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.