Martha in London (2)

November 19, 2011

My school week starts on Monday, so for the next three days, mom had some time on her own while we tried packing everything else in.

While I went to class and a meeting, mom went to the London Zoo.  To my pleasure, she found it somewhat unimpressive.  Ha.  We planned to meet up at Harrod’s after I got out of class.


For those not in the know, Harrods is THE department store.  It has over a million square feet of sales floor and 330 show rooms.  It’s commonly understood that you can get ANYTHING there, and if they don’t have it, they will find it.  The restrictions have maybe slightly expanded in the recent past… you can no longer buy a lion in the pet department. (For those who haven’t seen the video, PLEASE watch this, it’s a side note, but if your heart doesn’t warm up…  Anywho, we met at Harrods for afternoon tea.  We tried crumpets, and decided they are like dense english muffins doused in butter.  Otherwise, we weren’t terribly impressed, so please see me for further guidance on afternoon teas in London if the occasion ever presents itself.  However, I do highly recommend a stroll through the store.  The kitchen department sends my heart a flutter, and if you had any interest in fashion, I’m sure you’d be in heaven.  The store is like a complicated treasure hunt, but they really do have everything I could think of, from original copies of the antique maps you see in lesser stores, to HD televisions that look like mirrors and a food department that is mind blowing.  Lots of fun!  (And I don’t particularly like to shop, so imagine that!)

After Harrods, we hopped on a night tour bus, which hit all of the major sites in London.  (Also highly recommended, at less than half the price of a day trip, but still good for getting an orientation of the city.)

On Tuesday we went out for a full English breakfast, then walked me to the library for some studying before classes while mom wandered around Covent Garden again.

Regency Cafe breakfast

English breakfast with black pudding

English breakfast with chips


King's College London

My library


Casually reading in Trafalgar Square

Wednesday flew by and we jetted off to Scotland!  To be continued…


Martha in London (1)

November 19, 2011

As will come to no surprise to anyone that’s been within ear shot of my mom in the last 3 months, Martha came to London in October.  =)  She arrived on Friday and we stayed in London through Wednesday.  I had only two guidelines from the guest: no museums and no educational experiences.  The requests were for tea in a castle (cool!), going to the zoo (lame) and going to a movie (lamer). Got it.

On Saturday, we tried my newly patented jet-lag cure: long walk, big meal, alcohol.  We stayed close and went to Hyde Park, which is a whole block from my flat.  We ended up at Kensington Palace. Unfortunately, it’s under construction and most of the place is closed.  This is quite common at the moment as the Olympics are a catalyst for construction and refurbishments.   But they do have some beautiful gardens and an Orangery which serves afternoon tea, coffee and snacks.  We peaked through the holes in the construction long enough for Martha to decide that she wasn’t impressed with the palace.

Kensington Palace Gardens

But I’d had my eye on another spot for afternoon tea, so we headed there instead.

Aerial View of Hyde Park

The park is huge, taking up 625 acres of the city, and technically contains both Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens (separated by the big lake in the middle).  Henry VIII set the park aside as a private hunting grounds in 1536, and it was opened to the public by James I in 1637.  In 1733, The Serpentine (the big lake) was created, and now hosts a year-round swimming club, has row boats for rent and runs a solar powered shuttle from one end of the lake to the other. There’s also a cafe, my pick for afternoon tea.

Afternoon Tea #1

So with the long walk out of the way, we moved onto the big dinner and alcohol portion of the evening.  We wandered around the nearest grocery store for a while and came up with an odd array of snacks: Welsh Caerphilly cheese, mushroom pate, parmesan and poppy seed twists, fresh fig and French wine.

Fancy pants dinner

And the plan worked! After a solid night’s sleep, we headed out early(ish) on Sunday to the Portobello Market in Notting Hill, the neighborhood just to the west of my place.  The market is touted as the world’s largest antique market, but also includes food stalls, a market and new goods and runs along Portobello Road for a little over a mile.

Jewelry at Portobello Market

Portobello Road Market

Churros and Chocolate at the Portobello Market

Donut stand

Suitcase drum!

Crepe stand

After the market, we hopped over to Covent Garden for our official fish and chips experience at a “chippie” that’s been open since 1871, when it was the third shop ever in the city.  Then we strolled around Covent Garden, walked to Trafulgar Square and then over the river to the Southbank.  On a split decision, we decided to hit the London Eye at night.  It’s the largest Ferris wheel in Europe, standing at about 450 feet tall. The capsules hold up to 25 people each, and there are 32 capsules total.

London Eye from Waterloo Bridge

London Eye and Big Ben (to my left)

On Sunday we went to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guards ceremony.  Again, mom was not impressed with the palace.  It’s only 830,000 square feet of living space with 750 rooms. Psh.  The ‘crowd control’ guards were super nice and quite entertaining, joking with the crowd and giving us clues on when to look out for something, and even bringing over a horse guard for a girl in the crowd to pet.

Buckingham Palace Changing of the Guards

Buckingham Palace Changing of the Guards

Changing of the Guards

After the ceremony (one of those tourist things you HAVE to do, but don’t get much out of, we agreed) we walked to catch a boat tour on the Thames River (which runs through the city from west to east, roughly).

Royal Horse Guards

St. Paul's Cathedral

Houses of Parliament and Big Ben

River Cruise

I ended up giving in on the movie, in fact, it started sounding like a good idea.  So we hit a cinema down the road in Notting Hill.  It was built in 1898 as a theater (like for plays) but turned into a cinema when the West End took over the market for theater. One of the screens is quite grand, with three tiers of seating and old (lumpy) seats.  Definitely a cool venue.

Coronet Cinema


On My Way Home

November 16, 2011

After two months, I’ve walked nearly every street in West London on my way home.  I try to pick a different path everyday, but one of my favorite routes takes me past Trafalgar Square, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, and through St. James, Green and Hyde Parks.


Trafalgar Square


Royal Horse Guards


St. James Park

Buckingham Palace

Hyde Park


Welcome back!  Thanks for reading the blog for this round of adventure.

Enlarge the above map for a visual reference of King’s in London!

I’m about to begin a postgraduate program at King’s College London, which was founded by King George IV in 1829 as a response to the brand new London University (now University College London, still our arch rival), or the “godless college in Gower Street”.  London University was founded as a secular institution, supported by Jews, utilitarians and non-Church of England Christians to educate those who couldn’t attend Oxford and Cambridge because they only accepted wealthy Anglicans.  Obviously this secular university was unacceptable, so the King and the Duke of Wellington started King’s as a counter move, accepting only the traditional wealthy, Protestant folks.  After a dual between supporters of the opposing universities (it was a draw), the issue of religion fell largely to the wayside, and during the 19th century, King’s College pushed social issues by opening the university to women and accommodating the working class with evening classes, thus ultimately becoming tainted with the underbelly of society the King & Duke were trying to exclude.

Today, King’s College ranks somewhere between 21st and 77th in a list of the world’s top universities, depending on the source.  The War Studies Department is ranked third in the UK, behind Cambridge and Oxford and is rated third worldwide for the quality of their international research.  My program, International Conflict Studies, is a part of that department and boasts Arch Bishop Desmund Tutu as an alumnus. 

The campus is located at Somerset House, dating to the middle of the 1500s and used for a variety of purposes. The Duke of Somerset started the building in 1939, but was beheaded in 1552 and the building became royal property.  Queen Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn lived there before ascending the the throne. During the 17th century, it was used as a residence of the queens of James I, Charles I and Charles II (his wife Catherine was a Catholic from Portugal and rumors raised that the residence was a popular spot for Catholic conspiracy (double parenthesis fun fact: Britain attained Bombay, India as part of Catherine’s dowry)). The building is located along the Thames, and is about a 2 minute walk to Trafalger Square, 3 minutes to Covent Garden and maybe 10 minutes to Westminster Abbey.