As someone who grew up in quite rural areas, when I applied to universities, they had to be in London. Spending half my life in Cornwall and half my life on the Isle of Wight, I really wanted to move to a big city.
I’m not going to lie, it was a big change. There are so many more people, it’s easy to get lost and not everyone I meet smiles, says hello and asks me how school is going. Shops are open after 5pm (this is still a fact that I sometimes have to be reminded of) and there is always something to do, even on a Sunday. Plus, being in the East End, there are a lot more quirky things to occupy your time with. One of my favourites is something me and my house mates like to refer to as “Brick Lane Sundays” where we go to the Sunday market to browse and get food, sometimes venturing as far as the flower market at Colombia Road.
As you can see from the map above, Brick Lane and Colombia Road are both fairly close to the university. It’s about a 30/40 minute walk, which is also quite enjoyable if you want to look at all the shops along Whitechapel Road (the main road running between the uni and Brick Lane), or you could take the bus or the tube to get there even quicker.
Colombia Road is a personal favourite of mine. It’s a small, narrow street (top left of the map) where every Sunday, flower sellers fill both sides of the road and thousands of people turn up. The crowds are insane, and it gets so packed that you have to shuffle along the road, like you’re at a festival. There are also loads of unusual little shops selling cute bits and bobs for home decoration, garden ware, art, antiques and food and drink. Even if you’re not a fan of flowers, it’s worth seeing all the people, enjoying some of the music from the buskers and looking at all the shops and flowers. Also during the lead-up to Christmas, the shops open late on Wednesdays and they have carol singers and Christmas trees out, which is great for picking up any unique Christmas gifts.
Brick Lane is also another great place to visit on a Sunday (bottom left on the map). Every Sunday, the road and a number of halls on the road fills with stall sellers, selling everything from festival sunglasses with interchangeable lenses to an adult-sized peperami costume (no, seriously). They’ve also got, you know, normal stuff too, like books, vintage clothes, antiques and jewellery. They also have an incredible food market, selling food from all over the world for really reasonable prices. Brick Lane is also famous for its beigels, sort of like bagels, but they’re incredibly cheap and really delicious. There are also all sorts of different musicians that perform every week, from full live bands to a guy who beatboxes with a harmonica, and for those into art, there is a load of street art all along the road that photographers come to capture every day of the week. Again, just like with Colombia Road, the spectacle is worth seeing, even if you’re not a big fan of the sort of stuff they sell. Plus, outside the Sunday Market, Brick Lane is around every day. There are a huge number of shops including the Cereal Killer Cafe, a cafe that (you’ve guessed it) only sells cereal. There’s also an incredible chocolate shop called Dark Sugars that often hands out free samples (yum), loads of cafes, a bowling alley, a record shop and so, so much more.
Going from never really having anything to do, to having so much to do and see it’s almost overwhelming is a big change. Despite this, it’s sometimes easy to forget that I am living and studying in one of the biggest and most impressive cities in the world. In between studying I like to try and explore as much as I can and try and see something new. London caters for everything – last weekend I went to a cat cafe! And the crazy part is that that wasn’t even the first cat cafe I’ve ever been to, but TWO are also within walking distance from the uni. You think of it, London probably has it, and whilst I’m here I’m going to enjoy and do as much as I can, and potentially stay forever!
That’s why I’m so grateful for the opportunity university has given me – to go and live somewhere new. If you’re not ready for that yet, you can always stay at home too (as long as you’ve got a university fairly nearby), but it’s nice having that freedom of choice. You can even choose to study abroad for something even more different! In fact, Queen Mary offers study abroad programmes and the Erasmus Programmes also offer this study abroad option. You can choose to move as little or as far away as you like, and I loved having that choice. Although it’s hard being away from home, London is a big transport hub, so it’s not too tricky to get home, even though I do have to get a boat! For now I’ll just go on exploring London in whatever free time I get – in fact I heard there’s a jungle themed cat cafe opening in West Hampstead…