A quick run-down of the past week exploring and getting the hang of London. Part 1 of 3.
After a pretty uneventful flight across the Atlantic, save for a passenger who might have taken one too many sleeping pills for him to stomach, I arrived in London bleary-eyed but pumping with adrenaline. Sapna and I cleared through customs without a glitch, and then we opened up to the arrival area when things got a little weird.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had to be picked up at the airport by a stranger holding up a sign card with your name on it, but if you ever do, I hope it goes better than how I experienced it. The strangely red carpet-like situation was probably the closest I’ll feel to being a fish in an aquarium — all eyes dead on me but nothing distinguishable for me to find. Not only was our driver to the flat nowhere to be found, but the third person to be picked up with us at the gate was missing, too. After the driving situation got figured out, we were taken on a lovely tour of the city from Heathrow Airport to our new place of residence on Waterloo Road. At least, it was probably a lovely tour. I wouldn’t really know since I was falling fast asleep in the back seat of the passenger van.
After we settled into our new digs, we got a rundown of our home away from home until August. The Cromwell House used to be a family and children’s hospital back in the day, but inside wouldn’t seem like it in the slightest. The flat that I share with four other girls, one in my room and three across the common area, is spacious and totally renovated. It’s like a flashback to freshman year in the dorms. We were taken out for a bit of a stroll down Waterloo and to the nearest Tube station to get our ever-cherished Oyster cards, or the transportation pass to mostly anywhere in the city via Tube or bus. After a quick trip to the grocery and drug stores and and resignation to eat dinner in the comfort of our own beds, I was passed out and fast asleep for my first night in London. That is, until I woke up at 3 a.m. a little forgetful of where I was and unable to get back to sleep.
We woke up bright and early Monday morning to embark on our first of many rides on the Tube. The ride went pretty seamlessly, but then again, there were a good nine of us stuck together finding our way to the Gloucester station and eventually to Cromwell Road.
We kicked off the week with more orientations and information about our study abroad program with CAPA, which apparently is an acronym for something I’m still unsure of. If anyone can figure it out before me, I’ll bake you some banana bread once I get back.
But the first day wasn’t completely spent in the stuffy classrooms of the building. After a quick lunch, we were shuffled into a coach bus to enjoy an overarching tour of the most famous sites around London and London City. We oo-ed and awed at St. Peter’s Cathedral, the Tower Bridge, the business and political districts, the Monument to the Great Fire of London in 1666, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and Trafalgar Square, just to name a few. We learned about London’s beloved BoJo, or Borris Johnson, the city’s mayor. We stopped by Buckingham Palace to find that the Queen was home for our visit. I’m not going to say that we didn’t get a glimpse of her in one of the windows, but I won’t say we didn’t. Okay, we really didn’t. But a few of us are already planning to go back later in July when the palace will be open to the public for touring and viewing. We ended out mini-tour with tea and scones at the Crown Plaza hotel right down the street from CAPA. The English tea and bite-sized pastries were deceptively filling and re-energized us after our outing.
Whereas the South Bank is very much geared toward sightseeing and a cityscape for commuters and travelers, the area of the CAPA building is more so residential with smaller businesses along the streets. The gorgeous buildings with balconies overlooking the roads remind me of the French colonial styles of New Orleans. Just around the corner is High Street Kensington, which has more of a shopping district feel. Sapna and I took advantage of this after we were set free of the PowerPoint slides of the day and walked around to window shop.
For dinner, we didn’t have to travel too far to make it to a Fuller’s Pub for some classic fish n’ chips. After a meal that none of us wanted to end and some dishing about worst date stories, we settled back into our flats for another morning.
Tuesday morning came fast and loud. We were woken up by a shrill fire alarm. The thing that immediately came to mind was the multiple fire alarm setoffs back at my apartment in Columbia, and I almost wanted to shut my eyes and open them to find that there was nothing really to worry about. But the drill (at least, we’re pretty sure it was a drill) was only a brief and effective wakeup call for us to head back to CAPA for more orientations and our first session of classes.
During the first session, we finally learned what we had been waiting for since applying in early March — where would we be interning? I had already had a phone interview with Tim Glanfield, web editor of the Radio Times, and had been offered placement there for the summer. But so many questions and anxieties loomed over me up until I finally received my internship packet. After a quick phone call to confirm that I would be coming in Wednesday to get set up (it couldn’t possibly be so soon!), my nerves were calmed for just a moment.
Our first classes for international reporting and internship basics were just a brief rundown of more introductions and a few reflections about our first few days in the new bustling city. Among the things that amused or fascinated us most were the various cultures represented in the city, the differences in personal privacy and customer service here, the efficiency of public transportation and the amazing views everywhere. Things we were still getting used to were cultural differences like the slang and just foreigners in a new environment. We did a brief assignment about several media publications and learned that the Brits really do love their tabloids.
The rest of my evening, save for figuring out phone troubles to no longer be disconnected from the world and successfully finding my way home on my own, was spent preparing for my first visit to the office I would be frequenting for the next three months.
One of the representatives at the phone store said something to me that stuck, either out of sheer weirdness and the simplicity of it. All you have to do is follow a few simple directions, complete a the most basic of tasks, and then Bob’s your uncle. At first I didn’t hear him quite right, so I asked him to repeat it. That didn’t make it clearer. My uncle was most definitely not named Bob. But essentially the turn of phrase just means that with some work, everything will work itself out.
Just do what you’ve gotta do and then Bob’s your uncle. I think I’ll keep that one for a rainy day.