Category Archives: London

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!

Why I Love London and Forty Fast Hours in Prague

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I’ve officially been in London a month (with a couple weekend trips) and have to say my affections for the city are only growing. It occurred to me that London is not a “vacation city.” What I mean is, London cannot be understood by simply spending a week touring around and seeing the “sites.” I suppose that could be said of any big city, but after a month I am beginning to comprehend a fraction of how incredible a place London really is, and why some people spend their life fascinated by it (*cough* MOM *cough*). But I love London in a different way than I love Seattle. I love Seattle because on a sunny day the mountains, water, and city are unbelievably beautiful. And because everyone walks around in fleece and North Face Jackets! I don’t love London for the noisy streets, or the dirty river, (as my English professor said today, “London is ugly but fascinating!”) or the hour-long tube ride that makes me late for class when there are delays. But I love it because when I arrived early to meet Claire Marshall (another Banchory friend!) at Trafalgar Square I just walked into the National Gallery… for free… and wandered around looking at amazing, famous paintings for an hour. I love London because I was then approached by a Spanish art student in the gallery and talked about some paintings with him. I love London because when walking into the tube station with my classmates a man on the street stopped us and asked if we were American and then said “Oh, I LOVE Americans, I’m so glad you still come to our country, GOD BLESS you guys!” (Just for the record he was very normal looking, business suit and all). And I love London because I can sit in a coffee shop feeling at home with my book or I can walk out of an unfamiliar tube stop feeling completely lost and overwhelmed by the millions of crooked streets branching off from the station. What I’m getting at is the incredible diversity in people and activities, the history that is EVERYWHERE, the entertainment . . . and so the list could continue. It’s impressive, and I think you can only fully appreciate it if you spend some time actually living in it. Some people might think I’m just awed by the “big city life,” but there’s more to it than that, because to simply call London a “big city” would be a horrible injustice.

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So life here is always interesting, and, if I wanted, I could probably experience something new every moment. But I’ve decided to branch out into other parts of Europe as well, and last weekend I traveled to Prague. It was a short trip, but we packed it in and saw as much as we could. I went with three other girls from my program, one of whom, Rachel, has a friend studying in Prague. So Rachel’s friend, Pat, was our tour guide for the whole weekend. It was great! He met us at our hostel on Friday night and saw us off on Sunday morning! Of course he didn’t know all the history of all the places we went, but he got us around so we didn’t have to struggle with a map (which I especially appreciated since I have been named the “map master,” or “mapquest,” of our group here in London and when we’re visiting other cities). We first walked around the city at night which was beautiful! Every turn we made there were more beautifully lit buildings from centuries long ago! Of course, I had to have the Bohemian experience and we all tried Gulash, Hot Wine (Prague’s drink, tasted like cider at Christmas with a little more kick) and Pilsner (Czech beer). Since we had the advantage of paying with a currency that is actually weaker than the U.S. dollar we treated ourselves to a nice dinner out since we never do that in London! (It was a little annoying when Pat’s friends told us how expensive things were when they had to use the Euro! After being in London a month the Euro sounds great to all of us!) On Saturday we tried to see everything we could, Old Town Square, Wenceslas Square, top of the Clock Tower, watched the old Apostle Clock, Prague Castle, a Saturday market and, of course, can’t forget the five story club (each floor with different music) which they advertised as Central Europe’s largest club. Ha! Prague was pretty, and I’m glad to have seen it, but I don’t think I could stay there a whole semester. And after meeting up with Pat and another GU friend, who came to spend the weekend with us from Barcelona, I appreciate my study abroad program a lot. We all shared our different experiences with housing, transportation, classes and, of course, there are pros and cons to the different set up programs have, but overall I’m really happy with mine. Sitting in Prague talking about London with others who are also abroad made London feel like home and made me appreciate how my time here is going so far. We made if back to London on Sky Europe, which I don’t recommend. After take off everyone looked sick and some people went running to the bathroom to be sick. Not pleasant . . . but we finally landed and overall it was successful trip!

When I returned home I discovered that I have unintentionally bought chocolate every place I’ve been. In Switzerland I got dark chocolate flavored with lemon and pepper (I know it sounds gross, but trust me, it was so good!), fudge in Edinburgh (that was Stephen’s idea!), my host dad Ken brought me home chocolates that British Airways gives to their first class customers, and while in Prague I couldn’t resist the “Latte Macchiato” chocolate I saw. So far the lemon/pepper and latte macchiato are the best. But now that I’ve started it, I might as well continue and find some chocolate every place I go! Perhaps I should admit I’m a chocoholic now and then just do research as to where the best chocolate is, no? I’ll update everyone as to my findings.

Back in school this week I experienced what I called “An English Major’s Dream.” We’re reading “Great Expectations” in my British Novel class, so we walked around and saw all the places Pip goes when he comes to London. It was great!! Read the book and then actually see all the settings, so cool! We saw most of the legal parts of London since of course Pip’s guardian is a lawyer, and though I was paying attention to the relationship to “G.E.”, I also noted that this is totally the area where Mr. Darcy works in Bridget Jones!! (Sorry for the continual Colin Firth references, but I really can’t help it!) I half expected Colin to walk out of one of the courtyards in his long black coat looking very lawyerish… but he wasn’t there. Only real British lawyers walking around, darn. Anyway, I absolutely love my Novel professor; she’s so cool, and basically I just want to be friends with her. She lives down in Brighton and has invited us all out to her house to spend a day there in May when the arts festival starts there! She is also buying me a pint when we all go to the pub as a class because I guessed closest to the correct average age of a Londoner during the time of G.E. (I guessed 26, by the way). Who doesn’t love a professor that will buy you a pint and invite you to her house? Unbelievable! She also has some great one liners… like today when she gave us her hotmail email address but told us to put our name in the subject line because otherwise she might think it was, “another offer to extend my penis,” which she said “would be getting quite long by now if I took all the offers I was emailed!” Maybe it was just the way she said it, but it was too funny in class!

So, tonight I’m off to my sixth show since being in London (not bad for it being the fifth week here!). I’m going to see Gilbert and Sulivan’s “The Mikado” again. A different production than the first one I saw. Everyone in the program is going, so it should be entertaining! On Thursday Lucas, my very good from friend GU who is studying in Florence this year, is headed to London. I can’t wait to see him and show him all around, it should be a fun weekend of running all over London!
Apparently word has gotten around about my blog (I think I have mostly my parents to blame for that :-). Now I feel as though I have a readership that I must write for. It’s quite fun actually, so thanks to all who have expressed their enjoyment of it! My favorite story about someone reading it is that Liz Brown’s mom (Hi, Laura!) wasn’t sure whether Liz had made it into London yet, but checked my blog and read that we had dinner together, so she knew Liz was safely touring around London. Ha! Gotta love the ways of communication these days! I think that covers it for now!! I’m sure I’ve forgotten something, but I’ll throw it in later! Also, more pictures up on flickr. Much love to all!!

More from Abroad

Perhaps you’ve heard people say “TMI” when someone shares “Too Much Information,” but the other day while on the train, my friend tried to say “TMI” and ended up saying “TMA,” which I immediately said stood for “Too Much American.” Because, let’s be honest, we were loud and obnoxious on the train. So… as I’ve now been out of the U.S. a month, I’ve found a somewhat subtle way to refer to instances when my friends and I sound utterly annoying and, well,… American.

This weekend was a bit of a “TMA” experience when I, along with my thirty classmates, headed up to Edinburgh, Scotland. Traveling with a large group of Americans made me appreciate my time in France by myself where I could do what I pleased, when I pleased and didn’t have to display my ignorant American-ness so obviously (only when people spoke to me in French, and then there was a problem!) I’ve been to Edinburgh before and loved it, but this time on an “educational” trip it was a bit different than my past experiences. We managed to pack a lot into the 2 days we were there with class (here we go, laundry list time): Edinburgh Castle, Royal Mile, St. Giles, Holyrood House, Scottish Parliament, Scottish National Musuem, Scottish National Gallery…) Of course, there was the classic drama the accompanied the trip now that our school group has been together for three weeks. I could have done without that, but was happy to leave them on Saturday afternoon when I could go and see some friends who are in Edinburgh. I bought a train ticket back to London on Sunday so I could visit. For those who may know them, I managed to see Nicola Stephen, Katie Shaiman, Stephen, Katherine Staples, Meg and Calum. It was fun to run around (using the train station as a meeting point for all my socializing, of course) Edinburgh with some old friends and catch up. At one point I felt like I could have been sitting at U-Village Starbucks just chatting it up on any old weekend. It’s nice to find little bits of home while abroad. And just for the record, I’ve only been to Starbucks twice since I have been away from home, and the second time was only because Calum and Meg suggested it as a convenient location!!

Discussing with some other Americans the differences we’ve encountered here was of course helpful. It may seem as though there aren’t any, but it’s when you live here and spend time living a daily routine that I think you begin to encounter subtle differences. For instance, Katie Shaiman (and I was so glad to hear her say this) said there is a certain amount of “translating” that she has to do while in school. Yes, people speak English in the UK, but… for instance, Jan (my host mom, or should I say “mum”?) kept talking about how she had a “rou” (I don’t even know to how spell it! pronounced like “ow” with an r in front) with some people at work. A rou?? Ohh… it’s like a fight, or disagreement. But she kept saying it, and while I was trying to figure out what it was, she kept talking, so I kept trying to listen and then had to have the awkward pause when she was done in order for there to be time for me to comprehend all she had said. So, no, it’s not a foreign language, but sometimes I wonder.

So the trip was successful, I managed to make it back on my own last night to London. Only two girls from our group missed the train in Scotland for the trip back to London with school… unbelievable!! (Those are the situations I’m happy enough not have to have to deal with.)  🙂 It did occur to me though, why isn’t train travel bigger in the U.S? It just makes so much sense! And if there were a better/more popular system it would be a nice alternative to getting back and forth from Seattle to Spokane every once in a while (though I do love Southwest!) I enjoyed being able to look out the window though, and when we came along the coast, it was beautiful!! COLD and WINDY, but beautiful. I didn’t realize how much I had missed seeing open spaces these last couple weeks in London, but a breath of fresh sea air was great! So, I didn’t get much work done on the ride up to Scotland because I was too busy soaking in all that was around me. While others pulled out their books and let their mouths hang open while sleeping, I was wide-eyed at the window and appreciating that it was a “typical” Thursday and I was headed to Scotland and somehow getting college credit for it!

So, Scotland was great. I was very happy to visit it once again, the magic never seems to fade! Otherwise I’ve been convincing myself that schoolwork is somewhat of a necessity when in school, so last week was pretty standard.

Two other quick reflections about my time here before I have to go and meet Liz Brown for dinner (she’s studying in Rome and is in London at the moment for her spring break – I’m very spoiled with all the people I’m able to see!). The first thought is that as soon as people find that I’m American they think I must have some deep political insight into the current election. They ALWAYS ask about Hillary and Obama, who I would rather have, is the U.S. ready for a black or woman president, what happens if they end up running against each other?! And so it goes… I tell them what little I can (like how Hillary and Obama can’t possibly be the two final candidates since they’re in the same party) and usually end up explaining the electoral college, but, honestly, I feel about the same here as I would at home… I care, but not that much. So I’ve talked more American politics since I’ve been here than I ever would have at home.

And lastly, upon my departure people told me over and over again that I should do things I wouldn’t normally do and try a ton of new things. So, just for the record, I have. Some of that includes trying a few of the British beers, getting a free a ticket to a play every chance I have and also going to Tesco (British Safeway) on the way to the tube station and grabbing a chocolate crossiant because sometimes that’s just what you need to make it home on the tube during rush hour without losing your mind. There are, of course, other things… I don’t consider my biggest adventure here going to the pastry aisle of the grocery store (though that is something I rarely do at home), but I can’t give away all the stories… there are more to come!

Prague this weekend with the girls from school – that will be an adventure for sure!! Must be off to meet Liz. There are a few more pictures posted on flickr that you can check out. Love and miss you all, thanks for all the emails, so good to hear from all of you!! Until next time…

“Londony” Things

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Well, I haven’t skied any 12-mile-long glaciers this week—or even seen any snow—but life is still full of adventure, just having to do more with big city life rather than the outdoors like my time in France. I’ve been in London a week and a half now and have been keeping busy with all that the city has to offer, and then I was reminded this week that I will also have schoolwork to do! A laundry list of things I’ve seen so far: Hampstead Heath (a giant park, reminded me of Discovery Park a little), been to three shows already (more on that in a minute), hit up Portobello Road Market, Hyde Park, Harrod’s (WOW!), church at St. Paul’s, the Tate Modern Museum and, of course, some of the good ol’ British pubs, essential to the London experience.

I’ve pretty much gotten the tube routes and ride under control, but of course there are the unexpected delays that test my knowledge of the alternate connections to make (we barely made it to the theater on time tonight) and to see how little personal space it is possible to have. One thing I think I forgot to mention in Chamonix was how they just pack people in the trams to the top of the mountain. Basically, don’t come to Europe if you’re claustrophobic. So, of course I’ve had to come up with an analogy to relate the two experiences: Riding on the tube at rush hour is a lot like skiing. I know what you’re thinking… “Liz, you’re crazy.” Yes… but hear me out, it’ll make sense. It’s all about shifting your weight at the right times, and poles, though not essential, really make it a lot easier to maintain balance and have a successful run. See what I mean? The escalators up from the underground lines also require confident, fluid movement, much like a chairlift demands… ok that’s a little bit of a stretch, but I thought I’d go for it anyway 🙂

Anyway, the Tate Modern was interesting, some stuff weird, some really interesting, sometimes it was hard to know the difference. St. Paul’s = amazing. I’d been to church there once before and it was just as incredible as the first time. Stunning is an understatement of how beautiful it is, and when those little choir boys are singing and you’re looking up at the dome it’s powerful. If I ever live in London (besides right now) and if I ever have a little boy while I’m living in London, my son will be a choir boy at St. Paul’s and wear the ridiculously cute robe and collar. You may think I’m cruel, but I just think I’d have a good excuse to listen to every performance they ever had. Harrod’s was perhaps the most incredible/ridiculous store I’ve ever been in. The best part was looking at the prices and laughing, because if you don’t just laugh at how absurd they are then you have to actually think about how outrageous it is that someone would pay that much for a pair of shoes, or dress… or whatever the brand name item is. Especially with the horrible exchange rate the thought of buying something there was highly entertaining. The food halls were amazing—who knew a department store would have a fancy grocery store in it? Perhaps the most intriguing part of Harrod’s was when, after walking through the department of purses that cost somewhere around 500-2500 pounds, I found a small stand of tote bags in the corner pushed out the way, with a little sign explaining how the profits went to some AIDS fund in Africa. I hope I need not explain the sad irony of that situation…

I’ve managed to get free tickets to two shows that classes at school (which I’m not taking) were going to see and had extras of. The first was last week, Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado.” I knew virtually nothing about G & S but went anyway and was entertained. My school is offering a whole course on their different operas, but I was happy enough to see one and be entertained for a few hours without studying the music in depth. Last night I managed to get a ticket for “The Homecoming,” which is one of London’s hottest shows right now. I was totally engaged the whole time, but left perplexed. I understood it right up until the point when the main character’s brothers start making out with his wife in front of him and he just watches without interfering. Huh. If anyone knows anything about that play, I’d be happy to entertain comments/thoughts on it. My friend and I tried to debrief after it, but both of us were… confused, and she’s a theater major, too! Tonight I went to the greatest Shakespeare show I’ve ever seen: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in an abandoned office building that’s in the process of being remodeled. Truly amazing performance, the play began while we were all standing around and the actors just acted around us until they led us into the “forest” where we were seated. It was somewhat interactive, one of the fairies touched my butt when she walked past me… awkward. The show was incredibly sexual and I wondered what drugs all the actors had taken prior to the performance, but they pulled it off and it was really well done. Many more shows to come, “The Merchant of Venice” next week and who knows what else.

Otherwise I’ve just been getting in the flow of being in school again (wow I forgot how much reading an English major has to do!), but I really only sit in class on Mondays and Tuesdays and then have “excursions” for classes on Wednesdays and Thursdays, with every Friday off. Not too shabby! Host fam is still great, I’ve gotten Jan addicted to LOST. Well, she’s missed the first three seasons, but she makes a point to sit and watch it with me on Sundays, ha! This Friday some friends and I are headed to Windsor, with other “Londony” things this weekend. Next weekend a trip to Edinburgh with school, and I’m staying an extra day to see some friends there. Then my friends and I have managed to book a couple trips, one to Prague, another to Dublin in the next month or so, hoping to get Paris with Devan and spring break book soon as well. I’m getting the hang of London, but there will be more European travel adventures very soon! Obviously there will be pictures and updates along the way!

A couple of notable quotes from the semester so far:

Discussing with my friend Rachel and her roommate, Lauren, about their host “mom,” who is a single woman living in London, but seems to have lots of social engagements. Note: Probably only funny to those who like Bridget Jones.

Me: “Huh, she sounds like Bridget Jones.”
Rachel: “Eh… not really.”
Lauren: “Yeah, she does… if Bridget Jones had exchange students!”

Discussing how huge and busy London is Rachel says, “London is like New York on crack!”

My British Novel professor: “I worship at the shrine of Jane Austen.” ha, YES!!

Thanks to all who are reading and keeping in contact, very much appreciated! Hope all are well!

London Life

Day two completed with only occasional trips down the wrong streets and a few moments of confusion. Not too bad so far in London, which, may I say, is a HUGE city! Thanks to the diagram of the tube, which I’m sure most everyone has seen before, it’s really pretty easy to get around on the underground. I even made two transfers on the way to school today and the trip was flawless. The surface streets are what confuse the heck out of me, but I managed to make it to school yestreday (and today on a different, faster route) which is basically an old house that has been converted into classrooms for our use. I met the others in the program, about 7 of us from Gonzaga and then others from PLU, UPS, Willamette and U of Portland. The GU girls and I are bonding well and getting to know some of the others. With everyone somewhat confused we’re all relying on each other for help and consequently getting to know each other quickly.

We got an overview of the program yesterday, lots of new information being thrown at us. It sounds like they’ll keep us busy and entertained for sure! Today we took a boat down the Thames to The Tower of London where we toured around for a bit. I saw a heck of a lot of old armor and artillery and even the Crown Jewels. It was good to make it to The Tower since on my last trip to London that’s where we were headed when the bombs went off on the underground (July 7, 2005), so of course we didn’t make it there. Tomorrow is the British Musuem, but don’t worry there are some academics involved and we have normal classes starting on Thursday.

We got a quick overview of our courses this morning. I think I will love my British novel class, be intimidated by my Shakespeare professor (which usually pays off in the end), enjoy British history and of course I’ll love my ‘Britain Today’ class which is ‘excursion based’ In fact we’re headed to Edinburgh for a group trip in a couple weeks!

After orientation yesterday I managed to find my way to Devan, Craig, and Pete Chalmers in Russell Square. It was great to see Craig and Pete, though it was brief, and I was grateful to retrieve my much needed luggage from Devan. Hard to believe, but my ski clothes from France just didn’t fit in too well in London.

I can see a pattern of life here beginning to emerge and think after a few more days I’ll feel pretty settled. Not necessarily ‘at home,’ but settled, and that’s pretty good for the first week, I think.

Really sorry pictures still aren’t up, I have the wrong adapter for my computer so a few more days… but I promise the pictures of the Alps will be worth the wait! I’ve actually been given some reading assignments so I guess I’m officially back in school. I better get started!

Goodbye Chamonix, Quick Stop in Geneva, Arrival in UK #2

Hello!

I’ll start backwards and tell you I’ve just arrived at my host family’s house outside London this morning. Ken and Jan Keen are my host parents and they’re wonderful!! I walked out of the arrivals area and Ken was standing there with my name on a sign and a smile of his face. They’re so friendly and already I’m feeling quite at home. It’s been a relaxed Sunday (which I really appreciate) to get settled and rested before orientation starts in the morning at 10am. I live in a place in northwest London called Ruislip (pronounced Rise-lip, unlike Ru-slip which is how I said it before I arrived). It’ll be a long tube ride into school everyday, but it’s a nice quiet area here (reminds me a bit of Queen Anne so far, though I still have some exploring to do!), and I think it will be a great place to call home for a few months. This last week has flown by, though at times I was skeptical, and already it’s February and I’m imaging how fast this semester will go. Trying to remember how things are today, because come May it’ll seem like this was just a week ago when I arrived here.

I’ve taken a nap and gotten settled in a bit. I sat around and talked with Ken and Jan, heard about all their travels, they’re so fun, laughing and telling stories. They call me ‘love’ and ‘lovey’ all the time which I think is so incredibly British and cute, haha. Their son, Matthew, is coming for dinner tonight and then Jan and I have big plans to watch the LOST premiere tonight. (The UK finally caught up on episodes, so I can keep up while I’m here. It’s the only show I ever watch, so I’m allowed this one!!). Jan hasn’t watched it before, but I have high hopes of getting her addicted so it can be a weekly event 🙂

Anyway, I left Chamonix without much trouble on Friday. Had a really fun dinner with the 3 Aussies on Wednesday night and got in one last day of skiing at the Brevent/Flegere ski area on Thursday. On the way up the gondola met three Scottish guys from Aberdeen. They were impressed I knew the area and had friends in Banchory, so we talked the whole way up and then they invited me to ski with them for the day. They were all snowboarders and I asked if they were really good and would I slow them down. Looking back that was an incredibly stupid question… they’re from SCOTLAND, where the highlands are, not where the mountains are!! So I was quite a bit better than they, but since the snow wasn’t that great, I wasn’t missing any incredible skiing by staying with them. They were super friendly and made my last day of skiing really enjoyable.

Got into Geneva on Friday afternoon and was met at the train station by Emma, the daughter in the family who used to live on Queen Anne but who has moved just outside Geneva for Kim’s, Emma’s mom, work. A big thank you to Kim, Dan and Emma for allowing me to stay with them for a couple of nights. They live just outside Geneva across the border in France, but we talked Queen Anne and Seattle and about colleges for Emma. It was really nice to be with a great family and I felt very welcomed. So far, since I’ve been away, I’ve been incredibly blessed to always have been surrounded by a lot of really caring and welcoming people.

Yesterday afternoon I met up with Lisbee, who is studying in Geneva this semester. We walked a good portion of the city and saw basically all there was to see. Rick Steves has dubbed Geneva the most boring city and when I came in on the bus it seemed like there was a lot going on, so I was skeptical of its lack of entertainment. But after walking around for the day, I confirmed that in fact Rick does know what he’s talking about. We walked around the old town, saw a church John Calvin was at, saw a bizillion banks and watches and that was about it! We didn’t make it to the Red Cross museum, which I’ve heard is good, but I still feel content with the visit. Geneva gives the impression of being a big city because it’s incredibly diverse. With the UN there (we drove by a couple times, so I’ve seen it) something like 40% of the people in the city aren’t citizens of Switzerland (that’s what I was told, could be a bit different number, but you get the idea). It was fun to see Lisbee and hear about her program. I’m looking forward to a few more visits in the next few months with other friends who are also studying in Europe!

On to school tomorrow, I suppose that’s the whole reason I’m really here. Orientation and meeting all the other students starts in the morning. Should be great. Believe it or not, I think I’m ready for school again. Sorry I don’t have pictures up yet of Chamonix! I’ll get my computer and luggage from Devan tomorrow and get pictures up as soon after that as possible! Thanks to everyone I have heard from, hope everyone is well!

Arrival in the UK #1

I’m sitting at Devan’s after trying to convince the people at the front desk, who look like they are secret service agents, that I really do know Devan and that they should let me call her… didn’t work. I had to wait  in the lobby for an hour and half for her to get back from her day trip. Getting ready to go to bed so I can head back to Heathrow in the morning. Luckily I’m dropping about half my luggage with her, so the trip should be much easier this time (the three block walk from Kings Cross to her place was not too pleasant). But to give you a little taste of the journey thus far here are a few excerpts from my journal (which totally makes me sound like I’m in 5th grade writing “dear diary,” but I thought I’d give it a shot since I was traveling and so far I’ve written far more than I could have anticipated for the first day!)  Sitting at the airport in Seattle, already noting the European influences in the S terminal as I wait for my flight. Do the men really have to wear shoes that nice and pants that tight? I don’t see why that’s necessary. Although I’m anticipating that it will be harder to make fun of European things once in Europe. But the guy eating Doritos over there and wiping his hand on his shirt–yeah he’s American. Just boarded 31K ‘very good indeed’ the stewardess told me. Yes, indeed! I did have to stop myself from laughing at every British accent I heard on the way to my seat. I better get used to it. Suddenly, I find myself sounding less intellectual and sophisticated without the accent. But really I think it mostly has to do with the fact that I’m not wearing a red, white and blue scarf tied neatly around my neck. And then there’s the awkward time when everyone first encounters the people they will spend the next nine hours of their life next to–perhaps fostering an incredible new friendship, but maybe just trying to avoid their drool from landing on your hand. Either way there is the first eye contact with the approving nod or disappointed yet cordial sigh and smirk when your seat partner isn’t the attractive, young man imagined. Still two empty seats next to me–everyone else looks cozy but things are still quite roomy here on the right side of 31K. Looks like I’ll have a row to myself for the next 8 hours and 39 mins. Nice I suppose, although I’m always up for a random conversation on the plane–not for everyone though, Annie 🙂 Oh, I have just received pretzel nuggets that are salsa flavored. Apparently Britain’s answer to airline peanuts. And so the great food begins already! At least these were free–or $800 depending on how you want to view the expense of flying 🙂 Oh, it also turns out that these delightful pretzel nuggets are enjoyed best if eaten before Aug 8th at 7:59. However, it doesn’t specify whether that’s a.m. or p.m., obviously a flaw! Oh, but I was just called “madam” (twice!) and given the cutest can of ginger ale I’ve ever seen, so all is forgiven regarding the unclear expiration date of the pretzel nuggets. So the travels, well, I’m on the plane now as we have long ago determined, we took off toward the south and looped back to the north, but we were east and I saw only the south sound and the suburbs, so I wasn’t able to pinpoint my Seattle landmarks as I usually like to. So, I enjoy row 31 for about 8 more hours when I arrive in London the first time, only to explain to the immigration officer my school program and that I will be back again tomorrow to fly to Geneva, Switzerland. Switzerland, whoo!! Only then to board a bus to Chamonix, France where I will stay for six nights and ski. First, of course, I have to find the place I’m staying, find skis and hope that most of the people along the way speak some form of English that I can understand. Assuming all that is executed successfully, I will voluntarily risk my life by riding up to a ridiculously high mountain peak on a gondola probably ready to fall apart and then strap myself to my ski guide and ski 12 miles down Vallee Blanche. Huh, maybe I shouldn’t think too hard about that part quite yet 🙂 Yes, I’m very excited for it all, but thinking realistically about what the next 10 days hold, lots of uncertainty, but also lots of adventure and God-willing many blessings along the way. Thank you to all those with whom I shared great farewell chats and times of hanging out. Your love, wisdom, support and prayers didn’t keep me from crying when I walked through security, but they encouraged me to walk through and to wave excitedly back to my mom standing on the other side,  and with a smile on my face. What more could I ask for on the beginning of this journey?”