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Tips for Visting London

16 Dec

Last week is what is known as “Revision Week” here at St Andrews.  It’s basically Dead Week at Purdue, minus that whole having class thing.  Which means I had a whole week free dedicated to studying for my three finals that are coming up.  Instead of cracking open all my notes on British History and Ancient Israel, I cracked open my wallet and bought an overnight bus ticket to London.  I spent 5 days roaming around London getting to experience it at my own pace.  It was one of the best decisions I’ve made studying abroad.  Not only did I get to take a nice break from academics, but I got to do it in a city I’ve dreamed of visiting since I was a little kid.

Now that I’m back in St Andrews, still not studying, I wanted to share my tips on visiting London with y’all.

  • Buy an Oyster Card
    • If you plan on using the Tube at all, you will have to purchase an Oyster card from inside any of the stations.  It is a thin plastic card that you load money onto for your subway fares. The card is way faster than trying to pay for each individual journey separately and it gets you a cheaper rate. You “top up” the card in three ways.  You can add more money to it with your credit card via a machine in the station, pay cash to a teller, or with a card online.  It cost about £2.10 for a single journey in central London.  If you go outside what they call Zone 1, it will be a bit more.
  • Ask for Student Price
    • A student price is sometimes called the Concession price. I thought they were talking about snacks for the longest time, but its actually just the cheaper enter rates.  At all things that aren’t free to do in London, ask if they have a student price.  8/10 times they will (The Globe Theater does. The London Eye doesn’t).  You’ll just have to flash your student ID and you will save a couple £££.   It doesn’t hurt to ask at retailers too.  Some shops will have a 10%  student discount.
  • Go places early!
    • “Go Ugly Early” isn’t just for Harry’s.  After a late night out about in the city, you might want to sleep in past 9am, but don’t do it.  To save time, get to big tourist spots early in the day so  you won’t waste time in the long queues (lines).  My guidebook said the average wait time for the London Eye was one hour.  By going early I spent an hour total at the London Eye.  That included a short wait to buy my ticket too.   On the other hand, I decided to go to the Natural History Museum  in the mid afternoon and had to queue for a half hour just to get inside and another 30 minutes to see the dinosaur exhibit.
  • Get to know the people in your hostel
    • Because I went solo I figured the only time I would get to speak to someone was when I was buying something.  Not true at all.  The girls that I met in the hostel where great! There was Rachel and Ragen from Ireland, a super sweet Brazilian girl whose name I never caught, Amber also from Ireland, two German girls, and the two Maria’s from Greece.  Not all of these girls where at the hostel at the same time, but they all were some of the nicest people I’ve met here in the UK. We would share advice about what was interesting to see in the city, how to get some place, where the best shopping was, ect ect ect.  Amber and I even teamed up one day and walked around the city.  She took me to the British Library and I took her to Kings Cross.  Because of the girls I met in the hostel, my London experience was that much better.

I hope these can help you out if you ever plan on visiting London or anywhere you travel. Sadly, I’ve actually got to study now for my finals.

BOUNS TIP: Don’t be afraid to travel alone! I was, but seriously being on my own in London was an amazing experience. You can read what I wrote about traveling alone over on my own blog.


Scottish Weather Woes

20 Nov

As most of us native Hoosiers know (and anyone who has been at Purdue long enough to witness all four seasons), Mother Nature answers to no one.  This I’ve discovered  hasn’t changed with me switching continents.  Here in Scotland, she is as ever indecisive as she is in Indiana.  It is almost impossible to predict what weather gear you are going to need on any giving day.  Watching the forecast is a good place to start, but be careful the weather man lies.  Even if there is a 0% chance of rain that day and you see a grey cloud in the sky, be prepared to get wet.  My phone app, I’ve just realized, only gives me the actual temperature and not what it feels like with the wind chill. I have walked outside one too many times  thinking I’ll be fine in a warm sweater just to have to run back into my room for my coat. Thankfully, I have it on good authority that it doesn’t get as cold here as it does in Indiana (a lady in the study abroad office used to work at that crimson and creme school in Indiana), but it is still pretty cold on the days it does hit below the freezing point. Anyway I wanted to share  a short list of weather supplies you can’t survive in St Andrews without:

  • Rainboots/Waterproof shoes
    • Some people might tell you that you can get by without a good pair of rain boots,  but I’m here to say they are wrong. I tried to survive Scotland without rainboots, but its impossible. You will need a pair of rain shoes.  Male or female, if you don’t want to be constantly shoving newspaper into your shoes trying to dry them out.  You don’t necessarily need to pack them because you can find a good pair in stores pretty cheap. I think I got mine for 20 quid when I was in Glasgow a few weeks ago. They have made my life considerably happier.  Wet socks are the worst.
  • Sweaters
    • Unless you want to be chilly in lectures, bring or plan on picking up some warm sweaters.  I suggest wool if you aren’t allergic.  A lot of the classrooms and lecture halls here in St Andrews can be pretty drafty.  I have a tutorial in a professor’s office and even sitting beside his space heater I freeze without a sweater!  Even my own room can get chilly because the heating is only one during certain hours of the day to save energy. 
  • Fleece Jacket and Heavy Coat
    • This one seems the most obvious of this list, but I actually came to Scotland without either of these things.  I accidentally left my fleece at home and I didn’t want to have to deal with packing a heavy coat.   Fleece jackets don’t seem to be quite as popular here. I don’t see them in stores much,  but bring one to help fight the chill off!  A winter coat is also a no brainer.  If you are like me and don’t want to worry about dragging on all the way here there are some great stores that carry nice, warm winter coats. I bought one for about 70 pounds from a local store and I couldn’t be happier with it.  It is the warmest coat I think I’ve ever owned.
  • Accessories
    • You should always have in your bag a hat, a pair of gloves, and an umbrella.  I’ve had it start raining on me when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The temperature is in flux all day so you never know when a big wind will kick up with a cold bite to it.  And if the sun does decided to stick its head out from behind the clouds, you can always put your accessories back into your bag.  Better safe than sorry.
  • Socks
    • Socks have been the plight of my existence here in Scotland! I don’t know what it is, but every time I leave St Andrews I’ve had to buy more socks.  You can ask my traveling buddies and they will let you know that cold feet are my biggest complaint. My feet freeze here!  Make sure to bring nice thick socks, not just thin athletic ones.  I promise your toes will thank you (and your wallet).

While it does seem pretty basic and obvious to bring these things with you on a Scottish Adventure, I didn’t. I’ve had to buy at least one of everything on this list since I got here. Albeit I only picked up another hat because it was on sale for a pound in the grocery store.  Leave your shorts and tank tops at home.  Even on the off days in September when it did hit the mid 60s, it wasn’t warm enough for them.  In all  just make sure you are prepared for what ever the weather decides to throw your way, because after all you don’t want your study abroad experience to be defined by freezing feet and soggy clothing (which mine some days has unfortunately been).

My Scottish sock collection (and slippers too).

Fresher’s Week. St Andrews Edition.

25 Sep

Well, I made it to St Andrews! I got here just in time for the start of Fresher’s Week. It is a strange feeling though being a “fresher” (their term for freshman) again, but I’m embracing it and enjoying getting to experience what it means to go to St Andrews. These were my favorite things about Fresher’s Week.

On Monday morning I went to the Opening Ceremonies for the Arts and Divinity. I imagined it was going to be a few of the heads of the university talking about how important it is to do well in school and balance your social life, a few bad jokes, singing of the school song, ect. It went as I expected with just a few slight changes like the song sang was in Latin and a small 5 piece chamber band came out to play a slow piece of music which I may have nodded off during (I’m going to blame jet lag though), but after the Vice Chancellor spoke we were rewarded with a performance by one of St Andrews’ a cappella groups, The Other Guys. In a spoof of Katy Perry’s California Girls, these guys woke up the crowd. I didn’t understand some of the song (like what exactly does schweffed mean), but it was so clever and funny and worth watching. Here is their official music video for you to judge.

IMG_3943It is not every day that a University celebrates its 600th birthday, but on Friday and Saturday St Andrews did just that. From birthday cake and fireworks to recreating the journey of their Papal Bull, festivities filled this small town. One of the highlighting events was the Graduation Ceremony feature Hillary Clinton, Dr. Jane Goodall, the Right Revd Dr. Rowan Williams, and many others. Tickets were raffled off to the ceremony and I wasn’t lucky enough to get one, but I did stream it online. It was long, but worth watching just to hear the speeches given and see my one of my favorite politicians.  The highlight of the celebration though was the closing fireworks on Saturday night on the beach. By nightfall the sand was packed full of the people of St Andrews and students from the university. The sun was slow to set, but we kept waiting by chatting with those sitting near us, taking pictures with new and old friends, watching kids run around in the sand. As it grew darker all attention turned to the pier where the fireworks were going to be launched from and when the pier let up with the first flames, everyone cheered. Six hundred years they had been waiting for this and it was worth it. The fireworks were beautiful, big and booming in every color imaginable bursting just above the sea. For me as an exchange student, it has been such an honor to be here to celebrate the university’s 600th birthday with everyone.

St Andrews Pier WalkA student tradition at the University of St Andrews is completing a Pier Walk after attending Sunday service at St Salvator’s Chapel. I was told that it was a tradition that came about as a punishment for some student’s who turned up to chapel one Sunday just a little too inhibited from their Saturday night activities; however, some sources on the web say it is to honor a man who swam out to sea to save men from a sinking ship in the bay. Whatever the origin, peer walking has become a student tradition. This past Sunday was what you imagine the weather to be like in Scotland–windy, rainy, and cold. None of these things make for easy pier walking because you take serious risk losing your balance and falling right into the shallow part of the sea. Tons of students gathered outside of St Salvator’s chapel in the quad just past noon, almost all wearing the tradition red student gowns. At about ten past the hour we all exited the quad, quick to jump over the cursed initials on the cobble stone that mark the exact spot where Patrick Hamilton was burned at the stake. With the winds coming in off the sea, the weather was even worse when we got to the pier. Luckily, someone had the wise idea that it wasn’t quite safe enough to walk the tallest, narrowest part of the pier and so we only walked the wider, lower part of the pier. No one fell in and everyone lived to go to the first day of classes.

For me Fresher’s Week has been quite the introduction to life at St Andrews and their traditions. While it may not be anything like my life at Purdue, I am happy I am here.

Wish me luck in my first week of classes,