Friday, February 27, 2009

I do desire we may be better strangers

First of all, I really am never coming back -- my flight home in April was canceled! So good luck living without me. (Okay, don't freak out, I'm still going to come back. I don't think I could live in this sorority house for any longer than 4 months.)

Monday night marked a changed determination for me: I need to spend more time out on the town at night again. So often we are exhausted by the time dinner creeps up that we spend the night inside the centre, missing out on all the London glory right outside the window. So Monday night Elizabeth and I headed out. We didn't know where we were going to go or how long we were going to stay there, but the important thing is we left. We ended up getting out at Big Ben, walking across the Thames to the Eye, popping in to a little arcade there, then wandering to Trafalgar Square, Picadilly Circus, and Regent Street. Central London at night is refreshing. People on the streets are sparse and courteous, the air is cool and fresh in the lungs, and all those iconic structures of the city are literally glowing. I think the fact that they're lit up helps.

Tuesday evening, we went to the Barbican Concert Hall and saw the Minnesota (I think) Philharmonic Orchestra, featuring that oh-so-eligible bachelor violinist Joshua Bell. He played with incredible passion, whipping his head this way and that, and his hair was just shiny enough to make it a Pantene commercial-worthy flip. The crowd (particularly the young female part) ate him up, and he knew it. Oh boy did he know it. After his violin concerto, he worked the audience, returning to the stage to bow four times before he enchanted us all with his encore. He charmingly introduced the piece he would be playing as an American folk song from the war -- "The Revolutionary war...sorry about that." Well, he was playing to a room of mostly Brits. And what was this delightful folk song? Yankee Doodle. Yes, he got away with playing Yankee Doodle as his encore. Like I said, he worked it.

Our Wednesday-Thursday trip this week, from which I just returned last night, was a pilgrimage to the Shakespeare Properties in Stratford-upon-Avon. For those who don't know, this town is so named because it lies along the Avon river... Stratford...upon Avon. And now for an entertaining anecdote: Elizabeth's great-grandmother is named Avon because she was conceived in S-upon-A and her parents didn't think Stratford a suitable name for a female child.

For me, this was one of the most exciting trips we've been on yet. One by one, we ventured to each of the 5 Shakespeare properties -- Mary Arden's house (Shakespeare's mother), Anne Hathaway's cottage (Shakespeare's wife), Shakespeare's birthplace, Hall's Croft (where Shakespeare's daughter lived), and New Place/Nash's House (where Shakespeare lived until his death). At Mary Arden's house we watched a falconrie show. Did it involve falcons? No, but it did involve an owl named Angus... several of us got to help feed him, which involved wearing a large glove, holding a piece of a dead chick (that was the part I struggled with... ignoring the small tuft of feathers in my hand), and holding your arm out so Angus can fly directly at you and perch on your arm to swallow the yellow tuft whole. At Anne Hathaway's, I stood in the parlor where the 18-year-old Shakespeare wooed his 26-year-old wife-to-be, Anne. It was a small, tudor-style cottage featuring sinking ceilings, very short doors, and a beautiful garden.

I also took a gander over to Holy Trinity Church, a charmingly quaint church yards from the river Avon. It was here that Shakespeare was baptised, and now where he and his wife are buried. In one day, I felt as though I had come full circle -- I started with Shakespeare's humble heritage on his mother's small farm, traveled with her to Avon in the home John Shakespeare built her and in which the poet was born and raised, journeyed with William to Anne's cottage to win her heart, stopped in at the house where Anne raised their children while Shakespeare made a name for himself in London, and solemnly ended my journey at the church that commemorates not only Shakespeare's birth and death, but his flawed humanity and undeniable immortality. It was, in effect, a remarkable day, capped off by a performance in the evening of The Tempest by the Royal Shakespeare Company. I don't know how many of the girls understood the play, but they certainly did understand the actors' abs. The debate after the play was not so much a discussion of the actors' and director's interpretation of Shakespeare's last real play, but rather a heated debate over whether Ariel or Ferdinand had the better body. Welcome to my estrogen-filled world.

After staying overnight in a hostel in Stratford, we headed out to Blenheim Palace, the current home of a duke, which is a descendent of Winston Churchill's family. We had a very interesting tour through this remarkable palace to start out with. It was stunning, and I would even venture to call it more beautiful than Windsor Castle, though several things about it did confuse me. For instance, we were asked to please keep off the gravel. Not the grass. The gravel. After the tour, we entertained ourselves with the butterfly house, stocked with all sorts of exotic butterflies, and a hedge maze, which was a tad suffocating but certainly exciting. We made two more stops before returning to our London home, at small towns in the Cotswolds, which are known for their unique brickwork buildings and dry masonry fences.

I am overwhelmed with the depth of history and importance I find myself in the middle of. Yes, London shopping is delightful and cafes are delicious, but the times I feel most amazed are walking through the halls in which history is made, books are crafted, memories engrained. It's those beautiful moments of being when I realize how blessed, and rather small, I am.

Inside Mary Arden's house

Anne Hathaway's cottage

Shakespeare's birthplace

Holy Trinity Church

The font in which Shakespeare was baptised

Shakespeare's tomb at the High Altar in Holy Trinity Church

Me and Elizabeth outside the church

At Blenheim Palace... very confusing

Inside the maze
Blenheim Palace

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Sunshine in the Park

Today was the most beautiful weather we've had yet here in London. After our morning jog and preparing my lesson for church tomorrow, Elizabeth, Mary and I spent the day in Hyde Park, soaking up the sunshine. Please notice the lack of coat. It's glorious.

The park was PACKED
Me and Mary in front of Kensington Palace and the Queen Victoria memorial, sculpted by her daughter

The gates of Kensington Palace... this is part of our usual morning run

I made the dreadful mistake of sitting on that ledge right there. It was wet. And so was my bum, as Elizabeth is deftly pointing out
I only bite the people I trust. Doesn't make sense. But it's true.

The Peter Pan statue... again, this is all part of our morning run
Royal Albert Hall -- it's just across the street from Hyde Park... what you can't see here is the couple MAKING out hard-core just to the right of this picture. And they say Brits withhold affection.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

This is getting harder

Hello all. So I'm starting to realize the more London feels normal and like home, the harder it becomes to blog. I mean, how often do you have the desire to delineate all of the activities you do in Provo, or Boston, or wherever you might be? So this will get harder and harder to blog, I fear, from here on out.

Here's my big news: I have booked two weekend trips with some friends next month. The first weekend in March, I'm going to Edinburgh, Scotland with 3 other girls. We're going to meet up with my friend, Shona, who lives just outside of Edinburgh, so I'm really excited to see her again. The following weekend, Elizabeth, Mary and I are heading off to Nice, France! It's right on the Southern coast, literally meters from the beach. This will be a longer trip -- we'll leave early early early Friday morning and be there until Monday night. I am really really really excited for this trip! It's definitely made me have to take another look at my budget while I'm here and make cut-backs in other spending areas. Yes, ladies and gents, this is where self-control comes into play.

So, on to the past week. Monday, as you know, was Presidents' Day. Yes, Americans still celebrate Presidents' Day in Britain, which basically just means -- no school! Elizabeth and I spent most of the day together, starting out with a glorious run through the park and a much-needed haircut for me. I seriously considered chopping it down to a pixie again, but decided against it. Don't be too disappointed. Then we spent the rest of the day wandering around Harrods doing things any males reading this wouldn't understand. Elizabeth may or may not have found her dream engagement ring :)

Tuesday I had my first mid-term, for British Mysteries, after which all of us made a trip to the replica of the Globe Theatre here in London. It was a neat experience, mainly because our tour guide was an actor/director and had the dry, funny personality to accompany it. He was astonishingly knowledgeable in Shakespeare and Elizabethan theatre, so we all gained a lot of insights into a great playwright's work. The Globe itself was not exactly awe-inspiring for me, simply because I've been to the Globe in Cedar City so many times, and I've even had the opportunity of performing on it twice.

Wednesday was our closest and shortest day trip yet, though I really enjoyed it. First, we went to Runnymede. Basically, we hiked up a really muddy hill to see a circular monument where the Magna Carta was signed... yeah, I'm not sure what to say about that. We snapped a couple of photos, headed back down the hill, Elizabeth slipped and almost fell, caught her balance, then my feet slipped completely out from underneath of me, and I ended up accidently grabbing Elizabeth to keep myself from sliding down the hill on my derriere. She says it was just an excuse for a boob grab.

We spent most of the day at Windsor Castle, which was incredible! For those who don't know, this is the summer residence of the Queen, her husband, and her children. One of the coolest things to see was the Queen's doll house, in which everything is perfectly to scale 12:1. Seriously, it was the most elaborate thing I've ever seen -- it even had fully functioning electricity and plumbing... not sure why, though. Maybe for those unfortunate children in Hunny I shrunk the kids. We also got to tour through the state rooms and semi-state rooms where the Queen entertains all sorts of guests, from politicians to celebrities. I wish we could have taken pictures, but I don't know that pictures would even begin to do those rooms justice. The ceilings alone were like giant, gold-trimmed, pop art doilies. Once again, I'm not sure why.. unless they roll out some purple and red sleeping bags and host sleepovers there, those ceilings are not going to get much attention. The rest of the time was spent in the town of Windsor, time during which there's not much to note except that I got yelled at by two different people for trying a hat on. Snobs.

Finally, we stopped at Stoke Poge, which I really enjoyed. This is the church and churchyard in and about which Thomas Gray wrote "Elegy written in a country churchyard," a poem which I studied and even wrote a paper on last semester. Thomas Gray was also buried there. The small community church was ancient and falling apart, as were the gravestones surrounding it, and it could not have been more beautiful. No wonder it inspired such an interesting poem.

Duh---duh duh duh Dat's all, folks.
Me in Windsor Castle

That's me and Elizabeth on the bench... we're so in love. This is by the famous golf course in Stoke Poge's... several movies filmed on this golf course. I can't remember all of them but one of them was Goldfinger

The tree Thomas Gray talks about in his poem written in Stoke Poge's. Oh, and James Bond did some filming here, too, when he goes to visit a gravestone.

In Stoke Poge's... I know, these pictures are so wanna-be artsy it's disgusting. But guess how much I care.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Snails n Wales

Update part two, what what! Wednesday through Friday of this week was spent in Wales, and honestly, there's not that much to report. We spent most of each day on the bus, watching Wales, which looked remarkably like a lot of sheep on a lot of hills, pass outside the window. We stopped at a couple of castles, one of which was relatively modern and fully decorated and inhabitable. We stopped at a couple of abbeys and cathedrals and had one especially boring tour by a short man sporting a comb-over.

The first night we stayed at a hostel in a town I can't remember the name of, but it was pretty sick. Kate had a nice surprise on her pillow -- dried blood. Welcome home! Haha it was a neat experience, though, and I was one of the few girls who still slept like a rock. After we settled into the hostel as much as possible, we wanted to go out on the town, as we were just outside Cardiff. We asked the hostel owner where to go, he gave a few recommendations that sounded fun, and then he mentioned someone had been killed in those precise locations just last week. So we decided to see a movie. But how neat is this -- I can tell people I saw He's Just Not that Into You in Wales? The unfortunate incident of the evening was Kate losing her iPod there, and, as we have recently discovered, her oyster card for the tube.

The next night was infinitely cooler. We drove out to Beaumaris, which is right on the coast of Wales and is actually an island, technically. First we stopped at Beaumaris castle, something not many of us were looking forward to with much excitement. After traveling so long on the bus, we were sort of ready to go directly to the hotel and take a nap. Had we done so, we would have missed out on one of the coolest experiences yet on the trip. It was one of those unplanned and unexpected incidents that completely change your attitude and your entire day. Somehow the entire group of us 40 girls ended up in the small chapel room of the castle, and we began singing -- hymns, primary songs, etc. It started as a small group, but as the songs carried across the vast castle grounds, gradually girls sought out the source. We joined together in that small room with the vaulted ceiling, all in a circle, holding hands, linking arms, embracing, and singing. For a bunch of girls who for the most part are not singers, we remarkably sounded like a chorus of angels, and the Spirit was a very strong presence. It was an incredible experience, and most of us had tears streaming down our faces. One English woman touring the castle had heard us singing and searched the castle until she found us. When she did, she sincerely expressed, "I have been searching for you. You have made this castle come alive. Thank you."

The hotel we stayed in on the island was about a block away from the castle, and it's a very historic building -- Queen Victoria stayed there once! It's all in its original condition for the most part, ghosts and all. It was so refreshing to sleep in a comfortable bed, and in a room with only one other girl! It was literally right on the shore, and the view from our window overlooked the ocean and the pier. The bathroom was amazing, as well! It was so refreshing to take a private shower (not a glass-doored shower across from the public bathroom mirrors like at the centre)! I took a nice long bubble bath and a hot shower. The shops in Beaumaris were adorable as well. In the morning, we had a full English breakfast before heading back.

We made our first stop at Chester, which is right on the England/Wales border. It was a pretty neat town, the highlight of which (besides the delicious gelatto) was the wishing steps -- legend has it that if you run up and down those steps twice without taking a breath,your wish will come true. Well, there were a lot of steps, haha. Also, we saw the tower from which King Charles I watched his armies in their final defeat against the troops of Oliver Cromwell. Our other two stops were an abbey with the comb-over tour and a modern-style cathedral in Coventry, and then home very late on Friday night!

So what did I do to celebrate Valentine's Day? I'm going to keep it secret. Just to tantalize you.

In the middle of Castle Coch

Le chateau de Beaumaris
Inside the lovely hostel
Outside the lovely hostel

Saturday, February 14, 2009

What the Dickens?!

Okay, so let's face it, I have a lot to catch up on. I had intended to blog about Monday and Tuesday before I left for Wales on Wednesday morning, but... I just didn't get around to it. So let's see if I can remember everything I've done with all those rich details and embellishments that keep all of you so fascinated and entertained.

Monday was rainy, very rainy. As you might recall, our trip to the Tower of London last Friday was canceled due to snow, but the only day we could reschedule was Monday. Needless to say, then, the pictures that resulted from a day in the rain are not the most flattering but certainly amusing. Kate, Sarah, Elizabeth and I stuck together like 3 pieces of gum and a shoe. I'm not sure who was the shoe. Definitely the highlight of the trip was seeing the Crown Jewels, upon which are the first and second largest cut diamonds in the world, of perfect clarity. Suddenly a 1-karat diamond doesn't seem so big :) JUST kidding.

Tuesday I finally went to the Charles Dickens museum. I have been trying to go for ages, but everyone kept postponing it -- so I finally said, "I'm going today, whoever wants to come can come, but even if it's only me, I am going!" As it turns out, I did have one companion -- the very sweet Janessa, who also takes interest in literary sites, so we shall probably visit many of them together in the future. 48 Doughty Street was, in a word, lit-acular. Wow I'm not as clever as I think I am. Anyway, it was pretty amazing to walk around inside the very house where dear Charlie finished The Pickwick Papers, plus wrote Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby in their entirety. There was a ton of original furniture, so I got to sit at the desk where he penned his last words. They also had a drawing room roped off because it had a bunch of his original furniture, including his very famous armchair. He was known to always sit in it, and several drawings that are done of him are done of him sitting in that chair. I decided I needed a picture in the chair, not just of it. After filling Janessa in on my scheme, we hovered. The room eventually cleared out except for us, I handed Janessa my camera, and stepped quite stealthily over the rope. The second I put foot to very old carpet the alarm went off. I set off a freaking alarm. Hahaha needless to say we booked it out of there, and I did not get my picture. The whole experience was perhaps one of my favorite trips so far in London. Also, there was a French school group touring through, so I lingered a bit with them in rooms and listened to their tour of the place given in French, which was pretty cool. My comprehension is still pretty good! I also bought a copy of Oliver Twist. I mean, how many times do you have the opportunity to buy a copy of Oliver Twist in the very house where it was written?

I'm already tired of blogging. I'll write more later about my Wales trip that took up Wednesday - Friday. For now, Happy Valentine's Day, and Papino, happy birthday!!!

Me and Janessa in front of Charles Dickens' house, 48 Doughtry Street
The golden arm from A Tale of Two Cities, my favorite Dickens
At the desk where Dickens wrote his last words
The window from which Oliver Twist is pushed
Mrs. Dickens' engagement ring

Blast it, I have more pictures, but I can't upload them right now. Whatev.

Sunday, February 08, 2009 me

Today was possibly one of the longest trips of my life, and all I have to say is I am so grateful for a sense of humor. Of the three of us that go to my ward, I was the only one cracking up laughing about the situation I am about to relate.

The journey to and from church, on the rare occurrence that everything goes flawlessly, is long enough. It SHOULD work like this: at 8:20 we leave the house, walk to the station, take the circle tube line to Victoria station, where we take the 9:06 train to Mitcham junction, then a tram to Mitcham and walk the rest of the way to the chapel, ideally 10 minutes early for our 10:00 meeting. You may also recall that theoretically we should be paying 2 pounds each way on the tram, even though we only ride it one stop, and that we instead just hop on and hop off.

Here's how it went today. We left the house at 8:20 as planned. The circle line was closed, so we took an alternate route on the central line, then we changed for the victoria line. All in all, no big deal. Then we get to Victoria Station, and everything goes wrong. We buy our train ticket, and notice that we do not have our usual direct service to Mitcham junction, so we start asking around. 3 different people tell us 3 different ways of how we're supposed to get there, involving a myriad of different methods of transportation. We finally decide to listen to the guy in front of the computer, seeing as it seemed so official and technilogical and everything. He directed us to get on a train to East Croydon, where we could take the tram all the way to Mitcham. Thing is, he directed us to the wrong train. We got on the train going to West Croydon, (which was already leaving at 9:20, 15 minutes later than our usual train) where we got off, looked around for a minute, and decided we had no idea what to do. After consulting with an official there, he directed us to take another tram back to East Croydon, THEN get on the tram to Mitcham. Okay.

So, after waiting about 25 minutes in the freezing cold, we hop on the tram, figuring that since the official at the train station had told us to, our paying for the train that didn't take us where we needed to go sort of covered paying for the tram. By now it was already past 10:00 and we had a long way to go. So there we are, riding along, and we see them... the blue jackets with the funny machines... coming down the tram... asking to see tickets. Abby (by the way it's her birthday today) almost starts to cry. All our hearts are beating to the sound of the penalty fare -- "fifty pounds, fifty pounds, fifty pounds." They get to us. I try to act cute, ignorant, anything but panicky. Blue coat #1 looks at me, says "hello," shifts his machine, waits expectantly. I smile pleasantly, return a cheerful "hello" and look back at Abby and Steph as though I thought he was a friendly stranger, and not someone who was going to get us in big trouble in 1.2 seconds. Very luckily for us, however, the officials were actually very nice. They only made us get off the tram at the next stop, pay our way, and get back on. Halleluh.

At about 10:30, still on the tram and relieved to have averted that crisis, we stand up as we approach the Mitcham junction station, recognizing the name. The tram stops, we get off, the doors close, and it hits me -- we normally get off the train at Mitcham junction and get on the tram one more stop to Mitcham -- the tram that we had just exited and that was now rolling away. We hit the doors, the side of the tram as it left, all to no avail. Looking at the board, we saw the next tram would be coming in 17 minutes. 17 minutes. It was freezing cold. We were in skirts. And we'd just gotten off the tram a stop too early. This was the point I started laughing and couldn't stop. I very legitimately pissed off Abby and Steph, who were frustrated beyond words with our situation and didn't find it the least bit funny, but I much prefer laughing to sulking, and my laughter was nearly uncontrollable. I laughed away those bitterly cold 17 minutes, thinking about everything that had just happened in the last 2 1/2 hours, all to culminate in us being stupid enough to get off the tram too early and get stuck outside freezing.

17 minutes and 30 potentially amputatable toes later, we got back on the tram for that one beautiful stop to Mitcham, walked up the glorious hill and down the street to the chapel, 45 minutes late, and at last entered the doors as triumphantly and nobly as 3 girls can with chattering teeth, runny noses, and bright red cheeks. Happy birthday, Abby.

Also, as it turns out, there had been some miscommunication, and another girl had prepared the same lesson I had prepared to teach in young women's, so I stepped down and let her take it over. All in all, it was a weird Sunday. A long Sunday. But a good Sunday. I really think laughing at ourselves makes all the difference.

Here's a picture of us with the young women we teach (and 2 other teachers).

Steph's all the way on the left in black, Abby's in front of her in brown, and if you don't know which I am, what the bleep are you doing reading my blog?!

Unfortunately, I got the Mitcham throw-down memo too late.

The apparently sideways cake Adjoa made for Abby... so sweet
On the train there... the wrong train, that is