Monday, March 30, 2009

Of Mice and Men...

Actually, the men bit of the title is a little misleading. We're 40 girls. Come on. If I were to be more accurate, I'd say, "Of mice and menstruation." The mice bit, however, is all too spot on. In our lovely (and messy) (and cramped) bedroom on the fourth floor, we have recently acquired a 12th roommate, a little harrier than the rest of us and a little more petite. It's caused quite the raucous here, and I seem to be the only one concerned with the fact that roommate X does not yet have a name. How sad.

Honestly, that's perhaps the most exciting thing that's happened all week. For the most part, I've been lying on my back in bed, sick, and trying to breathe through a solid wall of, well, congestion, in my nose and a swollen and throbbing throat. No, I make it sound more miserable than it was. Wait. Yes, it was that miserable. The sickness started with a few girls in York, and with 40 of us on a bus all day for 5 days straight, the germs were bound to spread. Sadly, Elizabeth and I both missed out on the Wednesday trip to Brighton because we were at our very worst that day. We did, however, have a good time sleeping and watching movies -- About a Boy and House Bunny. Quality stuff.

Oh wait, actually, I have done cool stuff. Last Monday, I made it to not one, not two, but three museums. First I hit up the Natural History Museum, which was really large and sort of hard to navigate, especially since apparently every school in the UK had decided to take a field trip there that day. I enjoyed it but was sad the one room I really wanted to see had just been closed -- "The Earth today and tomorrow." Next I went through a small portion of the Victoria and Albert museum, which is a lot like the Louvre in that it's pretty much impossible to see even a fraction of it. Finally, I went with Elizabeth to the Imperial War Museum. I wasn't expecting what we saw there. By the time we'd gone through the Children's War Exhibit, which examined the Battle of Britain from the children's view, and seen the 30-minute documentary on genocide and crimes against humanity, I could only make it through about 10 minutes of the Holocaust exhibit before I was too distraught to go through the rest. That was a seriously emotionally taxing museum, but it was incredible.

I also hit up the British Library last week, something I've been looking forward to for the last year or so. It is actually really modern -- the building is only from the late 90s, as in 1990s. They had on display the original writings of authors like the Bronte sisters, William Shakespeare, Sylvia Plath, and, my very favorite, Virginia Woolf. They had part of Virginia Woolf's diary on display from when she was brainstorming about writing Mrs. Dalloway, one of my favorite books. Seriously, a really cool thing to see. They also had the works of Handel, Beethoven, and the Beatles, and also the journal of Leonardo Da Vinci. So many cool things there.

We also saw Swan Lake, one of the two rivaling productions here in London. The other production, the one we didn't see, is the homosexual interpretation of it. Well, I don't know how good that one is as I haven't seen it, but the one we saw was, in a word (or two), INDESCRIBABLY AMAZING. I was enthralled the entire time, and by the time the last curtain fell, I was still ready to watch them for another three hours. Ballet -- well, ballet that is well done -- is one of the most beautiful celebrations of the human body. I was awe-struck. It might even top Les Mis as my favorite production I've seen in London. Sorry, Mom.

Also, this week there will be a G20 summit conference here in London, so leaders from all over the world are arriving (including Obama, woot!). Security is pretty crazy everywhere, so the professors are glad we're going to be in Paris most of the week. There are several huge protests being planned for this week, many of them right down the street. There have also been a lot more bombing threats. It's an interesting experience to be here while such a huge world event is taking place in our backyard.

Today is the day I whip out all my groovy moves and write two essays, read a novel, and prepare an oral presentation before class tomorrow morning. After class, we have a meeting about Paris, and I'm going to go through Kensington Palace, finally! I mean, it's right across the street... then Wednesday-Saturday is in good ol' Paris!

Sorry there are no pictures. I didn't exactly feel inclined to photograph myself congested and pale and disgusting-looking. You do understand.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Travel much? Just a bit

Well, I'm finally back from my marathon traveling, and I'm exhausted, sick, and rather pleased. Instead of detailing all of my adventures from the past week and a half, I will hit the highlights of my two major trips -- to Nice, France, and the North of England.

Nice -- Nice was nice (bahaha). It was a relaxing paradise, to say the least, and as such, it would betray the essence of the vacation to give a daily account of our doings. So here are a select few of the highlights:

1. Roller-blading down the Promenade d'Anglais
2. Laying out on the beach in that wonderful Nice sun(except I will never let Elizabeth talk me out of buying sunscreen again)
3. Fresh pastries yummm
4. Hiking to the chateau colline
5. Walking out to the lighthouse
6. Staying in a hotel that looked more like a Mexican prison
7. Speaking FRENCH to the FRENCH
8. Walking the entire length of the Baie des Anges
9. Getting all wet in the Mediterranean Sea
10. Elbowing French freeloaders out of the way to get a really ugly free hat to wear while waiting to see the end of the Paris-Nice bike race.
11. Making it onto the Nice news two days in a row
12. Getting kissed at by French boys, calling me their cherie, only to see them hitting on someone else 2 minutes later. Heartbreak.
13. Sitting on the Palais de Justice eating GELATTO!!!! The most delicious gelatto I've ever had in my LIFE.
14. The markets in Old Nice, specifically the marche des fleurs (flower market)
15. Elizabeth's Richter Scale-worthy snoring
The Bay of Angels

My scent! In the country from where it comes.

Our really nice 2-star hotel
The freeloader hats... trust me, we looked the best in them out of anyone on the promenade
Skating down the promenade
The Marche des Fleurs

York & the North Country 6 hours after I returned from Nice, the entire group of us headed out in the coach for a 5-day tour through the North Country, going through Leeds, York, Preston, and, my favorite, the Lake District. Sadly, I lost my cellie phone in Leeds, which is inconvenient but not the end of my life, so I'm not stressing. Other than that, here were some of my favorite moments:

1. The Bronte Parsonage -- seeing where the amazingly talented and ambitious Bronte family grew up was a huge reminder for me of everything I
should be doing, and how much harder I should be working towards my own goals. It may sound weird, but this particular stop was a rather spiritual experience for me.
2. Preston Temple and the church history tour -- Our final day of the trip was spent in Preston, where the first LDS missionaries in Britain were sent, and President Hinckley also served his mission here. We had a 2-hour walking tour of the major sites, finishing it at the Preston Temple. Also, we had
amazing fresh doughnuts from a stand there.
3. Durham Cathedral -- the cathedral where the very first pointed arch was made and where flying buttresses were invented. Plus, a scene from Harry Potter was filmed there. Pretty tight.
4. York -- talk about amazing shopping. I bought stuff. Even though I shouldn't have.
5. The Lake District -- just driving through the countryside was so much fun. It was like no other part of England -- it was mountainous, with lots of trees, and browns and greens and lots and lots of lakes. We really wanted to go skinny-dipping, but it was freezing at night, and as it was, a third of the girls were sick, and the other two thirds were starting to get sick as well.
6. The ruins of Fountain's Head abbey -- If I lived in this area of the country, I feel very certain I would walk these ruins every day I possibly could, just walk, and sit, and write. That place has a spirit. I don't know how a location can be moody, but it certainly is -- I suppose the heavy mist might have added to that as well.
7. Hadrian's wall -- this pretty cool-looking wall marks the Northern extent of the Roman Empire.
The ruins of Fountain's Head Abbey -- I put a lot of pictures up of this because I loved it so much.

Bolton Castle, where Mary Queen of Scots was held captive. Elizabeth thinks she's so clever.
The alluring and mystical Bronte parsonage

The dock at the lake in the front yard of our hostel in the Lake District
Well, at dinner one night we were all deciding for each other what animal we look like, and there was a general consensus that I was a fox for whatever reason. The next day we were in Keswick and went to this tiny museum famous for its randomness, and guess what was there. A fox. Do you see the resemblance?
Dove Cottage - the home of William and Dorothy Wordsworth
Sitting on Hadrian's Wall
Durham Cathedral
Me and Patrice in front of the Preston Temple
In Preston at the river where the first baptisms in Britain took place

I know this is not my usual format, but there's so much I could tell, and honestly I don't have the time or the motivation to do a normal entry. Peace out, babies. Oh, and Paris next week. I've got one week in London, one week in Paris, another week in London, and then finals and I head back to the States. Weird.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Just me and Mr. Tumnus

I figured I'd better throw in one more update before I take off, because odds are I won't be able to blog for another week and a half, and I've had a pretty exciting week this week.

Monday, as a group we visited the Cabinet War Rooms/Churchill Museum, which was surprisingly very interesting. I had always vaguely admired Churchill as a great politician and a strong leader, but now, I have to say, I am quite a fan. He was incredibly intelligent, very talented -- he was not only a skilled politician but a painter and a writer, and he had a personality to boot! I loved reading some of the things he's said -- what a wit! Here are just a couple of my favorites:

" A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on."
" He has all of the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire."
" We are all worms. But I believe that I am a glow-worm."
" Those who can win a war well can rarely make a good peace and those who could make a good peace would never have won the war."

I also saw two plays this week -- Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap on Tuesday, during which I got scolded by an old British lady, and 3 Days of Rain, which is the one I REALLY want to brag -- I mean talk about.

I suppose first I should mention that yesterday our day trip was to Hampton Court Palace, where Henry VIII lived, and then Wimbledon, where we got a really cool tour, but honestly I don't have anything particularly interesting to say about either of them. As soon as we got home, Ana and I went straight to the tube to get tickets for 3 Days of Rain, starring James McAvoy (Narnia, Atonement, Penelope, Becoming Jane, etc). We happened to be able to get really great seats, and the night just went up from there.

Having arrived there early and secured tickets, we ventured out to make sure we knew exactly where the stage door was. We found it, and hovered in what we liked to pretend was a casual manner -- who knows, maybe James was going to come out for a smoke or something. Well, he didn't, so we settled for finding our seats and waiting to see him materialize in front of our faces on the stage. He did. And it was magnificent. The play itself, even if it didn't have James, was incredible! Probably my favorite I've seen here after Les Mis. Ana had told me going in to the play she'd read it was a one-act play without intermission, so as soon as the lights went black, we threw on our coats and ran out of the theatre to the stage door. We waited, and strange things happened.

"Ana, they didn't come out for bows. That's weird, I've never seen a play where they didn't come out for bows."
"Yeah, maybe it's just that kind of play."
"Hmm.. yeah and it was only an hour long. That's pretty short."
"Yeah, but it's over."
"Are you sure? We are the only ones out here..."

Somehow we managed to dismiss all of those concerns and stand there, jittery and nervous, planning how we could casually ask James out to dessert with us and make him fall in love. After about 15 minutes of waiting, the door opened. And out he came... The fat security guard. Out for a smoke. After several awkward minutes of dodging eye contact, I finally asked him,

"Is this where the actors come out?"
(weird look)"Yeah... but not for another hour."
"Yeah but not for another hour."
(confused pause)"Wait there's not another act, is there?"
(even weirder look) "Yeah."
(you're a real idiot look) "Yeah."
(the realization)"Oh."

Turn. And walk. Just turn and walk. We made it back to our seats just in time for the second act to begin, giggling uncontrollably at our own silliness. Okay, now fast forward to the REAL end of the play, repeat what happened in the fake ending, the running, the stage door, but this time add a bunch of people waiting there with us, more security, and then James McAvoy. He was less than an arm's length distance away, he looked at us, talked to us, signed our tickets, shook our hands. He was very nice, but as luck would have it, he has a wife. Shucks. He really gave a brilliant performance in the play, and honestly meeting him was very much -- no, exactly like -- meeting anybody else. Except that when you tell people you've met James McAvoy it makes them jealous.

All right, I'm off to Nice until Monday night, then Tuesday morning I head off for York until Saturday night. By the way, I added a few pictures to my Scotland update.

Hampton Court:

Elizabeth gets a kick out of making me do impromptu photo shoots at various locations. So this is one picture in a series of about 20 taken right here. Oh boy haha.

Sitting in the members seats at court 1
Below: sitting in the chairs where players give their press conferences
3 Days of Rain:
Just realize this picture was not taken with any sort of zoom. That's James.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Now entering the most beautiful city in the world

It's about time for a Scotland update. Oh boy. Where to begin? How about the beginning.

Day #1 (Thursday): Erin, Sarah, Abby, and I booked it to King's Cross station in London to catch our train to Edinburgh, Scotland. We luckily ended up with four seats around a table, and spent most the 4 1/2 hour ride talking, pretending to do homework, staring out the window, and sleeping. About a half hour into the journey, the four of us were deep in what I'm sure was a meaningful conversation when the train went through a tunnel, and all at once all four of us dropped our jaws, grabbed our ears, and grimaced. Who knew a pressure change could make your ears pop that bad? It hurt, but we were thoroughly entertained as it happened regularly throughout the journey and we got to enjoy each other's facial expressions. You'll also be happy to know that we were the only ones on the train who seemed to be affected by it. No, I take that back -- an old Scottish lady sitting across the aisle once touched her ear. So there.

We arrived in Edinburgh after nightfall, and as we walked up the ramp out of the train station, the overwhelming beauty of the city very literally stole the breath from my lungs. The gothic magnitude of the city was enchanting, and I fell very much in love. It only took one second of looking around me to know this was the most beautiful city I'd ever seen in my life. Unfortunately, we didn't have much time to stand and gawk, because we had only a few minutes to find the bus station to catch our bus to Dundee, where we would be staying for the night. After a bit of an ordeal and a rather lengthy hike through the city looking like geeks with our international study backpacks bulging and swung over our backs, we arrived, got on the 2-hour bus ride, and arrived in Dundee, where we were picked up by Victoria, the daughter of one of Erin's friends. That night, she was so hospitable and kind -- she drove us around Dundee, waited while we ran to say hello to one of Erin's friends, and drove us on top of a volcano to get a nighttime view of the city and the coast. We were pretty exhausted from traveling at that point and went to sleep.

Day #2 (Friday): Before going to bed on Thursday, we decided on leaving the next morning by 8:30 at the latest, so we were rather impressed with our own punctuality when we made it out of the house the next day by 9:15. We caught a bus to the centre of Dundee, and, admittedly, there wasn't much to see. We went out to the harbor and say the RRS Discovery ship, which was closed for a wedding. We took some cool pictures on the coast, stared at a bagpiper for a while, and found a cafe where we could get some fish and chips. Of course, the restaurant took longer than we were expecting, and we sprinted through Dundee, backpacks bouncing all over the place, to catch our noon bus back into Edinburgh. As Erin aptly stated, "Hey, now we can say we've gone running in Dundee."

Once we reached Edinburgh, we had a lot to do before meeting up with my friend Shona at 5:30. First we climbed the Gothic spire in the middle of the city. It was dedicated to Sir Walter Scott -- see, writers can make a difference! -- and afforded great views of the city as well as winding staircases cramped enough for a good bout of claustrophobia. After, we made our way to the Elephant House, a cafe that has DELICIOUS hot chocolate, a charming atmosphere, and an appealing history -- this is the famous cafe where JK Rowling wrote much of Harry Potter, starting out with scribbles on napkins. We also made a trek to see the Grey Friar's Bobby, which we had heard was the most photographed monument in all of the UK, so naturally we had to join in the ranks of pilgrims. Maybe this will give you an idea of what it looked like -- we almost walked past it. It was very literally a tiny statue of a tiny dog. Whaaat.

Next on the list was hiking Arthur's Seat, an extinct volcano at one end of the Royal Mile that overlooks the entire city of Edinburgh. We were told it would be more of a 20-minute nature walk. Nope -- took us about an hour to reach the summit, and I suppose it didn't help that we accidentally at first climbed the mountain next to it. But honestly, this was my favorite part of the trip. I love hiking, it was beautiful, the view was stunning, and the power of the wind at the top was... well, powerful. This extra long hike, though, made us very late to meet up with Shona, who was so sweet to hang around the train station waiting for us. We headed up to Stirling, Scotland with her, went to dinner, met her Irish boyfriend, watched The Devil Wears Prada in her flat, laughed when her flatmate came home a little drunk and spent the night at the toilet, and had a pretty early night.

Day #3 (Saturday.. this is the last one, I swear): After spending the morning in Stirling, heading up to Stirling Castle, getting a nice view of the city and the William Wallace monument (yes, Mel Gibson is a living part of Scottish history), doing a bit of shopping, and meeting back up with Shona for tea and muffins, we headed back once more to the city that had already become one with my heart -- Edinburgh. We spent the majority of the rest of our time at Edinburgh Castle, then souvenir shopping down the Royal Mile, finding dinner, wandering the city, and getting on the 5:30 train back to London. This train ride could not have been more different from the first. Somehow, *luckily* we ended up in the FUN compartment brim full of drunken men of all ages on their ways home from various football games. They had begun drinking at 9 am, had each had about 9-10 pints each already, and were still going. Now, these were real men. They were drinking, betting, shouting, brawling, poker-playing, spitting, and, yes, singing. Talk about a 5-hour headache. One of their friends passed out drunk in his seat, and they convinced me to sit right next to him and pose for a picture. They began to take a general interest in us and believed that not being able to stand up straight or look us straight in the eye was very appealing to us. We had a long, entertaining conversation, and were not sorry to see them get off the stop before us. It was a late night, and I didn't get much of anything done due to the amount of noise on that train ride home -- well, it was more of a night at a pub than a night on a train. Ah, well, it's those unexpected bits of life that keep us on our toes, isn't it?

So that was my day-by-day Scotland adventure. I wish that pictures and words could do the city and its feel justice. Edinburgh is a dynamic city of tall, gothic structures, narrow, winding streets, and plenty of hills and stairs and gardens. And as if to make sure you never forgot where you were at any time, there was always at least one kilted bagpiper playing away, letting the traditional Scottish songs float their way through the city. I will be a very sad woman indeed if I never get a chance to revisit Edinburgh.

By the way, we have literally hundreds of pictures from this trip, so I'm just going to pick a few to show. These aren't even necessarily the best ones. Just a handful of them.

Beanies we found in Scotland -- should have bought them
The birthplace of Harry Potter -- excellent hot chocolate!

Me and Erin walking up the wider part of the stairs climbing the gothic spire

A view of Edinburgh from the Spire -- that mountain in the back is Arthur's Seat, which we climbed
Walking up the Royal Mile to hike Arthur's Seat, we ran into another group of girls from the centre. Weird! This happened about 4-5 times throughout the trip, by the way.
On top of Arthur's Seat

Blast it, I have so many more, but they're not uploading. I give up. This is all I'm posting.

Monday, March 09, 2009

At the Centre of Everything

I am ridiculously behind on my blogging, and it's a shame, considering the amount of events about which I should be writing. Let's start with last Tuesday and Carmen at Royal Albert Hall. Allow me to describe the context of seeing this production. It was raining quite liberally while we walked across Hyde Park to the show, so Elizabeth and I had a good time clinging to each other under the (partial) protection of her pink scarf, trying to shield our faces and hair from the damaging effects of the wind and rain. Our seats were third row from the very top, and our noses were definitely bleeding. Also, earlier that day, I had foolishly indulged in an entire bag of dried apricots. So, assuming you can draw your own conclusions from the above information, I will leave it that I was rather uncomfortable during the production. Aside from the discomfort and the unfortunate decision to perform the opera in English, it was a very enjoyable night! We topped it off with a viewing party of the season finale of The Bachelor, and I am not going to say anything of my feelings on that.

Wednesday morning we made our way down to Westminster station right next to the London Eye and caught a boat down the Thames to Greenwich, the center of time not to mention the world. As usual, Elizabeth and I broke off and wandered through Greenwich park, soaking up the views and flowers and straight up greenness. If I said we didn't do (and record) the macarena there, I'd be lying. It was Elizabeth's idea. Then, we met up with the whole group at the observatory for a planetarium show, which made me long to see the stars. They're not exactly visible in London. We spent a bit more time in Greenwich, straddled the Prime Meridian, went through the National Maritime Museum, you know, the usual, then caught a ride back to London. The evening was exhilarating -- packing for Scotland and sleeping.

Thursday as soon as class ended, Erin, Abby, Sarah and I headed off to King's Cross station to catch our train ride to Edinburgh, Scotland. Look forward to an update on that soon! I've got a couple more trips coming up -- I leave at like 4 am Friday morning to go to Nice, France with Elizabeth and Mary, get back Monday evening, and the whole group of us leave Tuesday morning for York until that Saturday. Oh, boy.

On the boat on the Thames going to Greenwich

Me and Elizabeth hanging in Greenwich Park

A foot in each hemisphere

Check your watches, ladies and gents. This is Greenwich time we're talking about.

This is a picture I took of Greenwich. Either I'm an amazing photographer or it's a beautiful city. Okay, it's a beautiful city.
This is skipping ahead a bit, but this was in Mitcham yesterday down the street from where we have church. By some miracle we actually got to church half an hour early before the building was even open, so we wandered around the town and took some dorky self-timer pics. What's especially funny about this is you see I'm wearing sunglasses, none of us are wearing scarves -- it was sunny. By the time we got back from church, it was pouring rain. Talk about temperamental weather.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Return to Camden Town

This morning, for your pleasure, I shall present, in the most pleasing way possible, a selection of amusing anecdotes I either have forgotten to share or have simply neglected to do so.

Monday. Yes, LAST Monday. Elizabeth and I headed out for our morning jog, and I recommended, "Let's take it easy today." Ha! We ran this time not simply round and about Hyde Park, but all the way down to Buckingham Palace. As we got closer to the palace, we noticed the line of guard on horseback coming down the same street as us, so we exchanged one of those meaningful looks you read about in books and promptly took off to race the guard down the street to the palace (and win) just before the Changing of the Guard. However, I'd be lying if I said we stuck around to see it. We did try -- we added our sweaty running bodies to the pressing mass of international observers, waited around, got pushed around, did a bit of pushing ourselves, and ultimately decided we'd been waiting and pushing for too long, and we ran back. Let me tell you, a week later, my calves are still burning.

Friday was an interesting night, beginning with a discount viewing of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. I will not say anything more on that topic other than starting from the opening bar scene featuring a sex doll and a pole dance stripper, the entire spectacle was disgusting, distasteful, and offensive. The night improved from there, though, starting with the fall of the curtain. As we walked back through Covent Gardens, we stumbled across an impromptu concert by a rather talented solo performer. You know, the "just me and my guitar and my music (and a decent sound system)" kind of thing. The crowd made a large, tight circle around him and sang along to all our favorite songs -- "Can't take my eyes off you," "Hallelujah," etc. etc. Every couple of songs, he'd switch to Italian, and the huge group of Italian boys across the circle from us would suddenly burst into a very loud version of it along with him. It was all in all a very cool unique experience. There was dancing, hugging, picture-taking, the works. After staying at the concert for more than an hour, we all packed up and went home, during the process of which Erin and I got separated from the group in a bit of elevator confusion and met with a lot of creepers as we sprinted down the stairs only to miss the tube and ignore a guy who came over to talk to us who wouldn't stop touching us and spoke to us in about 5 different languages, and somehow I understood everything he said to me, and told him to pretty much buzz off. PHEW. It was a long night.

Saturday was the return to Camden Town. Jenessa agreed to come along with me on another one of my very necessary, slightly nerdy literary pilgrimages. We headed up to Camden again, not to see the dog collars and punk life this time, but to visit the homes where Sylvia Plath lived, including the one in which she committed suicide. It was interesting that at the house where she committed suicide, the blue plaque on the house only mentioned that it was the home of WB Yeats with no mention of Plath. We were not able to enter the houses, as they are now private residences, but we certainly loitered outside, took pictures, and at the second house, read aloud Anne Sexton's verse tribute to Sylvia Plath she delivered at her funeral.

We spent the rest of the day wandering Primrose Hill in Camden, which is honestly the most charming place I've ever been in my life, and I'm dying to live there now. I might have even looked up the cost of renting an apartment there... We also found out before we left that Primrose Hill happens to be where Ewan McGreggor and Jude Law live, so we wandered up and down many a street, hoping to casually bump into them, strike up a captivatingly intelligent and witty conversation, and begin a lovely (and convenient) and lifelong friendship. Alas, it didn't happen -- a goal to pursue another day.

Anecdote instant terminated. I shall perhaps add pictures of the Sylvia Plath houses later.