Melanie Allickson

Melanie
Study Abroad in Film Studies - Full Year 2013
I'm 35 years old and am studying abroad at Queen Mary University of London from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities in the US. I'm here studying film and learning about the world from a new point of view.

The Theatre!

Theater (or “theatre” as it’s spelled here) is a major attraction for visiting London. There’s the Globe, the West End, and a ton of little theatres doing amazing productions all over the place. It’s basically the biggest theatre town in the world next to New York City.

Thanks to one of my classes I got a chance to see some smaller productions, one at the Royal Court Theatre and one at the New Vic Theatre. They were both a great experience and satisfied one of my theatre goals. The others are to see Shakespeare at the Globe and one of the big shiny West End musicals. Then when I saw the following poster a few months back, I had a new goal:

 

OMG YES PLEASE.

 I mean… Macbeth. McAvoy. Dystopian future. Fighting and gore and did I mention James McAvoy? But as happens when you’re on a student budget looking to attend a limited run of a nearly sold-out show, it didn’t seem to be in the cards.

Enter an awesome friend with a surprise visit and some tickets. I can’t even describe how amazing it was to be sitting in the theatre watching Mr. McAvoy spit the hell out of his lines (saliva = drama, you know) and act like the nutcase Macbeth is. The other actors were just as good, and the in-the-round setting means that the first row on either side were occasionally yelled at or splashed with fake body fluids or even landed on by actors.

Basically it was the best theatre experience of my life. Also, lest we forget for a moment, there was this:

Um. Hello.

Gettin’ my geek on

London is an amazing place for anyone, but if you’re a geek it is the place to be. Allow me to share some of my fabulous geek adventures during my time in the UK.

Conventions: For you non-geeks out there, conventions are where a group of geeks who like a similar thing gather for the weekend in a hotel near the airport and collectively squee over their shared obsession interests. And because it’s London, there are often actors and other creative folks from the various shows/movies/etc who attend to share anecdotes, answer querulously-voiced questions, and sign autographs. I’ve been to four of these conventions in the past six months and have met some lovely people as well as some of my favorite actors from shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” “True Blood,” “Game of Thrones,” and “Doctor Who.” Basically it’s a fun way to meet some celebrities without worrying about getting arrested for stalking. Plus the parties are a blast.

Location tours: I’ve mentioned the Doctor Who Experience, and if you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan you can also check out the museum at 221B Baker Street. But the one that turned me into a puddle of geek joy was the Harry Potter Studio Tour, which is so incredible I can’t even put it into words. Here, have some pictures instead.

Where it begins. Also where we all started making squeaking noises.

 

may have been pretending to try on the Sorting Hat here. Maybe.

 

Diagon Alley, life-size. Geek behind the camera, in heaven.

 

Animatronic Monster Book of Monsters in action. I could not stop giggling.

 

I asked them very politely if I could live here. They said no. 🙁

 

And then there’s this.

I know, right? The working studio space was successfully transformed into a memorabilia warehouse for fans. It’s a bit pricey for the tour, but totally worth it if you have any love for the films. Also? BUTTERBEER.

Even more delicious than it looks. *hic*

 

This could be you! [Picspam]

Sometimes you don’t even need context to just go “ooooh!”

 

Central London:

London EyeThis gets blown up every New Year’s. It’s pretty.

 

Big Ben & ParliamentImportant stuff happens here.

 

Hyde ParkPigeons! Erm, Hyde Park!

 

Tower BridgeTower Bridge, often mistaken for the one that falls down.

 

WestminsterWestminster Abbey. Chock full of tombs. And occasionally royals. And royal tombs!

 

Piccadilly CircusOH HELLO! Piccadilly Circus is rather bright at night, wot?

(Quick note: do not, I repeat, do not practice your English accent to the locals. They never, ever think it’s funny.)

 

Windsor Castle, just west of London:

Windsor Palace guardI really wanted to poke him in the nose, but I was afraid I’d get arrested.

 

Windsor CastleApparently someone transported part of Hobbiton to Windsor. I APPROVE.

 

York, in the north of England:

(FYI York is a really cool historical town, one of the few remaining walled cities in the country. Unfortunately my pictures of it were almost entirely rubbish, except this one.)

YorkReal life Diagon Alley! (followed by a deafening geeksqueal)

 

Southeast England:

BathBath! Apparently the water is supposed to be that color…

 

StonehengeThat’s as close as you’re allowed to get. But it is AWESOME.

 

Wales:

Cardiff Bay 2Complete with “Doctor Who”/”Torchwood” geeking.

 

Wales castleAnd a really old ruined castle by the sea.

 

Scotland:

Edinburgh cemeteryThe massive cemetery in Edinburgh. Everything’s black because 150 years ago the air was 84% coal dust. HACK!

 

And finally, a few amusing things I’ve seen while wandering the city:

Look rightShockingly helpful. Six months later I still sometimes look left and then nearly die.

 

Humps signErm…

 

Well! my work here is done.

 

A day in the life

Thursdays are my most hectic day this semester. It starts at 8:00 am with an epic alarm clock battle, my choice of weapon being the snooze button. When the alarm inevitably wins and I’ve finished stumbling around the house gathering notebooks and pencils, it’s time to face public transportation. Which I am, of course, an expert at by now. Like a boss.

First I take a bus about two miles to the nearest Overground station. If I’m lucky I can grab a seat for the 25-minute ride to Whitechapel, where I trudge blearily up the stairs to the eastbound Tube platform and catch either the District or Hammersmith & City line to Mile End. More stairs here. Lots of stairs. ALL the stairs. Followed by a five-minute walk to campus.

The learnin’ begins promptly at 10:00 am with a Contemporary British Cinema lecture by Professor Giles (not his real name). This is immediately followed by a screening; our first class of the semester we screened Danny Boyle’s Sherlock Holmes. It’s a hard life, y’all.

This is my homework.

From there I make a mad dash across campus to get to (also not his real name) Professor Awesome’s Japanese Film seminar. The first week we discussed Monday’s screening of Spirited Away. Once we’ve sufficiently geeked out, I have an hour to myself before I’m back with Professor Giles for my Film, Literature and Adaptation seminar. The first week we talked about what constitutes an adaptation and where the line is drawn.

It’s four o’ clock by the time I head back to the Mile End Tube station and begin the commute home. I usually arrive home around 5:00 pm and devote time to reading anything Professor Giles has posted on QM+ (which is essentially Moodle) for the week since the Contemporary British Cinema seminar is on Friday.

Whatever free time I have after the readings I spend chillin’ and surfin’. (Yep, I’ve got the lingo down, y’all. Fingerpistols.) This mostly involves catching up with friends back home via Facebook & Skype or watching some of my extensive list of geek shows (“Walking Dead,” “Doctor Who,” “Teen Wolf,” “Supernatural,” etc) while knitting to relax until my 1:00 am bedtime.

And that, folks, is a day in the life of this uni student.

It’s not all fish ‘n’ chips

There are a few things from the States that I miss; things like Miracle Whip, Diet Code Red Mountain Dew, and Pizza Rolls. Also, grape jelly. Grape anything really. They have jams and marmalades in every flavor you can imagine including blackcurrant, apricot, and plum. But no grape. I’m assuming they hoard all the grapes to make wine. So if you’re a PB&J girl like me and grape is your go-to flavor, it might be time to reach out to parents or friends back home for a care package. Or just try out that blackcurrant stuff, if you’re adventurous.

 

I miss you.

The cool thing is that the UK has some amazing stuff that you don’t really find in the US which makes up for the dearth of Diet Cherry Pepsi. Things like salad cream, which is a delicious Miracle Whip alternative. Or Hobnobs, which are a fantastic chocolate-coated biscuit (biscuit = cookie). And the Prawn Cocktail crisps? Divine. (Crisps = chips, chips = fries. Don’t worry, you’ll catch on.)

Eating out is a whole other adventure. London is nice enough to have a lot of American staples (McDonald’s, Subway, even Chipotle) so you can get that comfort food – although I recommend avoiding Burger King because a meal which costs less than $5 in the US for some reason costs nearly £10 here. If you’re going to spend that much, get curry instead. Because the curry is amazing here. If you’re a wimp about spicy food like me, just try a korma. You won’t regret it.

 

Yummmmm.

There’s a zillion little restaurants in London, and many of them are ridiculously good and not terribly expensive for occasional nights out. Pubs also tend to have great comfort food like burgers and chips, which you must try with malt vinegar like the locals do.

Ok, I’m making myself really hungry writing this post, I think it’s time for some beans on toast. Good eating, everyone!

 

OM NOM NOM.

Bonnie Scotland

I’m lucky enough to have a friend who lives in Scotland and was willing to put up with my sheep obsession and constant requests to slowly repeat what she just said.

This trip actually took place some time ago on a separate holiday to the UK, but I’m going to share it with you because I highly encourage you to visit if you can.

At the time, my friend lived in a ridiculously picturesque little village about an hour outside of Edinburgh (pronounced Ed-in-boro). It was late May and the weather was insanely variable: warm followed by rain followed by warm and muggy followed by sunny and gorgeous followed by rain. All that within, no exaggeration, an hour.

Scotland is also one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Take a look:

Scotland 1

 

And the view from where I was sitting:

Scotland 2No really, this is not CGI.

This is all just outside the village. We also spent some time in Edinburgh, which is a really cool city with some amazing history behind it (and beneath it). We went on a quite eerie tour under Mary King’s Close which included lots of grisly descriptions of the plague and the horrible living conditions, not to mention a few ghost stories.

At some point along the way I spotted a sheep herd and insisted on stopping for some pictures:

Sheep!Did you know you can get arrested for “sheep worrying” in Scotland? OOPS.

 

Remember how I said a storm can appear in a matter of minutes? Here’s one approaching:

Oncoming stormTaken approximately 90 seconds before we were drenched.

 

And then there were ruins, which I totally conquered:

Melanie's CastleAnd I shall call it… “This Land.”

 

All that was just a three-day trip, which also included a visit to a local Renaissance Festival. In Scotland, y’all. (That won’t be nearly as interesting if you’re not a RenFest geek like me.) Anyway, get up there when you can.

YOU ARE HERE: negotiating public transport, level 3

So you’ve got the Tube map memorized, you do little more than flick your gaze up to the signs to make sure you’re going in the right direction, and you tut-chuff-eye-roll right along with everyone else at that numpty tourist standing to the left on the escalator. Congratulations! You have completed level 2 of London Transit.

On to level 3: the buses.

Knight BusSadly, none of them look like this.

That’s right, it’s time to tame those giant red creatures that always magically appear to run you down the moment you try to step off a curb. Although the Tube can get you just about anywhere in London, the buses can get you closer, which is an advantage for those of us who are lazy and don’t want to walk any more than absolutely necessary.

The biggest challenge with the buses is knowing which one to take. There are approximately 84 million routes in central London alone, with another 7 trillion serving the outer areas. This is where your old friend Journey Planner comes into play, although you can totally cheat on JP and use Google Maps as well.

You can also wing it and make use of the often extensive maps and schedules posted at most bus stops (particularly in central London). Where these fail you is in finding connections, but if you go to one of the major bus hubs such as Charing Cross and wander around looking at bus stop signs, you might find a way to where you need to go. If not, just hang out in Trafalgar Square for a while, it’s awesome.

Trafalgar LionI mean, come on. There are GIANT LIONS. Awesome.

Once you’re on a bus it’s all about that top deck. Get up there if you know the trip will be more than ten minutes, because one of the main advantages to taking the bus is that you’re not stuck underground; it’s basically free sightseeing.

If you got the exact name of your stop (thanks, TFL/Google!), just wait for the pleasant voice to announce the stop, press the STOP button, and flop your way down the stairs and out the back door – never the front. Congratulations, you’ve just passed level 3!

Wales – it is not England, OK?

This is important: if you visit Wales while you’re here, whatever you do, do not call a Welsh person “English.” Even a Welsh infant would kick you in the face for doing so. Wales is not England, no matter what the maps say. Got it? Good. Off you go, then!

As the massive geek that I am, one of my must-see locations in the UK was Cardiff, the capital of Wales. This is where most of “Doctor Who” is filmed and contains (in addition to many filming locations and amazing Welsh accents) the Doctor Who Experience.

My inner fangirl took over and became my outer fangirl as we made our way to Mermaid Quay in Cardiff Bay, which is immediately familiar to any “Doctor Who” or “Torchwood” fans:

Cardiff BayA back shot because my SQUEE-face is kind of terrifying.

After totally maybe acting out a scene or two from the shows, we entered the Doctor Who Experience, where we found one of these:

TARDISI WILL find a way to fit this into my luggage.

After satisfying the geek itch, we also visited Cardiff Castle to get our history on. There were tapestries as far as they eye could see, plus an inner compound surrounded by walls around the entire thing:

Cardiff CastleI Heart History

We also got a chance to have a proper cream tea in a gorgeous hotel on the coast, thus satisfying the Royal We itch. Wales is a lovely place to visit, so make your way there if you get a chance.

YOU ARE HERE: negotiating public transport, level 2

So you’ve got your Oyster card in hand and you’re ready to take your first trip? Excellent! Let’s start with that ubiquitous London trademark, now celebrating its 150th birthday: the Underground.

For the uninitiated, looking at a map of the Underground (a.k.a. the Tube) is a bit like trying to read hieroglyphs.

Who in the what, now?

At least it was for me the first time I tried it. But don’t panic! It’s not nearly as complicated as it looks. As someone who was completely unsuccessful in my attempts to make use of the New York City subway, I can tell you that London is an absolute piece of cake if you follow a few simple rules.

The most important thing is to know where you are and where you’re going. The Journey Planner Website on TFL (Transportation for London) will become your best internet friend. I use it more or less daily. There are also pocket-size versions of the map above that you can snag at almost any station. Keep one handy at all times. Once you’re in a Tube station, use the signs. They are perfectly clear, they are everywhere, and they will help you avoid looking like a numpty tourist.

The other thing that will help you avoid resembling the village idiot is standing to the right on escalators. Nothing inspires the tutting, chuffing, eye-rolling ire of the locals like oblivious tourists standing to the left and creating a bottleneck of impatient commuters. However, no one will tell you you’re being unintentionally rude because Londoner commuters are nearly as passive-aggressive as my Minnesota family.

The rest of it is pretty intuitive; don’t step on people, don’t whap people in the head with your backpack, find something to hold onto so you’re not stumbling around like a drunk while the train bounces along between stations. Oh, and avoid eye contact with strangers, it makes them uncomfortable. Unless, of course, you’d like to invite them along to the pub.

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