Jun 09

London, Day 3

Whew, it already feels like I’ve been here forever. Now the hallway of our gross dorm has a damp mildewy smell, like they tried to shampoo the carpets but did a terrible job.

I woke up at 5 AM to bright sunlight – my blinds don’t work well – and couldn’t fall back asleep, not even wearing the blindfold Virgin Atlantic gave us. Worried that I’d have to wait for the shower and already starving, I got up at 6:30. Luckily I didn’t have to wait. Someone was finishing up just as I came in.

I also went over to breakfast early since I needed some alone time after socializing so much the days before with people I don’t really know, which I find more tiring for some reason. I skipped the regular sausage and tried the vegetarian one, which was actually pretty good, almost like a falafel.

After breakfast I walked around a bit taking pictures, then stopped in Tesco for some instant coffee. I still had time to kill before class so I went back to my room and read. I was suddenly very tired, even after two cups of coffee, and could have fallen asleep.

Today was all lectures. The guy who runs the program knows a lot and has tons of experience, but he sort of rambles when he lectures. The woman after him, who talked about marketing e-journals, was better once she got warmed up.

By lunch I was still feeling need for alone time so I took off and wandered around. I went to the Muji store, which took me a while to find again, though I’ve passed it a billion times since I’ve been here. I wanted to see if they had any cool mugs, water heaters, or sneakers. They did not. At least there’s a microwave in the kitchen, though it might be disgusting. I ended up getting a cheapo mug from a random supermarket, where I also had a sandwich and chips for lunch.

Very common seems to be sandwiches packaged like the Pret sandwiches – in a cardboard box. They’re absolutely everywhere. There’s also this chain called Eat, which looks almost exactly like Pret.

For the afternoon session, there were three speakers. The first was okay, the second so boring I wanted to gouge my eyes out, and the third pretty good. They were from this company that provides services to publishers and libraries on electronic resources. For instance, they received a grant to provide 30+ e-books of key texts available for free to students in the UK, and they measured and monitored how and how much students used them, and if the availability of the e-books affected print sales at all (it didn’t).

There is someone in the class who’s not a student but involved with academic journals. She kept asking questions that were already addressed in the presentation, which got really annoying by 4:30 when I was totally wilting and itching to get outside. Take it off-line people!

It’s been really beautiful here in London. Today was partly sunny and cool. I decided to take advantage of the weather and walk to London Bridge. Well, tried. I got lost a billion times. The frigging streets go around and around, and turn into other streets without warning. I kept getting out my map. I did end up in some cool parts of town though by mistake, like SoHo.

Eventually I ended up at some bridge. Not the London bridge but it went over the Thames and so I crossed it and ended up on the South Bank. Yay! The Royal National Theater was right there, as well as the Hayward Gallery. In the near distance I saw the London Eye, which my brother recommended.

What is essentially a giant ferris wheel ride is kind of pricey – 17 pounds – but really the first touristy thing I’ve paid for. As I was waiting in line to give my ticket, this large woman and her little son behind me kept trying to cut. I think they were Russian. The woman was big with clothes that were two sizes too small, long dyed black hair, long fake red nails, and tats all up and down her arms. I didn’t want them to cut me, but I didn’t know if I’d have been able to take her.

When we finally got on the car, they and this older Chinese woman all basically pushed me out of the way to get seats. I was not a happy camper.

The ride itself was nice. I took a bunch of pictures. It was much slower than I expected. I kept thinking it was going to be like the Wonder Wheel at Coney Island.

Next door was the Salvador Dali museum, which MB recommended. Unfortunately it was closed so I took pictures of the statues standing outside.

In the distance I saw Big Ben and Parliament, and I headed over to the bridge nearest to that area.

When I got to the other side, I wasn’t sure where I was. It seemed to be lots of government buildings, but unlike in New York, they were really old and ginormous, and where I was at first no one else was around. I felt like I was in an ancient building graveyard.

Eventually I ended up at the Household Calvary Museum (I think), then somehow the right direction back through SoHo, found Oxford Street, and Tottenham Court Road, which leads back to my dorm. I was so proud of myself for figuring it out without a map! I just kept moving away from where I was, following my instinct, and of course the signs pointing towards the roads I knew.

I was starving by the time I got back. I avoided all the touristy eateries and went to Goodge Street, which is near my dorm. There’s a lot of variety at reasonable prices. Feeling a little homesick, I ate a Korean place, not that I’m Korean, but MB and I do that often enough. The bibimbap was 7.50 pounds. With a soda and tip, it turned out to be 9.50. With lunch and dessert (a Beard Papa cream puff), I spent less thatn 20 pounds for the day. Yay!

When I got back, I found some of my classmates chatting and laughing in the kitchen. It seemed they got take out pizza. Wanting to be a little social, I joined them for a while, which was fun. Proud of myself again.

Though I’m having a good time, I miss New York and its perfect grid streets. I miss having my best pal MB to talk to every day. Ah well, it will only make our reunion sweeter.

Tomorrow we’re going to Oxford, hence the early departure. I need to get up at 5 in order to meet some of my classmates at 6:15 downstairs. Ugh.

All Day 3 pictures.

Jun 09

London, Baby!

Writing this in Word since, get this, my room doesn’t have internet. Well, it does, but only via a “voucher” which they ran out of the first day. There were supposed get more today, but haven’t. I don’t even know if I’ll bother. It’s 12 pounds for 2 weeks. I can get free WiFi at Pret and McDonald’s, and I don’t need to be on the internet every day. It’s even a nice little break from being wired all the time.

Sunday, Day 1
The longest day in creation. My flight wasn’t till 9:30 PM so MB and I had the whole day to hang out. I packed in the morning, then for lunch we went to this nice place on Avenue A. I had a yummy omelet with goat cheese, spinach, and tomato.

The weather was so nice (ie, not raining for a change) we decided to take a walk out to the Apple store in Chelsea for a cover for my laptop. The weather held up till we got to the water, then unfortunately it started to rain, so we hopped the M23 back to the east side.

I was dreading having to leave. I mean, I was excited about my trip but hated saying goodbye to MB. This will be the longest we’ve been apart. When he goes to his conferences, the longest he’ll go is a week. The longest trips I’ve taken since we’ve met have been just a few days. But after we finally did say goodbye and I got in a cab, I felt okay. I could focus on my trip more, though these past couple of days, of course, I’ve missed him.

I got to the airport by 7:15 PM. The wait actually didn’t feel too long. I ate some junk and read Eclipse (yes, I’m totally sucked in), and wandered around the airport. We were supposed to board at 8:30 but didn’t get on till almost 9:30. Then we sat on the runway till 11. I was so relieved when we finally took off.

I had no one next to me, but across the aisle was this odd couple. A British woman maybe my age, and a man – maybe from Trinidad? – in what looked to be his 50s. The whole time he kept sucking his teeth, and I think he told the woman to shut up multiple times. I couldn’t tell if he was joking or not, but I didn’t think so. It was very weird, though he was perfectly pleasant to the crew.

Weirdness #2: the woman behind me kept sneezing, and each time afterwards she’d say, “Bless me!” If she sneezed twice in a row, she said bless me twice.

Turns out one of my classmates was on the plane. We were waiting on line for the bathroom, and I thought, This guy looks familiar. I thought, Did we go on a date? Thank God no. He was in one of my classes fall semester.

I didn’t really sleep the whole flight. I dozed off in the middle of Bolt, but didn’t have a proper sleep. I didn’t figure out how to adjust my seat till we were almost there, so I was sort of uncomfortable for most of the flight.

Heathrow finally! We were supposed to get in at 9:30 AM but were about 45 minutes late. My classmate and I connected, and took the Tube together to the dorm. Sounds easier than it was. Both sleep deprived, we had a hard time figuring out a) where a cash machine was, and b) how to buy an Oyster card. We did figure it out finally, and got on the train.

The subways are pretty nice in London, but it still took a year. Then we had to transfer, which involved dragging our suitcases up and down lots of stairs. I was soooo tired, and more than anything wanted to take a shower.

We’re staying in a dorm, and lemme tell ya, it’s crummy. I’ve stayed in some old dorm rooms in my time, but this takes the cake. My feet will go nowhere near the floor, let alone the shower.

I used the men’s bathroom by mistake, thinking it was unisex. It wasn’t till last night, in my daze from returning from a half-asleep pee, that I found the women’s room when I walked past my door. The men’s bathroom was really bad. One shower didn’t work, and the other didn’t drain properly. The women’s bathroom is slightly better, though one shower had only cold water.

Oh my God, I couldn’t live here for more than two weeks. But I guess that’s what you get for 35 pounds a night.

After my shower, I ran out and got groceries from a nearby Tesco’s. I was all set to go out immediatley afterwards, but was suddenly utterly exhausted. I napped for about 90 minutes, and woke up feeling pretty refreshed.

I took the subway to Leicester Square, then realized I could have walked there. I hadn’t eaten much the whole day – a muffin on the plane, and a yogurt – so first stop: Pret for a sandwich. I like Pret back home, and I remember my brother saying it was one of the few places in London that was reasonably priced. An excuse to stick with the familiar.

After I ate, I saw Trafalgar Square, Picadilly Circus, and walked all the way down Picadilly to Buckhingham Palace.

Picadilly Circus

Picadilly Circus

It wasn’t that far of a walk but just felt that way since I was so tired. I also used a restroom in a fancy hotel, trying to be inconspicuous, but then ended up pulling the emergency cord (thought it was for the toilet), and even after I assured the guy who knocked that I was okay, opened the door to find him standing there.

There was nothing going on at Buckingham Palace. I saw one of the guards walk back and forth, that’s it. Afterwards I walked all the way back to school. All in all, a three hour tour.

I had also picked up an ethernet cable, but was told there were no more vouchers. By this time, I hadn’t contacted anyone to say I had landed and was okay, and started to feel panicky. The guy at the front desk was nice and said that all McDonald’s had free wireless. I remembered seeing one nearby and so, laptop in town, went to find it.

I couldn’t. I wandered around aimlessly, my panic growing, till finally I found a Pret that was still open. Apparently they all have free WiFi too, and there is one practically on every corner.

Sent emails to MB, my parents, and bro. Checked other email, Twitter, Facebook, and people’s blogs. Ate another sandwich and chips, for dinner.

It stays light out here till about 10. I was back in my room and ready for sleep by 9:45, and didn’t think I’d be able to sleep, but it was no problem. I woke up a few times, but had no trouble falling back asleep.

Monday, Day 2
Awake at 5 because of the light of my room. Quickly passed out again till 7.

Had a more pleasant women’s shower stall experience, then went to breakfast, which is included in the 35 pounds. It had been promised as a traditional English spread, but it wasn’t that great. The eggs were fine, but the sausage was strange and the ham fatty. Tomorrow I’ll probably just go for a boiled egg, toast, and lots of coffee.

The morning was lots of administrative stuff, plus a tour of the campus. Before lunch we had a couple of lectures. The first was from David Nichols from the CIBER Research book, who talked about consumers in cyberspace, for instance how shopping in cyberspace changes shopping habits. One thing I didn’t agree with is his opinion that people who use the internet a lot don’t gain any skills.  He’s with the school of thought that searching and reading on the internet dumbs people down, while I think it gives people different skills, like being able to scan quickly for important info and to read with an extra critical eye since the internet is so prone to errors.

For lunch a couple of classmates and I grabbed sandwiches from a café on campus, and ate on benches in the sun. The sun is surprisingly strong here. It’ll be supremely sunny, then suddenly overcast and drizzly. Earlier tonight there was even thunder, but now it’s clear.

Note to self: take pictures of London at night in the rain.

The talk in the afternoon was just a detailed overview of the program. We were done at 3.

I wanted to go see this free exhibit on medical history at the Wellcome Center, but it was closed. So I headed out to Regent Park. Really nice! It’s no Central Park, but Queen Mary’s garden is gorgeous. Roses roses roses, and a nice pond with lots of cool ducks and two black swans.

By the time I finished walking through it and returned to campus, it was time for the 5:30 reception.

At first it was a little uncomfortable, but by the end a bunch of us were just sitting around talking and laughing, which was fun.

Afterwards a small group of us went out to eat. Most of us wanted Indian. Most of us. But somehow minority ruled over manjority. Hmm. We ended up eating Italian, which was pretty good. Cheap definitely. I got a half portion of spaghetti bolagnese for 4.50 pounds, about $7 or $8. (I’m trying to do $40 a day, a la Rachel Ray, which I guess right now is about 25 pounds. Breakfast came with the room, while my lunch was 3.55. Total: 8.05 pounds. Waaay under.) Afterwards a few of us went out for a drink. (Oh yeah, my wine. I think it was 5 pounds. So 13.05 pounds for the whole day, still under.)

I hope I’m not too hungover tomorrow. We start at 9:30, a little later, so I can sleep till 7:30 or 8 if I want, though on Wednesday, we’re going to Oxford, and need to be there by 9, which means leaving at 7, which means getting up at possibly 5:30, which also means leaving before the dining hall opens for breakfast. Tomorrow I will have to get some instant coffee, a kettle or pot, and a cup. There’s a Muji store nearby – an excuse to spend too much money.

Of course I miss MB like crazy, especially when I’m walking around on my own looking at stuff. I know we’d have so much fun doing that kind of thing together. It’s only during the lectures that I’m pretty occupied with what’s going in the moment.

All Day 1 and Day 2 pictures.