The Last Little Bit

Hey all,

Congrats on being done exams! I myself have just handed it all my work at KCL in London… but I’m still here for 7 weeks! There’s really no reason for me to be here except for the fact that I’m paying my residence fees until the end of June, so I thought I might as well live in London for the time being. I’m also planning on traveling quite a bit more while I’m still in Europe. But before I look forward to the next weeks and adventures to come, I thought I’d look back on my favourite memories from my time abroad so far.

From meeting my flatmates to discovering London, to experiencing Christmas time here and having a proper English roast and afternoon tea, to taking an impromptu trip to Amsterdam, to visiting Dublin and Berlin and Paris, to going to Platform 9 and 3/4 and meeting Rupert Grint, to seeing more plays than I can count, and to being in a play myself. I can’t believe how much has happened in such a short span of time. I’m actually worried that next year will be boring compared to this one, but I guess there’s no point thinking about that now.

Leisure aside, my courses at King’s College London were interesting and engaging. I was very impressed with all of my professors and the standard of education here. I wouldn’t say the classes were taught that differently but studying English literature in England has its advantages… for example, in first semester I had classes at the Globe Theatre. I may be happy to be done with my coursework now, but that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy my classes.

Now, all that’s left to do is frolic around sunny London and go traveling. So far, I have plans to visit Lyon in France, Edinburgh and Isle of Skye in Scotland, Lisbon and Setubal in Portugal, and Oxford and Stratford-upon-Avon in England. I’m sure it will be a whirlwind!

It feels weird saying goodbye to this blog now, but I do want to say thank you to those people who have read these posts. I hope you’ve enjoyed them and they’re brought you some sort of insight. And I definitely hope that they’ve inspired you to think about studying abroad, whether it’s for a summer course, a semester, or a year.

Thanks again for reading! Cheerio! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

-Veronika

 

England, Ireland and Scotland

Red telephone box in London

Red telephone box in London

Abbey Road

Abbey Road

For the past two weeks, I had the opportunity to travel across the English Channel to the huge, more or less, island of the UK. I planned this trip with Lucas, a friend of mine from Canada. We both agreed to meet up at London’s Heathrow airport. I flew in from Berlin and he came all the way from Toronto. We saw various different cities and many great experiences were had.

View of the Thames River

View of the Thames River

Lucas and I in front of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

Lucas and I in front of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

The first leg of the trip started in the massive city of London. First, we saw of course all the sights that tourists must see: the Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the Thames River, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace and so on. We even went to see Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and then took a trip to Abbey Road looking like goofs as we were tried to imitate the Beatles album cover. One night we attended an Arsenal soccer game. It was my first ever soccer game and it was very entertaining. The crowd was packed with fans cheering chants and going crazy.

Arsenal soccer game

Arsenal soccer game

There was one shock to me with going to London for the first time (or the entire UK for that matter): driving on the left side of the road. I remember staring at the traffic at one busy intersection, trying to grasp such a foreign concept. On one occasion, I almost got simultaneously hit by a car and then a street cyclist. They actually paint on the streets at crossing points: “LOOK RIGHT”. I guess this is for all the new people like myself to the city who are simply not used to such rules of the road.

A must for those new to the traffic rules

A must for those new to the traffic rules

Our travels then took us north to Manchester. After about 4 hours in the bus, we arrived in this industrial city. Firstly, there was already a change in the dialect. The people became harder to understand, even though they were speaking English. We walked around the city, looking at famous landmarks and buildings. Also, from the people we had spoken to, they were all fans of the Manchester soccer team and they did not like other football clubs. They made that very clear with us.

Liverpool was our next destination. This was my favourite city of our whole trip. It is a port city, so there was an amazing waterfront. Even worse than Manchester, the people here were almost impossible for me to understand. Numerous times we had to ask some individuals to please repeat themselves as we had no clue what they were trying to say. The Beatles came from Liverpool and hence we had to visit the Beatles museum. It was a great experience, taking us through the history of one of the greatest bands ever.

The Beatles Museum in Liverpool

The Beatles Museum in Liverpool

To change up our mode of travel, we took an 8 hour ferry from Liverpool to Belfast. We were pleasantly surprised with the whole experience. We expected it to be simply a wooden bench and a loud engine while we were trapped for the whole trip within a metal hull. Instead, it was quite luxurious! There was a great on-board restaurant, a cinema, sleeping cabins, lounges and cafés. It didn’t even seem like we were on a ship, as the engine was so quiet.

The ferry from Liverpool to Belfast. Liverpool city skyline in the background

The ferry from Liverpool to Belfast. Liverpool city skyline in the background

Belfast was a cool city. There is a great history and it is similar to parts of Toronto. Kind of like Queen Street West. We saw the Queen’s University, the harbour, an old jail and we were even there when the Belfast Film Festival was taking place. We saw a very strange movie and I am still trying to figure out what it was about exactly. It was probably the worst movie I have ever seen in my life. It was called “The Distance”. Look it up and try to watch it if you can.

The Scottish Highlands- breathtaking

The Scottish Highlands- breathtaking

The last city on our list was Edinburgh, in Scotland. Comprising of a central castle on top of a hill, many old and beautiful buildings, parks, a rich history and Scottish accents, Edinburgh is a great city. One night, we did a haunted tour into one of the ancient vaults underneath the old city. It was quite creepy. The highlight of our stay was a 12 hour bus tour of the Scottish Highlands. We went all the way up to the northern part of Scotland and it was beautiful. There were mountains, rolling hills, lakes and little villages. We even saw the famous Loch Ness Lake where the mysterious monster is supposed to live.

Loch Ness Didn't catch a glimpse of the monster

Loch Ness
Didn’t catch a glimpse of the monster

Well, that was about my experience travelling to the UK. Much was seen, many kilometres were travelled, and now we are back in Berlin. I will show Lucas the main sights in the capital of Germany. Thus far, he is really enjoying the city. For me, my second semester starts next week. I had enough of a break- time to learn again! :) It is hard to believe that all of you back home are now writing exams and I am just starting. Just another difference I guess between the two university systems.

Rediscovering London

Staying put for a long time can be difficult. I find that I get comfortable and forget to explore my surroundings. Luckily, two of my close friends came to visit me in London (one after the other) so I got the opportunity to rediscover the city that I live in.

First, my friend from Toronto came to visit. Because she had never been to London, I took her to some tourist attractions that I hadn’t been on myself since I was quite young.

Unfortunately, being a tourist isn’t cheap, but it was fun nonetheless.

Here’s a shot from the London Eye:

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And one of Westminster through the rain:

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Big Ben

My friend visited for a week and she still didn’t get to see everything she wanted to. That just shows that when you’re travelling, you have to plan out your time beforehand. Of course, getting everything done gets hard when it’s raining and all you want to do is sleep in! Nonetheless, we made it to Westminster, Covent Gaden, Oxford Circus, Picadilli Circus, Soho, and Chinatown. We even managed to go to Cardiff for a night. Talk about exhausting!

Before I could relax, my other friend, who goes to U of T and is doing a semester abroad in Dublin, came to visit for the weekend.

She had been to London before, so she was more interested in seeing the parts of the city that are less touristy. But we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stop by Platform 9 and 3/4 at King’s Cross station…

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Off to Hogwarts I go!

Quite hilariously, there’s a man who wraps a scarf around you and then waves it around for a photo. How does one obtain this job? Must look into it.

Following our Harry Potter excursion, we got into the spirit of Valentine’s Day and got our own love lock in Covent Garden for charity.

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Kat and I

At some point or other (my memory is just jumbled), we took a cute stroll down Carnaby street, stopping in some shops along the way…

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Not sure what this is for but it’s awesome

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Rule Britania

These past few weeks have been absolutely exhausting but so much fun! It’s always great to see familiar faces, and I got to introduce old friends to new.

Now if only I could catch up on sleep… but with school work and play rehearsals, that doesn’t seem likely. Ah well.

Til next time,

Veronika

Adventures in Amsterdam

Last Wednesday a few of my friends and I decided to go to Amsterdam that very weekend. I don’t think I’ve ever done something so impromptu. Though it was fun, it was more of a learning experience than a holiday.

For starters, we immediately regretted our decision to take an 11 hour bus. The bus driver was rude, it was absolutely packed and the seats were tiny… But the fun really began around 5 am, when our driver decided that he didn’t want to drive anymore because he thought someone on the bus was drunk. He then attempted to kick a guy off the bus in the middle the night, somewhere in Holland. An argument ensued, which nearly everyone on the bus became a part of. We ended up sitting there for about an hour while people stood around outside, trying to convince the bus driver in any way they could to keep driving. In the midst of this, two fist fights broke out (I wish I was kidding). The police eventually showed up to kick some people off and thankfully nobody got seriously hurt (though my friend and I were almost accidentally punched in the face). We then continued our journey to Amsterdam.

The struggle didn’t end there. We had booked a hostel online that, judging by the pictures, appeared to be fine… when we got there, we realized it was definitely not. The stairs were essentially a ladder, there weren’t enough beds for us in this tiny room with ten people smushed in, there was drywall on the floor and the “free breakfast” was bread. They wouldn’t refund us for the person that was no longer staying with us, nor for a night that we didn’t spend there. The photos on the website did not correspond to the reality of the place at all. We left after an hour. To say it was awkward would be an understatement, but none of us could see ourselves staying there after the journey we had. We happily checked into a cheap hotel and began our day, sleepless but happy.

Amsterdam is unlike any other city I’ve ever been to! It’s hard to put into words, so here are some photos instead:

House boat

House boat

Van Gogh museum

Van Gogh museum

Floating flower market on the right

We spent a total of two days there, roaming around the city in a sleep deprived state. I’d love to go back with more time to spend there, especially since we never made it to the Anne Frank museum or Vondelpark.

At the very least, the weekend was an exciting one. The bus ride back was awful, but at least nobody got punched in the face.

Back in London I haven’t been up to too much. Just taking it day by day.

Oh, but this happened.

Yes that really is Rupert Grint and no I can't breathe

Yes that really is Rupert Grint and no I can’t breathe

No biggie.

Talk soon,

Veronika

 

London Revisited

Hi again!

Veronika here, reporting from London.

I hope you all enjoyed your break (minus the ice storm if you were in Toronto) while I was slaving over my final essays. I finally handed them in a week ago, so I had a full five days to relax. Not optimal, but I guess it’s still something.

I’m back in London now as of Sunday and it’s been weird getting back into the swing of things. I expect I’ll be tired for about a week while I adjust to the pace of life here. But even so, I’m happy to be back! I missed the cafes, the pubs, and, of course, my friends here.

I’ve only been here for two days, so not much to report, but I did take a few snaps…

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St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul’s Cathedral

I just love the mix of architecture in London.

I also made it to the top floor of my university building and found out that it has quite a nice view (as well as a library I didn’t know about)!

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Gorgeous

London, you stunner. Guess I’ll be spending more time on the top floor in between classes.

But as much as I like where I live, I plan on travelling a lot more this semester. Ideally I’d like to go to Dublin, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Amsterdam, and Paris. But I’ll see where life takes me – and I’ll be sure to blog about it.

Til next time,

– Veronika

 

 

Reflections from Home

Hi again (and for the last time this semester)!

I’m writing this from the Great White North, back home with Timmies in hand. It’s definitely good to be back for the holidays, even though this semester abroad has been incredible.

I’m happy to see my family and friends, to have a proper shower and heating, to have a break from cooking, and that I don’t have to walk everywhere.

That being said, I do miss my friends and flatmates in London and I’ll be happy to see them again come January. To each his/her own, but I’m glad that I chose to do a year abroad, rather than a semester. I still have so much more to explore in London and so many places to travel to.

Sadly, I still have four essays due beginning of January, which means I don’t get a proper break. I much prefer having my work due before the break, so those of you at U of T – you should feel lucky that you’re done (or will be soon)! I’ll be slaving away by the warm glow of my laptop.

I’m stuck between looking back on the good times I had this semester and looking forward to the times to come, which isn’t a bad place to be. If anyone reading this is considering doing an exchange in London, there are a few things I can tell you that might help your decision along.

1. London is a huge city. If you leave your room, it’s almost guaranteed that you won’t be bored. However, it can be intimidating at times. You should consider it if a fast paced life is what you’re looking for.

2. You’ll be surrounded by people constantly. People on the street, people in cafés, people everywhere!

3. It’s incredibly expensive, but it is possible to find good student deals. The UK is much more accommodating to students and student life.

4. You’ll pretty much always be busy.

5. As with anything, it’s what you make of it. If you make an effort to meet new people and explore, you should have an amazing time.

That’s all the advice I have for now. It really just depends what you’re looking for in an exchange. London was the right choice for me, but you should decide what you want to get out of studying abroad.

Well, I should get back to my essays. Words, words, words. (Some Shakespeare for you Lit students).

Happy Holidays everyone!

Talk to you next year…

– Veronika

It’s only just begun…

I have finished my first semester at Sciences Po today. How time flies!

I remember my first day in Paris in all its minute details, but the four months of my exchange seems to have fast-forwarded without my noticing. A year-long exchange is really only 9 months, and the time passes deceptively quickly. I am aghast to realize that many things were left undone (such as attending an opera performance at the Palais Garnier) because I believed I had plenty of time. Regardless of lingering regrets for time misspent, my first semester abroad in Paris was a joyous experience that I foresee will only improve.

Les Mis

Queen’s Theatre

The past weekend, I had the opportunity to visit London and fulfil one of my long-time dreams – watching the West End Les Misérables production. To all theatre-loving students out there, TKTS is the official discount ticket store for all your West End musical, dance and plays. For anyone watching Les Mis, I would recommend avoiding the holiday seasons and Fridays and Saturdays if you want to be able to buy discount tickets. I had splurged on a stalls ticket about eight rows from the stage, and had an altogether amazing three hours there. Since I had made a resolution to actually read the original French version of Les Mis, the West End production was a wonderful motivator. It is not the most holiday-spirited musical out there, but if the chance presents itself, I would highly recommend it (those in Toronto, there is a wonderful production at the Princess of Wales Theatre until February!)

Como

Water of Lake Como – photo taken from Varenna

My London visit was followed by a visit to Milan, and Lake Como. Mostly visited by people during the summer, the little villages on the shores of Lake Como are mostly deserted in December. This may be off putting for some (and it does get quite eerie at times) but it is the perfect time to take photos. There is barely anyone around, and the view is just as breath-taking. From the hectic city-life in Paris and London, Lake Como is a highly recommended place to slow down and unwind. A word of advice, it was warm when I visited the lake, but the sun starts setting around 4pm, and it gets a little nippy afterwards. Plan to arrive early, and leave early.

Lago di Como

Lago di Como

This will be my last post in 2013. Good luck to everyone who still have exams, have a great holiday season and a happy new year!

Grace

Crunch Time

It’s my last week in London before the holiday break which means I have a lot of researching to do for my final papers, but also a lot of activities to squeeze in before I leave on Saturday. I’m torn between my desire to frolic around the city and the knowledge that I have papers that won’t write themselves (unfortunately).

However, one can’t sit in the library all day long. Especially not when there are so many other more exciting options. Study breaks are important, after all…

Thus came about the decision to go skating at the National History Museum.

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National History Museum

National History Museum

It was a fun night, but skating in London almost isn’t worth it… First off, it’s expensive. This was the cheapest rink we could find, with a student deal of 8.50 pounds for 50 minutes. Secondly, the rinks are tiny and over-crowded. I’m actually excited to go skating back in Toronto, where the rinks are free and there’s space to move!

However, something we don’t have in Toronto is Winter Wonderland, which happens every year at Hyde Park. My friend was visiting London so we decided to check it out. It was quite a sight to see! It’s essentially a huge carnival with rides, a skating rink, a Christmas market, and pubs. Lots to do, but you’ll have to pay an arm and a leg to get on one of the rides. So, my friend and I just walked around, sipping hot cider and ogling the pretty lights.

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

 

The next day, we headed to Portobello market, which is one of London’s most famous markets. It’s up in Notting Hill, which is a lovely area to get lost in.

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Portobello Road

Portobello Road

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When we went, the market was having an antique fair with stalls all the way down the street.

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The area was bustling until late at night when the market shut down. It really is one of the must-see attractions in London.

Admittedly, I may have overdone it with the study breaks, which I will definitely pay for later. Off to the library I go!

Good luck with revision to all…

Until next time,

Veronika

 

Tea, Tourism, and Theatre

Hi everyone!

I’m happy to announce that it’s officially Christmas time in London town.

Fortnum & Mason

Fortnum & Mason

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Even Oxford Street is all lit up! The cold just seems much more bearable when there are lights up (and boy, did it get cold fast).

While London was busy getting dressed up, my family visited me during my reading week here. It was great having a break from res life and not having to cook and clean. I even had proper afternoon tea for the first time since coming to the UK!

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It was a lot of fun! I would definitely go again if it wasn’t so expensive… guess I’ll just have tea and biscuits at home.

It’s funny that all the foods and activities that North Americans would classify as “British” actually cost quite a bit here! For instance, it’s hard to find fish and chips in London for under 8 pounds (roughly 15 dollars), which is ridiculous. It’s not cheap being a tourist.

Annoyances aside, I’ve been taking advantage of all the plays on in London, as they have amazing student prices for tickets. Last night I saw Much Ado About Nothing, with Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones.

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And tonight, I’m seeing Richard II with David Tennant – which I’m now late for.

Talk soon!

-Shakespeare enthusiast, aka Veronika

 

Exploring England

Hey again,

Hope all your midterms and essays have gone well!

I myself have finally gotten out of London for a weekend, to visit the countryside. I’m not sick of the city at all, but I would also like to travel around England, so when my friend suggested we come home with him for the weekend, I was more than happy to oblige. He’s from a small town called Warrington, near Manchester. The train ride there featured plains, sheep, and cows.

Now Warrington is nice, but there’s really not much to see, so we ended up going to Manchester for the day. Not going to lie – it was a bit of a disappointment. We probably should have planned our day in advance, but because we didn’t, we ended up walking around aimlessly. Got a few cute shots along the way:

Tudor pub

Tudor pub

P1010087It was refreshing to get out of the city for a few days, but we were all happy to come back.

In London, I took the rare opportunity of a sunny day to explore South Kensington, one of the nicest areas of the city. It’s full of posh boutiques, shops, museums, and cafes.

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Can I live here?

Can I live here?

A flat here would cost upwards of a million pounds

A flat here would cost upwards of a million pounds… so no, I can’t live here.

It’s definitely one of my favourite areas in London. If any of you have any suggestions of where to go in London (or England!) leave them in the comments below.

On an unrelated note, the leaves here are finally changing colour… and they are huge!

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Until next time…

Happy Hallows’ Eve!

– Veronika