London, city of pleasure!
My semester abroad just finished and I have already missed the wonderful time I had in the capital of the UK for the past five months, from January to June 2016. I participated in an exchange program at the University College London (UCL), one of the most well-rated universities in England. I do believe that London is a city which is a “must-live” for every person, even for a few months. It is absolutely true that the pace of life is really fast and the majority of people are almost always in a busy mood. However, it is magnificent. There are so many things to do. After being there for five months and despite doing my best to make the most out of my time, I am sure that there are plenty of places that I did not discover. My impression of London (apart from the university experience, which would require more analysis) could be categorized as stated below:
Multi nationality & Multiculturalism
If I had one pound for every British colleague I had in my classes in UCL, I would now be wealthier for about three pounds. It is a fact that Britons are the minority on the capital of their country. London, which hosts almost the population of the whole Greece, is really open and receptive to people from other countries either from the EU or from overseas. Does a better evidence exist than the newly elected Mayor who has Pakistani background? As it became obvious from the referendum results, the presence of the immigrants does not make the Britons happy. It is obvious that the people coming from other countries are generally much more educated than the indigenous and this is the real reason why so many Britons are obliged to leave the capital and to move to smaller cities in the province of the UK. Personally, I really enjoyed meeting and communicating with people from all-over the world (from Asia to America and from Persia to India) and I am really excited that I will keep talking with many of them. There is no better way of widening your horizons than interacting with people with different cultures, values and ways of life.
In Athens, by paying fifteen euros per month I can comfortably use all the public means of transportation and move through the whole city. So you can probably predict my reaction when I understood that the monthly travel card for students, only for the zones one and two (London’s transportation system is divided in eight zones, the first one is in the core of the city and the eighth is even further than airport Heathrow is) would cost me a bit less than six times the amount of money I was paying in Greece. However, they are really well organized. Buses run literally all the time. The night buses are more frequent than the daylight ones in my city. The tube, even if it is like trying to revive moments from the past, it reflects a really spectacular sensation — maybe this is the result of not having to use it on rush hour. You may have to pay a lot but you can go anywhere in this -huge- city with the public transportation. And this is really important.
For a new-comer in the lone life (this is, away from family home for the first time) who does not know how to cook an egg, it is really important to have a variety of options when he needs something to eat. Despite the major attempts of my relatives to provide me with homemade food, I faced the situation of being in my room without anything to eat. Even the Asians who were in love with our common kitchen, they occasionally have the right to take some time off. The solution? Could not be simpler: many food choices for all the tastes. The first time I saw sushi in fast-foods, american burger restaurants exist literally on every corner and many organic food providers, ready to satisfy even the more pretentious customers. The food prices are not any different from the majority of things in London (way too expensive), unless you can satisfy yourself by just buying food in supermarkets: in that way, you can save a lot of money!
There are simply numerous answers on the question “How will I make the most out of my night in London?”. Pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants are ready to serve every single preference. From Camden to Shoreditch and from Covent Garden to Islington, visitors can find what they really want: a relaxing cocktail in a 500ft tall skyscraper with a panoramic view of the city, a beer in a rock pub or a long night out until early morning in the clubs. The prices are (as always) relevant to the kind of the entertainment you want to experience. An average price for a beer in a pub could be said that is about four to six pounds and for a cocktail eight to twelve. A very new experience for me was the UCL Union’s bars which are situated inside the campus and offer access to the university's students with a really enjoyable atmosphere and music as well as cheap drinks.
Must see and do
There is no person in this world having visited London without taking pictures of Big Ben, London Eye, Oxford Street and Thames. But these are the mainstream touristic attractions. There are plenty of other places which are worth a visit: the British museum (especially for the Greeks), the Natural History Museum, the Royal Albert Hall, the Royal Festival Hall and Southbank, the British Library, all these amazing parks (Hyde, Holland, Regent’s, Green, St. James), the Harrods, the Piccadilly circus, the Shakespeare's Globe, the breath-taking Tower Bridge as well as the only-for-pedestrians Millennium Bridge, the St Paul’s, the St. Sophia orthodox church and many many more. Football fans are strongly advised to take a tour of the Emirates and Wembley stadium and if they have the chance even to attend a match on those places.
Money makes the world go round..or not?
Coming to an end of this short-description of my London experience, it should be stated that London’s prices are not affordable for the majority of the people living in this world. The only way to stay there for more than a couple of (student) years is to find a good job. The salaries are really high, comparing to those in other European capitals but it is really difficult to make some savings — unless you work in the bank system. The rents are extremely high and in most cases, more than the half of the salary goes on them. So, which is the case if you want to spend some years in London? Do some fund-raising activities and search(scholarships, parents, fees discounts), be selected in a good university for a MSc and just after that the road has almost already opened. Just do the right selections and enjoy it!
Overall, if your university has an agreement with an university in London for an exchange program, now you know what you have to do. In case you want to fall in love with a city do not overthink it: LIVE IN LONDON.