London Lantern

Putting the Spotlight on London

Four Months In London: A Student’s First Impressions Of The City

25/03/2005, By Andrea Meuleners

Reader Rating: 2.9 from 15759 votes

Itís been two months since Iíve returned from London and I canít seem to get the city out of my mind. Although I only spent four months there on a fine arts exchange program through my school, it certainly was an unforgettable experience. Throughout my semester in London, I grew from being a tourist to feeling like a true ďLondonerĒ. My first impressions of the city are really quite funny looking back now. When our group of students arrived at Heathrow airport, after an 11 hour overnight flight from Minneapolis to Iceland and finally to London, we were all quite groggy and jet-lagged.

Sitting in a middle seat for the entire flight is not my idea of fun, I remember feeling relieved to see that someone was actually there at the arrivals gate holding a sign up for us. We pulled our heavy and over packed suitcases across the airport and outside where it was a bright and sunny September morning in London. A coach bus drove us into the city and initially I found it was quite different from what I had imagined it to be. There were no tall buildings and everything seemed so close together.

The city extended much farther than I ever thought it would. When we flew in over the city we never saw the edge, it continued for as far as one could see and to the horizon. I had always thought that London would be a European version of New York City. But it is so much more than that. London is cosmopolitan; an eclectic mix of new and old that is constantly changing. The city has a beat of its own.

The Neighbourhood

The streets around our neighbourhood of the Royal Borough of Kensington were quaint and diverse. French cafes, Indian restaurants and trendy, expensive shops lined the streets. When we arrived at our flat I was surprised to find out how centrally located it was. Kensington Gardens was literally across the street from us and it was always beautiful! There were rows of old oak trees and flowers throughout the park. The grass was always bright green from all of the rainy weather. Kensington palace, the Diana memorial, and Hyde Park were also right outside our door.

On the weekends I would walk on the paths in the park and watch all the Londoners gather to play football, rugby, walk their dogs or just sit in the sun. Believe me, when there is a sunny, cloudless day in London, which is a rare occurrence, everyone seems to gather in the park. There are playgrounds in there for the children, Italian fountains, ice cream vendors and even places to go swimming or boating. All this open space is located right in the middle of a huge city!

On our first Saturday night in London a group of students and I headed to Piccadilly Circus on one of the famous double-decker red buses. Reliable bus number nine was always outside our door, heading in the direction of Piccadilly Circus and Aldwych. My first experience on the bus was unforgettable. I remember thinking that the bus seemed to travel very fast on such busy city streets! People are always running across the road or in the middle of an intersection since there are no pedestrian or jaywalking laws. It sometimes seems like the bus or one of the famous black taxi cabs are going to run them over since they are entitled to the right of way, but somehow the pedestrians get out of the way just on time.

Piccadilly Circus

Overall, driving in London appears to be based on being aggressive yet always being alert of everything surrounding you at the same time. If you come from a country where you drive on the right-hand side of the road then you probably would never want to try driving in London. Instead, utilize the public transportation system, which is very convenient despite what the residents in London will tell you. Everyone that lives in the city seems to hate the transportation system because of its occasional delays or engineering shut-downs, yet they have no idea what it is like to come from a country where you have to be dependent on a car in order to get anywhere.

When our bus reached Piccadilly that first Saturday night, our group tried to exit out the front door by the driver and everyone looked at us like we were tourists. For those of you that are going to London for the first time, if you use the buses make sure you exit out the back door. The front door is only for passengers boarding the bus. Anyway, when we arrived in Piccadilly we found it to be the centre of night life. Itís very similar to Times Square in NYC with its big billboards and lights.

We had our first pub experience at the traditional Red Lion Pub and then walked around the circus like everyone else was doing on that warm summer night. There are many dance clubs located in Piccadilly Circus or Leicester Square that are open until all hours in the night. However, our group of poor college students decided to pass on this option after finding out that most of them have cover charges of about 10 pounds which is comparable to 20 dollars.

Read the column again in May to find out more about my first month in London.

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Re: Four Months In London: A Studentís First Impressions Of The City

By Virtual Londoner 17/05/2005, (Rating: 2.9 from 14766 votes)

Takes me back to my first visit to London :-)

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Re: Four Months In London: A Studentís First Impressions Of The City

By mike turvey 02/04/2006, (Rating: 2.9 from 14598 votes)

I think you got it right on several points. The first few days of my two week stay, I was convinced I was going to see some pedestrian sacrificed on the bumper of a double decker bus, or look out the window to see a young biker being dragged along hooked under the wheel well. I was very concerned at how fast and close the street traffic moved. By day three or four, I had adopted a Londoners attitude, and only noted the near misses as fleetingly curious distractions, if at all.
I also agree in full with your impression of the public transportation system. During my stay, terrorists were busy trying to disrupt it and they failed miserably. The system should be a point of national pride. It is like the British themselves. It just shrugs off any difficulty, fixes what needs to be fixed, and moves quickly back to full service as if nothing had ever been wrong. Very convenient and 9/10 where they're supposed to be when they're supposed to be there.

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