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!


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!


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!


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.

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

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.

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!

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.


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!

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!


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.


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.


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!

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.

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!