Saturday, February 23, 2013

Stratford- Upon- Avon and a football game

It is so hard for me to believe that I have been living in London for an entire month and that I only have two months left in this great city. There are moments when it hits me that I am having a once in a lifetime experience and that I may never get to live in Europe or in such a cosmopolitan city ever again. London is so different from the cities in the United States because it combines politics, history, the arts and culture into one concentrated place. Although most cities in the US have a mix of these aspects, some, like DC, are known mostly for politics and others are known for the arts, like LA. I really love having the mix, because it provides a wider range of activities and experiences. I am so glad to be living here. 

The excitement of this week began with the prospects of seeing famous faces around town because of the Brit Awards. This is the English equivalent to the Grammy Awards. Wednesday was music’s biggest night in London and a few of our friends had tickets to the show, one of them being my roommate,Vanessa. She told me about her experience, which included some time with the stars on the red carpet and a seat on the balcony where she watched celebrities like Taylor Swift, Mumford and Sons, and Emeli Sande perform. There were also a few people from our consortium who won tickets to Justin Timberlake’s after- show concert and Jay-Z’s after party. It was a star- studded few days in London and we all kept our eyes peeled in case there were more stars around. 

On Friday, we took a day trip with our school group to Stratford- Upon- Avon, which was William Shakespeare’s birthplace. I like to think of myself as a bit of a scholar when it comes to Shakespeare, because I took a class last year, am in 'Shakespeare in London' class right now and have had to memorize soliloquies since high school. Shakespeare has the best quotes for almost every life situation. 

We began our chilly morning off with visiting Anne Hathaway’s cottage, which was just outside of town. Will married Anne when he was very young and they had three children. The cottage itself was adorable, but the little working garden that was just outside was what stole my heart. It would be my dream come true to own a house with enough room for a garden so that I could grow my own produce. Next, we went into town where we had a little over an hour and a half to explore on our own. My friends and I walked through the cobblestone streets and found our way to Holy Trinity Church to see Shakespeare’s grave. His epitaph reads: “blest be the man that spares these stones and curst be he who moves my bones.” He is buried where saints and kings are normally buried; he was that good.

            After eating at the oldest pub in town, we joined the rest of the group at Shakespeare’s family house, where he grew up and where his children were born. There were guides in every room who were dressed up in the garb of the period, that spoke to us about Will’s life and how there are lines in his works that allude to glove-making and tanning which was his father’s profession. It is still incredible to think that a man who was only educated until he was fourteen years old was capable of writing such works of art. His works are timeless and it takes a real genius to keep things relevant for over four hundred years. 

            We had another exciting adventure on Saturday, which was a Fulham v. Stoke City football game. We were warned not to call it a “soccer” game, because the locals would get upset. I was surprised by the crowds of people who turned out for the game. The tube ride to Putney Bridge was quite cramped, but all we had to do to get to the stadium was follow the throngs of fans. Our seats were right behind the goal net, so we had a great view of the players trying to score. The game was intense and there was such pride and passion coming from the fans all around us; we knew how the Romans felt while watching gladiators fight in the Colosseum. Fulham won, in the end, and we had a very exciting experience watching the game. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Trip to Paris!

This past weekend, my roommates and I took a trip to Paris, France. We caught the earliest Eurostar train from London to Paris. And began exploring. 
On our first day in the city, we did some sightseeing. It was a simply gorgeous day, as you can tell from the photos! 
We walked all over and passed by the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, through Place de la Concorde, where we had delicious chocolate waffles and walked over Pont des Art; a bridge with padlocks attached to it, which symbolize eternal love.
Lovers fasten locks onto the bridge, and then throw the keys into the Seine below.

We were there the day after Valentine’s Day, so there were plenty of padlocks that had been newly attached as well as several overly- affectionate couples PDA-ing on the bridge.
 We spent Saturday in Versailles, where we toured Louis XIV’s mansion and gardens. The “Sun King” did not let us down; it was a gorgeous day and it felt so good to be outside. Living in London for a month has made us really miss the sun and blue sky. I took a ton of photos of the splendor and beauty that made Versailles so famous. It was really great to be there, even though some of the statues were covered and the fountains were not flowing. We had done so much walking that all five of us fell asleep on the way back to Paris. 

Me, in the gardens of Versailles

An adorable cottage on the property
 When we got back into Paris, we went on an evening boat tour of the sights along the Seine. It would have been twice as amazing, had it not been so cold out and if we had not been as tired. We enjoyed seeing the Eiffel tower lit up and being able to sight see while sitting down.

            Our last day in the city of lights began with an “incredibly French” breakfast: croissants, baguettes with butter and jam, cappuccino, and orange juice. If I had to, I would be alright with living off of French bread for the rest of my life. 

 We kept a brisk pace throughout the day so that we could see everything that we wanted. We toured the Père Lachaise Cemetery which reminded me of a neighborhood full of detailed and decorated mausoleums. We passed by Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, and the forbidden lovers’ graves. I really did not know what to expect before we got there, but the cemetery turned out to be one of my most favorite parts of the trip.

I was not positive that we would get into 11:30 mass at Notre Dame, but we made it after standing in line for just a half hour. It was amazing to be in such a large, heavy looking building with so much space above us. After mass, we took the metro to the Arc de Triomphe and walked along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, just to say that we had. Before we went back to the hotel to grab our bags, we walked up a million stairs to see the basilica in Montmartre, which gave us a great view of the city below us. We ended our stay in Paris with some crepes; mine was filled with chocolate and coconut.
            Although we were pleased with our trip to Paris, we all agreed that we were glad to be able to call London our home. It was a beautiful place to visit; however we find London to be cleaner and we became very aware of all the street scammers that preyed off of the crowds at the sights. There would be people that would “ambush” us in groups and would either try to distract us by asking us to sign something, or try to tie colorful strings around our wrists. We did not fall for their tricks but it did make us uncomfortable. We welcomed ourselves back to the UK with a short bus ride, some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner and by finishing up our homework for Monday’s classes.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Trip to Bath

A big group of people from the consortium traveled to Bath yesterday! We had a great time exploring the town and walking around the Roman Baths.
 Everybody from my College went on the trip... so we just had to have a group photo in front of the Roman Baths and the Bath Abbey. After the three hour ride there from London, we had a short bus tour of the town and then had about an hour and a half to eat and Rome-d around until we had our self- guided tour of the Roman Baths in Bath.

 The first thing that we did when we left the bus was go to the bridge that we had passed by. If you have seen Les Miserables, this photo may look familiar. This is the part of the river where Javert commits suicide. It was filmed in Bath. The River Avon was supposed to be the Seine. Russell Crowe must not have read the "no diving" sign that was there, because he threw himself off a bridge in Pulteney Weir. The scene must have been edited because the bridge in the movie is much closer to the grooved part of the river than the bridge that is actually there.

We walked around and noticed that every building is made out of the same kind of stone; it is Bath stone and it was actually mandated that any building must be built with it. The city is a variety of tones of Bath stone.
My friends and I visited the Jane Austen Centre while we had free time. We really wanted to go on the tour, because some of Austen's novels were set in Bath and she also lived there for a time. Unfortunately, the tour would have taken longer than the time that we had and we did not want to rush. We were unable to go through the tour but we were happy to have gone into the gift shop and buy some souvenirs.
Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility are two of my most favourite novels. 
Before our tour of the Baths, we were extremely hungry so we grabbed some pastries from a local bakery. I could live off of Pastries in a heartbeat. I love them. I had a life- changing almond and chocolate croissant. I savoured every bite.

When at the Roman Baths, we took an audio tour that went through the museum and right through the Baths, where people came to relax and take water for their health. It was amazing to be able to walk through a place that was so ancient.
I forgot that I was in England at times because of the Roman statues and columns all around me. I enjoyed reading about the history and details of how the Baths were built and used by ancient people. 
 Walking along the uneven stone floor, right next to the bath was quite an opportunity. I really wanted to know how deep the water was.
We got to try some of the hot spring water that was full of minerals and was supposed to be good for you to drink... it tasted like metal and was not very pleasant to have, but it was all part of the experience.
The town of Bath was full of cute shops and little eateries. It was a perfect little day trip to have and we all had such a great time.
The drives to and from Bath were full of lovely English country side, which I had not been able to see yet, with only being in London so far. There was a lot of green and farmland, as well as other little towns and hedgerows.
I am so glad that we had this opportunity!

So many plays, so little time!

I have been lucky enough to get tickets through AIFS to several plays in and around London. Since I am in a Shakespeare class, we have had the opportunity to go to see a unique interpretation of Julius Caesar, as well as Richard III and The Winter's Tale, which was in Stratford- Upon- Avon and put on by the Royal Shakespeare Company.
I love Shakespeare, and it was amazing to see these plays acted out in such different styles. I had read and watched Julius Caesar before, but this interpretation was put on by an all female cast and was supposed to take place in a female prison. There were parts that were truly amazing, and also some that I was unsure of what to think. Richard III was a new Shakespeare play for me. While I read the play, I got confused with all the names and the different sides that there were, but the play really helped me figure out who was who. This rendition was put on by a traditional, all male cast. So, yes, there were men dressed in gowns as Queen Elizabeth and the Duchess.
The Winter's Tale has been my favorite of the Shakespearean plays that we have seen thus far. I have not finished reading the play for class yet, so I did not expect it to be as funny as it was at times. The actors and actresses were of a great quality... no wonder they are a part of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

I have noticed that each of the Shakespearean plays that we have seen have ended in dance numbers that make me smile.
I bought a ticket to see War Horse, which was so amazing, that I also bought the 4 program! The puppets that they used for the horses took my breath away. They obviously were not real horses, but they were so realistic in their movements, that it was easy to forget about the four pairs of human legs that were showing from underneath them. I would definitely see this play again if I could. It has been my favorite/ favourite of them all.
When the play was over, the puppeteers received a standing ovation. There were three puppeteers per horse and when they walked onto the stage without the puppets, the entire audience could tell that they had worked hard because they were doused in sweat.
It was easily the best play that I have ever seen.
I will be seeing One Man, Two Guvnors, Billy Elliot, and Wicked in the next few months, through AIFS. I may also try to see Les Miserables, though I have heard that tickets are quite expensive.

Friday, February 1, 2013

London: Week One

                Big Ben

Here are just a few photos from last weekend! It has been so tough to keep up with this blog. I am always going and going and going. My internship, classes, homework and exploring keep me really busy.
Last Friday, we started out by going to Kings Cross Station to see Platform 9 3/4 which was a little cheesy, but I'm still happy that I got to have my photo taken there.The man who was watching the line gave us scarves from whichever house we liked best. I obviously chose Gryffindor. Even if you're not a Harry Potter fan, this tourist trap is a must see.  My roommates and I hope to go on the Harry Potter Studio Tour sometime this weekend, but we still have to plan it. A family friend went on it over the summer and said that it was well worth the £30. 
We also explored the area around Westminster again. It never gets old! There is always something to see. When we went, it was super cold. We really had to brave the wind and pull out our heavy gloves and scarves. 

Kensington Gardens was another highlight of the weekend. There was so much open space and we saw people with children and animals everywhere. It is such a contrast to the huge buildings that surround the streets in Central London. We walked down the street with all the diplomatic houses and then found our way into the park. We almost lived in this area which would have been nice though there aren't as many grocery stores or restaurants nearby. Kensington Palace was beautiful, though we did not go all the way in. We may tour the palace another day. 
I will have to say that Portobello Road Market was one of my most favorite parts of last weekend.
There was such an array of goods and people crammed into about ten street blocks. The goods in the stands ranged from antiques, fruit and scarves to Indian food, meat and lace. It was so amazing to be there and see so many different things packed onto ojne street. There were people from all over doing shopping, eating and socializing.

I would love to do my shopping every weekend at this market, but it is a little more convenient to just go to Tesco or Sainsbury Local to get our groceries. I will definitely be going back sometime soon though. 

There was a lot of ethnic food for sale at the market. I saw stands with Indian, Ethiopian, Spanish, Italian and Asian food. There were also stands selling delicious looking pastries and produce. 

I knew that I wanted to eat lunch while we were at the market, in order to get the whole experience, so we walked around for a while and I settled on getting a crepe. We watched the people make them in front of us. My good friend Emily got a Cheese and oregano crepe which was really good. I got a dark Belgian chocolate crepe which was delicious and warm, but oh so messy. I had chocolate all over my face and hands. It was so good that I did not mind being a little messy in public.  

After the Market, Emily wanted to go back towards Buckingham Palace, which we had visited earlier in the week, to get some postcards that she had seen at the gift shop. We took the tube there and when we walked back to where we thought we had found another tube station, we ended up really close to the London Eye. So we explored that area and took a few photos of the sun setting behind Parliament and Big Ben.