Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!

To be honest Halloween is not my favorite holiday, but I guess any excuse to celebrate fall, which is one of my favorite things, is the best. Even so, it is quite hard to celebrate when you have to write a midterm paper and people back home have no power, no internet, no hot water. We celebrated Halloween quite simply over here, a quick study break to eat some dirt and worms (which is chocolate pudding, crushed oreos, and gummy candies shaped like worms–although we used creepy shapes because that was all they had at the supermarket) and we carved our baby pumpkin and roasted the seeds. Even with the pumpkin’s face abnormality it’s cute!

But now back to writing I go…

 

Some Highlights.

Clean room, dinner done, time for a new blog post.

So obviously some days are more fun than others, I am going to school after all, but here are the highlights from the past week or two!

While all of my classes are pretty interesting, I think my Vassar class is really the best. Instead of sitting in a classroom, or worse, a large lecture hall, we tour different parts of London with different media experts. Each class is backed up by reading, as well as mini assignments which usually include writing or photography. One of the best classes so far was a walking tour of east London’s street art. I have never really thought about street art as much more than vandalism, but of course I was proven wrong. Street art was everywhere, and each piece seemed to have an even more interesting story behind it.

The coolest work was definitely the first one we saw, which is pictured below. Can you spot it? Probably not, but it is a work by Ben Wilson who paints tiny paintings on pieces of chewing gum on the street. It is technically not illegal to paint on the gum, so Wilson can create his art with little legal intervention. Google him, it is totally worth it.

After the tour we walked around a bit to kill some time and test out our new street art spotting skills. Turns out we did spot more artwork by the artists we saw on the tour, but also found a great, bright yellow, bakery off of Brick Lane. It is called Morena Bakery, a south American bakery serving up sweet bites and hot drinks.

There was quite the selection available, but I had the dulce de leche carrot cake. Yes, that is a thing. Yes, it was perfection.

Not with class this time, but with friends, we went on a day trip to Oxford. It is easy to get to Oxford via London and we spent the day walking around and eating. I was also able to see my friend Ellen who goes to school there, and visit her giant Harry Potter-esq dining hall and quad. We went to a pub for lunch, they were filming the movie Belle down the street, but I was more into the Sunday roast I had, which was basically a plate filled with all things from roasted pork to veggies and potatoes. We wandered in and out of the different courtyards, went into a comprehensive and detailed history/anthropology museum and finished the day off at a Chipotle lookalike. It’s a beautiful, lovely place and definitely worth the visit if you are staying in London for more than a short trip.

Now sorry to switch gears completely, but I realized I totally forgot to mention the fruit and veggies I got this past week. With reading week coming up I need to eat as much of the perishable food I have as possible, so I am making some creative dinners with everything I have around. But last week I received cavolo nero, two endives, a bunch of carrots, small onions/shallots (whatever they are specifically I am not sure, but they are the perfect size), two ears of corn, two sweet potatoes, four asian pears, plums, several mushrooms, and a handful of oranges. This was a great selection of fruits and veggies, and I was able to make great salads with it all, which I have been craving and have been only eating when eating out.

Back to day trips and such.

This past Wednesday I went to Borough Market and then the Tate Modern museum, and they are great combination together, trust me. The market is not too busy at the beginning of the week, but we were still able to have empanadas and brownies. Yummy stuff!

Afterwards we walked along the Thames and went to the museum. The best part was the William Klein + Daido Moriyama exhibit, but photography was not allowed within the gallery space. Such a shame because it was awesome. The space started with Klein’s work and then finished with Moriyama’s, featuring their street photography from New York, Italy, Japan and beyond, as well as film and mixed media works by the two. We explored the other rooms in the museum, which included some interesting, and other questionable, works. I think my favorite was a work in a rust color that started on the wall, but then peeled off to the floor. My least favorite was probably the work that looked like a giant sticker, but was considered art because it bridged the space between painting and sculpture. It was kind of a fail.

And last but not least, this weekend! We did a lot of walking, saw the new Bond movie (very good, see it if you like movies, which means you should see it), and ate a lot of food and chocolate. We even walked past Abbey Road which is incredibly out of the way from where I live, but we walked across it and I took this picture, oddly the only one from the entire weekend.

So those were some highlights. Otherwise work is a bit more stressful now, and with reading week coming up I need to make sure I take care of as much planning as possible so I can have real time off. I will try to stay on top of my posting, but for now work is the priority. Good thing most of the time it is actually quite interesting.

And while it seems to be all fun and games here, I am definitely thinking about home and the storm. It is hard to be away when you know so many people are dealing with a crappy situation, one that could be potentially dangerous from the sound of it. Stay safe xoxo.

JYA Tips: what I brought, what I should have brought, and what I bought while here.

I’ve been in London for exactly one month! Ok, probably not too exciting for you, but after a year of planning this entire trip it is sweet to recognize my time spent here.

So like I mentioned a couple weeks back, here is a post of items that I am glad I brought with me, should have brought with me, and glad I bought while here. Some items include links so you can find out where to purchase them. Yeah, consumerism man. Obviously not a complete list, I wish I could have brought more clothes, and left others behind–but this is something I could not have predicted until living here. Also I would not forget ones passport (duh), health insurance card, and university acceptance letter. All of which are extremely important for immigration. And if a computer and a good digital camera are questionable items to pack for you, don’t study abroad in London.

Glad I brought with me:

MSR Packtowl Personal // I first traveled with this quick dry towel to Ecuador, and it was a lifesaver when traveling from place to place. It can go without a proper washing for longer than the normal towel, and is light and dries quick enough making it is perfect for weekend trips.

Mac’s World Travel Adapter Kit // I would not risk traveling abroad without adapters that work well for your technology. I know some people who bought adapters, but they did not work once here. The Mac kit contains adapters for far more places than you will travel to, but will work. Perfect for MacBook and iPhone owners.

A good travel book // By travel book, something that does not just lead you to all of the tourist stops. I’m a huge fan of one by Saska Graville called “London Style Guide (Eat, Sleep, Shop)”, it contains cute shopping and eating options, includes tons of East London stops, and I really dig the photographs. Finding one solid book with a good map that fits your personal style and what you hope to get out of London is one of the most helpful items you can pick up before leaving.

Some money in local currency // When you first land in a different country, the last thing you want to worry about is finding a cash exchange or ATM. Take care of your jet lag ASAP by buying some coffee and a muffin, and worry about finding an ATM closer to where you are living once settled down a bit.

A small notebook and pen // Attending a new school as a student means a plethora of new information as well as usernames and passwords will be thrown at you. Keep it all in a one location with a notebook small enough to throw into any bag you have. It was a lifesaver having a pen ready during immigration, with forms to fill out, etc.

A solid, medium-heavy jacket with a hood // When traveling in the fall, you will be surprised how quick a good jacket becomes necessary. In London the weather can switch rapidly from sunny to rainy, so the hood is good for the occasional unexpected rain shower. A jacket with lots of pockets is nice to have as well so you can store your phone, some cash, whatever and not have to carry a bag all of the time.

4×6 prints of my favorite images // Student housing is bland and boring, but it doesn’t have to be once you move in. Bringing dozens of printed images with me did not take up much room in my luggage, and makes my room feel more homey. I collected the images from both my own photographs and those found on the Internet, and it only cost me a little less than $10 to have them all printed out at my local CVS.

A backup credit card // The unexpected can, and probably will happen when it comes to your finances. Our family credit card information was stolen while here, and it was a lifesaver to have a backup card. London is one expensive city, and to be without money means no food and no travel–not a position you want to be in.

Should have brought with me (hey mom, don’t send anything over, it’s all good):

An old cellphone with a full keyboard // A phone is incredibly important while abroad for coordinating between friends and meeting up. International phone charges can be incredibly steep, but cheap phones do not come fancy. If you have an old iphone or blackberry, bring it along. Cellphone providers can unlock the phone and insert a pay as you go SIM card for your trip. It is way easier to bring an old phone with you than have one shipped.

A good winter hat and gloves // When you leave for fall term it is summer at home, and the last thing you want to think about is the arrival of winter. But it slowly happens, so packing your favorite hat and light gloves is smart to consider.

More boots, not sandals // Self explanatory, but it rains in London a lot. It also gets colder quicker than you want it to. I brought two pairs of toeless shoes that I haven’t worn once so far. Unless you’re traveling to the middle east (*wink*) bring sturdy shoes, like boots. You will wear them everyday and never have to worry about the weather when out and about.

A reusable water bottle // Yes, this is something you can buy once abroad, but I know a lot of people already own one that they use all of the time. Buying bottled water is silly, and you won’t understand dehydration until you live away from home with jet lag. Water is a must, and a good water bottle makes it super easy to do so.

Glad I bought while here:

A cellphone, albeit a prehistoric one // The cellphone I bought here is the biggest joke of a cellphone. It’s a flip phone with a keypad and the background is perpetually set to a cheesy tropical island image. But it only costs ten pounds a month and although it takes me a couple of minutes to send a coherent message, I can send that message and move on with my life.

Hairdryer and hair straightener // Some hairdryers and straighteners do not work properly with converters, and others might cause problems with the electricity in your room or dorm even. Rather than dealing with possible malfunctions, just bite the bullet and buy a proper hairdryer and straightener. I think I spent a combined thirty five pounds in all, and it is so worth it.

Basic kitchen tools // When you first realize you have to cook your own meals, it can be quite easy to resist the whole thing. But I love to cook, so spending the money initially on kitchen tools has made all the difference to mealtime. My must buy list includes a small, but sharp knife, a medium sized plate, a medium sized pot, a sauté pan, a set of hand towels (good for removing food from the oven and drying dishes!), a big sealable container for leftovers, a baking pan for the oven, a slotted spoon (good for stirring and straining), a drinking glass, and a set of silverware. Seems like a lot, but this is truly minimalist for me.

Cheap, thin notebooks // Believe it or not, it is called study abroad, so most likely you will be taking a couple of classes and in those classes people will say things that you might want to remember for your future studies. If you’re like me, then you want to be able to take your notes back with you. A thin notebook is the perfect size for one term, and is small enough to bring back with you at the end of it all.

That is all I can think of for now, but that is certainly a comprehensive list. To be honest, you will never pack too little, we are adaptable after all. It might be weird buying stuff for only a semester, but if something matters to you, don’t worry about it too much. A different country can quite easily feel like home, just put in some personal effort and have a sense of humor about everything that is different.

Another week of fruits and veggies.

This morning has been filled with brainstorming for my independent project. I think it is going to be focused on photography–I’m particularly interested in self portraiture, but I am also drawn to people taking pictures. The process of how we seek out images, is quite alike to the impulses of tourism. When does a place become a tourist destination, and why do we compulsively take pictures there? I think the answer goes beyond the fact we simply like to document our lives. Part of the independent project is to search after great texts to read and reflect on, but I think that a major aspect of my project will be to go to galleries around different parts of London. Since I do not have the time to study art at Vassar, this is a neat opportunity to delve into a personal interest of mine.

I will try to keep this blog updated about my independent project, but another week has come and gone, and I have more fruits and vegetables to share.

This week I received bananas, apples, pears, two red onions, a head of cauliflower, a red pepper, a handful of beets, two zucchinis, a GIANT celeriac, and a small pumpkin. While a pain to cook in the flat kitchen, I am obsessed with beets and can already see them paired with a slice of goat cheese I purchased. I am also really excited about the onions, zucchinis, pepper, and cauliflower, as they all go well in curries and pasta dishes. The fruits are perfect for snacking on, bananas for now and the pears for later as they ripen. The celeriac is probably going to be eaten raw, but I might try to make chips out of them in the oven with some paprika and garlic. AND THE PUMPKIN! It is not fall without pumpkin, so I think I might spare this little guy and keep him as a centerpiece in the flat kitchen. Maybe paint a face on him for Halloween….

 

Little Memories.

Still debating whether I should post some songs once in awhile, maybe some trailers for films I want to see as well, because I always keep a never ending mental list of my favorites…

But I think those are going to be a treat for the rest of the semester, although I think the recent content has been, if rare, more interesting anyway.

This past weekend started on Friday for me, and upon reflection, was the most diverse of weekends, if you can call it that.

Friday was a trip to Mudchute park & farm, a green and wooded space open to the public filled with all types of farm animals. Mudchute consists of 32 acres in the city of London, which is preserved for the animals as well as for people too for picnics and events. Located south of Canary Wharf, a financial districts of London, it is a strange location for a farm, but hey, London is a strange, you can say quirky sure, city. The peaceful and natural setting of Mudchute is almost compromised by the views of the large buildings in the distance, but then again, the adorable animals won more attention. Giant pigs, curious llamas, sheep and goats everywhere, and a horse that decided the grass was in fact greener on the other side.

We also strolled around Shoreditch, stopping for a salt beef sandwich, reminiscent of a corned beef sandwich, complete with spicy mustard and long, thin strips of pickle. At night I went to a local bar and restaurant near campus, a place that, while busy and disorganized at night, has perfected its comfort food. They served brick oven pizzas, rich soups, chili nachos–you know, good stuff. I decided to order a banana, chocolate and hazelnut calzone thinking it was going to be a good nightcap. Do you see how big that is?! Don’t worry, I shared.

Saturday was a real treat, all thanks to our professor and a excellent collection of lecturers, artists, performers, filmmakers, and researchers. The Serpentine Gallery, a contemporary art gallery located in Kensington Gardens runs the event, inviting the most interesting mix of people to speak on the topic of memory. The Memory Marathon, as its called, was the entire day, and I stayed for most of the speakers except for some in the middle when the group wandered off for lunch in Notting Hill.

Long story short, I heard a mind altering talk from a man who started to go blind in his 30s (imagine always “envisioning” your spouse as they were when you first married them), listened to John Giorno (Andy Warhol’s lover) recite poetry from memory, learned about smell and memory from Sissel Tolaas,  saw a film in which John Berger and Tilda Swinton talk about their fathers while making apple crisp, heard Douglas Coupland (an author I have read in class at Vassar!) speak about our current media environment and his nostalgia for his pre-internet life, and watched a film made by David Lynch just for the event, among so many other lecturers. And did I mention that Michael Stipe, formally of R.E.M., was there speaking about his past while his video pop art played behind him?

The picture above is Michael Stipe speaking. The lady in front of me had a nifty red hat on. The event was inspiring, at times personal and hard to listen to, sometimes pretentious, but mostly filled with nuggets of wisdom that I could not have expected beforehand. For more information on the event check the website here.

Sunday was much more relaxed, a quick picnic in St. James park, but otherwise very chill. Certain days here are super packed, so it is nice to appreciate the days when I can just chill out. Have you read this article by Tim Kreider from the NY Times’s Opinion Pages? I think you should. Whenever you think you are too busy, maybe it’s just time to chill out, make yourself a homemade meal, and watch a quick episode of Friends. Works for me.

Fruits & Veggies

I picked up another fruit & veg box at The Allotment this morning in the middle of the rinse cycle of my laundry. Laundry, of all things, is always the most time consuming and frustrating experience. Most of the machines are prehistoric and broken, you have to wait for one to be available and 20p only buys you around six minutes of drying time. But in the end my clothing were dry and warm, and the experience made me realize everything else here that is actually quite convenient and better than Vassar at home. Public transportation in literally across the street, as well as the supermarket, and we all have our own bathrooms including showers! So I guess if there is anything that has to be more complicated than it should be, laundry is just fine.

I digress, time for fruits and veggies.

The boxes are definitely not all local produce, but considering I could be picking up fruits and vegetables at the corporate supermarket it is nice to just receive the variety from a local business–if the locals like anything here it is supporting local business and chasing out the chains.

This week I received a couple carrots, two yellow peppers (half of one already made it into a quick sausage, onion, and pepper pasta dish), three giant leeks (which are taking up a bit of room in the fridge…), a fennel bulb, two kohlrabi (never had one before, but I definitely know what it is), a sweet potato, an eggplant (or aubergine as they call it here), oranges, apples, and really delicious bananas.

Ideas are beginning to stir about what to do with everything, but for now reading it is.

A day trip.

After what everyone around me affectionately calls the week from hell, last week was absolutely the complete opposite.

The first week in a new country is tough, especially with jet lag, total confusion about classes, and complete communication failures without internet or phones.

But this past week we all have begun to settle into life here. My cupboard in the kitchen is finally properly stocked to my liking, classes are not overwhelming, but rather exciting and engrossing, and I have clearer ideas about places I hope to visit around London, and even afar. Over the past week I have had incredible meals with friends; whether that be the best lunch I will ever have at an extremely posh Japanese restaurant or more humble eggs and toast at the uni cafe. It is certainly the coolest thing to be studying abroad, and I already have a pretty sick plan for reading week lined up. More on that when the time comes.

But even with a never-ending attitude to explore London, it is kind of nice to take a day trip away from it all. A group of us at the uni signed up for a day trip tour of both Stonehenge and Bath–places that always seemed unreal of sorts.

Oh, but they are real of course. Stonehenge was better that I expected–while there was no reason to spend hours at the site, it was incredibly peaceful there. The drive to Stonehenge was eerily beautiful as a soft mist settled in. On either side of the road there were farms and animals, but then all of the sudden the Stonehenge emerged. The structure is obviously old so we were not allowed to walk nearby, but we were able to get pretty darn close. The grass was so green, the tourists snapping countless pictures (like me, I suppose) were only mildly distracting.

Hey Mom, me in front of Stonehenge! Actually unreal.

Next we went via bus to Bath, a fairly large city with rich history, modern culture, and incredible architecture. This where those of yesteryear traveled to, to bathe in the natural hot springs–for spiritual, healing, and social reasons. But to say I loved Bath would not be true. It was incredibly touristy, and being so felt more like an exhibit that an actual place. There is something so disjointed about the history and then the commercial bits, like the Banana Republic or Apple store a block away. I would describe it as if any European city of your choosing was combined with the kitsch of Cape Cod. Maybe it was just the idea of people buying tiny bottles of “Bath Water” that made me slightly turned off by the place. Otherwise, Bath is really gorgeous and we were lucky it was such a perfect day.

And that’s all she wrote. It was a long day, but it was one I am very glad I had.

Nothing quite interesting to say about today actually. Just a lecture and a seminar, I made myself a mean scrambled egg and chorizo filled english muffin, and went grocery shopping in the rain. You know, normal everyday living sort of things. Not everyday abroad can be filled with tales and pictures, but we sure get close over here.

 

 

 

 

A bit on eating abroad.

Before we arrived in London everyone in my program thought one thing was clear.

We were going to have a food stipend.

But like all things college or “uni” related–confusion is just part of the program.

Despite all of the complaining you can do about living in self-catered dorms, it’s actual the ultimate freedom. You can make whatever you want, and you never feel bad about eating out because it will probably taste better, be more convenient, and fix your protein cravings.

I have been able to avoid frozen food recently by signing up for a fruit & veg box at The Allotment, a local New Cross food shop fairly close by to me. While it is tough to have the motivation to cook during busy times of the day (and even tougher to clean up after), it has been fun incorporating all of the goodies that come in the box. For twelve pounds I receive three varieties or fruit and seven varieties of vegetables, and not only is the quality great, but the prices are definitely competitive with the local Sainsbury’s. The Allotment has a great selection of other products too, like baked goods and crackers that look perfect for cheese nights.

But most importantly, look at what I got! Five giant mushrooms, several parsnips, three red onions, two rutabagas, a butternut squash (my favorite for fall!), two zucchinis, a bag of spinach, and tons of nectarines, oranges, and pears. For flat living, the fruit is perfect for snacking, and all of the other vegetables work perfectly is stir frys and pasta dishes I throw together. The root vegetables pose a bit of a problem for quick cooking, but stay longer than the other ingredients so I have time to roast those up. The fruit & veg boxes continue throughout the entire year, so I will be able to post CSA of the week like posts even while abroad.

Check back for updates–tomorrow I’m going on a day trip to a famous UK landmark, pictures are sure to follow!

 

Shoreditch and a few familiar places.

Here’s where we left off from yesterdays post, we were exploring east London and ended up in Shoreditch. My professor is pretty keen on this area–probably fascinated by its turn over from sordid East London to a place where people sit on the stoops in their thrift wears, coddling anything from a beer to a bagel. It’s a busy area, but rightfully so–there is shopping and dining for any price range here, and it’s incredibly trendy.

Our main reason for visiting Shoreditch was to visit a exhibition called 218 Gherkins. The Gherkin is an incredibly interesting building that is hard to miss while staying in London. It is not open to the public, but its quite the unique view of the skyline. In order to raise money for the NSPCC, a UK child protection charity, 218 students from a local primary school near the Gherkin were asked to draw their interpretation of the building. These pictures were then collected and compiled into a cookbook to raise funds for the NSPCC.

But the project went even further, and all of the images were also exhibited at Londonnewcastle, a temporary space. The space is eventually going to become luxury apartments, but for now it is a completely free gallery. There were children running about creating their own Gerkins as well, but the best was how the artworks on the walls came from children as young as three!

Then we walked around the area a bit. There are a bunch of coffee type places and tons of Indian and South Asian restaurants offering different deals, like free mango lassi or dessert.

My favorite stop was into Blitz, a large thrift store. Most thrift stores can be a bit like trying to shop in the sale section–incredibly hit or miss, and disorganized. This thrift store was completely different, anything you need they would have. Need a new black vest? You’ll find a couple dozen with different types of pockets and buttons. Colorful shorts your thing? They have rows of shorts in the colors of the rainbow. I did not buy anything, but I want to explore their jewelry selection again sometime soon.

And that was the end to an absolutely tiring day. We could barely walk back to the tube stop–our feet were shot! But the next day we woke up early for a tourist day.

The changing of the guards is something I definitely wanted to go to at least once here. Luckily we got the day right, but were a tad bit late. The crowds were fairly thick, but we were able to hear the music and be a part of the pomp and circumstance.

It is also a tad bit humorous watching everyone clamoring for the perfect picture, which was definitely not going to happen. We walked from the palace to Westminster Abbey, a popular tourist attraction, but it is a working church, as well as burial site. The royal weddings take place here as well, ever since 1100! It is gorgeous, and I have been inside before, but since we visited on a Sunday the church was closed to visitors.

And right nearby was Parliament, Elizabeth Tower, and Big Ben. And the London Eye as well as the Thames were just around the corner. Such a great area of history and architecture–we wish we had a guide nearby to tell us all about it.

We wanted to see the Tower of London, but the walk from Westminster to London Bridge is a bit of a trip on foot. So naturally, a quick boat ride on the Thames was in order. The boats are not necessarily cheap, but the view sure beats the tube and certain companies have student discounts. The best part is the commentary, we had a witty guide who made jokes about the bridges and architecture along the water.

And we had the best view of the Tower Bridge, another London icon! The Tower of London was quite amazing–the grass was so green and the structure harkens to the past. But I still thought the coolest was the old school double decker bus we rode half way to Covent Garden.

And after a day of a lot of walking, we finally settled into a small pub for pie and a pint. I had a lamb pie with autumnal veggies which was exactly what I was craving. And after we found this sweet gelato shop and had the perfect bite of chocolate and chile gelato for only a pound.

All around a great day–and we were completely exhausted at the end of it all, but we saw the touristy highlights and more so.

 

Days of Perusal

Where to start.

The past couple of days have been packed with a lot of good quality sightseeing and tourism. Funny thing is, I don’t feel the need to linger at the major sights. Big Ben is awesome, and Buckingham Palace is great–but it is really strange trying to be a tourist in a place you are currently living in. There is not as much anxiety about fitting it all in.

So with free days to spare, we explored as many nooks of the city as possible. On the top of our list for this week was to visit Borough Market near the London Bridge stop. With over 100 stalls, this market is enormous and has a rich history in the area.

The vendors are absolutely incredible, and more than willing to let you sample their products. On one trip I was able to try cured venison sausages, pigeon butter (omg, I know…sounds gross, but it wasn’t bad), fresh blue cheese, and tons of olive oil and bread samples. But I didn’t buy one thing because there was so much selection! Even so, I see some meat pies and chocolate truffles in my future. For more information on Borough market visit here.

I did finish the day off with a proper fish and chips–and by proper just fried cod and french fries with plenty of malt vinegar! Nothing more comforting really in the London weather.

The next day was a special treat. Our professor from school, who will be teaching us one of our classes, arranged a visit to the Warner Bros. studio tour, the Harry Potter experience. I am not a diehard Harry Potter fan, but I have watched all of the movies and have read the books twice. And I am also really into the behind the scenes aspect of film production–so the film nerd in me was pretty psyched.

Look it’s one of the actual windows Harry would look out of all sulky and depressed!

Oh! And a large chunk of the potions classroom set!

And the Burrow with creepy headless mannequins wearing clothing the Weasley’s wore.

There were a lot of sets like this, you could see Dumbledore’s office, and fireplaces from the Ministry of Magic, and even 4 Privet Drive was there. Quite overwhelming actually, but I found some highlights.

The graphics section was quite incredible, full of typography and branding for all of the products created for the films–everything from Quibblers, to train tickets, to class lists, and those faithful Hogwarts letters were specially made for the movie. Probably the most creative project for a graphic designer to sink their teeth into ever.

Walking down the Diagon Alley set was great–it is just like walking on a real cobblestone street, and the details on the storefronts are impressive. It would almost be like the real deal, if everyone was not a tourist taking pictures and the entire thing was not lit by a weird hazy purple light.

But what really stood out was the giant scale model of the entire grounds of Hogwarts. This was so large, and so detailed–probably the closest thing to Hogwarts. What is funny is that to create this world so easily scaled, the studio needed to hire hundreds of people to work on everything from the scale models to the actual carpenters, and designers and artists. A lot of work went into the making of the films–and the studio tour keeps that spirit alive. For more information on it, visit the webpage over here.

The Harry Potter tour somehow took the entire day–we were able to see Olympic park on the trip there, and go through central London on the way back which was stellar.

The next day we woke up rather early to peruse the shops and markets in Hackney and Shoreditch–two towns that used to be rather unpleasant, but have since been gentrified. Urban theory aside, these two places provide excellent eats and sights that definitely fit with my sensibilities.

People with bikes, dogs, and strollers gather on the streets and nearing shops for an interesting selection of food and a lively atmosphere. You can sit outside in front of a cafe, or just pick and choose throughout Broadway Market. Ranging from savory pies and tarts to boxes filled with Indian food–even a vegetable and fruit stand that has been an institution there for almost 50 years.

We had only half an hour at the market, but I was able to have the seared tuna steak roll from Fin & Flounder, which was exactly what I was craving, as well as a piece of spiced carrot cake from another vendor. I have been eating my meals at the flat with my fingers, because I am brilliant and keep forgetting to buy forks, but I was able to pick up some cheap eco-utensils, those fork/spoon/knife combination tools from the Netherlands, I believe? Regardless, I left knowing I was going to be going back very soon and with a very happy stomach. For more information on the market click here, and for more information of Fin & Flounder, click here.

A couple blocks over we were on Columbia Road, the cutest street in the area really. It is full with shop after shop–everything from lifestyle stores to bakeries, vintage clothing stores, to a hair salon, I believe. Every place has a charming graphic quality to it, like Treacle, a bakery with a wine shop next door. Didn’t buy anything, but our professor bought a few bottles of wine for us all to share.

This has been quite a lengthy post, eh? And that wasn’t even the end of the day. I will try to compose another post as soon as possible on our visit to Shoreditch as well as our London tourist day. This morning I attempted to make pasta and meat sauce, but I feel like something is a bit off about it–most likely the canned tomatoes I used…

I had my first day of classes, but I am going to wait until I have had all of them to write about them.

I also plan on writing a post about what I regret not bring abroad with me, and what I am very happy I did. Mostly fun for me to do, but I think it could help some of my friends reading along. Yo, mom if you’re reading this, don’t freak and send me everything I didn’t bring.

Until then, cheers.