Posts Tagged ‘markets’

Sundays in the East End

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.

Map of the East End with Queen Mary, Brick Lane and Colombia Road circled. (courtesy of google maps)

Map of the East End with Queen Mary, Brick Lane and Colombia Road circled.
(courtesy of google maps)

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.

Some of the flowers in Colombia Road market

Some of the flowers in Colombia Road market

My mum and sister clutching some flowers from Colombia Road

My mum and sister clutching some flowers from Colombia Road

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.

Some of the street art along Brick Lane

Some of the street art along Brick Lane

The Thirst performing on Brick Lane

The Thirst performing on Brick Lane

Some more Brick Lane street art

Some more Brick Lane street art

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!

One of my favourite cats from Shoreditch's London Cat Village

One of my favourite cats from Shoreditch’s London Cat Village

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…

Recap of the Last Few Weeks

Being in London for about a month and a half, I figured it was time for my first blog post.

So far, London has been a wonderful experience. My first few weeks were spent shopping, visiting markets and tourist spots, and of course keeping up with the academic life at QMUL. Unlike my classes in America, my modules here at QMUL meet less frequently, with each module meeting for essentially only 2 hours per week. In America, my classes typically met three times per week for one-hour lectures, with an additional one hour seminar per class. While taking four classes in America would translate to spending about sixteen hours per week in lectures/seminars, taking four classes at QMUL translates to spending only eight hours per week in the classroom. With more time outside the classroom, there are more expectations for independent studying. As an American student, I wasn’t used to this freedom for studying, but I’ve found that this laxity in scheduling teaches good productivity managing skills. For example, while I have much more time to spend exploring the city and participating in extracurricular activities, there is much more pressure to maintain responsibility for my studies outside of class, because if I don’t, my grades will obviously reflect it.

Anyways, aside from studying, here are some things I’ve done in London:

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I visited the Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. The Natural History Museum had cool stuff such as dinosaur bones and interactive displays involving human anatomy, while the V&A Museum had art and culture pieces.

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I also visited Shoreditch, which is about two miles away from campus. With its vintage markets, cultural food and enticing graffiti, Shoreditch is probably my favorite place in London.

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Shopping in London was also a great experience. I still need to buy more winter clothes!

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Other things I’ve done include: visiting Chinatown, strolling by the park, eating fish and chips, trying pasta at Vapiano, participating in my first pub quiz, watching a show at a West End theatre, and walking by Piccadilly Circus!

London, Just do it.

How do I wrap up five glorious months studying abroad in London in a single blog entry? I really can’t. All I can say is… Experience it for yourself! JUST DO IT! London is the most awesome city in the world and there’s something for everyone here. There’s always something to do and see and experience. Also, try new things! I was never a theatre-goer until I lived in London. Now I love the theatre and am even considering a profession in scenic design. Here are my top seven things to do in London:

 

1. Watch a play or musical (at least one!)

(Queue early in the morning—it’s not that bad especially when you’re with good company—to get cheap tickets. I saw Matilda for £5! I couldn’t help smiling the entire night after watching it.)

'Matilda the Musical'

‘Matilda the Musical’

2. Subscribe to The Londonist

(You can get daily emails about random free or cheap events around London. For instance, I went to a free arts and crafts party. There’s always something fun and weird going on around town.)

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3. Visit markets

(I wrote a whole entry on markets! They are fantastic and a lot better than the ones in the U.S. There are always delicious street food to try and funky vintage threads to look out for in this town.)

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4. Frolic in the parks

(Queen Mary is right next to Mile End Park, which leads to Victoria Park. It’s my favorite park and a great area to have a morning jog. I also recommend the famous Hyde Park. It’s HUGE. There are so many parks scattered around London and it’s a lovely escape from all the concrete.)

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5. Visit castles and palaces

(They are remarkable to say the least! You can spend hours upon hours in one place and not see everything. My favorite place had to be the Tower of London just because I love the history of Henry VIII. I even spent about six hours at Hampton Court Palace and didn’t see everything. London has some remarkable history. The architecture and craftsmanship that goes into every palace and castle is also mind-blowing.)

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6. Visit museums

(Museums sometimes sound a bit boring, but they don’t have to be! London is filled with museums with various exhibits. One time I went to the Science Museum for a special exhibit on zombies. People dressed up and the whole exhibit was interactive and fun! I particularly love the Victoria and Albert Museum and found their theatre exhibit really interesting. Oh, and did I mention that museums are free?! It’s fantastic!)

The V&A's Cafe

The V&A’s Cafe

7. Get lost!

(That’s right, I’m encouraging you to get lost in the city. Although there are maps outside of most tube stations, I managed to get lost a few times, but during those times I got to see parts of the city that I would not typically explore and loved it. You get to know the city a lot better by wandering around and you can actually see how everything is actually so close together and walkable. Don’t worry about not being able to find your way home: there’s always a tube stop nearby!)

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Writing about London makes me want to go back so bad! It’s a city that can honestly steal your heart when you’re not expecting it. I even miss the cold weather! Strange, right? The study abroad experience is really what you make it and I can honestly say I’ve had such a full and wonderful experience. Queen Mary is also a great university to attend while in London. It’s nice to have a closed campus a bit away from the center of the city. I would highly recommend taking the course on London architecture at Queen Mary. Every other week is a field trip and you learn to appreciate the city so much more. I hope you get the chance to study in London or at least visit. It’s been such a pleasure sharing my experiences with you. Cheers!

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