Days 9 & 10- The End of an Adventure

On the last free day we all got to sleep in and we had our own plans in split groups. I spent the day with some friends walking through a park to Buckingham Palace and then going on the London eye. We had a final group dinner with Ingrid and Regina and we gave them gifts that were bought and signed as a group to show our appreciation of them. This trip was easily one of the best if not the best trip of my life and a priceless experience. It was the perfect amount of time budget wise and cost wise but wish we could have stayed longer as far as exploring and our growing bonds of friendship.

I have gotten to know so many amazing people on this trip and will forever think back to these days. Functioning as a group of 16 was very difficult at times but once we got past that, which we always did, at the end of the day we were all there for each other. I look forward to seeing what the future holds and what will be built off of the experiences of this trip. I’m able to navigate the London tube system as well so maybe one day going back will be less confusing. For 10 days London was home and for many nights room 515 was home as well. So thankful for the opportunity given by Umass Lowell and our professors for this trip, and to my family who supported me in my decision to go!

Days 7 & 8- Hackathon

So there weren’t as many pictures over the course of these two days and the project my team made may be seen on Otto’s or Reggie’s blogs but I didn’t have any pictures at the moment and I haven’t had the chance to look at other blogs just yet! I will do less of a detailed post about the two days because that could make this longer than the kew gardens post with my memory for details… Instead I will talk generally about the experience and our final project.

Starting off you’re placed into random groups assigned by our coordinator Alex (not to be confused with our persona character). Umass lowell was lucky enough to have groups of 2-3 students per group except brave Ashley who was somehow in her own group with at least 8 or more other people! My group was one of the two smallest groups of only 6 people. Me Reggie and Otto then a women named Anna, Ye Han, and a man named David. They were total strangers but seeing Reggie and Otto’s names I felt our group still had a great chance despite being half the size of other groups! Now the more generalizing part I’m trying to get to.

The first process was to learn things from tables and report back to your groups and to accumulate it all into a general idea of the direction we were going to head into. The problem we had to solve was to help a friend of a depressed person understand or see the signs of depression in their friends. So we created a persona named Alex who was gender fluid and had a depressed friend. Now here’s there the team had to talk things out a lot. We needed ideas on where to head and I felt as if when our team got side tracked I was always able to speak up and hold my ground and aim us in the direction I felt we needed to go into. This became one of my greatest lessons and despite the long hours discussing it was one of my favorite parts of this experience. Everyone especially Ye Han and Anna had a certain idea they wanted to be touched upon more or completely. And I would stop the bickering settle us down and give each person more of what they wanted to hear to be able to narrow things further. I’d  explain others ideas when someone didn’t fully know how to articulate them to someone who didn’t understand. It may be how I’m remembering it but a great deal of the ideas in the final project were ether mine or refined by me before being proceeded with.

Day 2 it was on us to be the designers of our project for the prototype. So we invented ChatCloud (named by Otto) and the exact pitch for our presentation is not with me so I’ll summarize it for this post. ChatCloud is an app that combines all texting apps like iMessage, WhatsApp, and Messenger, into one app that you can read in one place. It used an overall data scanning technology to give a graph of positive and negative based off the linked social media and biometrics to determine if a person is showing signs of depression. It then would alert a friend to invite their friend to play a game with them that is built into the app and possibly give a subtle message about knowledge of depression or early signs of it. The game included is a augmented reality game that allows you to place an augmented item in a digital space using a camera like how snapchat uses filters. The other player had to find the item using their camera and it can be a redeemable thing such as a Starbucks gift voucher. This evolved into a game that you could make your own avatar and when you’re in the game alone you can see other peoples avatars by turning the camera on and a username but no additional information. It would be a completely safe environment and promotes the physical activity of walking around and socializing with friends by playing the game together. The app was designed to battle the early signs of depression and to re-educate and reprogram people into being more social and active. When texting the background would actually have a blurred picture of your camera and we showed a preview of this in our design which was for sure my idea lol. Some complained about battery life but really I didn’t think limiting ourselves was going to help us.

Since I didn’t have a computer with me Otto and Reggie did most of the physical design work. I showed Reggie my process of app making, which ended up taking us a long time being a bit rusty with summer and all, to make the perfect texting screen. But it was so satisfying to see what we had pictured in our heads and pieced it together into an InVision protype. Teaching one on one is something I definitely enjoy and it was exciting to see someone who was equally as passionate about app design as me. Now during all of this we had to have a 5 minute presentation to show off our work and our idea. Our team was stubborn with shrinking the time down from 7 minutes so the last minute before presenting things changed. Because of the chaos the screen me and Reggie made wasn’t shown but just finishing everything was a relief in itself and there were no worries. I didn’t present so I stayed for the questions panel and I further explained part of our app that was missing in the presentation. I thought I was shaking like a leaf as I usually do during presenting but I was told I didn’t which I found surprising. It must have been because I was too overtired to shake. Overall this was an amazing opportunity to meet new people and experience how a firm would work in the real world and I loved every minute of it. Our team didn’t win but that’s okay my friends teams did!

Day 6- Kew Gardens

The Kew Gardens were one of highlights of my entire trip. My huge interest in botany made this like a Disney park of plants for me. One of the most amazing places I’ve ever been. To start off we walked as a full group to the encased palm house which contained various tropics plants from around the world. It was here that I showed a few friends this plant I actually have seen before that when you touch it’s leaves they close up almost immediately. After this we walked as a full group still to the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art. This contained incredible works of botanical paintings that were all scientifically accurate. Our professor Regina Milan does amazing watercolored botanical paintings and it was interesting to see how various artists approached this genre. There were paintings that took up a large amount of space, seeing them in books made them look very detailed, but they actually had the least detail compared to other works. After about 40 minutes here (a place where pictures weren’t allowed) we proceeded to walk outside and head to the cafe. On our way there we were given a small lesson by a bench by Regina on how she approaches her botanical paintings and although it was optional we all stayed to listen. It was inspirational, as she usually is, and we stopped for a quick water break at the cafe.

Now that we were all on our own to see what we wanted for the day there were some decisions to be made. The groups were split on what everyone wanted to do but I drew a map and circled roughly 8 spots I wanted to go to and looked for anyone to be as enthusiastic as me lol. There was a lot of talk but no one was getting up so two of my close friends said they would go with me if we took 45 minutes because they wanted to go shopping. Little did they know this would take us 4 hours 🙂 

So step one on the map was the treetop walkway! The map on the brochure was needless to say horrible because the roads didn’t actually match up to the signs or landmarks. After being lost a bit we made it there and took an elavator up with distorted glass that made us feel dizzy. The walkway swayed in the wind and we saw a skyline view of London in the distance. Fast forwarding and we got lost trying to go from here to the pagoda on the map. We ended up seeing a pond before turning around and eventually made it there.

So we learned the pagoda was being built still or repaired who knows, as can be seen in my picture. And that was a bit of a bummer but the small Japanese gateway house and rock gardens were a nice view. There were women feeding ducks and blocking mostly all the pictures though… 

So next was the wildlife observation center! You can guess we got lost and I blame the map because there was 3 of us and I was not solely directing but I have been known to get people lost many times over this trip (It’s just my poor sense of direction). On our way there we passed the pine trees and redwoods and all these other trees I’ve never seen before. I must have taken pictures of ever species label I saw. We saw a sign that showed how big the giant redwoods could get in relation to the pagoda and they could reach a size of over twice as tall. The trees there were not nearly that height yet so I’ll find them one day. You can probably guess why this garden took us 4 hours but the size of it was actually very large and we walked for a long time to the northern area of the park. Once we got here we were somehow a good distance to the right of where we should’ve ended up. If I was a geographer I would remake their map accurately. But this detour took up to some cool little areas.

We climbed on a log obstacle course that had the species of free written into the wood. We saw a very interesting building that was closed. There was a giant badger den replication that you could crawl in that was pitch black. I crawled through it and ended up on the other side of a hill and had to regroup after. Then we found a woodland walk way that showed how the Forrest of London was in an untouched and sanctuary state. All of which was great to see but started to get tired and had half of the park to cover still!

Walking along the northern part of the map we couldn’t get lost right? Well we didn’t for once but we came to the rhododendron dell and the flowers were already mostly bloomed and fallen off. So this step on the map turned into the bamboo garden just below it. Tried to find the azalea garden and thought we were lost but turns out the flowers had bloomed and fallen off except a few orange and yellow ones. As I took a picture of the orange flower a giant bee almost attacked me so there’s no picture and we peaced out of there. Now I wanted to keep going but someone had to use the bathroom and we got hungry so we stopped at the treehouse towers for lunch (they were umbrellas). I had some sausage and mash potatoes and the next spot on the map was the climbers and creepers.

Fast forwarding again how did we get lost, I don’t know, but we were by the queens garden and had to turn around. I’m all excited to see what I think is a building full of vines. We find it next to where we ate and it was a little kids indoor playground! So needless to say we went back the way we came from and tried to find the herbarium library and archive of extinct plants (exciting stuff I know). This turned out to be by appointment only and we didn’t notice it in small font on the map. So we turned back around and walked along this giant flower walkway with bees chasing me the whole time. We saw this hive art installation but didn’t stop to look at it because we were exhausted and ready to go. Everyone from our trip had already left the garden but we saw the most!

The rest of the day was still fun but I won’t go into nearly that much detail. We went to a shopping area and saw a flea market styled building, and some interesting performances. In fact I was apart of a 20 minute long magic show where a man put a knife through my coat and fixed it with a paper clip. Although he accidently dropped the paper clip on the ground and it had the fake fuzz inside of it when it broke. We saw a violin band, my friends ate Nutella crepes and I was just eager to get back to the hotel before we had plans to go out. Once we got back I ate at this spot next to the Tower of London which became a sort of go to spot if we needed a cheaper(ish) fast meal. I may have rested a little bit but as usual 515 was next spot and we went as a decent sized group to a club that night.

Now we had the hackathon the next day and some people were worried and hesitant about it and this night was about releasing worries and to just have a good time. It was one of the best bonding nightba as we all danced on the dance floor and completely owning this central stage before a decent amount of people actually showed up. What was supposed to be us leaving at 12:30am turned into us leaving at 1am then 2am. But we were all on time and ready for the next day afterwards!

Day 5- V&A and Natural History Museums

On day 5 of our journey we went to the V&A Museum and the Natural History Museum. Inside the V&A Museum we had tickets to see the Balenciaga fashion show. Now I’m not hugely into fashion especially dresses but I took a lot of pictures for my friend who is. It was interesting to see but I was more interested with the looped video they projected on a beam of the dresses morphing from one dress to another in an animation. Continuing through the museum we saw large sculptures and enormous paintings. I couldn’t comprehend the size of the paintings from art history classes even when we were told the scale is larger than our projection screens. This museum also had some interactive exhibits that would tell you a story of the paintings or as my pictures show, provided a dress up station to have some fun with. We walked through exhibits in smaller groups after the fashion exhibit and my group went through the Asian sculpture collection, paintings, silver and gold crafting, medevial weaponry and clothing, and even a modern designed exhibition.

Our groups split again and some of us went to explore the central courtyard and fountain area outside while others went over to the Natural History Museum early. My new smaller group went to the courtyard area which was a bit windy and cold and then straight to the gift shop. We shopped around for a bit and regrouped with a few more people. (My souvenirs from here are being shipped from the hotel because I somehow left them behind). Then we started our walk over to the Natural History Museum. On our way there it started to slightly rain but it went away fast and we saw a street performer playing recent popular songs on a saxophone who was very talented.

We regrouped again with more people inside the Natural History Museums entrance. A giant dinosaur skeleton stood at the bottom of a large escalator that went up into a meteor. It was a cool installation and then we realized what was actually going to be in this museum (we had no clue beforehand). I originally thought it was a museum of just really boring history class-like things because I was told it wasn’t going to be one of my favorites. Little do people know my love of science and my rock collection made this one of my favorite museums. We didn’t spend a lot of time here however which was okay in the grand scheme of things for this day. Our group split and some of us went to the Earths Treasures exhibit that contained gemstones and crystals all over the place in cases. Then we proceeded to the gift store and spent a long time looking at the collections of trinkets, stones, and scientific yet artistic books.

After we settled on what to buy which took about 30-40 minutes, we went outside to the butterfly exhibit. This was tropical room filled with butterflies that we paid 6.5 pounds to get into and it was worth it. A butterfly landed on me and stayed on me for at least 20 minutes while walking through. We saw passiflora flowers along the walls in huge vines which I’ve never seen before. Overall we had many laughs in there and I pointed out almost anything that looked cool over and over (much like the botanical garden in a later post).

Now leaving the museums the group of friends I was with went to find lunch and we passed some street performances. We watched as a magician put a lit cigarette into a mans sweatshirt and then there was no hole, it was unbelievable. Then we watched a dance group of men that looked like they were in their early 30’s and one in his early 40’s do flips and trips and danced nearly on top of two of my friends. Of course I took videos of both performances and we tipped them some pounds for each. We then went to two different places for lunch and I swear I ate at the oldest plance in London and had grilled chicken that was not very good. But my friend got milkshakes and other friends got Mexican food. We then went to a few shopping stores in the area and in one store several people bought tarot cards because we were going to have a tarot reading night in our friends room 515 where we would meet at the end of the day most often.

This was one of the best moment of the trip. Most of us hanging out in 515 where everyone was invited and just genuine bonding time between us. Once we were back at the hotel some us had dinner with Regina and Ingrid at an Italian restaurant with homemade pasta. The pasta and eggs were yellow in London which was weird but the food was delicious after I figured out how to order spaghetti with meat sauce that wasn’t on the menu. After dinner we had rested maybe 30 minutes to an hour before getting onto more plans. That night we did several tarot readings in 515 and the accuracy was unreal this became a theme to later nights. But by 3am it was of course time to sleep and prepare for the next day of fun.

Day 4- Design Museum

We started this day off by going to the Design Museum which was by far one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. There was catalogs of texhnolies and they had things from world of Warcraft, to go pro cameras, google maps, to self driving cars, and a downloadable printed cardboard surfboard. This museum also had extremely detailed gauche paintings I found incredible, especially after using that paint in color theory class and seeing how hard it was to work with. I also really enjoyed seeing the emoji wallpaper. After this we all visited the gift store and we bacially spent at least 30 minutes lookin at the design book section but could have stayed there all day. I took pictures of some books that costed a fortune to hopefully find cheaper online when I’m back home. Me and one friend checked out the other floors of the museum and couldn’t find everyone else but they were at the cafe right next to where we lost them, so I had abbot of a head start looking around upstairs. We met and all did an activity and then we were on our own to see whatever we wanted to see!

All of us ate lunch at a place next door and then went out seperate ways from there. My group went to an art store and then to Saint Paul’s cathedral. Now this was another site that was mind blowing!! I could not even imagine the size of this building from learning about cathedrals in art history courses. We climbed countless stairs in a circle stairway that made me so dizzy. We arrived at a whisper wall where you can whisper on the wall and someone on the wall 30 feet away can hear what you say. It was unbelievable but extremely real. Then more stairs until the first opening to the air. Photos were not allowe inside but who could help but sneak a few before reaching outside, especially art majors. Now only me and one other person continued onto the last 150 steps to reach the very top of Saint Paul’s. Here we had a 360 degree view of the skyline of London which was a first for me. Pictures were slowed outside luckily and I took plenty. The hike back down was exhausting and we explored the World War Two addition of the church, and the crypts underneath.

After getting back to the hotel most of us went to the play wicked which was wicked awesome. The performers were amazing singers and I had not seen that play before and did not know the story! It want my first play or musical but it was very well done and the venue had good seats and a great setting. We got home so late we all ordered food from UberEATS and went to sleep.

Day 3- Underground Maze

On day 3 we experienced the wax museum and the British museum. There is just too much to see and I photographed everything I could. We started off by learning the tube (railway) again and how to connect onto another line. After this day we all pretty much mastered this transportation system and understood the card reader when we had to tap it to enter, exit, and reload money on the cards.

The wax museum had tons of celebrities, then Olympic stars, Sherlock Holmes activity (we did not do), a historic amusement ride, Star Wars characters, marvel characters and a movie of marvel characters in 4D. Afterwards we were in two groups again that separated into 3 groups. Myself and a friend went to see the Sherlock Holmes museum around the corner as others went to the British museum early. We ended up only seeing the gift shop of the Sherlock Holmes museum because it had tons of cool souvenirs and show memorabilia. Afterwards we got lunch at a local small fast food place next to the British museum. The service and food there was great for the price as London tends to be expensive. We then proceeded to join everyone else inside the museum.

Walking into the museum was mind blowing because of the giant columns and sheer size of the structure. We regrouped with 3 people and then split groups as one went to a wood block talk and me and my other friend went to explore the many rooms and levels of the museum. After getting completely lost in all the history and  the vast size of the museum we all met back up at the exhibit we had scheduled for the American Pop art. This was personally a favorite for the museums exhibits as it covered a wide range of mediums and a wide range of detail in the work itself. Seeing Albers color study’s were a favorite of mine as well inside this exhibit.

After the British museum we split up and a group of us went back to the hotel to charge our phones and rest. For dinner most of us had gone to a place around the clever from the hotel and they had delicious food, we sat at 4 tables and enjoyed a long laid back dinner. At the end someone had found a baby bunny outside the window cowering in the corner of the outside of the restaurant. Now we are on a busy street with no close by park visible so we had no idea how it got there. We ended up rescuing it and after spending time with it we set it free in a park that we found not far away. We all hung out afterwards and tried to blog before bed but with everything so exciting going on it’s become a stretch to do on time! 🙂 

Day 2- Tour of London

Day two of London was the longest day of adventures. We started off running to an underground railway route nearby and stopped commuter traffic in order for 16 of us to purchase oyster travel cards. We learned how to use the railway to one stop next to a double decker bus tour stop. We then proceeded onto a double decker tour bus with a tour guide named Steve. It was very informational and we joined another tour on a boat in the river next to the London Eye. On this tour it did start to rain a little but we learned all about the buildings on the river. We stopped at the hotel and a few of us visited the local gift store before meeting at the hotel. Afterwards we got back on the tour bus and we were allowed to part ways and explore on our own with a 24 hour pass to the busses.

We split into two groups to have lunch at two different venues, mine being shake shack. I enjoyed chicken and “fries” since it wasn’t a British chain which would consider them “chips”. We explored a shopping center full of people and even saw a street performer playing music with objects considered trash. Some of the stores we went too were, legit world, m&m world, nickelodeon, many gift shops, and kingdom of sweets candy store. We tried free samples of foreign candy and we also took many photos with objects found around the stores.

Afterwards we got back on the bus to continue the rest of the tour. We saw more great sights and wonderful statues. The bus ride again started to rain and got a bit cold before we made it back to the hotel. We all split up for dinner at this point and me and a friend got chicken nuggets and a veggie burger at a tiny place next to the Tower of London around the corner. We are along the water before it became too windy and cold then headed back to the hotel. After some relaxing time we tried to go out with a larger group to explore some local nightlife. Being a Monday and in the financial district or business district as a local told us, it was not going to be busy. The weather became rainy again and we went next door to the hotel to a small restaurant.

At 10:30pm we learned it closed at 11pm and seeked alternative locations nearby. We waited at a bus stop to learn we couldn’t double tap our Oyster cards to get two people on. Changed plans again and found a closed 24 hour convientant store after walking through rain to get there. Found a very nice motel that lead us to a 24 hour mini bar where I ended up with an Oreo milkshake. Some of us left early and we had to bandage a friends feet because her shoes made her bleed, but it was all a fun experience. We had a great day getting to know new people and seeing new places.

The First Supper

After all of the chaos that has been going on, we have finally arrived and settled into our hotel. The driver on the way here was extremely friendly and said he loves to visit America. We were all treated to coffee and had some time to sight see before our first meal as a group. 

We had dinner at a restaurant called The Dickens Inn where some students enjoyed fish and chips. Overall I look forward to our adventures here in London and the memories we are about to make!