Sunday, September 25, 2011

Field trip to Scotland? Count me in

On Wednesday, my fellow study abroaders and I went to Edinburgh, Scotland, for three days. I had never been to Scotland but now I can’t wait until I have a chance to go back. Edinburgh was beautiful - full of medieval buildings, greenery, and open spaces that were so refreshing to see after living in a crowded city.
The first thing we did, after our four and a half hour train ride, was go up to Edinburgh Castle. The castle itself was pretty cool - we got to see the room where Mary, Queen of Scots, gave birth to James IV of Scotland / James I of England, complete with the original painted ceiling - but it was the view that was really stunning. I fell in love with Edinburgh from my first glance and could happily have skipped the audio tour (I know, who am I?) and just taken in the view forever.

We ate dinner at the hostel and had chicken wrapped in bacon and stuffed with wild rice. Well, I'm 90% sure it was wild rice but more and more people are saying it was haggis so if it was, then haggis is actually pretty good.

Thursday morning we went to the Scottish Parliament and got to sit in on part of a debate. It was on the Common Fisheries Policy and what was awesome was that I could follow the debate thanks to my EU Econ class. Hollerrr, I love political science. Only problem was, the panels on the outside of Parliament looked like guns - anyone else see this? Definitely off-putting, and surely not an accident.

After that, we went to the National Museum of Scotland. It was a mishmash of things from dinosaurs to Scottish history, but the prehistoric exhibit was really well presented. Isn’t this a great way of showing jewelry?

We had lunch at The Elephant Cafe aka the birthplace of Harry Potter, and then some of us hiked to the top of Arthur’s Seat. Or at least tried to - we might not have been on the right path and it was partially blocked off, but we got a nice, short, uphill hike in and some great views so I think that counts.

Are you tired of skyline photos yet?

Then I went to tea with some of the girls at an adorable tea shop, where we got shortbread and Scottish Breakfast tea. If my Gramma had a tea shop it would look like that one, and I wish we had places like it in the US. That evening we went to dinner and then drinks and had some really great conversations and bonding time. That was the beauty of this trip - we all grew closer as a group.
Friday we climbed Calton Hill, where there are numerous monuments including the National Monument, modeled after the Parthenon, and a monument to Admiral Lord Nelson of the Battle at Trafalgar. Only 170 steps to the top, and well worth it.

The National Monument

Our train ride home was just as beautiful as on the way there - the first half was along the coast, and the second half looked like the drive from Portland to Eugene. It was a great trip and I def recommend that everyone visit Edinburgh. I’ll come with you! xo

From the train

Saturday, September 17, 2011

2 weeks feels like 2 months

Have I really only been here for two weeks? Time is moving so slowly - I’m not complaining, but it still blows my mind that UO hasn’t started school yet or that I was in Portland two weeks ago. London is starting to feel like my city; like a home and not just a destination I’m touring for three months.
Lots to report on, and we all know I like telling stories, so I will try to share just the highlights.
Last Saturday I went on a major walk with two friends. We hit up Soho for lunch and walked along Oxford Street, which is a major shopping destination, ending up in Hyde Park.
We wandered along the edge of the park to Green Park and then, boom, Buckingham Palace emerged.


We walked through St. James Park to get to the river, and walked through the Thames Festival to cross Westminster Bridge and see Houses of Parliament and hear Big Ben strike 5:00.

You can’t be that close to Westminster Abbey and not stop by, so we ended our trek there, chilling on the steps and watching two different wedding parties take photos in the wind (thanks, Hurricanes Irene and Katia).

Sunday, I went to the local church and we sang my all time favorite hymn. I spent the evening at the Thames Festival where I made a poor choice of food cart and watched the weirdest, least cohesive, most brightly-lit parade that I have ever seen.
Wednesday, my London Bio class climbed 311 steps to the top of The Monument to see our beautiful city.

Wednesday and Thursday evenings we went to Shakespeare’s Globe to see the most amazing theatre productions I have ever seen. Wednesday night we saw “Much Ado About Nothing” as “groundlings” who stand on the floor like the lower classes of Shakespeare’s day.

It was amazing. Seriously hilarious and incredibly well acted. The butler from “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” was in it, as well as some other lesser-known film and tv actors, but I didn’t even realize that until afterwards, I was just so enthralled; the actors played with the audience and looked like they were having so much fun. Julia’s London travel tip #1: it’s only £5 to be a groundling and it’s so worth it; unless you have a super tall person in front of you (see that super tall guy in the photo above...yeah) the people standing have the best seats in the house and it’s so fun and engaging that you forget you’ve been standing for four hours.

Thursday night I managed to get an extra ticket to go with the theatre class to see Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus” and again, it was just so good. This time we sat, so I could watch the actors and the audience (I’ve been people watching like none other on this trip.)
Also happening: my internship, discovering an awesome food market, and generally forgetting to do schoolwork (don’t worry mom, we just don’t have any to do). Things are super busy, but I do like being busy, so it’s suiting me just fine. xo

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Week 1 of dream fulfillment

Guys, I’m here. Six years after I ignored jet lag, took my first look outside our Kensington flat, and promised myself that I would study abroad in London HERE I AM.

Photo cred: my dorky dad

My host mum (When I say that fast it apparently sounds like “husband,” and on the first day a girl asked if I was married, awk.) is named Maggie and she is darling; she’s an excellent cook and grows her own organic vegetables so I am going to learn to like a lot of vegs while I’m here. It’s just the two of us out here in Northwood, which is about an hour’s commute from central London. It’s a long trip, but there are textbooks and free newspapers to read. I feel like a true Londoner when I can walk fast and transition trains without a problem. (Everyone here walks fast - I fit right in!) My goal is to be able to jaywalk confidently, and I’m already getting close.

Monday and Tuesday were orientation days, and Tuesday we also went to the Tower of London which was just as cool the second time around. Those Crown Jewels...ahmazing. I walked around the Tower with Caitlin who is also a history major at UO in the Honors College, so we history geeked out together.

Houses of Parliament and Big Ben as seen from the Thames

I love that people actually live at the Tower of London.
"Hi, can you send a pizza delivery to house 6, the Tower of London?"

Today we had the first day of classes - I had “Economic Integration of the European Union” and “London: Biography of a City.” The EU class should be super interesting (nerd alert); we’ll get to go to Parliament and adopt the London School of Economics as our home base. The London class sounds easy as it’s lots of museums and tour-y walks. I’ll start the required “Modern Britain” class tomorrow and Friday I ride the tube for an hour and a half (whaat) to the first meeting with my internship director.

Also, today I went for a walk before class and ended up at St. Paul’s Cathedral, nbd.

Plan: go to choral evensong at St. Paul’s, Holy Communion in the chapel at the Tower of London, organ concerts at Westminster Abbey, and Sunday services at my local Anglican church, the Wood Green Mennonite Church, and Hillsong London. Good thing I have quite a few Sundays.

I’m still adjusting (the water here is terrible in taste and in hair-washing power, gross) but I am excited to be in London and can’t wait to get into a routine and start to feel like I really do live here.
I may be 8 hours ahead of Oregon, but I would still love to skype with everyone so let’s get on that. Mailing address to come. Sending my love stateside, Julia