Day two began in Westminster, England at 8:30 a.m.
With just a few hours of sleep (most of us are still fairly jet-lagged), we quickly showered and ate some breakfast before hurriedly marching down to the tube station an hour later. At this point we decided J, the tallest of our group, should act as mother hen and make sure all the ducks were counted because the tube floods with Londoners on workdays. We made it to the offices of the Hansard Society by our 10 a.m. meeting where we got a brief introduction to our program. Our advisers explained how the academic portion of our courses will proceed - two classes, once a week, with lots of reading and writing to top off. The British academic systems places much more emphasis on personal study with limited contact time with one’s lecturer, thus the reason we only have class once a week. We then made a few last-minute preparations for a dinner later in the day and were off.
We had a few hours to kill before our first class, so we decided that coffee, lunch, and cell phones should be on the docket, though not necessarily in that order. I picked up a relatively inexpensive pay-as-you-go cell phone (UK number 07426805178….call me!) A chicken and avocado sandwich and Costa flat white later, we were full, satiated, and connected again. We then decided to explore a bit of the area around our campus and program offices. We bought some LSE sweatshirts, E took a quick nap in one of the LSE buildings, but soon it was time for class.
Class was not much different from class in the states. A few quick introductions, then right into the material (Parliament and Politics). Class lasted four an hour as we discussed the merits of the Westminster system and debated whether recent constitutional changes of the the New Labour program enhanced or detracted from democracy in the UK. J and I definitely disagreed on this question - one of many I am sure we’ll encounter, though a pint or two can easily bridge that ideological gap.
By 5 p.m. we were on our way back to the flat to rest a bit and freshen up for our 7 p.m. program dinner at Core, a restaurant near our flat. We met with our advisers in an informal setting to chat a bit and get to know each other further. I had the seared tuna, which was excellent, and had a great chat with the program director and program advisers. By 9ish we decided to end the dinner, and our flat headed to our favorite pub to let Gary know what we had been up to. He immediately came out and chatted with us a bit, then grabbed a beer and sat down for a real conversation. As it turns out he is the owner of the establishment. At this point we appear to be his summer project. We shared stories and asked him questions, learning in the process how to toast in Irish. I bet J that I could drink two beers before she could finish one shot; I won the bet (there are some rules involved….) As it approached 11 p.m. we decided it was time to head home and prepare for our 10 a.m class and 3 p.m. meeting, and our inevitable meet up with Gary.
Day two ended and all was well.
Day one began in Westminster, England at approximately 10 a.m. The sleep was not very restful, though I slept for nearly 12 hours. We spent decided to cook a large ‘family’ breakfast - pancakes, toast, eggs…the works. We had neglected to buy either cooking spray, butter, or vegetable oil…so the pan wasn’t very non-stick, and the pancakes turned out to be more like crepe…balls…but they were still very good. By half past noon we were on our way to the tube station to catch a subway down to the London School of Economics and Political Science campus, where we met up with our program advisers for a round-London bus tour. It was very interesting and jam-packed with history. I need to go back and walk the route of the tour with a camera, so I can take pictures of all the historical areas - St. Paul’s Church, the London bridge (3rd version - the 2nd is at Lake Havisue, Arizona), the Tower Bridge, London Tower, Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and a host of others….
As we ended the tour in late afternoon, we decided it would be a great idea to have a family dinner. Everyone contributed something - we made traditional college fare of pasta and red sauce, salad, and wine. It was an excellent dinner where we all continued to bond. We’ve become quite close in the two days we’ve been here.
We then decided to take a walk to get some ice cream. Right down the street from us we found a a street vendor and continued wandering afterward. We found ourselves in Hyde Park, possibly London’s most famous park, where we wandered for quite a while. I’m skipping over some details here, but needless to say we ended the night at our favorite pub with Gary. Not surprisingly he remembered the obnoxious Americans from the previous night.
We only stayed for one drink and made it back to the flat by 11. We all spent the next few hours chatting, blogging, and keeping up with the Bulls-Heat game 1. Another awesome night in London with what are increasingly becoming good friends. All is well.
So, I am not the only Cheesehead in London. At the very least there is someone else among these eight million people who is a Packers fan. While touring campus today I spotted someone in the Green and Gold, which made me very happy.
Day Zero started at approximately 4:15 a.m. in Stoughton, Wisconsin. I had just gone to sleep two hours before, but I needed to finish a paper and prepare for a final. Not to mention daydream about traveling to London. By the time my final started at 10:00 a.m., I was in no condition to write about theories of war/war termination. Somehow I managed - just in time to sprint home, pack for London in 20 minutes, and shoot off to Chicago. Thanks are in order for my Dad, who survived my driving and absent-mindedness on the drive down.
Problems arose at the check-in counter, where apparently there was a security hold on me. The Air Canada employee spent twenty minutes on the phone clearing the matter, and then I was off. I never found out why I had a security hold, though I have my suspicions. Five minutes to get through security, and four hours sitting at the gate before I was off to Toronto to catch a connection.
I landed in Toronto around 10 p.m., and was surprised to see the number of small baseball fields lit at that time. I was worried that I was not going to make my connection, as we were a few minutes late out of Chicago, and I did not have a long layover to begin with. All was well - though the Canadian customs agent was a bit sassy regarding why I was connecting through Toronto to London (in all honestly, it was the least-expensive flight available).
I boarded Air Canada flight 858 at 11:20 p.m., though the wheels left the tarmac roughly an hour later. Apparently there was a problem with the luggage compartment’s pallet moving system. It was not really a bother except for the one baby on board that was none too happy. Some headphones and my iPod took care of the problem, and soon we were off. The flight was nothing to write home about, and I think I slept for an hour or two…but I’m not sure.
The delay at the gate in Toronto meant I was late getting into London, which was an issue as I was to meet up with two fellow Madisonians at the airport. Therefore I was already rushing as I came to Customs and Immigration. I pulled out my passport and UK student visa (which was quite the affair to get), and the UK border agent asked for a letter from the University I was studying at. In my haste to pack, I had forgot to pack any of my documents, including this document. My heart sank. I offered to open my email and bring up past emails from the program, but she did not like that idea for some reason. After a few minutes of awkward silence, she grew frustrated and stamped my passport – quite the relief! I was then off to the arrivals hall to try and find my travel buddies. London Heathrow is a massive airport with multiple international arrival halls, so I did not find them. At that point I felt like the typical cross-ocean traveler: tired, hungry, and very much in need of a shower. I decided to travel on to our flat and hope that they had done so as well. Twenty minutes on the tube and I arrived at Paddington Station (famous for Paddington Bear) – a short walk down Praed Street and I was ‘home’. I took a quick tour of the flat, set my things in my room, and joined the rest of the group for lunch at a Lebanese restaurant in the area.
We spent the day meeting each other and learning the area. The city reminds me a lot of Sydney, my favorite city of all (other than Madison, obviously…): small shops, ethnic food, and people driving on the wrong side of the road (typical American comment.) At night we began exploring the local pub scene. The first pub we went to is quickly becoming our favorite. Gary, an elder Irishman working at the bar, was quick to let the girls in our group know to keep an eye on their purses whilst in central London – at one point he slipped by our table and took one of the girl’s purses from the back of her chair without anyone noticing, bringing our attention to it a bit later. Gary is quickly becoming our best new London friend.
The night ended early, which was fine by me. I hadn’t slept for any length of time in roughly two days, so I was happy to finally climb into bed and fall asleep. In London.
Ok. I’ve decided that it will be easier for me to keep a blog of my activities in London. Instead of emailing and messaging everyone that wants to keep up with my exploits, I will leave it to you to stalk me on this blog. So, I hope you enjoy!