Education Abroad at the University of Westminster

The blog for international students studying at the University of Westminster. With regular updates on what's going on around London and the rest of the UK. We'll also be posting tips and tricks to makes your stay not only more enjoyable, but more affordable!

Permalink Bromley-by-Bow isn’t exactly an inspiring sight, especially not early  on a grey and slightly drizzly Saturday! Thankfully things improved  quite quickly as we headed down towards the Olympic site - nearer the  river the endless sea of concrete that surrounds the Tube station gives  way to little cobbled streets, and buildings that saw their heyday under  the brickwork of Victoria, not under the concrete of Elizabeth II.
The  six London boroughs that will be hosting the Olympics next year are  among the most deprived in the UK; one of the key factors behind  London’s successful 2005 bid was that the Olympics would be hosted in  the more deprived areas of the East End, as this will lead to  regeneration of the area. The face of these boroughs is changing rapidly  as the countdown to the Summer games gets closer, but as you exit  Bromley-by-Bow station you get a glimpse of how huge swathes of East  London have been known to look.
Our guide took us from the  station towards the Olympic park, telling us about the history of the  area as we went. Due to some public transport issues (no DLR service  last weekend!) we embraced one of the key goals of the 2012 Olympic  legacy (“inspire a generation of young people to take part in physical  activity”) and walked over to Stratford.
About twenty  minutes later we were outside the new Westfields shopping centre - and  definitely lost a few people from the tour to the lure of the bright  lights and shops! We caught the tube over to North Greenwich, and then  commandeered a bus to take us into Greenwich itself. A long lunch break  gave us time to snack and explore the area, then we reconvened for a  tour, taking in the Royal Observatory, the Queen’s House and the Painted  Hall.
The Painted Hall is gorgeous, and has a long and  occasionally rowdy history behind it - as you might perhaps expect from a  structure initially designed to be a dining hall for retired sailors.  Anecdotes relate one of these men still being upbraided for public  drunkenness and swearing at the grand old age of 96 - not the worst way  to spend a long retirement. Less scandalously, it also housed the body  of Lord Nelson in 1806. More recently, the Greenwich Naval College came  into play in the new Pirates of the Caribbean film.
After the tour we were free to head home or to stay on and explore a little more.
Permalink Despite all the unusually sunny weather we’ve been having, autumn is now very much upon us – so when we met for the Southbank pub walk at six o’clock it was already dark. Both the London Eye and Southbank look their best at night, I think – the walk over from Waterloo station is lit by blue fairy lights that mark the approach to the Eye and the river bank.

We took a spin round the Eye, giving us a gorgeous view of the city at night, and then the walking tour commenced. Our guide took us the length of Southbank, from the Eye down through London Bridge, and brought us all up to speed on the history of the area, as well as any historically juicy gossip. We stopped at the Royal Festival Hall, British Film Institute and at the Globe Theatre for a chat about Shakespeare, stopping along the way for a quick drink at the Founders Arms. Situated right on the river bank, this was a perfect stopping point to make the most of the view.

Moving on, we wound our way through the cobbled alleys and streets of London Bridge, taking in the infamously tasty Borough Market and the still slightly spooky Clink prison on the way. The tour ended on a slightly sobering note with a stop at the Crossbones Graveyard. This was once a working graveyard for working women; prostitution was illegal inside the City of London, but in this neighbourhood prostitution was licensed, and taxed, by the Church. Despite taxing the trade of these women, they were not allowed to be buried in holy ground – and so this little necropolis came into use, euphemistically entitled the Single Women’s Graveyard.

The tour officially ended here, but many split into groups and went on to explore pubs in the area.
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Permalink South Bank: part 4
It’s  here at last- the final instalment of the South Bank series. This week  we’ll start from Borough Market, and end at the famous Tower Bridge (NOT  London Bridge!). As with previous posts, we’ll only be highlighting a  few of the MANY things to be found, and in the future we hope to have a  blog on the ‘Secret South Bank’, highlighting some of the lesser known  places to wine, dine and encounter.

Borough  Market (above) is often cited as one of the main instigators of the London food  revolution. It brought good quality food to the heart of the city at a  time when London’s reputation for food was flagging. Now, every  Thursday-Saturday, the place is buzzing with people scouting out for a  quality joint of lamb, or a fresh bag of vegetables. It is home to  ‘London’s Best Butcher’ the Ginger Pig, which can also be found close to  the Marylebone campus, on Moxon Street, Marylebone. The meat is pricey,  but succulent and worth the money. Alongside the Ginger Pig you can  find many other meats, notably game, which hangs from various posts  advertising their freshness. Hare or pheasant anybody? Not only is is  famous for its food, it’s also featured in a number of film and  television shows; perhaps the most notable being Harry Potter and  Bridget Jones. As well as stalls selling fresh produce, you can also  find a wide array of quality restaurants and cafés including Rabot  Estate for good chocolate, and the Monmouth Coffee Co. for good quality  coffee.

After  spending a few hours in the market (it’s entirely possible), head  towards the High Street. If you are not sure which direction to go, look  up for Europe’s soon-to-be tallest skyscraper, colloquially known as  The Shard. The Shard (render below) will be a mixed use skyscraper with homes and a  hotel, but most importantly, it will house a vertigo inducing viewing  deck, which often sits above the clouds- a must see for everyone,  especially once the many skyscrapers under construction in the City are  completed in a few years. When you reach the Shard, you’ll be at London  bridge station (Jubilee and Northern Lines). From here, look for Duke St  Hill/Tooley Street. Here you’ll pass a Christmas shop (yes, it’s open  in the summer) and eventually head to a new office development on the  riverside, known as More London. Here, you can grab a tea from one of  the various chains, and head towards the riverside, where you’ll find  the new and old fuse in a way that perhaps only London can achieve.

Across  the river you have the towers of the City, looking impressive in their  small cluster. Yet to the right, your eyes will be pulled to the  medieval roots of the Tower of London (Tower Hill tube station) where  you can see the Crown Jewels and learns about all of it’s famous  prisoners. To the right of Tower Hill you’ll see Tower Bridge (main picture), London’s  iconic landmark. The bridge is actually quite new, built towards the  start of the Victorian era, designed to look older than it is. It’s  worth crossing just because you can, but there is a tourist trap known  as the London Bridge Experience, and you can sometimes climb to the top.  Follow @twrbrdg_itself on twitter to see if you can nab a photo of the bridge opening and  closing. From there you’ll come back to where you’ll stand and you’ll  see London’s City Hall, dubbed many names from the glass eye, to the  glass testicle. Pleasant. In the summer, there are many events and  festivals on the green, which is also a splendid place to sit and relax  with mates. In the cooler winter months, perhaps it’s best to wrap up  warm with a hot-drink in hand and take a few snaps before walking across  the bridge towards the Tower of London and taking refuge in the tube.

We  hope you enjoyed our South Bank Series, it certainly took a while, but  we hope you’ll find it useful. We finish in time for the few people on  the Westminster Social Programme who will be coming on a pub walk here  on Thursday. We are sure you’ll have fun. As mentioned earlier in the  post, keep an eye out for future posts regarding the South Bank,  including hidden gems. We’ll also be posting a map of the route  described very soon.

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Permalink Crisp, blue skies and sunshine - gorgeous weather for a day out in England’s oldest university town!
We  bundled onto the coach outside Madame Tussauds and headed toward our  first stop, the Cotswolds. We explored the town of Bourton-on-the-Water,  the population of which quite possibly tripled while we were there.  Recently voted one of the prettiest villages in England, this was a  wonderful way to start a day steeped in a certain old country charm.
In  Oxford, our guide took us on a quick walking tour to help everyone get  their bearings, and set us loose for lunch - giving us all an  opportunity to explore the town. An hour later we reconvened on the  steps of Christ Church College. Founded by Cardinal Wolsey (we’ll hear  and see more of him when we go to Hampton Court Palace in December),  this College is also home to the Hogwarts Great Hall, as well as once  serving as inspiration for certain elements in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in  Wonderland. All of the Oxford Colleges have a wealth of history behind  them, but arguably Christ Church is the one that most captures the  public imagination at the moment - Harry Potter has a lot to answer for!  We briefly visited Brasenose College (infamously named after its bronze  door knocker, in the shape of a nose) - more recently notable alumni  include our ever popular Prime Minister David Cameron.
After an unprecedentedly smooth journey back into London, we all went our separate ways to make the most of our Saturday night.
Next event - next Wednesday for the Southbank walking tour/pub crawl.
-Camilla
Permalink It  may have been a long time coming, thanks to the Oxford Trip, Circle  Line Pub Crawl and other events, but hopefully this blog post will  impress.
Part  two left us at the Blackfriars bridge diversion. You will be diverted  due to the creation of a new railway station (Blackfriars) which will  span the whole of the River Thames, placing the first station on the  South Bank for over 50 years. Just down the road from the diversion is  Southwark tube station, should you want to start the tour from here. So  after you have de-toured, you will see a rather impressive brick  structure. This is the Tate Modern.
 
The  Tate Modern is a modern art museum house in a disused Power Station  which was decommissioned in the 1980s. Curated in the 2000, the  galleries hold works from artists as diverse as Matisse and Picasso.  With over 4.7m visitors a year, the space carries over twice the number  of people as it’s nearest rival, the New York Museum of Modern Art, yet  it only has half the space, which is why you will see development works  on the site here too. Something which I’m sure many of you will have  realised by now is that London is a constant building site; the city’s  image changes constantly. The Tate modern is famous of its series of  installations- the Unilever Series. Tacita Dean is the latest artist to  be housed here, and although it may not be as fun as the famous slides,  or the sun, it is surely worth a watch. Like most museums and galleries  in London, the Tate Modern is free but comes with a suggested donation.  If you wanted to make a day trip, you could also take a ferry from the  pier outside of the Tate Modern, and take a boat to it’s sister gallery  in Pimlico, the Tate Britain.
From  the Tate Modern, not only can you get a pretty decent view of the City  of London (which is slowly developing the nickname ‘fruit-bowl’, due to  the eclectic design of the various current and future (+more) skyscrapers), you  can snap a picture of one of the most famous views of St Paul’s  Cathedral (main picture), focused thanks to the Millennium Bridge. The bridge is now  famous amongst Londoners, thanks to it’s shaky start, literally, but  it’s gaining fame world wide thanks to it’s destruction in Harry Potter  and the Half-Blood Prince (picture below). Take a quick peak inside St Paul’s (TIP:  there is a service at 5pm which means you can enter and hear the choir  for free) and then pop back over the bridge and head left towards the  Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, is a venue built in 1997, based upon the original building which was in a location near by but destroyed in 1613. The Globe is one of the few theatres which is seasonal. No shows are currently being played for the rest of 2011 because the theatre is open air. Guests have to stand up and brave the elements in order to experience the majesty of Shakespeare’s plays. So while there is no much to do now (a proper blog post will be written in the future), it is worth a look when you pass. All the more reason to stay in London in 2012!
After the globe, you can keep heading further East where you’ll pass some pubs and restaurants and a few other tourist attractions such as ‘The Clink Prison Museum' and 'The Golden Hinde' which is a replica of a tall ship where kids can also have slumber parties! You'll then find yourself winding into Borough Market which is where the fifth and final part of our South Bank series will end!
Permalink Part one of the South Bank blogs guided you from the Palace of Westminster  (otherwise known as the House of Parliament) past the London Eye and  towards the IMAX cinema. In this blog, you’ll learn more about the BFI,  the National Theatre, some television studios and the OXO tower. Part  three will then teach you about Blackfriars Bridge, the Tate Modern, The  Millennium Bridge and The Globe Theatre. For those of you who are doing  the Social Programme, you will be doing this with the London Eye and  Pub Walk (on November 3rd) but for those who are not, do not fear! The  Walk is simple. Part 5 will contain a map and we may organise a tour for  everybody once that blog is up.The  BFI (British Film Institute) has its headquarters based on London’s  South Bank, right next to the book market mentioned in part one. For  many it is not only the home of British cinema, but all a place to find  rare reels of film from time gone past. Lately, the BFI Southbank has come into  prominence as the destination for film premiers (along with Westfield  London) whilst Leicester Square is being redeveloped for the Olympics.  Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was one of the biggest films to be premiered  here in recent weeks.From the BFI, you’ll find the National Theatre (main picture).  Architecturally, the theatre is incredibly divisive. Many hate it, yet a  large number hail it as a masterpiece in Brutalist design. Many feel  that it is an ironic building; the worst thing to view, but the place  with one of the best views in London. In the building itself, you can  find an ever-changing gallery with a wide range of works, and 3  theatres, all running a different show. Tickets can often be picked up  for as little as £10, and as always, it’s best to check on their website  for the best deals. Currently, James Cordon is returning to the  theatre. He found fame there as a character in the History Boys (which  was then created into a film staring the original cast) before becoming  the famous comedy actor he is today. He is most famous for playing  Gavin’s friend in the hit BBC show ‘Gavin and Stacey' which is set in  Wales. See if you can grab some clips on YouTube and let us know what  you think!From  the National, you can walk along the river past a rather bland building  on the corner just before OXO tower. This building is actually a  television studio where daytime show ‘This Morning’ is filmed. In the  summer, they often have features filmed on the South Bank. Also on this  corner, is the infamous South Bank Beach. The Thames is a tidal river,  so there is often the opportunity to build a sneaky sandcastle. You can  often find people creating large sand sculptures on this corner, with a  sofa being the most popular piece.
Continuing  your journey, you will pass the OXO Tower. The OXO Tower is so named  for the sneaky bit of advertising on its spire. It was illegal to have  adverts along the Thames and so to get around this, OXO (the company  which makes gravy granules) built windows on the building which just so  happened to spell OXO. It was a clever bit of advertising and it has  since remained. The tower itself is mainly residential, but there are a  few art shops and galleries at it’s base, and a restaurant and bar up top; with  stunning views across the river. You are allowed to see the view from  the restaurant, just go up the lift and be friendly with the staff and  you should be fine!
Once  you’ll left the OXO tower you will come across a diversion. It is  clearly signposted and will lead you to the Tate Modern. It is at this  point that part three shall commence!
Permalink Wales Weekend
For the first trip on this semester’s Social Programme, we were all lucky enough to find ourselves whisked off to Wales, leaving at 7 in the morning, just as it was getting dark. As one of our guide Eric said, we were probably the least hungover group he’s ever had so early on a Saturday morning, so kudos to us all!
For much of the drive through London, Eric (and I’m sure the other guide on the other bus) talked a lot about some of the sites as we were passing through. Despite many of these little facts being interrupted by the Rugby, it was interesting none-the-less.
Once we hit the motorway, we were free to doze off to our hearts content, stopping only for the service station. Once we approached wales, over the giant Severn Bridge, we were told about our activities for the weekend and given information on what we were going to see that day. First stop for us was Caerleon, supposed birth-place of King Arthur. We also learned about the ancient Roman settlements and got to imagine how it must have been, 2000 years ago.
We then headed towards Caerphilly Castle, which you can see at the top of this post. Here we were told of the plot against the King and the most horrid punishments which were bestowed upon him and his ‘friend’, right after our lunch. As our guide said- it was rather romantic!
After a tour of the castle, we headed into the countryside towards the Museum of Welsh Life. This 100 acre site showed off all the history of Wales through its buildings, from old mining houses to the grand manor house.
After an hour exploring the grounds, we headed off to our luxury hotel in Swansea, where most enjoyed the eye-opening nightlife, and where some just stayed in bed to watch the X-Factor, knowing we had to be up again for our action packed Sunday.
On Sunday, with some of us worse for wear, we headed straight to the Big Pit, which is an old mine. We were given the chance to head down and experience the dark and claustrophobic environment that children as young as 10 had to suffer. It was an sobering experience, I’m sure many agree. From there, we took a quick trip to the town on Monmouth (passing a pimped out car with a Dukes of Hazards style horn) to grab some lunch, before heading to the old Cistercian abbey called ‘Tintern Abbey’, found on the bank of the River Wye. We learned of Henry VIII’s hatred of the Catholic church and were told about how the Abbey became the way it is today- a beautiful ruin.
After the Abbey, we had the trip back to London which was largely uneventful and was an opportunity to watch a film or catch up on some sleep!
Our next trip will be to Oxford and the Cotswolds, so we look forward to seeing you all there!
Permalink London’s South Bank: Part 1
The South Bank is one of London’s finest places: it is a diverse collection of cafes restaurants, cinemas, theatres, tourist attractions, historical and modern architecture, museums and galleries. In fact, there is so much to do, multiple trips are often required.
The best place to start your South Bank experience is from Westminster Underground Station (Circle, District and Jubilee lines) which coincidentally, has won a number of awards and was nominated for the Stirling prize for outstanding architecture. Although not on the South Bank, Westminster is only a short walk across the bridge, and when you come out of the station, you are greeted with an up-close and personal view of the Houses of Parliament (a blog post about that at a later date!).
Once you have taken your photos, walk across the bridge, towards the famous London Eye (pictured). The first city wheel of its kind, the Eye was built in 2000 with the expectation of it lasting no more than 5 years. 11 years on, and it’s going nowhere any time soon. From the eye you are given unrivaled views across the city and the chance to relax as you float above the crowds of the South Bank Below. The best time to hop on the London Eye would be in the Autumn or Spring, when the nights are not too early, so as you go up you get to see London in the Light, and as you go down, you get to see London in the dark. The journey takes approximately 30 minutes.
From the London Eye, head east and you’ll come across the Royal Festival Hall (which is part of the Southbank Centre): A concert venue playing live music every night, with a small gallery on the lower level. There is a wide selection of restaurants for you to choose from when it comes to dining out, from chains such as Las Iguanas to the Skylon Restaurant, named after the Skylon installation which was part of the Festival of Britain- the festival which sparked the development of the Southbank.
Outside of the Southbank Centre, under the bridge is a large book market which is open daily. It features a large range of cheap second hand books and selection of historical maps from London, the UK and Europe. There’s nothing like buying your book, heading to the bar and ordering a glass of wine, and sitting outside reading your new purchase as the people bustle by.
If you take a right after the book market, you’ll find the UK’s largest cinema screen, housed in the IMAX. Continue your journey along the river and you’ll pass the National Gallery, where part 2 of our South Bank Tour shall commence!
Image taken from: http://unpics.com/get/5166/
Permalink As many of you  are aware, London has a whole plethora of museums and galleries for you  to spend your free time in, many of which are free of charge.
The National Gallery, The British Museum, The Museum of London, The Tate Modern; these are some of London’s greatest and will be featured, along with some lesser known ones, later in the year.
Today though, we’ll be discussing the Museums of South Kensington, an  affluent part of London, just West of Central, and a great place to  spend a lazy Sunday.
Luckily for the discerning traveler, there is a tube station called  “South Kensington” and it can be found on the Piccadilly and Circle and  District Lines (both of which have few stairs to climb…) but as always  when traveling in London, it’s best to check before you travel!.   Other stations in the area include Knightsbridge (Piccadilly Line),  which has an entrance next to Harrods, and Gloucester Road (Piccadilly,  Circle and District Lines). 
RANDOM TUBE FACT There used to be a Station called Brompton Road on the Piccadilly Line  between Knightsbridge and South Kensington. See if you can spot the old  entrance as you walk down towards Harrods from South Kensington Station.  CLUE: Think Oxford Circus station. 
A History
There are 3 famous museums in South Kensington. The Natural History Museum, The Science Museum, and The Victoria and Albert Museum (known  locally as the V&A). All these museums came into being in the  Victorian age- the period in British history when Queen Victoria ruled  the Empire. She, and her husband Albert, founded something known as The Great Exhibition.  It took place in Hyde Park in a fantastic structure known as “The  Crystal Palace”, designed by Joseph Paxton and it covered nearly 1  million square feet. Like London’s Millennium Dome (which  will be discussed in a later entry), many thought it would be a  complete failure, however, unlike the Dome, it was an unprecedented  financial success and the proceeds from the exhibition went on to fund  the museums we are lucky enough to have today. Many of the educational  and cultural attractions in the area (including the Royal Geographical  Society and the Royal Albert Hall) are there thanks, in part, to Prince  Albert- giving the area the nickname “Albertopolis”.
So that’s how the museums came into being; what is each one like and what else can I do in the area?
The easiest way to access the museum from the tube is to take a right  as you leave the ticket gates and follow the signs down a tilled  passage way. They will lead to the each of the 3 main museums. If you  are taking a bus, just as the driver to drop you off at the nearest  museum (Numbers 360, 414, 74, 14 and C1 all pass the V&A)
The Science Museum
With over 300,000 items in their collection, the Science museum aims  to document human advanced in technology, from lamps to locomotives.  Like the Natural History Museum, there are many interactive exhibits and  sometimes there are touring exhibitions which provide a lot more detail  on a specific area of interest, though these do often include a small  fee. The museum has a cafe and restaurant and disabled facilities.
For more information visit: www.sciencemuseum.org.uk
The Natural History Museum
I first visited this museum when I was 9 years old. It was magical.  The anamatronic T-Rex amazed me and the earthquake simulator was so much  fun (perhaps taking away the point of an earthquake). I remember loving  the life-size model of the blue whale and getting upset when my camera  ran out of film so I couldn’t take a photograph to show mum and dad.
A decade later I came back, a few things had changed, I’d put on a  lot of weight for instance, and the museum had also added a few new  exhibits. The dinosaurs still looked awesome and I could appreciate the  beauty of the entrance hall so much more. The place does look a little  dated in place, but don’t let that put you off. This place is free and a  wonderful option to spend a few hours in. Like the Science Museum,  there are many interactive displays and there are visiting exhibits  which, whilst they carry a cost, can be very interesting.
For more information visit: www.nhm.ac.uk
The Victoria and Albert Museum (The V&A)
For some reason, I found myself never really wanting to go to this  museum and for the life of me I can’t think why. All I can say now  though is “GO!”. It is a marvellous building devoted to documenting  world culutre through items such as ceramic, fashion, art, furniture and  jewelery.
The museum has recently benefited from a £150m renovation program,  adding to the clean, professional yet approachable approach to the  museum.
If you had guests down for the weekend, and you only had time to see  one museum, and you were in South Kensington, then this would be the one  I recommend. Many would say the other two are greater, for various  reasons, but there’s only one way of knowing and that’s by visiting them  all yourself! Let us know what you think, comment here, or discuss on Facebook- we’d love to hear what you think! 
For more information visit: www.vam.ac.uk
Out and About: South Kensington 
There are other attractions in South Kensington apart from the  museums. Harrods is always popular for visitors to London and is only a  short walk away if you are in the area. There are many other high-end  shops to discover and the usual array of chain food stores such as EAT.,  Pret, and Yo. For something different, why not try a bacon buttie  (sandwhich) from the stand in the middle of Thurloe Place, just before Brompton Road, near the V&A- all the taxi drivers eat here! Alternatively, why not pop in to Seasons on Thurloe Street,  which do some nice cheap meals such as a ‘full English’ and some fish  ‘n’ chips. If you have a bit more money to splash out, why not try some  of the recommendations on ViewLondon, such as Cassis, which is owned by an award winning chef. A word of warning, like many restaurants in London, this can be pricey at £30 a meal.
So there you have it. A blog post on the Museums of South  Kensington. We hope you’ve found it useful. If you’ve get some pictures  of your time around South Kensington then share them! Post them on here  or on Facebook!
Image from: here
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