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Guest: An American Student in London

Trafalgar Square, London
Trafalgar Square

An American Student in London
Down the Rabbit Hole and Across the Pond

Story and photographs by Stephanie Keats

writer inside wooden barrel

hat happens when you take a 20 year old sorority girl without any sense of direction and put her in a foreign country? Well we're about to find out. My name is Stephanie and I'm a LA Girl, born and raised, who's about to embark on a 5+month adventure to study abroad in London. I'm leaving behind comfortable Los Angeles for a world of rain, potatoes, and strange words that are supposedly "English." But that's kinda the point, to do something uncomfortable. So join me as I travel London, the UK, and Europe. And maybe do a bit of studying too. Travel savvy facts: I get lost with GPS. I have never been outside the US (except for that one time to Mexico but that doesn't really count). I still have to Google the word "foreign" to spell it correctly. I can count the number of times I've ridden public transportation on one hand. I have never been away from home for more than a month. I have never lived more than 45 minutes away from my parents. Humidity is a pet peeve of mine. I am scared shitless.

I have been accepted to Queen Mary University in London for the spring semester. Yes, I am going to study Theatre, but it is so much more than that. This is my chance to really see the world. I have never been to Europe and I want to see everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. I plan to do lots and lots of traveling in my free time. I've decided I am only making one resolution this year: TAKE ADVANTAGE. Of everything. Never in my life will I have the same opportunities that I do now, and my goal is to make the most of it. I am going all out with no looking back.

writer and friends around statue of Caesar, Tower of London
A statue outside the Tower of London. The apple was there when we arrived; we just took advantage of the photo op.
I would like to start off by making a comment on the London crosswalk system. It is very strange and time consuming. First off, no one actually pays attention to it. If there are no cars coming you walk. If there are, you don't. It's kind of like New York. However, the one major difference is that in New York, if you accidently walk when a car is coming, it'll generally stop. Here it's not the case. You're dead. And instead of a white man and a red hand telling you where to go, it's a red man and a green man. Which actually makes more sense since green generally means go and red generally means stop. Getting a green man is very exciting and you better take advantage if it, because crossing the street takes FOREVER. Every street has a center divider, so it's actually like crossing 2 streets. You cross over one side, wait in the middle, and then cross over the other. And should you need to cross both horizontally and vertically? Watch out, it could take you a good 10 minutes. It's like crossing 4 roadsinstead of 2. Add an extra 15 minutes to your journey in case there are lots of cars and you hit red men.

Tower Bridge over the River Thames
Tower Bridge
If you couldn't tell, I do a lot of walking here. The tube is great, but you have to walk to and from the tube. And it doesn't go everywhere. But that’s not about to stop me or the other Americans. We’re determined to do EVERYTHING. Last Monday we went to the London Tower. It’s less of a tower and more of a castle. Monarchs used to live there when London was little more than a mile of businesses. It was also where prisoners were held and we got to see some of thechambers that held people such as Jane Gray and Anne Boleyn. You could pretty explore the whole fortress and there were lots of interactive exhibits. The tower also contains the crown jewels, which are gorgeous. The largest diamond in the world (the Africa Diamond) is on the scepter, which I saw. It was amazing. Have I mentioned I love diamonds? I love diamonds. After the tower we made our way to Tower Bridge, which is one of the most famous bridges in the world because of its unique build. We got to walk through the top of the bridge, which had an amazing view. We also got to see the inner workings of the bridge and what makes it rise and fall. Super educational.

writer and friends at the Tower of London
Messing around at the Tower of London. (photographer unknown)
Saturday was my friend Natalie’s 20th birthday. She is the youngest of the group, but the first of us to have a birthday while abroad. The bar on campus offered her free entry for all of her friends and a bottle of champagne Friday night, so of course we went. On Fridays they turn it into a club type of thing, so we danced and drank our way into her birthday. Saturday we headed to the Portobello Market in Notting Hill. I had already gone with Katherine a couple weeks ago, but it is so gorgeous and there is so much to see that I had no problem going again. This time we got crêpes and I LOVE crêpes. Nutella with strawberries and whipped cream is my favorite. That night we went to dinner at this Italian place in Bethnal Green, which was surprisingly delicious. We were all pretty wiped out from the day and night before, so we just spent the rest of the evening watching the Two Towers (not my choice of a birthday movie, but hey it was her birthday) and eating crap.

the Tate Britain
The Tate Britain
Another thing I’ve done recently was visit the Tate Britain. MUCH better than the Tate Modern. Sure it had its fair share of weird shit, but not nearly as much. The premise of the museum is that every work in it was created by a British artist. It ranges from the earliest days of the country back up to modern art. I had to go for a class, but I didn’t mind so much about this one.

Sunday was the Super Bowl, and while I am not the hugest pro football fan, it was a lot of fun to watch. Queen Mary organized it to be shown at a pub down the street so there were a bunch of abroad students. They had cheap drinks and nachos. I was of course rooting for the Saints because of Reggie Bush, who deserves support for a) going to USC and b) dating Kim Kardashian. One of my guy friends was so confident that the colts were going to win that we made a bet. If he won, I had to do his laundry. If I won, he had to cook me dinner. Good thing Reggie pulled through because I HATE doing laundry. I try to do my own as little as possible, let alone someone else’s. Dinner was actually surprisingly good, though I didn’t really have high hopes. He fed me, Sam, and Natalie with pork chops and mac and cheese. Like not from a box or frozen. Not as good as my mom’s of course, but close.

Kensington Palace
Kensington Palace
The last Monday Crew outing we went on was to Kensington Palace and the Victoria and Albert Museum. Despite the fact that it was freezing and snowing, the palace was actually really fun. We couldn’t spend too much time in the gardens because it was so cold, but we plan to go back and do them sometime when it is warmer. The palace, though, is gorgeous. It is famous because most of the monarchs have lived there and it was also the last place Princess Diana lived. There was a whole bunch of stuff about her and her life… but mostly her taste in clothing. Not to be blasphemous or anything, but I didn’t think it was all that great. It looked typically 90’s. Maybe I’m missing something. You also got to see some of the rooms that the monarchs lived in (the State Apartments). There was also a big section on Debutant Balls. Let me tell you, I SO should have been born back then. I would have loved to be a debutant. Sure it cost the equivalent of $250,000 per year, but what's a couple hundred grand when you get to wear pretty dresses and dance all night? After the palace we headed to the Victoria and Albert Museum. It is a pretty cool place with lots of exhibits. They were doing construction so a bunch were closed, which was annoying. However we did get to see the fashion exhibit and the jewelry exhibit, which are my favorites in any museum. Who doesn’t love designer dresses and million dollar diamonds?

Kensington Gardens
Kensington Gardens
Tuesday I wrote my first essay here. Sure it was only 500 words, but hey, I did work, and that’s a start. I have another one to do this weekend, but that’s not going to stop me from going to Cambridge with Sam tomorrow. We are going to spend the night there with her friend and then head back Sunday afternoon. Just in time to be home for Valentine’s Day. Awesome. That was sarcastic by the way.

We played pub golf again this Thursday. I tried to participate in this one, but I have to admit that I failed. At around hole five I had to give up. Not from the alcohol content, because I was doing ok on that. But gawd was I full. Do you know how much liquid a pint is? Well ya it’s a pint, but that’s a lot. Especially after 5. I threw in the towel but it was still a lot of fun. We took the tube to different pubs and got a whole lot of strange looks. But that’s half the fun.

Anyway, I should probably get going on that essay thing if I want to go tomorrow. Though I think I might also go out tonight. After all, it is a Friday…

Stay tuned for Part 2 of "An American Student in London"

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I enjoy your newsletters -and particularly Patti Nickell's article about the 'Pudding Club' in the Cotswold's. An old friend of mine is taking a holiday there this year and plans to try their Jam Roly Poly and Spotted Dick - amongst many!

--- John & Maggie - UK


The way I read this article, you stayed at the "Breeze and Waves". Do you have any pictures of the cottages, and would you recommend to some first time visitors to Caramoan?

--- Richard Simons, Stockton, CA

Hi Richard,

Breeze and Waves was still under construction when I stayed there in Feb. 2010. It should be finished by now. You can see pictures of the resort on this page. We got to stay in one of the small cottages in the picture. I'll recommend it to budget travelers but you might want to look at other options. We chose it because of its location right by the beach. You can try other resorts in the Caramoan town proper (you have to get a ride to get to the beach and the jump-off point to go island-hopping but it's a relatively short distance). There are also two higher end resorts located on a cove and very near the islands: Gota Village Resort (unfortunately there is something wrong with their website right now) and its twin resort Hunongan Cove. Caramoan is a relatively new tourism development so resorts are just now being built.

You can go to this site for a good list of choices for accommodations in Caramoan.

I should add that it might be good to go to Caramoan (and almost anywhere in the Philippines) during the dry season from December to May. June to November are the typhoon months and sometimes typhoons will still come during early December.


* * * * *

Hi, I'm planning to go to Caramoan this coming May. Would you know the number of Breeze and Waves Cottages? Thanks!

--- Ann, Manila, Philippines

Hi Ann,

Breeze and Waves' phone number is 0908-2911072. Look for Freddie. Hope you have a grand time at Caramoan!



For Nature's Playground: The South Island of New Zealand

Hi Wendy,

In winter, Heritage Heights Apts. now offers free shuttle service to and from Queenstown 24/7 to guests without cars. We own a 7-passenger 4-wd Toyota Highlander used specifically to taxi guests up and down the hill during winter months. We also run advance purchase winter promotions which include a 4-wd rental.

If any of your readers head over this direction, I will enjoy extending Heritage Heights hospitality!!


--- Ailey, Owner, Queenstown, NZ

* * * * *

New Zealand text and pix top drawer! Almost as good as making the trip. ( but one still wants to. . . ) Full of useful detail. Only trouble with the website: It's tough figuring out which feedback goes with which article, and the more there are, the tougher it gets!

--- Ken W., Camarillo CA

Thanks Ken..."álmost" is right, you really have to experience the South Island firsthand. Granted this piece is long, but still all I can think about is how much I left out! I agree abut the relevancy factor re the feedback--it can be confusing...sometimes I have a "Wait a minute...what?" moment myself.

Thanks for writing,


* * * * *

Okay Wendy, from now on whenever you book your travel, please reserve space for me. I will carry your luggage, bring you cold drinks, massage your shoulders, and change the film in your camera (oops, I guess you don't have to do that anymore). Wonderful ideas and recommendations. Can you get to New Zealand from Boston in less than a week?

--- Carl A., South Easton, MA

Ha ha ha Carl, you're quite the comedian! But you'd be surprised how short that flight feels. I suspect Qantas isn't the only airline who's figured out that 3 movies, 2 full meals, lots of snacks and a complimentary travel pack (eye mask, warm socks and neck pillow) equals a quiet, well-behaved cabin. It really isn't bad. Just fly direct--pick the shortest flight w/ no lengthy layovers and you'll be fine. Re: signing on as my Super Sherpa...why not? I think you know I seldom travel in anything less than Party mode. There's just that pesky background check...

Thanks for writing,


For Excellence Riviera Cancun:

Wendy, I truly enjoyed your info especially since we leave in a week to celebrate my 50th Birthday. Was it necessary to make reservations at the restaurants? Was there a dress code for the restaurants? What would you recommend not missing while there? Was the spa experience worth it? Did you travel away from the resort while there? Thanks,

--- Kim P. Fuquay, Varina, NC

Hi Kim.

Sorry for the delay in had heavy competition with the holidays. Reservations at Excellence restaurants are not necessary and you will not find a wait. The dress code is basically no bathing suits and flip-flops...with a decided a mix of atmospheres. Mostly the open-air beachside spots are super casual, the rest slightly more formal. Truly, as long as you are clothed, I don't think you'd be turned away anywhere, though most people seemed to enjoy dressing up at night...I suspect more for their own pleasure than any sense of decorum.

The spa experience was worth it, though my favorite part wasn't the actual massage. The precursor was a 45 min. or so rotation from sauna to a series of (kind of wild) water jets which was very different and very cool, not just for women. In its' entirety, and with the serenity of the beach/champagne/strawberries, it was memorable.

We did not travel away from the hotel this trip, but the hotel is very helpful in arranging day excursions to fit your desires and you do not have to book these until you arrive.

Have a great time!

--- Wendy


I enjoyed Nino's contribution, since we all read about the frightening terrorist attack. Having travelled somewhat through India years ago, I am continually impressed with this country and the gentle spiritual aspects of this nation. Some day I look forward to going back. Nino has encouraged me. Thank you!

--- Yoka Y., Westlake Village, CA


Dear Mr.s/counselors Brown and Koro,

Thank you for a very informed and succinct article on motorcycle accidents and the law. It inspired me to think about getting a motorcycle, but not have an accident. But, if I do I am now well informed with the basics of what to do providing I do not perish in the accident. Any tips about that too?

--- Unnamed

Dear Rush and Chuck,

I wish I had read your article before our camping trip the Friday prior to President's Day.

My wife and I were in a car accident on our way to a camp ground. We were "rear-ended" and the impact caused our car to crash into the car in front of us. The contents of the truck that we were riding scattered onto several lanes. It's a miracle our two dogs decided to stay inside the car. My wife and I were shaken up badly but despite the mess, I was still able to walk out of the car. I got the license plate of the driver in front of me but, to my surprise, after reviewing the little damage on his car, he then sped off. I didn't know you could do that! The driver who hit me from behind gave me his information and then he too left the scene without saying good 'bye. When the police arrived all I had to go by was the little information I had jotted down which I hope was truthful. What if it was bogus? What if I had written the plate number incorrectly? How would that affect my insurance? What if we were unconscious, who would have written down all that information?

I do have one suggestion if you are injured in an accident. The police asked if my wife wanted an ambulance to bring her to the hospital but we declined the offer. I remembered when I rode an ambulance years ago that it was not a comfortable ride. I was strapped to the stretcher and there were all sorts of medical equipment dangling noisily above me. As long as you are able, it is a more relaxful ride inside a car. Besides, isn't there a fee for ambulance service?

--- Dave S. of Pasadena, CA

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