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Europe of our Dreams! - Kaleidoscope of My Life
“What one learns in a classroom is just a very small part of learning process. The real learning starts when one crosses borders and travels miles to get knowledge” The students of Alpha Arts Academy and Economics Club Mumbai had this wonderful opportunity of crossing the borders and travelling miles! We embarked on the trip of our lifetime on 1st of May 2018, an Indian delegation of 50 students and 6 professors, to visit some of the topmost universities of the world. As a part of our 10-day educational tour, we visited the Universities of Cambridge, Oxford, London, and SciencesPo (Paris) interacting with the Faculty Members, eminent Professors, Research Scholars and Students. Each day just as exciting and fun as the last! Day 1: Our tour commenced with a trip to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich Village where we witnessed the mysteries of timekeeping unfold before us. The Royal Observatory which sits atop a hill in Greenwich Park overlooking the River Thames played a major role in the history of astronomy, navigation and timekeeping. It is famous as the location of the “Prime Meridian” from which we get our Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), the mean solar time which is kept by the clock at the Royal Observatory! Though the scientific work of the observatory is relocated elsewhere, this site now serves as a museum. Once the buildings became a museum in 1960, the Prime Meridian was marked by a brass (later replaced by stainless steel) strip in the Observatory’s courtyard, and since 16 December 1999, the meridian has been marked by a powerful green laser shining north across the London night sky. Travelling through time we arrived at our next stop, Canary Wharf, London’s financial centre! If the Royal Observatory in Greenwich was tucked in medieval time, this newly developed global financial centre was the best example of modern architecture and engineering. Filled with magnificent skyscrapers, Canary Wharf is a place that has seen a lot of changes, reconstructions and development. It contains many of Europe’s tallest buildings, including the 2nd tallest in the UK, called as ‘One Canada Square’. Canary Wharf is home to some of the biggest banking and insurance institutions in the world. A two hour long walking tour conducted by our guide Mark took us on a fascinating journey to discover the 17th-century origins of Canary Wharf. We walked around the world’s topmost financial hub; saw some of the famous coffee houses, docks, squares, underground stations and buildings of the Wharf. Jet-lagged and tired yet full of excitement we took refuge in Indian YMCA at Fitzroy Square London which was to be our home away from home for next 5 days. Day 2: Travelling is an education in itself, but the formal knowledge that we get by interacting with eminent scholars is more of an enriching experience. After the modern skyscrapers and traffic of the London city (much like Mumbai), the quaint small town of Cambridge was a sight to our eyes! Gothic architecture, cobbled streets, and lush green landscapes welcomed us in one of the oldest campus universities in the world. The University of Cambridge was founded in 1209 and granted a Royal Charter by King Henry III in 1231. It is the second-oldest university in the English-speaking world and the world’s fourth-oldest surviving university. Our day began with a tour of the university followed by an interactive session with Prof. Toke Aidt, Reader Dept of Economics at Jesus College, University of Cambridge, who made a presentation on Studying in Cambridge with emphasis on the admission process for Indian students. We were lucky to have discussed ‘monetizing environment’ with the eminent economist and had fun debating on “should countries focus on growth or environment” and “how to monetise environment to conserve our nature”. We also met with Prof. Jochen Runde, Director of Faculty Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, for academic guidance and discussed academy and non-academic skills required to study in Cambridge, one of the prestigious universities of the world. Walking around the city, we spent our time viewing some notable buildings, museums and colleges of this picturesque city. Our days were full of education and learning while the nights were spent exploring the streets, local food and culture of London. As I said earlier, each day as exciting as the last! Day 3: “Just to travel is rather boring, but to travel with a purpose is educational and exciting” and when it comes to travel, education and excitement there is nowhere else like London! The third day of our trip was all about the University of London and its colleges. We strolled along the streets of London walking past its colleges and museums. An interactive session with Dr James Abdey, Assistant Professorial Lecturer, Dept of Statistics, London School of Economics, Dr. Lynne Roberts, Director, International Foundation Programme, University of London, Dr. Mary Stiasny, Pro Vice-Chancellor University of London, Dr Chris New, Deputy Head, International Foundation Programme and Dr Chris Jenney, Head of Teaching Institutions helped us understand the pre and post-admission procedures and criteria. We were then welcomed in one the topmost colleges of London University, SOAS. School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) is the only Higher Education institution in Europe specialising in the study of Asia, Africa and the Near and Middle East. Its academic focus on the languages, cultures and societies of Africa, Asia and the Middle East makes it an one of a kind institution. Here too we were acquainted with the admission procedures and had fun interacting with the Mr Mark Coddington International Officer, Marketing and Students Recruitment Officer and Dr Satoshi Miyamura, Senior Lecturer Dept of Economics. Day 4: The fourth day of our tour held our dreams, aspirations and more! We toured along the countryside of England and arrived in Oxford: the city of dreaming spires and the essence of England. Oxford was everything that I had imagined and more. We proceed to the Corpus Christi College University of Oxford to meet with Dr Alex Pryce, an international scholar and the Head of Under-graduate admissions and International Outreach Programme at the University of Oxford. After a short presentation on “studying in Oxford”, she showed us around the city. We walked the picturesque cobbled lanes awed by the architectural beauty and history of the city. After grabbing a quick bite, we proceeded to Stratford-Upon-Avon, a place that decorates my dreams even today. Stratford is a market-town of Anglo-Saxon origins upon the River Avon in the county of Warwickshire, England. It is the birthplace of English playwright and poet William Shakespeare. We visited the writer’s Tudor-Era house that is now turned into a museum. We time travelled to medieval era and watched Shakespeare’s Romeo-Juliet balcony scene, Merchant of Venice’s “Quality of Mercy” and Shylock the Shrewd scene, a scene from Julius Caesar and listened to a sonnet! Our guide then took us through the medieval market lanes and a violin player took us by surprise when he played a Bollywood tune (“Tumhi Ho” from Ashique 2) to welcome us to the city. On our way back we drove through quintessential Cotswold. Rolling hills, sleepy villages and small market towns of the English countryside passed by our windows as our tired and overwhelmed minds contemplated “to be or not to be”…Such a surreal day! Day 5: Our last day in London set us out for a journey through the streets of the city. A guided tour of the city took us around some historic monuments, cultural areas and places of political admiration. We immersed into the history of the great city as we visited past St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and Buckingham Palace. A tour of the famous London Eye and a cruise of the River Thames made us fall in love with London (i.e. if we weren’t already). How can we visit London and miss out on the magical world of Harry Potter! Our guides David and Eleanor took us to King’s Cross and St. Pancras Stations of Harry Potter fame (platform number 9 ¾), Leadenhall Market (Diagon Alley), the Millennium Bridge (the one that the Death Eaters destroy in Half-Blood Prince movie) and other such places which inspired the author JK Rowling and where some shots of the movie were filmed. (PS: There were some places in Cambridge and Oxford where a few scenes of Harry Potter were shot and we saw them too!) Each night we stepped out and enjoyed shopping and food of London. Each night a different street, a different restaurant and different memories were made! Potterheads that all of us were, we heartily obliged to Dumbledore’s words, “Let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.” Day 6: Across the English Channel, we travelled towards Paris, the City of love and Dreams! Checking into the Ibis Hotel Paris La Villette Cite des Sciences, we retired to a quiet evening and explored the neighbouring streets and canals on foot. Day 7: After a hearty French breakfast, we were fused with newfound energy to shop. And shop, we did! We explored the streets of Paris and walked past The Palais Garnier (Opera House), the famous Louvre Museum, Galerie de Lafayette and other buildings of historical and cultural importance. We visited The Paris Institute of Political Studies or more commonly known as Sciences Po as part of our efforts to find young Indians world-class educational and career opportunities. Sciences Po is a highly selective French university and was founded as a private institution. Today it is a highly influential academic institution in the social sciences in France. We met with Dr Oliver Guillet, Executive Director of Sciences PO School of Management and Innovation, who gave us an insight into the various courses taught by the Institute and related admission procedures. We met with Indian students (Sharan Bannerjee and Shreya Parikh) studying there and they shared with us their experiences of studying in a foreign country. We then proceeded to the most expensive street in the world, Champs Elysees! Strolling on the avenue, we ate some classy and authentic French cuisine. Champs Elysees is known for its theatres, cafés, and luxury shops, for the annual Bastille Day military parade, and as the finish of the Tour de France cycle race. The Arc de Triomphe was a magnificent sight to behold. Drunk on the splendid architecture of the city, we spent the evening along Quai de l’Oise outside our hotel and danced to the songs of our heart. Day 8: A full day City tour with our guide Kiko took us on a journey to experience the history and culture of Paris. Our first stop was Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Basilique du Sacre-Couer) situated on the top of an isolated hill Montmartre. Montmartre is also primarily known for its artistic history. For centuries many notable artists lived and worked in Montmartre: Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Maurice Utrillo, Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani and others to name a few. We roamed these streets and got our portraits sketched. Our next stop was Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris. The cathedral is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture, and it is among the largest and best-known church buildings in the Catholic Church in France, and in the world. We were lucky enough to stumble upon a “Bread Festival” near Notre Dame. Freshly baked baguettes, crepes, croissants and chocolate brownies got a guilt-free pass into our already full tummies. Well in my defence, we were in the food capital of the world! Our next stop got us to one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Need I say more? Yes, the Eiffel Tower! The view from the 2nd floor was enchanting and intoxicating. We sipped hot coffee and ate macaroons while looking over the splendid city. A peaceful river cruise over the Seine concluded our perfect day. Day 9: For the last leg of our trip, we visited Amsterdam! After checking into our Hostel ClinkNOORD, Amsterdam we hurried...