Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Not in my castle on a cloud

First of all, never ever settle down in East London. As a matter of fact, avoid going there at all costs. Last night, all but 8 of us in the group headed there to embark on a Jack the Ripper walking tour, visiting all of the major sites associated with the Jack the Ripper killings int he 1800s. Honestly, I can't fathom why I ever thought it would be cool. Not only was it freezing cold and a 2-hour walking tour, but the brutality and gore of the whole subject was far beyond disturbing. We saw photographs of mutilated bodies, stood on the spots where they were found. It was completely offensive to not only the chastity and cleanliness of the body, but of the sanctity of life. That part of town in and of itself was freaky enough; I don't recall seeing a woman at all on the streets; no, the streets were teeming with angry and yelling or angry and staring drunk men. We were also taken down the street that earned the name, "The worst street in London." Needless to say, I would not recommend this particular "attraction" to other London-travelers. It ranked up there for me with the Hitler statue in the wax museum. These are not funny, not entertaining.

On a happier note, I just got off the butt-numbing bus ride back from our Wednesday excursion. First, we went to Stourhead, which is an estate and grounds, and it's STUNNING. We walked all around the large, triangle lake, and saw so many beautiful views that I probably have 50 pictures just from there. One of the small temples on the grounds, called the Temple of Apollo, was where the first proposal scene was filmed in the new Pride and Prejudice. You know, the one with the rain and the hottie Mr. Darcy and the almost-kiss. Pretty amazing. We took a little longer here than was planned, as we were all overcome with the beauty, and consequently got lightly reprimanded over the speaker in the bus (oops!).

The next stop was Winchester. We saw yes-- another cathedral. We did a quick run-through of this one, mainly just to see the tomb of Jane Austen, then we headed to a great hall that was the only part left of a medieval Norman castle, the rest of which was destroyed during the Civil War. It was cute and featured a round table hanging on the wall that was once believed to be King Arthur's, though it has been discovered to date to the 14th century.

The last stop was Portchester Castle. I find it amusing to compare my hair in the first pictures of the day, in which it's pin straight, to the pictures at the Castle, where, after a day of humidity and light rain, it's remarkably very curly. Anyway, Portchester castle was right on the ocean, and has played numerous significant roles in history since it was begun in the third century. I may have spoiled my new boots here when I accidentally stepped in a huge puddle. Stink. It was also interesting and quite an adventure to climb the narrow tower of tiny spiral stone stairs, as I am prone to chlostrophobic tendencies. The view on top, however, was worth it, as you will see in the pictures below.

Wednesdays are tiring days, what with the early morning and all the bus-riding and the schedules and meeting places, and by the time we get off the bus we're usually dying to pee and eat and go to sleep. Now having already accomplished the first two tasks, I'm feeling a lot better, and am preparing to do laundry.

Here are only a small selection of some of the amazing pictures from today. Oh, and p.s. I went to Cafe Diana for dinner (again, hehe), and they have the most AMAZING hummus I've ever had. Yummm.


Stourhead

The Temple of the Apollo -- where the famous scene was filmed



On the grounds -- by the way, that's the bridge Elizabeth Bennett (Keira Knightly) runs across in the movie

Exactly where the proposal takes place

More of the Temple of Apollo

"I love you... most ardently."
In Queen Eleanor's garden behind the Great Hall in Winchester

Forgive all the water spots... it was raining.
Inside the Great Hall.... we're dorks
The city of Winchester
Portchester Castle
A view from the top -- you can see the churchyard and the ocean

Down below
The moat

A few more pictures to come when the internet stops its temper tantrum

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Camden Town, Where the Rough Lay Down

So after a bit of consideration, I have decided to keep my blog public after all, at least for the time being. Should I decide to change my mind again in the future, which may very well happen, I will hang onto the list of you that have expressed the desire to be kept in the loop. Thank you all for having lives boring enough to live through mine.

Since I last updated, I have had several personal little victories that are worth mentioning:

I...

1. ...met someone named Nigel.
2. ...was asked for directions on the street, and gave them successfully (and in a British accent -- it avoids the endless questions about America)
3. ...paid for treats in all coins -- withOUT having to read what each coin amount was
4. ...understood the trash talk of a couple French girls who apparently didn't think Kate and I looked lovely after having run through Hyde Park and also apparently didn't know I speak French.

Not too much else has happened since my Wednesday trip to Stonehenge and Bath. On Saturday, Kate and I went to Camden market, which is similar to Portobello market in that it's a street lined with booths of all sorts. In Camden, apparently, we'd found the punk/goth center of London -- there were more gauged ears, nose rings, and purple pleather jackets than you'd find at a Slipknot concert. A sign on a building advertising Camden real estate donned the slogan "Camden Town -- Where the Rough Lay Down." We really knew we'd found our new favorite place when the first booth we saw exclusively sold studded collars. After wandering the market, recognizing full well that we had both acquired a faint smell of pot, we saw a double decker bus stop, and, not knowing its destination, impulsively hopped on. We rode around on the top level of the double decker for a while, enjoying traveling through the city not underground. It is so beautiful here.

Sunday, though our usual route on the tube was under construction, we actually got to church on time -- nay, early! It was a very long day still.

Yesterday, I found myself in a pensive and reclusive mood, so I spent a pleasant day alone. I ran errands, then, finding the weather ideal, I threw on a jacket and strolled through Hyde Park, soaking up the beauty of the day. I eventually made my way to a bench, where I sat and wrote in my journal and read Northanger Abbey. When I got hungry, I headed to Cafe Diana, where I'd say I'm officially a regular, and enjoyed a nice almond croissant and some fresh mint tea. Though I really like the friends I have made here and enjoy taking trips with them, I find it very pleasureable to spend some days in peaceful and undisturbed solitude. In the evening, I went with a couple of girls to their ward's YSA FHE. It was fun to spend the night with native Londoners who found it really hilarious the way we said "water."

A new favorite amusement for me is reading the London Paper, a free "newspaper" that's handed out near tube stations. It's completely sensationalist journalism, but it's entertaining enough to read on long tube rides. Yesterday, I read a splendid article on London young men spending their severance packages on plastic surgery to increase their odds at finding a new job. The article actually mentioned men wanting to get rid of their "man boobs," and also later referred to them as "moobs." Fantastic.

I don't really have any great pictures to post, but I should have some Wednesday after our trip to Winchester. My next mission here is to find a nice place to get a haircut that's within my price range. (Kate also needs to find someone to "bang her trims." Nice, Kate.) Other goals to accomplish soon are going through the Charles Dickens museum, visiting the Sylvia Plath properties, going to The Sound of Music, and seeing Revolutionary Road which comes to theatres this weekend. Peace out, babies!

Monday, January 26, 2009

For all those who want to keep reading

Hello all, I have decided to make my blog private, meaning only those whom I approve may view it. If you want to be able to keep reading this lovely account of my London adventures, just send me your email address, or post it as a comment to this post. Even if you are just friends of friends I talk about, just let me know, and I'll be more than happy to include you in the list!

How it will work is once I make it private, you will just need to be logged in to read my blog. Not too complicated.

Thanks, duckies! New post with updates to come later.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Baths, Stones, Cathedrals, and Giraffes

Tony the coach driver is gluten-free, can't eat anything with barley oats or rye, and has a hard time finding restaurants to accommodate him. After spending about 8 hours with him on the coach yesterday, we certainly learned a lot from the endearing meets annoying wanna-be tour bus driver. We set off at 7:15 am, which would seem to indicate that most of us wanted to spend the ride sleeping, but only few of us successfully drowned out Tony's endless commentaries on canal systems, wonky houses, his diet, and exactly how small something has to be to be considered a hamlet. His monologues were often interrupted either by a coughing bit we all got to enjoy over the loud speaker, or a pause for him to giggle about his latest comment (for this, he turned off the speaker). But we love Tony.

That happy little coach bus hauled forty girls, three teachers, two spouses, and a chatty bus driver to several different lovely locations yesterday. Our first stop was the city of Bath, named, remarkably, because it is full of Roman baths. It used to be basically a spa city, where people went to relax and to be healed from various ailments. The main baths were really well-preserved, and the great bath is still full of water, with its source a hot spring underneath of it. They still treat the water the same way the Romans did, with specific minerals that are supposed to give it healing powers. Kind of cool.

The city of Bath was so beautiful. I could have taken a picture of every single building, and every one would have been awe-inspiring. We got to see the house where Jane Austen lived, though we didn't have time to tour through it. We also saw the house where Nicholas Cage sometimes lives. Sucky that out of all the celebrities whose houses we could have seen, it had to be Nicholas Cage, whom none of us would even care to meet -- there was a general consensus that we rank him around Brendan Frasier and Keanu Reeves.

After Bath, we headed to Stone Henge -- something I've been looking forward to since I first decided to go on this trip. I've always had a fascination with its history and its supposed mystical aura and powers. Though it was beautiful and still maintained its curious history, I honestly was a little disappointed with it. Difficult though it is to say, it kind of did just seem like exactly what it is -- a circle of stones. There was no real spirit or eeriness about the place. I did still enjoy it.

Our last stop was at Salisbury Cathedral. Honestly, at that point most of us on the bus were ready to head back home instead of touring yet another cathedral, that all seem to look so similar. As soon as we got there, though, I fell in love. This was definitely my favorite cathedral, as it was done entirely in the Gothic style, not the mixture of styles in most other cathedrals. At every turn, there was something new and stunning. For this cathedral, we had a guided tour by a 100-year-old man who talked so softly I'm not sure he could even hear himself. But he was cute, and pointed to everything with his walking cane.

After we got back, a few of us headed out for dinner. Following the suggestion written on my bunk bed by a former student, we found a restaurant called Giraffe, which was pretty affordable, and the food was quite good. Our waiter, though, was hilarious. I'm not sure how he even has a job there, because apparently he hates every food on the menu. We would ask him for a recommendation, he wouldn't have any, we'd ask him if he liked a particular dish, he'd grimace. It was somehow very endearing, and we were delighted to eavesdrop on another table that was so foolish as to ask his opinion on a choice of dish. For dessert, we shared a rocky road sundae, which was more than satisfying. I haven't had ice cream in a long time.

Today I think will be a more relaxing sort -- we had class this morning, but I've got a migrane and Kate's stomach is twisty turny, so we're going to read for our classes, then maybe wander through Green Park. Then, tonight we're going to a Verdi/Tchaikovsky/one other weird composer concert at the Royal Concert Hall. Other things I'm looking forward to in the next little bit are a visit to the Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park, a Jack the Ripper tour next Tuesday, and our next Wednesday's excursion to Winchester.

Oh, and apparently I've been getting quite an anonymous following. Hello to Kate's family and friends who want to hear more about London than just that we found Dr. Pepper Zero! Hello everyone who's reading this on direction from my dad! As we say in England, cheers!

By the abbey in Bath

Staring Jane Austen in the face in front of her house. We feminist writers, we ain't scared o nothin', not even each other.

In Bath, the baths...


On the left is a house that the owner hasn't paid to have cleaned. All of that muck is from air pollution. All the building used to look like that at one point, but most of the city has been cleaned, and there are a lot of regulations now to keep the air cleaner.
Being a tree with Amy. This is the Circus (circle) in Bath -- behind us, number 8, is Nicholas Cage's house.
Me and Kate in front of the Pulteney Bridge in Bath -- it's lined with shops
Me and Elizabeth at Stonehenge

In the courtyard of the chapter house at Salisbury Cathedral
Inside Salisbury Cathedral

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A tube, a train, a bus, a tram, a walk, but get me to the church on time!

The past couple of days have been replete with memories for the books, so I have a feeling this post will be longer than I am intending it to be. Saturday was my friend Kate's birthday, so, as her personal alarm clock, my first gift to her was letting her sleep until 11:30. My next present was letting her go one more day (that was day number 3) without showering. Don't tell her I told you. We went to brunch at Cafe Diana, which is a little street cafe a couple of blocks away, named after Princess Di, and full of pictures of her. The cafe was adorable, and actually pretty cheap, so it will definitely become a regular place for us. We had been deciding what we wanted when two police officers walked in, and one of them seriously had the biggest butt I've ever seen in my life. We were all laughing, and we ended up getting a picture with him (we didn't tell him why). Too bad you couldn't see his butt.

After, we went to Portobello road, which is a really famous open-air market in London, within walking distance of where we live. There were tons of venders selling a variety of items of a wide range of quality. I ended up buying two antique books (I couldn't help it!). My favorite was a really nice edition of Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities from 1900. Deeelish! Sometimes I can be such a freak.

In the evening, a big group of girls wanted to go out with us to celebrate, so we ventured out in search of a restuarant that would accomodate such a large number of us. I've noticed that at least from what I've seen, English people usually travel alone or in very small groups. I normally do too, but this particular night we had 19 of us. Finally we found a suitable place and had a really nice Italian dinner.

Now, several people have asked me if I'm homesick at all, and I say no. Which is true. However, I have gotten a little tired of being a foreigner. I don't exactly know how to describe the sensation, but it's just a feeling where people always know you don't quite belong, usually by your accent, or the fact that you're eating dinner with a large pack of loud girls. You tend to get a lot of negative attention. While we were eating, an old British lady straight out of The Princess Bride walked past, hunchbacked and glaring us all in the eye, and croaked, "Rubbish, rubbish, rubbish from abroad, with faces like dogs." I waited to be called the queen of putresence, but, dissappointingly, it didn't come.

At least, however, I don't seem to look American. I've already been mistaken for Italian and Spanish. That's some relief, I suppose.

Sunday, getting to church was certainly an adventure. There were closures on our normal hour-and-a-half commute, so we had to add a bus ride to our journey. We walked to the tube station, took the tube, the train, then a bus, the tram, and walked to the chapel. All in all it took more than 2 hours, making us 20 minutes late for church, walking in just in time for the second counselor to call us up to bear our testimonies. Talk about embarrassing.

That was, however, my first time riding a double decker bus. We sat on the top floor (of course), but in the front seats on the left side where, in America, the driver would normally sit. It was a strange sensation, as to our eyes, we were riding in a very large vehicle with no apparent driver. The entire time, I was convinced we were either going to tip over or maul every other car, bicyclist, and pedestrian on the road and sidewalk. It was more than once that we had to go up on a curb or cross and straddle the lane dividing us from oncoming traffic. I was not heart-broken to exit that bus.

---Okay, totally random, but I started this post earlier today, and I just got back from watching the inauguration ceremony at a local pub, and let me just say, WOW. I still have chills. What an incredible day, today. I think about how my dad was raised in the time of segregated schools, lived to see the integration of his high school, and now lives to see a black man elected President of the United States of America. I am so deeply moved with the importance of this day. I believe I will always remember it. ---

Digression over. Yesterday, Martin Luther King Jr. day, was pretty chill. Sarah, Kate and I went for a run through Hyde Park again, and I spent the bulk of the day reading Titus Andronicus for my Shakespeare class today. In the evening, we went to see Australia at Odeon cinema in Whiteley's, which is a shopping center about a 5-minute walk away. Random fact -- Whiteley's is known to have been Adolf Hitler's favorite building in London, and it is believed that he would have made it his headquarters had he been successful in taking London during WWII.

Today, after British mysteries and Shakespeare, a large group of us spent the day at Madame Tussaud's wax museum. Normally, it would have cost 27 pounds, around 40 dollars, but since today is Inauguration Day, all Americans got in free. Tight. So I wandered around with Kate and Elizabeth and even got a picture with "Obama" in the "Oval office," a new part of the museum that was unveiled today. I guess every once in a while there are benefits to being an American overseas :) At least with Obama as president.

I actually am getting on well with all the girls here, even though I share one room with eleven others. However, now that we've been here a couple of weeks, the "girls camp" stage is coming to an end, and I think some real personalities are going to start shining through in new ways. I pray every night though that we will keep peace here at 27 Palace Court. There is also a seemingly invincible smell of feet, hairspray, and dirty clothes in the room that will not be ousted.

Another fun little update: Melvin (the guy who works nights at our convenience store) now knows us by name, as does Hamid, who works most days, and they are keeping DPZ (Dr. Pepper Zero) and coconut Hit biscuits in stock specifically for us. What a lovely place.

Here are some fun pictures at Mme Tussaud's:



I'm just a girl...standing in front of a boy...asking him to love her.


Chillin' with George and Audrey. I look really weird in this picture, but I had to put it up. Come on. It's me and Audrey.


Johnny... he's more like my casual Tuesday.


Nicole, me, Leo, Kate, Keira, and Elizabeth. We're inseperable.
Gone with the Wind!

This one's for Juli


Ooooh, Julia

Van Gogh just didn't seem right with both ears attached.

With the late Princess


Alfred Hitchcock

Humphrey Bogart's a dream boat

Here's the money


Thriiiiller

Chillin' with Charlie Dickens, contemplating many deep and insightful things