Catching a Breath in Between Travels

Hey everyone, I apologize for the lack of updates. I have been so very busy!

Two weeks ago, my mom came to visit and we had a wonderful time. I was hoping that Britain would meet her expectations, but not suprisingly, it exceeded them! We did so many things that I had yet to do in London, like go on a Beatles walk, visit the Victoria & Albert Museum, and see “Billy Elliot The Musical”! (More about mom’s visit in a future entry)

Last Monday, I was in Florence, Italy for a week-long art history study trip! The schedule was so rigorous and exhausting but well worth it! We saw so much art and architecture that I’ve always dreamed of seeing in person rather then in the slideroom. (This will be in a future entry as well!)

Tomorrow morning, I am on my way to a nine-day sprint through Switzerland and Germany! By the time I return, I will be in blogging debt, but have so many stories to tell and pictures to show.

Thanks for your patience, and stay tuned in!

St. Patrick’s Day Weekend in Dublin!

This year’s St. Patrick’s Day was different from all others. As usual, I wore green. For a change, I was actually in Ireland! No need to close my eyes, listen to the Riverdance album and pretend this time!

My friends Niki, Laura, Christine, Reimi and I headed to Heathrow airport on Friday afternoon where celebrations were already in progress. Like us, flocks of people in green with party hats and glasses were making their pilgrimage to Dublin for the big day. The hour-long flight was quick, and we were in Dublin before sundown.

The Great Southern Hotel was overwhelmed by its St. Patrick’s Day pilgrims and completely booked. The managment must have been under stress, since there were a lot of mix-ups with rooms. Reimi and I realized this when we opened our door to find a mini bar, business desk, and queen-size bed. Apparently, a man by the name of “Mr. Terrence Lillywhite” was supposed to have gotten that room and it was given to us by mistake. Poor Mr. Lillywhite… The next day, we voluntarily moved to a different room. Hopefully, Mr. Lillywhite had better luck.

Funny Hats

Recently someone told me that St. Patrick’s Day wasn’t a big to-do in Ireland. Whoever said that must be mistaken! It looked to me as though the circus had come to Dublin, complete with painted faces, funny hats, and drunken men in the street screaming “Kiss me, I’m Irish!” and keeping a tally of their kisses. Every pub was absolutely packed, and McDonalds was really the only place in hich we could get a seat! At least Niki got her annual McDonalds Shamrock Shake. McDonalds…sounds a wee bit Irish, don’t you think? After running into some fellow Kingston students in the middle of the city at a late hour, we headed back to the hotel for some sleep.

Dublin, split into two parts by the Liffy River, is a much smaller and less crowded city than London. My friends and I, over the course of the next three days, did a lot of sight-seeing! Our ventures included a musical pub crawl, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Christ Church, Trinity College Library, The Dublin Writers Museum, Malahide Castle, The Guiness Storehouse, and Temple Bar. Wow, we cramed a lot in!

Ireland

My favorite event was the musical pub crawl. Three musicians, who played fiddle, guitar, and bodhran (a Celtic drum) led our group through sing-a-longs in two small and intimate pubs. They discussed the significance of the pub in Irish culture, as well as music which was a chief form of storytelling and communication among the Irish. The evening was charming and very enjoyable!

musical pub crawl

I also really enjoyed visiting Malahide Castle, which is a short way outside of Dublin. The castle was home to many generations of the Talbot family for nearly 800 years. A relatively small and modest dwelling, the castle really seemed like it would be a peaceful place to live in. After our tour of the castle, my friends and I had tea and toffee cake in the downstairs cafe. I have achieved a dream of drinking tea in a castle!

Malahide Castle

Also enjoyable was the Guiness Storehouse tour. Although I dislike the taste of Guiness (or beer in general), the processes of its creation and marketing were interesting to learn about. The famous brewery was established in the 1700s by Arthur Guiness, whose distinct recipe has been preserved to this day. As an art student, I especially enjoyed the displays of packaging designs and looking at the various labels. The factory itself is such a large building that seemed almost endless. In a strange way, it reminded me of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory…except I didn’t find the Guiness too yummy.

Guiness Factory

If you ever get the chance to go to Ireland on Saint Patrick’s Day, I recommend that you do! Despite the cold weather, the social atmosophere makes the time the perfect one for visiting.

Bathing in the Splendor of Ancient Stone

Gosh, I love British Life and Culture class. This past Saturday was the double trip to Stonehenge and Bath! It was a long day, but it was really a lot of fun. Possibly what made the trip especially fun is that I spent it with my great group of friends here that I have come to know a lot better over the past couple of months. These were my second visits to both places (last year being with the London Theater Seminar), but I enjoyed them both so much better this time around!

Me at Stonehenge

Stonehenge is a windy, odd place. What are these rocks? Who put them there? Why was this construction built? Millions of theories are abound and no one knows its true intended origin. Most assume it seved as a sun dial. Due to excessive wind, I had no patience to listen attentively to my audio guide. Luckily our proffesor Philip was an awesome tour guide and offered tidbits about the rocks that were rather interesting.

The funny thing is, my friends and I were drawn to things other than the rocks. My sheep-obsessed friends took pictures of the animals within their enclosure, while I was drawn to the sky. Rays of sunlight were gleaming through clouds in a way I had never seen before. Well, I have seen that effect on those spiritual greeting cards, but this was real and amazing.

clouds and rays

After most of our group bought out the entire stock of bargain Stonehenge calendars in the giftshop, we were on our way to Bath. The city is approached from above, and a great aerial view was awarded to anyone who wasn’t sleeping on the bus. This city is beautiful and golden. All of the buildings are made of golden Bath Stone, giving it a unified and splendid appearance. Even Burger King is made of Bathstone! Philip gave an informative walking tour of the city, and we walked as far as the Royal Crescent. Regency architecture at its finest!

Bath Crescent

Afterwards, we toured the Roman Baths rather too quickly due to time constraints. Last year I got to spend more time touring the Baths so I didn’t feel out that I missed out on too much. Fortunately or unfortunately, the Pump Room restaurant was closed so we were unable to taste the Bath water, which is not so yummy so I’ve heard. However, it is believed to have healing powers.

Roman Bath

All in all, a great day! Next week we are seeing Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” by the Royal Shakespeare company, and then we are touring Parliament and the Globe theatre. Tomorrow, my friends and I are travelling to Dublin, Ireland, for St. Patrick’s Day!
Well, top ‘o the morning to you!

Sibling Stint in London!

This past Thursday, my brother Jeff came to visit! After my morning lecture, he traveled to Kingston and I showed him around the town. After he got a coffee to aid his jet lag, we went to my favorite pub in town. The pub is called…well, I don’t know exactly, it’s changed ownership so many times, so I call it Lloyds/JD Wetherspoon/Kings Tun. Good food as usual, however the environment was too quiet and calm for my brother who was almost falling asleep in his plate.

For a change of scenery, we traveled to central London. My brother’s hotel room luckily had two beds so I jumped at the chance of a mini vacation! It was nice to leave the flat for a little while, visit with Jeff, watch TV (which I rarely have access to) and take a hot shower (with good pressure!). We ate dinner at a great Gastro Pub called Anchor and Hope. The wait was long, but well worth it! The pub’s setup was quite new to me, as we were seated at large wooden tables along with total strangers. We overheard some interesting conversations to say the least!

Jeff and Me

On Friday, Jeff and I went to Camden Town, which is like a combination of Swinging London, New York’s East Village and New Paltz! Camden is known for it’s many markets that sell clothing, music, art, and crafts among other things. I must have passed at least thirty people with florescent hair and ten with mohawks.

Camden

Afterward, we traveled to Highgate where Jeff lived when he studied abroad in London eight years ago. He noticed that some things had changed, but it seems that he felt right at home. It was nice to visualize his experience and compare it with my own. We ate lunch at a very old pub called The Flask, where the painter William Hogarth often dined.

Later, we walked around Hampstead Heath, which is the most rural spot in London. It is quite easy to forget that you are actually in a city. The Heath is home to the famed Kenwood House (featured in the film Notting Hill), Parliament Hill (the highest spot in London), and many of the most interesting trees I have ever seen. It is really a peaceful area, but it can also tend to be muddy, so remember to bring your Wellington boots! To complete the day, we ate at another wonderful restaurant called The Bull which had a giant sculpture of an “elephant” outside of it (?) then wandered aimlessly around Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus. The area is almost equivalent to Times Square in New York, but most of the stores were closed so we weren’t able to see much.

Hampstead Heath

A Royal Yet Humble Weekend

Well, I’m just about over my cold! On Friday, I celebrated by taking a long excursion down the river Thames to find Hampton Court Palace. I really needed to make up for all of the opportunities to explore that I missed last week. Something about my hour-long walk along the Thames was immensely satisfying. For the first time, I was really exploring the countryside of Britain. Only walkers, cyclists, boaters and fishermen could be seen along the paths. Pavement eventually turned into clay, surrounded by tangled grass and broad trees. There were no cars, no buses and I half expected a horse and carriage to come rolling around the bend.

ThamesPath1

My first glimpse of Hampton Court Palace was not disappointing. From behind a great stone wall, the building loomed in the distance and it looked rather inviting. I ventured on to the Palace grounds and wandered the beautiful gardens that are open to the public. Once I arrived back at Kingston’s town centre full of shops, it was hard to believe that just an hour before I had been standing in the Palace grounds in the countryside!
ThamesPath2
ThamesPath2

The theme of my weekend thus became Royal Residences. The following day, I went with a couple of friends to Windsor Castle, the official residence of the Queen. I expected it to be a small, modest castle but it turned out to be a sprawling fortress! To add to the excitement, the Queen was actually in residence as indicated by the royal flag. Inside the state apartments were various displays of art, china, armor, shields and weaponry. Most beautiful was the garden moat surrounding the Round Tower on the grounds. Although I enjoyed my tour of the Castle, I wound never want to live there due to constant drafts, large size and uber elegance. Unfortunately, I had placed my camera’s memory card in the wrong bag and do not have pictures to share. However, I plan to go back!

As my weekend did involve visiting royal residences, most of my joy came from being in the countryside and observing the local environments. Hampton Court Palace and Windsor Castle were impressive, but imposing, and rather guarded. The countryside, however, possessed an open quality and a humbleness that appealed to me more than crown jewels ever could.

Sickly, but Scholarly!

Hello everyone! The delay in my posting can be attributed to an illness I somehow acquired this past week. It’s been fun but exhausting adjusting to the London lifestyle, which is basically being a pedestrian. Londoners walk everywhere in all types of weather, especially the pouring rain. After my own walk through London in the rain on Sunday, I felt rather run down and so began my fever week. Luckily I did well on my Monet presentation despite the fever. I hope I’m 100% better by the time my mom and brother come to visit. Since being sick is not exciting, I will discuss the second of our fieldtrips instead.

On Saturday of last weekend (which seems like an eternity ago), I visited the old university town of Oxford with my fellow study abroad students. With collared shirts and lace-up shoes in mind, most of us felt we should dress “scholarly” when visiting such a place. We toured the Sheldonian Theatre which holds convocation and graduation ceremonies. The round wooden building features a dome which offers amazing views of the Oxford Colleges. It was quite a climb, but what a view!
OxfordfromdomePedestrians roam London, and bikers wheel their way through Oxford. With the exception of bicycle shops, I had never seen so many bicycles in one place. I ate lunch at a pub called “Eagle and Child” where J.R.R. Tolkien (author of the Lord of the Rings trilogy) and C.S. Lewis (author of the Chronicles of Narnia) would often meet for literary discussion and a pint. I felt considerably humbled by being where such great authors and minds gathered, that I later bought myself an “Oxford University” sweatshirt to instill some intellectual pride.

We met our professor, Philip, for a historic walking tour of the city. The tour ended at Christ Church, which was the highlight for most people. The reason? Christ Church was a filming location for the Harry Potter films. Its staircase is indeed the one that is supposed to lead up to the Great Hall of Hogwarts. I had never seen so many people take pictures on a staircase before. As a Harry Potter fan myself, I’ll admit that I posed for a few as well. The building’s own “Great Hall” was beautiful, but I left quickly due to no heat. It was colder inside the building than outside.
Interior

What impressed me most about Oxford (aside from providing a film location) is its age and history. Some stones walls, almost caked in black soot, haven’t been cleaned since the middle ages! The place had a real Gothic, medieval quality about it. I realized I would not want to be a student at Oxford, but I would really like to visit again!

STUDY Abroad…

“It’s called Study Abroad. Although you are here to be abroad, you’re primarily here to study,” said Dr. Philip Woods, teacher of British Life and Culture.

Knights Park

Yes, school has begun! I’m enjoying my modules a lot (modules are what we call classes in America) and my tutors (professors) are great. I’m taking “Parisian Art World”, “Italian Renaissance Archticture”, “Art of Renaissance Florence”, “British Life and Culture”, and “Shakespeare: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”.

Next week, I will be presenting an actual Monet painting to my “Parisian Art World” class at the Courtauld Institute of Art in central London! What a humbling and daunting task! I have presented slides of paintings before, but never the real thing! Perhaps I’m on my way to a career as an art museum tour guide?

The Italian Art History modules are exciting as well. During spring break, I am going to Florence for an onsite Art History course! I’m really looking forward to this opportunity having studied Florentine art and architecture in depth for so long.

“British Life and Culture” is full of study abroad students like myself. Our tutor is a lovely man who slightly resembles Paul McCartney. We discuss our cultural similarites and differences, and also take field trips to other parts of Britain. This weekend, we are going to Oxford, the oldest university in the English speaking world!

“Shakespeare: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” is great to take while in England! It seems so authentic here and I have learned a lot more about Shakespeare than I previously knew.

All of my classmates are very friendly, as are the tutors. It is funny that the British accent isn’t as noticeable to me anymore, perhaps because it is no longer a novelty but the norm here. One of the great rewards of my experience so far is that now I can finally listen to what British people say rather than how they say it!

“An American Student in London” and my own “Brighton Beach Memoirs”

Hey everyone!
Me in London

This past Friday, I ventured into the great city of London along with some of the other study abroad students. The train ride in only took about twenty minutes! We wandered through Westminster, Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, and Piccadilly Circus before heading east to see the Tower of London. I was surprised by how quickly I remembered my way around the city from my trip last year (London Theatre Seminar). The group somehow established me as their tour guide, which made me feel silly yet proud.

Although the entire day was great, there was indeed a highlight: a usually stone-faced horse-guard broke into a slight smile! Such a rare occurrence, indeed! A couple of the girls decided to take a picture in front of the horse-guard, when the horse proceeded to nibble and tug at one of the girls’ jackets! It was such a funny and absurd sight that even the horse-guard could not help but stifle a laugh. So, the guards do have a sense of humor after all!
Horseguard

The next day, all of the visiting students took a bus ride down to Brighton, the popular seaside resort city. Brighton is the equivalent of Atlantic City, but with more history and elegance. We took a tour of the Royal Pavilion, the residence of George IV, established during his days as Prince Regent. The building is like none other in Britain, as it resembles the Taj Mahal. George IV’s fascination with Eastern art and architecture resulted in a home with a glorious, illogical and inventive mixture of Indian and Chinese styles. The tour guide was this enthusiastic Viennese woman who was almost as much of a character as George IV himself.
Brighton Pier

After the tour, I explored the Brighton Pier. Complete with rides, games, and a fish-and-chip shop, it is the boardwalker’s paradise. Even in the cold of January, the Pier was bustling. I can only imagine what it will be like when the weather gets warmer! The Pier really offers amazing views of the sea and the shore that I took advantage of with my camera. Only an hour from London by train, I plan to visit Brighton again.

I plan to visit you all again soon as well!

Greetings From London, Mates!

Well, I’m finally here! It’s my third full day in Kingston and it has been quite an experience so far. The flight on Virgin Atlantic was great; I had a row of seats to myself, watched Wallace and Gromit, and had an amazing view of the atmosphere. My arrival at Heathrow aiport was smooth and I got to my place residence in Kingston rather quickly.

Middle Mill

I live in a student housing complex called Middle Mill which is in a great location. It is close to the town centre as well as my classes. There are eight people to a flat in my building, and all of the rooms are singles. I live with two other American girls, two British girls, and three British guys. They are all very friendly, inviting and good company! I have joined them on social outings to the pub where we’ve played pool and discussed our humorous cultural differences.

These past few days have been a lot to take in! Still somewhat jet-lagged, I’m slowly getting settled in. My emotions have been up and down, as they should be, with such a life altering experience. The concept of “Study Abroad” suddenly became a reality. I’m not just in London for a visit, but here for five months. That realization, often called culture shock, was a little bit frightening at first but I’m becoming more comfortable with it.
Talk to you all again soon!