It’s always darkest before the dawn

Although has been reporting 4 something sunsets, London’s cloud coverage writes it’s own rules.  I thought Michigan had trained me well for dark winters, but it’s a bit unsettling when daytime and lunchtime are almost synonymous… in November.  As much as I find myself wishing for more sunlight, the darkness has created a most adequate backdrop for the festivities that have been taking place over the last two weeks.  Since these Oct-Nov festivities are quite different here than they are in the States, I thought I’d share some brief perspectives:


31 October – Halloween

  • Not as big of a celebration over here. Very optional participation.
  • Costumes = frightening & gory.  Lots of face paint: white faces with dark, sunken-in eyes and blood-red accents.
  • I celebrated Halloween at the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens Fire Festival.  Turns out this is not really a Halloween celebration at all– more like a pre-game for Guy Fawkes and Armistice Day.  No Monster Mash or Thriller, but a nice jazz rendition of Katy Perry’s Firework seemed oddly fitting.
  • Perhaps this is an effect of large cities and smaller personal bubbles, but the fireworks were shot off much closer to the crowd than would happen at a public event back home.  I’d bet that the people up front had to comb a good bit of debris out of their hair.

1 November – All Saint’s Day

  • Typically a holy day of obligation within the Catholic Church, since Nov 1 fell on a Saturday festivities were lumped in with the Sunday mass on Nov 2.

2 November – All Soul’s Day

  • …and since All Saint’s Day was pushed back, so was All Soul’s Day.
  • From KCL’s Chaplaincy: “On Monday 3 November at 18.15 we will be having a Requiem in a Time of Remembrance. This will be a choral (Anglican) Eucharist at which the choir will be singing a Mass setting by Victoria. It is an opportunity to remember friends and family who have died and we will be reading their names out during the service. If you would like someone’s name to be read out there will be lists in the Chapel for you to write names on.”
  • This service was of special significance because of the sudden loss of a KCL’s renowned choir director, David Trendell, the week before.  Choir alum joined the regular choir doubling its normal membership for that evening.  A truly remarkable service.

5 November – Guy Fawkes’ Night

  • Remember, remember the 5th of November…
  • It’s kind of crazy walking past main landmarks in V for Vendetta.
  • aka: “Bonfire night” — I didn’t go to any bonfires, but there were lots of firework shows throughout the city on the 5th, 6th, 7th…

11 November – Armistice Day

  • Between the poppy display at the Tower of London and the Poppy Appeal that has been going strong for the last few weeks, this feels more like a season than a 24 hour holiday.
  • The Sunday closest to November 11 (this year– Sunday, November 9) is called Remembrance Sunday.  I was out of London for this weekend, but I was told that there are some very proper services.  At the church service I was attending in Cornwall, there was a moment of silence at 11am followed by special prayers for veterans.

Many thanks to all veterans (with a special shout out to my dad!)  for the sacrifices you have made in serving our country.

Week 1: Call me a tourist?

This officially marks the end of my 1st week in London. Since classes haven’t yet started, I’ve had a remarkable amount of free time to see London.  Though I’m hesitant in calling myself a tourist– I know how to navigate multiple forms of public transit, I shop at the grocery, etc– I am many moons away from being considered a local. In the past few days, I’ve taken advantage of navigating myself to some of the more popular sites as well as some places off the beaten path. For the geographically inclined people out there, enjoy this map:


Roman Catholic Church of the English Martyrs

I really enjoy participating in mass when I travel because in addition to the religious aspects, it provides a unique perspective on the culture and community.  On Sunday I went to “Roman Catholic Church of the English Martyrs” since it was in the direction of the Whitechapel art gallery that I was planning to visit that afternoon with some friends I met during orientation.  Their 9am mass– one of two masses that are said at that parish each Sunday–  had ~50 people most of whom were 2, 3, and 4 times my age.  Hymns were led by one man singing very loudly in the back of the church and and each member of the congregation could pick up a hymnal (or rather, prayer book as it only had words and no music) on their way into the church.

Fitting to the church’s namesake, one of the petitions and a good portion of the homily was focused on David Haines, the British man who was recently beheaded by Isis.  Though Mr Haines was not a parishioner of that parish and it is reasonable to suppose that nobody in the church that morning knew him directly, they came together to grieve for the loss of one of their. In a somewhat strange way, by being invited to share in this grief, I was able to more fully connect with the parishioners and participate in the mass.

Petticoat Lane & Old Spitalfield’s Market

Mostly pictures. Definitely worth a visit if you find yourself in London. It is less crowded and less touristy than many of the places in Central London.

The Whitechapel Gallery featured modern art, but no photos were allowed.  We then headed to the WWI poppy memorial displayed at the Tower of London. It was amazing to compare these two modern exhibitions.  While I didn’t mind keeping a rather quick pace throughout the multilevel Whitechapel Gallery, I trailed along the edge of the Tower of London for quite some time.  Though I haven’t developed a definition of art in general terms, I know it when I see it.

We also found ourselves in the midst of the Tour de Britain. Apparently I’m good at finding bike races, because the Tour de Polone ended in Krakow when I was studying abroad there last summer.

Tour de Britain
Tour de Britain




Classic Boat Rally, St Katherine Docks

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Tower Bridge & The Scoop

On our walk back into Central London, we happened past the Totally Thames festival which focused on celebrating the local area.  In addition to the earth-fairy hats (see picture below) there was a petting zoo and a Sing for Water performance at the Scoop, an outdoor amphitheater.


British Museum

Another popular place to visit, even on a Monday!

After visiting Athens last summer, I was a bit disappointed to learn that many sculptures from ancient Greece were actually in the British Museum in London.  We have nice facilities, we’ll preserve and display them with care, said the Brits. So Greece built their Acropolis Museum in 2009… but they still didn’t get their artifacts back. Though I’m not necessarily supporting the politics behind this setup, it is certainly exciting for me to have access to this Grecian culture in my London neighborhood.

Ancient Greece exhibit in the British Museum
Ancient Greece exhibit in the British Museum

Even though classes will be starting soon, I’m looking forward to continuing the adventures. Here’s to a year of discovery, of becoming a Londoner and not just a visiting student in London.