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A College Student Enjoys London

 

Journeywoman Amy Anderson is a writer from Chicago who spent half of 2003 bartending in London before finishing journalism school in the States. She writes...


In 2003 I applied for a work visa, bought an airline ticket and packed my bags. I was moving to London. And as a single college student who'd never been away from the States for more than two weeks, moving there was definitely a challenge. Although I read all the books, magazines and guides I could find there was still so much I didn't know.

But in such a cosmopolitan city I was able to meet women from all over the world, and quickly joined forces with Emily from Wisconsin. We spent the next six months sharing adventures and traveling mishaps. We traveled together to Greece, Scotland and throughout England. In the end our best times were spent enjoying everything London has to offer and I recommend it highly.

Although I had a great time in London, there are some things I wish I'd known early on. I hope that the following five tips ease the strain of getting settled in a foreign country. Perhaps they'll give you more time to relax, enjoy yourself and make the most of being single in London!


Don't pack everything you own...
The number one thing to remember when going to London is -- pack lightly. Lugging a heavy, awkward suitcase around London is a pain. A lot of the tube stops require a trek up quite a few stairs, and the heavier your bag, the more pain you'll be in later. Didn't bring enough stuff? I promise you'll be able to find plenty of cheap, stylish clothes at H&M shops which are located right across London and very easy to find. Shopping here will allow you to dress like the locals and help you to fit in.
If you're in London for an extended stay, make sure to bring a few pictures of family and friends, a couple of your favorite snacks and a comfort item for when you have a battle with homesickness (trust me it happens to everybody). My favorite beat-up sweatshirt not only helped combat that cool London air, but it was also perfect for wrapping myself up in memories of home.

Weekends are not for museums...
The next thing we learned and one that's almost as important as the packing is to stay away from the tourist spots on the weekends. That includes all museums, anything having to do with the Royal Family and most outdoor markets. Look to the locals for things to do. We quickly learned that the best weekends were spent playing volleyball and frisbee with new friends in Hyde Park or taking a short jaunt on the tube to Zone 4. Only an hour or so outside of central London the calmness of life outside the city was perfectly refreshing.

Plan ahead...
Lesson number three -- If you plan on taking a weekend trip on a Bank Holiday weekend, beware because every other Londoner is planning the same thing. Make sure you have a place to stay before leaving town. On one sunny, three-day weekend, Emily and I ventured up to Manchester to catch a concert. Thinking we would easily find a hotel or hostel once we got there, we were surprised to find ourselves sleeping in the local train station later that evening. Not fun especially since the train station was home to the only public 24-hour bathroom in the city.

Introduce yourself to locals...
Tip number four -- Make friends with the locals. While people on the streets are usually in a hurry, making friends with people at your local pub, market or kebab shop will prove invaluable. Not only do they know the best places to go in London, they also know the best ways to get there and the cheapest ways to do it. The barmaid at one London pub directed me to one of the best views in the city (Primrose Hill), she also gave me a list of nearby bars open past 11 o'clock, directions to the nearest fish and chip shop (chippy) plus the best times to catch sales at London's exclusive Harrod's (www.harrods.com) and Harvey Nichols department store (www.harveynichols.com).

You don't have to see everything...
Finally, the fifth thing I wish I'd known is -- relax! Don't worry about time constraints, sightseeing or fitting in. Simply experience everything and enjoy yourself while you're doing it. If you don't make it to London Bridge, who cares? The hours you spent in the pub with that old English bloke who worked for the queen was probably far more entertaining and memorable than looking at an old bridge you can always see on postcards.

My favourite things...
Looking for great places to experience in London? Here are some of my favorites. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.
Best Mexican food and margaritas -- Café Pacifico in Covent Garden. Their chili margarita is exceptionally good. (5 Langley Street, London WC2H 9JA).
Best Kabob's -- Gio's (in between Charlotte Street and Tottenham Court Road, on Tottenham Street). Be sure to try the donar with chili and garlic sauce.
Best pub to meet single English blokes -- Duke of York is a hangout for locals; the coziness of this pub forces strangers to get friendly. (47 Rathbone Street, London W1T 1NW)
Best outdoor market -- Borough Street Market offers the finest assortment of cheese, olives, breads, meats and produce in the city. (8 Southwark Street, London SE1 1TL)
Best view of the city -- Primrose Hill. Climb to the top with a picnic and enjoy the deceiving stillness of the city below (www.primrosehill.com).
Best place to go outside of Zone 1 -- It's a tie! Kew Gardens (www.rbgkew.org.uk) and Hampstead Heath are both full of beautiful scenery and serenity and offer a quiet getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life (www.heathandhampsteadsociety.org.uk).
Have fun, everybody!

 

 

 

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