strangely busy Sunday afternoon, we made it there in two hours. Talk about exhaustion. Finally I made it to the doors of Stamford Street Apartments to meet my new flat mates.  There’s Cory from Boston (Yay! Americans!), Jess from Eastbourne, Maddie from Cheshire, Lydia from Oxford & Cecilia from Madrid.   Other than my compatriot from Boston, the others are Freshmen, or freshers as they call it, and are experiencing their first time away from home. Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetPinch me, is this real life? I live a twenty minute walk from the Queen. I never thought I would be able to say that. What a life.IMG_8433It’s been interesting being here a week before the actual term begins, as there are a bunch of freshmen orientation events to attend. I’ve been able to do the classic tourist things, like walking from our flat in South Bank to Trafalgar Square through St. James Park and finishing up at Buckingham Palace. Just writing that makes me shiver.. I can’t believe I’m living here and being able to do these things on the daily basis. It’s been a dream for the last week and I am so excited to continue exploring.IMG_8376It doesn’t get much better than a school right on the banks of the River Thames, right? My daily commute to my “modules” takes me across the Waterloo Bridge, and the view is stunning. Big Ben, Parliament and the London Eye on one side and the Shard on the other. Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetThanks to these clever street signs, I haven’t yet been run over by the cars and double decker buses (see mom? I’m already beating your prediction)!  It’s definitely confusing with the opposite side driving, especially with the multiple one lane streets and roundabouts that seem to change each time you walk that route.Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetIMG_8504Being right next to Big Ben & Waterloo station, there is so much traffic – both commuter and tourist. It’s been amusing hearing the accents, languages and seeing the expressions people have from the sights. So far I’ve been living the adventure I’ve always dreamed of.  I’m so excited to continue meeting people around King’s College and through my future adventures. Next week I’ll begin taking my courses & soon be on my way to Munich for the infamous Oktoberfest!

Love from London,

Laura Reed