20 May 2012

Lessons Learned

  • Lesson #1:  Jaywalking in Europe is both encouraged and completely dangerous.  The locals appear to have it down to an art, choosing to cross the street at the exact right moment so that they don’t get run over.  I, however, am quite intimidated by the double-decker buses that come barreling down the “wrong side” of the road, so I mainly choose to stick with the better-safe-than-sorry approach.
  • Lesson #2:  Hole in the wall places can be your best friend, as evidenced by the noodle bar and the milkshake bar we found on the first day in Ireland.
  • Lesson #3:  The first day you have to talk to an Irishman on the phone is a sad day.
  • Lesson #4:  Do not expect to put cold milk in your cereal.  It’s yogurt or nothing.
  • Lesson #5:  American hair straighteners really don’t work in the United Kingdom. Not a party.
  • Lesson #6:  It doesn’t matter how you dress or what you do.  Apparently, in some mysterious, unknown way, Americans stick out like a sore thumb.  Everyone knows who you are.  Drunk people will even go so far as to welcome you to their country while you’re just walking down the street.
  • Lesson #7:  God’s version of art:  Scottish men.
  • Lesson #8:  Don’t go on the Tube by yourself until you are fully confident of your capabilities.  You will get lost.
  • Lesson #9:  When getting on the Tube, don’t be afraid to push people out of your way.  It’s a free-for-all when everyone is trying to get on at the same time.
  • Lesson #10:  People don’t smile on the street.  This is something that only Southerners do.
  • Lesson #11: Murphy’s Law is actually true.
  • Lesson #12: The best laid plans…
  • Lesson #13:  Italian men are gross.
  • Lesson #14:  It’s stressful not to know a predominate language.
  • Lesson #15:  Ryanair, though amazingly cheap, definitely has its down side.
  • Lesson #16:  Paris is not as amazing as everyone says it is. Although the Eiffel Tower is gorgeous, Notre Dame is majestic, and the little book stores and small bakeries down random alley ways are picturesque, Paris is pretty dirty, and the people legitimately hate Americans.
  • Lesson #17:  Wesley (from The Princess Bride) was right…Spaniards are not to be trusted, especially with their airports.
  • Lesson #18:  Sleeping in an airport is not fun.
  • Lesson #19:  People in Italy don’t normally see real blondes.
  • Lesson #20:  If you have a question, ask.
  • Lesson #21:  Europeans are smarter than the average American.
  • Lesson #22:  We are not smarter than ourselves…even though sometimes we are.
  • Lesson #23:  Drivers and pedestrians in Europe are both fearless.
  • Lesson #24:  It isn’t good for your health to experience weather below freezing temperatures.
  • Lesson #25:  Snow is only good when it doesn’t delay flights.
  • Lesson #26:  Pack light and make do.
  • Lesson #27:  Nutella is the breakfast, lunch, and dinner of champions.
  • Lesson #28:  Crying and seducing can be used as last resorts only in certain desperate situations.
  • Lesson #29:  An accent from the UK is sooooo attractive.
  • Lesson #30:  Don’t judge people. You don’t know what’s been going on in their lives.
  • Lesson #31:  Berliners forgo fashion for warmth. Londoners forgo warmth for fashion.  Italians have their own bizarre fashion sense that doesn’t provide much warmth or fashion.
  • Lesson #32:  Hostels are excellent for the poor college student, but only the ones that aren’t trashy and set up like frat houses.
  • Lesson #33:  One should not have to ever go three months without a good man hug.
  • Lesson #34:  Smiles and niceness will get you many places but you shouldn’t be afraid to be forceful when necessary.
  • Lesson #35:  Being thrust into a new culture will not only make you be more outgoing but will also make you know yourself better.
  • Lesson #36:  London is amazing, as is the entire United Kingdom. But home is wonderful beyond belief…both the place and the people.

The Last Bit of London

Since I’ve been back from London, I realized that I never actually finished up the blog. I know at this point, more likely than not, no one is actually going to read this. But this is more for my own sake than anyone else’s sake. So, the next few labeled paragraphs are places that we went to in our last days in London. I wrote these paragraphs while I was in London, so the details were all fresh and new. I know it’s a lot to read in one post, but I think it’s worth the read.

The Tower of London
            My favorite era of history is the Elizabethan era.  I have grown up reading about the Tudor family, starting with Henry VIII and ending with Elizabeth I’s death.  To me, they are the most fascinating family in English history.  All of them were strong and determined people who ruled their country through a tumultuous time.  That is why I enjoyed visiting the Tower of London so much.  To see the place where not only so much history took place but also the place that incorporated so much Tudor history was fascinating to me.  I have always admired Anne Boleyn, despite her questionable and manipulative behavior to get to the throne.  Knowing that she was kept on the Tower’s grounds as a prisoner and that she was executed there shook me up a little bit.  We read over a letter she sent to Henry VIII while she was being imprisoned.  It’s easy to forget that people in the past were actually people.  They had real emotions and they struggled with real problems.  Anne Boleyn was probably terrified.  Being kept a prisoner in a place where so many others had perished before her is in itself frightening.  I can’t even imagine her emotions upon hearing of her death sentence.  Visiting places such as the Tower of London brings history to life for me.  It helps me see past the simple facts on paper and allows me to dig to discover the real person which these facts describe. 

The Cast Collection
The minute I walked into the Cast Collection room of the Victoria and Albert Museum, I was in awe.  This room was unlike anything I had ever seen.  It was legitimately like an organized but very cluttered attic.  In fact, as I was walking through it I couldn’t help but compare it to the Room of Requirement from the Harry Potter series. 
            I have considered becoming a museum curator with my history degree.   Therefore, I have naturally thought about how I would set up exhibits.  However, seeing the way this museum was set up was completely new for me.  I had never even considered in any of my thoughts a museum looking like that.  I think the reason I liked it so much was because of its uniqueness.  When picturing a museum in my head, I think of order, glass cases, protective barriers and definitely no clutter.  The Cast Collection changed my perspective on how museums can be. 
            Besides the set up of the room, the Cast Collection really just astounded me.  I couldn’t help but be amazed at how many sculptures and replicated tombs were in the room.  If you were to see these sculptures in their real homes, such as the tomb of John I or King Richard the Lionhearted, you would never be able to get as close to them as you could get in the Victoria & Albert Museum.  To be able to see the intricate detail even on an exact replica was extremely exciting for me.  It just made me feel closer to history and to the people connected to the real sculptures.  I could have spent much more time in those two rooms.  In fact, I did spend more time in those rooms than in any other room or exhibit in the museum.  There were so many things to see that it was easy to weave and wander through the rooms around the many different statues and pieces.  The Cast Collection was by far my favorite thing in the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Imperial War Museum
            The Imperial War Museum is completely fascinating.  To be able to see so many artifacts that have been used throughout history really put the wars into perspective for me.  For example, seeing how small the submarines are and realizing that people are in them for months at a time was interesting.  I know that I would never be able to be in such a small, enclosed space with the same people for that amount of time.  The thing that got me from the minute we walked in was the destroyed, twisted hunk of metal from Baghdad that used to be a car.  It had been blown up by a bomb that had detonated in the current war in Iraq.  Seeing that car and connecting in my mind that there are real people from both America and England fighting overseas at this exact moment touched me emotionally.  From the moment I saw the car, I couldn’t stop thinking about the very real people with real emotions and normal lives who had fought in all the wars represented. 
            This feeling continued when I went to the Holocaust exhibit.  Seeing the stories of innocent people who had been murdered so cruelly left me in a somber mood for the rest of the day.  I’m glad we went to this particular museum though.  I believe it’s important to know our history in order to prevent it from repeating itself.  There is much we can learn from our past, and this museum does a good job of teaching people every day.

The Royal Pavilion
The Royal Pavilion astounded me before I even saw it in person.  I was in charge of giving the presentation in chapel for Brighton, and just the pictures made me excited to see it in person.  I think it’s hilarious to know that there is a palace in England that is of Indian and Chinese design that employed a French chef and was commissioned by a German-speaking king.  The inside of Brighton was lavish, exquisite, and exotic.  The chandelier in the banquet hall literally took my breath away.  I can imagine the guests’ amazement at the dragon in the chandelier as it appeared to breathe fire.  Everything about the Royal Pavilion was obviously expensive and very carefully and meticulously designed.  I can’t even begin to think about how expensive it was to build and furnish George IV’s vacation home.  Just the way that the carpet in the music room squished beneath your feet as you took the tour of the villa showed off George IV’s expensive and beautiful taste.  It was probably one of the most beautiful things we have seen on our trip.

            Today, Lauren, Brad and I traveled to Greenwich on a day trip.  We hadn’t really planned out what we were going to do, so we really ended up just walking around and exploring.  The best thing that we were able to see is the Prime Meridian Line.  At this exact point, the world is divided into the Eastern and Western Hemispheres.  Therefore, it is completely legitimate to put one foot on either side of the Prime Meridian and say that you have stood in two places at once.  Today, I stood on both sides of the world.  This might seem like a stretch of a claim, but I fully intend on telling people that exact statement.  This happening opened up a train of thought that really interested me.  We have grown up thinking that it is physically impossible to be in two places at the same time.  However, if you straddle a state or country line, is it not correct to say you are in two states or two countries at the same time?  We also visited the Greenwich Market, which introduced me to Nigerian, Mediterranean, and French food.  I think I can say with confidence that I would go back to Greenwich just to see the market again.  At home, if you want to buy something you go to the store.  We don’t have anything like the open-air markets that seem to be so common over here.  It was really fun to get to try new and exotic things and to see people from so many different cultures in one place.

            The minute I arrived in London, I was slightly shocked by the fashion sense that everyone had.  Skirts were shorter than what I was used to, and people were wearing tights and leggings as pants.  I was also amazed by how little clothing people could wear without being cold in this northern climate.  As I spent more time in London though, the fashion sense began to wear off on me.  I bought and wore tights for the first time since I was seven.  After our first visit to Primark, when we nearly bought out the entire store, my fashion sense changed slightly.  I have bought clothes that I consider more “London-like” than any of my clothes at home.   The thing that surprised me about the fashion here though was how westernized it seemed.  Our western culture appears to have influenced the fashion here.  For example, plaid and flannel are very popular here.  I myself have bought a “cowboy” shirt since I’ve been here.  Denim shorts are also considered trendy, but most of the time they are worn with tights to provide extra warmth.  I think it is funny to think that while we in America are trying to imitate the fashion sense of London and Europe, they are taking styles from us and incorporating them into their own fashion.

            At home, I am notorious for being a picky eater.  I absolutely refuse to try mayonnaise.  I hate pickles, ketchup, and mustard, and I order my cheeseburgers completely plain.  However, one I came here I was forced to come out of my food bubble.  There are so many different foods to try here that I know will be hard to find when I go back over the pond.  I think that trying all of these new foods has broadened my horizons and allowed me to become a more spontaneous person.  By trying new foods even when I don’t know the ingredients, I am conditioning myself to be more spur-of-the-moment and impulsive.  This is a big change from the organized, planned out person I have always been.  Since we have been in England, I have eaten Italian, Japanese, Korean, Indian, Greek, Mediterranean and Nigerian food. Before this trip I would never have even considered trying Nigerian, Greek, or Indian food. I can honestly say that one of the things I will miss the most about this trip is the constant onslaught of different types of foods that we are exposed to everyday.

            In London, theatre is a part of daily life.  Shows are always playing and musicals are always being performed.  At every musical and play that I have seen while I have been in London, the auditoriums have been packed and nearly every seat is filled.  I have seen Les Miserables, Wicked, The Phantom of the Opera, Henry IV, and a performance by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra since we have begun our time in London.  While waiting for the performance of Wicked to begin, Lauren and I were talking to a woman who was sitting next to us.  She confessed that as a Londoner theatre was an important part of her life.  She had seen Wicked four times before that particular showing, and she claimed to be a frequent visitor of other theatres around London.  By talking to other Londoners that I have met on this trip, I have decided that this is the norm and not the exception.  Londoners love theatre.  This is why I was so surprised when it was announced that the government was cutting its funding of the fine arts programs throughout London.  From protests I’ve seen and newspaper articles I’ve read, it seems to me that no one is happy about these cuts.  Entertainment is a significant part of the lives of Londoners all over the city.  From museums to the theatre, these people love to let their hair down and get away from real life by experiencing something new and different.

            Back at home I drive my own car.  When I need to get anywhere, I’m used to jumping in my car and driving there.  For the past two months, I have not been in a car.  At first, I thought I was going to hate not driving everywhere.  I decided it would be a pain to have to walk everywhere with just my coat and umbrella to protect me from the elements.  I was not looking forward to having to carry all of my shopping bags everywhere I went instead of having the luxury of putting them in my car.  I also was annoyed by the fact that I had to carry my umbrella and a jacket all the time just in case it got cold or rainy instead of being able to store them in my car just in case I decided I was going to need them.  However, all of these things ended up not bothering me much at all.  The Tube system was an exciting new experience that I had never seen before.  I have been on the Subway in New York, but for some reason the Tube strikes me as different.  The Tube can get you virtually anywhere you need to go in London.  It eliminates pollution from everyone who would have to drive cars if the Tube didn’t exist.  My only complaint is the traffic that can be caused from the Tube.  If it is rush hour in the morning or in the evening when everyone is coming home from work, the Tube is literally packed to its seams.  This leads to making awkward eye contact with strangers and accidentally touching people you don’t know.  Traffic is also caused when one stop or one line is shut down for maintenance, strikes, or other reasons.  This event can cause sheer chaos as hundreds of people try to replan their routes to their final destinations. 
            Overall, I think the Tube is a great system.  It allows for easy transportation around London and is great for both the economy and the environment.  I have loved traveling by Tube while I have been here.  However, I will be excited to get home and get to drive my own car again.

The Sum of it All
This trip has introduced me to so many new experiences.  I knew going into this semester that I would be seeing new things and trying new things.  However, there are so many different experiences that I have been exposed to that I did not even consider before this semester had begun.
            I think it’s funny how the smallest things can make the biggest impacts on people.  The entire trip, I have been expressing my deepest excitement about how I can’t wait until the season starts to change.  From about October to New Year’s Day, I am in utter bliss every year.  This is by far my favorite time of the year.  However, I hadn’t realized that I had never really and truly experienced Fall before.  I have grown up in Texas my whole life.  Being in the South, the climate is warm and humid.  Our grass is only dead for a short amount of time in the winter, and our leaves barely change colors.  Here, though, I feel like I am getting to really see Fall for the first time.  The leaves are such vibrant shades of orange, red, and yellow.  When we went to Salisbury and we got to play in the leaves, I was like a little child.  I wanted to rake all the leaves together into a huge pile and jump in them, but at the same time I wanted to just look at the leaves strewn all across the ground and admire the warmth of their colors.  It amazes me how alive the leaves look and how vivacious they appear to be, when in fact they are dying.  I had never seen this before, and I can honestly say that I had no idea what I was missing.  Autumn that is 70 degrees is all I have ever known, and despite the fact that we’ve seen so many wonderful, historical, beautiful places I think that one of the things that I will miss most is the daily image of the leaves. 
            This whole situation reminds me of seeing snow in Searcy for the first time.  I was so ecstatic to play in the snow and throw snowballs and build snowmen, but nearly all my friends from the North were indifferent towards the snow.  I think that this situation is virtually the same. While I have been gushing over the leaves’ colors, Lauren and Brad have been laughing at me.  To them, this is no big deal.  In fact, they are quite fond of telling me that the leaves are even more colorful where they are from.  Despite all of this, I can’t get over the fact that this is something that people get to see everyday. 
I know that the main point of this paragraph has been discussing the leaves, but the thing that I really wanted to say is that this trip is conditioning me to see God’s beauty in every little thing.  While I do consider myself a fairly strong Christian, I realized that I don’t always stop to appreciate what an awesome God I have.  Not only did he create nature and a world for us to live in, he also made it breathtakingly beautiful.  Literally everything that I have been privileged enough to see on this trip has made me appreciate my God even more.  I acknowledge that things like buildings and historical artifacts were not made directly by God.  However, I believe that God inspires us to leave our mark in history through actions or art.  The buildings we have seen, the men we have studied, and the natural landmarks we have visited have all been touched by God in some way, whether people created something for God or just had God in their lives.  I love being in London, not only because I am experiencing new things, but also because I get to see God in everything that I experience.

08 August 2011


Have you ever seen “Everybody Loves Raymond?” If not, it’s your typical sitcom about a very dysfunctional family, and it’s hilarious.  Well, Brad and I were talking a few days ago about our group and how our personalities are all so different but still mesh together, and he decided that our HUE group is exactly like “Everybody Loves Raymond.”  It’s really funny to watch, but if you were actually in it, it would suck.  He wasn’t saying that our lives suck, because they don’t.  We’re in London, having the time of our lives.  But, the most ridiculous things, things that belong in sitcoms and comedies, happen to us ALL THE TIME.  And our Paris trip is the perfect example of this.
On Wednesday, we went to Paris for the day.  We got up early that morning to catch a train to Paris.   When we got to the train station, we changed some of our pounds to euros and then waited in the security line so that our bags could be searched.  You know how on every trip there is that one person that everything happens to?  That was me.  I was stopped at security because something suspicious showed up on the x-ray of my bag.  Security pulled me aside and asked me to open my purse so that they could search it.  I don’t know about you, but I feel like a little blonde girl who is carrying a stuffed hedgehog, three different kinds of chapstick, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a Disney Princess ziplock bag in her purse is really not a security threat worthy of being stopped.  But my opinion means nothing here.  Thankfully, I got through fine and then we all stood in another line to get a stamp in our passports!  It was very exciting.  However, I hadn’t had a stamp for two seconds before I was pulled over to a corner by security and asked where I was going and why I was going there and how long I had been in the UK, etc, etc.  And no, this didn’t happen to anyone else in our group.  Stephanie was amazing and stayed with me as they searched and questioned me.  After I was done going through the Spanish Inquisition, I decided that I deserved some hot chocolate.  Have I discussed Caffe Nero’s hot chocolate yet?  It is the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had.  It’s served with whipped cream and rich Belgian chocolate and I love it.  Anyways, while I was waiting in the line for my hot chocolate, we met a family from Texas who was also traveling to Paris.  They were from the Rice village area of Houston, further proving that is really is a small world.  We talked to them for several minutes while waiting on our train to arrive.  They had two wonderful daughters who were convinced that they were traveling to “Brussel Sprouts,” and we really enjoyed talking to them. 
It finally was time to get on our train.  I sat next to Lyndsey on the train, but for the most part I slept.  We arrived in Paris at one in the afternoon and immediately bought tickets for the Metro so that we could get around the city.  The Metro is the French version of the Underground Tube system, or the subway.  It took a while to figure out how to buy the tickets, and everything was in French so that made it even harder. And the people who were working at the train station knew English, but they pretended not to. This just goes to show you that what they say about rude French people is true! However, not all Frenchmen were opposed to Americans. As we were walking across the train station, trying to figure out how to get to Notre Dame, a group of soldiers armed with huge guns walked past us. I had never seen anyone carry a gun so openly in public, even our army at home, so I think I looked at a younger guy in the middle of the group just a few seconds too long. He made eye contact with me, and then he broke out in a huge grin. I kinda smiled at him, but quickly looked away…his huge gun really intimidated me. But before I knew it, his buddies in camo were waving him on and he was walking towards me! I nervously coughed and tried to look really busy, but he approached me anyways and in a very French accent said, “Bonjour!” I stammered a “Bonjour” back to him, and he asked me if I was American. I answered with what I hoped was a charming “Oui!” With that, I had reached the extent of my knowledge of the French language. After a short, slightly broken conversation with him in English, he rejoined his group and I rejoined mine. As I was walking to my group, all of whom were making fun of me, I got run over by a stroller. The group continued to laugh uproariously at me as we made our way to Metro.
We rode the rather rickety Metro all the way to the Notre Dame area. We got to see the beautiful cathedral (but no hunchback, unfortunately) and we spent a good deal of time in the church. The stained glass inside was absolutely gorgeous. I loved being in a place where so much history had taken place. After Notre Dame, we walked along the streets, occasionally spotting tons of soldiers with huge guns, and looked for a bakery to buy French bread. We came across the Shakespeare and Company bookstore, which is quite famous and very cute. The streets were so quaint in that area of Paris, and it just really felt like we were in France. I know that sentence doesn’t make much sense, but that’s the only way I know how to say it. 
When we finished with that section of town, we went to see the Arc de Triomphe and then Champs Elysees Avenue, where all the major shopping and expensive stores are. There was a lot of walking, and I’m not going to lie…the Champs Elysees didn’t interest me very much. I’m sure some people would be absolutely appalled by me saying that but that is how I feel.
We made our way down the Avenue, and came to the Louvre and its Glass Pyramid. The gardens that surround the Louvre were pretty, even though it was winter and November. And the chill didn’t stop the stereotypical French couples from French-kissing all over the place, on benches and picnic blankets. By then it was getting dark, so we didn’t spend much time at the Louvre…in fact, we didn’t even go inside it. But next we went to Paris’s most famous icon: the Eiffel Tower.
What I didn’t know about the Eiffel Tower is that at nighttime it lights up and sparkles every hour. By the time we got to the tower, the sun had long set and it was very dark. The sparkling tower was so gorgeous. Our group went up into the tower, riding the elevator so that we wouldn’t have to climb the ridiculous number of steps up to the top. Once we were up there, we could see the entirety of Paris lit up. It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. I was taking some pictures with Brad when we looked over and saw a man proposing to his girlfriend on top of the Eiffel Tower. It was so precious and so beautiful. To top that off, as soon as she said yes, the Tower lit up. The pulsing lights made it feel like a dance club, and yes we did dance to music on my iPod while the lights went off. THEN, on top of all of that, it started to snow while we were on top of the Eiffel Tower. Perfection achieved! All of that seriously couldn’t have happened at the same time if someone had planned it. It was so beautiful.
Remember how I mentioned a sitcom at the beginning of this post? Well this is where the hilarity and chaos really begins. We all made our way down to the bottom of the Eiffel Tower, and we were sitting around taking pictures when we realized we only had 30 minutes to make it back to the train station and onto our train back to London. We gathered up our belongings and started to rush to the nearest Metro stop to take us all the way across Paris. Unfortunately, we then realized that Lyndsey was nowhere to be found. We desperately looked for her everywhere as time was ticking away when she appeared out of a gift shop. We grabbed her and frantically began our mad dash to the train station. Our group arrived at the extremely crowded Metro and we couldn’t all fit on the train. It was filled to its capacity. Thankfully we sucked in our breaths and pushed many disgruntled French citizens against the edges of the Metro and squeezed our whole group on the Metro. This is probably why French people are so rude to us haha. Anyways, our Metro ride was incredibly long as we wound under the streets of Paris to the train station. Finally, we arrived and rushed off of the Metro towards the platform where our train was going to take off. Of course, we were on the other side of the incredibly large station and had 10 minutes to get to our platform and go through security before we could board. And so began our intense run to the platform. Soldiers with their huge guns glared at us as we ran through the crowds, nearly knocking people over. Pigeons flew through the air as we interrupted their grazing time on the station floor. Suddenly, the station was deserted. It was actually really creepy. We continued our run when I abruptly got a cramp in my leg.  The day before, we had been to Greenwich and I had fallen down a hill, bruising and twisting my leg in a weird way. It had been kinda tight all day, and running on it didn’t really help. As we ran, and man running from a different part of the station joined our marathon to the platform. At this point we literally had 2 minutes to get where we were going, and we had been sprinting across the station for a while and I was frazzled and out of breath. So when the man started talking to me in French, I wasn’t too worried about manners. “I (gasp) SPEAK (gasp) ENGLISH!” I yelled as we continued to run to security. Thankfully, the man understood me and shared our situation because he too was American and late for the same train. And then, it stood before us:  security. Lauren threw her purse on a table and scattered pens out for the group to fill out their customs forms. Me? I was fully prepared to lie and say I hadn’t bought the 4 post cards and miniature Eiffel Tower in Paris. As I was running to the metal detector, I threw my purse on the conveyor belt next to it from 15 feet away and began taking off my coat as I ran, yelling at the security guards “DO I NEED TO TAKE OF MY COAT?!” Alarmed, they realized I was in a bit of a hurry and waved me through the metal detector. I made my way to the platform, tickets in hand, and showed my boarding pass to a woman who worked there. Seeing my bright red face, how hard I was breathing, and the rest of the group running behind me, she calmly told us we were fine. We had made our train. We all briefly rejoiced, and then found our seats and collapsed, pealing sweaty layers off as we drifted to sleep. It was honestly one of the most stressful and hilarious things that has ever happened to me. But it’s part of what made our trip unique and I loved it.

30 October 2010

The Month of October

I admit it:  I have let my schoolwork come in the way of writing everyday.  I came to London fully intending to blog once a day.  However, I unfortunately forgot that while I was here I would actually have to go to class, too.  Surprisingly, the classes that I’m taking are not completely blow-off classes and I have to do legitimate work.  Sorry guys. But, since I have blogged, life has been crazy and hectic and absolutely amazing.  We have seen multiple shows and performances, including The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Wicked, and Les Miserables. 
Les Miserables is probably the best musical I’ve ever seen.  I had actually seen it before coming here in Houston once.  However, there’s something about seeing it in the Queen’s Theater on its 25th anniversary tour that just makes the show even better.  The entire performance I was freaking out.  I ended up grabbing the arm of the person I was sitting next to multiple times because of the beauty of the sound of the actors’ voices soaring throughout the auditorium.  In fact, I had to reign in my enthusiasm for seeing the musical because I didn’t want to build up the show to be more than it was for everyone else that saw it with me.  As a lover of theater and music, it’s really easy for me to become incredibly ecstatic about seeing such a production.  I sometimes forget that other people don’t become as captivated by the music, the plot and the set as I do.  Thankfully, I had nothing to fear with Les Miserables.  Our entire group ended up loving the show.  The actor’s did such a fantastic job with their roles.  I mean, I know that that is what they’re paid to do, but I just completely lost myself in the story.  As a sympathetic crier, I found myself close to tears multiple times throughout the performance.  I realized as the show went on that when I wasn’t close to tears I was beaming like a lunatic.  But anyways, the show was great.  Wicked was also amazing.  I had seen that one, too, but I still loved every minute of it…not to mention the fact that all of the characters had English accents.  One of the characters, Boq, even had an Irish accent. Thankfully, I was able to understand all of it.  At both of these shows, we got amazing seats at really good prices.  In fact, for Les Miserables we were on the ground level and we had front row seats to Wicked.  Oh it was amazing. 
Ok. I can’t remember if I have already talked about this, but I have decided that I have a problem.  This problem stems from me being a history major.  I have become notorious in my group as the girl who likes to touch stuff she isn’t supposed to at museums and other exhibits.  I really can’t help myself.  I of course don’t touch things that would be damaged by the oil on my hands.  But, if there just happens to be the oldest door in Britain right in front of me and it’s only cut off from the general public by a rope, I’m of course going to touch it!  The same goes for the marble sculptures from the Parthenon in Greece and anything else I have access to.  There is just something about touching things that other people have touched over a thousand years ago.  Whether you’re touching something that Elizabeth I or just a normal person touched, you have an irreversible tie to that person through history.  It fascinates me.
Two days ago, we went to Westminster Abbey.  I was glad of course to see the beautiful church, but in all honesty I was not incredibly excited.  We have been to so many churches and cathedrals on this trip.  They’re all beautiful, and they all have remarkable historical ties, but I was just not particularly interested in Westminster Abbey.  However, this changed the minute I walked through the door.
            The first thing that I see when I have walked into any church on this trip is the ceiling.  That may sound bizarre, but I think that the high, soaring ceilings just naturally draw the eye upwards.  After I’ve looked at the ceiling, I then take in the beauty of the cathedral.  This time, it was different.  For some reason, this church really affected me emotionally.  I had been having a pretty rough day, and I think that just being in that church was uplifting for me.  It felt like every part of European history that really interested me, that I have studied on my own time because of my love for it, was in Westminster.
            For example, I have always loved the tragic and triumphant story of Elizabeth I and her royal family.  I do not know why, but the beauty, strength, and cunning obviously seen in the lives of the Tudor family fascinate me.  I think I know more about Elizabeth I than I do about some aspects of our own country’s history.  Anyways, when I went into the tomb room and realized that both Elizabeth and Mary were buried in that room, this intense, near-indescribable feeling came over me.  I was smiling, wanting to cry, and had goose bumps and chills all at the same time.  The fact that I was standing in the presence of two women who had completely altered the course of England’s history, even though it was four hundred years ago, humbled me.  I stayed in that room for nearly fifteen minutes, despite it’s many signs telling tourists to keep moving.  The next room was just as amazing to me.
            The tomb that Henry VIII commissioned for his father was right in front of me.  I could see the intricate gold leaf designs that I hadn’t been able to see in the many pictures I had seen of this tomb.  Edward VI was buried right where I walked.  James I, the Scottish king of England, was next to me, and his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, beheaded on the orders of Elizabeth I, was just a few steps away.  I was in complete awe.  These people were strong, sometimes crazy, but definitely powerful.  They led entire nations, and while some were definitely more successful than others, they still had a huge impact on the English nation.  I can admire something in all of these leaders.
            Of course, I couldn’t get out of the church without touching something that I wasn’t supposed to.  Just outside of the main part of the cathedral was the chapter house.  Right outside the chapter house was the oldest door in England.  It had probably come from the time of William the Conqueror, and it was separated from the general public by a dividing rope.  With two lookouts watching both exits, I was able to briefly touch the door that hundreds and thousands of people throughout history had walked through in their daily lives.  For all I know, every king and queen of England could have touched the same door that I illegally touched.  Even if this is not the case, I still have an undeniable connection to the lives of people, common or not, who lived nearly a thousand years ago. I know I already mentioned the “undeniable tie” thing in this post, but it’s so amazing to me that I can’t help going on and on about it.
            Let’s see. Since I’ve blogged last, we have also been to the London Eye, seen the Tree of Life in Hyde Park, been to the Natural History Museum, discovered Primark, been to Abbey Road, visited Buckingham Palace, tried to see the changing of the guard, shopped on Portobella Road, seen the Tower of London, been to Blenheim Palace, visited Oxford, learned the powers of woading tattoos, visited Warwick Castle, visited the birthplace of William Shakespeare at Stratford upon Avon, had high tea while discussing Jane Austen, seen the white cliffs of Dover, visited Canterbury Cathedral, dyed Mindy’s hair red, and learned how to properly wear a toga at Hampton Court. 
            Good grief.  Just looking at that list makes my head spin.  It’s been an incredibly busy month.  I’m going to try to briefly go over some of these (VERY BREIFLY), so feel free to skip the next few paragraphs if you’re getting bored.
            The London Eye was really cool.  It was so interesting to see the city from so high up.  We had a few people who were really scared of heights, so that fun to watch.  Just kidding…but seriously.  We had one person who was detained by security because he was carrying around a massive knife with a huge blade…so massive that it’s actually illegal to carry. So that was a party.  The ride lasted about 20 or 30 minutes, and it was really a lot of fun.  There were so many great opportunities to take pictures and just see the city from such a calm place.  It really contradicted the image of London that is usually in my head, full of crowds and hundreds of people who show little friendliness.  Even in Houston, people smile at each other.  Here? Nope. I actually got really weird looks from people on the Tube the other day when I said “Bless you” to someone who had sneezed.  My bad. Anyways…     
            Hyde Park is really cool.  Brad, Lauren and I discovered a massive tree that we fondly call The Tree of Life.  The branches come down and cover the entire trunk of the tree in a dome-like structure.  You can have to kinda squeeze through the branches to get into the dome where the trunk is, and from there you can climb the tree.  Ok. I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t have much tree-climbing experience.  Back home, the branches are pretty tall, and it’s hard for short people like me to climb up when you can’t reach the bottom branches.  I was hesitant to climb this tree…especially when I realized that I was too short to reach the branches here, too.  However, Brad graciously gave me a boost so that I could get into the tree.  It was so awesome! Once I got the boost up, I had no problem climbing.  In fact, we go back there every now and then to read or study at the top of the tree.
            Primark is the store of clothing heaven.  It contains inexpensive, very cute, Londony clothes.  Therefore, we go like every week-and-a-half.  It’s really a dangerous store.  The low prices suck you in, and it’s extremely hard not to buy something if you go.  I have started making myself not go simply because I could probably buy out the whole store. 
            Oh Abbey Road.  The Beatles.  Fantastic.  We didn’t get a very good “walking across the street like the Beatle’s Abbey Road album cover” picture, but we intend on going back soon and trying again.  There were cars coming when we took our picture. But, we did get to write our names on the wall in front of the Abbey Road Studio.  I was freaking out the whole time, and I can’t wait to go back.
            Have you seen Notting Hill, with Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant?  That is Portobella Road.  The outdoor market where Hugh Grant walks through in despair is where I was.  They have really cool booths set up all up and down the streets.  I like to think of it as a mix between a farmer’s market, an estate sale, and a garage sale.  It’s lots of fun to go to, and you can get really good prices of lots of things.
            The Tower of London was amazing…but that’s probably because I was really excited to see the place where Anne Boleyn was kept and beheaded and the torture chamber.  Hmm. I just typed that sentence and realized that if you don’t know me well I sound really sadistic and creepy.  But that’s ok.  Anyways, it was really cool.  I wish we had had more time there because I could have spent hours in each separate building.  It was amazing just getting to see certain things and realizing that real people, with real emotions were kept in the Tower.  Many of them were innocent.  It was sobering to think about, but at the same time I was excited to be in the presence of so much history. 
            For those who don’t know what woading tattoos are, prepare to be enlightened.  In ancient times, the Celts would tattoo themselves with blue ink.  These tattoos were swirls and intricate knots that were fabled to protect against evil spirits. When we learned about these in class, I immediately started doodling in the margin of my notes.  This doodling turned into me and Lauren giving Brad a woad tattoo on each of his arms.  That then turned into me giving Mindy a sharpie tattoo on her foot.  For a while we were all obsessed with these, but in the past month our obsession has died down.
            Besides all of this, we have actually been going to classes.  Unfortunately, midterms did fall in the past week.  Between the philosophy midterm, the humanities midterm, and the raging hormones that attacked our flat all in the same week, it’s been pretty rough.  At the beginning of this trip, I mentioned that I was worried about making friends.  Everyone seemed to already know everyone else, except for me.  However, this didn’t end up being a problem at all.  In fact, a bunch of people on the trip come to me to vent or for advice.  It’s working out really well.  It’s funny to look back on my preconceived notions of this trip and compare it to how reality actually is.  I was wrong on so many different levels, but that hasn’t been a bad thing yet.

30 September 2010

September 30

            Today, I fell in love with paper.  After class, we went to this cafĂ©/paper store that makes its own paper.  It was so beautiful.  I feel really silly about freaking out over a piece of paper, but the pages were so delicate!  They had intricate designs, textures and even leaves and flowers pressed into the pages.  It was absolutely fantastic. 
            Lauren and I broke off from the group when we decided we were dangerously close to wanting to buy random pieces of paper that would serve us absolutely no purpose and went to the grocery store.  We bought the food that we needed to tide us over until our next food allowance, and I was brave and bought a meat and potato pasty pie.  This is apparently a pretty British food.  It was delicious!  Basically it was like a pot pie with just beef and potatoes, but it was fantastic. 
            At 2:00 that afternoon, our group set off to go visit the British Museum for the first time.  We got to see the Rosetta Stone and the artifacts the British had recovered from the Parthenon in Greece.  The sculptures and pieces from Greece were amazing.  I’m going to do a very poor job of trying to explain this, but the pieces felt like they were actually moving.  The fluidity being their motions, despite the rigidity of the stone, was really just captivating.  I think I could have looked at those pieces for a really long time.  That, and the fact that I was looking at something over three thousand years old really got to me.  The best part is secretly touching something from the exhibit.  You’re not supposed to, but the temptation to touch a part of history, just a rock or a stone that so many other countless people have touched was too much for me sometimes.  But we should keep that in the cone of silence…I don’t want the Royal Guard after me. 
            We only caught a glimpse of a tiny portion of the British Museum.  It’s completely massive, and I’ll have to go back several times to be able to see everything that it has to offer.  Lucky for me, it’s free.
            After the museum, Lauren, Brad and I went to Oxford Circus where a lot of the shopping is.  If you are ever in London, make a point to go to Primark.  It is like a combination the Target clothing department and the Forever 21 of London.  There are tons of really cute clothes for really good prices.  For example, I got a skirt for 5 quid.  That’s London speak for 5 bucks.  It was amazing.  I also got a shirt, which I’m extremely excited about.  And then I bought a coffee mug that has a map of the Tube system on it.  So I went a little crazy today.  But, these are the first things I’ve bought except for post cards, so I was actually pretty proud of myself.
            We got back to the flat and had dinner pretty quickly.  Then Lauren and I showed the guys how to get on the roof.  It was completely dark by this time, so we figured we had a lesser chance of getting caught.  The city is really pretty at night, even though you can’t see much of it from our flat.  I love sitting out on the ledge.
            When we came back in (it gets pretty chilly at night), we watched a classic movie we had rented from the library.  The librarian was really excited when we checked it out, and even started quoting his favorite lines from the movie.  What movie was this?  Gladiator.  So good.  So epic.  Absolutely fantastic.  It was the perfect end to a really long day of walking around shopping in London.

September 29

            I feel like I am in a mix of Shakespeare in Love and Harry Potter.  Today, we went to the Globe Theater.  Yes, the actual Globe Theater.  This is right up my alley, because I not only love theater but also am extremely interested in this era in history.  In the 1500s and 1600s, when Shakespeare was really popular with the king and the common people, the Globe Theater was built as a hugeeee open air theater to put on his plays and other plays that were less popular. It's a circular shape, with the stage at the back and seats built into the circular walls (that's where the rich people sat...it costs more to sit). The bare ground is in the middle of the theater, and that's where the poor people (aka all of us) stood for 3 hours to watch the play. Even though I'm short, I could see the stage really well. It was amazing. And this is the same theater from that time period, except that it burned down in the late 1600s I think during a performance of Macbeth. That's why even today it's bad luck to say "Macbeth" before any type of show. I NEVER ever said it when I did musicals and plays in high school. And yeah, they've restored some parts and things like that, but oh man. It was so awesome. I was freaking out the whole time. The play we saw was Henry IV, which was written by Shakespeare. It's basically about the power struggle behind the English throne in the 1500s, and it was in Shakespearan language and all that. But it was really good! And I laughed pretty hard several times. I was kind of scared that I wasn't going to be able to understand what was going on, but I really got into it.  The only bad part was when it started to rain in the middle of the show.  Since there’s no roof, everyone busted out their rain jackets.  I, unfortunately, didn’t have a rain jacket so I borrowed Lauren’s plastic trash-baggy poncho.  Yeah, I was styling.  You would have been pretty jealous if you had seen me. 
            Another cool thing that I got to experience was walking across the Millenium Bridge.  For those of us that have seen Harry Potter, this is the bridge that the Death Eaters basically destroy in the latest movie.  Remember at the very beginning when this walking bridge is made to toss and turn until it breaks over the water?  Yes.  That bridge.  Oh man, I felt pretty legit. 
            However, when we were making our way back to our flats, somehow Brad and I got separated from the rest of the group.  And then, I somehow got separated from Brad.  It was kind of tense, just because I was a little worried about everyone making it back.  I was perfectly fine; I knew exactly where I was.  It just wasn’t necessarily something that I want to happen again.
            That night, we all stayed in and did homework.  It had piled up mysteriously on us, and we all had soooo much to do.  Basically, in the girl’s flat we all sat around the living room or at the kitchen table, trying desperately to understand the foreign language that is the philosophy of religion.  Again, I’m not ashamed to say that I’m terrified of that class.  Hopefully it’s not as bad as I’m making it out to be.

September 28

            So, I have officially been to all of my classes.  After sitting through speech and philosophy of religion, I think it’s safe to say that I will not like B Day’s classes…or B Days in general. 
            Today was pretty slow.  We went on a coach tour of London after classes.  Our guide, Suze, was hilarious as she showed all the girls where Prince Harry goes clubbing and the infamous military men’s bar, Paxton’s Head.  The military bar is actually very safe though, since the men are required to be absolutely respectful towards young ladies or they run the risk of being severely punished or even kicked out. 
            After the tour, a group of us traveled by Tube to Camden where all of the charity shops are.  The charity shops are basically good will stores that donate a huge portion of their profits to a specific charity named on the front of the store.  Everything there is pretty cheap, so you can find some really good deals if you get lucky.  It was exciting to see what we could find.
            Beyond that, there really wasn’t much that happened.  I had to read a chapter in one of my philosophy books, and I can already tell that it will not be a party.