Thursday, December 1, 2011

Wait, it's December already?

I have ten days left in London. It’s incomprehensible. And in all the hustle and bustle of my last few weeks in Britain I have totally neglected the blog. So here, in brief, are the highlights of the past few weeks:

- My economics class went to the House of Lords. Upside: we sat in on a small committee and were so close we could touch the lords if we wanted to. Downside: pretty dang boring.
- We went to Oxford! I tried to soak up as much of the academic atmosphere as I could but I don’t think it’s made me any smarter. What a beautiful campus and town. So classically scholarly and British and old school wealthy. I have so much more to say about it, but here are some photos.

Christ Church College (also below)

The Great Hall at Hogwarts, er, Christ Church.

Radcliffe Camera

Pitt Rivers Museum

We saw the Bodelian library (left, not my photo) which is where they filmed
the Hogwarts Library. It would be worth it to go to Oxford
just to study in that library. Gorgeous.

- Two of my good friends and I made dinner for our host families because we are friends and they are friends and it was about time we all got together. We made enchiladas, Mexican rice, black beans, guacamole, salad, chocolate chip cookies, and brownies. It was beyond delicious and everyone around the table loved it! It was exciting to cook for nine people, the most I’ve ever cooked a full meal for before, and to cook food that we associate so closely with home in a country where the only way you can find jalapenos is in a jar in the fancier grocery store. An adventure, that’s for sure, but we were rather proud of the results.

ssh, I forgot the cilantro.

- I saw the Royal Ballet perform “Sleeping Beauty.” I splurged on the tickets - 24 whole pounds - and the seats were fantastic. So was the ballet; a little pantomime-y for my tastes, but still incredible.
(not my photo)

- We saw Michael Sheen in “Hamlet” at the Young Vic. It was set in an insane asylum which provoked mixed reactions from my classmates, but Michael Sheen was in.cre.di.ble. His Hamlet was maniacal and almost endearing in just the right way.

- Some girls and I went to the Advent Procession at St. Paul’s last Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent (hooray!). It was a service of lessons and carols as the choir and clergy processed from the west end to the east end as the cathedral slowly grew lighter. Lovely. We sang “O Come O Come Emmanuel” like we always do on the first Sunday of Advent and to sing that and say the Lord’s Prayer in unison with so many other people was really awesome.
- I tagged along to “Comedy of Errors” at the National Theatre. According to the Shakespeare teacher, the director didn’t think Shakespeare’s original comedy was funny enough so they made it hilarious. Lots of physical comedy, an incredible set, and of course some very talented actors all added up to an enjoyable show.
[Not included in this list: boring things like presentations and essays and internships.]
And that brings me to the present. This afternoon we went to the Churchill War Rooms but that is a post for another day because this one is hella long and I need to get to sleep before my Pride and Prejudice brunch tomorrow. You read that right - tea, eggs, banana bread, my closest friends, and the BBC “Pride and Prejudice.” Not to brag, but I love my life. xo

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Thanksgiving Special Edition

This is almost practically verbatim from my journal, but it sums up the wonderful Thanksgiving celebration we had yesterday rather nicely so I’ll share it.
“This was such a great day! I am actually writing this on my computer on the day of just because I need to have my journal in chronological order, obvs, but I want to get today down [ed - embarrassing, yes, but real life]. It’s Thanksgiving and no offense family, but this was one of my favorite Thanksgivings ever.
I slept in, having gotten the day off from my internship when Caitlin and I thought we were going to go to Ireland. So I woke up and curled up in bed with breakfast to watch the Psych episode I’d loaded the night before, and basically just chilled until it was time to head down to AHA. Mary and Martin and Maggie put on a Thanksgiving meal for us and it was delicious. Different, but still good. I had a glass of white wine, poured by Keith my London Bio prof, and a mimosa. I also ate quite a few of the desserts that everyone made - they were delicious.
We all sat in a circle around the upstairs classroom and wrote what we were thankful for on the whiteboard and made construction paper turkeys and talked and sang along and then people started singing as performances. Rodrigo sang Adele’s Someone Like You and we all almost cried. And Claire sang Ingrid Michaelson’s The Way I Am with Tara playing guitar and Tara sang one of her talented. And an improv group from the theatre class did something and it was so so funny. It was great to just hang out with everyone - the profs and admins left and so it was really just us, chillin.


It’s Jordyn’s birthday so we sang to her and after a few hours she and her mom and Tara and Caitlin and I and Nicole tried to sneak out to go to Primrose but it’s hard to leave without people noticing and wanting to tag along and I was delayed because I was guilted into helping clean even though I really should have offered. But I had Earl Grey tea and an Earl Grey cupcake at Primrose and it was goooood.
Then Caitlin and Nicole and I walked to and through the Christmas market/village on the south bank and then through St. James’ Park and to Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland which had the same market as on the river but bigger and with carnival rides and an ice rink. And then we came home. 

It was a wonderful day with some really wonderful people. I loved being able to hang out with everyone at once, which happens all too rarely. I am so thankful that I am here and for everyone that makes it possible, from my family and friends who support me back home to the friends that I have here.” xo

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Tea, Pasties, and the Vikings of York

A couple weekends ago I went to York with some of my lovely friends for what we thought was going to be a relaxing 3 day trip to Northern England.
Here are some highlights.
We walked the city walls for some great views of York Minster.


We walked along the river every day from our hostel into town.


We ate a lot of Cornish pasties and drank a lot of cider.
We visited the Church of the Holy Trinity, one of the few remaining churches to have box pews.


We went to the theatre!
We went to Betty’s, a Yorkshire institution, for cream tea.


We went to evensong at York Minster (because we were too cheap to shell out £8 to go inside). And it was lovely.

We went to a Viking museum.
We saw a costume exhibition, including Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet from the BBC “Pride and Prejudice” and King George VI and the Queen Mother from “The King’s Speech.” I may have touched’s Colin Firth as George VI, I couldn’t help myself!


We went to the York Castle Museum, which Rick Steves says is one of Europe’s best.

Model Victorian street in the museum: so Rick.

And then it took us seven hours to get home. Did I mention that York is a 2.5 hour train ride from London? So the story goes that we got onto our 8.30 pm train and then sat at York station for an hour because of delays ahead. And then we moved on to the next station, yay! And sat there for an hour; moved forward a little and sat there for another hour. All the while my friends and I are calling our host parents so they don’t get worried and because, scary thought, the Underground will have stopped running by the time we get home at this rate. Luckily, the train company offered us all free taxis to our final destinations, citing their promise to get us from point A to point B, not just to the end station. Thank goodness!
So we got to King’s Cross Station at 2.00 am I think, and by the time our very nice cabbie dropped me, the final passenger, off at home (he waited on the street until I was safely in my house - whether all cabbies do this or not, it was very kind of him) it was 3.15am and I got to bed at 3.30. For those keeping score at home, that’s a full seven hours after we boarded the train. Good gracious. It’ll be funny sometime, right? Because even now I am glad not to have to get on a train for a while. Still, our York weekend was worth it. xo

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

My busy, busy life

[Major facebook photo upload happening circa now, so keep an eye out.]
I noticed recently that I come home really soon. The 24 days kind of soon. The kind of soon that makes me ecstatic to hug my family and my friends. The kind of soon that makes me want to spend every minute I have left running around London to get everything on my to-do list checked off. The kind of soon that snuck up on me all of a sudden, without warning, in good and bad ways.
But never fear, I’m making the most of my remaining time in London!
The other week, my London class went to St Paul’s cathedral. We went at just the right time—the choir and musicians were rehearsing for the day’s evensong service, and the whole time we were in the cathedral it was filled with beautiful music. I had a total movie-worthy moment when I stepped forward into the area under the dome and instantly the music began to swell. Mmmm, so wonderful.

We climbed to the top of the dome and at each height the view of London’s skyline got better and better. Just when I thought I couldn’t take any more pictures of gorgeous clouds over London, I took a few more.

#occupylsx - bringing up some interesting issues with the Church

Last Friday we went on a class trip to Hampton Court Palace in the southernmost borough of the greater London area. Hampton Court was one of Henry VIII’s primary residences and so the bulk of the palace is Tudor in style, but there is also a significant portion that is Baroque and was added and inhabited by William and Mary after the English Civil War and the Restoration.

History lesson aside, it was a crazy mix of architecture made even cooler by the fact that people still live there today. Not royalty, but old aristocratic families who have fallen on bad times, I think, are given old apartments in the palace.

Don't worry, we knew to reject his advances

For Guy Fawkes day I tried to meet up with some friends at a Diwali/Guy Fawkes fireworks show but my bus took forever to get there. So the one year that I’m in England for Guy Fawkes day I saw fireworks from my kitchen window and the bus...but we had candy apples at the Diwali fair and that made up for it. That Sunday a friend and I went to sung eucharist at Westminster Abbey and it was just lovely. After you hear a big, loud pipe organ in that setting, it’s hard to imagine it anywhere else.
Those are just the highlights of the past few weeks (those, and a trip to York that is a post for another day) but there is a lot more going on: museums, galleries, tea with professors, visits to Parliament and international banks, postcards, commutes, and papers. It’s a bit of a whirlwind but hey, I’ll sleep when I’m home, right? xo

Oh, and lest we forget about the second half of my European adventure, I applied for my Swiss visa the other day so I’m one step closer. 62 days to Geneva! Time to start remembering how to speak French.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Half-term hols in Spain: Madrid

(Waay belated final post on the holiday that was, in reality, less than two weeks ago but feels like two months.)
I think Madrid was my favorite city of the three we visited, and a lot of that could stem from the excellent hostel experience that we had and the fact that we were finally getting used to the Spanish way of life.
We started our first day with a free, hostel-organized walking tour of Madrid. Our tour guide was a very knowledgeable and hilarious Argentinean turned Madrileno and the morning was the perfect introduction to Madrid’s history and city plan.

Madrid's Cathedral

By the time it ended at 3.30 we were all starved and so our tour guide recommended a place for lunch. It’s usual in Spain to eat a set-price lunch, so for €10 we got two courses (which we all shared, like we do), a drink (agua), bread, a dessert, and a cafe con leche. Ahmazing. Finished eating at about 5.00, so it really felt like the true Spanish lunch experience.
That evening, we went to the Prado Museum with some of our new friends from the tour (two boys studying in Geneva who had literally no travel tips for my semester We only covered the highlights—Velasquez, El Greco—because we knew we were going to go back later. #museumnerds

After a night filled with drinking games at the hostel and lots of temporary American friends, we woke up early the next morning to see the Palacio Real de Madrid. It was lovely, although all of the ornate rooms did sort of run together. A highlight was seeing five Stradivarius instruments from the seventeenth century that are still used at royal functions, and the ornate chapel.

Armed with the most. delicious. gelato, we stopped at the Caixa Forum, a free contemporary and performance art space where, a little confusingly, the exhibits were on Delacroix (French Romantic artist, nineteenth century) and Teotihuacan (ancient Mexican city). Not what I was expecting, but nice nonetheless.

We napped in the sun at the Parque del Buen Retiro and then ended our day at the Reina Sofia, Madrid’s world-class contemporary art museum. This is the home of Picasso’s famous Guernica, and what a sight was. The exhibit included a fascinating photo series of the painting’s progress over time, as well as his preparatory studies in pencil, paint, and clay. We mostly wandered through this museum with only a very basic agenda, which was great and exposed us to some great pieces of art we might not have found otherwise.

Our final day in Madrid was spent solely at the Prado. Four hours, and we still only saw the highlights. Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, Goya’s The Third of May...all sorts of paintings you see in textbooks and on PBS travel shows (ahem, Rick Steves). I literally walked around with my mouth open in disbelief at the amazing art around me. So beautiful. What a perfect way to spend our last day in Spain.

A cafe con leche at the Prado as an adios to Spain

After some more of that gelato, we packed up, caught the Metro to the airport, and landed in London a couple hours later, never happier to hear British accents and smell the Tube. (The air in the tunnels has a very distinctive smell. Not bad, just distinctive.) What a trip, what an adventure, what an experience!
Still, Spain has nothing on England. This country truly has my heart. xo

Monday, October 31, 2011

Feeling sympathetic for Voldemort

Let me interrupt this unnecessarily drawn-out and long-winded description of my fall break with three highlights from last week.
1. Wednesday night we went to Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” starring none other than Ralph Fiennes, He Who Should Not Be Named himself. We had spectacular seats and the production was amazing. Ralph (properly pronounced “Raif”) Fiennes was so great as Prospero, and the woman playing his daughter Miranda was wonderful too.

(not my picture)

Ralph Fiennes had longer hair and a beard, as befits a man shipwrecked on an island for 12 years, which made it easier to distinguish between Prospero and the hair-less Voldemort. I appreciated that, although the general consensus among my peers was that we loved it when he delivered a line and Voldemort’s raspy voice came out.
2. Thursday afternoon we went to the Houses of Parliament to see a debate in the House of Commons. It was a poorly attended “debate” on Britain’s upcoming chairmanship of the Council of Europe and we spent more time queueing than actually watching the session, but it was still awesome to be in Westminster. I love the environment in government buildings like that. Is that weird? I always feel like yeah, I could do this whole government thing.

Ladies and gentlemen, the future of politics

3. Friday we took a day trip to the Roman and Georgian town of Bath, on the west coast of Britain. The idyllic train ride through the foggy English countryside was easily matched in beauty by the town itself. Every building is made of creamy coloured Bath stone and practically the whole town was built as a Georgian vacation hotspot; rows of townhouses designed to look like regal palaces, and sweeping parks for the Sunday promenade. Imagine any town mentioned in a Jane Austen novel—Bath looks like that.

Bath Abbey

Bath also has baths. Natch. The ancient Roman baths were discovered under the Georgian bathing buildings, so people having been bathing in the same hotsprings for over 2000 years. 

I am not a small town person in America, but small towns in the English countryside are another matter altogether. I’d like to live in a Bath townhouse, yes please.
I am currently sitting at my desk, full of Bath fudge and English tea and warming my toes in my wool socks, beyond happy to be in a country where fall is crisp and clear and the trees lining the streets fill the spectrum from green to red. Fall in England is that perfect, storybook kind of fall, a season that isn’t just the rainyish time before Christmas but a time that inspires celebration of its own accord. I love it. xo

Hyde Park