Spring Break Sightseeing

Yesterday was Allegheny’s graduation (congrats class of 2014!) but at LSE, I am just starting exams. I actually have just recently returned to London after a 5 week spring break. I spent roughly 4 of those weeks back in the US spending time with family and friends, but I was able to explore a bit of Europe for the last one!

First, I visited Paris. I was able to see some of the traditional tourist attractions, such as the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and the Arc de Triomphe. I studied French in elementary and middle school, then re-visited the subject a bit during my time at Allegheny, and I was impressed by how much I could remember! Some taxi drivers didn’t understand English very well, and many were happy to help me practice my French skills.


It was very interesting to compare Paris and London. Both of course are historic and have beautifully ornate architecture, but the styles of the cities are a bit different. Paris is very linear: all the hedges, buildings, etc. are aligned and very carefully planned. London doesn’t share this lovely symmetry, but I am a bit more partial to its historical architectural and interior designs.


While in Paris, we also visited the palace of Versailles which is a breathtakingly beautiful place. My favorite is the famous hall of mirrors, mostly for its ornate ceiling and numerous chandeliers.


I also got the opportunity to take a day trip to Normandy. Looking back, this was my favorite part of the trip. We visited German bunkers, Omaha beach, and the American Cemetery in Normandy. Since I am very interested in WWII history, it was incredible to actually experience the locations where history happened. It’s unbelievable to stand on Omaha beach (see picture of me below doing just that) and to imagine the horrors of D-Day happening on that very spot. This was one day trip I definitely won’t soon forget.


Next we spent a couple days in Amsterdam. My favorite part of the visit was our trip to the countryside where we got to see Holland’s famous tulips and windmills. I even got to sit in a giant clog!


However, now all of my fun travels are over and it’s time for me to buckle down for finals. These exams are very stressful, and my last one isn’t until June 17th so I’ve still got over a month left! Better get back to it, but I hope you’ve enjoyed a snapshot of what I’ve been up to.

Sharing London

Meadville, and Allegheny College, is full of beauty. I often miss the rolling hills, brick road paths and especially the trees in autumn when campus is ablaze in brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows.

London, however, has a beauty of its own. While substantially more urban, it possesses much of the historical charm found at Allegheny. Many times while exploring London roads, I  regularly wish I could bring it home to share with my friends and family. While that is impossible, I decided to create a video in which I attempt to capture some of the essence of London. Through this I can (in some small way) share my home for the year. The link to watch that video is as follows: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31hXRhK9W6I.

Trafalgar Square

Additionally, photography has been a long time interest of mine. I have also created a gallery of my own high quality images of London here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/aurley/sets/72157642179997644/.

I have inserted a couple of these photos into this post, but the images are far better to be viewed in the link provided.  I invite you to explore these bits of London, and hopefully get a better idea of what it is like to live in the UK!

Big Ben and Underground

A Gator in London: Daily Snapshot

I am pleased to announce that after roughly 7 months of life in London, I have settled into a pleasant routine and life here. In the beginning of the year I made a conscious choice to forgo weekend trips in favor of living day-to-day life in London. I felt the experience of actually living in another location, that discovering what life is actually like in a foreign city, is far more valuable than weekend snapshots of Europe. Granted, this is different for everyone and had I travelled less prior to my experience abroad then I may have held an opposing perspective.

For me, however, I was enchanted by the idea of everyday life in a new location and I’m happy to say that I’ve found it. While it’s far less exciting than coming home with tales of Paris, Italy, or Belgium, I’m pleased with the experience I’ve chosen. For this post, I’ve decided to share my average day to perhaps illuminate what life is like as an Allegheny Gator in central London.

Most of the time, the window in my flat is open because I am used to much colder temperatures and much fresher air back home. Therefore I often awake with the chilly bite of morning air and the overcast skies of London. I then proceed to class/lecture because each of mine commence in the morning, except for Wednesdays, when I have no classes at all.

After my class/lecture I generally spend some time in my favorite cafe on campus, called LSE Garrick. I always get the same thing: a warm ham and cheese croissant and an Americano. Here I will usually be rotating between essay writing and reading. Since I am taking solely government courses, I almost always have at least one essay due a week, so there is consistently something to research and work on.

My favorite cafe!
LSE Garrick Cafe

Throughout the year, however, I have realized I am most productive when I bring along a non-school related novel to read. This allows me to break up the constant political research with an enjoyable activity that still keeps me in the spirit of reading, whereas a Netflix or Youtube video can often de-rail me from my efforts. Lately I’ve been reading Robert Galbraith’s (J.K. Rowling’s pen name) The Cuckoo’s Calling. This book has been a joy to read while in London because I can appreciate the references to various local portions of town.

After my time in the cafe comes to a close, I often have meetings or work to do for societies. Lately most of my efforts have been focused on the London society and our upcoming London 2030 summit. This summit will be held on the 18th and 19th of March and feature speakers such as Emma Duncan (Deputy Editor of The Economist), Peter Sutherland (Chairman of Goldman Sachs Int.), Cameron Russell (International Supermodel), and Jamal Edwards (Founder of SBTV). Our summit explores the future of London and asks people their vision for the city by the year 2030. Since the conference is only a couple weeks away and I am a member of the PR team, I’ve been busy helping to promote our event with a stall on Houghton street or through communication with other interested universities.

When I am finished on campus, I will return to my flat and begin the quest for dinner. I have recently discovered that my favorite indian restaurant offers takeout, and I have since become a regular. My favorite is their chicken curry with a side of rice and naan. This serves as a great way to relax, usually by enjoying my meal while watching an episode of House of Cards or Criminal Minds. After dinner, I sometimes have events or other opportunities on campus, such as guest speakers. Since I am interested in government, I have been able to attend many visits to parliament and meet MPs with other students from LSE as we discuss a particular topic. Last week we met with Charles Hendry MP, former UK Energy Minister, and discussed various global issues related to energy.

When I return from an event, or if I had none to attend that day, I will then spend time reading for my classes before bed. Finally, it’s off to sleep to wake up tomorrow and start the process all over!

Hopefully this blog post has offered a simple glimpse into my year as an LSE student. I have really enjoyed finding this balance and I look forward to savoring it for the remaining months.

A Poetic Pursuit

Hello blog readers! I am truly sorry for my hiatus from posting new blog content over these past couple months. I enjoyed a lovely winter break and holiday, though this was unfortunately not spent writing new posts. To make up for my absence, however, I have a new form of blog entry for you this time. In a fit of creativity, I am attempting to encapsulate the pure magic of London through poetic verse. I hope you enjoy my poem, found below, and feel free to comment or share if you so desire.

 London Life

In the morning, the window to my flat quakes with wind and rain,

Thanks to London weather pushing even the toughest pane.

I like to start each morning of weekday drudgery with a smile,

After all… I’m only here a short while.


The pavement of London is marked with royal seals,

Signs of monarchy clicking beneath your heels.

And the sky, how it boils over with clouds of grey,

For a quick spot of sunshine most passerbys pray.


But I like the gloomy, dark, and overcast.

It’s in line with the city, and its past.

Writers and artists have often been inspired

By this glum weather that long has transpired.


And by the nighttime, London’s transformed

Thanks to numerous lights in which the city’s adorned.

A simple string of light bulbs line the river Thames,

Like the scalloped bottoms of fanciful hems.


And Big Ben, a sight of which I will never tire,

That stately tower that always seems higher,

Right next to the London Eye and its peaceful turn,

A symbol of power that will constantly churn.


And by the time you’re tucked into your bed,

Images of the city still swirling inside your head,

The rain doesn’t really seem all too bad,

Though maybe that’s London just making you mad.



London Weekend Guide

Recently a friend from high school, who’s currently studying in Denmark, came to visit me in London for a weekend! His visit inspired me to create a guide on ‘what to do for a weekend in London’. With such a limited time, you want to make the most of all this city has to offer! Check out the different categories below for my travel tips.

Tourist Spot Advice:

Let’s face it, if you’re in London you’ve got to do some sightseeing. But if you have to choose amongst the various sites, which makes the top of the list?

  • Museums

A Victoria and Albert Museum EntrywayIf you ask anyone about what to see in London, they are likely to begin by mentioning that museums are free for everyone. This is true and I definitely suggest you take advantage. However, they don’t mention that special exhibitions will cost you extra. For me, this made some places, such as the Tate Modern, feel a bit limited if sticking strictly to the free portions. My favorite museum would have to be the Victoria and Albert Museum because not only is it filled with artifacts but it’s also designed in a very clever manner. The stations are often interactive and create a ambiance of the various time periods, rather than simply staring at a glass box. 

  • London Eye

My second suggestion? Skip the London Eye. I’m sure certain people would disagree with this statement, but it costs £20 per person (roughly $32) to take a trip around and it’s less than enchanting when you have to share the car with 12 strangers. While you get to see some lovely views, I’d rather spend my time and money elsewhere. However, if you happen to have 10 people in your group then my advice wouldn’t hold true. I feel the more people you know in the pod with you, the more fun you can all have rather than awkwardly sharing the bench or vying for the best views against strangers.

  • Westminster Abbey

Go here. Not only is Westminster right next door to my favorite landmark in London, the one and only Big Ben, but it is an enchanting experience. I had expected a mere cathedral while waiting in the queue, and was a tad disappointed to be shelling out the entrance fee of 15 pounds (~$24) for the student price, but I honestly think it was worth every penny. For those of you who don’t know, not only is this an absolutely gorgeously stunning (cannot stress the breathtaking beauty of the place enough) cathedral that has been the host of countless high profile events, but it is also a graveyard. As someone intrigued by the darker aspect of human history, this fascinated me. Buried in ornate tombs are kings, queens, and other formative people in Europe’s history. If the physical beings are not actually present in the cathedral, there are hundreds of commemorative memorials. These go to all sorts of individuals and there is even a “Poet’s Corner” dedicated to poets and authors such as Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Oscar Wilde. I kid you not, it feels like a star-studded red carpet event of A-list, albeit deceased, celebrities. Remember getting lost in works such as The Importance of Being Earnest, Alice in Wonderland, or Pride and Prejudice? Well here are all the creators in one spot! To top the experience off, once you pay the entry fee the staff provides you with an audio guide free of charge. As you can probably tell from my excitement surrounding this locale, I listened to the tour in its entirety and marveled at every fact. It’s short enough to keep your interest and efficiently moves you throughout the cathedral.

Food Favorites:

Make the most of your time in London food-wise, some of the greatest culinary experts reside and practice here. Considering I’m a student, and my consumption budget reflects this, keep in mind that my recommendations are slightly limited. Nonetheless, I still love to eat so check out my top picks below.

  • Chain Cafes

I have experienced my fair share of cafes as they are the easiest way to grab a bite to eat around here, plus there are plenty. Practically every corner sports a “Pret A Manger,” “Eat,” or “Pod.” My favorite would have to go to…Paul! This is a french cafe and I have yet to find something on the menu I don’t like. Their snacking pretzels or fougasse are top notch and I adore their sandwiches (my favorite is the fromage rossette). The food is high quality, fresh, and downright delicious. If you’ll be spending a lot of time there, like myself, sign up for their Carte Noire rewards card to get the most out of each purchase.

  • High End Restaurant


Probably any high end restaurant in London would be worth your while and I suggest searching for some that suit your fancy if you’ll be in town. One of my all time favorites would go to Balthazar, but I’m cheating a bit because I already love the New York location. Balthazar is another French food stop (noticing a trend?), and you must order the steak frites if you have a chance to visit. Since I already loved the New York branch, I was thrilled to stumble upon the London one during my first week here. Apparently, it is brand new and the only other location of the restaurant. The owner spent a lot of time and money trying to make it look like the original, and boy does it show. I felt transported back to my times in NYC upon entering.

  • Pubs

Pubs are in high abundance here in London and depending on what you’re looking for can shape a decision of where to visit; London has a vast range of clubs, bars, and pubs. Though since this list is focusing on highlights and where to stop if you only have a few days in this great city, my suggestion would be Gordon’s Wine Bar. Gordon’s is rumored to be London’s oldest wine bar and it is a spot with great personality. It’s tucked near the strand and half of the interior seating is located inside a wine cellar resembling a cave. Prices of both wine and food are solid and the history is draw enough alone. A word of advice though, it is best to go to Gordon’s either before or after dinner (4pm or 9pm) as it’s a popular stop and get’s filled quickly!

  • Where shouldn’t I eat?

Avoid anywhere with people advertising outside. If people are handing out flyers and enticing you with deals, there’s probably a reason. You won’t die of food poisoning or anything of the like, but you won’t be making the most of your time and you’ll be missing out on the best of London’s culinary world.


Between tourist stops and eating, your weekend will be mostly used up. But, to give you a thorough guide I will offer a few final suggestions if you find yourself itching to burn your leftover energy and pounds (british money, not weight).

  • Walk along the Thames

If you do want to burn literal pounds, however, I suggest a walk along the Thames. This is one of my favorite things to do, and at night a string of lights illuminates the walk as all of the classic British landmarks align to create the perfect skyline. It’s free, beautiful, and a great way to feel really British, really fast (almost instantly you’ll see Big Ben and with every step, the beauty gets closer and closer!). Also, the path is loaded with monuments and fun historical stops, so bring your cameras and inner history nerd!

  • Shopping
Fish Pastries
Fish Pastries

London has some of the best shopping ever. For a cheap and perfectly British shopping experience, go to a Primark. It’s affordable, tons of fun, and they sell any kind of onesie you may ever need in life (which, if you live in England, is a lot). Go to Covent Garden Market for a good blend of shops and unique finds, especially on weekends when portable vendors sell their wares. Covent Garden is also fairly close to Long Acre, another great shopping street, and Chinatown. If you find yourself in Chinatown, locate a bakery that advertises freshly cooked custard-filled pastry fish (you’ll smell them a mile away) at £2 for 4 fish. Buy 4 fish. Eat them all. Be happy.

I hope this guide served as a helpful starting point to planning a couple days stay in London. Worry not though, whether you follow this advice or not, I guarantee you will love your visit. Cheers!

Wales Weekend

After nearly 3 weeks of living in London, I had the chance to venture outside the country to another part of the UK: Wales! The trip was brief, departing at 7 AM Saturday morning and returning around 7 PM Sunday night. Despite the limited time, Wales is quite close to England so it only took a three hour bus ride (perfect napping time) to get there.

Day 1

Roman Ampitheatre

We began our journey with a  visit  to a 2,000 year old Roman civilization in a town called Carleon. Ruins of their housing and an amphitheatre are all that remain, but considering its age, I think it’s held up well. Imagine, that almost ten times as old as Allegheny! My favorite section was the amphitheatre, because what once were rows of seating for onlookers currently hold plumes of beautiful Welsh grass. Since it’s so rainy in Wales, even more so than England, the grass is healthy and a brilliant green. Here is a picture of another LSE student, Amy, and I standing in the center of what was once a place of entertainment for the Roman town.


Caerphilly Castle

Our next stop for the day was a visit to Caerphilly Castle. This castle is essentially what one pictures when they envision the homes of medieval kings. Surrounding the castle was a moat and there was even a double door at the entrance to trap enemies. Once trapped, those inside the castle would drop items onto them until they perished; primarily some form of hot oil that would catch between pieces of armor, causing much pain to the intruders. Despite the dramatic entrance, the castle was very fun to explore though it seemed the rooms never ended!

Lastly, we drove to St. Fagan’s Museum of Welsh life. The place was unique as it was an outdoor museum! This means that it held various houses and other structures from across Welsh history outdoors. My favorite was St. Fagan’s castle, which not only had a stunning garden, but also allowed visitors to explore its interior.


The rooms were set up in a traditional fashion, helping us to envision its inhabitants regular lives. They even had detailed schedules for each member of the household. Did you know that servants ironed the newspapers before breakfast everyday? Wouldn’t want to try that with an iPad!

Day 2

For our second and last day in Wales, we arose bright and early to take a trip to the Big Pit Mining Museum. Coal mining was a massive industry for Wales and a huge source of income for the locals. We actually descended 300 feet underground to explore one of these mines while a guide (who was a former miner himself) showed us around. We had to leave behind watches, phones, and cameras though because anything with a small battery could cause a spark and lead to an explosion – -scary! It was a unique perspective to venture into the mines themselves, in their prime, children as young as 6 would work within them! These children had the important job of making sure doors we shut between visitors to ensure that methane gas did not build up and cause an explosion. These days would last 12 hours and the children would spend it in complete darkness. We turned all our lights out to imagine what their time was like, and it is the purest darkness possible. Eyes don’t adjust regardless of how long you’ve been there. Despite the often horrific conditions, miners had a true sense of community and this was evident while visiting the museum.


IMG_8716Last was my ultimate favorite stop at a monastery called ‘Tintern Abbey.’ Though originally built in 1131, renovations occurred sometime in the early thirteenth century. It is a stunningly crafted building, and the Welsh grass complimented every bit of it. Apparently the monastery, and the nearby Wye Valley, served as inspiration to poet William Woodsworth and painter J.M.W. turner. After visiting, it’s no wonder they were influenced by the beauty of the area!


Loving London

I’ve officially made it to London and have been living here since September 29th! So much has happened in such a short time, I am fully moved into my flat, lectures started October 7th, and I have completed many of the administrative tasks necessary for being abroad (such as acquiring an Oyster card to ride the tube). To organize this post, I decided to focus on three main topics: my flat, courses, and extracurriculars.

My Flat

photo 1photo 4My Flat

As far as housing is concerned, I am very happy with my situation. I am in a wonderful part of the city, close to campus, theatres, and numerous cafes. I live with four flatmates, though I have my own room. Two of the flatmates are General Course students like myself and the other two are post grads. I’ve loved getting to know them all, and I really enjoy their company. With them I share a bathroom, shower, and kitchen. To the right are some photos of my flat and our shared kitchen:


Lectures have just started at LSE on October 7th, so I’ve had an entire week of them. Classes don’t start until weeks 2 or 3 of the term and this is to create a “shopping period” where you’re encouraged to visit many lectures and then select your four for the year. There is a distinction between lectures and classes, in lectures there is almost no interaction between the instructor and the pupils, but rather is more of a time to absorb information from the professor. But because these lectures are larger and impersonal, there are also classes for each course. These classes consist of smaller groups of students and an instructor, and it’s in these sessions where we have discussions amongst the group. As I’ve stated in previous posts, courses run for the full year and almost the entirety of the final grade depends on an exam at the end of the year. This structure creates a lot of self-discipline to ensure you prepare yourself regularly instead of waiting until the end. My courses for the year are as follows:

GV225 Public Choice and Politics

During lecture, the professor described this as the biggest fusion between Economics and Politics offered at the London School of Economics and Political Science (notice the name, eh?). This excited me as I think the two disciplines are inherently linked, and we get to further explore this concept throughout the year.

GV264 Politics and Institutions of Europe

This seems like a very interesting lecture because of those teaching it. Since the course focuses on different areas of Europe almost every week, we get a new lecturer that is an expert in the field for every topic we discuss.

GV262 Contemporary Political Theory

This was the first lecture I went to and also probably my favorite, the structure seems practical and interesting as the first term focuses on various political theories while the second one applies these theories to real life debates/discussions.

GV263 Public Policy Analysis

This class focuses on the challenges, benefits, and negatives to public policy. The lecturer was very engaged with the topic and real life application is again a focus, as we will examine contemporary policy in the course.


During orientation LSE held “Freshers Fair” which is essentially the equivalent to club fairs in the US. I signed up for a few societies (clubs are called societies in England) but so far have been most involved with the hockey team. Better known as field hockey in the US, hockey is very popular for both boys and girls in the UK. I attended trials and made their first team as goalkeeper! I used to play from middle to high school so I’m thrilled to be a part of a team again. Plus, the schedule is very manageable to balance with schoolwork. We have practices on Tuesdays and then games on Wednesday. However, because of LSE’s central London location we must take the tube roughly 20 minutes away to get to the field (or “pitch” as it is known in the UK).

Overall, I am loving London. It’s a beautiful city with its own personality and I can’t wait to get to know it better. To find out more about me and my experiences feel free to visit my personal website, aurley.com.



Final Four

Only four days stand between me and my year abroad in London!

Things are falling into place nicely, I already have three weekend trips booked and scheduled a few days for my friend from home to visit me (he’s studying abroad in Denmark). LSE organizes trips especially for General Course students. This makes traveling in Europe convenient, efficient, and fun. Between mid-October to November I will be visiting Wales, Paris, and Amsterdam. I’m very excited that I’ll have the opportunity to explore beyond England so quickly after arrival.

As far as preparations go, I am pretty much all set. I have organized what’s needed to pack, filled out appropriate forms for my arrival to LSE (including housing and course choices), and have visited my favorite American spots that I’ll miss while abroad.


One of my last to-dos before I go is to visit the big “rubber ducky” in Pittsburgh! A 40-foot inflatable duck will grace Pittsburgh’s rivers as part of an art exhibit. Luckily the installation will be complete the day before I leave so I’ll get a chance to squeeze in a hello before I travel abroad.

My parents will travel with me to help get me settled and comfortable in my new home and we have already made some exciting plans during their stay.  However, the first night we get there won’t feel much different from home because we will be going to a Steelers game!


The team will be playing a special game at Wembley Stadium against the Minnesota Vikings and we have tickets to cheer them on. Other plans include ghost tours of London and a theater show.

I’m very ready to begin my journey abroad. Thanks to the support from family and friends (plus months of preparations) I am eager to meet new people, explore unfamiliar places, and expand my knowledge of politics.

Going Away Soiree

With a mere month between me and London, many preparations are in the works. I booked plane tickets, successfully acquired my Visa (easier said than done), and have been slowly gathering a stockpile of things to pack. However, one major last ‘to-do’ before my year abroad was to gather friends and family for a going away party! This was held in August as most of my friends returned to college just a few days later, not at the end of September like the students in the UK.

Table DecorationsI thought this would be a fun way to say goodbye to some of my favorite people while also sharing a bit of England with them. For the event, I ordered a book of British slang and quizzed the group. Those who answered correctly then received a British themed prize! The image below is a photograph of the prizes up for grabs.

Horizontal Prize Table

Another way to bring a bit of England to the party was through cardboard. Online I found a cutout of a classic telephone booth as well as one of the royal couple Will and Kate, complete with new baby George! It was fun to gather around and pretend we were royalty as well. Below is a photo of me and a few of the friends from my high school field hockey team, crazy how time flies!

Will and Kate

I had a great time enjoying dinner, reminiscing, and laughing with some wonderful people. I’m sure I’ll miss them all while I’m abroad, but as the famous Winnie the Pooh quote goes, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

Andrew and I

Learning in London

LSE's Coat of Arms

This post is dedicated to LSE, the school at which I will be studying next year.

The London School of Economics and Political Science, more commonly referred to as LSE or London School of Economics, hosts  around 9,000 undergraduate and post graduate students (that’s over 4 times the size of Allegheny!). As suggested by its title, the university specializes in the social sciences, namely Economics and Political Science. In fact, for the most recent QS world rankings by subject, the university placed 2nd for Politics and 3rd for Economics (those lists can be found by clicking here and here).

Their specialization in Political Science was a huge draw for me, but the more I learned about LSE and London the more interested I became in studying there. For example, LSE’s library, the British Library of Political and Economic Science, is the world’s largest social and political library containing over 4.7 million volumes. Also, with a location close to the Thames and numerous museums, it will be easy to take advantage of what London has to offer.

I will be studying as a General Course student, along with roughly 300 other students from around the world. This program is made available for international students to apply and study at LSE for their junior year. General Course students have access to the school as all other students do, and are for all purposes enrolled as a regular student. This makes the program unique as we are not treated as exchange students, but rather integrated as any other student would be. John F. Kennedy is one notable alum of the General Course.

Besides exciting academic prospects, LSE has an interesting pop culture presence as well. Scott Neustadter, co-writer of the film 500 Days of Summer, has admitted that the depicted romance in the movie is based on one he held while studying at LSE. Additionally, fans of The West Wing might remember that President Josiah Bartlet was an LSE alum. 

Because of LSE’s rich history, high qualifications, and superb location, I am thrilled to be a student there in a few short months!