My time in London so far has gone through two nebulous and rather annoying phases: the freshman and the tourist.
After landing at Heathrow at 7:15am – we beat the sun, which was miraculously present for a vast majority of the day – we were immediately greeted by an FIE (Foundation for International Education) representative, the familiar face of Dr. Myers, and a coach. Actually, the FIE rep and Dr. Myers were really the first to greet us since a few girls had issues with their luggage (always pack a spare outfit in your carry-on!), so we didn’t get to the coach for another forty-five minutes. Once on the coach, we experienced our first brief interlude as tourists as the representative tried to sing London’s graces to a group of 33 exhausted and jet-lagged students, many of whom were unsuccessful in their attempts to sleep on the plane (it was a very tight and bumpy journey). If our “tour guide” hadn’t been talking, it would have been a very quiet bus ride. Once we arrived at our new home at 13 Manson Place, things livened up and we entered the freshman stage of the journey.
Manson Place is a tiny little street in Kensington, the borough that is home to celebrities, most notably the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. We are spitting distance from Cromwell Road, which is full of history and fun. The road connects Windsor Palace to Buckingham Palace, and we were informed that should we see a red car surrounded by two police escorts, it’s the queen. No big deal, right? Also on Cromwell Road, just feet from Manson Place are the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum. (Tip: avoid the last two museums on the weekends if at all possible. They are packed with hyper children and frazzled parents pushing strollers. Your feet and heels will get trampled.) We are also near Harrods and many other expensive stores and clubs in which Prince Harry is sometimes seen. Once again, super casual, right? Although many of us were originally super excited about our close proximity to royalty, many also began to realize the more practical advantages of our location. We are a five-minute walk from South Kensington Station (which connects to the Circle, District and Piccadilly lines) and a ten-minute walk/ five-minute bus ride from a Sainsbury. I will be hardcore struggling for the next few months.
After complaining about space and the bathrooms (the people to bathroom ratio is 5:1), everyone managed to unpack all of their belongings and wander their way over to Foundation House to begin the registration portion of the freshman phase. My roommates, Shannon and Alex, and I decided to take advantage of the Local Amenities Tour, which pointed out potentially useful stores in our area, like Boots (similar to CVS or Walgreens) and Ryman (a stationary store). The rest of the day was left to us.
The next two days continued the freshman phase with four orientations – Academic, IT, Student Life, and Internship – all of which bombarded us with both the overload of information that would be helpful should you manage to retain it as well as the overload of new names and faces to learn. Any college student can probably recall the disorientation of orientation week, and lucky me, I get to go through it twice. The introvert in me is kind of dying with sensory overload. That being said, I have met a handful of students from other schools as well as my own that I can’t wait to hang out with during my adventures in London.
That brings us to the second phase: the tourist phase. All students were required to go on a tour of Parliament for the key course that we are all required to take. A tour of Parliament was one thing that I never got to do in my time in England before, so I was very excited to learn about the building that houses Britain’s government. The tour itself was amazing due to our awesome tour guide, Mr. Richard Hampton, but the most surreal aspect was standing in Westminster Hall. The hall is the oldest part of the palace, as it survived both the fire that burned down most of Parliament in 1834 and the London Blitz in 1941. It was in Westminster Hall that William Wallace, Guy Fawkes and other members of the Gunpowder Plot were tried and sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. It was in Westminster Hall that King Charles I was also tried by Parliament and sentenced to death. Westminster Hall has seen numerous coronation banquets, markets and even some tennis matches (tennis balls have been found up in the rafters). The lying-in-state of many monarchs and other important figures, such as Winston Churchill, have taken place in Westminster Hall, as have important addresses, such as Nelson Mandela’s address in 1996. If walls could talk, the halls of Westminster Hall would probably have some crazy stories to tell, and to be standing in a hall where so many important events in history took place was truly an indescribable feeling.
Although I am not a huge fan of feeling like a tourist, the history geek in me makes it inevitable.
Yesterday, we went on a bus tour of London, which was interesting but light. Much of the tour was the tour guide pointing out certain shops or banks or restaurants where famous people attended, like the Queen’s bank (Coutts) and the Queen’s bookstore and the Queen’s grocer (Fortnum and Mason’s). We did get some great opportunity to take pictures of Buckingham Palace, the Tower Bridge and St. Paul’s Cathedral bathed in sunlight, which was the true gift.
Today, however, classes start, which marks the end of my freshman phase at least. The tourist phase will probably never go away as long as I remain a history geek in Europe. I am relieved to be able to start classes and establish a routine that makes exploring easier.