Guess what– guess what– guess what? I’m in London!
Because I tend to forget that not everyone has been reading this blog since I started the original one four years ago, here’s what I’m up to:
I’m going to be pursuing a
Master of Philosophy (MPhil) degree at the University of Cambridge starting Oct 6th. I’ll be studying Experimental Psychology. (This goes by many names, each of which gets different responses. Since my work involves neuroimaging and computational modeling, it can fall under Cognitive Science, Computational Cognitive Science, Neuroscience, Psychology, or Brain and Cognitive Sciences. In actuality, I’m studying how the brain and mind extracts structure from visual images. If it were possible I’d love to conduct a systematic study of how people respond to whatever title I choose; it is endlessly fascinating and amusing.)
This is a one-year, no classes, all-research program. Though recently I have learned that I may take optional statistics classes! I am excited to see if this can occur with my research schedule…
When you study abroad for more than six months, you need a visa. I had many adventures in acquiring my visa. (So many mistakes. My parents have been kind on the “I-told-you-so”s.) I did, in the end, acquire my visa. Then the visa people messed up and printed on my passport that I had to arrive in England by Sept. 20th, otherwise my visa was no longer valid.
This resulted in a lot of overseas, cold-call emailing looking for temporary housing (seriously, I hadn’t even gotten here and this had already been a massive learning experience). In the end, I ended up talking to one of my Wellesley friends on the Dive team, and I’m now staying for two weeks in her dad’s flat in London! (Ooh, you see how British I am already? Flat vs. apartment score :). Also, queue vs. line, and rowing vs. crew have already come up. And the existence of rugby as the replacement for American Football in population-wide importance.) My friend Rebecca and her father have both been absolutely wonderful, and I’m so thankful to them both for letting me stay here :).
Thus: I am in London. Previously this summer: I was at MIT (Boston, MA) doing research for Prof. Conway from June until August. Then I was at home in Edina, MN applying for grad schools, doing miscellaneous work, and spending time with family for two or so weeks. Then I was in San Jose, CA nannying for my cousins whose parents were on vacation for a little more than a week. Then I was back in Edina, MN for one day to frantically finish packing. Then I was off to London via Iceland, which brings me back to London!
And so my England adventures finally begin :). Today’s my first day in the city, so I have a gargantuan photo blog to show you! This is because (if you’ve ever hung out with me in Boston you were likely the unwilling victim of this philosophy) I am a walking fanatic. I think I probably did about 9-10 miles today, with advice and maps from Rebecca’s farther. I’m doing more later with him because he and life are wonderful. Anyway, photo blog. Comments are very welcome, and thanks as always for reading!
ps. Update: another accidental seven miles with Rebecca’s dad later… thank god for running shoes and those the-path-is-unexpectedly-twisty adventures :).
Okay, first off, I have to warn you that this ain’t gonna be a thoughtful post. This is a play-by-play in way too detail kind of post of my arrival and first day in London. Read at your own risk. So here we go! Yo, readers, Iceland is cold. Also, they sometimes have you walk up to the plane after your Minneapolis-to-Iceland flight. The airport is kind of in this windy, foot-high brush area, and it happened to be almost-raining (thank goodness not actually raining!) at the time we boarded. But I was, surprisingly, pretty darn pleased with myself after sleeping on-and-off for six hours because 1) I got moved to window exit rows on both flights (yup. I’m the most lucky person ever. Though I did ask for the first one after being assigned 26E. Still, so lucky, and the couple next to me was great), 2) mysterious cosmic forces that made me not cranky or anxious (really mysterious. Though the crankiness came after the next flight. Apparently I do well at 3am US time but not so well at 6am US time, which does not surprise me), and 3) ENGLAND WAS FINALLY HAPPENING. It’s been in the works for so long that it’s actually just kind of a relief and very exciting to get started…
The capital of Iceland that I can’t pronounce and am so just calling “Iceland”.
Yay, arrival! Getting out of the airport was a trip (two big rolly suitcases plus a little rolly suitcase plus a backpack. Plus not knowing where I was going. But I did end up getting on a train to Victoria Station, where this is, where I just stood around for a bit and congratulated myself.) After a few wrong turns, I ended up getting an Oyster card, which is the equivalent of a CharlieCard in Boston and what lets you get around the subway (except they call it the Tube or the Underground) and the buses. I eventually got myself over to Bus 36.
Out the window of Bus 36! Out of the realm of Americans! It was so funny in the airport because about half of the flight was British, so I was getting used to that, and then I could tell who the Americans were because I’d check myself a few sentences in when I didn’t have to adjust for the accent. After the Tube, I figured out that I couldn’t turn on my phone’s GPS (hahaha. This is ridiculously typical of me. You should see my texting skills.) But my previous self had helpfully printed out a Google Maps guide before I left, which was useful with the six people who I asked for help to get from the airport to Rebecca’s dad’s apartment (or flat. I have seen both now and am confused), and which had a small map that I used to find my way. Took a few minutes staring around at street signs, and some mad dashes with three suitcases across a non-crosswalk, but I made it. (As a side note, I really really really don’t want to grow older. I rely so much on fast mobility right now– nothing like dragging three suitcases across a road to not take that for granted.) (Also as a side side note, being a white-looking girl is extremely helpful if you want fast mobility, because people don’t freak out when you’re pounding up behind them running. This is something I’ve frequently observed in Boston– women especially will tense up as soon as they hear you, but then relax as soon as they see my face. As a woman, I completely get it, which is why I try not to run up behind people, but I do abuse the privilege.) Anyway, made it to the flat, was made extremely welcome, was taken out to dinner, and turned in early. Rebecca’s dad and younger sister are lovely people, and again, I’m so lucky to have them.
ALL RIGHT, BOYS AND GIRLS. MORNING OF DAY 1 OF LONDON. This is the Tube. It’s circular and the Tube itself is circular and that’s pretty great compared to Boston where everything’s rectangular. Also, the nice announcer lady was all about “Mind the Gap”, but “the Gap” turns out to be a vertical step that’s actually much smaller than the gaps in Boston’s subway system? Like, if I fell into the Boston subway, I would have a hard time getting myself back out in the timely manner necessary to not get run over. The London hole is shorter, and you’re less likely to lose a foot in the gap between the platform and the train.
Me in the subway. Forgive me looking tired– I’m about 8 hours out of whack. Comfiest bed ever though.
Arrived by tube from Warrick Station to Oxford Circus! ie the tourist shopping street. It’s really not that bad at 9:45am in the morning on a Sunday, though, must say. Something that continually surprised me about wandering around today was how… not narrow London was. Like, France gets very tight in a lot of corners, as does Boston to some extent. But the roads were pretty wide and it was less crowded that I expected (excepting the tourism sites). Rebecca’s dad tells me that the area around St. Paul’s Cathedral is more what I was thinking, with narrow cobblestone roads, but this was very modern. A really cool mix of architectures and of old and new, but everything very well-maintained, modern, and clean.
The pictures begin. I took each of them for a reason, but you’ll pretty quickly see what my criteria are. Signs, narrow roads, water, more narrow roads (I’m a bit obsessed), sky, pretty nature things, tourist locations. This one’s a sign. The Underground! It’s a lot more like Boston’s than I thought it would be… SUPER fast though. Like those trains come every few minutes, it’s incredible. And there are a lot of different ways to get anywhere, with more rails than Boston, which is great. (I’m comparing everything to Boston, btw. I don’t have any solid experience with Minneapolis, so Boston’s my go-to city).
Down the road we go…
I’ve probably been walking about 15 minutes by now. Shorter than I thought based on the map. I then lost a ton of time by buying a dumb phone (and I mean that in the sense of a not-smart-phone, not in the sense of a stupid phone) and then returning it when I figured out it’d be cheaper to just pay TMobile’s international calls fees. Some other guys were in the phone shop with me, and were all wearing rugby shirts and were from New Zealand. I was a bit confused, but this an indication for what I discovered later… 😛
Arches and narrow stone buildings. What can I say.
At this point I was street-wandering in my preferred mode of “oh that looks interesting let’s go that way and circle around”. Turns out I was heading towards Leicester Square (where this picture was taken). I don’t know how they pronounce that– I bet they have a silent C or something like they do with “Worcester” back in Boston. (Haha, I ran into quite a few Boston names in London. Yay for New England!)
Beautiful day though, right? It was sunny the whole day, and cold at the beginning (jeans and light jacket) but it warmed up ab it (jeans and t-shirt if you’re moving). In terms of clothes, I notice that all the girls are really into the skinny jeans, spandex on bottom is just fine, and there are way more people with sneakers on as compared to high heels (compared to Boston). Shirts and tops are generally what passes for “well-dressed, classy tops” in Boston — i.e. shirt and cool half-jacket things and scarves, but, like, collected. Men wear tighter clothes than in the US, pants and tops both. Tight-ish jeans and t-shirts, with jackets over the top, almost always sneakers. A lot more short boots on both men and women. I did a thorough canvassing of the young people when I was on the tube (ha, I just wrote “T” and had to erase it) so I could check if my clothes are fine. My clothes are fine. Man, globalization has its perks…
Whoa whoa whoa– CHINESE RESTAURANTS! I knew Soho was the place to be. I seem to “accidentally” find Chinatown wherever I go :).
Chinatown main, yes! This was one of the only places with only people of Asian descent around. London is DIVERSE, man. I thought Boston was diverse, but the international population here is astounding. Visually, the number of ethnicities is insane, and auditorily the number of languages is absolutely incredible. I’m walking around and it is legitimately forty-sixty by percentage for whether I will hear English or another language (usually French or Spanish) spoken by the people around me. I had this deep sense of confusion every time I talked to a shopkeeper in English, because the sense of being foreign was so strong I was sure everyone in the stores should be speaking at least French (the foreign language I’m most comfortable with).
And they’ve got GREAT DIMSUM OPTIONS. I need to get over my dislike of eating alone, because some of these I hadn’t seen before, and new dimsum = extra special happiness.
Haha, Chatime! The first of a few chains that I’ve been previously exposed to in the US. So funny.
One knows it is Chinatown when one sees roast ducks. My mother actually brought one home when I was in Minnesota, so I got to feast for a while.
All right, we’re out of Chinatown!
WHEE this is what happens when I’m walking and taking pictures (which is always, but sometimes it smears more than others). Anyway, musicals!
Telephone boxes. Ha! I saw one black one as well. Most of them were red.
Whole Foods! Second of the American chains.
Narrow stone bridgeways. Yup.
Oh look, the Royal Academy of Arts! Wandering around is awesome. London has these maps on poles all over the place (Rebecca’s dad told me they were put in place for the Olympics a few years back) so you can actually get around quite well without a GPS or a map, as long as you’ve looked at a map in the first place and have a plan for where you’re going. I really didn’t have to use my phone once, which I was very pleased about (I did figure out how to get the GPS working, but still :P). If you’re doing it without a map though, there’s still a lot of fun guesswork involved, and it makes finding places like this so fun.
They were filming something next to the Royal Academy of Arts… heehee, I love being in famous places :).
Shopping centers :). Rich ones.
I absolutely love these. So that all of the tourists from the EU remember to look the right way. I almost got run over only once today due to road direction confusion, and the reason it wasn’t more was in large part due to these signs. I’m super pleased that London does jaywalking but I’m sticking to a buddy for every other time I do it here, because it’s WAY too easy to forget about the car directions.
I just love the layers here. So many different styles of buildings…
Got to this point, and was like: look, a park! Look, a cool-looking building! Look, two cool-looking directions besides the direction of the cool-looking building! Oh oh… (I ended up having to follow my Plan. There was an overall goal to the wandering, you see :). Start at Oxford Circus, walk down to Piccadilly Circus, over to Trafalgar Square, walk along the river, head down to Buckingham Palace, head back up along the parks and make it back to a Tube station to get back home. I mostly followed it.)
Here’s Trafalgar Square!
Okay, I love this. See the horse statue? This is the right side of the square.
See the statue on the left side of the square? Horse bones with a bow on it. Cool, man. I should figure out what that represents.
SHEERRRLOOOCCCCKKK. It was then that I realized I’d passed Baker St (who am I kidding. I saw the Baker St. Tube station and I was like: BRAIN, TAKE NOTE BECAUSE I MUST GO THERE DESPITE IT NOT BEING ON ANY OF THE LISTS RECOMMENDED TO ME). Anyway, this isn’t Baker St, but I was pleased to see it anyway.
And that sign says Great Scotland Yard. I’ve got kind of an obsessive personality for some things… they come and go in phases, but the phases can last anywhere from weeks to years, so just be lucky you don’t have to hear about them on the blog, unlike my poor friends and family :). One of these things is the BBC version of Sherlock.
Made it to the river, booyah! There is nothing I love more in a city than having a huge river down the center of it. It brightens my perspective of everything in the city.
Okay, not quite there yet. Must cross the road to get to the river. Soon though!
RIVER! With a honking ferris wheel out of nowhere? Why did no one ever tell me there was a Ferris Wheel in London? (Later, I realized that this was the London Eye. I had heard of the London Eye. I vaguely thought of it as a large telescope aimed at the city sitting in an important tower. Not so much. I do love when you learn about things via context in books and then the reality turns out to have about the same function but be completely different :P)
Very happy Monica, walking along the river.
I suspect this is the back of something important…?
Ooh, big Ben!
Those crazy tourists. We’re such weirdos (my main focus was the guy standing on the traffic barriers).
More tourists! Again, I was trying to focus on all of the people crossing the bridge… because it got really really busy around Big Ben. Previously there weren’t really any crowds…
Houses of Parliament!
Loooooong line to get in.
Gardens behind the Houses of Parliament.
More Houses of Parliament.
What I love is the British flag at the top. Threw me for a bit because I’m so used to American flags. …And yet, I am so surprised how easy it has been to navigate London, which is this new place for me. I think a lot has changed since I last tried to figure out someplace new: 1) I’m older, 2) I’m used to Boston’s public transport system, 3) Rebecca’s dad bought and showed me four different kids of maps, two of which were the public transport system, 4) there are signs everywhere, 5) It’s a country where the language spoken is my first, 6) it’s a Western European country, which means a certain degree of similarity between it and the US, 7) GPS is always available as back up. Still, it’s really fun being able to run around on my own.
I want a door, and most especially a doorbell, like this. In fact, skip the door, I just want that engraved wooden circle surrounding a tiny button.
Made all the better by the fact that this is what the door belongs to. Is there really only on occupant? It’d be hard to share a doorbell… though maybe not so hard if your doorbell is as spectacular as this one…
Ooh, stone wall. Housing… what?
That says: “Private: The Abbey Gardens”. YESS.
Then there were police people guarding the road so I had to turn around. This situation also made me turn around.
Still circling around…
More police, still circling… and there was music too (official-like) so I was trying to get to the center where the music was obviously being played, but police…
Well, I ended up on the other side, but still no music? Confused. Maybe I’ll figure it out someday.
Anyway, off to one of the parks. London has fantastic green spaces.
Quick trip to see Buckingham Palace in between the parks!
Park on one side
Buckingham Palace gardens ahead
Palace on the other side
I attempted a selfie. It didn’t work. Though apparently selfie sticks are only 8 pounds?
Selfie #3 = successful. And I even look more awake in this one! It was because of the river.
Next park! They’re all connected; it’s great.
Back into the city! I could have gone to Hyde Park, but I like city-spaces too. This is the Mayfield area, which is apparently the richest in Lodon?
AHHHH NARROW ROADS-SMALL-RESTAURANT-FOOD-AREA AHHHH
Okay made it out of the small food area. Why couldn’t that have been bigger?
Ooh, mysterious garden off to the right. Must turn off.
Okay, apparently this is Mount Street Gardens! Good to know.
I just liked the pipes and greenery here.
Tree inside of water feature? Hm?
Daisies! It feels like fall here more than anywhere else I’ve been (Boston, MN, San Jose) but they have some lovely green grass.
AMURICA. The US Embassy. Again, the stuff you run into on accident (or while walking to Baker Street. You know)
Okay I’m really fascinated by this plant ball. There must be wire mesh on the inside. How do they water it? I want one.
Columns in between buildings. Weird small buildings surrounded by modern big buildings is also a favorite of mine.
They color-coordinated the construction colors to make it look nice, aww…
This building curves oddly. Also, it just got crazy crowded. Huh?
OOh Oxford Street, shopping place, where I started out… I get it. I finally completed the circle!
So along this road was a ton of big windows with these flowers completely filling them. And I was trying to figure out what they were selling (quirky furniture store?), and I finally saw that there were these tiny watches in the middle of the displays, so I snapped this, and then the Apple symbol finally registered with me. …Weird form of advertising, but i guess it’s memorable? If you get close enough to see it?
Another AHHHH moment. Grab-your-own-sushi. This is like my favorite. Seriously, whoever will eventually be dating me in the future, let’s go to sushi or dimsum or some really cooked vegetable place: those are your choices. (Kidding, I’ll eat almost anything that seems healthy.)
FINALLY made up Baker Street. Saw the crowd. Figured out it actually was a tourist attraction.
And since I was in the area…
This guy on the cell phone next to the statue was hilarious. He was leaning on it almost the whole time when people were posing in front of it, but then he seemed to realize he was in the way, so he’d briefly stand up straight like he’s doing here, before he’d go right back to leaning on it. I don’t know if he wanted to be in people’s pictures, didn’t process it, or what, but it was quite entertaining.
Central London map. I did a circlish chunk in the middle :).
After getting on the Tube station at Baker St, I finally realized why everyone was running around wearing rugby shirts. The Rugby World Cup 2015 is being held in England. I didn’t know this because I’m terrible about professional sports, and if my labmates aren’t talking about it (they do talk about soccer) then I don’t hear about it. But I now know that Japan beat South Africa in a terrible upset yesterday, and the 4:45pm match that was taking place at Wembley Stadium, which you can get to if you transfer at Baker St to Metropolitan Line. The matches have also been playing non-stop at Rebecca’s dad’s house, so I am finally clued in :).
And then I rested for an hour, went on a long walk on the other side of the river with Rebecca’s dad, was treated to dinner AGAIN, and laid all of my electronics down to rest. Yay for previous Monica and dad for reminding me to get myriad converters 🙂
Night all :).