Feeling Festive

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Christmas time is finally here and let me tell you, London takes the holidays very seriously. From the end of October on, it seems like there’s been a new Christmas decoration up on a corner or more lights hung from the streets. I’m so used to having the Christmas season just in December – so this extremely long festive time has been an absolute treat! I’m always the kid in the house that stresses the importance of having our lights up the day after Thanksgiving along with the stockings on the fireplace and giant nutcracker in the hallway. I feel like my senses have been overloaded with time I’ve had to see Christmassy sights and I’m honestly completely okay with that.

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Just a 15 minute walk from my flat is Trafalgar Square.  We ventured over the Hungerford Bridge the other night for the Oslo Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony and were treated to a few carols and a speech by the mayor of Oslo. For the last 63 years, Norway has given a pine tree to England to thank them for the aid they received during the wartime.  We were frozen to the bone by the time we were back, but it was fantastic to see the lights be turned on and the carol singing helped with making everyone feel a little more festive.

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There’s so much to do in London on a regular day, so when it comes to the holidays – it’s kind of insane. Winter Wonderland is this amazing festival located in Hyde Park that is basically a German Christmas market transported to the middle of London. There’s rides of all kinds, booths filled to the top with gifts and too many pots of mulled wine to count. Izzy, Ashton, Rebecca & I found ourselves there on Tuesday night and ended up walking around the entire park before ending the night with some hot chocolate and plenty of souvenirs.

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Closer to my flat is the South Bank Christmas market that runs alongside the Thames and has close-up views of Parliament and the London Eye.  It’s so strange being able to walk home from campus and casually stop by the Christmas market for a few last minute presents. This particular market is a little bit smaller but still has the tons of booths with gingerbread, fudge, mulled cider and gifts. I am just a tiny bit in love with everything in my area – leaving in just a 5 days makes each walk back bittersweet. Bittersweet because I’m excited to get home and see my family and excited for the many trips (and hopefully a more permanent move) back to England, but the idea of not seeing the friends I’ve made here for at least the next 6 months is kind of hard to fathom.

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Anyways – back to Christmas markets and the holiday spirit! Really, there’s not much better than seeing the holiday cheer on people’s faces as you walk by… sure, that sounds extremely cheesy, but what can I say – this season is definitely my favorite. I can’t wait to be home and forcing the family to have all the decoration up within an hour of my being home (you better expect it, Mom & Dad) and the sheer thought of making dozens and dozens of Christmas cookies and haystacks makes me jump in my seat.  To be honest, I’m actually wrapped up in my duvet with the heating on because London has decided to freeze everything in its path.

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There’s several reasons why I love being a student at Kings College and currently, the ability to go ice skating at Somerset House during class breaks sits right on top. Like, how cool is that?! Ice skating at a famous London landmark, right along the Thames all within 30 steps of my campus. I was rather impressed with my ability to stay skating during our time on the rink. Other than the speed demon who completely ran right into me – I had no falls, woohoo! I definitely don’t go ice skating often, so this was certainly a treat.

3London has done its job and has made me feel comfortable with living 5000 miles away from family, but California is calling and in just 5 short days, I’ll be flying back. There will certainly be teary goodbyes and many days in the future of looking back at these amazing experiences I’ve had – but for the rest of my time here,  I’ll take advantage of this wonderful city and all it has to offer.  I certainly hope that one day, I’ll get to call London a part-time home, because this city has taken a part of my heart and I’m really excited for the adventures back!

Love,

Laura Reed

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!

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