Before I left for London, a good friend of mine from UNC, Kaitlin Floyd, gave me a great gift. She gave me a series of sealed envelopes. On the outside were messages like “To open on the plane” or “To open on your birthday”. It was really nice to get little messages for her along the way on special days. One envelope I have not opened, however, is the one labelled “To open when something amazing happens.”
This is a bit ironic, given that this entire adventure is something amazing that happened. But the point was, there wasn’t a single event that blew every thing else away. The entire trip was amazing, every day, every night, every morning. I kept saving this envelope because these amazing moments just kept happening and they became almost commonplace. When my friend Ryan asked me the other day in the tube what my favorite moment from London was, I couldn’t answer him. Luckily, he had the answer for me.
(Baker Street Tube Station, one of the oldest in the city!)
Ryan told me that his favorite moments were moments like these, just riding the tube, or walking to work, or making dinner, to getting groceries. I’ve written about a lot of the fantastic things I did while on this trip, the tour book highlights, but I’ve spent very little time writing about the every day, the commonplace, the things that were really amazing and unique about this experience. Because it wasn’t just the crazy weekend trips or the amazing shows I saw that made this a great program. Really, it was the everyday life, feeling as if I actually lived and worked in London (which, for the last four months, I have).
So I thought I’d dedicated this post, one of my last, to my everyday routine, with some pictures that show you, and will remind me, what everyday life was like here. I’m sure years from now this won’t seem so commonplace. Maybe even a few months from now I’ll have a hard time believing that this was my schedule every day. So I want to be able to remember these moments, these sites that I pass through regularly, hardly without even thinking about them.
(My flat in Bloomsbury, right around the corner from Bedford Square. Just a short walk from grocery stores, shops, and pubs on Tottenham Court Road.)
On Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays, I have my internship. I wake up at 7:30 am to tiptoe around the room (avoid waking Natalie). I take a shower, get dressed for work, and leave at about 8:20. I walk from my flat to Euston Station, most of the time listening to music, and take the Victoria line tube toward Brixton, getting off at Vauxhall. This ride takes about 20 minutes, but in the mornings at rush hour, I can count on at least a 30 minute tube experience. Victoria line, like many other lines, is packed in the mornings. The platforms are clustered with people trying to predict where the next tube’s doors will open. Sometimes I have to let as many as three tubes go by before I can shove my way into a car, my cheek smooshed again the window and my hand grasping for railing before the train lurches forward.
(This is the walk I make from my flat to Euston Tube Station every day to get to work.)
I’m at work from 9am until 5pm, with an hour lunch break. Most of the time I’m communicating with authors, schools, or publishers through e-mail, trying to negotiate permissions requests, venues for training events, or blocking off availability for our authors. I’m the point person for a few projects that keep me pretty busy and it already feels weird to have to hand off projects that I’ve been in control of for months to someone else. I won’t get to see them finished, but I’m glad I could help with them at all.
(This is the street right beside my office in Vauxhall where I walk to and from every week.)
I normally get lunch with the other intern here, a girl from New York named Kristin. We often go to a little Italian café across the street in Vauxhall Park. Vauxhall isn’t the nicest area of London, despite occasionally being called an up-and-coming area, but we love our café, the Italians who run it, and the park. After work, we walk to the tube together, and I head back toward Euston on the Victoria line.
(This is my favorite cafe in Vauxhall Park where I get lunch most days. A great Italian place, I normally get a mozzarella, tomato, and basil panini.)
Oftentimes after work, I like to try to go do something different. Work can put me into a bit of a routine, so I like to remind myself of where I am by going to see something new. I’ve heard that a lot of people in London like their routines, and get into such a strict schedule that they only ever see the same few places. In a city as large, diverse, and interesting as London, I think that’s a shame, and I knew I wanted to use every minute. Sometimes I would take the tube to Regents’ Park for a sunset walk, or go to the Tate Modern to look at some artwork. Sometimes I’d take a trip to the British Library just to be around books. I always took these evening trips alone because it was nice to go see something I knew I would be interested in. I didn’t have to worry about if someone else was going to want to see that Children’s Book Illustration Exhibit. It wanted to see it, so I saw it. And I saw and experienced a lot this way.
(Me and the other intern that works with me, Kristin. She is on another study abroad program from New York. I’m really glad I got to work with her, she was so nice!)
After an hour or two I’ll head back to the flat. Natalie doesn’t like to cook, so I’ll make us dinner and she’ll do the dishes. Normally pasta or gnocchi, because they are cheap and we want to save all of our money for events, shows, sightseeing, etc. Afterward, we might do some homework, but more likely we will go up and visit some of our friends in the flat upstairs, or have them visit us. We talk about our days, watch movies, relax. Some Fridays we do family dinners, where one or two of us will cook for everyone and we will go to Jorge’s flat (really, it’s home to 6 guys, but for some reason we all call it Jorge’s flat) and eat while someone plays music. Some nights we will go get a drink at a pub, or at the Student Union (ULU), where there are lots of kids our age and drinks are cheap. They have karaoke on Thursdays and we’ve always had a good time doing that.
(One night at the ULU with friends, at the bar inside called The Library. The place is covered in great quotes like this one from Hermione Granger.)
On Tuesdays and Wednesdays I have class, so I don’t have to wake up until 9am, which is sleeping in for me here. One thing I’ve noticed in London is that everyone goes to bed pretty early (most pubs close at 11pm) and get up pretty early, which is really more my natural schedule anyway. On Tuesdays I have history with Pennybacker for two and a half hours in the morning. This is nice because everyone but one person in the program is in this class so we can all be together and catch up. We make announcements and find out what people are planning on doing during the week. Afterward I have a few hours for lunch. Sometimes I go to Covent Garden which is really close to eat, and other times I go back to the flat. Natalie, Brent, Ryan and I like to have grilled cheese lunch parties, where we all make lots of soup and grilled cheese sandwiches because it’s cheap and easy. I’ve become quite the grilled cheese chef since I’ve been here. Brent even taught me a super-secret trick to melt the cheese just right.
(My walk from my flat to Bedford Square, where the Winston House is.)
After lunch, I’ll do some work or hang out with people in the flats until English class at 3. This is my favorite class and my favorite professor, so the two and a half hours fly by. Everyone in the class like Laurence a lot so we always have a good time. Afterward, I’ll go back to the flat to make dinner and often go to a coffee shop or bookstore with Ryan to do work.
(The outside doorstep of the beautiful Winston House, where I had my classes!)
On Wednesdays, I have Art History in the mornings. This class has been amazing because we never have class in a classroom. Every day we go see some new part of London. We’ve seen tons of museums and taken tours of lots of different neighborhoods. We’ve done everything from the National Gallery to Tate Modern to the Freud Museum to sitting in on an antique book auction at Sotheby’s. It’s really amazing. This is my short day so after art class, Ryan and I normally get lunch and then go do some sightseeing together. We will visit one of our favorite markets, like Borough, or go see something new, like when we went to visit St. Pauls or saw Kensington Gardens. We always do something new and I look forward to it every week.
(The interior of the Winston House, where we went not only for class but for Alumni Events, parties, and just to study and hang out. Our UNC campus away from UNC.)
On weekends, everything is new. I’ve talked a lot about my trips, but I’ve also loved the weekends when I’m in London. I can sleep in and then go do sightseeing with friends. Sometimes, if Natalie and I are up late, we make second dinner, which is almost always pasta, but sometimes tea and biscuits, and we eat it in bed to relax after a long day. I’ve never walked so much as I do in this city.
(The view from my desk window at work.)
When I leave here, I know I’m going to miss these little moments and I am so grateful to have had these traditions and routines. When Ryan asked me my favorite moment in London, I thought of so many wonderful moments. Like that one time it rained during art class and we all went to Borough Market afterward to eat a hot curry lunch under the train tracks. Or the first time we got up so early on a Saturday to go to Portabello Road and stayed there for six hours, just trying to see every vendor. Or the time on my birthday when Ryan, Jorge, and I just sat on the steps outside our flat and talked for hours. Or the time Natalie and Soxy and I had to run to catch a plane in Barcelona to get back into London the night of the hurricane. Or the time Dylan and I rode the carousel by the Thames and then walked along the banks where there was a Christmas Market playing O Holy Night. There have been so many wonderful memories.
(A few of us hanging out in the lovely little courtyard included with our flats.)
I’m not sure if I’ll ever open my final envelope from Kaitlin. I hope that I never feel like that one best moment has happened. I hope that I continue to think that, instead, there are a multitude of best moments, and that the possibility of a best moment is still to come.