The Best Burger, Overpriced Clubs, and Notting Hill

I have been in London for almost a month now – A MONTH, I KNOW! Time is seriously flying.. before I know it, this semester will be over, and I will be on my way back to sunny South Florida. But for now, I am enjoying living in this amazing city, and I am so lucky to have so many fun adventures.

So, what fun things have I been up to this past week?

Last Thursday (23/1/14), Mallory, Maddie, and I went to a burger place near Bond Street called Meat Liquor. We heard about the place through a Buzzfeed article called “17 Delicious Dishes Every Londoner Should Try” and made it our goal to try every thing on the list. I (along with Mallory and Maddie) love a good burger, so Meat Liquor was our first stop on the list, and it did not disappoint. I have found that Londoners LOVE burgers. There are several burger joints here: Byron Burger, GBK, and even a Shake Shack and Five Guys. I have been to them all (Shake Shack and Five Guys back in the States), and I have to say, the cheeseburger at Meat Liquor has been my favorite so far. 

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The burger (and the fries and onion rings) were DELICIOUS, and the atmosphere in the place was so cool – very dark with lots of bright red lights (reason why it was hard for me to get some good pictures inside!) It’s definitely a place we will be returning to!

Maddie and I live in the same flat complex, so we took a bus back home – my first time taking one! We sat on the second level, in the front row (the best seats, if you ask me) and I got some cool pictures along the way 🙂

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Friday night was an interesting night, and my first time going to a club in London. A few friends of mine had heard of a bar/club called Verve that was nearby in Covent Garden. Online, it had said that it was free to get in before 10:30 pm, so we figured why not go! To our surprise, after walking all the way there (in the drizzling London rain) there was a £10 cover fee. It was raining outside, we walked all the way there, we were holding up the line, so we just paid and went in. We went downstairs where there was a DJ and dance floor and made it our goal to make the experience worth £10. We danced, laughed, photobombed lots of random British people, and overall had a good time!

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Above: Maddie, Me, and Andrea at Verve (not pictured: Matty & Steve!)

On Saturday day, Kendal, Lisa, and I had a day out in Notting Hill. Most people probably know of this area because of the film Notting Hill. It is one of my favorite movies, and I actually studied it very closely last semester for my National Cinema Study class. So, I was super pumped to actually BE in the infamous Notting Hill, and it did not disappoint!

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Notting Hill is not only known for the movie, but is also known for the HUGE marketplace and several shops and restaurants that line Portobello Road, the famous street in the area. 

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As expected, being that it was a Saturday, it was PACKED with people.

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In one of the opening lines of the film Notting Hill, the main character William (played by the iconic British actor Hugh Grant) remarks that the neighborhood is like “a village in this city” and it really is just that. Below are some pictures from the various stands along the road 🙂

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For lunch we stopped at a German food stand and got a bratwurst. It was DELICIOUS.

 

 

 

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My favorite find, though, in Notting Hill was Hummingbird Bakery. As most of my friends and family know, I am a self-proclaimed cupcake addict. Back in DC, I go to Crumbs, Baked & Wired, and Sprinkles pretty often (weekly?), and to be completely honest, one of my top priorities for when I arrived in London was to find a bakery that could satisfy my cupcake cravings, and Hummingbird has done that. I got the Black Bottom Cupcake and it was AMAZING. The official description of it from the Hummingbird website is: “A decadent, dark, and dense chocolate sponge, baked with a cheesecake centre, and frosted with cream cheese frosting.”

Again, it was AMAZING, and I am going to go get like 1000 more. 

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We ended the day by taking a stroll through Kensington Gardens. It’s a whole 242 acres, and with the weather starting to take a turn for the worse, we didn’t get to see all of the statues and memorials situated in the gardens, but we did pass the statue of Queen Victoria, who I have read several books and watched a few movies about.

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So, that’s all for now! I will be doing a bit of traveling in the next few weeks, so expect some more pictures and stories that take place outside of London! Thanks for reading 🙂

Cheers,

Katie

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First Week of Classes & Some of my Favorite Things!

Hello!

Now, we all know I came to London to study abroad. I have been abroad now for over 2 weeks (time has FLOWN!) but this past week marked the beginning of the study portion of being abroad. I began classes last Monday, and I can truly say I like all of them! (so far..)

I am in four classes – here, they call them modules. Three of them are English classes, and the last one is a marketing class (my first marketing class ever, believe it or not!). My professors are all really nice and seem very approachable, which is a quality I appreciate most in professors. I hate it when professors are intimidating, but none of mine are which is a relief!

Like I explained in a previous post, the UK university system is drastically different from the U.S. university system. Although I like my classes, it’s still hard to gauge how difficult they will be. I am hoping that since I am enjoying the material, they won’t be very hard. Time will tell!

There isn’t much else to say about my week, so I thought I would wrap up this post with a list of a few of my favorite things I have seen or experienced in London so far (did you all just start thinking of The Sound of Music, because I know I did!).

My Favorite Area: Covent Garden

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Covent Garden is such a cute area in Central London, filled with lots of places to shop and eat. Above is a picture of the marketplace that is at the center of the area, and below is a picture of me and Mallory (yet another AU buddy 🙂 ) with our treats from Ben’s Cookies, which have several locations, one of which is in Covent Garden. They have THE BEST COOKIES (my favorites are the dark chocolate chunk, and the cranberry and white chocolate).  

 

My Favorite Pub: Waterfont Bar

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The Waterfront Bar and Kitchen is not exactly a traditional pub, but it’s pretty close. The Waterfront is actually an on-campus bar and restaurant at King’s, and is awesome for many reasons. The food and drinks are not only good, but they are cheap! Instead of paying £4.50 for a pint of cider (like at most pubs in Central London), a pint costs only £2.50! There is also some sort of special or theme every night (Cocktail Night, Quiz Night), which is also great for students who are on budgets and looking for fun things to do. Probably the most awesome part of the Waterfront, though, is the view pictured above (photo credit to the wonderful Kendal!). I still can’t get over the location of my school, and am reminded of how lucky I am every time I am there!

Favorite Find: The Post Office

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Okay, this may seem very odd, but it took me the longest time to track down a post office, so this was a great find for me. I promised a few people that I would send them post cards. Post cards are sold everywhere, so they were very easy to find. But then, I needed to track down stamps, which proved to be a little harder. I will admit that I didn’t actively search for a post office, I just assumed that I would stumble upon one as I was walking around the city…but I didn’t. Finally, I was spending the day in my current favorite place, Covent Garden, with a new buddy Lisa, and asked a store employee where I could get some stamps. She told me of a convenience store that sold them. We found the place easily, and I bought some stamps: 5 stamps actually, that cost SIX POUNDS. I didn’t question it, and I was a little desperate, so I just bought them and called it a day. Later on, I walked back with Lisa to her flat, which is in an area I had never walked through before. We stumbled upon a post office (the first one I had ever seen!), which was closed, but did have a 24/7 stamp vending machine outside. There, they were selling 12 stamps, for £6. I realized that I was ripped off earlier, and was really annoyed, of course. I got over it, and reminded myself that it was yet another learning experience! I decided to actually search for a post office near me, to know for future reference to not only buy stamps, but to also actually mail these post cards. This is because I learned earlier that day that my flat in fact does not have an outgoing mail box. In sum, I found a post office that is a 2-3 minute walk from campus, and it is pictured above. 

 

That is all for now! I have a few exciting things planned for the next week or two, so I will have some more things to post soon (that will hopefully be more interesting than my quest to find a post office). 

Cheers,

Katie

My First Week (an unintentionally long post)

I have officially been in London for just over a week, and it has been the craziest/most awesome/biggest learning experience EVER!

Classes officially begin tomorrow, so I thought I would catch everyone up with what I have been doing over the last week.

Saturday – 4/1/13 (That’s how the Brits write the date, so that is how I will write it 🙂 )

I woke up rather late (around 1 pm), and didn’t have any one to hang out with. So, after some convincing (from my mama!) I went to Harrods – by myself. It was pretty easy getting there on the Tube (I was once again thankful for being familiar with the DC metro system!), and was slightly overwhelmed. For those who may not know what Harrods is, here are some facts about the department store (taken from Wikipedia):

  • it occupies a 5-acre site and has over one million square feet
  • selling space in over 330 departments
  • it is the biggest department store in Europe

There were SO many people there (it was a Saturday, after-all, and there was a “sale” going on). I put “sale” in quotes because it didn’t seem like much of a sale because everything is SO EXPENSIVE – London expensive times 10. But, it was really cool to wander around the 7 floors and look at all of the perfumes, clothing, accessories, make up, and cafes (yes, multiple cafes) that are in the place. My favorite part, though, was the toy section, which is called Toy Kingdom. Here are some pictures:

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8 year-old me would have LOVED this Hello Kitty section…

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There was also (casually) an opera singer in the huge escalator area.

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Sunday – 5/1/13

This was my first day of orientation. It was pretty standard – they had their version of student government (KCLSU) come speak to us, the chaplain gave a little info session, and they also had a portion on the differences between UK university and US universities. Basically, no one holds your hand in the UK system. Most of your grade is in the final paper or exam, and professors rarely take attendance or have you speak in lecture. In addition to a lecture for each class, we have a tutorial or seminar. These are smaller (15-20 people, compared to a 50+ person lecture). This means that professors won’t be checking up on us or making sure we are doing our readings like how professors do in the US (weekly quizzes, discussion posts, etc.). So, it’s going to be a huge change, but it’s a challenge I am (hopefully) ready for!

In addition to this drastic change in teaching, grading is also very different. It is very rare for UK students to get above *around* a 60% in a class. It is UNHEARD of to get, say, a 90% in a class. Because of this, grades are converted in the US in our favor (cue giant PHEW!). So, I could get as low as around a 70% (which my Scottish flatmate said is a VERY GOOD grade) and have it translate to an A- in the US.

Quick side note: Yes, I met one of my British flatmates! Her name is Amy, and is from Scotland! But back to what I did on Sunday…

We also had a walking tour of the city that night. I have posted most of the pictures I took from that on Facebook, but here is one of my favorites!

This is Somerset House, which used to be a royal palace, and currently is part-museum/part-arts center. And it also happens to be directly next to campus. Here, it was set-up with an ice-skating rink for the holidays, but has since been taken down.

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Monday – 6/1/13

Some more orientation stuff, and I became a registered King’s student! I know am official with an ID card and everything 🙂

Tuesday – 7/1/13

I actually had a class that day! Some classes started early, and there really was no explanation for it. It was my marketing class, and was very introductory. We barely delved into principles of marketing, it was very much an overview, and we got out 20 minutes early.

This gave me extra time to meet up with Martin, one of my freshman mentees from AU! I am an ambassador at AU for the School of Communication (SOC), and we mentor incoming SOC freshman every fall. Martin was one of my freshman, and it turns out he is from South Florida, and went to Northeast High School, which is extremely close to where I live! We have since become friends, and discovered that he would be in London during winter break!

Martin took me to Camden, which is a really cool, hip area of London. There is a really neat marketplace there that sells anything and everything. There are also a bunch of restaurants and pubs, a lot of which are cheaper than most in Central London. We had SO much fun, and I can’t wait to go back to Camden throughout the semester!

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Me and Martin!

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Wednesday – 8/1/13

Kendal (an AU buddy!) and I explored the British Natural History Museum, which was AWESOME. The Natural History Museum in DC is my favorite Smithsonian, so I was super pumped to see this one. The building itself is GORGEOUS, and Kendal and I spent a solid 45 minutes sitting in the atrium/foyer area taking pictures.

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Not much happened Thursday or Friday, so I will skip over to Saturday, 11/1/13.

It was a BEAUTIFUL day outside – 0% chance of rain, clear skies, and sunny! Another AU buddy, Ragini, and I took advantage of the amazing weather and explored the Tower Bridge.

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We took the tube over to Green Park and met Kendal, where we checked out our accommodation – I mean Buckingham Palace 😉

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We got some dinner, and then met up with another AU friend, Edward, who is studying in London, but with a different program. We went to the bar on campus, which had amazing views of the Thames, and was also super cheap. It was hard to get good pictures of the views, but it was a great find for us!

This turned into a REALLY long post, so apologies (if you are still reading this!). Classes begin tomorrow, so like I said before, posts will most likely not be as long! Thanks for reading 🙂

Cheers,

Katie

PS – I just realized that I have to approve comments, sorry if you could not see yours (Ginny 😉 )

Where I Live…

Hi, everyone! (who turn out to be more than just the twinnies and my mom and aunt!)

I promise this post will be a little more interesting and more well written than the last post… as I have been telling my friends, in the battle between Katie and Jet Lag, Jet Lag is winning. But, I will say the last day or so hasn’t been so bad. So, hopefully this post is  better being that I am not as delirious from lack of sleep!

Back to the purpose of this post…

A lot of people have been asking me where I live in London. I am pretty lucky because I live in more of the central area of London – meaning I am in walking distance of the most London landmarks, which is pretty freaking cool.

Here is a map (courtesy of the school I’m attending, King’s College London) that points out specifically where I live:

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I live in Stamford Street Apartments, which, as you can see, is just south of the River Thames. I have most of my classes on Strand Campus, which is just on the other side of the bridge. This means that I have to cross the bridge to go to class Monday through Thursday, which isn’t terrible, because this is the view:

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From the bridge I can see the London Eye (the giant ferris wheel) and Big Ben.

The walk to Strand is just under 15 minutes, but sometimes takes a bit longer when stopping for pictures 😉

On the opposite side of the bridge (the east side) there are amazing views of St. Paul’s Cathedral. I haven’t taken a picture of that yet, but I will soon! (I will have plenty of opportunities).

I am very lucky to live where I live – I can walk to campus every day, and I can walk to these really awesome and historical places, which is not only convenient but is free. This is always a plus when living in an extremely expensive city. I also get in some exercise walking everywhere, which is also great because I learned that the gym in my apartment complex is in fact not free! (Should I really be surprised about that?)

More posts to come soon about what I have been up to the past few days!

Cheers,

Katie

First Day Here (I survived!)

Hello, everyone! (Mom, Ginny, Peggy, Mella, and whoever else cares to read this!)

This is my first blog post on my abroad blog, where I will be documenting my adventures in London and beyond (probably Europe).

I have only been here for 2 days, so there isn’t anything too exciting to report. I will try and post once a week, but with classes starting next week, it may be harder to regularly update.

So here it goes..

My flight to London was only 7 hours and 15 minutes, a lot short than I anticipated – I was expecting the flight to be at least 8 hours. I flew Virgin Atlantic, which was great. It’s a British airline – the pilot and flight attendants were all British, which got me excited to get to London. I also truly think I was the only American on the plane. Everyone else had British passports, probably returning home after holiday (British word for vacation!). I watched a movie (The Butler, which was great!), and ate dinner, and then went to sleep. I probably slept 4 or 5 hours, and then the sun was out and we were about to land.

Once we landed, I went through customs. There, I got my student visitor visa, which allows me to stay in the UK for 6 months. I was worried at first, because the lady checking my passport asked me for my return ticket..which I don’t have. I don’t know when my final exams will be (I find out in March), so I bought a one-way ticket. I told her that I have to be out of my housing by June 20th, which is under 6 months, and she stamped by passport with my visa, and I was good to go.

Once I got my suitcases, which was pretty fast, I started making my way to the Heathrow Express train. I was told by numerous people that the easiest/cheaper option to get to my flat was to take this train into Central London. It goes to Paddington Station, one of the many tube stops/train stations in London. From there, I could take a cab to my flat. If I were to take a cab from Heathrow to my flat, it would have cost anywhere from £80-£100. So, I found my way to the Heathrow Express, bought a ticket, and hopped right on the train. It only took 15 minutes to get to Paddington Station. Once there, I followed the signs to the area to hire taxis. I got a cab, the cab driver was super nice and helped me get my 2 suitcases and 1 carry-on into the cab.

He dropped me off right in front of the front door of my flat, Stamford Street Apartments, which are student accommodations through King’s College. The cab fare was £18.20. I researched what the protocol was for tipping cab drivers in London, and everywhere said to just tip to the nearest pound. I gave him a £20 pound note, and told him to keep the change, and he helped carry my bags out, which was nice of him.

When I got there, a man was holding the door open giving the group of students directions to somewhere. Once he was done, he asked if I was moving in. I told him I was, and he welcomed me in. He didn’t introduce himself, but I am assuming he worked for the apartment building. He took me to the office, I filled out a piece of paper, he gave me my keys, and a temporary ID card that allows me to swipe into my building and other parts of the apartment complex.

I found my way to my flat, 81A. I am living with 5 other people, and we share a kitchen area that has a stove, oven, sink, microwave. We also have a table with chairs, and a tv in this area. I made my way into my room, where I have my own mini-fridge and bathroom. It’s pretty small, but not as small as I anticipated (I was expecting the worst). Below is a picture of my room, it isn’t the best, but I will take better ones soon!

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My first order of business was to get bed sheets. I was told by a few friends (thanks Martin & Ally!) to go to BHS, which is a discount clothing/homegoods store, was the place to get them. Prior to leaving the U.S., (with the help of Ally, once again) I looked up where the nearest BHS is. This BHS is at the Oxford Circus tube stop, which is on the same line as the tube stop closest to me, the Waterloo Station stop.

Going to school in DC, I am familiar with using an underground metro system, so using the Tube, or the Underground, was extremely easy. I have only used it four times now, but I can definitely conclude that I like it better than the DC Metro. It’s WAY more efficient – the moment I get to a platform, a train arrives, rather than waiting 20 minutes for a train. Also, escalefting (standing on the left side of the escalator) is also a huge offense here as well as DC. Speaking of the escalators, they are way faster on the Tube, which is also more efficient. The only thing that I don’t like about the tube is that it takes an escalator or 2, then some stairs, and a few minute walk to actually get to the platform. In DC, you take an escalator or 2 down, and you are immediately at the platform. It’s not a big deal, just something I noticed.

So, I went to Oxford Circus, found the BHS, and GOT THE SHEETS [ 😉 ]. I made my way back to my flat, where I finally met a flatmate! Her name is Sarah, and goes to Brandeis. I also met her friend, who also lives in Stamford, but in a different flat, and also goes to Brandeis. We talked for just a few minutes, and they invited me to go to dinner with them.

We crossed Waterloo Bridge, and walked around to find a place to eat. The girls asked me where I wanted to go, being that it was my first night there. I was SO exhausted, I told them I didn’t really care. So, we found ourselves at a pub, and I honestly can’t remember the name. It was odd at first – we weren’t sure if we just sat down or what – but a waitress came over and showed us a table. The waitress was really nice, and understood that we weren’t really sure about anything. She recommended what to eat – I had some sort of roast chicken with potato croquettes, which was yummy! – and also recommended the girls a beer to have. I had a pear cider, again I don’t remember the name, but I was told pear cider in London was really good (thanks Clawd!) and it was!

We made our way back to Stamford, which was around 9 pm, and I waited until 10 pm to go to sleep, and once I put my head on my pillow, I was out. I intended to sleep until 9 am, but I woke up at 3:45 am, and was wide awake until 6 am – yay jet lag!

I ended up sleeping until 1 pm. Not at all what I planned, but I was so incredibly tired, I had to.

I will end this post here – I don’t anticipate making the next posts as long, just wanted to update everyone on my first official day in London (and let you know that I was alive!). I will also take more pictures – something I have been slacking on!

Cheers (that’s British!),

Katie