Category Archives: Semester Abroad

Hey, What Building is That?


Being A Tourist, Learning the Dublin Map

Originally uploaded by lizpurdy05

I’ll be the first to admit that I would not have survived my semester abroad without the help of Rick Steves. Ok, I would have survived, but I would have learned a lot less. At one point in Siena, Italy while touring the Duomo there (yes, there is one in Florence and Siena), I put my Rick Steves Italy guidebook back in my bag because the American family standing next to me was reading aloud about three words in front of the word I was currently reading to myself in my identical guidebook. It wasn’t just in that moment that it hit me, but at that point it certainly became undeniable: I am like every other stupid tourist here right now.

When I toured around the Uffizi in Florence, Rick (yes, we are on a first name basis, have been for years) was my tour guide once again, literally telling me which rooms to walk into, what angle to look at the paintings from, and added his own comic tone to my historical art viewing. It was incredibly helpful, but I couldn’t help feeling like my travel experience wasn’t unique and perhaps not even very authentic. My good friend Lucas, who was studying in Florence at the time, and I got into a fairly lengthy discussion regarding traveling vs. tourism, how they differ and what the purposes are of each. We discussed it during his trip to London on a long walk through Hyde Park after visiting the wealthy neighborhood of Notting Hill, and we continued sharing our various thoughts during my visit to Italy and beyond since we both returned home over two years ago.

The other day, I was looking through the wonderful, very large scrapbook my mother put together of my semester abroad and in it I had quotes from various trips I took (mostly found on this blog actually from 2008 posts) one of which was a brief exchange between me, Lucas, and our friend Emma when we were all in Rome together:

Me: What building is that over there?

Lucas: I don’t know, but I feel like it’s a big deal.

Emma: I feel like you look around this city and there are like 50 big deals.

I’m pretty sure if I heard my 20-year old self having that conversation today, I would not like myself at all. We found it comical at the time, and it in a sense, it was, but it is also alarming how little I knew about my location and the history that surrounded me. So having come to no real conclusion on the topic (because after all you have to see the Duomo) and having continued to travel regularly since then I have had these ideas of 1) travel vs. tourism and 2) knowing a place by visiting vs. knowing a place by living there, in my mind for some time.

Just today I ran across someone who has obviously thought this one through, David Foster Wallace. Maybe everyone knows about this writer, but I just read his Consider the Lobster essay for the first time today and liked what he had to say. It reminded me not only of a few of my experiences in Europe, but definitely addresses exactly what I saw much of the time in Jackson Hole/Grand Teton when I encountered tourists (which is about every five seconds during July and August). For the record, he wrote an article in the August 2004 issue of Gourmet magazine on the Maine Lobster Festival, but besides just relaying his experiences there, he asks some bigger questions about, for example, the ethics of eating animals and this bit below appears as a footnote. I think it’s exceptional. So here’s Wallace’s two cents on American tourism:

“I confess that I have never understood why so many people’s idea of a fun vacation is to don flip-flops and sunglasses and crawl through maddening traffic to loud hot crowded tourist venues in order to sample the ‘local flavor’ that is by definition ruined by the presence of tourists . . .

As I see it, it probably really is good for the soul to be a tourist, even if it’s only once in a while. Not good for the soul in a refreshing or enlivening way, though, but rather in a grim, steely-eyed, let’s-look-honestly-at-the-facts-and-find-some-way-to-deal-with-them way. My personal experience has not been that traveling around the country is broadening or relaxing, or that radical changes in place and context have a salutary effect, but rather that intranational tourism is radically constricting, and humbling in the hardest way — hostile to my fantasy of being a real individual, of living somehow outside and above it all. (Coming up is the part the my companions find especially unhappy and repellent, a sure way to spoil the fun of vacation travel:) To be a mass tourist, for me, is to become a pure late-date American: alien, ignorant, greedy for something you cannot ever have, disappointed in a way you can never admit. It is to spoil, by way of sheer ontology, the very unspoiledness you are there to experience. It is to impose yourself on places that in all noneconomic ways would be better, realer, without you. It is, in lines and gridlock and transaction after transaction, to confront a dimension of yourself that is as inescapable as it is painful: As a tourist, you become economically significant but existentially loathsome, an insect on a dead thing.”

Ok, “an insect on a dead thing” is a bit harsh, but at least it gives you a visual of something you NEVER want to be. And now that I have that mental picture, I’m going to do everything I can not to become, or be one again.

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!

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!

Running around Italy!

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Back from a week of running around Italy and feeling like I better write about it quickly so I don’t forget any of the good stories! I’ve heard so much about Italy, especially Florence since Gonzaga has a program there in which many of my friends have participated. It’s really nice to see what life is like for them in Firenze and have a better understanding of a place that has impacted so many of my friends. However, I didn’t immediately fall in love with Italy. Some people seem to love everything about it: the language, the food (ok, I admit I LOVED the food!!), the Italian attitude, the crazy driving, etc. At first it took a little adjusting (for instance, why do the Italians always act like you’re annoying them? For some reason it’s a problem when you hand them a 10 Euro bill when something costs 5 Euros. They give you the disgusted look and saying something like “Don’t you have anything smaller? Coins?!” I’m not sure why that’s a problem). Anyway… but by the end of the week I had a good feel for it and really enjoyed my time there. Rick Steves was my best friend on the trip, I took him everywhere with me and sometimes referred to him on a first name basis. I usually said something like, “Oh that’s the main square in Siena. Yeah, Rick said that it’s the best square in all of Italy!” Thank you, Rick. Italy in a nutshell went something like this: I ate gelato everyday I was there, splurged on a couple of really good meals, saw a lot of churches and art, made it to a total of four different places, saw some GU friends and even managed to find the sun at the end of the week!

 

For a more detailed version keep reading! After a full day in Florence on Tuesday, Lucas and I took the train to Siena for the afternoon on Wednesday. Siena, along with Pisa, competed with Florence back in the day to be the best city. Florence won, so Siena is a lot smaller and more of a Tuscan town, than a larger Tuscan city like Florence. It’s built on a huge hill, with curvy little streets and no sidewalks and you just wander your way around to all the different shops. I went to the Duomo there, which, as Rick said, has a “busy interior.” It was pretty intense with art everywhere, frescoes on the walls and really intricate mosaic floors. But after my twentieth church visit in Italy (ok, maybe it was only my fifth church visit), I realized that when they were built it was just a big competition to see who could build the prettiest and biggest church. And now they serve as tourist attractions with annoying entrance fees and have very little community involvement or congregation. They seem to lack what makes up the church—PEOPLE! Kind of sad when you think about. I’m sure there are exceptions to this, but when contrasting those churches with the church plants and “mega” churches that are popping up all over the U.S. it’s just interesting to consider the change and differences in churches. Something to ponder…

 

Anyway, Siena was cute, but after wandering for a half day I had seen most of it. Oh,  I can’t forget that Siena is where St. Catherine is from, so one of the churches there has her shriveled up thumb in a glass case and her head on the altar of one of the side chapels… awkward and a little gross. Moving on . . . Thursday morning I got up and toured some places around Florence, the Pitti Palace and connecting Bobeli Gardens, the Baptistry outside the Duomo, Church of San Croche, wandered some of the street markets. Then once Lucas was done with class for the day, we hopped on the train and went to Cinque Terre, fives towns on the Northern coast. I had also heard a lot about it because Gonzaga takes students there on a weekend trip, and it did not disappoint!! In fact, I think Cinque Terre and Chamonix are in a tie for my two favorite places I’ve been so far. Makes sense, one is mountains, the other ocean and when growing up in Seattle how could I not be naturally attracted to those places?! There is a beautiful seven mile trail along the coast that connects all the towns. There are spectacular views and I experienced sunshine and warm weather!! I even wore a tank top simply because I could, and I hadn’t experienced such warm sun in probably six months. It was amazing!! There was a minor train issue on the way there with it stopping at a station about fifteen minutes away from our destination and shutting down. There was a significant amount of yelling in Italian before we had any idea what was going on, and since we were out of the main tourist zone there wasn’t any English, so we hopped off like everyone else and had to wait about an hour to catch the next one coming through in the same direction. Lucas laughed while I watched nervously. If there was yelling like that in the U.S. someone would have started to throw punches, but instead the Italians just wanted to yell, perhaps simply for the sake of yelling. It all worked out though, so Lucas and I got in on Thursday night to Monterosso, the northern-most town and went to a great seafood restaurant. It’s important to note that this is the region of Italy where pesto originates. So of course we had a HUGE plate of pesto pasta that was phenomenal (Dad, you would have been so proud!) and some local seafood. I’m hungry just thinking about it again.

 

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On Friday morning we got up, packed up and started our hike through the other towns. The second town Vernazza was probably my favorite, but they are all perched on the steep hillsides and go right down into the beautiful blue/green water. While we sat in the sun eating a blood orange (very tasty and popular in Italy), we met a woman named Karen from Boston when she offered to take our picture. She was very friendly, and we sat and talked with her for a while and learned that she had moved to Italy to be a chef for a few months. Since we still had three other towns to get to, we said goodbye and kept hiking. So after some gelato (of course), a little nap in the sun and some more hiking we made it to the last town. As we walked through the tunnel leading us to the shops and restaurants, someone from behind yelled at us and came running up. It was Karen! Lucas and I were both incredibly confused why anyone in Cinque Terre would be trying to get our attention, but she had taken the train and made it to the last town in the same time that we had hiked the whole thing. She was obviously just really grateful to talk to some friendly Americans in English so we ended up going and having a couple glasses of wine with her at the end of the day. Pretty sure we learned her life story, laughed quite a lot actually, and enjoyed the sunset from the deck of the wine bar. Not bad at all… in fact, it was spectacular. The whole day of good weather, being on the coast, hiking, seeing cute towns, meeting random people and eating good food made it without a doubt one of my favorite days of traveling so far!!

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Unfortunately, we had planned to head back to Florence on Friday night and though Karen tried to talk us into staying another day and we probably could have found a place, we headed back to Florence that evening. On Saturday morning I went to the Uffizi and saw many of the must-see pieces of art in Florence. Then my friend Molly from GU, who has been studying in Munich all year, arrived in Florence to visit! I hadn’t seen her since last May and it was so great to hang out again!! We grabbed some lunch (my third time having gnocchi, so good!!) and then took advantage of the good weather by taking a bus out of the Florence city center, up to the overlooking hills and went for a little hike/wander. I can’t completely call it a hike because, though it was a hike for a while, we didn’t make it to the other town we were supposed to and ended up following the road back to where we started. But there were some really incredible views of postcard perfect Tuscany. As Lucas said, we were under the Tuscan sun, how cute 😛 At one point when we lost the trail (the guidebook was a little vague), we found what we thought was the continuation of it, so we headed down a pretty heavily wooded path for about a minute until three Italian police officers came walking up. The didn’t really speak English, but suggested through a few words and hand gestures that we not go that way. They didn’t seem overly concerned about it, but they said something that sounded like there was an “auto bomb” down the path, and since we really had no idea what they were talking about, we decided to turn around. Ha, it was actually really funny. We weren’t ever really in danger at all, but we just laughed at how absurd it sounded, and then guessed at what might actually be down the “auto bomb” path. Of course, we had another good dinner, saw a few more GU people in Florence, went to church at the Duomo Sunday morning and then had to get on the train to head back to Rome to catch my flight. This is when I experienced one of the craziest travel encounters I’ve had so far: I got on the train in Florence and was randomly assigned a seat. I ended up sitting next to a woman who lives near Mt. Vernon, WA. We talked the whole way to Rome (about an hour and a half, Annie- I’m telling you, you have to start talking to strangers, it’s so fun!!) and found out that she is the aunt of one of the girls I played soccer with on Queen Anne. When she said she had family that lived on Queen Anne I just knew there had to be some connection… and of course there was. I probably haven’t heard of that family in 10 years since they moved away, but I definitely remember them and it was highly entertaining to share stories. Another great random encounter, makes traveling so fun! Finally made it back to London after a two hour delay on my flight. I flew into the new Terminal 5 here at Heathrow, which is kind of a big deal since it just opened three days ago and had some serious baggage issues in the beginning. My host dad works for British Airways dealing with the ground crews, so he’s had quite a busy week. But I managed to get my bag without too much trouble and see some of the new terminal (not the same for some of my classmates who had canceled flights!). Hard to believe spring break has come and gone and now I’m onto the second half of the semester! I’m really glad to be back in London. I realized while I was away how much I do like it here. I don’t necessarily want to jump back into classes… but that’s another story 🙂 Paris this weekend with Devan, but after that I’ll be traveling mostly in the UK for the rest of my time abroad. More to come. Thanks for sharing in the adventures with me!! Better get some sleep now after all this running around, Much love!