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

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Half-term hols in Spain: Valencia

We only had a day and a half in Valencia, but it was a very relaxing stop on our trip and I would say that my favorite evening of the whole trip was the one we spent in Valencia.
On our first morning in Valencia we had breakfast in the cafe on the ground floor of our hostel. The kind waitress spoke no English but we still managed to find a table and we each ordered the basic breakfast of a croissant and Spanish cafe con leche. I’d never had a cup of coffee before, literally never, but this one was delicious!
We then walked through the lovely, long string of parks that threads through the city to La Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, a futuristic group of buildings set on watery pools.

Then came the low point of our whole trip when we attempted to walk to the beach using only the maps at bus stations...but that was miserable and we didn’t even make it to the beach, so I like to pretend those few hours didn’t happen.
The evening made up for that mistake though, because everything fell into place so smoothly. We found our way back into town to the square near Valencia Cathedral. Surprise, the cathedral was open later than we thought and was free, so we used that extra time and money to get cafe con leche again before we explored the church (where everything was rather exciting because some of us are not quite used to the caffeine in coffee).


Fun fact: the supposed Holy Grail is in this church but its chapel was closed and so we couldn’t see it. I was bummed; I really wanted to know what it looked like. "He chose...poorly."

We had a delicious dinner in the square and finally found the churros con chocolat that we’d been looking for since we arrived in Spain. Oh boy, where they worth the wait!

The following day we went to the Oceanografic, the aquarium in the arts and sciences complex. We spent the morning being five years old again and saw beluga whales, sharks, stingrays, penguins, etc. A highlight: my first dolphin show! And spending time with the two other lovely lovely girls. And having a big glass of horchata (which, with paella, originated in Valencia).

Valencia was low-key but I rather liked it, especially the huge park space. Next and final stop: Madrid. xo

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Half-term hols in Spain: Barcelona

Last week was our midterm break (properly known in England as “half-term holiday”) which I spent in three great Spanish cities with three amazing girls and one pair of TOMS shoes. It was an awesome experience and a successful first international trip without parents. There is a lot to cover (and way too many photos), so let me break it down by city. First up: Barcelona, where we spent our first three days.
On our first day in Barcelona we went for a walk, an all-day walk that was no less than 7 or 10 miles long. Worth it! There is no better way to get to know a new city than to walk around it. Highlights of our adventure included:
The Rambla del Mar

The Esglesia de Santa Maria del Mar, a 14th century gothic church

The Parc de la Ciutadella (with delicious apple tea and stroopwafel biscuits—we are so English now that we felt lost without afternoon tea)

La Barceloneta beach

We ended the day with a dinner of paella and sangria. We saw so much more than that, including one misguided trip through a very non-touristy area of Barcelona during which we looked up the street and caught a glimpse of the Sagrada Familia!

Which brings me to day 2: our “I love Gaudi” day.
Funny story: I saw a “Globe Trekker” on Gaudi’s unfinished Sagrada Familia cathedral before I left for London and thought, that is too gaudy and crazy for my taste and I don’t know how I feel about it. One look at the real-life Sagrada Familia and I was sold. I’m a huge Gaudi fan now. The cathedral itself is humongous and its final, and largest, tower is not even close to being finished. The outside is dripping with ornamentation on all sides except the front, which is more reserved. Gaudi clearly put thought into literally every inch of the place.

And the inside. The inside was breathtaking. I was literally speechless, and we all know that doesn’t happen very often. Let me just show you, then, the columns meant to be trees over the congregation and the incredibly vibrant stained glass windows that are just 10 years old and the calming white stone.

The interior was finished and dedicated by the Pope in 2010, over 100 years after the cathedral project began in 1883. Estimates for the date of the cathedral’s full completion range from 2020 to 2040, at which point I want to go back. People say that the Sagrada Familia alone is worth the trip to Spain, and people are right.

Next we went to Parc Guell, the park that Gaudi helped design and in which he lived for a few years. This has the famous mosaic lizard (which is smaller than we thought it would be, as famous as it is) and spectacular views of the city. We walked up to the top of the park, above most of the tourists, and took in the view, noting just how far we walked the previous day.

On our way back into the city center, we walked past two more Gaudi buildings: La Pedrera and Casa Batllo.

Casa Batllo on the left

Last stop of the day was the Picasso Museum, which had a lot of his early work and showed just how much talent and technique is behind his more abstract pieces. There was also a room dedicated to his study of the famous Velasquez painting “Las Meninas” which was doubly cool because we knew we were going to see the Velasquez painting in Madrid’s Prado Museum just a few days later.

Les Pains de Picasso by Robert Doisneau, 1952
This is one of my favorite photographs; I remember seeing it in early elementary school
and thinking it sooo funny. Print regret that I didn't get a copy in Barcelona.

On our final day in Barcelona we spent some time on the incredibly touristy street La Rambla and then we went to the Parc de Monjuic, a large park notable for having the national art museum of Catalunya and, more importantly, the Olympic stadium from Barcelona 1992! It was honestly kind of a dream come to true to stand under the torch and to go into the stadium; I was a baby during the Games and I have literally zero connection to them, but it was great to check “visit an Olympic site” off of my life to-do list. (Going to the Olympics is the next step, natch.)

Barcelona was great, sightseeing-wise, but it’s not my kind of city. (They are not kidding when they say Spanish men will check you out, and that was most prevalent in Barcelona.) Barcelona felt like a city dedicated to and desperately in need of tourists and while I cannot describe quite what else it was in the atmosphere that made me uncomfortable, I have no regrets about visiting. The Sagrada Familia, I’m telling you, you have to go.
Next stop: Valencia. xo

Monday, October 10, 2011

Shakespeare overload at Stratford-Upon-Avon

I hate English class. I love reading—so said my favorite childhood shirt—but analyzing the meaning behind an author’s use of “crimson” instead of “red” is enough to make me turn my back on the liberal arts altogether. So I can’t say I’ve ever felt a huge connection to the works of Shakespeare. Leonardo DiCaprio as Romeo? Love. “Much Ado” at the Globe? Awesome. Reading his works line by line and determining what makes him genius? Pass. I think high school English class ruined it for me.
Nevertheless, last Thursday we went on a whirlwind day-and-a-half trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon and I got a little Shakespeare-obsessed. It doesn’t hurt that Stratford is such an adorable town. Observe:
We stayed in an adorable bread & breakfast with a fantastic proprietor.

We saw Shakespeare’s grave.

We saw Shakespeare's birthplace. Did you know that beds used to have ropes underneath the mattresses to provide support, and so “goodnight, sleep tight” means “goodnight, hope your bed-ropes are tight so you’re comfortable?” True story. (We also saw a few other sites that were sort of maybe kind of connected to Shakespeare.)

We saw “Macbeth” performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Mixed reviews, but I thought it was great. The RSC did away with the witches and replaced them with children—super creepy.
We had drinks and tea and bonded.
We saw Anne Hathaway’s cottage and ate deliciously crisp apples from her trees.

On our way back to London, some of us stopped off in Warwick because we were told that the medieval castle is well preserved and something to see. It better be well preserved as it cost £21 to get in! (It was more expensive if you wanted to see the haunted dungeon or the dragon tower.) Obvs, we passed. Instead we climbed the tower at St. Mary’s Church and had great views of the castle and the tiny town.

The English countryside is beautiful, and Stratford is absolutely charming. The town may take the Shakespeare connection a bit far sometimes (the desk his schoolteacher might have stood behind!) but who wouldn’t? Willy, we’re friends now. I’ll definitely come back and visit again. xo

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Indian summer interlude

I don’t sunburn (except on my nose, a distressing new development). I tan. And there is no better evidence of the beautiful, hot days last weekend than my stunning and enduring TOMS tan line. Lookin good.

In other news, just busted out my first essays of the term: a report to PM David Cameron on the Scottish devolution/independence issue, and an essay on the role of the European Court of Justice in the integration of the EU. I feel rather isolated from US news; basically, I only know what goes on in US politics based on twitter updates from @nytimes and @barackobama and from scanning the key stories written up in the Guardian. 

typical studying aka taking gratuitous photos of myself
PS that's my second cup of 11am.

For the past two weeks I’ve been going to the young adult bible study-like night at my local church, and tonight I got into a really interesting discussion with some of the girls about how no one in the UK thinks of studying abroad while at uni because they have Europe literally at their doorstep. This, combined with my afternoon spent looking into my Geneva program next term, has me feeling incredibly grateful and blessed for this opportunity, for this year abroad. I feel like my worldview has already expanded tenfold and I’ve been here just a month.
So thanks mom and dad and everyone for helping make this happen. It’s incredible, and I’m excited to be here every single day. xo

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Four weeks have gone by in a flash

The lack of interesting stories that I have from this week is, I think, a sign that I have settled in here and started to fall into a routine. We’ve gotten to that point where the “study” part of “study abroad” starts to kick in, so I have to buckle down and start to earn my poli sci degree. Still, life here is awesome. Highlights of last week included:
- Going to “The Tempest” (eh, okay but I can’t wait to see it with Ralph Finnes) and “The Kitchen” (awesome).
- Having a Mars Bars milkshake.
- Getting from bed to the train in 30 minutes exactly (I overslept my alarm for the first time ever, whomp whomp).
- Going to Harrods and Hamley’s. Harrods is sort of like a giant, posh Nordstrom. I got to touch a Valentino scarf and Marchesa gowns (I could finally put my obsession to use by recognizing all the brands), and I realized that I would be so much better dressed if I was wealthy. Although in all honesty, I would probably just wear nicer v-necks.

Hamley’s is a huge toy store, basically the toy store from “Home Alone 2.” Too bad there were no robber traps.

- Seeing the London Eye in this light...

...and not being able to go on it because I was going to the Royal Ballet! I saw them perform Balanchine’s “Jewels,” part of which I saw OBT perform years ago.

My seats were literally in the nosebleeds, and, standing, I could see ¾ of the stage but it was an amazing ballet performed by absolutely stunning dancers. It’s no wonder the Royal Ballet is one of the best companies in the world.
- Skyping with Erika :)
- Going to Portobello Market and listening to a Mumford and Sons-esque local band play a cover of “Lovin’s for Fools.”
It’s 80 degrees F here, which is a September/October record for London. It’s like Portland in that no one is really sure how to deal with hot weather. More opportunities for milkshakes, I say. xo