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24 December 2007

Home for the Holidays

I've come home for Christmas! I arrived last Tuesday night, so I've been back in California for nearly a week now! It's been good. I've been able to see many of my friends so far, but I'm looking forward to spending more time with them during my next (and last) week home. I only have two weeks of Christmas vacation! I fly back to London right after New Years! I'm wondering whether I should have just stayed in Europe... but it would be too long without seeing any family.

09 December 2007

The Tube and the Metro

This article is from about 10 years ago, but it does highlight many of the differences I picked up in my travel experience in London and in Paris.

PARIS DAYS: Le train now arriving is cheap, efficient and smells
John Lichfield

The French railways have produced an entertaining leaflet. It shows the Eurostar route through the Channel tunnel as an outsize Metro/Tube line linking the underground systems of London and Paris.

If this fantasy is ever to be realised - boarding the Tube at Piccadilly, and alighting at Charles de Gaulle-Etoile - one hopes, for humanitarian reasons, that the trains will be run from the French end.

As a once daily victim of the London Underground, now removed to Paris, I wish to pay a glowing tribute to the Metro. It is clean; efficient; safe; frequent; cheap; and rarely breaks down. It also has that wonderful smell - a blend of sweat, perfume and burned rubber - which has defined Paris to generations of foreign visitors, as much as, say, the view of the Eiffel Tower. My problem is that I can find few Parisians who agree with me about the Metro. They are convinced that their underground system is dirty, inefficient, expensive and dangerous. In other words, despite the Eurostar, few of them have been to London recently. This is a perfect example of a French tendency to protest too much. The French have some reasons to be anxious about their future but not as many as they think they have. They have some reasons to be sour about the Metro - for instance, a tendency for bombs to explode in its younger, bigger, dirtier sister, the RER regional network - but not as many as they believe they have. On my nightly struggle home in London, it was a common experience to wait 20 minutes for a Wimbledon branch train on a menacingly crowded platform at Earls Court; or to wait in tunnels three or four times on one journey. In four and a half months in Paris, I can remember stopping between stations only once, and that on a day when the Metro line 6 was "perturbed" by industrial action. In daytime, you generally wait no more than two or three minutes for a Metro train. Late at night, you wait ten minutes, at most. It costs eight francs, less than 90p, for a single journey, anywhere within the city of Paris, broadly equivalent to zones one and two of the London Tube system, where a single journey costs pounds 1.50. If you buy a carnet of 10 tickets, as most Parisians do, the cost falls to Fr4.60 a trip - around 50p. A monthly ticket in Paris costs Fr243 (pounds 26.40), compared to pounds 60.30 for zones one and two in London. How does the Metro do it? It starts with some advantages. The Metro (leaving aside the RER) is a denser network than the Tube and does not reach out as far into the suburbs. As a purely urban system, it is more intensively used - five million passengers a day, seven million including the RER, compared to 2.5 million on the Tube - which reduces the cost of carrying each passenger. Since the Metro was built later than the Tube (its first line opened in 1900), and has fewer deep tunnels, it is structurally cheaper to maintain. Beyond that, the Metro-economics are confusing but instructive. The public subsidy for each tube journey in London is around 35 per cent (and falling). The public subsidy for each Metro journey is 50 per cent. Thus the real cost of the pounds 1.50 single tube journey is around pounds 2.35 (based on figures supplied by London Transport). The real cost of the 88p single Metro journey is pounds 1.76 and the real cost of a 50p carnet ticket is pounds 1. In other words, the Metro is not only efficient; it is genuinely good value. The RATP, unlike other state-run operations, such as the main- line railway system, is not a licence for tearing up francs. It faces, none the less, demands for new "efficiencies". As France struggles to reduce its budget deficits to qualify for Economic and Monetary Union (Emu), all public services are being squeezed, including the Metro. Some of the clever young men in the Finance Ministry have started to ask if it might not be possible for passengers to wait three or four minutes for a train instead of two. Journeys were still about 5 per cent down last year on pre- bomb-and- strike levels of 1994. Parisians are turning more to their cars, to taxis, even to bikes. There is an element of snobbery here: even racism. You hear better-off Parisians say that they never use the Metro any more: it is unsafe and unclean. By this, they seem to mean that there are more brown and black faces down there than they see at street level. Robberies and assaults on the Metro are, in reality, rare. (The RER, which links Paris with some of the poorer banlieues, is a different matter.) Surveys and anecdotal experience suggest that Parisians are also offended by the intensive panhandling which afflicts the Metro. On one short journey I made this week, there was an almost choreographed French farce of entries and exits. At consecutive stations, three panhandlers got on and off through different doors, giving the same rather formal speech beginning: "Excusez- moi de vous deranger, mesdames, messieurs, mais . . ." No one else on the train found this funny. All three were trying to sell the same small booklet, produced by the French equivalent of the Big Issue. It turned out to be a well-written guide to the history and meaning of the station names on the Paris Metro. Partly drawn from this publication, here is a brief quiz. Which two stations on the London Tube have the same names as stations on the Paris Metro? Answer: 1. Temple (District and Circle line and Metro line 3); 2. Arsenal (Piccadilly line and Metro line 5). The second, I admit, is a cheat. The Parisian Arsenal station, next to Bastille, closed in 1939. If you got one station right, you win a ticket on the first through Metro train to Wimbledon.

Copyright 1997 Newspaper Publishing PLC
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.

05 December 2007


I just had my first shift today working for a catering company. It went better than I expected! The event was a Christmas party for a big law firm, but there was no sit-down food service, just one big reception. So I spent most of my time refilling people's sparkling wine, carrying trays of glasses, and cleaning up afterwards. We got fed, which was good too. It's crazy how much food they throw out at events (and restaurants too).

Anyway, I had a good time during my first day at work. I didn't break anything or make any big mistakes! Whew! But I still haven't done a dinner service, so I'm not a catering master yet. The people I worked with were cool though, some lively mates who were friendly. I wonder if I see lots of the same people at jobs I'll be at. I doubt it though, especially now that there are so many jobs to sign up for every night.

I'm tired right now, and I'm going to be working tomorrow too, not to mention I have to prepare for German class :X OK, I'm out. Good night!

02 December 2007

Exploring Natural History

Today, my study-abroad friend was visiting London (she's studying in Ireland) with her housemate.

We went to the National History Museum. It was big; we spent nearly 3 hours there and barely saw half the museum. Not to mention that the Science Museum and Victoria & Albert Museum are right next door!

After our museum visit, we walked to Harrods, which we explored for a bit, but we were overwhelmed by the store (it's size, it's depth and breadth of choices, and the crowds of people touring it/doing some Xmas shopping), so we left after barely seeing one full floor.

We then walked through Hyde Park (which was having a Christmas "Wintertime Fair," featuring a ferris wheel and a haunted Christmas house) to Piccadilly Circus, where we tried to track down a Whole Foods Market that they had seen yesterday. After some walking around unsure of where to go, we found the market and had us some organic salad bar.

We walked up Regent Street from the Piccadilly area, and explored a large toy store. I forgot the name, but it might have started with an H. Then, we walked through Carnaby Street to Oxford Street to Tottenham Court Road, and turned down into the West End. Then, after heading through Leicester Square and ending up in Trafalgar Square, we tried to figure out who could join us for dinner. Turns out, no one could. But we got a recommendation for an Indian restaurant in Brick Lane. So we got on the bus to Aldgate and found the restaurant. We had some good Indian food. Not insanely expensive, about £9 a person. Then we walked to the Hayfield and met up with a fellow classmate. Now I'm back in my room, exhausted from another day of exploring and lots of walking. I think I will get a good night's rest tonight!

01 December 2007

Let's Drive to Brighton on the Weekend

I just got back from a day trip to Brighton.

As expected, I am very tired. I had a good day though, considering I didn't have any real expectations.

30 November 2007

Good News

I got a job today.

I had an interview with a catering company, and it went well, so I have training tomorrow.

I'll just be working part-time, likely just once a week, if even that. But it should be a good experience. And I will get paid. In pounds. So my salary is automatically doubled when I convert into dollars. The job should be good; I'm hoping to see a new side of London and work at interesting special events.

I just had to buy a new white dress shirt and new black shoes. But they were less than 15 pounds each, and I'll be able to use them outside of work too.

Let's just hope I can balance 5 plates on my arms at once!

28 November 2007

The Bank Account Ordeal

So today I tried to open a bank account here in the UK. It was more frustrating than I expected.

I went to the Barclay's Bank on campus, and waited for the banker to finish helping someone. I then take a seat and say that I want to open an account for an international student. I knew that they had special accounts for international students, and I knew that I needed to bring my passport and an acceptance letter from the university. So I gave him my forms, and he said, "No, this is the wrong form. You need a special letter from your university addressed to the bank."

23 November 2007

Thanksgiving Abroad

Yesterday was Thanksgiving, or at least it was back in the States. It should also be known as "the worst day to be abroad as an American." It's one of the best holidays, and essentially no one else celebrates. And even trying to re-create Thanksgiving can be a failure: Last week, our study-abroad program organized a Thanksgiving dinner for us students, but it was served at a restaurant where we each had (only!) one plate of turkey, potatoes, sausage. And an odd-tasting pumpkin pie. It was simply not. the. same.

And yesterday, the actual day of Thanksgiving, I had plenty of schoolwork to do; specifically, a paper due. It was only 1000 words, but I had to translate a lot, which was a new challenge. And my actual Thanksgiving dinner? Two ham sandwiches. Sigh... And thanks to laundry, there'll be no shopping for me on this day-after-Thanksgiving.

So to all the Americans out there who are actually home, be thankful that you have home and that you have Thanksgiving! :)

20 November 2007


Halfway through the semester, we had a week off for "reading week." It's meant as a time for the students to catch up with their reading, essays, and schoolwork. Naturally, this meant time for a trip! I booked a flight to Copenhagen. My first visit to Scandinavia, it should be fun!

I stayed with a friend for 4 days, exploring the cozy and cosmopolitan city of Copenhagen, hanging out with his "kitchen-mates," and taking two day trips (to Hillerød/Helsingør and to Malmö, Sweden). It was fun, although a bit chilly. I spent the right amount of time exploring the city; I wasn't too rushed or tired from trying to cram everything into two days (as I was in Paris).

I arrived on Thursday night, having flown from London Stansted Airport to Copenhagen. The airport is nice, clean, and organized. My friend met me there, and I bought a Copenhagen Card, which is good for travel on trains, buses, and the subway throughout the city. (I also learned that you could easily wipe off the date on the card and "reset" it to the current date, so a 1-day pass can last you for much longer.)

We took an evening walk through the city center, where I saw some buildings and stores lit up, but it was difficult to figure out where we were going

29 October 2007

My First Time in Paris

Paris, baby!

Paris is the most visited city in the world. And its proximity to me in London meant that it was easily a must-see destination. So, I set off for an extended weekend in the city of light!

24 October 2007

Looking Forward to More Trips

My travels are about to shift into high gear. Since I've arrived in London, I've stayed in Britain. But, this weekend I'll be heading to the continent for a few days in Paris! I'm incredibly excited - I'm actually leaving tomorrow night.

And a week after that is our "reading week" which is one week without any classes, intended for students to catch up with their studies. I intend to catch up with my friend Alex in Copenhagen. Hopefully I'll be able to make a side trip to Sweden while I'm there! That will take five days, and after a day in London, I'll be off on a jaunt to Ireland for the second half of my reading week. I'll be visiting Cork (to see some EAP-mates) then headed to Dublin. It's going to be so much fun!

Life in London has been good. Last week, England was in the Rugby World Cup final. Unfortunately, they lost, but nevertheless it was fun to cram in with a few dozen other people outside a pub to catch glimpses of the final game on the TV. (There was supposed to be a big projection in Trafalgar Square, but there was no sign of that.) I found it particularly hilarious/interesting that England's team song is "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot."

19 October 2007

A Day in Dover

This past Sunday I traveled to Dover, a town on the southern coast of Britain. It's the closest town in Britain to France. You may have also heard of the white cliffs of Dover. (The reason for the name "Albion.")

Dover is also known for its castle, a strategic location from Roman times all the way to World War II, when secret wartime tunnels were dug as a shelter from air raids.

10 October 2007


Oxford. The very name conjures up images of distinguished academics strolling through halls steeped in centuries of tradition. I always knew Oxford University as the oldest university in the world (actually, it's the oldest university in the English-speaking world), and it is the elitest of the elite, the standard to which every other university is compared. With such a prestigious and prominent reputation, and being only a short bus ride away from London, a visit to Oxford was definitely in order!

Last weekend, I traveled with two classmates to Oxford. We stayed for one night.

We left Friday morning, because none of us have class on Fridays (what a great schedule!). We took the Oxford Tube bus, which runs regularly every day between London and Oxford. We bought tickets for our bus right there, no need to order online, and we were soon on our way to Oxford.

02 October 2007

More London to Explore

My friend Alex is visiting me; he's been here in London since late Saturday night and he's returning to Copenhagen early tomorrow morning. Since he's been here, we've done some more exploring of London.

On Sunday, we went to Abbey Road!

28 September 2007

U.S. Geography Lesson

According to one of my flatmates, Disneyland is in Florida. She was unaware that one existed in California. Apparently, people here also think that cheerleaders walk around in cheerleading outfits all day and are blissfully unaware that George W. Bush and cowboys come from Texas. Not to mention that they think Southern California is exactly like The OC.

Granted, I know very little about the regions of the UK, but I'm working on it. I also need to work on converting my sense of humor into a sense of humour.

27 September 2007

Laundry Day

One thing I didn't anticipate about living in London: The massive inconveniences people here put up with on a daily basis.

For one example let me retell the story of today, when I did my laundry.

25 September 2007

Stranded in Scotland

Night 3 in Scotland: Saturday/Sunday, 21-22 September
It was the last night in Edinburgh for me and Nicole, and we had just missed our bus.

And so began a series of frustratingly unfortunate events.

Disbelief quickly turned to anxiousness, as we tried to beg the one other bus leaving for London at 22:30 to let us on. No deal--they were with a different company and just couldn't acknowledge our tickets. All the ticket stalls in the station were closed. There were no other buses leaving until the morning. But a 9-hour bus then would be tough--I had class the next day, and Nicole had to catch her plane early that next morning.

What do we do? What do we do? What do we do?! This has never happened before--being stranded in a cold foreign city with no way to get home and no place to sleep that night.

Deep Fried Haggis and a Sinking Feeling

Day 3 in Scotland: Saturday, 21 September (continued)
It was our last day in Edinburgh, so Nicole and I only rested for a short while before getting out the door. We left the hostel and wandered to the campus of the University of Edinburgh. Nicole also became really excited when she saw her favorite supermarket from Germany, Lidl. We went inside, it was all right, a very basic (and affordable) place to get groceries.

Soon afterwards, we ended up at the Royal Museum right a few minutes before it was to close. But we didn't waste our time... we quickly found Dolly the sheep (the first mammal to be cloned).

Climbing Arthur's Seat

Day 3 in Scotland: Saturday, 22 September
For once, I finally got to sleep in. But not too late, because we had to eat breakfast and check out of the hostel by 10:30. Nicole and I left our bags in their luggage room and proceeded to continue our exploration of Edinburgh. Today's goal: Climb Arthur's Seat.

Arthur's seat is an 800-foot high mountain right next to central Edinburgh with beautiful open scenery and some of the best views of Edinburgh and the nearby Firth of Forth. So we set off, walking down the Royal Mile. We passed the Scottish Parliament, with its distinctive modern architecture and sharply acute geometric angles, and Holyrood Palace.

Then we walked into Holyrood Park. There were several paths going in different directions, and Nicole asked which one led to the top, and a police officer told us to go around the long way, down a small side road which didn't even seem to go uphill. Nevertheless, we reluctantly went down that less-traveled road, and along the way we passed some meadows and ponds filled with geese. After swooping around the east side of the mountain, the road finally curved uphill, and wound its way up the mountainside. The paved road ended, and following one of several footpaths led us most of the way to the top. The final few hundred steps were over rocks and boulders, but it also became very windy! We survived, and the view was definitely worth it. You could see for miles in every direction.

Braveheart: The Scottish Highlands

Day 2 in Scotland: Friday, 21 September
On our second day in Edinburgh, Nicole and I took a day trip to Loch Ness! The day before we had found a tour company offering tours into the Highlands for £30. Since we had come all the way to Scotland and had the time, why not see the Highlands?!

The tour left Edinburgh at 8 am, which meant waking up early, scarfing down our breakfast (cereal and bread with jam) and jogging down the Royal Mile to the tour bus stop. We got there just in time, but the bus didn't end up leaving until 30 minutes later.

And we were off into the countryside! Fields and farms began to give way to rolling hillsides. We passed many historic battle sites associated with William Wallace (whom you might know from Braveheart!). If you don't know, the Scottish people are very proud of being Scottish, and William Wallace, who is immortalized as having fought the hated English, is prominently one of Scotland's defining figures.

Our first stop, mainly to stretch our legs and get a few snacks, was a touristy restaurant and gift shop whose main attraction was its Hairy Coo (if you don't know, a Hairy Coo is a highland cow... with long brown hair covering much of its face).

The Athens of the North: Edinburgh

I had an awesome time in Scotland this past week/weekend! So here's a little recap:

Day 0: Wednesday night, 19 September
I departed London with my friend Nicole at 10PM on an overnight bus to Edinburgh. It did feel weird to me that I had no idea which roads the bus was on as we made our way north through the dark night. At least I was able to sleep for a few hours, waking up on the final stretch from Glasgow into Edinburgh.

Day 1: Thursday 20 September
We arrived at a very chilly Edinburgh at 7 AM. As we walked from the bus terminal through the city, we couldn't stop shivering. The streets were also eerily empty. We walked through the New Town, past the Princes Street Gardens and up the hill to the Old Town and Edinburgh Castle.

I was still half-asleep and cold, so Edinburgh at first felt like a dream. A surreal, empty and peculiar city. We zigzagged up a small street that deposited us right in front of Edinburgh Castle. Nearby was our hostel--the Castle Rock Hostel--which lies directly across the street from the castle!

18 September 2007

Orientation Weekend

I'm settled in my room here at the university, and I finally have a bit of a break to provide an update.

The past week has been very eventful and memorable. For most of last week I was off exploring London on my own. Since I was on my own and had my own travelcard (with unlimited travel in zones 1 and 2) on my Oyster card, I was able to go anywhere whenever I wanted - which meant going all over the city! I explored most of the neighborhoods in central London, including Soho, Covent Garden, Kensington, Chelsea, Bloomsbury, the City, Notting Hill, Westminster, and Hyde Park. And having explored these neighborhoods (and more), I'm really loving London! It's so exciting to live here; there's always something to do, there is a mix of people from all over the world, and everyone I've encountered has been extremely nice and helpful. Plus, contrary to what I had expected, the weather's been phenomenal: sunny and warm every day!

This past weekend, Friday through Sunday, was the orientation for my study abroad program.

17 September 2007

Taking in the Sights of London (Pictures)

More pictures from my first few days' exploration around London:

London Eye. My first evening in London.

"I was waiting for a cross-town train on the London Underground when it struck me..."

The Hotel Russell (I had to look this up).

The Rosetta Stone, at the British Museum.

16 September 2007

Welcome to London

I've arrived in wonderful London town! Stay tuned here for my stories.

In the meantime, enjoy some pictures from my first few days exploring the city:

11 September 2007

The Search for Internet

So this morning I embarked on a search for a place where I can get free internet. And I was successful, sort of. I had a list printed out (while I was still home in LA) of places in London with free WiFi. So I noticed that two of those places are really close to where I'm staying. So I went to check them out. The first place didn't have a good wifi signal, but there was a free internet cafe. So I surfed the web there for about an hour.

Next stop: Just down the street there's a library, part of the Wellcome Collection, that has free wifi throughout the building. It was annoying that I had to sign up for a library card in order to enter the library, they search your bags, and you have to check your bag in before entering the library. You can just go to the cafe though, but you're supposed to buy something to sit there and use the wifi. It's a nice place, very clean and modern.

Well I'm here now, so here's a recap of my journey yesterday:

Arrival in London


I just arrived in London. I'm in the excruciatingly small dorm room that I'll be staying in for the next week as I await my EAP orientation. So far, the journey has been exciting. I've already seen much of London, and I'm still amazed that all these famous landmarks and buildings are before me in real life!