Happy Holidays! Christmas in America and New Year’s Eve in London

Getting upgraded to first class with Delta on my 9-hour flight home to America basically set the standard for how the rest of my vacation would go…free drinks and a reclining seat all the way home, baby. It was a fantastic break, and SO nice to be home with family. Saw lots of friends, spent most of our time with family (aka drove back and forth a lot between Nebraska and Missouri), AND I shot some guns. Lucky for my boyfriend, a friend let me borrow her shotgun and I was surprised how much I enjoyed shooting that gun. It might just become a hobby. Hunting though…that’s another ball game. Good luck, Jarin ๐Ÿ˜‰

2014_12_20_6109Best Christmas present ever: a cookbook with handwritten copies of mom’s recipes.

DSC_0182Jarin’s family, wearing the hats from the Christmas crackers we brought home from London.

DSC_0183 (2)Bald eagle in front of the house….so cool. America.

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Shootin’ school. I was taking notes. (And pictures.)

We headed back to London before New Years because we wanted to celebrate in London, and I’m so glad we did. Unfortunately, this year was the first year that you had to buy a ticket to see the fireworks. We didn’t get tickets because we thought we could just meander down that way and surely find a decent spot to watch from. WRONG. They weren’t joking when they said they’d have all viewable places blocked off. And heavily secured. We were steered through the Embankment station up to the Strand on a very inflexible route…which made for a crowded walk.

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Once on the Strand the crowd dissipated a bit because, thankfully, they had the street blocked off from traffic. We walked down the Strand towards Somerset house and really lucked out, because the security working Waterloo bridge decided to gift everyone with a free entrance to the bridge.

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See the green security gates on either side? They were everywhere.

Made for a tight walk through security, but once we were on the bridge it was perfect. Room to take some beautiful shots of London at night:

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And had time to spare to get set up for the fireworks. As cheesy as it sounds, I used some of that time to reflect on how lucky I am to be pursuing my dreams in this marvelous, historic city. I’ve touched on my story previously, but it really has been an incredible ride getting everything in place for London to happen – and it wouldn’t have happened if this kid hadn’t brought up the idea. So I owe a lot of this journey to him, and am grateful that we get to experience it together. ๐Ÿ™‚

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I had time to get switched over from camera to video, and was able to record the first part of the show. With no further ado, for your viewing pleasure, here is our view of the 2015 New Year’s Eve celebration in London. (Listen for Big Ben…coolest thing ever!!)

(goshdang WordPress isn’t letting me embed the video. Boo. Check it out on YouTube!)

Home will always be the Midwest for us, but while we’re living in London we’re absolutely making the most of it.

Here’s to a fabulous 2015!!

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Takeaway Tidbit: Make 2015 your year ๐Ÿ™‚

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London for free..in the Winter!

My first winter in London has been a pleasantly surprising experience so far. In the Midwest winter is a chance to spurn all social relations and rekindle that annual romance with your couch and comfy blankets because you’re not moving until spring. Or at least, you’re not going to be near as active because it’s just too much of a hassle to go out.

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Unless you’re a kid. Then it’s the best thing ever. (That’s me…queen of the mountain over my siblings ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

But in London there is NO excuse for your couch to develop a derriรจre- shaped indent. Winter is your chance to enjoy the copious amount of free indoor events that you skipped during the summer in favor of enjoying the weather. Just because the temperature is plummeting doesn’t mean you have to abandon yourself to the friendless, magnetic pull of your couch. Or at least, not every night.

A few of the free activities I’ve had a chance to experience this winter so far are:

Tate Modern: I had always wanted to visit the Tate, but didn’t realize it was free until I went with the LUIP Ambassadors. It still blows my mind how many museums are free (basically all of them), especially considering the quality of the pieces on exhibition. There are exhibits you have to buy tickets to view, but we had a great time walking through the free exhibit halls and “contemplating” the artwork. Luckily we had some really intelligent ambassadors to help clarify some of the pieces ๐Ÿ™‚

IMG_0595Fellow Ambassadors Sarah, Beatriz, Jamaal, and Brittany

Volunteering: Queen Mary offers quite a few one-off volunteering opportunities, which is awesome. Although it might sound kind of selfish, my primary motivators for getting involved with one-off opportunities are:ย  it means I get to see a lot of the city I wouldn’t have sought out otherwise, I get to make new friends, and it’s not a weekly or even monthly time commitment if you don’t want it to be. Less selfishly, it means I get to help out in my new community. I’ve only done a couple so far, but they have been really fun!

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Whitechapel Mission clothing drive

volunteering1St. John’s Christmas Fayre workers

Christmas markets: Markets are some of the most fun things around Christmas time. We have them in the States of course, but it’s a slightly different twist when you walk around a London Christmas market. For starters, there’s usually a lot of mulled wine around…tried that for the first time at a Christmas market. YUM. On top of that, there are lots of new, different food stalls. And then the icing on the cake: there are fun, new, British goods being sold in the stalls. Wine, and shopping, and Christmas…well, what more can a girl ask for? One thing to be aware of though–some of the best markets are only one day long. So make sure you scout out which ones you want to go to in advance to ensure you don’t miss the good ones!

P88Mulled wine stall at the market outside of the Tate volunteering5Rides at St. John’s Christmas Fayrep91Rows of books and prints and vintage maps at Southbank’s Winter Festival

Decorations: They’re not explicitly offered on most of the ‘Activities’ lists, but just walking around and seeing all the different decorations is a really fun way to spend a day. Since it’s London, most places are done up right. ๐Ÿ™‚ The unusual thing (for this Midwest girl, anyways) is that it’s the businesses and shops that are decorated much more than the houses. Of course, there aren’t really any yards for people to decorate, but there are some admirably tenacious souls in London who decorate their windows, doors, or ornamental trees.

p93Covent Garden treep92Covent Garden baublesp82Random beautiful (and huge!) blue wreath on my walk to the tube from Senate House Library

Concerts and Lectures: If you look at the list of lecturers and performers who put on free events around London, you’re moronic to not attend some of the concerts and lectures offered at institutions around town. As a student you’ll have access to more than a tourist would, so take advantage of it! Visit other universities, go see a concert at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, or attend a late-night event at one of the museums. My friend Brittany wrote a great blog on her night at the Natural History Museum. If you Google “free concerts and lectures in London”, the results will give you more than enough to start.

79St. Martin-in-the-Fields after a free lunchtime concert.

ย This is obviously just a cursory list of activities available in London for free. To find out what else is available, Google is your best friend. If that gets too overwhelming or frustrating, TimeOut London and Londonist are two of my favorite websites to use when looking for free events in London. They always have a great, comprehensive lists of free activities going on around town. Even if you’re only here for a short time (tourists, I’m talking to you), you can use these sites to help you get the inside scoop on what’s going on in London during your visit.

Takeaway tidbit: London offers so many free, awesome activities — there’s no excuse for you to sit on your bum all winter.