Tag Archives: London

Designing Cities for People

St Paul's at Sunset - April 2016

St Paul’s at Sunset

In older standards of measurement, the imperial mile (1.609 km) was not the longest measurement of distance available; the league filled that role instead. As I have understood it, one league is equal to the distance a person can walk in one hour. For me, that is around three miles, thus making 1 league equal to a decent distance for a nice morning stroll. In 2016 when I was undertaking my first Master’s degree, this one in International Relations and Democratic Politics, at the University of Westminster, I would occasionally decide to walk the league from the university on Regent Street back to my flat in the shadow of Fenchurch Street station on the eastern edge of the old Roman city.

The walk was quite pleasant, a stroll first down from the university to Oxford Circus, then eastwards along Oxford Street to Holborn, and then down High Holborn across the Holborn Viaduct and past the Old Bailey at Newgate, past St Paul’s and onto Cheapside, crossing in front of the Royal Exchange and Bank of England before continuing down Lombard Street and onto Fenchurch Street. At Fenchurch Street station, I would descend a short flight of steps leading towards St Olave’s Hart Street and under the station viaduct itself past the city walls and into my building on Minories.

What made this a nice walk was that I was able to see so much of the capital, everything from the imperial Edwardian grandeur of Regent Street to the new skyscrapers that are being built across the Square Mile to the east. It was an opportunity to experience London as so many had done so before, to get to know the metropolis by foot. In London this is something that can fairly easily be done, one can walk around the capital if one wants to. Sure, most of the suburbs are out of reach for the pedestrian, but with the well established system of underground and suburban railways, as well with the very thorough bus network, London is a city that a person can easily live in without owning a car, let alone riding in one on a daily basis.

When I moved back to Kansas City at the end of August 2016, I thought I would try at keeping up my walking, to walk the same ten miles each day. Yet that didn’t happen. Far from it, I found Kansas City to a.) be built largely for cars, and b.) with a climate far more harsh than the one I had known in London. As a result, not only did I not walk nearly as much as I had wanted, but I found myself hardly walking at all beyond going out of my parents’ house to get into the car and drive somewhere.

While my own lack of fortitude certainly is to blame in part for this sudden drop in my exercise, I also have to lay blame on the city planners here in Kansas City. This city, like so many others in the United States and Canada were designed, or re-designed, for motorists. In fact, it is illegal for a human being to walk in the street in Kansas City, Missouri; if you’re human, you have to stay to the sidewalks (pavements). The rest of the street is reserved for cars, buses, bicycles, vans, and trucks. We have built this city and so many others like it without the human touch that has made cities so universally human in nature.

For thousands of years, our ancestors have lived in cities that were not unlike the Central London; they were just big enough that an able-bodied person could walk from one end to another in about an hour. Cities were built with walking in mind, with the understanding that all of the basic necessities that a city offers should be within walking distance of each citizen’s home. Smaller medieval cities like Besançon in France, Canterbury in England, or Galway in Ireland are prime examples of this sort of pedestrian-focused urban planning.

“In fact, it is illegal for a human being to walk in the street in Kansas City, Missouri”

Here in the United States too there are some attempts at returning to this older model of having residential and commercial establishments within the same general area. Here in Greater Kansas City there are some newer developments that aspire to this goal. Two in particular that I visited this last Friday stand out to me as examples of how to undertake this task, and how not to do so. The latest pieces in the Town Center shopping complex, Park Place is an excellent example of such a development.

A set of winding, narrower streets lined by three and four story buildings, its street level fronts are filled with shops, restaurants, and some offices, while the upper levels are largely residential. In this way, one can live in a compact community, within which one does not necessarily need a car to get around. I first was able to experience Park Place two years ago when walking a 5K through the Town Center area. At that time Park Place was still under construction, yet even as a construction site it seemed vastly out of place when compared to its neighbours in the most arch-suburban of American counties, Johnson County, Kansas. What particularly makes Park Place odd, and in the end stunted in its growth and feasibility is that one has to have a car to access it. Sure, one could live within Park Place as a pedestrian, but going beyond its towering confines on foot can be a perilous exercise with traffic on the surrounding avenues averaging a speed of around 45 mph (72 km/h).

What Park Place does well is its compactness, including both commercial and residential in the same area. Another, equally new development a few miles south of Park Place ignores this principle of traditional urban planning, setting the residential aside from the commercial. This particular development is the fascinatingly misplaced Prairiefire complex on 135th Street in Leawood, Kansas. Another physically enormous complex, Prairiefire’s crown jewel is the Museum at Prairiefire, billed as Kansas City’s Natural History Museum, and an affiliate with the American Museum of Natural History in New York. While the Prairiefire Museum’s architecture is aesthetically beautiful, its size is much like the rest of the Prairiefire development: lacking long-term thinking.

My biggest problem with Prairiefire is the way in which its residential development is divided from its commercial sector by a massive concrete parking garage. Prairiefire was designed by a suburbanite intending to create their image of a compact urban community, albeit without ever having stepped foot inside of a traditional compact city. By splitting the residential from the commercial, they make it far less amenable to residents to take advantage of the shops, restaurants, and entertainment in the commercial side of the property. What’s more, the Museum at Prairiefire itself is deeply flawed in that it is not built with the ability to expand in mind. The current structure is small, built more like a community arts centre and less like a great temple dedicated to nature.

Our over-reliance on cars here in the United States is flawed at the utmost degree. Should there be a major energy crisis in the near future, the vast majority of our cities and states will find themselves paralysed, unable to function owing to the lack of oil to fuel our cars. Developments like Park Place and Prariefire might be able to last for longer, owing to their relative compactness compared to the more traditional suburban sprawl, yet their isolation amidst the sea of suburbia will soon find these two developments in the same situation as the traditional suburban developments.

Our cities must first and foremost be self-reliant; we must be able to grow our own food, and use our own renewable energy sources to power all aspects of our lives. Yet along side this if we are going to build smart, self-sufficient cities, we must build them more compactly, with ourselves in mind. Just consider, if you are suddenly without your car, and don’t have the option of taking public transport, how will you get around? You could certainly walk around your city, but that prospect is only truly viable if said city is designed for walking.

Today, I generally prefer using metric to the more traditional imperial standards of measurement, yet that most old-fashioned of imperial measures, the league, is one that should be maintained. It keeps us humans at the centre, and reminds us of our own physical limitations and abilities. When we consistently push ourselves far beyond those abilities, we endanger the stability of our societies, making any potential crisis even more disastrous.

We Stand Together

18946991_10213047198957274_893548281_o.jpgAt this point in time, after so many terror attacks around the world in recent years, my initial reaction to the attack in London last night was somewhat muted and reserved. I was not surprised that it had happened; yet I was nevertheless deeply distressed that innocent people would be so brutally assaulted. The three attackers, their identities as of yet unannounced by the Metropolitan Police, will spend eternity lapping in the seas of ignominy, far from the verdant peaceful halls of rest that they may wished to have known.

They died attacking innocents; their last actions in this life were in the spirit of chaos. With all that said, they were still human, and as a Christian I believe they, like the rest of us, were made in the image and likeness of God. So, as time passes and I think on their final acts, I will be helpless but to consider them as humans, like the rest of us, and so mourn their poor decisions and pray for their souls, that eventually they, and their victims, might find peace.

We are all human; we all start our lives with that one equalising factor. If terrorists, warlords, and fearmongers seek to divide us, we must constantly remember what unites us. For the sake of our future we must stand together. In the wake of the latest attack we have a choice: to retaliate with ever increasing violence and terror, or to stand taller and remain above their cowardly and weak tactics. When they offer war we must offer peace. When they taunt us towards destroying all they know and love, we must not validate their evil by doing so.

Our societies and governments are founded upon the basic principles of constitutionalism. They are built on the principle that no one should be above the law. Justice is the rudder of our ship of state. Every time we treat anyone as less than their rightful station, every time we jump to conclusions about a person without facts or evidence, every time we respond to terror with terror, baying for blood, we undermine that omnipresent principle of justice for all. After all, once we begin to look out from beneath our blinders and consider the people around us, we will surely see another human being with feelings and hopes, with dreams and desires not unlike our own.

I did not know the men who attacked the crowds on London Bridge or in Borough Market. As of the time of publication the police have not released their names. Nor did I know the seven people whom they killed. I do not know what they were like, what they dreamed about at night, who they loved, or what their favourite things were. What I do know however is that they were all humans like me.

In my culture the golden rule is to treat others as you would want to be treated, and while these attackers certainly did not do that, how can I stand by that rule without seeing them as humans. Sure they were flawed, after all what they did is reprehensible to the highest degree, but all the same they were human. I hope that all involved, perpetrators and victims alike can find peace in this life or in the next. At the end of the day if we want the terror to cease, we must stand together as one common humanity. We must be the change, the light that will douse the darkness. The day we cease to preach and live love is the day we give in to terror and chaos.

Goodbye!

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Kansas City – Well, the time at last has come. I spent the last night of my stay in the Alexander Fleming Halls of Residence in Hoxton up reading, and doing some minor research on local history. My thought was that it would help me to sleep on the plane if I didn’t sleep at all the night prior to. Hitherto, my abilities of sleeping whilst flying have been almost non-existent, but I thought I’d give this most extreme tactic a try.

ImageAt about 4.32 BST, I noticed some light creeping into my West facing window. Looking out, I beheld the last British sunrise that I’ll see for a while. It was a nice, soft sunrise, quite different from those out in the Midwest. At 5.00, I went out and walked about the neighbourhood, hoping to find a café that might be open where I could get a cup of tea to help cure my allergies, and possibly inhibit the oncoming cold. Sadly, all the local cafés were closed, as it was Saturday. Even Starbuck’s hadn’t yet opened. So, it was back upstairs to my room to sort out the last minute packing that I might have missed the day prior. Thankfully, there was nothing to have missed, so it was onto another hour and a half of waiting until anything would be open.

I spent that period of time sitting on the benches outside the hall, bidding farewell to my friends as they went on their ways in ones and twos. At 7.30 BST, I too left Fleming with a pair of friends, Cara and

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Mike, and headed for Old Street tube, to catch a train to King’s Cross St Pancras and then onto Heathrow.

As noted in my last post, the hardest thing I have had to do in the past few weeks was to say goodbye to all these friends that made up what we’ve called the Old Street Gang. It really did seem like we were all together for a good year, when in fact it was a mere three weeks.

 

Luckily, I ran into two Old Street-ers, Kendall and Allison, in the entrance to security at Heathrow. We later ran into another member of the Gang, Kelsea, in the duty free area just past security. The four of us spent our last moments together in London, attempting to avoid thinking about the inevitable, but at the same time unable to avoid the reality that we faced. I was the first to leave, as my 12.30 flight to Minneapolis was due to begin boarding at 11.35.

I walked down the path to the plane, looking out the windows, capturing the sights for the last time for now. Mentally preparing myself for my return to the US, and future return to the UK, I boarded the

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plane, and took my aisle seat. The flight back was mostly uneventful. I slept a good deal of the way, with the aid of a couple films like The Hobbit and Life of Pi, the audio of which helped put me to sleep. I was surprised at Delta’s hospitality, considering that they had 3 meals for us. Still, I’m switching to British Airways/American Airlines after this trip.

After a good 8 and a half hours in the air, we passed over the UP and began to descend into Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport. The process of going through Customs wasn’t as bad as I’d thought it could be. The biggest difference between the British and American Customs agencies is that HM Customs wasn’t understaffed. There were only 4 open desks at MSP, processing hundreds of people. After heading through Customs, I had my first experience of culture shock, when I went on the wrong moving walkway in the airport, realising that things in the States are on the right, not left. It just so happened that I was on the phone with my parents at this point, informing them of my arrival back in the Americas.

After a good three and a half hours sitting about in Minnesota, I boarded my flight to Kansas City. It was a short 58 minute flight between the homes of the Twins and Royals, but at long last we landed in Kansas City. It was great seeing my parents again, I missed them very much. It was just as good to see my dog, Noel, once more when we returned home.

I’ll really miss London, and all my friends. Since we’ve returned to our homes in the States, the group has been staying in touch, writing fervently about a reunion of sorts at some point in the near future. When and where that’ll be, we shall have to see.

Now, I may have started this blog as a way to record my study abroad experiences in London, but I intentionally named it so as to allow for it to continue after my return home. There’ll be more blog posts coming in the future, about such topics as my film work, return to Rockhurst, and other upcoming travels. For now, and to all of you who have been reading since I started this blog about a month ago, go raibh míle mhaith agaibh, thanks so much for reading and following my adventures. Until next time, tá!Image

Learning in London – A Living, Urban Classroom

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St Paul’s reflected by the face of One New Change.

Shoreditch, London – If I ever wanted to study history, there are few cities in the world that are greater places to do so than here. Not only is my class studying the history of London in London, but we’re doing it by going around and actually seeing the history and how the present is presenting and re-presenting it through museums, galleries, plaques, and monuments. So far, this is the best way I’ve found to learn the history of a place, because it cuts out the Prof. Binns effect to use a Harry Potter reference, in that the class can just be a boring list of names, dates, and battles. Not that I’ve actually had such a class thus far in my academic career, of course. However, the class I’m in right now is by far at the extreme opposite end of the spectrum from such a Binns class. After all, how many history classes have you taken where your classroom for the day is the British Museum, or where your main project is to find something in the history of London that could be better represented or needs to be told in the first place.

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“…how many history classes have you taken where your classroom for the day is the British Museum…”

My paper and presentation is going to be on how the linguistic history of London could be better represented in the Museum of London. In particular, I’m going to be looking at how the languages and cultures of the past, whether Celtic, Roman, Saxon, Norman, Medieval, Tudor, or the more recent generations, impacted the landscape and life of London today. You can see the impact greatly in toponymy. For example, in London one can find a tremendous amount of Anglo-Saxon street and borough names, such as Aldgate, Cheapside, and Smithfield.

My first full day of class was at the British Museum. We spent the day wandering through it, first looking at how the museum told the story of humanity, and then in particular how it told the story of Britain. There were somethings in the museum that I found really interesting and exciting, particularly in the British sections, such as the Barnack Burial, which is a skeleton of a man who died between 2330 BC and 2310 BC. (Source: British Museum). The crazy thing about it is that when I thought about it, I realised that because he was a pre-Roman Briton (the ancestors more so of the modern Welsh than English), this skeleton is probably one of my ancestors. That realisation made the experience more personal, and much cooler for me.

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“…this skeleton is probably one of my ancestors.”

One area that I am most interested in, as can be seen by my mention of the aforementioned skeletal man, is in the peoples who came before the great civilisations and empires of Antiquity. Two such peoples are the Etruscans of Italy and the Minoans of Crete. The British Museum has a collection of Etruscan artefacts, which were a delight to see, as I don’t get to see much save Rome in Kansas City. Among them was a wall painting showing your normal Etruscans from the height of their civilisation. A lot of these ancient things are so eerie because I think about how when they were first made, that culture was probably not unlike our own in that it seemed stable, and ready to continue on into the future. But, they are no longer around, just as one day we will most probably not be around as well.

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“…that culture was probably not unlike our own…”

Another interesting thing that caught my eye was the Assyrian collection. Being a lover of Gilgamesh, I had to take a look at this section of the museum, which was as it should be: astounding. Again in the artefacts that we leave behind, the future can learn more about lost civilisations and cultures. So too, in things such as a wall carving of an Assyrian king wrestling and stabbing a lion, we are shown a particular image of their society, and the power of their kings, that could or could not be unlike our own. I had a good laugh later in the day when at the National Portrait Gallery, I came across a Reubens depiction of a Lion Hunt.

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An Assyrian King stabs a lion whilst throttling it.

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Peter Paul Rubens, A Lion Hunt, about 1614-15.

The thing to keep in mind is that despite the passage of time, the changing of language and culture from one to another, we always remain human. Just as a king in the 16th Century BC may have a fascination with hunting lions, to show his own power and prowess, so too a 17th Century painter would use that same image to depict the greatness of his subject. After all, what is the symbol of English Football than the 3 Lions of England? This is one of the great things about history that I love so much, that we learn so much about ourselves and our culture when we study others. In London, one can see this more so than perhaps in other cities. Here in the courtyard of the London Guildhall, one can see architecture from every period in the City’s 2000 year history from the Roman amphitheatre under one’s feet to the late 20th century buildings on of the Guildhall’s West Wing. This is truly a great place to study history, one of, if not the greatest there is. I am looking forward to next week’s class, as we continue on our walks through London, learning about the past, and how the present depicts it, while keeping a watchful eye on how the future may depict us when we too become the past.

Travelling about London

Shoreditch, London – The first day of class has come and gone. It was rather a fun and exciting day, both at university and out and about in town. If I hadn’t been too sure of my knowledge and understanding of the Underground before this morning, I certainly am as I write this at 20.00 in the evening.

London Underground symbol

“Once one gets the system down, travelling in London is not to bad at all compared to other big cities.”

Once one gets the system down, travelling in London is not to bad at all compared to other big cities. After class got out today I decided to head over to Apsley House, the home of le vainqueur de Waterloo, the 1st Duke of Wellington. To get there from my home station, I had to make one transfer between trains, which wasn’t too terribly bad. The problem came in the fact that I left the dorm at 15.30 and Apsley House was scheduled to close at 17.00, so considering that rush hour was just beginning to wake from its meridical slumber, I knew that I needed to get there a bit faster than normally I would have. So, by walking down escalators on the left (rather than standing on the right as is custom here), and standing on trains near the doors, being the first one to jump off when said portals opened at my transfer and destination (Hyde Park Gate), I was able to make it to Apsley House at 16.20, a good 40 minutes prior to closing time. Unfortunately however, I entered the courtyard and found the sign that read “CLOSED” standing on the steps leading to the front door.

Apsley House, courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.

Apsley House

In my annoyance I decided to walk around for a bit, after all I was in Knightsbridge, which is one of the nicest neighbourhoods in London. As I walked along I chanced to see a few things I probably wouldn’t have seen had I just gone back to the Hyde Park tube and returned home. Among these were the Libyan and Kuwaiti embassies, the latter of which had a rather large flag in front of it. I would have stopped by to see if I could pick up a couple Kuwaiti dinar, which last I looked was the highest valued currency globally at present. But because of the obviously heavily armed guards in front of the embassy (one was standing talking to the other who was driving a G-Wiz [cute, I know]) I chose to pass onwards and get back onto the tube at Knightsbridge. Now here’s the kicker, where no doubt my Mom will be saying, “Seán, you shouldn’t have…”: I didn’t actually know which tube line ran through Knightsbridge station, I just knew it was a tube station and that I could get home somehow someway. As a matter of fact I didn’t even know which lines went through there until I got onto the platform level (I intentionally left my tube map in my pocket), just as a bit of an adventure. Needless to say, I got onto the only line there, the Piccadilly line, and took that back towards the university, figuring that I might run into some friends if I did that. Though I didn’t run into any other ISA students, I did get an opportunity to try and blend in with the business-folk going home from a day’s work in the City (the CBD). It worked rather well, except for two businessmen who were giving me funny looks because my suit wasn’t black like all the rest of the businesspeople on the train, which granted I’m not a businessman, I’m a historian in training and a filmmaker, so I can wear some colours other than black, blue, and white (all of which I was wearing in one way or another, mind you.)

The G-Wiz (Reva-i outside of the UK)

“(one was standing talking to the other who was driving a G-Wiz [cute, I know])”

I got off at my home station at about 18.00 and made my way over to our local Argos (a UK electronics store). At first the place threw me for a loop. When I walked in all I saw was a big empty space in a small shop. I soon realised that I had to go over to the far left and look in their catalog, write down the number of the item I wanted to buy (a desk fan as there’s no air circulation in my room & no AC either), then take my little slip of paper to the counter and have the clerk type it into the system and take my money. Then I went and waited by a counter on the far right side of the shop, and not unlike Portillo’s, for all you Chicagolanders out there, I waited for my number to be called. After getting the fan, I went home, set it up, and enjoyed a nice cool breeze in the room.

However, I would have to say the two most amusing sights I have seen since coming to London were both involving transport. On the tube last night on the way back from Westminster a health & safety sign on one train had been graffitied so it read, “OBSTRUCTING THE DOORS CAN BE DANGEROUS”. The second was on the way to the university this morning we came upon a G-Wiz that was parallel parked on the side of a street but perpendicular to the rest of the cars, as in it was backed into the spot in question. This is why small cars are the best!

So, to the point of this article (seeing as I titled it “Travelling about London”), what is the best way to get about Central London? In my opinion, if you want cheap and fast, take the tube. Sure, you don’t get to see sights on the way (as you’re below ground), but you do get a good opportunity to blend in with the locals & will reach your destination quicker than if on a bus or in a cab. In regards to buses, they still confound me tremendously. I’m avoiding them for now. As for cabs, the licensed ones are good, but pricey for just one person. So, I’m probably taking the tube home from the opera or theatre for example. Of course, if you’re just staying in one part of town, walking’s a fine way to get about, after all it’s what the locals do. But, on no condition, as I have heard time and again, and seen from afar, never attempt to drive in London if you’re not a local. If you think Chicago traffic’s a pain try coming here at rush hour. Let’s just say the British don’t have the concept of jaywalking, so if there’s a wide enough gap in traffic people just cross the street. O, and also just don’t make eye contact and don’t apologise for going past people on the pavement (sidewalk) or in the tube’s escalators and pedestrian tunnels in stations, just keep moving forward. And for no reason at all stop and look at your map in the open, just keep moving and find a café or sign.

So, with that, I’m signing off for the night. Tá.

Settling down in London

Shoreditch, London – After 6 and a half hours in the air (8 and a half hours on the plane thanks to a great JFK traffic jam), I at long last made it to London-Heathrow yesterday morning (15 June) at 8.00. The flight was quite interesting, and didn’t have much trouble after we got off the ground. About two hours into the flight, for whatever reason I had the urge to lift the window shade just a bit. This “sudden urge” turned out to be quite rewarding, as I got an exquisite photo of the sun just beginning to rise over eastern Greenland.

Sunrise over Greenland, 15 Meith/Jun/Juin 2013 at 3.00 UTC.

“This “sudden urge” turned out to be quite rewarding…”

The Irish coast in Co Wexford from the air

The Irish coast in Co Wexford from the air.

The Welsh coast near St David's from the air.

The Welsh coast near St David’s from the air.

A couple hours later we began to fly over an tír na mo aithreacha (the land of my fathers), Éire (Ireland). We flew in a straight line from about Ennis to Wexford, and then crossed the Irish Sea to another country of which I have heritage, Cymru (Wales). Over Wales, we flew from about St David’s in the west to the mouth of the Severn in the East.

I landed in London, as aforementioned, at 8.00 in the morning and made it through customs by about 9.00. There at Heathrow’s arrivals meeting place, I met up with the ISA London office, and ended up staying there in the arrivals area until 12.00 Noon when we as a group at long last left for our housing. It took us a good hour to drive across London to our building. My room is quite nice actually. It’s a bit on the small side, but is quite comfortable and cozy. The one complaint that I have at present is the lack of air movement, which will soon be redeemed by a fan, which hopefully I’ll be buying at Argos soon. My room is one of six that are grouped together in a flat, which is on the first floor (ground floor in US English) of the building. There are three other people living here with me, two of which are with ISA, and the third with another programme. We share a kitchen, and the third person and I share a toilet (bathroom).

Dorm Room at University of Westminster

“…but is quite comfortable and cozy.”

As I was originally typing this into WordPress last night at about 20.00, I began to feel a bit drowsy. However I was determined to continue with my typing and complete the article before bed. But alas, my computer, being the wise soul that she is (she as in how ships are called she or her) decided to go to sleep as well and stop working properly. So, I too retired for the night. I first woke up around 22.00, thinking that it was the next day already, forgetting in my exhaustion that the Sun stays out here until about 22.30 during the Summer months.

I woke up the next morning at my 7.30 alarm quite refreshed and free from the shackles of sleepiness. After showering (they use two handles, one for hot and one for cold water, thus it was hard to figure out the balance) and eating a light breakfast of a NutriGrain bar, I made my way up to my new parish church, St Monica’s in Hoxton. The Parish is an Augustinian one, and their Mass was quite nice. They had a few songs, without the need of a cantor, and chanted all of the prayers. There were a couple differences, like the priest asking God to “pencil out our sins” rather than forgive them, one which I found quite charming, but otherwise it was much the same as most of the Masses that I’ve attended back in the States or in Ireland. However, I had to leave early and miss the talk on the parish fundraiser as I was due back at the hall of residence for the group meeting for orientation.

For orientation we took the tube to Oxford Circus, which is the closest stop to the University of Westminster’s Regent Street Campus. However, just about 3 blocks south and 1 block west of the University was our true destination for that moment, the ISA London offices on Great Portland Street. The ISA staff have been truly welcoming of all of us on this trip, and one gent from the office, Tom, even took a good hour out of his day yesterday to help a fellow student, Jon from the great state of Wisconsin, (home to Michael Feldman (of NPR fame) and one of my favourite burger places, Culver’s) and I in getting UK mobile phones. We were able to find very cheap phones at the Phone Warehouse for £4.95 for the phone and £10.00 for the plan with O2.

After orientation, Jon and I took a bit of an adventure and made our way down Oxford Street. I told him about a store where he could probably be able to get a much needed electrical adaptor, and we headed in what I thought was the right direction. Turned out I was a bit off in my geography, and we ended up going the wrong way by a couple blocks. So, after turning around and heading back west, we eventually found the store I was telling him about, Selfridge’s. Now, I wouldn’t have even heard of the retail giant had it not been for PBS broadcasting the ITV minseries about Selfridge’s founder, Harry Gordon Selfridge, on the Masterpiece series. We made our way into the store, and soon found ourselves in electronics, where Jon got his adaptor, and I met a very friendly and interesting clerk, who just so happens to be planning a North American vacation, which includes a drive from DC to Toronto. I wished him luck, and we continued onwards and upwards (literally in that sense as the electronics department is in the cellar) to the foodhall, which is on the ground floor. We ate at this nice sort of cafeteria style eatery, simply named Eat, where we both got the store’s signature beef sandwich, which was basically roast beef on bread of your choice, with whatever sort of mustard you wanted on top. Now, I’m not a mustard lover, and when ordering I thought by asking me if I wanted, “American, English, or French” they were talking about cheese. So, thinking English meant a nice cheddar, I spoke thus, and to my horror found mustard squirted onto my nice beef sandwich. I ended up eating the beef that didn’t have the mustard on it, and only the bottom slice of bread, as it also was naked in a sense.

We returned to the ISA office by way of it’s neighbour, the BBC Broadcasting House, and sat around until a tour bus came for the group. We took a nice tour of the major sites of London: Buckingham Palace, Westminster, and the City, and returned to our building forthwith afterwards.

I must say one of the most interesting parts of my day has been what has just happened prior to me sitting down to write this, grocery shopping in the UK. It’s just that bit different from shopping in Kansas City that I just had to mention it. See, I was surprised at just how little meat there was for sale on the shelves. Now of course, this was a smaller local grocer (a branch of Sainsbury’s to be exact), and so they wouldn’t have quite as much as a larger place, but it did surprise me. I ended up spending about £13 on food for the next couple of days, buying bread and preservatives for sandwiches, some pasta and a tomato basil sauce for dinner sometime (keeping with the Pasta & Prayer tradition), and other stuff as well.

So far this has been quite the exciting and interesting beginning to my time in London, and it certainly makes me look forward with anticipation at what is to come. So, for now, tá.