Worlds Apart

I’ve officially seen “Mind the Gap” signs on the London Underground and “Bison on Road” signs in Yellowstone National Park in the same week. Instead of British history, I now learn about Native American jewelry. Instead of the sound of trains going by late at night, now I hear the coyotes howling to each other at dusk. And instead of looking right before crossing the street to avoid being hit by a big red double-decker bus, I constantly scan the horizon as I drive, right to left, left to right, to avoid elk, moose and on Sunday, a bear. I honestly cannot believe the incredible relocation I have just put myself through, but I love the ability I have to experience so much so quickly. Unbelievable!

Well, I’m no longer in Europe running around, but I’ve been told by several people that I should keep my blog going, so if I have a story to tell, I’ll do my best to share it.

But before I leave London completely behind, as promised, I said I would post a best of/worst of/favorites list. The semester finished up really well and with an absolutely fabulous week of summer weather! After our finals were over, we all headed to Russell Square to enjoy London on a sunny day and let the sun and the realization of summer soak in! Though I was tired after finals and mostly just wanted to sit on the couch like I normally do when a semester ends, I kept running around London until the very end. My classmates and I said goodbye to each other with what we all thought would be the lamest activity of the entire semester: a talent show. The visiting American professor in our program took what was supposed to be a sarcastic suggestion for a talent show, and she turned it into an actual planned event. However, it turned out to be one of the best events we did as a group all semester. With a lot of inside jokes referred to, some serious reflections written by students and even a sing-along led by our director, we realized how much we had all experienced together in the last 3 ½ months, and everyone agreed the talent show was great! On Friday, a friend and I headed to Kew Gardens, the Royal Botanical Gardens. Very pretty, very big and fun to wander around, feeling like we weren’t even in a big city anymore. On Saturday I packed up and wrapped up, taking one last trip into central London and walked around some of places I’d gotten to know in the last few months. I started at King’s Cross after saying goodbye to a friend, headed south, through Bloomsbury and Holborn, across the Strand, crossed the river on the Waterloo Bridge, walked along the Southbank, crossed the Thames again at Charing Cross/Embankment and ended at my favorite place in London, Trafalgar Square. I sat there one last time on the steps leading up to the National Gallery and watched as tons of people were out on the hot Saturday. I thanked London for being good to me for a few months and for teaching me so much. On Sunday I said goodbye to Ken and Jan, my wonderful host parents, who made my time in London so comfortable. I miss them and will always be grateful to have been a guest in such a great home. So, as I think back on my semester, here are some things that stand out:

favorite place I traveled to: two way tie- Chamonix and Cinque Terre
favorite random person: Karen (from Boston, met her in Cinque Terre)
favorite day trip: two way tie- Brighton and Oxford
favorite tube ride: guy with rubic’s cube
best celebrity sighting: Kate and Matt
favorite tube worker: guy at Russell Square who made fun of our accents
most random encounter: meeting the aunt of a girl I played soccer with in elementary schol on the train from Florence to Rome
favorite show (most enjoyable/funny/lighthearted): Much Ado About Nothing, Wicked, Midsummer Night’s Dream
best show (best production): King Lear, Richard II
best food: everything in ITALY! gnocchi, pesto pasta, lots of bread and balsalmic vinegar!
favorite pub: Turf Tavern (Oxford)
best pub food: Hunter’s Chicken
best weather: last week in London, May 6-8
worst weather: Easter in Rome, March 23
best class: British Novel
favorite professor: Susie, of course!
best cookies: oatmeal raisin and triple chocolate at Ben’s Cookies (South Kensington)
best museum: S.S. Great Britain (Bristol)
favorite London routine: Sundays- cookies, coffee and church with Claire and Pete
favorite snack: splendips! (rice crackers, cream cheese and thai chilli sauce, yum!)
favorite occasional occurance: being able to tell people how to get around on the tube, because I knew the area!

Now several thousand miles away, I’m in the middle of nowhere, in Grand Teton National Park, and if the trend continues I should have about 5000 pictures of the sunset over the Tetons by the end of summer. It’s incredibly beautiful here, and I’ve already seen tons of elk (probably a moose in there too, though I’m still trying to learn the difference), and the other night a bear as I was driving back from town. So far work is good, making friends and other friends from home are planning visits to stop by! Should be a good summer, though it’s hard not to think of it as just one of my many vacations I’ve had these last few months. I’m sure by the time August rolls around it won’t feel like a vacation anymore, but still only a few days into work it feels temporary. I’m not quite sure of the adventures that the summer holds, but I’m excited to see what comes of my time in a completely new place once again! Thanks to everyone who has continued to keep up with me these last few months, I’ve really enjoyed hearing from you.

Wrap Up and Roll Out

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Don’t ask me how it happened, but I arrive back in the U.S. in just five days. More on the end of the semester in a minute, but first, the things I’ve been up to in my last couple weeks.

The planned activities with my program have slowed down as we’ve approached the end of the semester, but determined to see as much as possible, I’ve just kept on running around. Last week I saw my last Shakespeare production, and what better way to end than seeing “King Lear” at the Globe Theater?! We got the authentic Globe experience as we stood in the ‘yard’ below the stage for the entire three hour show. Oh and did I mention that it was raining as we stood in the open air theater? Yes, it rained the whole time and brought flashbacks of Easter Mass at the Vatican. But the scene during the stormy night was all the better as Lear called on the rain to pour harder, and, I kid you not, it rained harder at his call. I know it sounds ridiculous, but we all agreed that the stage technicians must have struck a great deal with God to pull that off. And just as the best Shakespearean tragedy should, it almost made me cry at the end when virtually everyone was dead. Great show!

The next morning, after drying off and warming up from the wet night at the Globe, I headed to Westminster to see British Parliament in action. My classmates and I headed into the House of Commons to watch the debates in the debating chamber. Much smaller and different than the U.S. Congress, the governing party and the opposition debate numerous subjects face to face, cheer in agreement or disagreement, and openly make fun of various political figures, including past and present Prime Ministers. It was slightly hard to follow, but it brought back memories of my Speech and Debate class in high school. In the end, I concluded I could never make it as an MP (representative).

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Unfortunately, due to bad weather our end-of-the-semester picnic at Kew Gardens was canceled. However, that left Friday open, so I hopped on a train to Cambridge. I knew I couldn’t go to Oxford and not see the ‘other’ British university. Nothing too eventful happened there, but it really was nice to go and see it. I wandered around and noticed all the similarities between there and Oxford: the boats along the river, gated colleges spread throughout the town, and, of course, lots of rich, beautiful and brilliant people walking around everywhere. As I walked around it dawned on me that I’ve now been to the two elite universities in Britain, but never to Yale, Princeton, Harvard, etc. I went to King’s College Chapel and it was one of those ‘Whoa…’ places when you walked in and saw all the stained glass. Very pretty and despite not wanting to visit many more churches or museums, it was a worthwhile stop. Ready for a little break, I found a cute hole-in-the-wall coffee shop that made a good iced mocha. When I went upstairs to sit for a few minutes, there were two girls there my age. As I sat there overhearing some of their conversation (it was a small place), I realized that despite being slightly more pretentious and British, they were basically the same as me, talking about the same stuff I would sit around and talk about with my best friend at Rockwood Bakery in Spokane. That may not sound like a big revelation, but I guess the point is that I was surprised by how normal I realized all the students are despite them attending one of the most prestigious universities in the world. By late afternoon I felt like I had a pretty good feel for the place and headed back to London, just in time for Friday rush hour at King’s Cross.

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On Saturday, I headed to Brighton with some friends from school and Devan. My English professor, Susie, lives there and invited us to come down for the day. We arrived there in the morning, Susie met us and she showed us around the town as the parade celebrating the beginning of the Brighton Art Festival was going on. As we roamed around the town, we had to awkwardly cut across the parade to make it to Brighton Pavilion. The Pavilion is quite possibly one of the most bizarre buildings in all of Britain. It was built by Prince George as his ‘pleasure palace’ and it looks Indian on the outside and is completely Chinese on the inside. Like I said . . . bizarre. The banqueting room was another ‘whoa…’ place, not only for the size, but also for the giant dragon chandelier. Ridiculous. Anyway, we managed to find our way back to the normal world and headed to the beach! Susie promised us all drinks for staying an extra hour in class last week, so she bought us the classic Brighton beach drink, Pimms. It was so good, and sitting there on the beach with a great drink in hand put me right into summer mode!! We had a great lunch in the sun (there’s just something about eating outside when the weather is nice that is so fantastic!) and we wandered down the pier joining all the British families and crazy kids who were hyped up on sugar and whining to go on the rides. Sitting at the beach was fantastic before returning to busy London and a week of finals.

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So this week I’ve finally turned in all my papers, taken two finals and have just two more before I’m officially a senior in college. (Again, don’t ask me how that happened!) Monday was a bank holiday here in the UK, so though I had school, the rest of London took the day off. The streets were quiet, shops were closed and not much was happening in central London. They take their bank holidays seriously here! This was a quote I couldn’t pass up putting in my blog: As my friend Meg and I walked around looking for a place to find a sandwich for lunch (Starbucks ended up being the only place open) she turned to me and asked ‘So if it’s a bank holiday that means I can’t go to the ATM and get money huh?’ Not wanting to shoot down this ridiculous notion immediately, I said ‘Well, bank holidays are just government holidays, they don’t really have anything to do with the banks, so you can still get money.’ To which she responded ‘Yeah, but all the banks are closed!’ Now I hate to support a stereotype, but she is blonde and in a sorority. Finally I said, ‘Yes, but banks are also closed every night and every Sunday, but you can still get money from an ATM!’ It finally clicked.

I feel like I’ve wrapped up my time really well here, continued to see a lot and take advantage of everything I can. It’ll be interesting to see what stands out to me the most when I return home and think back over everything. I’ve started to compile a ‘Best of the semester’ list, but I’ll save that for one last blog entry, when I list my favorite moments, places, food, etc. For now, I can’t forget that I do have two more finals and, man, am I good at procrastinating! I guess I’ll take another shot at understanding the British political system one last time before I’m tested on it!