Friday, October 23, 2015

Running Around Queens Park

Looking for new places to run, I saw on The Google that Queen's Park wasn't too far from my house. It's basically a straight shot down Sheriff Road one mile until I hit the park. And the streets aren't too busy so it's a good run.

This park is wonderful! It's way bigger than Kilburn Grange. There are still a lot of dogs and mums pushing their children around in prams (oh man I am so English right now) and toddlers following them on scooters. 

In my few runs to this park I've seen a lot of people working out with personal trainers, some were boxing, some were fencing, others just regular exercising. There's even a large gazebo!

I knew this would be a cool park when I ran up and saw pointing signs. This park has it all! Tennis! A Cafe! Toilets! Also - Super cool trees:

While it says its a "common oak" I couldn't help but think of it as the Whomping Willow. Look at that trunk!

There's a quiet garden. I haven't been in yet because I thought running through might disturb the people reading and quietly meditating inside, but someday I will stroll through and enjoy the perfectly manicured garden. 

The playground is the coolest. You probably can't tell from the first photo, but there is a zip line. I repeat, A ZIP LINE. I remember being little and freaking out that the Burger King play zone had put a zip line in and it was only 5 feet long. (And unfortunately taken out because apparently children could not handle it and kept getting hurt) The zip line at Queens Park is easily 10 times longer. Also a tire swing set?! American playgrounds really need to step up their game. 

The "Pitch and Putt." I haven't actually seen anybody out there putting but it's cool that they have this. Also that weeping willow. <3. Look how perfectly even the bottom as been cut. 

I was blown away by the cafe as well. When I read it on the sign I was imagining a tiny stand. Nope, its a full on Cafe with ample outdoor seating! I haven't been inside the cafe either. Maybe the next nice day I'll walk up there with a book, grab a coffee and go sit in the quiet garden. 

Probably my favorite part of running through Queen's Park was seeing the changing of the leaves. It finally is feeling like autumn!! Look at all the yellow! It's no Virginia autumn, but I will take it. 

Another shot of the Whomping Willow. Look how awesome it is. 

You can see the size difference between Queen's and Kilburn Grange (where the red dot is). Also I ran my first sub 30 minute 5k there yesterday!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Fright Night

If you know me, you know that I LOVE HALLOWEEN. LOVE LOVE LOVE IT. The entire month of October is just the best. It starts to feel like fall, you get to wear boots and scarves, have pumpkin in all the foods, dress up in costumes, throw dry ice in peoples drinks at parties... that last one might just be me.
Last year's Halloween party with my dry ice drink!
One of my favorite things to do in October is go to Busch Garden's Howl O' Scream. Its pretty much a combination of all of the above. They have Halloween themed shows and haunted mazes, you can get your face painted, it's awesome. 

<3 <3 <3 <3
This has probably been the saddest part for me living in London so far - missing all of my beloved October activities. First of all it felt like fall as soon as I arrived in September. It's basically perpetually in the 50's and 60's, so I've been wearing scarves and boots for a while now. Secondly I haven't been to Starbucks once since I've lived here (#poorgradstudent) so I haven't had the highly revered PSL. All of my halloween decorations are packed neatly away in my storage unit back in the states so no decorations. I have noticed a few shops and pubs decorated this week, but I'm used to putting all the decor up October 1st. The English just aren't as into Halloween as I am. I found myself really missing Howl O'Scream too. I was telling my classmate all about my Halloween woes when he mentioned that Thorpe Park has a Fright Night. 

As I mentioned in my last post... TICKETS BOUGHT IMMEDIATELY. So this past Sunday I woke up really early to get the train out to Staines, where my classmate Hasan and I hopped on a bus that took us to Thorpe Park. 

The trip took about 1.5 hours but the train was really nice. There was actually a large group of American college kids sitting next to me on the train, which was weird. We arrived at 9:30 and had to wait in line to get into the park at 10 when it opened. Early bird really gets the worm. We rode 4 of the 5 roller coasters by noon. 

The first ride we hit up was based on the movie Saw. It had a really fun beginning with an unexpected drop, but then after that was a little concussion inducing. Then we went on Colossus, which had A LOT of loops. Kimmy's stomach, no-likey. The third roller coaster was my favorite by far. Stealth basically blasts you off 0-->80 in 1.9 seconds. It's a short ride but oh-so-fun.

The other coasters were meh. Not bad, but nothing special. The haunted mazes opened at 3pm. The lady at Guest Services we spoke with recommended we get in the queue at 2 as the lines can get up to 3 hours long. They had 4 movie themed mazes, of which I've actually seen two! My Bloody Valentine (because of my beloved Jensen Ackles) and one of the best horror movies of all time: Cabin in the Woods (love you Joss!). I figured if the lines were that long we could at least do 2 of them. 

The newest maze was Carnival themed. Nothing scarier than a clown!  We waited an hour for that to open, and were 3rd in line. Look at the queue behind us!! haha suckers.

The best part of this maze was the 3 high school girls who went in front of us and were literally screaming at everything. At the end one of the clowns chases you out with a chain saw and those girls BOOKED it. One of them was crying. It was hilarious. 

The second maze we went to was Cabin in the Woods. They had hilarious actors running up and down the line. I wish I had gotten more pictures. This guy played up the hillbilly backwoods character way above what I'm sure they're paying him for. He and another girl dressed similarly came up to random people in line and yelled at them and then yelled at each other. It was hilarious. The lines were much shorter than we thought they'd be (only about 30-60 min) so we actually were able to do all the mazes! 

Please note the second bullet point. This was the biggest difference from Howl O' Scream. THEY CAN TOUCH YOU. Before each maze an employee would tell everyone to please not punch or hit the actors or we'd be dismissed from the park. Most of the mazes had rooms that were completely dark and you just had to find your way around. It was creepy and awesome. 

I also loved the movie themes. They stuck to them really well too! The Cabin in the Woods maze had a bunch of different doors and it was almost like a choose your own adventure. Depending on which door you went through you met different monsters (which if you've seen the movie you'll totally understand.)

What struck me most at this park were the many girls dressed up in stiletto heels and booty shorts. Yes, some were dressed in costumes, but I think some just wore that to the park. Who thinks heels are appropriate footwear for a theme park!? This may make me sounds old, but I disagree. I'm just a seasoned amusement park attendee and I know what attire helps you get the best experience. Stilettos are not on that list. The above is my attempt at a stealthy photo of the ridiculous outfits. 

The arcades at the park had a lot of games where you could win coins, but then also had £5 notes. Some tied to teddy bears!! I bet people spend way more than £5 trying to get those.

We basically did everything (including riding Stealth a second time) by 7p so headed back to London. Our train went right by Twickenham Stadium where Scotland had played Australia in the Rugby World Cup that evening. Australia won 35-34 in what was apparently a very controversial game. Fans poured onto the train and needless to say there was quite a bit of heckling going on.

When one Aussie started chanting, all of the Scottish fans burst into song. It was fantastic. There's 1.5 weeks left until Halloween and I am starting to feel a little more in the spirit thanks to my trip to Thorpe. Tomorrow we don't have class so maybe I'll break my streak and go study at Starbucks. I hear pumpkin spiced lattes help you retain knowledge.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Adventures in Banking

Opening a bank account in this country is difficult. I heard it could take a couple of weeks to get a bank account so I brought a fair amount of £s to tide me over. I also signed up for the Chase Sapphire card which is money (in more ways than one!) for anybody traveling abroad. No foreign transaction fees, and it's made out of metal instead of plastic so you feel like a boss every time you throw it down to pay for something.

My first week here I applied online for a student account at Barclays. You have to choose a specific branch location, so I chose the one closest to my school since I'm not sure where I'll be living next year. After you submit the application you have to book an appointment at the specified branch to basically prove you're a real person. You have to provide your passport and proof of address like a lease or utility bill. I have neither of those since I'm renting from a friend of a friend but figured I'll cross that bridge when I get there. I scrolled through their calendar of available appointment times... none in September, none in October, none in November... at this point I figured I'd just go to the branch and see if I could get a walk in appointment and also ask about what other documents I can give them since I don't have a lease.

I arrived at the bank, waited in line, and then spoke to a man explaining I'm a student and filled out the application online but don't have any proof of where I'm living. He told me that was fine, I just need to bring in a letter from my school and my passport. Sounded easy enough! So a few days later I got the letter from my school and went back to the bank. I waited in line again, spoke to a different man, told him I had all the required documents and he told me I needed to book an appointment to open an account. The next available one wasn't for almost 2 weeks. Would have been nice if the first guy could have told me that. So I booked an appointment for October 5.

The appointment was pretty easy, they set everything up and said I should get everything I need in the mail in the next 5 business days. My bank card arrived 2 days later. The pin to be able to use my card, 2 days after that. I also deposited my loan check but it takes 5 days to clear. So literally JUST yesterday the funds were available for use. It's kind of exciting having the whole chip and pin thing now. I can also just use the contactless feature if my purchase is under £20 (just wave it over the machine reader!)

My very first purchase? A ticket to Thorpe Park for their Fright Night this weekend. I may not be able to attend Howl 'O Scream this year but I WILL have my halloween amusement park experience!!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Markets and Rugby

This past Saturday my flatmate James took me around to a couple of different markets in London. The first stop was our own West Hampstead Market. There's all kinds of fresh cheeses, meats, flowers, vegetables, baked pies, tarts, brownies... the list goes on. 

We got cheesy rolls to tide us over while we headed to the second market. They were lovely. Since they were a little more crispy than normal, the man threw in 2 extra free of charge. They reminded me a lot of the cheddar biscuits from Red Lobster. mmmmmmm. 

Next we took the train to the Queen's Park Farmer's Market, which actually ended up not being there. (I think maybe it's only open on Sunday's?) Luckily we had the second cheesy roll to eat as we walked back. On the way we passed a stuffed panda that somebody bungee'd to a tree. PANDA WATCH.

We hopped the underground to Waterloo for the Southbank Centre food market. Our friend Henry met us there and the three of us tried a lot of samples and got fruit smoothies. I had one with apple, pear, and mint which was delicious.

As you can see from the above picture the market also sold a lot of sweets. SO MANY COOKIES. This particular stand also sold cronuts - we got chocolate and s'more - both had chocolate filling and were AMAZING.

I just love how large these pans are. It's like they're made for giants! After eating our weight in food, we walked around South Bank for a while, grabbed a few pints at a restaurant and then continued walking around central London. 

Foggy Londontown!
Walking across the Golden Jubilee Bridge.
When we crossed the Thames I noticed a lot of people wandering around in American football Jerseys. It was bizarre. As we came closer to Trafalgar Square, it was like I was back in the States. I forgot that the NFL has international games. They were throwing a large fan rally for the Jets v Dolphins game the following day. Who knew London had so many American football fans!? The most exciting part for me was probably seeing all the Bud Light cans. You can't find those anywhere here! Only bud heavy - gross. I didn't actually go in or drink any bud light *tear* but it was very entertaining to watch all the hype. 

As we walked further along, we passed a cigar shop and stopped in. James and I had the man who worked at the counter recommend a different cigar for each of us. It was so fancy. 

It was a beautiful day and I had never actually been in the back garden before so it was fun to sit back there and smoke our cigars. 

After a little rest, James and I went to a party some friends of friends of his were throwing. It was an Oktoberfest party but the England v Australia Rugby world cup game was on so it also turned into a viewing party for that.

I had no idea what was going on. This was the first rugby game I've ever watched. People asked if I was rooting for the US to which I replied, "We're in the world cup?" Seriously, I didn't even know they had a rugby world cup. (I do however know they have a Quidditch World Cup) After the game was over (it did not end well for England) they moved the furniture around for a dance floor and had foosball and beer pong. It was hilarious to watch them play beer pong with really bizarre slash wrong rules. There were no water cups, they played with one ball, and there were no bouncing rules. One guy I talked to told me nobody ever really knows the rules, they just go off what they've seen in movies and on TV. ha. After a while I got everyone to play flip cup which was much more fun. It did make me miss my bocce team though. All in all, it was a very full and very fun Saturday!