Monday, June 30, 2008

6. London Museums...

So an entire course could be done focusing just on the incredible scope of London's museums. They're literally everywhere, covering everything from clocks to ancient Egyptian artifacts.

A few must dos:

1) The British Museum -- The most ancient Egyptian artifacts gathered in one place outside of Egypt. Also holds the Magna Carta, Greek antiquities and other amazing "stuff" from around the globe. A fantastic place to check out if you're into history.

2) Victoria & Albert Museum -- Literally right around the corner from Imperial College. The whole area is known as "Albertopolis" because it was the prince consort who dreamed up an area in London focused on learning and knowledge. The Natural History & Science museum are right nearby as well. The V&A is dedicated to design, and the decorative arts. Want to see dresses and clothing through the ages? This is the place for you.

3) Museum of London -- Documents the history of the capital from prehistoric times until now. It overlooks part of the old city wall that surrounded London in Roman times. A really cool look at all that London was, and is.

4) The Tate Modern -- super cool art in a super cool building. Once an old power plant, the Tate Modern is a fantastic modern structure that holds some incredible art. It features work from Monet, Matisse, Picasso, and Andy Warhol. A very cool museum to take a look at.

5) The Cabinet War Rooms -- the World War II ere war rooms were used when The Luftwaffe would bomb London during World War II. I'm a World War II buff, and this is one of my favorites in London.

There are so many other museums in London as well. These are just five of my favorites. This website gives a good list of some of the lesser known London museums. This site is a more "mainstream" look at London's museums. Everyone has their favorites, hopefully you'll find yours. And really, that's the coolest thing about London -- the plethora of choices.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Live it, Learn it, Love it

The map above is your Holy Grail to all things London. It's the London Underground tube map. The tube is literally the nerve center of the capital. Your stop is South Kensington, the ICLC is Gloucester Road.

The tube, as all things in London, has a storied history. Steam trains were the first to go underground, and the black soot and ash made for a messy commute. During World War II the tube served as a literal lifeline.

Thousands clamored into local stations when the Wehrmacht was bombing the city. Small cities existed in the tube during those horrible raids.

You'll be flying into Heathrow and we'll all be taking the tube into the city together. Because of that, remember to try and pack light for the trip. It's about a 30 to 40 minute tube ride, and there will be a decent amount of walking involved.

You'll love the tube by the time the program is finished... I promise you that.

Very cool website...

Hey folks, I want to direct you to a pretty cool website on the right hand side of this page in the gutter. The site is called Street Sensations, and it gives you a look at some of the main shopping streets in London. Surf it a little bit and you'll find quite a few cool features.

7. Westminster Abbey

We will be taking a look at Westminster, but won't have a chance to tour the Abbey grounds. The site where British kings and queens are crowned, Westminster's history stretches nearly as far back as the Roman occupation of the island.

It's history dates back to 616, but it wasn't until the 10th century that a community of Benedictine monks took up residence at the site. The original stone abbey was built in 1045 and then rebuilt in the 13th century by Henry III, the first king to be interred at the abbey.

The coolest thing about the abbey (besides the magnificent history and architecture of the place) is the names of the "important" people interred here. They include Queen Elizabeth I, Henry V, Mary Queen of Scots, King Edward the Confessor, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Geoffrey Chaucer, Dr. Samuel Johnson, and many, many more. The list of writers and poets buried in the abbey are congregated most closely in the area known as Poet's Corner.

It's an interesting place, but also a wonderfully beautiful place. Walking through some areas of the abbey, you can transport yourself back to a quiet, simpler time. There are hidden parts of the abbey that still (in this commercialized and crazy world of ours) seem to be spiritually charged.

Indeed, it's tough to imagine that when you're handing your 12 quid over to get into the place, or when you walk through the gift shop and can buy a decorative Westminster key chain. With that said, you can still worship at Westminster, and that is completely free of charge.

The abbey is one of the most ancient sites in Greater London, and is a must see for any tourist.

Directions to Westminster Abbey: Take the District Line train to the Westminster tube station. Come out of the tube station take a right and the abbey will be on your left down the street a bit.

8. Greenwich

Go to the place where time began! Okay, maybe that's a bit over-dramatic, but the history of time as we know it today began in Greenwich. As the place where all time across the world is measured, Greenwich is a really unique and interesting place to spend a day.

The suburb of London is known for its maritime history and its incredibly well preserved architecture. It also is the place where the Cutty Sark is in dry dock. The Cutty Sark is a famous English clipper ship that was built in 1869. The Cutty Sark was most well known for competing in the tea trade races in the late 19th century. Unfortunately the ship was partially destroyed by fire last year.

The Greenwich Hospital is worth a look -- built in part by Sir Christopher Wren (who rebuilt St. Pauls and a plethora of other churches and buildings in London after the Great Fire of 1666) after the English Civil War.

You can also check out the Royal Observatory (Prime Meridian runs straight through it) which is within Greenwich park. All in all Greenwich is a place that is steeped in maritime history but also has a unique royal history as well.

Old ferries and royal barges used to ferry the elite to Greenwich, where their estate houses were. There's also a cool foot path that goes under the Thames connecting Greenwich to the Isle of Dogs. It opened in 1902, and was quite the amazement in its time.

This is just a quick synopsis of what Greenwich has to offer, and I'm sure I've left out some great things. Without a doubt though, it's worth a day trip out there to take a look at where the world started keeping time.

Directions: There are plenty of ways to get to Greenwich, but perhaps the best way is by boat. It's usually not my style to pimp companies, but the boats from Westminster Pier (near the Houses of Parliament) do a great job of shuttling people between Westminster and Greenwich. You also get a unique look at the capital city this way. If you do this, you'd take the District Line or the Circle Line to the Westminster Tube Station. The pier is adjacent to Big Ben, and right next to Westminster Bridge. This website give you more info on the boats. It looks like it's only £9.50 for a round trip ticket, which isn't too bad at all.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

9. Hampstead Heath & Richmond Park

Hopefully you'll hit quite a few of the myriad green spaces in London while we're there. There's no shortage of parks -- including Green, St. James, Hyde, Regents, and Kensington Gardens. One of my personal favorites is Holland Park.

But for absolute vastness of greenery, you can't beat Hampstead and Richmond. The park (at that time considered a manor) dates back to the 13th century. At that point it was well outside the city of London. Today, boroughs surround the park on all sides. Nonetheless, get to the center of the park and you'll feel like you're in the woods somewhere in Ithaca.

The park is famous most for the wildlife that lives there. It also affords a phenomenal view of London from Henry VIII's mound. It's a great respite for the jumble of city life.

As for Hampstead Heath -- it's a bit more city-bound but also gives you a touch of the country. Again, the views from the Heath (specifically from Parliament Hill) are fantastic. There are also some pretty cool pubs in the neighborhood to whet your whistle.

Both of these places are great ways to stay in the city, but get out of it all at the same time.

Directions to Hampstead Heath: Take the Piccadilly Line towards Cockfosters. Change to the Northern Line at Leicester Square. Get off at the Hampstead tube stop.

Directions to Richmond Park: Take the District Line towards Richmond. Get off at the Richmond tube station. Then take the 371 or 65 bus to the pedestrian gate at Petersham.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

10. The London Eye

This is a no-brainer and very much a tourist attraction. Most native Londoners that I know still think it is a blight on the city. Architecturally and aesthetically it doesn't really go with its surrounding, what with being straight across the Thames from the most quintessential image of London: Big Ben.

In any case, it is a fantastic thing to do if you really want to get a sense of the city from a birds eye view. It also gives a really clear view of lands to the south of London, beyond the city limits.

So I guess you can argue all day whether it adds to London's landscape or not, but it definitely is something every red blooded tourist should do.

HOW TO GET THERE: Hop on the tube at South Kensington and take the Circle or District Line to the Westmister Tube Station. Go up to street level and take a left to go across Westminster Bridge. Take a direct left after crossing the bridge and you'll head straight for the gigantic ferris wheel looking thing.

10 Things to do in London

So over the next two weeks I'm going to list ten things to do in London that we won't be doing during our trip. So these are things to try out on your own when not in class. Some of them are obvious and very touristy, others are just fun things that I've stumbled upon in my traveling. Do you have something you are dying to do before you get over there? Let me know.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Some Great Questions...

So Tristan asked some fantastic questions in response to a post I made below and I felt like it would make sense to make a blog post about it. Remember, NO question is too odd or silly. I'm an old pro at living overseas, so a lot of the "simpler" things I don't even think about anymore. So here are Tristan's questions:

1) Is the kitchen fully equipped? I don't need to bring my Boy Scout mess kit with me, do I?

The kitchen is fully equipped with two stoves, a toaster, a fridge, and a microwave. As far as the things you'll need to actually cook... I'll check on that. I would assume most stuff (kitchen utensils, etc...) will be there.

2) How and where do we exchange currency? What about traveler's checks, where do I get those, and do I need them?

-- There are a couple answers to this question. First, it's always a good idea to try and exchange some money in the states before you get to London. Usually your personal bank will have a way to do this. Be aware though -- it could take a couple of days as usually branch banks don't have foreign currency on hand. Another smart idea is to make sure you have your ATM card with you. Using your ATM in England, you'll almost always get a better exchange rate than you would from an exchange place. The third option is that there are a ton of places in London (especially where you'll be staying) that have stores that will exchange currencies. Most of these places usually give an unfavorable exchange rate. But do some window shopping -- sometimes you can get good deals in these places. It also makes sense to ask questions at the banks and exchange rate centers, like what their exchange rate and commissions are. It takes 20 seconds but could save you some money. As far as traveller's checks are concerned -- they are nice to have for safety's sake. I don't personally carry them, but it might not be a bad idea to have some cash in traveller's checks.
***On the talk about banks -- make sure you let your bank and credit card company know you are traveling overseas. Many times these places will shut your card down as soon as it sees you have made a foreign purchase.

1) During our daily outings, will we be stopping somewhere for lunch, or bringing our own? What kind of stuff should we be carrying for our day trips?

-- If you look at the syllabus posted to the right on this blog it will tell you that there are three times we will have lunch or dinner together. Obviously, there will be times I'll ask you all informally if you want to go to dinner somewhere, but you are not obligated to do that. I will try to set most of the field trips up so they will happen between breakfast and lunch, lunch and dinner, etc... If you all are famished, obviously we can make a pit stop if you need to while we're touring.

For the trips you should be taking a pen or pencil (or audio recorder) and a notepad. I'm not going to hold your hands through these exercises but I do expect you guys to talk to tourists, folks from the UK, etc... while we're there so you can get an idea of what London is all about. These interviews will obviously help color your stories. I'm also very much a visual person and expect you guys to create visuals in your stories for me. Whether it be describing a person, a place, a thing -- you want to set a tone and a mood for your story. Travel writing is ALL about description. So you should be taking notes constantly or at the very least taking in your surroundings in a meaningful way that you can write down later.

4) Shower sandal. y/n?

Shower sandals are a definite "yes". It is a dorm after all -- same rules apply as an American college.

5) You told me once that $500 for food would be enough. Still true? Also, about how much could we spend pubs, weekend trips and souvenirs? Maybe a high estimate and a low estimate.

-- I just went to the Sainsbury's website and created a grocery list for myself (I suggest you give it a try) and found that a week's worth of groceries came to about 120 dollars. So yah, I think you could do groceries for 3 weeks for 500 dollars pretty easily. As far as pubs are concerned, most meals range between £6 and £12. If you decide you want to imbibe, prices are fairly expensive for beers, etc... because it's a big city and our dollar is getting creamed by the pound right now. I'm not going to give a high and low estimate because it really is a person's personal preference.
*** Check out Sainsbury's website if for nothing else the really odd food combinations they have there. England is definitely interesting when it comes to food. Haggis anyone?

Keep thinking of questions folks! I'll keep posting and responding to them.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

American Airlines...

One quick thing I wanted to add into the blog -- I'm sure you've all seen that American Airlines is charging 15 dollars for the first bag, and 25 dollars for the second bag. Luckily we booked tickets before this went into effect. So we don't have to worry about that. It is important though for you to know a little bit about the restrictions you'll face traveling overseas. The American Airlines website will explain all the things you'll need to know.

Travel Plans

I know one of the nice things about this course is that it gives all of you some freedom on weekends (since we have three day weekends). That means you have the ability to do some stuff that you wouldn't be able to do during the week.

Whether you want to sight see in London, travel around the UK, or check out mainland Europe, the three day weekend will help you guys out alot.

So do any of you have plans to travel somewhere while in London?

I have a couple plans. On the second weekend there my wife and I are going to escape to the Netherlands to check out the sights, sounds, and culture of beautiful Amsterdam.

We're also planning on hitting up Liverpool where the Beatles got their start. We'll go on the Magical Mystery Tour while there. I've done the tour twice before and it's fantastic -- an essential for anyone who loves The Beatles. Liverpool is a day trip from London -- about a three hour train ride. If anyone is interested in doing this, let me know maybe we can go together.

I also would love to check out Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral again but probably won't get a chance to do that this time. I'm definitely checking out Hampton Court Palace in far west London this time around. It's a fantastic place from what I've heard. I've never had the opportunity to check it out though.

So what are your plans? Use the comments section here to tell me and everyone else what you're doing. Who knows, you might just get a travel partner out of it!

By the way, I'll be giving you guys tip and suggestions of places to go in London that we won't necessarily hit during class time.

The Great Cell Phone Debate

Okay, so using an American mobile phone in London is tougher than putting NAT sound that Parkhurst likes into your TV packages.

It looks like AT&T/Cingular and T-Mobile have the best phones for overseas. First thing you'd need to do is figure out if they are quad band though. After figuring that out, you need to decide if you want to pay $2.99 a minute to call back to the US or receive incoming calls. If you don't, you need to get a SIM card that can go into your phone. In order to do that you need to get it unlocked by a few different services.

So as I said, that's the easiest option for using cell phones in England. Other cell phone carriers are much more difficult. So instead of killing myself doing this I decided to ask some students of mine who spent a semester abroad in London what they did. Below is an e-mail exchange I had with Mike Lurie on cell phones in London. For our purposes I think what he suggests will probably work best.

Hey Ryan,
We went through a company called Piccell for our cell phones. Basically
you order them online and they get sent to you before you leave and you
send them back when you get home. It was fairly priced, and Piccell to
Piccell calls are free, except I don't know if it would work out for such
a short term trip. I would suggest buying a "pay as you go" phone when you
get to London. There are tons of stores around that sell phones for 10-20
pounds. You can top up in many stores as well, and just pay for minutes as
you use them. That is probably your best route.

So there you have it -- I think pay as you go phones are probably the best option for cell use. It's basically a phone and a calling card and that's it. I used one when I lived in London and it worked very well.

Questions Answered

Hey folks... got an e-mail from a representative of Pepperdine today (Pepperdine is the college that is subletting your rooms to us for the program). Got some answers to some of your questions, and I'll post it below.

One month from today I'll be in London preparing for your arrival! Are you guys ready? What questions do you have for me? I'll try my best to answer any questions you have about pretty much anything to do with the trip, London, Europe, travel writing, etc...

In any case, here's the e-mail I received from Glyn:

1)  Does the dorm have Internet access
for the students laptops?

The dorm rooms are hard wired as opposed to wireless.

2) Are bed linens and towels, etc.. provided or do they
need to pack those things?

Linens are supplied and changed on a weekly basis and the rooms
cleaned weekly I understand. I had a look at a brief version of
the contract and there is no mention of towels so I would bring
one although you could buy a cheap one here.

3) Are there locks on the dorm rooms?

Rooms are lockable. I'm sure there will be a fee for lost keys.
There is also a swipe system to get into the building. Security
is 24 hours and is by the main entrance. They will have photos of
students so we know who is in the building and who is a visitor.

4) Is there telephone access in the dorm rooms, or in the dorm?

I believe that rooms have phones but that you need to purchase cards,
from security, to make outside calls. I know that many of our students
use Skype for speaking with people at home so that may be something your
students want to think about.

So after playing Alex Trebek, I think some of your questions have been
answered. Hope this helps!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Groceries and Adapters...

Okay, I know a lot of you were a bit worried about cost of living in the UK right now. As far as food is concerned, the grocers you'll probably be using would be Sainsbury's or Tesco. Both stores have online shopping, so if you want to get a sense of how much you'll pay to eat per week you can do it right at those sites. I'll also give you another fantastic site called This website is a currency converter online and works very nicely.

If you play around with the grocery websites and you'll get a solid sense of how much everything will cost.

If you like Brit Pop, Lily Allen actually has a song where she mentions Tesco. It's kind of the Wegman's of the UK.

If you're planning on taking your Mac Book Pro to London you'll need a voltage converter. The Apple Store sells one. It's 39 bucks, but you might be able to find it cheaper elsewhere. EDIT: Reading some reviews on the Apple Store website it seems that for our purposes you can get a similar thing for much cheaper at an electronics store. Also remember that the London Center has computers there, so you don't have to take your computer to London.

Since the UK uses a different electrical system than the US you'll also need voltage converters for any appliance you take to the UK, like a curling iron, hair dryer, etc...

Along with the converter, you'll also need a plug adapter. This seems like a lot of work, right? Well, if you go to Wal-Mart they usually have full packs of adapters, etc... in their Travel aisle.

So since I just pimped Wal-Mart, I'll give you a link to K-Mart.