Friday, March 2, 2012

London Calling

Hello all,

I'm reporting from London today-- even after 2 months of living here it still seems surreal. I've directly enrolled at King's College nestled in the heart of it all, in central London where the student bar (that is, the on-campus pub for 18+ students) overlooks the Thames River, the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament. I like to go there in between classes for a cheesy baked potato and salad (only £2.50) while I catch up on coursework.

Adventures at Uni abound. It's a much bigger school than

Macalester and the campus where I matriculate is a patchwork quilt of buildings all constructed at to make one great big collegiate edifice. The result: a labyrinthine design where floors in one building don't match up with floors of the other buildings, and no single cohesive map of the entire structure has been published in the 183 years of the school's existence. During my first week I came to find that, much like Hogwarts, the building could play tricks on you, with serpentine corridors, staircases to nowhere, a dungeon-like basement and rooms that do not exist or are only accessible by flushing yourself down a toilet or walking through a wardrobe (to this day I do not know where S1.34 is, and I've looked. Extensively.) Many an awkward turn-around-in-the-middle-of-the-hallway-and-pretend-that-I-have-some-vague-notion-of-where-I'm-going-despite-the-many-onlookers-that-can-clearly-see-I-haven't-a-clue was executed during those first two weeks.different times and originally for different purposes, whose adjoining walls were at some point knocked down

I'm now settled into my schedule and can navigate the campus (for the most part). With classes meeting only 2 hours a week and no campus job I find I have enough spare time on my hands to get lost occasionally and I've spent a lot of time wandering the halls of King as well as the streets of London. The city itself has so many facets. Where I go to school, London is in its peak Metropolitan shape-- Trafalgar Square is a stone's throw away to one side, and the Justice Building, where just today there was a protest outside, is about two cartwheels in the other direction. Mix that in with the commercial areas of Oxford Street and Picadilly Circus, and the major brands you expect to see in every big city-- McDonald's golden arches and Apple's silhouetted fruit and you've got an idea of what a cursory glance of the area is like. Its teeming with people-- tourists, commuters, students, shoppers-- and I shudder to think what it will look like when they host the Olympics later this summer. But all of that barely scratches the surface of the city. What I've learned in my 2 months here: the real London is in the alleyways. You have to turn a bit off the beaten path to get out of the tourist trap and find the (reasonably priced) traditional English pub, the local comedy club, and the mouthwatering crepe stand.

Speaking of mouthwatering, one thing I've learned about Londoners: they love markets. So far I've found three major markets, and they've quickly become my favorite part of London.
Borough Street is an everyday culinary extravaganza-- the food snob's paradise-- where there's a mix of ready made delicacies like Caribbean Chicken Thai Curry and German bratwursts (ah! the Mac student never escapes multiculturalism). Every Sunday another market on Brick Lane opens up, also serving excellent food in addition to vintage clothing stores, cheap dress, costume jewelry, original art and music and more. But Camden Town remains King-- a gigantic sprawling marketplace with stalls stretching out for days around the neighborhood that was once the seat of the London punk scene (the many tattoo parlors still standing as a testament to that era). With attractions like Bang Bang! Chicken, Camel Leather purses, Camera lens coffee mugs and novelty t-shirts celebrating every cult movie that ever existed, what more could you ask for?

(What a mortifying thumbnail!)

Since I've been here I've been able to squeeze in quite a bit of
travel. I took a long weekend trip to Edinburgh-- a city with a robust night life, old world charm, and beautiful landscapes that I got to see from the top of Arthur's Seat. In my four days there I
ran into two other Mac students by chance. Small world. (Right photo is a picture of the Old Town Edinburgh taken from Canongate). Those haven't been the only Mac connections either-- I ran into a familiar face going into a show in Dublin, heard Mac alumnus MNDR's Bang Bang Bang playing in the local Walkabout bar and found Professor Andrea Cremer's series in the fantasy section of Waterstone's book store.

Only last week I took a trip to Ireland, where I was lucky to receive the grand tour from Dublin to Belfast and beyond. The sights were gorgeous and I found the country to corroborate everything I had heard about it: verdant rolling hills, quaint villages, extremely gregarious people, and lively night scenes in the capital, Dublin. (Left photo: top of the Guinness Museum in Dublin; bottom photo: Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge).

Two weekends from now I'll be off on a quick weekend trip to Manchester and Liverpool, which I'm eager for. And I'm only just in the beginning phases of planning my longer travels on the continent during King's month-long spring break. I've heard it said that England is Europe's doorstep. With so many enticing options at my finger tips I don't know how I'm going to decide which ones to see next, but when I do, I'll keep you posted.