Getting to Know England

So I’ve come to London for school and to spend a lot of my time in the city, but until now I hadn’t been to many places outside London that were actually in England. I’ve spent more weekends outside England than in, and I’m really grateful to have been able to use London as a launching pad to make it to continental Europe, but I want to get to know the country I’m calling home for three and half months! These last few weeks I’m here I’ve been traveling more locally in England and seeing some great places. With the trains and buses that run in and out of London, so many places are incredibly accessible and make great days trips.

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Last weekend I went to Shakespeare’s home of Stratford-Upon-Avon with my school program to tour all the historic places and see my fourth Royal Shakespeare Company production, “The Merchant of Venice.” Stratford was so cute! The names of the B&Bs we stayed at were absolutely priceless, ‘Quilt and Crossiants’ and ‘Forget Me Not.’ In Stratford I got to see Nash House, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Shakespeare’s birthplace, and, of course, Shakespeare’s grave. We also checked out some classic English pubs, the Dirty Duck (where the RSC actors go after the show) and Rose and Crown.

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In London this week we all had a reality check that there is only one week of classes left with finals quickly following the next week. Last Monday all my professors had to revise our syllabus since everything is moving by quite quickly! No plays last week, but on Wednesday my Shakespeare class got the opportunity to go to the Globe Theater for a tour and workshop with one of the actors. It was excellent! The theater is really cool (I’ll be seeing “King Lear” there this week, standing in the front under the open roof!) and looked exactly like the set of the film ‘Shakespeare In Love.’ It was very cool to learn the history and about the productions there today. After our morning at the Globe, further expanding our knowledge as Shakespearean scholars :-p my friend Meg and I headed to Madame Tussaud’s, the wax museum and the biggest tourist trap in London. After all the museums and churches I’ve been to though, it was refreshing. There was absolutely nothing intellectual about it and we ran around with the masses of people taking ridiculous pictures with wax figures. Great place for people watching, it’s really absurd how excited people (and I) get when a wax figure of someone famous is in front of them. There was even a little taxi ride like at an amusement park that took us through the history of London. It was ridiculous and yet fantastic at the same time. Can’t say that the teenage boys in the car next to us thought it was quite as funny as we did.

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Yesterday, I went to the port city of Bristol with my program. We checked out the new Empire and Commonwealth Museum and then hopped on a boat that took us around Bristol harbor. I LOVED being on the water and with all the boats everywhere and water that connected the whole city it reminded me of Seattle!! Our boat then dropped us off at the old ship the S.S. Great Britain that is now restored and a museum. Except this isn’t just any museum, it won an award last year for being especially cool and we got to wander around the ship seeing what it was like to travel across the ocean 150 years ago. It has been compared to the Titanic because it was a big deal back in the day to have such a big, beautiful ship. Anyway, the bottom is completely rusting and it will never sail again. It is in a dry dock and has an air tight/water tight seal around the bottom where air without any humidity is pumped through in an attempt to preserve what remains. Pretty cool actually. Overall, Bristol recieved an A.

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Continuing to see different parts of England, I headed to Oxford today with my friend Pete to see the great university that I’ve heard so much about. After just a short bus ride from London, we arrived in Oxford, and it looked exactly like I thought it would. There are many stereotypes of what England is like and so far. . . just about all of them are correct. When you see thatched roofs and sheep in the countryside it only confirms the stereotype. So we walked around Oxford seeing the different colleges throughout the town. We found our way to Christ Church College (probably the most famous one, or at least most picturesque) where we went into the quad and cathedral. Unfortunately, they didn’t tell us until we were already inside that the Great Hall, the dining hall in Harry Potter, was closed!! Ugh! So I took a picture from the outside, but it just was not the same! Apparently there was some big event celebrating the army, so rude of them to close it, didn’t they know I was coming?! After a little more wandering seeing the different colleges, we found the Turf Tavern, after accidentally passing the small pedestrian walkway where it is tucked away. Both a recommendation of Rick Steves and my mom, the Turf Tavern was a must see. It was awesome! Again, it had the stereotypical English pub look about it along with plenty of patio space where we sat outside and enjoyed some lunch and a glass of wine! Pete and I both agreed while sitting there: Life is good! After a lengthy lunch break there, we went and found some ice cream and wandered around the Christ Church Meadows, the beautiful property owned by the college along the river. Tons of people were out as it was one of the first really nice spring Saturdays. Many people were in boats floating along and we saw some of the crew teams practicing. As we walked by people in the park, we even heard a group rehearsing a play. It was so Oxford!! Every person we passed we imagined as having an outrageously high IQ and being far more important and smart than we. It might not have been the case, but it’s definitely a possibility. As we came around the meadows back toward the college, there was a cricket match going on!! Fortunately, I just learned about cricket in one of my classes the other day and could almost follow what was going on. As we stood there watching cricket, with Oxford’s spires as the backdrop and the church bells ringing, Pete commented while laughing, ‘It doesn’t get more English than this!!’ Maybe only if Prince Charles had been playing polo in the next field over. . . To finish up our day in Oxford we went to The Eagle and the Child, the pub where C.S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkein hung out. We got some frighteningly green beer and enjoyed it in the ‘Rabbit Room’ where the ‘Inklings’ (Lewis & co.) spent their time. While I was there I tried to soak up the wisdom that was once discussed there, and Pete and I struggled to think of a conversation topic that was worthy of such a place. The only bummer was that I didn’t plan ahead enough in advance to make an apointment to visit C.S. Lewis’s home at The Kilns, a few mintues outside of Oxford. Guess I’ll just have to go back sometime, darn 🙂 Oxford was fantastic and most definitely received an A+.

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So England and I have gotten to know each other better, and there are some amazing places here, but I’m still looking forward to returning to the States. Top three things I miss about home (excluding people, which is, of course, always first): 1) my cell phone 2) the Subaru 3) the mountains. But only two weeks until I’m back, so I think I can handle it. Off to the coastal city of Brighton next weekend, but first have to finish up some papers (or start some papers!) for school. More again soon, much love to all!

Spring Time in London

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I walked out of my room yesterday morning and my host dad looked at me and said, ‘You look tired.’ Ha, well, it’s official. I’ll be back in the U.S. in less than a month. To say that the semester has gone fast is an understatement, but I can tell I’ve been running around for a while now and apparently I look like it, too. Thanks, Ken!  🙂 But mom has reminded me to take my vitamins, so I’ll be able to power through the next few weeks before embarking on my summer adventure of working at Grand Teton National Park.

Most importantly in recent events, I had my first real celebrity sighting here in London last week. My friend Katherine, who was visiting from St. Andrews, and I were sitting in Leicester Square on Thursday eating some Chinese food when we saw a big crowd. I turned to her and said, ‘Huh, I wonder if someone famous is over there!’ So just when we went to check it out, a silver Mercedes pulled up and out stepped Matthew McConaughey!! Yes, he is just as attractive as in the movies, and yes, Katherine and I did shamelessly take pictures and yell ‘I LOVE YOU, MATTHEW!’ After watching him talk to the press and fans for about 15 minutes another silver Mercedes pulled up, and, sure enough, out stepped Kate Hudson. Now, I’m not one for gawking at celebrity magazine photos, but I have to admit, she was gorgeous!! They were both there for the European premiere of their new movie “Fool’s Gold,” which, as Katherine commented at one point, ‘is supposed to be a really horrible movie, but that’s an irrelevant sidenote at the moment!’ We watched them for probably 30-45 minutes just hanging out with fans and press. I have to admit I might have been a little starstruck.

Last night I also saw Jeremy Irons in a performace of ‘Never So Good’ at the National Theater. He was great, the play was significantly more interesting than I thought it would be (since it was all about British politics during the wars) and the whole time I just kept listening to Jeremy Irons’s voice and thinking of him as Scar in the “Lion King.” In the last couple weeks I’ve also seen a play called ‘Enemy of the People’ along with Shakespeare’s “Henry V” and “Richard II” performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company. This weekend I’m headed to Stratford-Upon-Avon with my program to see Shakespeare’s birthplace and another performance of “The Merchant of Venice.” Along with churches and museums, I think I’ve been to the theater more since being here than the rest of my life combined. Since I’m out so many evenings, my host mom even asked me this morning if I went to the theater at home as often as I do here and I responded, ‘No, definitely not!!’

Last Friday I took a day trip with my program to Bath and we stopped by Stonehenge on the way. I might have been a little late meeting our group (or more than a little…) but after flying out of the tube station and running to our bus, I hopped on and we headed off for the day. Stonehenge was very cold and, well, it looked a lot like it did that last time I was there, imagine that! Bath was a really cute town. We saw and walked around the Roman baths, and at the end I was disappointed when there wasn’t one for us to enjoy. We also toured the Abbey there and our tour guide led us on a walk around town pointing out where Jane Austen lived, very important! It was a fast trip, with a lot of time spent on the tour bus, but glad to have gotten a chance to see it!

With the day trip on Friday I spent the rest of the weekend in London (first weekend here in five or six weeks) and checked off a few things on my ‘London List.’ I made it to Camden Market which I had heard a lot about from other people in my program. I decided it was Seattle’s Capitol Hill, Bumbershoot, and Pike Place Market all combined times ten. Very cool, lots of funk there, endless ways to spend money and delicious food to eat all over the place. On Sunday I met up with some friends from Scotland who now live in London, Claire and Pete, and we hung out near Buckingham Palace watching the end of the London Marathon. As is to be expected, the runners looked exhausted, though some of them still moved by us quite quickly, and I could really only imagine the pain shooting through their legs at that moment. Needless to say, though Pete was tempted at the time, we haven’t signed up for next year’s marathon.

Besides running lower on money, I’ve found myself running a little lower on energy as well. Before I left people said, ‘Do everything, try new things, do stuff you wouldn’t normally do!’ and I think I’ve been pretty good at following their advice so far. I’m going to try and do the same for the next three weeks to leave with a bang. Already though I’ve gotten in a routine here and have found myself to be a little less outgoing than I was in the beginning. I can understand how people live here and never see the things I’m seeing. It’s easy to stay in the places you feel comfortable even when there are so many different opportunties. Just like at home, the baristas at the local coffee shop down the street from school know me and always say hi. They still need to work a little on getting my drink just right, but hey, can’t have it like in Seattle all the time. Aw, even in a big city I can still be a ‘regular.’

Looking at a map of the Underground, at first it seems like it’s pretty complex, but really it’s not so bad, and I’ve become really comfortable getting all around London. With my unlimited student Oyster card I’m on and off public transportation ALL the time. I try to leave myself about an hour and 15 or 20 minutes to get to school everyday and today I left the house at one when I was supposed to be in the City (the one square mile of the actual city of London) at two. A train didn’t come until 1:05, and I sat there thinking about how I was going to be late again meeting up with my group. But having mastered my route, I knew the best places to switch trains and managed to make it to the platforms just as the trains I wanted were about to pull away. There is a strange feeling of satisfaction when you catch a train at the last minute, and I managed to make it to the Bank of England, where we met for class, in about 45 minutes. That is how it’s done!

The group dynamics with the students in my program have changed a lot over the last couple months as well. We’ve now all been together for 2 1/2 months and with 28 of the 33 students being girls, there has been plenty of drama and gossip to fill what few dull moments there are! My friend Kali from UPS and I are pretty much fed up with it all, so when necessary we find ourselves a good cup of coffee and discuss the greatness of Dave Matthews Band 🙂 I’m also really grateful to have other people here who I can meet up with outside my school program, which has provided me with some diversity in my social life!

Only a few more weeks, but things aren’t slowing down much. And with finals looming I have to remember to do homework every once in a while! Though I don’t have any international excursions planned, I’ll try to keep updating and telling of the happenings around London and the UK. Overall, still loving it here, I could just maybe use a few more days to sleep in. Oh well, I’ll sleep when I’m old!

Whirlwind Weekend in Paris

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I’m sorry, I really can’t help myself with these alliterative titles, it’s just too tempting. After a slower week in London last week recovering from spring break, I headed to Paris with Devan early Saturday morning. We left London first thing Saturday on the train and went through the chunnel. I have to admit, I didn’t think I would like Paris that much. I thought it would just be another big European city, and I had heard a lot about the Parisians being really rude. But I was really pleasantly surprised and loved it! It was beautiful (of course!), surprisingly managable, and after being in Italy, the Parisians (mostly) seemed very pleasant.

After dropping our bags at the hostel, Devan and I (both on very little sleep) headed out to see everything we could! It was recommended to us that we start at the Arc de Triomphe and go up to the top to see the 12 boulevards that branch off it. As Rick said, it’s one of the most exhilarating traffic circles in the world, ha. Instead of going up the Eiffel Tower, we went up the arch so that we could see the Eiffel Tower and get a feel for the whole city. From there, we walked to the Eiffel Tower and found a really cute local Saturday market on the way. We indulged in some amazing fresh pastries and a nutella crepe there. So good!! We enjoyed our pastries at the foot of the Eiffel Tower and then walked around the base and took approximately a million pictures (lots up on flickr). There were some people rappelling down it from the first platform area, ridiculous! We watched a few, most went slowly, but I looked back to see one guy almost in a free fall who then caught himself right before the ground. He was having a good laugh, but most people on the ground were a little nervous! From the base we headed up to the Trocadero to get the classic view of the Eiffel Tower (where the picture above was taken).

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We then headed down the river toward Notre Dame and, much like being in Rome, we saw a lot of sights that looked really familiar but we weren’t entirely sure what they were. Don’t worry though, Rick was with us and he helped us out when we needed it. After making our way to ND, we enjoyed our wonderful raspberry tarts we got at the market before we went in. As an art history major, Devan took a history class on a bunch of the architecture of Notre Dame, so I got tidbits of info from her as she went around recognizing the different aspects she learned about. As she looked around at ND and later in San Chapelle, she commented, “I’m in art history heaven!” From Notre Dame, we wandered over to San Chapelle, the small church which is virtually all stained glass windows, something like 1300 Biblical scenes, unbelievable. Continuing on our whirlwind tour we wandered over to the Latin Quarter (tourist central) where we got some dinner and, most importantly, had chocolate fondue for dessert!! With the switch to daylight time and France being an hour ahead of London, it stayed light until about 8:30. When we walked out of dinner, we caught the last bit of sunshine as we crossed the river. Sunsets on bridges overlooking beautiful European cities is perhaps one of my new favorite things, second only to watching the sunset behind beautiful mountains 🙂

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We crossed the river and wandered over to the Louvre (closed obviously) and nearby park for more photo opportunities. After the sunset, we stopped by the redlight district, avoided all the sex shops, quickly took a picture of the Moulin Rouge and then ran back into the Metropolitan station. Not quite the same as the Nicole Kidman movie. . . and though I was looking for Ewan McGregor while we were there, believe it or not, I didn’t see him. Of course, then we had to go see the Eiffel Tower at night, because it is MUCH prettier. At midnight the whole thing sparkled with crazy flashing lights up and down it for ten minutes. We weren’t really sure why, but it sure was pretty!
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I think that just about covers all of Saturday, and our arrival that day and the amount of walking we did all over the place left us pretty tired on Sunday. But it was the first Sunday of the month so the Louvre and the Musee d’ Orsay were both free. We managed to get in both without too much trouble. Unfortunately, Devan and I didn’t feel very well for much of the day, but we managed to see the Mona Lisa. The Louvre was so overwhelming with so many people we didn’t spend a lot of time there. We decided you could live in Paris for a month and go to the Louvre every day and then maybe you could see everything. I knew it was big, I just didn’t know it was that big!

We moved on to the Musee d’Orsay after another crossiant of course! Saw the impressionist paintings which I liked a lot. I honestly think I’ve been to more museums in the last two months than in the whole rest of my life. I’ve seen some cool (and very famous) stuff. Hopefully I can remember it all and keep it all straight when I’m back! After the Musee d’Orsay we hit up another tourist area at the Basilique du Sacré Coeur. It was another pretty church in a cute area, and there was a cool Spanish guitarist playing on the steps who gathered a crowd. Feeling pretty tired, we headed back to the hostel to grab our stuff and headed to the train station just as the rain/snow mix started to come down.

I’m sure it’s made international news that the Olympic torch came through London this weekend (with plenty of demonstrations here), and we just happened to be at the train station last night when it arrived in Paris on the train from London. As we stood in line lots of people with Tibet flags were wandering around and the police were standing there in preparation. Just as we went upstairs to the departure area, the train from London arrived and we had a perfect view to watch the crowd go nuts. Poor people just trying to get off the train were practically trampled and the ‘flame’ was actually a flashing light. A little lame, but I guess I understand, might be a bit of a fire hazard to have a flame going through the chunnel. Plus I just heard on the BBC tonight that the flame has been put out something like three times since being in Paris. . . oh geez. Anyway, our weekend in Paris truly was eventful to the very end, our train was a little delayed because of the demonstrations, but overall it was a pretty flawless trip. Beautiful city, really glad to have seen it and had such a good time. I’ll probably make it back some day and do the museums a little more thoroughly, and who knows, maybe I’ll even make it to Disneyland Paris, haha!

I don’t have any more trips outside the UK planned for the semester. The next four weeks I have some excursions arranged with school on the weekends. This Friday I finally get to go to Bath, which I’ve heard so much about and also Stonehenge, which I’ve been to before, but who doesn’t want to see big rocks again? Last week I realized my time here is quickly slipping away, so I sat down and made my ‘London List’ of all the things I still have to do in the city. Feeling motivated after seeing how long it was, I headed to the British Library and the National Portrait Gallery after class last Thursday so I could begin to cross a few things off. And actually it was quite cool as both places had things that related perfectly to the things I’m studying (imagine that!). It was fun to see Virgina Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway” notebook at the British Library after I had literally just been reading it for class on the tube ride there. And then to go to the National Portrait Gallery and see all the portraits of the members of the Bloomsbury Group that I just learned about in my British Novel class. Funny how these things all come together!! I honestly can’t believe how soon I’ll be back and I feel like I’m just really starting to get into a rhythm with life here. Even today on the tube during rush hour I told a woman how to get where she wanted to go. I felt really satisfied understanding a part of the city and knowing the different tube stops!

My friend Katherine is in London for her spring break from St. Andrews so we’ll be doing a few things around the city this week. As tacky as it may be I’ve been wanting to go to Madame Tussaud’s, the wax museum and take funny pictures with all the celebrities. Ha, I think I talked Katherine into it, so I’ll be able to cross that off after this week. More plays to come for class and lots going on in London this week and next, so no more ‘big’ trips, but still plenty to keep me busy! Thanks to all who are still reading and sending emails! Hope to catch up with everyone soon!