Arts, Antiques, and Allison

So I realize how long it’s been since I last ACTUALLY updated (not counting, of course, my Paris pictures from earlier). This past weekend my friend from home, Allison, came to visit from Rome where she’s studying abroad. But more on that later. This is going to be another LONG post!

Before I delve into all the fun stuff – AKA the more interesting and, dare I say, more important part of this experience – I’ll briefly share that I got my first paper back on Wednesday. I got a 3! Now, before you wonder why I’m so excited about this, let me remind/tell everyone about the grading system in London. It’s on a scale of 1 to 20, where 1-4 are equivalent to high mark (an A), so a 3 is basically an A! I’ll admit, of the 3 papers I had to write last month, this one was the easiest to me; it was basically picking one of the passages from Midnight’s Children she gave us and doing a close reading and thinking up your own thesis. That’s basically what I’ve been doing since junior year of high school. Easy peezy. I felt bad because a few people around me apparently didn’t do so well, but I was still (understandably) proud that I managed to snag an A on my first paper in London. 🙂

Okay, anyway. Last week – Wednesday to be exact – was my birthday! My 21st birthday, even!! What an amazing way to celebrate; after having a handful of pretty uneventful or un-enjoyable birthdays since middle school, it was great to be in London for this major birthday, although I kind of wished I was around my family and friends. I didn’t do much on my actual birthday because many of my friends have class on Thursday even though I don’t.  Orange phone service has this deal for Wednesdays where they give 2 for 1 movie tickets and coupons for Pizza Express. Because we all still have our Orange simcards from when we first got here – we all switched to better plans since then – we decided to take advantage of this. So that night I went to Pizza Express with Tara, Melissa, Aminta, Laura, and Joey and then went with Tara, Melissa and Laura to see Leap Year. The food was AMAZING! The staff was really nice, too. We got an order of garlic bread and dough balls which were both delicious, and I can’t remember what I got for the main dish but I remember it being amazing. Even without the Orange deal, the prices aren’t too bad for a restaurant that looks pretty fancy at first glance. Definitely going back there another time. The movie, on the other hand, wasn’t too impressive. None of us really liked it except for the really beautiful Irish scenery. We all got a little excited about going there on our separate Ireland trips. Oh! I forgot to mention that they also got me a Hannah Montana cake (which was pretty good but went stale pretty quickly) and a “blow up husband” which was not what I originally thought it was, thank God. He’s now inflated and sitting in the corner creepily.

On Thursday, since I didn’t have class, I finally got myself over to the British Museum and the National Gallery. Laura came with, because she never got to see the Rosetta Stone the last time she was at the British Museum, and had never been to the National Gallery either. Tara also wanted to come to the National Gallery, so we were going to meet her when we were done at the British Museum.

British Museum and a lovely day

Inside the British Museum

I hafta say, I think preferred the British Museum over the otherwise-popular National Gallery. I’ve always heard such amazing things about NG and how monstrous it is, but I think BM had more interesting things to offer. For example, Rosetta Stone was there along with a clock room – I happen to think clocks are fascinating – and an exhibit on world currencies over the years. There was even a hands-on station where we could touch and look closely at ancient currency from Africa and Rome (I think). Sweet!

Rosetta Stone!

Yep, this is a clock

World currencies through history

In contrast, National Gallery (not to be confused with the National Portrait Gallery, which Tara did) was mostly paintings and portraits, which made me laugh since there’s an entirely other building devoted to….more portraits? Anyway, they didn’t let us take any pictures but the building itself is probably what stood out to me more than the art. High ceilings, elaborate ceiling artwork and a lot of gilding.

National Gallery from the outside

View from Trafalgar Square after the National Gallery

My real birthday celebration took place on Friday when we all got together to go to a club in Central London, On Anon. It was a beautiful club, although I’m not usually a big club goer. But it was a cool way to celebrate, although it was like Amazing Race to get there before 10 for free admission. We just made it! Josh also offered to cook enchiladas before we left for Central. Soooo good!

(Some of) The group at On Anon

Although I had every intention of sleeping in that day, my friends texted me the next morning about going to Portobello Road, a huge outdoor antique market in Notting Hill. I heard good things about it, and my friends hadn’t left by the time I got up, so I decided to go. It was really cool, although I wasn’t about to splurge on antique knick-knacks or vintage clothing. I did, however, get some paella which was TODIEFOR.

Portobello Road

The paella!!

Anyway, after walking up and down Portobello Road, Aminta and I had somewhere else to be – A DAVE MATTHEWS BAND CONCERT AT O2 ARENA! That’s right, I said it! That was my birthday gift to myself, I guess. It was one of the most expensive things I’ve bought in London (aside from airfare) but it was totally worth it! I’ve been wanting to see them live for years and what better place to do it than in London – and the O2 arena no less! It was such an amazing venue! I mean,the arena itself was basically as big as Madison Square Garden which I’m obviously used to, but it’s located in this huge mall-type place that was really colorful and futuristic looking. It was the kind of place you could hang out in without actually seeing a concert. I also bought a T-shirt which I just realized I’m wearing right now, lol!

Cool looking wall by The O2

Movie theater in The O2 by the arena

Inside The O2

Anyway, before we could enjoy the show and all that, we had to pick up the tickets which of course had to be a whole adventure in itself. Aminta didn’t realize she needed the confirmation number, and she didn’t remember which credit card she paid for the tickets with, so she had all of them with her. True, she probably should’ve thought of these things, but I was still shocked at how difficult this had become. Finally, we realized that the problem was that they were looking under the TicketMaster list, and couldn’t find her name, so she probably ordered through a different company. I didn’t think they had different lists – and didn’t understand why they did –  which was why this was so baffling to me. Then the woman told her to check her e-mail, but she didn’t have her Blackberry with her so the woman directed us to the O2 store to use their computers. But they didn’t have public computers, but thankfully a really nice employee let us use the store computer and print out the e-mail. After 10 minutes of thinking she accidentally deleted the e-mail, Aminta found it and printed it and brought it back to the line. UGH! Altogether, this process took about 15 minutes, but it was finally taken care of. We had gotten there pretty early so we had plenty of time to get a coffee and relax until the doors opened. Then the show! I loved it! We were planning on moving our seats if it wasn’t sold out, but it got pretty full and we liked our seats anyway, so there was no need. I was a little disappointed that he didn’t play a lot of his older/more popular songs, but he played a handful of my favorites, so again, I didn’t care! I was in the same room as Davey I didn’t care at all!!!

Best picture of the night!

I didn’t do too much last week, but on Monday Tara, Melissa, Aminta and I went to “Every Other Monday” comedy show in Angel Islington. I heard about it in an e-mail newsletter I got from the International Office at Middlesex. I know I LOVE British humor (hello, The Office and Whose Line is it Anyway?) but I wasn’t sure of what to expect. It was basically a free comedy night where regulars come to try out their new material. They’re all on for about 8-10 minutes and if the audience laughs, they’re mostly likely going to keep the joke; if the audience sort of laughs – or there’s a mixed reaction – they think about tweaking that part; if the audience doesn’t laugh at all they obviously toss the joke. A lot of them were really hilarious – I preferred the second half – but the first two were INCREDIBLY nervous; the woman was literally shaking all over. I realized that for a comedian to be funny, they have to be more confident or else the humor is kind of lost. This poor girl didn’t have any transitions between jokes it was like a grab bag of random one liners. Anyway, I realized I could never be a stand up comedian, but I had a great time being an audience member! We sat in the first row, so of course we were a target for many of the comedians, especially once they found out we’re Americans. And the MC looked JUST like my brother, only he had a British accent which was jarring as hell, but pretty amusing still.

Then on Thursday my friend Allison came to visit! Before she got here, I bought an air mattress (which I just returned today now that she left – yeah, I cheat the system like that!) but it didn’t have an air pump, which of course made for an interesting experience of blowing it up manually. Anyway, Thursday I went to Stansted to meet her at the airport. Her flight was a little late landing, so I didn’t meet up with her until about 8, and we didn’t get back to Oakwood until about 9:30. We got dinner at the fish and chips shop next to the tube station and then just hung out at my room. I loved having a guest here because I got to do all the touristy things I did at the beginning, again 2 months later. 🙂 Friday she went to the British Museum while I was in class, and later that night we took the Jack Ripper walking tour. Spooky! Basically a tour guide takes you around to the different places where the actual murders took place; most of the locations have since been renovated, but you can still see the same doorways or windows, etc. We were literally at the scenes of the crimes! And it wasn’t the greatest looking neighborhood so that made it even spookier! I didn’t really know much about the JtR story prior to Friday night, but now I know the full story. Basically, for those who don’t know, his victims were all homeless and drunken prostitutes whom he literally ripped (hence the name) apart to very gruesome extent. In the process of brutally slaughtering these women, he removed their wombs. I think the eeriest part of the whole tour was when Jenny (our tour guide) explained how Jack was never caught, never identified, and how he probably got away with it – which I never thought about (how does a man not get noticed walking down the streets of London covered in blood? how does he even know how to properly slaughter a person?) Her theory is that he was probably a professional slaughterer: back in the day, before there were freezers, the animals were hunted, slaughtered, packaged, and sent to the butcher shops by 6 am. Therefore, a man walking around in an apron covered in blood at 3am was probably common. And the only way he would know how to properly slaughter his victims (slice the throat, then down the chest, etc.) would be if he studied it in books and practiced; thus, he was probably a slaughterer. We also got to read an actual letter presumably written by Jack in which he coins himself “Jack the Ripper.” Altogether scary! On Saturday, we did pretty much ALL the tourist spots – Westminster Abbey, Big Ben/Parliament, Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s, Tower Bridge, Millennium Bridge:

Obligatory phone booth photo

Westminster Abbey

Me and Big Ben

Houses of Parliament and the River Thames

Me and the statue at Buckingham Palace

Our amazing lunch at The Albert!

Another picture of the Tower Bridge to add to my collection

Millennium Bridge at sunset

St. Paul’s Cathedral at sunset

Sunday, we went down to Trafalgar Square for the St. Paddy’s day parade/festival. It was pretty cool, since I’ve never been to the one in NY (which I know is WAY more elaborate and insane than this one was) but it was nice to finally go to one and be surrounded by all that orange and green! There were tables with Irish food and Irish music/performances and everything. I almost felt Irish myself! Afterward, we went to another pub for some English food (we had gone to one on Saturday and FELL IN LOVE with it and its amazing food!) but it wasn’t the same as The Albert; still good though.

Later that night, Allison wanted to go to a real London bar. I realized that there aren’t many places in between laid-back pubs and high-energy clubs. But luckily our friends were on their way down to B@1, a bar in Soho. Perfect! Even though we got there just as it was closing (everything closes pretty early here in London), she was still happy she got that experience, even just for a little. It was a really cute little place that played good music, so I’m glad I found it. After that, we came back here and she slept for a few hours before we had to trek back to Stansted in the middle of the night/early this morning. Her flight was at 8 so she had to get there by 6ish, which means we left here about 4:30am. That means night buses for us, UGH. One thing I don’t like about London is the night buses. Sometimes a little creepy, but always looooooong rides. I went with her up to Tottenham Hale train station, but not to the airport. It was perfect, really, because I was able to get the first tube back to Oakwood from there. I treated myself to a very fresh croissant from Tesco and put myself to BED until 2. Oy, I probably screwed up my sleep schedule for tonight, but whatever.

So that’s what’s been happening here! I also learned yesterday that Daylight Savings Time is different for different countries. Call me dumb, but I didn’t know that! It’s strange because now, for the next two weeks, there’s only going to be a 4 hour time difference between London and New York, as opposed to 5. Weird! Also, yesterday was Mother’s Day here in the UK, so Mum if you’re reading this, Happy Belated (but not?) Mother’s Day! It’s also been getting a LOT nicer weather-wise; it was actually pretty sunny today! Recently, it’s been sporadically sunny while still being pretty windy; how deceiving! I can’t wait until it’s actually spring and our big, green campus is filled with dandelions and pretty-ness! 🙂 Sorry this was so long, I’ll try to post a little more frequently so I don’t have to write a novel every time. But I guess that just means I’ve been having a busy and exciting time here! I still can’t believe it’s already half-over though (or half-left, depending on how you look at it). Wonder what I’ll do next….

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