Photo Journal: St Albans

I felt the need to get out of London for the day, so I consulted this list of day trips and planned to go to St Albans for some English countryside entertainment. St Albans was beautiful, and I definitely had a lovely day wandering around. I do indeed love London, but sometimes it’s nice to get out for a bit and see other areas of this beautiful country.
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P.S. I am happy to announce that I had an article published on Thought Catalog for the first time! It’s not travel related, but if you’d like to read it, click here 🙂

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A Weekend in Kent

When I was a child, I had a schoolmate named Emma. I always remembered her because her mother was English, and as a young Anglophile, I was intrigued by that. Fast-forwarding to now, she moved to England with her mother, so I have a childhood friend within an hours train ride away from me. We met up a couple weeks ago in London for a visit, but this time around, she invited me to her home for the weekend, and I jumped at the chance to go outside of London to a much smaller town.
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The English countryside, to me, is pretty much everything outside of London and the other major cities of England. After my class on Friday night, I hopped on a train at Victoria station and took a 55-minute ride down to East Malling, which is situated in the county of Kent. This area is famous for being the home to Canterbury and the White Cliffs of Dover. We didn’t venture to those areas on this trip, but I hope to go back and visit her and perhaps go to these places. This time around, she showed me a bit of this tiny town and I got a lovely taste of a true English village.
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She wanted to show me a nice shopping area, not too far away, so we got on a train (changed a few times) and in less than an hour, we arrived at Tunbridge Wells. Our first stop was to a little cafe called Juliets, which served some pretty eclectic salads, meals and treats. I tried their haddock and crab cakes, parsnip and carrot salad, as well as a beetroot and fig salad. I was surprised at how much I liked the food, as I am not usually into such a strange mixture to my lunches.
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We continued to wander around the town some more, found a shopping centre, drank some coffee, and even found an adorable Basset Hound to pet and play with. I love little towns with character, and the further you get away from London, the more of a true English feel you get to experience when you arrive. I do love London, but I want to explore more of this country and see what it has to offer me in terms of my obsession with English culture. I’m happy I got a taste with East Malling & Tunbridge Wells, and know I will be doing a lot more train trips around all of the United Kingdom. Any suggestions of some small towns to go to?
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By the Sea in Brighton

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It took everything in me to not sing, “By the Sea,” from Sweeney Todd, as I arrived in Brighton for a short day trip, organized by the international students office from my university. I can only assume Mrs. Lovett was talking about going to somewhere like Brighton in that song, and from the way Brighton used to be 150 or so years ago, I could understand why escaping the filth of London and getting away to the seaside would be preferential. Nowaways, Brighton still revels in its popularity as a place to go to be by the water, but I can imagine, is more geared towards those who will use their time there as a swimming holiday, since the things to do there are a bit limited, and can be done in a day.

Of the things to do, I suggest…

Fish & Chips! Definitely being one of the things England is famous for, it makes sense to come to the sea and get some fresh fish, paired with chips. To be honest, I could’ve done without them, just because the amount of breading in true, English fish and chips is way too much for me, but if you’re walking along the pier, it’s a good stop to make. Speaking of the pier, it’s something you really should walk all the way down, because it’s fun to see how they crammed all those rides and arcades onto a giant boardwalk. It’s the Santa Monica of the UK, so it’s worth a jaunt.

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If you like vintage shops and small alleyways, The Lanes is the next place to venture to in Brighton. It’s an area of town that features small shops amongst windy, narrow lanes. If I had more money and time, I would’ve popped into one of the stores and perused a bit more, but we were on a timetable and I definitely could not afford the asking price for some of the items. But if one is looking to propose, looking for an antique ring in one of these stores would make a partner very happy, since the jewelry here is gorgeous and definitely engagement-worthy.

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The Royal Pavilion in Brighton is a huge, Indian-style building, well worth a look. There are a few museums on the property, but with my tiny budget, I didn’t venture inside, but even a look on the outside is fun. The architecture is very unique. Just waking around Brighton is also lovely. The rows of houses and shops are lovely, and it’s a game to guess how much it would cost to live there, especially so close to the sea. And then, of course, sitting on the beach and enjoying the sun and splashes of waves is what most people come to Brighton for. Perhaps I was spoiled to grow up on a beach, but the fact that there is no sand, and only rocks to make up the shoreline, is a bit strange, but there’s plenty of seagulls to make up for that unfortunate fact. But overall, I liked Brighton a lot, and hope to make it back sometime soon.

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Arrivals & Airport Love

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With a very short flight of less than 3 hours, I arrived from Keflavik Airport into Heathrow at about 8pm GMT. Everything went much quicker than I expected. The immigration line was short, and since I had a student visa, I was only at the desk for a minute, both of my checked bags arrived quickly, and I got into the arrivals area in a short time. I decided to get a sim card with unlimited data from a shop at the terminal, and then I was ready to attempt to find the meeting point for my pickup the next day.

A very long walk from terminal 1 to terminal 3 finally got me to where I needed to be for the meet and greet. I set up shop near an outlet and watched some stuff on my laptop and phone before falling asleep very uncomfortably on a bench. Around 2am, I woke up because I heard loud talking right next to me. There were two policemen in my area of the terminal, waking up suspicious looking persons. I guess Heathrow gets a lot of homeless people and pickpockets coming to the airport at night to sleep and steal from people. They removed a few guys who were there without luggage and this new information scared me a bit, so I stayed awake most of the night, watching my stuff. I did fall back asleep briefly around 4am and then woke again around 6:30am to the sounds of the airport coming alive again.

Arrivals

I love airports! Yes, the tedium of waiting during layovers or to be picked up can be unbearable, but I also look at sitting in a terminal as a chance to people-watch. It’s amazing how many people pass through an airport. I wonder what their stories are. Is that couple that just walked through the arrival doors on their honeymoon? Is that group of guys here on a football holiday? Is that frightened-looking young woman studying abroad like me? You really can’t assume anything based on what people look like, but it’s fun to guess. The diversity of people is amazing. You aren’t able to assume where someone is from, based on their appearance, because they could be from anywhere in the world and surprise you the moment they open their mouth. I love this international experience. As I sat near the arrivals gate, all that went through my head was “God Only Knows” (by the Beach Boys), and Hugh Grant’s monolouge from “Love Actually.” You can watch it here, or I’ve quoted it below. His character was right. Watching the arrivals is wonderful. There is so much love and good greetings from people and it’s heartwarming to know that there is so much affection in the world.

“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.”

-Hugh Grant in Love Actually

I don’t even want to count how many hours I waited until my meet and greet taxi finally arrived, but by noon, I was finally on the road from Heathrow to my temporary dorm in Marylebone. During my cab drive, I was placed with two very lovely girls, one from Uruguay and one from Vietnam. We all chatted as we drove into the city. I was relieved to find out upon arrival that I could check in a bit early to my room, and promptly fell asleep, exhausted from jetlag. Of course, after I awoke from my nap, I checked Facebook, only to find out that Jack the Ripper has finally been identified from DNA samples, and that was almost too perfect of a thing to happen on the same day as my arrival in London.

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My evening was spent looking for some low carb food to satisfy me, and unfortunately the closest McDonalds didn’t have any salads, but thankfully across the street, I found a Chipotle and got myself a salad, and then found a Starbucks so I could get some drip coffee and feel a little comforted. It was spectacular to walk around in my favorite city again. It actually still feels very surreal that I am here, but hopefully with some more sleep and orientations the next few days, I’ll feel like I’m finally alive and thriving in London.

Throwback Thursday: Study Abroad 2011

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It’s strange to think that three years ago I was pretty much in the same boat I am now for getting ready to study abroad. The only difference then, was that it was actually a lot easier of a process and most things were done for me by the study abroad program I went through. This time I am on my own, but I am glad I at least got to feel what it’s like to prepare for a journey away from home. On September 21, 2011, I left North America for the first time and took a flight from Seattle to London and from London to Manchester. I waited for the University of Chester ambassadors to pick me up from the airport, and I started out on a three month adventure that actually did change me as a person, even if it sounds completely cliche.

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The only thing I regret from my time abroad was spending my first three weeks clubbing and spending way too much money. I was so excited to take advantage of the fact that the drinking age was only 18, and as a 20-year-old, I was happy to get to drink a year earlier than my friends back home. I got angry at myself around the middle of October because I wanted to travel. I wanted to go somewhere. I wanted an adventure. I loved the girls I was hanging out with, but they were in the UK for a year and had more time to spread out their trips, whereas I had a very short time to get everything in. I had to ceremoniously break away from them a bit and find a group of exchange students who were only there for a quarter like myself.

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The traveling began right away. Our first trip was a day journey to Edinburgh, Scotland. This was the home of Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling, and I was so enchanted to be in this city, even if for just a day. Soon after, I took a weekend trip to London, and fell in love with the city. After that, we had our reading week (which is like spring break, but in autumn), so a group of us went on a Europe adventure from Berlin to Paris to Rome. It was really a whirlwind, trying to fit three huge cities into a short time, but I had a lot of fun and bonded a lot with my new friends. After that, there weren’t any super huge trips, but I did make my way to Liverpool, Shrewsbury, Bath and London again for the Sherlock Holmes 2 film premiere.

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Of course, adjusting to England had its time with me. I thought I knew all about England, but so many things surprised that I hadn’t researched. Eggs weren’t kept in the fridge, it was impossible to find Mexican food, I wanted normal pickles but all they had were gherkins and I even cried one night because the postal codes confused me so much when I tried to order some pizza and they couldn’t figure out where I lived. It was a weird transition to take UK university classes when I was so used to the style of American teaching. I was confused about everything and I learned so much about English culture and it made me realize that my romanticized England I had in my head wasn’t exactly the way I thought it was.

But it did cement in my mind that England was where I wanted to be, even with all its differences, and I knew I had to get back there as soon as possible. I was lucky to get to briefly go back twice in 2012, but it’s been over a year and a half since I’ve been there, and I am so ready to be there again. Chester was a beautiful city with Roman influence and showed me a bit of the rustic, old England that I wanted in my life, and I know I’ll be in London, which isn’t the countryside, but I’ll get to do those day trips and adventures around the country that I’ve craved since I was a BBC-watching youth.