What to do on Pancake Day in London.

Even though Valentine’s Day is this weekend, a stroll through any Sainsbury’s or 99p store will provide not-so-subtle reminders that Easter is the next holiday coming up. For most Christians, that means Lent is just around the corner as well…and so is Mardi Gras (which means ‘Fat Tuesday’ in French). Mardi Gras, also known as Carnaval in many countries, occurs the day before Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten season, a period of fasting and spiritual preparation for the celebration of Easter 46 days later. Mardi Gras is the last day for Christians to indulge in fatty, rich foods before the more austere, penitential period of Lent begins.

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Mardi Gras in New Orleans

(photo courtesy of The Telegraph)

However, England has their own, less-lewd-more-delicious celebration: Pancake Day! Pancake Day is officially called Shrove Tuesday, and is most prominently celebrated in the UK, Ireland, Australia, and Canada. ‘Shrove Tuesday’ comes from the word ‘shrive’, which means ‘to confess’. Pancakes became associated with the day before Lent as a way to use up rich foods like eggs, milk, and sugar before the fasting of Lent began. And for all you pancake lovers out there, mark your calendars: Shrove Tuesday is 17 February 2015…NEXT TUESDAY!!

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A day specifically dedicated to indulge in pancakes? I’m in!

(photo courtesy of Perfect Pancakes)

So rather than fly to NOLA in the States, or to Rio in Brazil, celebrate Pancake Day right here in London.

One of the most famous activities to participate in are ‘pancake races‘, held throughout the UK on Shrove Tuesday. Participants carrying frying pans race through the streets, tossing their pancakes in the air and trying to catch them while running. If you’re interested in participating, check out the following events:

The Great Spitalfields Pancake Race raises funds for London’s Air Ambulance. Teams of 4 suitably dressed up (or down) gather to compete for the honor of becoming this year’s champions. They race up and down Dray Walk and prizes are awarded to the winners, runners-up, best dressed team and best behaved team. To enter a team email info@alternativearts.co.uk There’s a free hot pancake for every entrant!

The Parliamentary Pancake Race has served to raise awareness of the work that Rehab does in enhancing the life chances of people with disabilities and others who are socially excluded in the UK. MPs (Members of Parliament), Lords and members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery gather in Victoria Tower Gardens, next to the Houses of Parliament, where they swap their warm coats and woolly caps for aprons and chefs’ hats and race around the course while vigorously tossing their pancakes in the air.

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 MPs in their racing garb

(Photo courtesy of ukstudentlife)

The Better Bankside Pancake Day Race supports Paintings in Hospitals, a local charity that places fine art in clinical settings. Every year their work brings comfort and reassurance to over 1.8 million people across the UK. Put forward a team or come and support members of the Bankside business community as they show off their pancake-tossing skills at our annual Charity Pancake Day Race.

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Don’t feel like running? Make your own pancakes! Since living in London I’ve discovered there are several different types of pancakes…all of which are delicious. Use up those fatty ingredients and make them all:

American Pancake Recipe – makes fluffy and thick pancakes.

European Pancake Recipe – thin, pliable pancakes (aka crepes).

Feeling ambitious? Try out some of the interesting variations on BBCgoodfood’s Pancake Day page.

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German-style cheese and bacon pancakes, anyone?

(Photo courtesy of BBCgoodfood)

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Don’t want to run, don’t want to cook? (Because, let’s be honest, that’s what Fat Tuesday’s all about…indulgence!) Go enjoy one of the many delicious breakfast restaurants around London:

Fat Tuesday doesn’t have to mean a skinny wallet…TimeOut put together a great list of eateries and included pricing guides.

The London Evening Standard also put together their best-of list for London pancake restaurants and features several that I can vouch for (M1lk is just a few blocks from my flat…come visit and I’ll take you there!).

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Takeaway Tidbit: Whatever you do, make next Tuesday the most Pancake-y day of your year so far.

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How to build a successful web presence: Google’s 9 Notions of Innovation

This week, I was lucky enough to have the chance to tour the Google London offices. Since each member of the Ambassador group has a blog, our amazing coordinator, Kim, set up a training session with Google on how to enhance and promote our blogs and grow our online presence. We gathered in the lobby of the large, brightly-colored office building that Google shares with a few other companies, and were escorted up to the 9th floor where their main offices are located. I assumed the offices would be sleek and trendy, and as we walked through the reception I was not disappointed:

p8 Those are actual TVs in the floor. Playing actual television shows.

We were given a tour of a few of the floors that comprise Google London, and were brought back to the library for our presentations.

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That’s a nap pod through the glass. Yes please.

Our first presentation was “The 9 Notions of Innovation at Google“, in which Harry (one of the three brilliant hosts) illustrated Google’s commitment to its mission, “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Currently, just under 30% of the world has access to the internet. To help increase that number and promote the sharing of information, Google is continually developing projects in an attempt to make the internet more accessible. Two projects mentioned were Google Fiber and Project Loon. Having lived in Kansas City, I knew all about Google Fiber, but had never heard of Project Loon…and as Harry explained it, I was blown away. Project Loon (short for ‘balloon’, I think?) “is a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, designed to connect people in rural and remote areas, help fill coverage gaps, and bring people back online after disasters”. Google’s impressive goal is to have Project Loon fully functional by 2020, providing 100% connectivity across the globe. I highly recommend reading up on it if you’re as awed by it as I was. The technology and creativity behind these projects is inspiring.

After addressing the work being done to make the world’s information accessible, we learned how Google is working to make it useful. As new ideas come up, they are put to the “toothbrush test”: is this product/app/etc. going to be used two times each day? If not, it most likely won’t be pursued until it has been developed further. An example of Google pursuing utility is their current development and testing of self-driving cars. Google is also constantly and rapidly developing their search technology such as voice technology,and the new Google Translate app which will do voice as well as Word Lens translations (hold the camera up to text in a foreign language and it will translate the text to your language).

Once we discussed the 9 Notions of Innovation, we paused for a break and had a chance to look around the library.

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It was spectacular.

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Enjoying the atmosphere with (most of) my Ladies Luck team 🙂 …just missing Lei!

Our next presentation was given by Jen, who outlined “10 Fundamentals of a creative strategy on YouTube“. She began by talking about current viewing trends: first, there are fewer people watching television and more people watching content online; and second, people have the ability to engage and interact with the content they watch (through sharing videos, posting comments, etc.) and are increasingly doing so. The 10 Fundamentals provided strategies and questions to ask if we decided to pursue a career as a vlogger/YouTuber. Each strategy related to one of three themes: Get Viewers, Keep Viewers Happy, and Keep Yourself Happy. The entire presentation was thought-provoking and inspiring, because most, if not all of the fundamentals applied to us as bloggers as well. It also got me brainstorming ideas for successful and sustainable YouTube channels…haven’t come up with anything worthwhile yet though.

After Jen had finished and answered our questions, the Google team and Kim had arranged for two successful vloggers/YouTubers to come in and answer our questions, explain their process to successfully developing their channels, etc. We had Sanne from booksandquills and Helen from Helen Anderson. They were both amazingly informative and graciously answered all our questions referencing their own experiences. As an English major I really enjoy Sanne’s channel, especially the videos where she features places around London which are referenced in books. I’m consistently awe-struck that most of the locations Dickens and his contemporaries were writing about still exist today, so the fact that she took time to walk around and video the locations (not necessarily Dickens’ books, the video I watched was on Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf) and then put it together in a video is genius, in my opinion.

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Harry is on the far left, and for the vloggers Sanne is on the left, Helen is on the right.

At the end of the night, I was racking my brain trying to figure out how an English MA degree would get me a job at Google. Still working on it (and highly doubtful I’ll find a connection). But hey– a girl can dream. 🙂

Takeaway Tidbit: Really consider the 9 Notions and 10 Fundamentals…they’re applicable to much more than just Innovation and YouTube.

How to travel around Europe cheaply

This past weekend, my boyfriend surprised me with a trip to Ivalo, Finland. It was beautiful, and romantic, and well-planned — and a complete surprise. Also, we came back to London engaged. 🙂

IMG_0068Oh, and I chopped my hair. 10 inches donated!

While we were flying there, Jarin pulled up a map of Finland to show me where it was and, as usual, I was surprised by how close the countries are. We could have easily driven to Sweden, Norway, and Russia from Ivalo. That’s one thing I’m still getting used to in Europe – there are SO MANY countries so close to each other! A three-hour drive in the States will only get you one state over, and that’s only if you’re semi-close to a border. In Europe, however, three hours will get you to at least one new country, if not a couple (or four, in Ivalo’s case). Since the countries are so close, it makes it incredibly easy to travel around Europe. There are obviously several ways to travel — plane, train, ferry (for those traveling across any of the channels or seas), hiking, biking.. but how do you know you’re getting the best deal??

The first and most important thing when trying to get the best deal for your money: you need to be ready to buy tickets and reserve hotels/hostels/airbnbs as early as possible. I’m talking months (three or four at least, six is best). Start looking at and comparing airfare on sites like skyscanner or google flights, and think about using websites from the country’s destination (google.co.uk   vs   google.com)  — Sometimes you’ll find slightly better prices, and if nothing else the currency will be local so you can start getting used to the exchange rates.

A nice feature on skyscanner is their ‘Price Alerts’ option, where they send you an e-mail if the price drops below the price you’ve set as your lowest. Don’t get crazy and set a price alert for $2 because you’ll never get an e-mail, but if you set a realistic price and they find an airline with lower prices, they send you a notification. This is also only useful if you’ve started planning in advance, because once you buy your tickets they don’t offer to refund the difference.

SkyscannerThe red circle is the ‘Price Alerts’ button. Also, £36 for a flight to Dublin..WHAAA?!?!

Some great, inexpensive airlines around Europe are Ryanair and EasyJet, but make sure you check that they fly to your destination because they only have certain cities to which they fly inexpensively. However, you can grab a super cheap flight to a city near your destination and then take a train or hike or bike or find the most appealing mode of transportation to get you to your final destination.

Trains are the most fun way to travel, in my opinion. I just find the novelty endearing. (Trains are not as common in the States.) I’m sure it will wear off eventually, but I love being able to enjoy the scenery, bring as much liquid as I want without restriction (if you’re sneaky, you can even bring your own adult beverages!), have a dining car to grab slightly better food than what’s served on airlines (and for semi-reasonable prices, too), use your phones and actually have service, and stand for as long as you want. I think Jarin appreciates the standing areas more than I do. 🙂

Eurostar is the train service I’ve used to get from London to Western Europe, and if you sign up for their mailing list they have fantastic deals on tickets every three months or so. Currently, you can get a round-trip train ticket to Paris for £69, but I’ve seen offers where it’s £59 round-trip. However, you have to be willing to travel at slightly less popular times and/or days to get those rates.

Locally, train tickets are incredibly inexpensive. We took a day trip to Bath, England, bought round-trip tickets a couple of weeks beforehand, and only paid £20 each. Tickets to Oxford are less than £15 round trip if you are willing to leave during off-peak hours (not during rush hour). Again, if you have time, make sure to play around with times and days…often a Saturday morning departure is surprisingly less expensive than a Friday evening departure, and same for Monday morning vs Sunday evening.

One tip for my local readers, check out the rewards programs at stores you frequent. I have a Nectar card through Sainsbury’s and rack up points all over the place, since groceries are essential (obviously). The best part is I can redeem my points with travel companies like easyJet, Eurostar, or Expedia. And oftentimes when I check out and use my Nectar card, they’ll give me a coupon for double points on my next visit. Cha-ching!

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An extra card to carry around…but completely worth it.

(photocred: nectar.com)

If you have a credit card, chances are you can redeem your rewards points for travel of some sort — cash in on those! And if you fly a lot, use your air miles and/or hotel points to help make your travel less expensive. When it was official that I would be moving to London, I switched my credit card to a CapitalOne Venture Card because it had no foreign transaction fees and also because it gave me the best ratio for earning miles.

Takeaway tidbit: Plan European trips in advance to get the best deals. And use rewards programs to get free trips!

 

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 😉

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. 🙂

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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 🙂

Sunday Funday :)

One thing that’s really different in London compared to the States is their Sunday activities. For us Midwesterners, Sundays in the winter are basically ‘me’ days. Church for the church-goers, sleeping in for the night owls, then NFL (National Football League–American football, of course 😉 ) games to rally around before gearing up for the week. In London, however, they have a much more social Sunday lineup. Take your time, do what you choose in the morning, but in the afternoons get ready for a good time.

If you live in London, you know Sunday roasts are a must. If you’re a visitor, word to the wise: don’t miss Sunday roast. Most pubs have their own versions of Sunday roasts, but I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to eat with my Ambassador friends at The Barrowboy & Banker, a beautiful old banker’s building converted into a pub.

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Sunday roasts are basically hearty, warm, filling meals–meat, veggies, and potatoes. A traditional side in Britain is Yorkshire Pudding, which is not anything close to ‘pudding’. I’ve found that the word ‘pudding’ can be applied to almost anything over here…yikes. Yorkshire pudding are the two little bread cup things in the picture (front and center and back right), and are delicious. Our server gave us an excellent history of the Yorkshire pudding and explained how he makes them himself–cold batter, hot oven. The dough is essentially crepe dough. Can’t wait to try out a recipe or two back in the States…bring a little British flavour to our American traditions. 🙂

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The ‘bun’ in the back left is a veggie pie, which The Barrowboy & Banker are famous for. It didn’t disappoint!

My theory is that it’s called Sunday roast rather than lunch or dinner because you eat it right in between the two meals, around 3pm. I was 100% ready to eat when we sat down and didn’t need to eat again for a day or two afterwards. So filling. And because I was with the ambassadors we decided to do dessert too. Those chefs knew the way to my heart…can’t go wrong with chocolate cake. Sunday roast is a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon with good friends having fun conversation.

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We ♥ Kim!  🙂

Another cultural novelty for me were pub quizzes. Although they’re not exclusive to Sundays, that particular day of the week lends itself quite well to some rowdy competitions. I have to say, they are rapidly climbing up my list of favorite activities in London. Get a group of friends together (for a Sunday roast, perhaps?), pay a quid or two, and get ready for intellectual warfare. Pub quizzes here are no joke. I played my first pub quiz earlier this month with a group of friends and was floored by how challenging the questions were. Team Bacon had a great time, but we definitely need to brush up on our knowledge of…everything before going back for another quiz. Being from the States probably doesn’t help much either.

Takeaway tidbit: Social time and intellect make for a really fun combination.

Houses of Parliament and the no-good-very-bad night bus

This weekend I had the opportunity to go on a tour of the Houses of Parliament with my London Ambassador program (for those of you who don’t know, I was chosen to represent Queen Mary as a LUIP Ambassador for the year–It’s been an incredible experience so far, with more to come!).

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The tour was absolutely perfect, thanks to our tour guide Joanna. We weren’t allowed to take pictures once inside the official Houses of Parliament, but if you’re in London and interested in politics and/or history this tour is DEFINITELY worth your time. Ask for Joanna if you can, our coordinator Kim said Joanna gave the best tour she’s experienced (and she’s been accompanying the Ambassadors on tours since the program started, so she should know!).

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The tour gathered in Westminster Hall, on the Big Ben side of the building. Joanna themed our tour around the events of the State Opening of Parliament, which marks the start of each new parliamentary session and is the only day of the year when all three parts of Parliament come together AND the only day on which the Queen enters the Parliamentary buildings. (If you’re interested in finding out more about the State Opening, this website has an excellent, short overview of the day.) Since the theme was the State Opening we began our tour on the opposite side of the complex, in the Victoria Tower:

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We proceeded through the Palace of Westminster (commonly referred to as the Houses of Parliament) from the Victoria Tower to the clock tower (aka Big Ben) accompanied by Joanna’s excellent commentary on the history of the building, the explanations and historical significance of the traditions associated with the State Opening, the current practices of Parliament (which can change relatively easily in comparison to the US, since the UK doesn’t have a written constitution), and the general history of the English monarchy which was illustrated by paintings  throughout the tour.

We finished the tour where we started, in Westminster Hall, where in 1649 they chopped off Charles I’s head and simultaneously planted the seeds for the eventual development of modern-day autonomous government.  I should have put it together prior to my visit, but the current practices of Parliament are a direct result of the English Civil War, the Glorious Revolution and the subsequent cultural shifts that happened over the course of the Enlightenment era. Aka everything I’ve been reading, writing, and talking about in classes for the last three months. It was fun to see how the time period I’m studying connects in a very real, powerful way to today’s 21st-century government.

IMG_0582Inside Westminster Hall

After the tour, my boyfriend and I headed over to a friend’s house for homemade pizza, drinks, and good company. We chatted, ate, made some new friends and ended up enjoying the atmosphere so much that we missed the last train for home. At that point, we realized were left with some pretty unfortunate transportation options.

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Fun times with friends=don’t want to leave=miss the train=night bus 😦

I knew the night buses existed but had always been cautioned against taking them if it could be avoided at all costs. Now I know why. BUT, since neither Jarin nor I had taken one before, we figured it couldn’t be that bad. Plus we were extremely far away from home and financing a cab ride for that distance would have required another loan. The fact that it was raining didn’t really lend itself to the enjoyableness of the experience, but to sum it up quickly: night(mare) buses don’t have the fleet size or run as frequently as regular daytime buses SO you wait longer for one to arrive, ride longer since they have extended routes, get some…interesting characters considering they are the cheapest form of transportation after 1am, and have much less personal space than usual on a bus. And did I mention the ride is longer? Like, significantly longer. What is normally a 45-minute tube ride turned into a 3-hour marathon. Didn’t get home til 3:30.

Good thing the next day was a Sunday 🙂 It was worth it for the experience, but I’ll be making it a point to get to the tube on time from now on.

All-in-all though, it was an excellent Saturday!

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 Takeaway Tidbit: Visit Parliament. And avoid night buses. Most importantly, pizza parties with friends are the best.

“Why London?”: The Academic Version

International students hear that question all the time, particularly from native Londoners. My response is usually a quizzical eyebrow raise coupled with, “Why not?!?”

For me especially, London made sense. English literature was born and raised and still exists today in England (crazy, right?) so why would I study anywhere else? London in particular has several advantages for students that aren’t found anywhere else: first-rate research facilities, world-class universities (London has 7 universities in the top 200, more than any other city in the world), eminent and acclaimed professors and a plethora of free lectures and other cultural opportunities. And these are only the academic benefits! …Social benefits will be its own post 🙂

The British Library, which is arguably the world’s best research library. A library card here provides access to around 150 million items, with 3 million added each year. They house the Magna Carta, some of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, and Beatles manuscripts, among other treasures. The other items include manuscripts, journals, magazines, newspapers, prints and drawings, videos, and obviously much more. You’d be hard pressed to find a topic for which resources don’t exist in the British Library.

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The British Library (photo source: Sussex Doctoral School Blog)

Senate House Library, to which I owe my ability to participate in class discussions. The University of London system allows all students within the cohort to access this library, which has over 150,000 books. Because of its size and ease of access many of the professors at Queen Mary assign secondary reading material housed there. The staff doesn’t know me by name yet, but I’m currently sprinting my way down that path.

Archives abound in London. Most universities or public institutions have archives associated with the organization, so if you’re doing research on a specific topic there is probably an institution to help you with your research. The National Portrait Gallery has the Heinz archive and library, the Poetry Library has every piece of poetry published in Britain from 1912 to today, the Dr. Williams’s Centre for Dissenting Studies has a unique collection of puritan, Protestant, nonconformist and dissenting literature…Essentially, if you can’t find resources for your research in London it means you’re not looking hard enough.

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The National Gallery during a festival. (The Gallery faces Trafalgar Square, where a lot of free events are held. The square is also the ending point for most protest marches in London.)

Museums here are often free, which is even more impressive when you see the caliber of exhibits on display. The National Gallery features work from masters like Rembrandt, Monet, van Gogh, Michelangelo, Raphael, and da Vinci–for free. The Natural History Museum, also free, has an incredible dinosaur exhibit, a volcanoes and earthquake gallery with an earthquake simulator, and life-sized models of animals and creepy-crawlers both living and extinct (they have a life-sized blue whale in the mammals gallery). These are just two of more than 240 museums that exist in London, and most institutions also have seasonal exhibits (although these exhibits usually have an entry fee). The British Library is currently featuring an exhibit on the Gothic Imagination, which I can’t wait to visit.

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View of Hintze Hall, entryway of the Natural History Museum. That’s a Diplodocus ready to greet you as you arrive.

For factual information about why London is truly the best place to earn your degree and to figure out how you can get over here yourself, check out this blog post.

Takeaway Tidbit: For research and general academia, there’s no place like London 🙂