Day One

1/5/10

What a long, exhausting day. We arrived at Heathrow airport at around 10:00 a.m., GMT. After a brief tour of London by bus, with our really rough-and-tumble bus driver, Owen, we arrived at Baker’s Row, our lovely London flat. After unpacking, we went for a jaunty walk to exchange currencies and see the town. London is beautiful in every sense of the word; its old-world feel, winding roads, and extremely courteous citizens enamor me already. We walked over to the British Museum to check out our “classroom” building, and had dinner at the Museum Tavern. Andrea has appointed me “student leader” for day one; meaning that I have the honor of rousing the troops and making sure we all arrive at the classroom early. I’m a little nervous, because I know some fellow students will be late risers. Still, I will uphold my duty to the best of my ability. Well, it’s 1:15 and we have to be up and out by 8:30. Goodnight, London.

Jet Lag

1/5/10 -12:55 a.m. (Eastern Time)

Jet lag. I can already feel its drowsy tendrils enveloping my still-waking body. It is hardly a “late night” for any college student, yet it is approximately 5:55 a.m. in wintry London. I am excited about every single thing London has to offer, and I can almost guarantee my first day will be spent on my feet, trolling the streets of London proper, and not softly dozing in bed. Two weeks hardly seems like enough time, yet hopefully all that there is to be seen will be. Well, I am off to take a brief nap before our cheery British flight attendants wake us for our morning tea. Til then, I will be following the second star straight on til morning.

Packing

Let us begin the beguine! As with all beginnings, introductions are in order. My name is Patrick Kiernan, and I am a theatre arts major at SUNY New Paltz. As such, I love theatre and performance in every form that it could possibly come in. I am a sophomore, member of the New Paltz Players, Paper Rain Laboratory Theatre, and most recently Alphi Psi Omega, the national theatre honor society. That seems to be quite enough introductions, so now to the marvelous and fantastic trip to London, which I am eagerly awaiting. As of now my suitcase stands half-opened in my room, things tossed semi-carelessly inside. Even as I write this, I am dreading zero hour: “Packing Time”. It is probably the lazy person in me speaking, but I’m confident I’ll drag myself into getting it done. Speaking of dragging myself to getting it done, I should probably do that now. Til next time. Here goes nothing!

untitled post.

Greetings! For those of you who have been following my adventures thus far on my other blog, welcome back! For those of you just tuning in, who’ve missed out on my first few posts, you can catch up here.

So hello everyone! As you read last time, this past Friday was the Riverboat Disco on the River Thames. It was great!! I didn’t get outside to see the sights as much, a) because it was freezing outside, and b) I was having too much fun inside! But here’s a shot of the bridge I was able to get when I got on the boat:

Tower Bridge at night

The night was chock full of a lot of dancing, and a LOT of singing – no, screaming. And so by the end of the night I was losing my voice, but Saturday morning I woke up with absolutely NO VOICE. I haven’t had that happen in so long! I guess with all the screaming-singing and the fact that I already had a little cough going on, my voice box just gave up for a while. I still only have a partial voice, but it’s better than complete silence. Saturday morning (afternoon, really), I woke up and treated myself to a full English breakfast at Cafe Roma next to the Oakwood tube station. To anyone reading this studying in Middlesex: DO THIS. It was amazing!!!! Egg, bacon, sausage, beans, toast, and tea. All for £4. (Okay, so I obviously can’t have it every day because I don’t really feel like having a heart attack, but it was certainly worth it at least that one time.) The woman working there is so nice; she realized (since it was quite obvious) that I lost my voice, so she gave me tea and told me how to get my voice back (gargle warm water with salt; already knew about that but it was nice that she offered). While I was waiting for/eating my breakfast, I decided to be worldly and pick up a London newspaper. Just from reading that one newspaper for 20 minutes, I could tell you two words you do NOT say to anyone from the UK: Tony. Blaire. Wow, so people really hate him here. I also read an article that said Osama bin Laden made a statement saying he thinks we should do away with the US dollar because it’s basically evil. Not sure how he plans to erase an entire currency, but suuuuure. Oh, sama……..

SO ANYWAY. After that, I was pretty much a bum on Saturday. Yesterday, I went to Camden Market with Claire. It. Was. Amazing. It was basically a ginormous street fair, tons of little tents and such with all sorts of different things, depending on where you were. I guess we mostly stayed in Camden Lock, which was a lot of clothes and also just about every single kind of food imaginable. Claire and I had falafel, which was amazing. Then we walked over to this stand of giant brownies for only £2. Claire got a chocolate brownie and I got this banana spice fudge thing. There was no fudge. But it was still delicious, just very messy.

Some of the shops along Camden

Beautiful view of Camden and all its tents!

Motorcycle seats!

More tents!

View from the (impossibletofind) bridge

Camden Market on Sunday = CROWDED!

After Camden, we were supposed to meet up with people to go to the National Gallery, but it had gotten to be about 2 and we hadn’t heard from them, so we were going to go back. It was cold and we were slightly tired. But Claire made the point that we both purchased £7.50 all-day passes; we might as well make use of them. So we hopped on the Tube headed for Covent Garden. (The picture at the start of this entry is a shot of Covent Garden.) And I bought this really cute change purse with London-related things on them (well, really it just has a pendant of the British flag and it says ‘LONDON’ on it. And it’s red and blue and white). Anywho, I needed a change purse, so it was a good investment.

Human statue in Covent Garden

Another one!

Anyway, after an hour or so in Covent Garden – and after we kept missing our friends by minutes – Claire and I headed back. Found out later that Joey, Josh, and Melissa (the ones we were trying to meet up with) accidentally stumbled onto the UK premiere of Invictus and got to see Matt Damon, Clint Eastwood, and Morgan Freeman IN THE FLESH!! Very, very jealous.

Today has been really productive actually. I got up early, did laundry and went food shopping with Laura. Spent over my normal budget for food shopping, but I honestly know I won’t need to go shopping for a WHILE. I feel like I’m getting used to making all my meals every day, that I can actually start making real food instead of microwavable things. Funny story: I spent about 5 minutes in the cheese department looking for American cheese until I realized they probably won’t have it. Or, as my mom pointed out earlier, it might be called something else. Oh, Liz….

So I guess I should go make myself some dinner, what with all of this newly purchased food! I’ll keep everyone posted!

xx

Picnic in the Park

Although classes were done, school work continued. Plenty of papers needed to be completed, and one exam needed to be taken. However, there was still some fun to be had before most of the study-abroaders went home! On a windy spring afternoon, we held a picnic in Kingston’s Fairfield Park. Organized by Philip, Jen and Alison, it was an afternoon complete with refreshments and sporting equipment. It was a nice opportunity to see everyone from British Life and Culture just one more time, and outside of the classroom setting. We engaged in some football (soccer to Americans) passes, as well as rugby passes, neither of which I excelled at, but found enjoyable. The highlight of the picnic was the touch rugby game, during which Philip and Jen captained each team with vigor.

touch rugby

I did not engage in this, but was amused from the sidelines. The game of rubgy still baffles me…

Although this splendid picnic in the park marked the end of the study abroad experience for some, I would stay in UK for over another month. It turned out to be probably the most exciting, productive, and surreal month of my life!

Welsh Wanderings

To celebrate the end of classes in early May, my friends Niki, Laura, Christine and I planned a long weekend in Wales. We took the National Express coachbus to Cardiff, the Welsh Capital, and stayed in the city for a couple of nights. Although our hostel was based in Cardiff, most of our sightseeing was done in the countryside and in the valleys.

On a gorgeous Sunday, we ventured to Caerphilly Castle. Vacated for centuries, Caerphilly is very much a ruin. Today it exists as a museum, a reception venue for weddings, and it is also a popular hangout for fishermen and dogwalkers. Its location is not on a great crop of rock, but rather simply the green hills of the Welsh countryside. An interesting fact about Caerphilly is that one of its towers out-leans the leaning tower of Pisa!

CaerphillyCastle

Wandering the grounds of Caerphilly was one of my favorite experiences in the United Kingdom. The green hills, wonderful weather, and minimal crowds all made the day so peaceful, and I had wished I had prepared a picnic.

Although it doesn’t have the ceremony and the trimmings of Windsor Castle, Caerphilly provides quite the playground for anyone who ever dreamed of exploring the remains of a medieval castle! Complete with a water-filled moat and a bridge, it is perhaps the castle I had always wanted to see in reality.

On a drizzly monday morning, we travelled by bus to the Rhondda Valley in search of its famous mining community of the past. At the Rhondda ValleyHertiage Park, the four of us were given a private tour by an ex-miner named Terry. We wandered the mining facilities, and even went a bit underground to see a reconstruction of the real mines that lay far down below.

Terry and Hard Hats

With hardhats on, we descended in an authentic mining elevator to the exhibit. Smells of sulfer and the cranking of machinery filled the dark tunnels, which we explored for a good while before resurfacing via a motion simulator ride. Visiting a Britain mine was very important to me, since one of my favorite British films, “Billy Elliot”, is set against the backdrop of the 1984 Coal Miner Strike in Northern England.

Later that night, before catching our bus back to London, we went to Cardiff Castle.
Cardiff Castle
I had fallen asleep on the busride from the Rhondda Valley back to Cardiff, so I was rather dazed and exhausted while touring the famous castle of Cardiff. However, I took some great pictures from the top of the fortress, and walked through the drizzle to go back home.

United Springdom

“You alright, yeah?” is a typical greeting among British youth. I hope you are alright indeed, and I apologize for the posting silence. As finals are now done, I have been travelling around the UK, and seeing things that I have always dreamed of.

I returned from Switzerland and Germany (a ten-day trip) on the Queen’s birthday. It was really a fitting day to fly back. During my time in Europe, on the continent, I was homesick…or rather, home-base sick, for the UK. Upon landing, I vowed to myself that I would dedicate the rest of my time abroad this semester to seeing the UK and all that it has to offer!

To celebrate our return to England, my friends and I went to Cambridge. Like Oxford, Cambridge is a university town, but with much more open space. The highlight of our day was our punting boat ride down the river Cam, which weaves its way past the various college campuses!

Cambridge

Just two days later was one of Britain’s biggest holidays: May Day! The first of May is a Bank Holiday, but more importantly, the cermonial start of Spring! Kingston had its very own May Day festival called “May Merrie”. The local park green was completely transformed into a fairground, with rides, games, booths, puppet shows, and a jousting competition. I honestly forgot I was just right around the corner from my flat!

MayDay

My favorite part of the day was seeing a real “Punch and Judy” puppet show. “Punch and Judy” originated in the 17th century and is the oldest puppet show in Britain still performed today. The main character, Mr. Punch, is a naughty man who beats his family members and the local police officer with a giant stick. Despite the violent nature of the show, “Punch and Judy” has retained its popularity for over three centuries.

The following week, my friend Niki and I attended the “Punch and Judy Festival” in London’s Covent Garden, where over ten puppet booths were set up at a time, running numerous shows at once. Different models of Mr. Punch and the other characters graced the various stages, each putting their own spin on the classic storyline.

More UK Springtime adventures to come!

A Romp Through the Renaissance

Upon the start of Spring Break, I was in for my most intensive art history lesson yet. Rather than looking at slides of Florentine Art and Architecture, I was actually seeing the churches, palaces, paintings and sculptures with my own eyes! The “Art and Architecture of Renaissance Florence” Study Trip was an amazing opportunity.
Dome

My friend Reimi, who is from Japan, also signed on for the class and was a fun travel companion. We left our rooms at Middle Mill hall at an unearthly hour to make the trek to Gatwick Airport, during which we saw the sunrise. When we met up with our professor and fellow students, we recognized a rather unfortunate situation; my professor, Ros, had her arm in a sling. Just a day before, she had broken her arm while placing a book back on the shelf at home. Ros had such strong enthusiasm for guiding our trip that one would never guess she was wracked with pain.

On the plane, I enjoyed a window seat which awarded me amazing views of the snow-capped Alps

Alps
We arrived in Pisa and drove an hour south to Florence. One of the most interesting aspects of the Italian landscape was the form of the trees. I always though Renaissance artists were using creative license when painting such vertical and closely-clipped trees, but I saw that the forms were indeed real.

The Hotel Cordova was rather old fashioned and authentically Italian. We were staying on the same street as the Palazzo Medici, and just a short walk from the Duomo and the Bapistery of San Giovanni! Mopeds, Motor Bikes and cyles are the mode of transport in Florence. It was funny to see such modern technology zipping by the landmarks of the Renaissance.

DavidDuomo
David, the Duomo, and a portrait of the dome’s architect Brunelleschi

Upon seeing the Duomo for the first time, I uttered a word that I cannot repeat here. The sheer enormous size of the building, as well as its intricate inlaid marble facade kept my eyes busy for awhile and must have put me in a trance. Of course, I jumped at the sight of Brunelleschi’s famous dome, one of the most amazing feats of engineering in the world. At the Bapistery, just a stone’s throw away, I presented Ghiberti’s bronze door panels to my class, thereby freeing myself of academic stress for the rest of the trip!

Arno
The Beautiful Arno River

To be quite honest, the trip’s schedule was set at such a rigorous pace that it is impossible to do a day-by-day breakdown. We saw so much in such a short amount of time, that experienced numerous episodes of sensory overload. By the end of each day, I was so exhausted that I went to bed by 10:30 each night! The last time that happened was probably when I was in middle school!

In addition to seeing the major sites and works, the best part about my experience in Florence was the element of surprise. It was great to stumble upon my favorite pieces that I hadn’t expected to see in Florence, but elsewhere in Italy. I would also like to extend a huge “Thank You” to Ros Ormiston for being such an awesome professor and guide despite the pain of her broken arm.

The trip was so much fun that I had forgotten I was taking a class! However, I just remember that it was a class and I am off to write the paper now!

Next Entry: Switzerland and Germany!

Happy Mothers Week, Mum!

Hey everybody, I have a lot of catching up to do!

About a month ago, my mother came to visit me here in London, and it was her first time to Britain. I hoped she would be enchanted by this great land and she sure was indeed. How fitting that she arrived the weekend of Britain’s Mother’s Day!

Here we are in “Sticky Fingers”, the Rolling Stones themed restaurant owned by former band member Bill Wyman.

Mom and Me

On our first full day together, we went to Marylebone Station to take a Beatles Walk entitled “In My Life”. The walk, run by a Beatlemaniac named Richard, covered areas of Westminster featured in the film “Hard Day’s Night” as well as some of the Beatles’ living spaces. The highlight of the tour was indeed a pilgrimage to the legendary Abbey Road Studios! I daresay that the famous Abbey Road crosswalk is the most busy crosswalk in the world. Many frustrated motorists honked their horns as tourists walked proudly across the street multiple times.

Abbey Road

The following day, we went to the Victoria & Albert Museum, which is one of the most unique museums I have ever visited. A museum of the Fine and Decorative arts, the V & A houses many objects of various materials from many cultures and time periods. For instance, there plaster casts of Renaissance sculptures, along with a 1970s model of a filing cabinet! Such diversity. My mom and I were especially interested in the intricately painted miniature portraits.

Victoria & Albert

A real highlight of our outings was seeing “Billy Elliot The Musical”. The film “Billy Elliot” immediately became a favorite of mine when I first saw it in the movie theater over five years ago. It tells the story of a young English boy from a working-class town who defies the expectations of those around him by pursuing his passion for dance. The musical, written by the creative team of the film, and Elton John, was amazing to see. It had such freshness and British authenticity unlike any other show I have seen. Below is a production photo of Matthew Koon as Billy, and Hadyn Gywnn has his dance teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson.

Billy Elliot MK
picture from http://www.billyelliotthemusical.me.uk

The greatest highlight of all was showing my mom around Kingston one afternoon. Luckily the weather was wonderful. We visited the street market, walked along the Thames, spent some time at my building, and went to eat at my favorite pub.

Marketplace

After a visit to the National Portrait Gallery, Mom and I parted ways in the tube station. She was sad to go, but had a great experience.

Next Post: My trip to Florence, Italy!