London, week 4: Windsor, Eton, Bath, Stonehenge

London, week 4: Windsor, Eton, Bath, Stonehenge

Week four was a lazy week. The thing about working in research is – sometimes you need chemicals. And you order them. But until they are delivered… you can basically stay home, if you’re a research assistant, like me! That was a few days before Easter break, so altogether I got nine days off. Nine days!

The minute I got out of the school I texted an old penpal of mine from the US, who was just doing a master’s in Falmouth, Cornwall. And it turned out she was just coming to London that day. So we had dinner together at Jamie’s Italian (oh, did I mention that was the first time we ever saw each other in person? Ever?) and then did some shopping at Primark (shopping there right before they close is a great idea, by the way).

London. Connecting people.

That weekend, I booked a trip to Windsor, Eton, Bath and Stonehenge. Those destinations are not so easy and cheap to get to by yourself and I figured I probably wouldn’t want to spend a whole day visiting every single one, so I opted for an organized trip – something very unusual for me.

Windsor long walkYou have probably heard of Windsor before. It’s an adorable town famous for the Windsor Castle, which is one of the official residences of the royal family. We didn’t visit the castle this time, as I was there with a group of students who don’t like spending money, but we took some time to explore its surroundings and feed the Queen’s swans.

Fun fact – did you know that all the swans in British waters actually belong to the Queen? It used to be popular to just shoot one and bring it home for dinner – so to protect them, the Crown made it a criminal offence to harm a swan in any way. That was in the 12th century, but counting them annually is still a tradition, known as Swan Upping.

Windsor mailbox

feeding swans Windsor

A short walk from Windsor, across the Windsor bridge, is Eton, famous for the boarding school called Eton College. It has many famous alumni, or Old Etonians, as they’re called, including: Tom Hiddleston (<3), Prince William and Prince Harry, Bear Grylls, Eddie Redmayne, Damian Lewis, Hugh Laurie, George Orwell and some politicians, like Boris Johnson, the current mayor of London and nineteen British prime ministers. Plus other royalty from Great Britain and beyond. Unfortunately, the school was closed for visitors and won’t reopen before 2016.

We continued the tour to Bath, Somerset, a city settled in the roman times, famous for, you guessed it, its hot springs and the roman bath. And Jane Austen, who lived there in the early 19th century. So in addition to the Roman Baths you can also visit the Jane Austen Centre – or just the gift shop.

Roman bath
Bath museum map

Map of Roman BathBath Somerset
The final stop was Stonehenge. I imagined it to be bigger than it actually is, but it was great to see anyway (even though it was raining heavily!). There’s a nice exhibition nearby that lets you know everything about the history of Stonehenge – I had no idea about any of it. Really interesting. And, of course – another gift shop.


Stonehenge museum

All in all, Stonehenge is a must-see if you’re ever in the UK and so is Windsor, if you’re at least a little interested in the royal family – that’s especially true for the castle (but I’ll get to that in one of the later posts). It’s easy to get to from London by train, so there’s no reason not to visit! Just try not to do it when it’s raining.

London, week 3: Victoria Park, Ben&Jerry’s day and Olivier awards

London, week 3: Victoria Park, Ben&Jerry’s day and Olivier awards

By week three I was comfortable enough in East London (where ALL the crime happens and you will, eventually, be murdered) to start exploring the area around the dorm. And so I realized I lived five minutes from Victoria Park.

I’m not, by any means, a nature lover. Or a park person, for that matter. But this park is just too beautiful not to spend time there. Sir James Pennethorne, a noted English architect, designed it for the people of East London. It was named after Queen Victoria, and it’s enormous and incredibly beautiful. I went jogging there twice a week after that discovery. In April there were so many tulips, I thought I’d somehow been teleported to the Netherlands!

cherry tree Victoria park
tulips Victoria park
Victoria park gates
Victoria park street

April 8 was the day I had been waiting for forever: free cone day! Which is why I took the tube to Leicester square right after work, prepared to wait in line for hours if I had to, just to get a scoop of free ice cream, because I’m a student, I’m broke, and I love free stuff – especially food.

As it turns out, free cone day is not THAT popular, so I only had to wait 10 minutes for my first free scoop. Then I sat on a bench and ate my cookie dough ice cream in Shakespeare’s company. And also lots of other people’s company, because Leicester square is always. So. Busy. I had another scoop after that, just because.

I had always wanted to experience a real red carpet event and there is no shortage of such events in London. I first found out about the Olivier awards a few days before they were scheduled to happen. Just knowing Tom Hiddleston was nominated for an award was reason enough for me to go.

I’d never been to a red carpet event before, so I had no idea what to do. I left home at 10am and thought I would just wait there or something. And wait I did, for about seven hours. It was a cold day, we had to stand in the shade and there was absolutely nothing to do until the moment the celebrities started arriving. I had no idea I would actually get to see that many actors and actresses that day! As you can see, an otherwise perfectly normal – boring – street was transformed into a huge red carpet area.

olivier awards 2014 red carpet
Hayley Atwell Olivier Awards 2014
Olivier awards actress

First, I got autographs from Hayley Atwell, Martin Freeman and James McAvoy, which was great… But then Tom Hiddleston arrived and totally skipped my part of the crowd. Boo. Hey, at least I saw him, right? (WHY, TOM. WHY.)

Mark Strong showed up as well, and so did Robert Lindsay (from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the musical) and Gavin Creel (Book of Mormon). Plus all the actors and actresses I had never seen before in my life, so I had no idea who they were.

All in all, it was a lot more exciting than being in my room doing nothing, so it was a day well spent.

London, week 2: Book of Mormon! Olympic Park!

London, week 2: Book of Mormon! Olympic Park!

The second week started with work, work and more work. After all, that’s what I’m here for! Because of my incompetence (and lack of experience) it took me until 6 pm every day to finish everything I had to do. However, on Friday, as I was checking my emails first thing in the morning (it’s an awful habit, checking emails in bed, but I can’t help myself) I realized I had received an email from my supervisor, telling me to take a day off. Yay!

I didn’t have any plans, so at first I was worried I’d be bored, but looking inside my mailbox revealed that my shiny new student Oyster card had finally arrived! Yay! So I had to take it out into the world and show it around the city a little bit. I know, I know, I’m ridiculous, but during my attempt to save money I only took the bus to and from work, and had to walk everywhere else, which resulted in not-going-anywhere because places are far apart, especially if you’re visiting them after eight hours of non-stop standing.

I went for a walk down Regent Street and did some window shopping. And then, in the evening, I remembered that the Book of Mormon theatre is pretty close to where I am. Which means.. the ticket lottery! And then I played it. And didn’t win. Boohoo.

On Saturday morning I decided to try to win a ticket for Book of Mormon again. Since it was a Saturday matinee, I figured it would be less crowded and I’d have a better chance of winning.

I was there at noon, filled out the lottery sheet and then left for a very nervous 30-minute break, because they select the winners at exactly 12.30. When I came back, the hopeful crowd had already gathered in front of the side entrance and the mood was very, very tense. Everybody had someone to go to the theatre with; I, of course, was all by myself. And the next winner is… from Australia… From London.. damn. One ticket for Tanja… from Slovenia! Oh my god. That’s me! I let out a squeak, showed them my passport and collected my sign-up sheet, so I would be able to buy the ticket. My hands were, quite literally, shaking. It was probably hilarious to witness how much time and effort it took for me to get the money out of my wallet and pay for the tickets. What I hadn’t realized was that the tickets were actually for the front row! Now, I know some people might not like that and that’s the exact reason why they’re cheaper, but for me, front row is perfect. It’s definitely my favourite place to sit, especially because it’s so close to the stage you can see EVERYTHING. Plus, I can’t afford premium seats and would otherwise be stranded somewhere in the dress circle in the cheap seats, which are approximately 35.5 miles away from the stage. (Who needs to see the actors’ face expressions anyway, right?)

With two hours until the show, I didn’t feel like I was dressed appropriately for West End (I suppose I’m the only person in the world who gets these kind of feelings), so I went to Primark and bought a necklace. Or maybe I just needed the excuse? We’ll never know.

All I can say about Book of Mormon is – it was amazing. I’m a huge fan of South Park and Family Guy (and poking fun of everything. And sarcasm.), so this was the perfect musical for me. My whole face hurt from laughing so much from start to finish.

On Sunday, I went on a trip with ISH – the International Students House. It was a little underwhelming, because I was expecting it to be a huge event, but only eight people (including me) showed up. It was a trip to East London and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, including the ArcelorMittal Orbit!

I was hoping for it to be an easy way to meet new friends, but, as you can imagine, when only 7 other people sign up… it’s a little bit weird. We walked through Whitechapel and Brick lane, and then had lunch at one of the food markets. I was feeling extra adventurous, so, after trying a couple of different cuisines, I settled for Vietnamese. It was incredibly spicy for my taste (I don’t eat spicy food, ever), but – adventure!

Now I can finally say (not that this was what I had always aspired to) I’ve seen an original Banksy. Yay! And lots of other street art as well.

After lunch we walked around the City a bit and saw a commercial being shot. Possibly with a famous actor. I just have no idea who he was.

Obviously, the first thing I had to do after taking the tube from Liverpool Street to Stratford and walking to the Olympic Park was to take a selfie in the selfie ball. Of course. (I have no idea what it’s called or why it’s there, but its reflective surface makes it very convenient for selfie-taking and that’s exactly what everybody does).

The park itself is absolutely gorgeous, even if you have no intention whatsoever of doing anything sports-related.

Even the ads (that are probably hiding an ugly construction site) are beautiful.

The main reason I went on this trip, however, was the ArcelorMittal Orbit. It’s a kind of an observation tower and a piece of art, all in one. It’s Britain’s tallest sculpture and largest piece of public art. It opened just a day before we visited! And it’s quite expensive to visit. Just like everything else in London, apart from the free museums.

The view wasn’t as cool as it is, I imagine, from the London Eye, because it’s in East London. But it’s still a fun place to visit because of the funky shape and the giant steel mirrors that you get to see on top. Do not touch!