My Visit to the United Kingdom

19 April 2010

I have been on many adventures in my life; month long road trips, last second flights, etc. But never had I traveled so far, made such random connections, and had an amazing time doing it all!

It all started back in Autumn 2009 when, while sitting bored at work one day, I decide it would be a fun idea to apply for postgraduate school.  I decided that I wanted to pursuit a degree in Transport Planning, something completely different than my degree in Meteorology (weather).  Then I decided it would be even more fun to apply for said programme in the United Kingdom.  Well to keep a long story short, I ended up applying for three different programmes in the UK, sent the letters and e-mails on their way, and then waited.

Not being the best student in my graduating class, I was hoping for at least one acceptance letter if I was lucky.  And somehow, by sheer luck and some good grace, possibly because I was an international student, I got into the University of West of England and Oxford-Brookes University in mid-January.  I could have not been any happier.  Then the issue of visiting these school began to show its ugly head.  How was I supposed to travel to Europe, while working, without much money, to visit to unis.

Enter DailyBooth and one of the most amazing people ever.  Having joined dailybooth in November, I was having fun posting daily pictures and making friends around the world.  In a moment of what many would consider pure insanity, I decide to post a video online asking random strangers to take me in for the week I would be visiting the UK at the beginning of March.  Not even a few days later, the lovely Lauren (@LollyGee) came to the rescue not only offering her floor (and MATTRESS!) to me for a week, but also taking a week of holiday to travel around with me. And thus, the adventure was on!

With my flight booked, on 27 Feb I headed from SLC to Minneapolis on my first of two flights and one of the longest days of my life.  I had a 9-hour layover in Minneapolis before my redeye flight to the UK.  I spent much of the day wandering the Mall of America and making laps around the airport.  I also discovered the magick of fingerprint lockers, made friends with random strangers at airport bars, and watched CNN freak out about a tsunami headed for Hawaii.  Thankfully the combination for a few beers and some sleeping aids, I slept for only the second time on an airplane, and only after watching Up.

Landing just before noon on Sunday afternoon, I was beyond excited and nervous, and it was not helped by the number of queue I had to stand it.  I made friends with the Passport Control agent (at the spite of the line of passengers behind me) as she explain how she loved attending Brookes. And then waited what seemed to be hours for my bag to arrive.  Finally I made it to the arrivals hall to meet my two newest friends, Lauren and Sarah, who met me as if we had been friends for decades.

We made our way back to their house via the tube, making small talk and getting to actually see each other for first time not via Skype.  They presented me with my first of many gifts, an Oyster card, candy bars, and tube map. And we even had to fight our way through a mob of football fans headed to Wembley for the Cup Final.

After quickly unpacking, getting the house tour, and showering, we made our way to a ‘sports bar’ near Piccadilly to watch the Cup final with some of Lauren’s friends.  First, it was amazing not getting ID’ed entering the place, second it was insane everyone cheering for the football match, and third, they don’t know how to make nachos in the UK.  The rest of the evening was pretty much a blur, wandering to few pubs and surviving my first night in England.

The next day I spend taking in as much of London as possible with Lauren. I took a double decker bus, I walked the Mall and saw Buckingham Palace. We then walked to Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and the River Thames.  We walked some more, got lunch at my new favourite place Eat (amazing matcha green tea lattes), hiked the 626 dizzying stairs of the Pudding Street Monument, found my church right next to the penis building, and purchased video games at an HMV.  If there was ever a day in my life my legs were about to fall off, that was the day would have been.

Day two (2.5 for those keeping count), was another adventure.  We decided to take the train down to Brighton on the coast and have some delicious fish and chips and lie on the pier.  It was a nice relaxing break from the walking chaos of the day before and my first glimpse of the UK outside of central London.  With a stomach full of fish and chips, day two was complete and the real reason for my trip began.

Oxford was my first official school stop, and what a beautiful place it is.  Literally populated entirely by students and tourists, it was an amazing sight, all the old architecture and proper old university buildings.  Brookes was nothing in comparison, but was a cute little campus camped atop Headington Hill overlooking Oxford.  After a short stay, we made our way back to London and joined the housemates for a proper pub meal of cider with bangers and mash.

My final full day in the UK was spend visiting Bristol in the southwest.  Bristol was a much larger city centre, but the campus was out in the middle of nowhere.  However, the bus that I did catch from the train station, after the first 2 flew by, ended up being the express and I got my first taste of a dual-carriageway (which you drive on the wrong side of the road on).  At UWE I actually got to meet the entire team that I would be working with, and felt very welcomed.  Overall I love the uni, minus how far out of the city centre it was.  Making my way back into the city, I decide to follow everyone else once they got off the bus, not realizing that I got off in Fishponds (ironic) and about 5 miles outside of Bristol.  After getting lost for a bit and discovering some places I could live, I met up with Lauren in town and did some shopping (I love H&M) while we waited for our train back to London.

Before I knew it, it was Friday morning and I was already back on the tube headed to Heathrow airport.  It was sad giving Lauren a hug goodbye after such a crazy and fun week touring around the south of England.  I had my last cup of Costa(tm) coffee waiting for my gate assignment, got fully frisked before boarding my flight, and enjoyed having an entire row to myself headed home.  I managed to get completely caught up on movies headed back, while enjoying all the complementary drinks.

Another 7-hour layover greeted me at Minneapolis and I made friends with one of the girls on my flight that was continuing along to SLC with me.  We both attempted to stay awake the entire time (24 hours in reality) and I am pretty sure that I scared the person next to me trying to hold a coherent conversation on no sleep and severely jetlagged. Landing just 11 minutes before midnight on Friday, my grand adventure across the pond was over (and my ride home was missing). All in all, a week I will never forget.

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