Apologies

Hey folks! Sorry for the lack of posting recently. I have, believe it or not, been super busy with essays. I have four papers due within in the next week. The last one is due on the 24th.

Why am I doing them now, you ask? Simple answer: PARIS!!!!!

That’s right, I’m going to Paris….in two days!! Yesterday started reading week, which, for those unfamiliar, is a whole week off of class devoted to catching up on work and reading. It is also a whole week off to devote to these damned papers we have to write. However, for us study abroad students, this week off screams, “Travel time!”

We decided not to leave on Monday, or even the weekend before, because weekdays are the cheapest to travel. Some of our group are leaving on Wednesday evening, while the rest of us are leaving on Thursday evening. We’re all going back on the following Tuesday. It works out perfectly for me (and most of us) because I only have one class on Monday, and nothing on Tuesday. That way, I’m not missing too much class. So this past week has been chock full of writing papers and preparing for my trip. At this point, I am down to my last paper, and sadly, my longest. I’m confident that I’ll get it done tonight, that way all I’ll do tomorrow is proofread, print, and pack!

Anywho, I won’t be around for the next week or so, but once I get back expect a long-winded description of the beautiful Paris (complete with dozens of pictures, I’m sure).

Bye all!

xx

defying gravity!

Hello all! Before I begin my usual storytelling, I just wanted to point out that Sunday (February 7th) marked an entire month since I left for London. Time seriously flies when you’re doing amazing things!! Of course, I still have about three months remaining, so I’ll be sure to make the just as unforgettable!

Well, these past few days have been fantastic! Last Thursday, Joey and I went into Leicester Square (definitely one of my favorite places so far) to search for cheap tickets to see Wicked at night. I knew I wanted to see at least one show while I was here, and I wanted to see something I haven’t seen before. It was such a hassle getting down there (Tara saw us in the hallway of Sassoon and talked to us for like half an hour, then the shuttle bus went on break, then the next one was full) but finally we made it down there at around 1 PM. Walking around, we noticed a lot of Chinese New Year decorations (we couldn’t decide whether they were there for CNY or because we were in London’s Chinatown; we decided that it was because of both). It was really neat looking! I’m really excited to experience Chinese New Year in London (hopefully).

View of Leicester Square

“Swiss Court”; Cantonal Tree that represents the friendship with Switzerland

Leicester Square

I didn’t realize how many places there were that sold cheap theater tickets. I guess it’s the same in New York, but I usually buy my tickets online, so I guess I never realized. Well, if there are places like this in the city, I’m definitely doing this more often, because it is totally worth it! At first, we were looking for 3 tickets (our friend Aminta was going to meet up with us) and the prices ranged from £25 to £30. Finally we had found ones for around 20, but then we hear that there were going to be more people joining us…that complicated things. All of a sudden it was impossible to find tickets for under £40 for four people, and Joey and I already decided we weren’t spending more than £20. Just as we were about to give up, we tried one more place, and the guy was able to get 4 tickets for £19.90 each! Only problem was that one of the seats was one row over, and about 5 seats in. Since the past hour was so stressful, Joey and I decided we would cross that bridge when we got there. In the meantime, we were starved! We found this pub called The Sussex. Apparently a bunch of them had been there already, and Joey told me he remembered there being good, cheap food. Sounded fine to me! This was actually my first time in a pub in London. Back in New York, there are restaurants that claim to be pubs, but are slightly different. For one thing, you sit wherever you want (I was searching around for a hostess to seat us) and you order at the bar (I was wondering why the waitress was taking so long to get to our table). I eally wanted to try the Roast of the Day, mostly because it came with Yorkshire Pudding (I want to try some so bad!), but it wasn’t available, so I got ham and eggs, and Joey and I shared loaded wedges, which were basically chips with melted cheese and bacon on top. YUM!!!!! After that delicious experience, we embarked on our next journey – getting to the theater. After wandering the streets of Leicester Square, we finally made it to the bus stop that took us to Victoria. While on the bus, we passed through Trafalgar Square (where Big Ben is located!) and I finally got to see, at least, a glimpse of Big Ben at night. I always thought the photos of Trafalgar Square at night were somehow digitally edited – what, with the bright blue sky and the almost neon lights atop the Big Ben – but no. It’s REALLY that vivid. I wanted to tear up a little! Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get a clear picture of it from the bus, but something I discovered that night – Little Ben!

Little Ben!

When we got off the bus, Aminta and Megan had just gotten off the tube, and were hungry, so we went to another pub very similar to The Sussex, but it was crowded, so we ended up a few doors down from the theater in a small restaurant. I was craving something sweet, so I got a toffee crunch Belgian Waffle. OH. MY. GOD. It was delicious.

But enough about the food. We made it to the theater by around 6:30. We decided that, instead of separating one of us from the group, we’d all sit together and see what happens; maybe someone won’t show up and we could all sit together. Our seats were in he second to last row, and had a pretty amazing view for 20 quid (British equivalent of “bucks”). To make a long story somewhat shorter, after a series of relocations, we settled in the very last row, basically in the middle of the row. The view was excellent!

Joey, Megan, me and Aminta before the show

Our view!

And so was the show!!!! I had always heard great things about Wicked – and the book – but I never got around to seeing it. The actress who played Elphaba was fantastic, although now I’m regretting not seeing it in New York with the original cast, including Idina Menzel. I literally had chills the entire time! What a great night it was.

Saturday, Tara, Joey, Laura and I went to Tower Bridge. It was kind of expensive (£14.50 for students) but it was TOTALLY worth it! From the outside, you don’t realize how big it is until you step inside and walk around. There was so much to see! Of course, one of the sights was the Jewel Room, where all the crown jewels are kept. That had to be my favorite part. Basically what happened is you go on this slow-paced moving walkway past the cabinets of all the pretty crowns and shiny jewels. Ugh, made me want a crown really bad! We also saw the Bloody Tower, which is basically where everyone was executed. Also, I didn’t realize that the Tower Bridge was were the two princes from Shakespeare’s – and history’s – Richard III were murdered. There was a little exhibit about that as well.

A few shots from outside:

Anyway, after a few well-spent hours in the Tower of London, we met up with Aminta and James and Tara took us to this Museum of Childhood, a few stops over at Bethnel Green. It was crazy! And free! This enormous, three-story museum of all sorts of old-fashioned toys, and even some toys I remember playing with as a child. I think one of my favorite things to see (besides the few toys I recognized from my childhood) were the elaborate dollhouses. Some were almost as tall as I am! Aside from just toys, they also had a few exhibits of childhood clothing and furniture which were interesting. We were clearly the oldest people there (besides the parents who were there with their young children), but we didn’t care.

Inside the Childhood Museum

Games!

This is a dollhouse!!!

Later that night, a group of us went out to Central again to go find a sushi restaurant. We didn’t go to the place Melissa originally found in her book, because the guy turned us away. He said the restaurant was too crowded, but didn’t even offer letting us wait for a table, even when we suggested splitting our large group of eight into two tables of four. We all had a sneaking suspicion he just didn’t want a large crowd of young, “obnoxious” American students taking up the whole place. Then we found another restaurant, but the same thing happened. Only this time, the guy was nice enough to direct us to their larger chain a few blocks away. In fact, when we finally got there (after getting a little lost), we found that that guy called ahead and told them we were coming! And the owner even opened the back room for us! I was glad that happened; it lifted my spirits a little after being turned away from the first place. The food was pretty tasty, and reasonably priced. After that, a bunch of people wanted to go to a pub, but I was pretty exhausted from the day, so Melissa, James and I went to this little corner cafe. But we ended up meeting up with them anyway, because the cafe didn’t have a bathroom (I had been drinking water ALL DAY). We decided to stay for a while because the music was pretty good, but then it got lame so we left. As soon as I got back I passed out from exhaustion. Surefire sign of a good day.

Yesterday was also a lot of fun! Back story: Danielle and I went to elementary school together, but after she moved we lost touch and basically haven’t spoken in about 12 years. Recently we found each other on Facebook (gotta love modern technology) and were able to keep in touch every now and then. But when I got to London, we realized we’d be in London at the same time! So we made a plan to meet up, hence yesterday. I woke up and made my own delicious English breakfast. Afterward, we met up in Leicester Square at around noon, grabbed lunch in this cafe (I only had a bagel, actually) where I had an amazingly delicious iced coffee that was presented to me in a very fancy glass. We sat there talking for a while, and then it was off to Harrods! I was so delighted to find that it’s on the tube line that I use (Piccadilly) and the store is literally right outside of the station. It was so cool seeing Harrods in person when I’ve heard a lot about it and how huge it is – and believe me, it’s enormous! Danielle and I both felt like every time we left a room, we ended up in a room we had never been in; it was like an endless maze! The Egyptian Room, The Arcade (souvenir shop), the Food Room. Then there were the clothes! We didn’t spend much time in the clothes department, but we got to see the shoes. There were also a few memorial for Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed. I didn’t realize that Dodi Fayed’s family founded Harrods, hence there being so many memorials for them. There was one that was basically a giant signature book where people can write messages to the two. It was really beautiful, especially since many of them were in different languages; so many people loved her. I found it really touching that so many people were affected by their deaths, so I wrote a little something myself.

Me & Harrods

Some of the beautiful sweets!

One of the memorials for Princess Di and Dodi

The signature book

I think this is beautiful.

But so is this!!!!

After finally finding our way out of Harrods, Danielle had to go to rehearsal, so we hopped on the tube and we parted ways, making a pact to see each other again soon.

Sidebar: In the time that I’ve written this post, it rained, then the sun came out, then it snowed, then the sun came out, and now it’s raining again. This weather is so confusing!!!

Other sidebar: I notice here – and pardon me if I’ve already mentioned this – that the role of the teacher (tutor) and the structure of the classes here are much different than what I’m used to at home. At New Paltz – and even in high school – I’ve never taken a class where I felt like my answers are wrong. Certainly in math or science or history classes there can be wrong answers. But I feel that English Literature is intended to be interpretive. Analyzed. Questioned. At New Paltz, I never felt compelled to sit in a class, desperately praying that the professor doesn’t call on me because my answer may be “wrong”; instead, I’ve always been excited to give my input or interpretation of a text, and see how it compares with others’. Here, on the other hand, I’ve already had the experience of being told that my interpretation is wrong. Surely, if a student goes off on a completely irrelevant tangent, then yes, it can be “wrong.” But I – as well as other students – have been interrupted, stopped mid-thought – and told, “No.” It boggles my mind in an unsettling way to think that I can’t freely speak my mind. Here, I get the impression – with certain tutors – that their answer is the definitively correct answer – no ifs, ands, or buts. Kind of depressing, if you ask me.

Well, I should wrap up this post. I have to write four papers by next week. One, thankfully, is a short story for young adults, so that should be fun. I’m a little nervous – given what I’ve just said about the tutors – about how well I’m going to do on these papers. I know what I’m used to, and I know that I almost always score well, but I don’t know how that measures up with the standards given here. Oy.

xx

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!