Friday, June 17, 2011

Time to Wrap This Up

This is really it. The last entry of this blog, unless/until I move to England.

I don't have much left to say; I've written most of it on this blog already. There are a few final things that can be said, though.

I can't even begin to sum up my time in London except that it was one of the best times of my life. I was hanging out with one of my friends the other night and he commented that I have changed a bit, so I guess my professor was right when he wrote that I'd come back a different person. I got to see some of the best theatre I've ever seen (I never reviewed Much Ado, but it definitely falls in to that category. I loved it.) I made some friends, both European and American. I experienced a very different academic system and, for the most part, succeeded within it. I got into new authors. I visited a few countries I thought I'd never see and didn't visit a few I was positive I would. I spent more time than I expected outside of London. I also spent more time than I would have liked in my room. I studied too much. I sat a Harry Potter-style exam. I was in a show. Two of my plays were produced. I showed visiting friends and family around London. I bought way too many books. I taught myself how to cook some new things. I burned myself a lot while cooking in general. I collected a box of miscellaneous paper souvenirs that weighs about thirty pounds.

One of the biggest surprises was something I had heard but never believed: you will not want to go around faking an English accent while you live in England. I honestly thought I would want to (though I probably would never actually DO it), and I didn't believe anyone who said otherwise, but it's true. You know that it won't go well, and it's probably not the best way to make friends, and it's also just tiring to fake things like that. So you don't. And you shouldn't. I think I mentioned that once or twice, I said a word or two with the accent when I had been in conversation with an English friend/classmate for awhile, but rather than making sure it was heard, I tried my best to cover it up and hoped they didn't notice.
On the other hand, I never got tired of hearing English and British accents. Scottish is my favorite.

And one last travel tip that my mom reminded me of: instead of buying a new cell phone when we get there, just bring your phone and buy a new SIM card. I'm not even going to go into the reasons why. If you've read this blog, they'll be obvious to you.

So... that's all. There's too much to say about London for one tiny blog, and too much to say about studying abroad, too. I'm leaving this blog up for people who might be looking for a chronicled experience, so if you're reading this and you have a question, just leave it in the comments and I'll be notified :)

Bon voyage!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Advice Series Part 3: Food and Fun

Finally, here it is!



For a quick grab-and-go meal:

-Pret a Manger. Fairly cheap, and really good, fresh, pretty healthy food. Their claim to fame is that they make everything daily, and it’s delicious. They have hot and cold sandwiches and drinks, as well as soup and snacks. Their staff are really friendly, too.

-Café Nerro/Costa: Two coffee chains, both with good food and prices (much cheaper than Starbucks.)

-Brick Lane: famous for its Indian food. I’ve only hit it up once (despite it being ten minutes from where I lived), but it was really good. Even if you don’t think you’ll like Indian food, try it just to say you tried it, as London is famous for it.

Also, note about dining at these places: they charge you more to eat in. This is a European thing, and it’s a bit weird, but common there.

Be prepared if you go to a big chain like Starbucks to pay through the nose. They don’t change the numbers when they change the currency, so that three dollar fifty drink will be three pounds fifty. Double that and think whether it’s worth it.

For meals:

-Pizza Express: a casual yet very classy pizza place with delicious… well, pizza. They have flowers on all of their tables. It’s awesome.

-Strada: really good Italian food.

-Café Pasta: if you read this blog, you know how I feel about this restaurant. Their food (again, Italian) is really delicious, and their portions are good sizes, too. And of course their garlic bread is to die for. The service is good, too.

-Bella Italia: I bet you can guess what kind of food they serve here. The service is kind of slow, and a lot of their dishes have more to them than you might be used to (e.g. rather than just some pasta, they usually throw in some mushrooms or meat or something.) They have very good prices, though, and their garlic bread is yummy.

-Gourmet Burger Kitchen: I haven’t actually been here since I went two years ago, but as I remember, they make great burgers (also, their portions are huge. I don’t know who started the rumor that American portions are ginourmous compared to other countries. For the most part, it’s not true; they’re sometimes dwarfed by the stuff I’ve had here.)

-Pub food.

-Fish and chips!

-Brick Lane. There are tons of restaurants (mostly Indian) there.


In London

There are way too many places for me to list all of them, but here are a few of my favorite places to go:

-Covent Garden: full of shops, entertainers, and restaurants. The stores range from high-end to normal people prices, so you should be able to get something, if that’s what you’re looking for.

-The Imperial War Museum. I haven’t been here since my first visit, but I remember it being really awesome. The world wars are extremely important to the English, and their very proud of their actions and the people who fought. There are some great displays here and the museum itself is housed in the old Bethlem Royal Hospital (a.k.a. Bedlam insane asylum.)

-The Tower of London (which I can see from our flat window as I type this.) This is a very cool place to visit. In warmer months, they have people working catapults and other weapons, and they invite audience participation. Definitely go on a tour with a yaoman. They’re really great tour guides that speak loudly and of course they know everything there is to know about the Tower. You can also see the crown jewels, armor and weapons, and the dungeon. This is a place you can spend hours upon hours in.

-Westminster Abbey. Admission is a bit up there, but it's definitley worth it. It's beautiful and you won't believe all of the people that are buried or commemorated there.

-Portobello Road: lots and lots of shops from vintage clothes to Poundland (like the Dollar Store), as well as an outdoor market on certain days.

-Hyde Park, St. James’ Park, Kensington Gardens, Holland Park… just go to parks. You can also ride horses and bikes through Hyde Park.

-Harrod’s. It’s basically a mall, but more intense. First of all, unlike an American mall, it’s not a long hallway with stores on either side. Rooms just flow into one another. If you need a helicopter, a grand piano, a puppy, or the new Marc Jacobs bag, it’s all here, as are diamonds, ridiculously expensive pens, and food you didn’t even know existed. There are also more affordable things, like books and regular food and clothes. Even if you can’t afford to buy the first things I mentioned, just going to Harrod’s is an experience.

-Brick Lane, but this time for the vintage clothes shops. Some of them have amazing prices, others have the higher ones that you would expect.

-Camden Markets, where you can buy handmade leather journals, incense, clothes, posters, books… anything you can think of will be here. There are also good Chinese and Thai places in this area.

-St. Paul’s Cathedral. Really awesome, but rather expensive to go into. If you attend a service, it’s free (or so they say.)

-Parliament. Go inside and sit in on one of their assemblies. It’s pretty cool.

-The Eye. Again, a little pricier, but really worth doing at least once. If you go, do not go in the late afternoon. The glare of the sun on the plastic walls of your little pod thing will ruin all of your pictures. Night is cool, but I’ve heard going earlier in the day is just as good.

-The National Theatre. Always top-notch shows, and their most expensive seats are the price of the West End’s cheapest ones. You cannot go wrong with a show here. They’ve also got a great bookstore and the tours are wonderful (and cheap.)

-The Science Museum. This is a cool museum that combines history and science. In addition to having facts about scientific instruments and artifacts.

-The Bush Theatre. Tiny, intimate theatre that does really good quality shows. Their tickets are cheap, too. Note that it’s hard to find- the entrance is just a normal-sized door.

-The West End. Here run your more standard shows, ones with names that you’ll recognize. The ones I’ve seen have been great.

-The Churchill War Rooms. Very interesting, and they’ve set it up how it would have been when it was in use.

-Shakespeare’s Globe. Take the tour, see a show. Groundling tickets are only five pounds.

-Jack the Ripper tour. There are many, some official, some unofficial, all creepy.

-Victoria & Albert Museum. They have great displays here, and their theatre exhibit is stellar.

Outside of London

-Windsor Castle. You can see the ornate dollhouses that were played with by the princesses and the rooms set up as they always have been. Lots of portraits on the walls, too.

-Stonehenge. There are old rocks there.

-Bath. Beautiful, and the Roman baths are really interesting to tour. A good place to spend a weekend, if you can. I just love this city.

-Wye Valley. The border between England and Wales. It’s beautiful, and you might as well go to Wales while you’re around there.

-Canterbury. The cathedral is, of course, very cool and there are lots of shops and other museums to visit. Definitely worth a day trip.

-Herne Bay. This is where I went on homestay. It’s in Kent, very near Canterbury, and it’s a beautiful seaside town.

-Cambridge & Oxford. Two lovely university towns.


-Warwick Castle, unless you have small children. For anyone looking to find a historical display, this isn’t it- it’s very hokey, and the overall quality isn't great; a lot of their signs had misspellings on them.

-The Sherlock Holmes Museum. I may not have enjoyed this because all of my knowledge of Sherlock Holmes comes from Wishbone, but the price seemed a little steep for the display.

-The Drury Lane theatre tour. I’m sure the shows here are wonderful, but the tour seemed really dumbed down and overly silly. Then again, I’m kind of a snob when it comes to theatre tours :p

-Kensington Palace (at least until February 2012.) At the moment, this palace is host to a “seven princesses” scavenger hunt. While the rooms are beautifully decorated, it’s definitely aimed toward younger girls. We were really glad we got in for free.

-The British Music Experience. Despite the name, this “experience” contains almost no music, which is really disappointing. There are lots of things to read, but this display sells itself to be an interactive musical thing, and it’s really not. It really let me down (not to mention that in the part that was interactive, most of the stuff was broken.)

So that's it! I hope this was helpful to anyone who's going abroad in the future.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Adventures in Departure

I'm home. But how I (and the rest of my travel party) got there is quite a tale.

I guess I have to start off with the fact that my school is not always so great with stuff. This time, that stuff was a date, namely the date that my fellow Arcadia students and I were to make our way home. We had been told since the beginning that the last day of the term, including the exam period, was June 11th. From this, we concluded that the last day of test-taking would be June 11th, and therefore, to avoid being stressed during an exam we might have on that day, we should leave on the twelfth. As many people have pointed out in the last few weeks, the eleventh was in fact a Saturday, and they wonder why we thought we might have an exam on that day. To this, I give the explanation that we were entering into a foreign exam system. Who knows if they had finals on Saturdays? They do that in America occasionally.
However odd our judgement might have seemed, those of us who decided to stay the entire term booked our flight home for the twelfth. This was all fine and dandy until Laura heard from her flatmates that all students were to vacate the residence halls on the eleventh. She e-mailed a few people and the answer that finally came basically said that, though it was our fault and not theirs, QMUL would allow us to stay on campus an extra day. Good job, Arcadia.

Thankfully, no matter what decision was made, I had a place to stay. Adrienne did, as well, since, because she was on the same flight as me, she was staying at the flat the night before and then coming with us to the airport. We had collected one of her suitcases earlier, but the plan for her and the rest of her suitcases was to take a taxi to our flat and then all would be well. Unfortunately, another cab service proved themselves worthless, as I mentioned in my last entry. Adrienne texted me at 8:30 saying that she was still waiting for a cab. We texted back and forth, me offering to come and get her and her saying that it was fine, she'd manage to get a cab. An hour later though, she still hadn't found one. Even worse was the fact that she used up all of the money on her phone calling the crap cab service, which left our conversation without a conclusion. I didn't know where she was, whether it was at the school or outside of our flat, and she couldn't tell me if she had gotten a cab or not. Of course we didn't want her waiting for a cab all night, especially since the East End is not exactly the bext place for a girl with many suitcases to be waiting alone. So my dad and I decided to go and find her. If she made it to the flat, Mom could let her in. If she was still at the uni, then we could help her take her stuff to the flat.
But the universe was not on our side. Two of the closest tube stations were closed, and we had to get a bus, which is slower (though, at least in our case, not much.) I had thought I would go by myself, but I was grateful that my dad had come along. When we finally got to the campus gates, we hopped off the bus and across the street I saw Adrienne waiting with all of her bags, Laura at her side. I shouted over to her and my dad and I crossed the street over to them. They had been trying to flag down a cab (which generally involved Laura running into the street and waving her arms around), but no one had stopped. We all tried to flag down the next few cabs, but not only were they few and far between, the ones we did see had their lights off. Eventually, we saw one coming down the opposite side of the road and Dad put his fingers in his mouth and whistled. Amazingly, the driver heard him, pulled a U-turn, and picked us up.

That, thankfully, was the end of that night's drama, and there wasn't really much surrounding the airport, either. When I saw the sign for Heathrow, I started getting a little teary, as it meant I was really leaving my adopted country. After some rearranging, all of the family bags passed the weight inspection (even my carry-on that held at least fifteen books and a teapot/cup.) Because I had booked my ticket separate from everyone, I was sitting on my own. Of course, I had seatmates, and the two people sitting nearest to me were an older Japanese couple. They were very angry. Besides being displeased that they were sitting in the middle of a four-person row, they were also livid that they were put next to an apparently teenage girl. If looks could kill, I would be dead from the glares they were giving me as they muttered to each other in Japanese. They did this until they realised that I, sitting quietly reading, was not the problem passenger- they were. It was after they made me get up and down to let them out several times and dropping their belongings on my head that they started to warm up to me. After that, they didn't bother with me except to try to watch what I was watching over my shoulder, apparently unaware that they could watch the same thing without craning their necks on their own video screen.

Besides that, the flight was quite nice, and while it was long, there were some good documentaries offered, which I watched the entire time. After we went through all of the security and baggage claim, we came out the arrivals gate to see Adrienne's family with a GIANT "Welcome Home" sign. I'm very happy that I'll at least get to see one of my friends from England at school :)

After a three hour drive home, we pulled into the driveway at 4 a.m. GMT (London time.) We all pretty much collapsed into bed, but we all woke up before seven. I, however, am not fooled by jet lag's evil ways. I've heard it take a day for every hour difference to recover, and if that's the case, then I'll still have a cold medicine buzz feeling until next Sunday. Today I fell victim to a nap- I hate sleeping period, but sleeping during the day is something I avoid at all costs. However, since I was afraid I might fall off the steps when I descended them, I thought it might be best. As of now, I am very tired and feeling incredibly nostalgic about London.

It's funny the things I got used to without realising it. For example, I didn't think the English accent had become so familiar to me. Obviously, I was hearing it more often than usual, but between my constant exposure to British movies/audio books and the fact that ninety percent of the people I regularly hung out with were American, I didn't think my situation had changed much. That is, until I was shocked that both the bus driver and the lady behind the counter at the hotel had American accents. I genuinely did a mental double take at the sounds of their accents. I guess I was just used to everyone around me speaking a certain way, even if those I was conversing with didn't sound like that.
I was also surprised to see the side the driver's seat was on. This was another weird observation, as up until my very last day in London, I still hadn't gotten used to the driver sitting on the right. Yet when I saw the seat on the left, I was momentarily confused. Also, random observation from the drive home: we have so many shopping malls/outlets here. It's really ridiculous.

Besides combating jet leg, today has been spent unpacking as much as possible. I'm nearly done, but in addition to unpacking from London, I also have a bit left over from fall term at Arcadia. I will not be tackling that today. In other news, my laptop has grown very tired from all of the traveling and has decided not only to refuse WiFi, but also to present a myriad of other problems that are resulting in it being sent away for computer surgery... again.

Now, my bed is calling my name. Sadly, it's covered in stuff...

Saturday, June 11, 2011

And So It's Over

We’ve just returned from our last trip in England. My family and I spent the day in Dover (the one with the white cliffs) and Canterbury. It was really, really cold today, maybe about fifty degrees, and windy. This made the day a bit more disagreeable than it might have been, as the weather was supposed to be warm and we were all dressed for that. However, Dover was still really pretty and we saw the white cliffs, which is another one of those things you don’t realize you want to do until you do it. We went to Dover Castle and all of the war exhibits near it.

We weren’t sure if we’d make it to Canterbury, or rather, we thought we might get to the city and find that both the cathedral and all of the shops were closed. Asking only got us a million different answers. However, the train station we would end up at in Canterbury was the same one we needed to get back to London and we decided to use that to our advantage; if we got to Canterbury and found that everything was closed, we’d go back to London.

Everything was open, and so I found myself in Canterbury Cathedral for the third time in five months. This meant that I didn’t walk around much, though I did take all of my small English change, which I’d never be able to spend without someone wanting to kill me, and dumped it in their donation box. It was pouring on and off, but we managed to get dinner to go and make it back to the train station before it rained again.

Tomorrow, we go home. Adrienne is bringing her stuff to the flat and traveling with us to the airport, since she’s on the same flight. Unfortunately, just as it did on my family’s first night, the cab service she hired is screwing her over. She’s been waiting for them for almost an hour. I may end up going to the uni to help her bring her stuff here on the tube, but we’re still waiting to see if the cab will show up.

Anyway… tomorrow we go home. I’m not sure how I feel about it. I definitely don’t want to leave England. Besides my London casting inbox suddenly overflowing in these last two weeks (of course), I keep looking at everything and thinking how I can’t leave it. I love London and England and the people here too much to leave. I’m talking about the English, yes, but also my friends that I’ve made here that are otherwise, too. Laura and I had a good-bye chatting session yesterday. I went to her room at school and I figured I’d just stay for a bit (I try to avoid goodbyes), but I kept thinking, ‘I’ll just stay for fifteen more minutes’ until nearly three hours had passed and my mom called and asked me if I would be back for dinner. It was really sad to say goodbye to her. She may live in America, too, but she lives really far away from me. I hope we get to see each other again.

Tomorrow is finishing cleaning up, packing anything we used today, getting an English breakfast and heading to the airport at 12:30 (if our cab shows up this time.) By 4:15, we’ll be on the plane and eight hours later, we come home.

For those still looking for the rest of the advice blog, I promise it's coming. I added a lot of stuff from these last two weeks :)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Stuff We've Done

I honestly have no clue how I can possibly leave in three days.


Brighton: This is a place that I've always wanted to go, but never thought I would. It's quite easy to get around this country and this sovereign state (which is what the UK technically is called, says Wikipedia ;p) but I really haven't done it much, and it's a regret. But I did make it to Brighton with my family and it was pretty cool. I wish I could put pictures up, but right now, that's not possible. If you don't know, Brighton is a seaside town with beaches that give way to the English Channel. I didn't know much about Brighton before I got there besides that there was an ocean, that there is a movie called London to Brighton and that the Georgia Nicholson series takes place there (and funnily enough, when the first book of that series was made into a movie, the same actress that starred in London to Brighton played the lead.)
Something about seaside towns, or at least the ones I've visited in England: they're very windy and rather cold. Herne Bay wasn't too bad on the cold front, but Brighton was very chilly and my hair got ridiculously tangled in the wind. I really liked the town- it was very pretty and if you're a resident, I think there would be a lot of things to do. As a tourist, though, not so much. We stayed there for about three and a half/four hours before heading back to London.

Seeing a play: I do not come from a theatrical family, so when Laura contacted me months ago about seeing a show this week and I decided to invited my family along, I didn't expect them to want to come along. I was pleased when my mom said she would, and so last night we headed off to the Donmar Warehouse. This is the theatre outside of which Laura and I froze while waiting to get King Lear tickets, and they have a reputation for wonderful theatre.
We were seeing a Freidrich Schiller play called Luise Miller. It was first performed in the late eighteenth century (or perhaps early nineteenth), but the dialogue had been updated a bit by another playwright. I enjoyed the play, for the most part, though for some reason I disliked the performances at the end. The cast was really great, though, and Laura and I both freaked out when we saw that Alex Kingston was in it- even my mom knew who she was because apparently Kingston was in ER. The play was very dramatic and sort of a retelling of Romeo and Juliet (in a very roundabout German way. The basic plot, though, is that there are two young lovers. Their parents/parent don't want them to marry for various reasons. They love each other too much to not do it, and at the end of the play, they're both dead.) I would definitely recommend seeing it.


The British Museum: I have to admit, this wasn't my favorite. Okay, I was bored. Ancient Greek and African stuff just doesn't interest me.

Cafe: my sister had an appointment to go horseback riding in Hyde Park, and since it started to rain soon after she left, my parents and I took shelter in a cafe. Well, technically it was a saloon, and I walked in like a cowboy to make it more fun. My parents got drinks and the bartender made me a hot chocolate... And then he brought out petit fours. For me. I did not order petit fours, but he brought them out anyway. And he didn't charge us for them. I have never actually had petit fours, but I've been obsessed with them since I was about seven, since my favorite American Girl doll character, Samantha, had them at her tenth birthday party. My seven year-old heart was thrilled. And t were delicious.

Covent Garden: After walking through Trafalgar and Leicester Squares, we headed to Covent Garden for some window-shopping. I wanted it to be actual shopping, but as my family reminded me every time I squealed over a dress, I am poor due to this trip and also due to agreeing to be a last-minute bridesmaid for wedding #2 this summer (the dress is rather pricey.) After spending a bit going into shops, we had dinner at the lovely Cafe Pasta, which was delicious as always.

The Eye: My family really wanted to go on the Eye, but we hadn't gotten around to it. After dinner, it was still light out and we were an easy tube ride away from the Eyem so we figured, why not? It was perfect conditions and we saw not only the usual Eye sights, but a rainbow, too!

Now I am tired. I packed up my second suitcase tonight and have only a few sets of clothes and some books and trinkets to pack away in my family's suitcases. Packing is making me sad.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Sightseeing Craziness

The last two days have been a whirlwind, of many kinds, some good, some not so good. (Alos, please forgive any spelling errors- the iPad doesn't let me scroll, so I can't check for them.)

First of all, of course, there is the incredible amount of things we've been squeezing into each day. We leave early-ish each morning and never return until dinnertime (partly because we need to make it and partly because, well, I've talked about London's "nightlife.") Sunday we hit up the Tower of London first thing in the morning. I debated whether I wanted to go or not, as I've already been there twice. I went, and it's not like I didn't enjoy it, but I definitely sped through the museum (Allie took advantage of this; she doesn't like museums.) In the afternoon, Allie and I met up with Adrienne for a Harry Potter walk. I love Harry Potter and have since I was in fourth grade, so I really wanted to see the places where they filmed the movies. Unfortunately, the walk wasn't what I had hoped. It was certainly interesting and our tour guide was good, but it was less a HP walk and more a general Londom facts and movie location tour. This would have been fine... If we had signed up for that. Also, we chose the tour we did specifically to see Diagon Alley and he never took us there. Towards the middle of the tour, it started to pour and did so through the rest of the walk as well as on the way home. We were soaked by the time we reached the flat and didn't want to go anywhere. We did, however, rouse ourselves to get some delicious Strada.

Yesterday, we got up pretty early and went to Westminster Abbey. I was really excited to do this, and desperate to, as well, because I didn't want to have been to England twice and not gone into the abbey. I'm so glad we did, because it was really beautiful. There are no pictures allowed inside, but look it up online; it's amazing.
After that, off we went to the Jewel House, which has nothing to do with jewels anymore and was rather boring. Following that were the Churchill War Rooms, which were just as interesting as the last time I went with Megan.

Today was more sightseeing- we went to St. Paul's Cathedral, which was, of course, awesome. It was another place I'd already been but was excited to visit again. We had the misfortune of going at the same time as a huge group of German high school kids. They were very disruptive and disrespectful to those around them, and as we climbed the steep, slippery stone steps to get to the top of the cathedral, they were in front of us. Most of them just refused to move ahead if they didn't feel like it, but one girl had a panic attack (in addition to it being very high, the spaces are also very tight. My shoulders could almost touch both walls.) The winner, though, was the guy immediately in front of us. I didn't realize why he was moving so slowly until my dad called up to him, "Could you wait to use your phone until later?" It turns out that he was Skyping. While walking up perilous steps. With several dozen people behind him. As it turns out, careless stupidity is not reserved for Americans or any one nation. It is a worldwide problem.
When we finished at the cathedral, we had lunch, walked over the Millennium Bridge, and went to the National Theatre for a tour, since that interested my dad. We were too early for a tour, so we passed time at the Imperial War Museum. I was really excited to go back here- I went two years ago, loved it, and fully planned to go back this trip, but never did. Both world wars, in particular, are very important to the British, and so they have a ton of war museums. For some reason, I've always been interested in aspects of WWII, particularly the British home front, and I revisited the same exhibit I saw a few years ago. After seeing it, I now recognize why I wrote a novel about that period and place in history the next year; I recognized a lot of things from the exhibit that I had included, and I noted a few more that might come in handy while editing.
Back we went to the theatre for the tour, which wasn't as good as the one the other week, but still different and interesting.

In other developments, I tried in vain to get an audition for that film, even though I knew it was too late. They start filming tomorrow.

I also noticed that I'm becoming a bit irritable, and I think I just don't want to leave. Now I'm looking at everything and thinking it might be the last time I see it, at least for a few years.

Mom has finally let me start reading the book she brought over for me, Libba Bray's latest book, Beauty Queens. It's amazing so far.

Now I must go begin to pack *grumble*

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Prime Meridian of the World; Windsor or Bust

My family and I are really getting a ton of stuff into our trip already. And the great part is, it’s a lot of stuff I haven’t seen. Yesterday was a trek to Greenwich, where we walked through the university campus, which is beautiful, through the center of town and up a very big, steep hill to the observatory. Located there was also the prime meridian of the world, which is something I’ve kind of always wanted to see without knowing I wanted to see it. Also there happened to be part of the Olympic grounds, specifically those for horseback riding, and we checked out some art and the National Maritime Museum while we were in the area.

On the way home, we went to the British Music Experience at the O2. I was really excited to see/do this; it’s basically an interactive museum of British musical history… or so it’s advertised. In truth, it’s set up in a cool way, but in the end, it’s just a lot of reading and not much music at all, which kind of defeats the purpose, in my opinion. Even the room where you can play instruments was disappointing- half of the things were broken, though they did have a left-handed guitar! Overall, it was a bust and another thing we were glad not to have paid for.

We returned to our area of residence and went to the Tower Bridge Experience (basically the history of the Tower Bridge.) This allowed you to walk on the upper walkways, which was cool. We found out while we were there that the bridge would be lifting that evening at six, and so we stuck around for that, which was definitely something to see.
And what an adventure today was. As I wrote earlier this week, we attempted to get to Windsor Castle a few days ago. Unfortunately, due to all of the trains to Oxford (which stopped where we needed to transfer) being cancelled, we couldn’t get there. However, we all (excluding my sister) wanted to get there and the pass we have lets us in for free, including transportation, and we decided to try again today.

We got up a bit earlier, hoping that the earlier trains from Paddington would somehow be immune to cancellations. We never found out, though, because the line we needed to take there is closed for the weekend. We didn’t know this until we had been waiting for it for a few minutes. We got on another line, but due to other line work and transfers we would have had to make anyway, we had a total of three changes just to get to Paddington. Finally, we did and instantly saw that the next train to Oxford was cancelled. We debated cutting our losses right then and going sightseeing somewhere else, but my dad decided to ask Information whether any Oxford trains would actually be leaving or if they would all be cancelled again. Their answer? “They’re rarely cancelled. You must have just had bad luck.”

We didn’t want to take their word for it, though, and as soon as Dad came back with the answer, we ran to try and catch a local train. We missed it by seconds. It turns out that the next Oxford train did in fact arrive, and though it was packed (we had to stand), we managed to get to Slough, where we would catch the train to Windsor… allegedly.

The train ride from Slough to Windsor is only six minutes, and rather than having a million different trains make this journey, they just have one that goes back and forth. Unfortunately, the train today was missing something very important: a driver. As we waited, the train got so packed that the doors couldn’t shut. But after nearly an hour and a half had passed, people got fed up (and too hot) and left. Dad had been asking employees questions, and when he heard that the driver might arrive in ten minutes, we got on the now-almost empty train. After fifteen minutes of waiting, we gave up on it, too. We went outside to the bus and taxi area where we found our trainmates. A woman passed us by and said that the station was making arrangements to get us all to Windsor… on a short bus. To transport several hundred people.

Knowing that this would only result in more wasted time, frustration, and possibly stampedes, and overhearing that a cab fare to Windsor was ten pounds, we flagged one down. I guess this is a case of “be careful what you wish for”- I’ve always wanted to ride in a London cab, but not under these frustrating circumstances. We had one more seat, and a young guy asked if he could share with us. We checked if he was going to Windsor Castle and he said, “Near enough. I’m already forty minutes late.”

Finally, our driver deposited us outside the castle. The line to get into the castle was incredibly long- it would have been probably two hours of waiting just to get tickets. But our passes paid for themselves in made up time by granting us “fast pass” entry.

I’m really glad we went. I’ve been before, when Megan and I went on the bus tour, but we only got about forty-five minutes and had to speed-walk through every room. As a result, I only remembered two of them, and it was nice to actually be able to look at them and listen to the audio guide.

After having a late lunch, during which I smacked my knee on the corner of a wall so hard, it immediately went numb (it’s quite painful now and getting purple), we heading to Eton College. My main reason for wanting to go to Eton is that it’s a part of my literary tour that I didn’t expect to get, but I was also just interested in seeing it, as it’s labeled the most famous college in the world. I really enjoyed the tour, and it was a cool place to see.

We managed to get a train back to Slough and hoped that there were some going to Paddington. Upon reaching Slough, we saw one pulled in and, not knowing if it was the right one or not, ran across the bridge and jumped onto it just as the doors were closing. It turned out that it brought us not to Paddington but to a place that got us to our flat more easily, so despite the long ride, I guess it worked out better that way.

Oh, an unrelated thing- the other night, we almost completely moved me out of my London dorm. It was a sad, sad time.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


Hello, everyone! I'm typing this on my father's iPad, as my computer stubbornly refuses to use WiFi here in England. I hail from our awesome flat across from the Tower of London- you can see it from our window! I would post a picture, but I can only transfer them over the Internet :p

Anyway, my family's here! They arrived at 8 pm on Tuesday night. We had some transportation problems from the start. My dad had taken the advice of the flat owner and booked a cab to the flat. He booked it for eight forty and at ten pm, we were still waiting. In those hours, many a phone call was made to the company and we still have no idea what went wrong.
Unfortunately, getting to the flat at around eleven pm meant that for my family, whose bodies thought it was dinner time, there was no possibility of food, as London shuts down at eleven and the kitchens close even earlier. Eventually, we found a twenty four hour pizza place and had that.

The next day, we had a bit of a lie-in, as they would say here. Then my parents told me that the audition I turned down (which was happening that day) could be attended and of course I went into crazy mode, taking my dad's iPad to the restaurant next to our building (which has free WiFi) and desperately trying to get online. It didn't work, however, and I was rather upset. This only escalated when I went back to the building and couldn't get back in, as my phone was too low on money to make a call. I stood outside and testers and rang our flat bell for half an hour or more until the flat manager happened to come out and I snuck in.
I was finally able to email the casting people, but I'm sure my opportunity has passed- contacting them on the day of the audition is not the way to go, even if it was my only option. It breaks my heart that. I didn't even get to try out for it; the script gave me chills and anything that does that is worth auditioning for.

We went out for a really late breakfast/lunch after all that and then disagreed for awhile about what to do next. Eventually, after food shopping, we went to see the Roman wall and ended up at the Museum of London. I wish we could have seen everything there, but we got there late and they closed at six. After dinner (which we made in the flat- one of the biggest reasons for renting a flat rather than staying in a hotel) we walked to Tower Bridge, across that, and then back to the other bridge, checking out things as we went. A lovely way to spend the evening, especially since we're all of a sudden experiencing the British version of a heat wave (meaning that it's around seventy in the daytime.)

Today we rose earlier, planning to go to Windsor Castle and Eton College. We were at Paddington Station by nine forty five, but after over an hour of waiting, the only two trains we could have taken both were cancelled. While we could have taken a local train if we really wanted to, it would have been more time and it was only the first of two trains we would have to take. In the end, it wasn't worth it, so we instead went to Kensington, including Kensington Gardens and Kensington Palace. I was a bit disappointed in the palace. I expected it to be more like, well, a palace on the inside, but while the structure is the same, they're hosting this "seven princesses scavenger hunt" thing inside it. The rooms themselves are actually quite beautifully outfitted, but the exhibition is a bit juvenile. It's something I would have loved when I was little, but as a twenty one year old... Not so much. Thankfully, with the pass deal we have, we got in for free , do no money was wasted (it's rather pricey.)
From there, off we went to the museum-y area of Kensington. We chose to go go the Science Museum, and while there were some interesting exhibits, it was packed, so we didn't stay there for longer than an hour or so. Lunch was sought, then it was Harrod's time! If you don't know, Harrod's is like a mall after an extreme makeover and on steroids. It's gigantic, the stores all flow into one another so that it's very hard to find your way if you're looking for something specific. We weren't, so my family got to see the many ridiculous splendors of the company.
We headed to Westminster so they could see Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and all that good stuff. At this point, it was too late to go into any of these things, but I believe we're going back before we leave for good. On the way to see Cleopatra's Needle, I happened to find the same artist that did paintings I like and got one as a present for someone at home. I was so happy to find him (he sells his paintings in the tube) because his paintings are what I really wanted to get for this person.

Our adventures are over for this evening, I believe, though we may be picking some of my things up at Queen Mary.

For those people waiting for the next advice installment, it's written, but it's stuck on my Internet-less computer right now. It will go up eventually!

Monday, May 30, 2011

On Going Home

The other day, I dissolved into a puddle of worry. Don’t ask me why; it’s something I’ve done regularly since I was still in single digits. After thinking about what reasons I could possibly have for feeling this way- after all, my exam was over and my family is coming soon- I realized that the reason was mostly that I felt time here running out. There’s still so, so much I haven’t done here. A lifetime in London would not be enough to do everything offered here, and I wish I had that long to try.

The truth is that after nearly five months, I still don’t miss home. I miss the people, definitely- the closer going home gets, the more excited I get to see them. But I could happily never go back to America and not miss the places I’ve lived.

I thought I would miss driving- I lost out on five months of quality singing-with-myself time- but I don’t. To be honest, as much as I do enjoy singing in my car, driving still makes me really nervous and the tube has its transportation perks. Besides there being no traffic, one of my favorite places to read is the tube.

I thought I would miss my school more, but again, it’s the people I miss, not the buildings and the campus. I don’t long for the theatre as a structure, but I’ve really missed having someone who cares about the upcoming season within shouting distance most of the time. I still wish I could have had another semester living with my wonderful friend Kara, but there’s a chance that could happen again, and perhaps in a space that’s bigger than 10’x15’.

It bothers me that I still remember what a drive to work looks like and that an American accent still sounds normal to me. (This is my own fault though, because it’s the fact that an English accent sounds normal, as I spent a good deal of the last ten years listening to Harry Potter on tape and watching English movies.)

One of the things that is stupidly worrying is that I won’t be able to read the authors I’ve gotten into while I’ve been here, namely Angela Carter and Maggie O’Farrell. There’s such a different writing style here that I don’t think their books will be sold in America. This worry is stupid, however, because Amazon exists.

I realized a few weeks ago that I didn’t have any British souvenirs for myself. No problem, I thought. There are souvenir shops everywhere. I’ll just go out and get myself something with the British flag on it- easy. Not easy, as it turns out. I wrote yesterday about how the urge to buy everything relating to your adopted country will fade after a few weeks. After a few months, buying it becomes a laughable thought. I’ve wandered around at least three souvenir shops, looking at crystal Big Bens and Union Jack tins, as well as a nauseating amount of royal wedding stuff (it will never go away. It will be in the landfills thousands of years from now), and I didn’t want any of it. None of it was appropriately symbolic of my experience, but somehow I feel like if I don’t buy something with the British flag on it, I’m not doing it right. Eventually, I bought a tiny British flag for one pound. I haven’t bought any other souvenir-y type things for myself, and I don’t know if I will. How can I represent an entire experience in a magnet shaped like a post box?

It’s going to be really hard to leave London. Just the thought makes me want to cry. The feeling is even more acute at this moment for two reasons: the first because Adrienne and I just got back from an AMAZING production of Much Ado About Nothing at the Globe (more about that later) and the second because when I returned and checked my e-mail, I had a personal invitation to audition for this short film that has an incredible script. It got such a reaction out of me when I read it that I have a physical ache inside that I can’t even audition for it- besides the fact that my family is arriving in less than twenty-four hours, filming goes until June 15th. Why couldn’t this have come up earlier?!

*sigh* London, I wish I could have you forever.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Advice Series Part 2: When in England...

Because I am the person from whom you want to recieve advice!

A few things that my mom wisely added to Part One (and you should take her word- she packed my stuff and will be helping me again for the way back!):

-Even if you can pack well and get everything you might want into one suitcase, double check the weight, check your airline for weight and suitcase size restrictions... if your bag is too heavy/large, you will be charged extra (many airlines charge not only for extra weight, but extra inches.)

-If you need to bring an extra bag, go on the airlines website; you can arrange to pay for the extra bag at a reduced rate.

-Remember, you will be completely in charge of moving your own suitcases around, so make sure they are manageable for you in size and weight.


-Get to the airport early. Like, really early. It may seem tiresome to arrive three hours before your flight, but this will allow you to calmly check- in (or, as my mother and I did, calmly try to find the place to check-in… Newark Airport is confusing.) This will also give you ample time to say good-bye, rather than having to run off to your plane with just a quick hug and a “bye, I’ll miss you.”

-If they give you the choice, go through the little scan-y machine because, let’s be honest… being patted down is awkward.

-Make sure you bring a jacket/sweatshirt/cardigan onto the plane with you. Airplane “blankets” are not actually blankets, and if you’re a normal person and sleep on a plane (unlike me), it’s probably easier to do so when you’re not cold.

-If you’re planning to stow your bag in the overhead compartment and you’re sitting by the window, try to take out the things you’ll actually use on the flight. I’m not talking laptops, but things like books. People don’t appreciate those that stand in the aisles picking through their belongings when others are trying to find their seats. If you have a smaller bag and plan to dive into it every five minutes, just keep it under the seat in front of you.

-As long as you get in line when your section is called, it doesn’t matter where you are in line. You have an assigned seat.

-Be conscientious of those around you on the plane. Check if someone’s behind you before tilting the seat back. If they’re watching a movie, you doing so will force them to slouch to see the screen (someone did this to me on the way here. I was angry.)


-When you arrive at the airport and go through border control, just answer their questions. They don’t want to have a conversation and the people behind you don’t want to wait as you make your attempts at conversation.

-Get a luggage trolley before you wait for your luggage. They’re really easy to steer and much better than lugging your suitcases around the airport.

-Realise how cool it is that all of the people waiting for friends/family members when you come through the arrival doors make you feel like a celebrity because everyone’s looking to see if you’re their person.

-Figure out which is the best way to get to where you’re staying (actually, this should be done beforehand.) I would recommend NOT taking the tube if you have more than one bag. Cabs/hired cars can be expensive, but check out those prices, because the tube will be awful with a big bag, especially if you take certain lines at certain times.

-Don't sleep if you arrive in the morning. You'll want to. You will experience a tiredness that is so overwhelmingly powerful that you will gladly lie on any flat surface if it means you can sleep for a minute. If you do, though, it will screw up your sleeping schedule (which, admittedly, is a much smaller deal when you're staying for a few months as opposed to a week.) We were also advised not to drink, but since that's not a concern for me, I never bothered to ask why.

-Wear the seatbelts on the buses. Yes, it's weird and uncomfortable, but it's the law. Just do it (and you will be hounded if you don't most of the time.)

-If you’re staying for longer than a week or two, unpack as soon as you can. Of course, go to any meetings and take care of getting the things you need to get, but don’t live out of a suitcase. I think this is especially important if you’re going to get homesick. Living out of a suitcase is probably not the best way to get used to the semi-permanence of your stay.

-If you’re living in a place that allows you to cook, go grocery shopping a day or two after you get there. There are some nice, cheaper sandwich places to get food around the city, but they’re not everywhere and even the cheap prices add up after awhile. Sainsbury’s is a great shopping place with good, low prices. There are huge ones around the city as well as smaller “local” ones. Other stores, like the co-operative, Tesco, or Budgens are a little more expensive, but still good choices.

-If you need things like lamps, blankets, bookcases, etc. to use temporarily, go to Argos. Their prices are cheap and you’ll either get what you ordered within minutes, can have it delivered, or can pick it up in a few days. There are Argoses all over the city, so just look up where your nearest one is.

-Go to the meetings you’re supposed to go to. Yes, they’ll probably be boring, but you’ll most likely get at least one bit of important information and they’ll probably give you a free pen or something, too.

-Just a note that if you only have a laptop (as opposed to a television, which you probably won’t have due to need of a crazy tv license), be aware that you won’t be able to play your own DVDs as well as renting or borrowing from a library because they’re in different zones.

-Talk to people. Get to know those with whom you’ll be living. This is the part I found hardest. Thankfully, I had a ready-made friend in Adrienne, and she talked to people while I lurked behind :p But definitely get to know your residence-mates. While I know and like two (three, including Adrienne) people in my flat, I haven’t had a single conversation with the other three.

-More about Oyster Cards: if you’re going to be traveling a lot every day (basically, going in and out of the tube more than twice), get a deal other than pay as you go. Pay as you go adds up fast, and it also holds you and your friends up when you have to stop and wait in line to top up.

-Get a street map and a tube map. You will use them during your entire stay.

-If you’re at university, do your required readings. The teachers actually use them.

-Don’t study too much. My roommate told me that the thing she regretted most about her time abroad was how much time she spent studying, and now that I’ve taken my exam, I can say I have the same regret. Studying is important, but you only have a limited amount of time in your temporary home.

-Go places. Especially if you’re in London, there is so much you can do spur of the moment. There are museums and festivals and exhibitions a lot of them are free.

-Go places by yourself sometimes. Friends are lovely to visit places with, but when it comes to museums, exhibitions, etc., especially those that you’re really interested in, it’s nice to not feel that you have to go slower or faster.

-That said, travel with your friends. Or your family. Just travel with someone. This is for a few reasons. First, for safety. Second, for cost (hotel/hostel rooms, etc.) Thirdly, as I discovered when I went on the countryside tour on my own, good experiences can be had without friends along… but then there’s no one with whom to reminisce. It’s a little lonely.

-It doesn't rain here as much as you might think. I kept track on my calendar, and as of today, the final count is 37 instances of rain in nearly five months. The lovely thing about London rain is that it rarely pours and when it does rain at all, it's short and the rest of the day is fine. Like I wrote last time, I've worn my Wellies only twice.

-London has a night life, but it's mostly pubs. Shopping and the like cannot be done after about six pm because everything closes down. It's annoying at first, but then you get used to it.

-About pubs: pubs are cool and different from American bars. Some are more similar in that they play loud music and are overflowing with drunk people. Others, though, are more for hanging out, with couches and things as well as the bar. I really enjoyed the one I went to that was like this, and there's not the same expectation to drink at these sorts of places. Also, remember that as much as you might want to drink (whether in a pub or at home here), the cost of alcohol, like anything else you'll buy a lot of, adds up,

-Two notes on traveling and souvenirs that contradict one another: When you first arrive in London (or any new, exciting place), you will feel the urge to buy every cool thing you see, sure you'll never find anything like it ever again. Ignore these impulses for awhile until you calm down about your cool new place of residence; in a few weeks, those ceramic Will & Kate masks will start to look pretty silly.
However, do remember that you may not be back for a long time or ever. This is especially good to remember when you're traveling to places besides your adopted country. Travel is expensive, to be sure, and I'm not recommending that you go crazy, but I had to remind myself while in Venice that I'd probably never be there again. It's okay to get souvenirs, but make them worthwhile ones and don't spend your life savings on them.

Next time: specific things to see and do!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Cheery Chekov

Today was wonderful.

As you might have deduced, one of my favorite places not only in London, but in the world, is the National Theatre. It is my goal to work there one day because they put on such amazing shows with fantastic casts at very reasonable prices. Both Laura and I wanted to do the backstage tour as well as see The Cherry Orchard, so we decided to make a day of it.

It didn't start out well- though we left an hour early, our tube station was closed and we had to walk about a half-mile to the next one. The line we had to take is one of the slowest in the underground system, and we knew that in order to make the tour, we would have to run. And we did- we sprinted from the tube station to the theatre, only to find that they put an earlier time on the website so people will be on time.

I'd been on the tour before two years ago, but a tour at the National will vary from day to day because their shows are reperatory, which means that a show that's on today might not be on tomorrow. Our tour guide was great and we got to see some really cool behind-the-scenes stuff like an unused horse puppet from War Horse (which is one of the shows I wanted to see here and didn't), several sets, and some props being made. Sadly, we weren't allowed to take pictures, so I have none.

When the tour finished, we had about two hours before the show began, so Laura and I grabbed lunch and then took some pictures in and around the theatre (...we both really love the National.)

I will confess, the reason Laura and I wanted to see The Cherry Orchard was not because it was written by an extremely famous playwright. In fact, neither of us had a clue what the show was about. However, we are both huge fans of Zoe Wannamaker, the leading actress in the show. Most people know her as Madame Hooch from the first Harry Potter movie, but I became a fan of hers after watching the British sitcom My Family for many, many years.

Had she not been in the show, I probably wouldn't have seen it- all I know about Chekov is that his plays feature a lot of cold, depressed Russian people. And this show did, but they also made it really funny in places. The cast was great, and I was surprised to find out that Claudie Blakley (Charlotte Lucas from 2005's Pride and Prejudice) was in it. The acting was great, and I'm really glad we got the better seats so we could see everyone's faces. Zoe Wannamaker has a very distinctive acting style; though she didn't by any means play Susan from My Family, she does amazing things with her voice just like she does on the show. Claudie Blakley, too, has her own style so that even if you didn't recognize her name, you'd remember that you'd seen her in P&P.

I have at least two copies of The Cherry Orchard at home, but I've never read the play, and I'm glad I saw my first Chekov rather than reading it. The cast did a fantastic job with the material (it was technically an "updated" version, but it wasn't updated a lot; the dialogue was still very old fashioned), but I know that if I had been reading it, I would have spent the whole time thinking, "Stop talking about your bookcase. No one cares about your stupid bookcase" (which was monologued about for a long time. On stage, funny. On paper- NOT.)

One complaint that Laura and I had were the sound effects. Some of them just sounded fake, but others were confusing. This play was one you really had to pay attention to, and Laura missed one character coming onstage and asking another if they could wait to chop down the orchard until her mother had left the property. Because the chopping sounded more like a clock ticking than it did chopping, that's what Laura thought it was.

Overall, the play was really, really well done. The lighting was great and very detailed- they even put fireflies in the tall grass in an outdoor scene. The actors were wonderful and they didn't bow twice, which made me like them even more. Definitely go see this show if you're around London when it's on!

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Advice Series: Before You Leave

I got a comment yesterday from Diana asking me if I might do a sort of advice blog for people who are or are considering studying abroad in England. I've decided to do it in a few parts.

While every experience is of course different, here are some tips that will be helpful for anyone thinking of studying abroad here :) First, packing and pre-travel tips:


-Make sure you get all of your paperwork done as soon as you possibly can. I was lucky to go through my school, which did a bit of the work for me, but even so, I was constantly checking up on them, making sure they got every document I sent in. Even if you’re a person who doesn’t like to bother people with questions (like I am), now is the time to get over that fear and ask. It’s better to bother someone now then to find yourself unable to go to England because you forgot to fill out a form.

-If you need a visa (which you will if you’re studying for any extended period of time), get on that right away. All visas take time to acquire, and problems can occur even if you apply for it way ahead of time, so save yourself a ton of stress and get it as soon as possible. After you've gotten your visa, make sure it's the one you need. Being told off by border control is only amusing when you know you have the right visa (which is another reason to know you have the right one: you can stand up for yourself.)

-Passport, of course. This also takes time, so (I’m already repeating myself) take care of it now. Also, vanity tip: if you’re eighteen or older, that will be your picture for ten years. Look nice (I did not follow this rule. I regret it every time I look at my passport :p)

-Collect any paperwork that proves you’re allowed to stay in England. For me, it was my acceptance letter from my university. They may not ask to see it, but bring it with you anyway.

-Print out your plane tickets in any way you can.

-Put all of this paperwork into a folder only for these papers. I used a bright-colored plastic one that Velcro-d shut so that the papers couldn’t slide out. If it’s a bright color, it will be easy to locate amongst your things.

-If you’re going to be using an Oyster Card (which is the easiest pass to use for buses, overground, and underground transportation) check out the options and order your card early so you can have it BEFORE you leave. It’s annoying and expensive to buy a day pass when you could just be using an Oyster Card.


-Pack only travel-size shampoo/body wash etc. This serves two purposes: you won’t have to worry about bigger containers breaking and leaking all over your things and you’ll have a little less weight in your bag. You’ll be able to buy regular-sized bottles when you get to England.

-As I read before I started planning for this trip, pack what you need, then take half of it out. I didn’t pack nearly as many clothes as I usually do to go to school, but it was still more than I needed. I brought things that I haven’t worn yet, or worn once. Some of these things are items I’d still recommend you bring just in case, like a pair of dress clothes/a nice dress. While it is one extra piece of clothing, it’s cheaper than having to buy a new dress for one event. But you really don’t need five t-shirts if you usually wear blouses. Try to pack things that can be put together into a few different outfits. If all else fails, remember that they do have washers and stores in England ;)

-Shoes take up a lot of room. As a shoe fanatic, I am sad to say this, but you don’t need that many pairs. I brought about eight pairs of shoes, and there are three that I wore just once or twice. One of those pairs was my Wellies, but even so, I would recommend that you bring a pair of those. Other good shoes to have would be sneakers, good walking shoes, and non-Wellie type boots, as well as a pair of nice shoes.

-Something to consider is that while you may get a certain number of allowed bags on the way there, you might not get the same allowance on the way back. This is happening to me- I was permitted two bags for “free” (included in my ticket) when I came to England, but on the way back, I’m only allowed to bring one. Obviously, this isn’t happening, but I do have to pay extra. It will be hard to pack everything into one bag, but if you can do it, I bow down to you.

-In addition to packing things that can make up a few outfits, pack light layers. The temperature can change very quickly here, and layers are also a good idea when you’re here in the winter months. December-February is extremely cold, and I often wore knee socks and/or tights under my jeans because it was so cold.

-Don’t pack heavy blankets or sheets- they take up room, weigh enough to make a difference, and you can get them for really cheap when you arrive in England.

-Pack stuff to decorate your room with. If you’re living in a place for awhile, you don’t want to have plain white walls; even a few pictures can do the trick.

-Put at least two changes of clothes in your carry-on in case your luggage gets lost. It will give you some peace of mind even if you’re not scared of losing your luggage.

-Put something on your luggage to distinguish it. My new suitcase may be unique in its ugly rust color (sorry, Mom :p), but my other one looked like a lot of cases that are around. Tie a pretty ribbon on it or something else that will help you spot it.

-You can use space bags, but as I’m discovering, you may not be able to find a vacuum (or, as they call it here, a hoover) to use when you’re packing to go home.

-Don’t pack things like hair straighteners and curling irons. If you’re going to be here for awhile, it makes more sense to buy a cheap one when you get here. The fact is that it’s a really bad idea to plug your hair-doing appliances into adaptors; they’re too small to handle it and you’ll just end up with a broken appliance.

-Sign up for Skype. It’s free, and it’s basically the same as a phone call (except you can see the person, which is like a bonus.) It’s a really awesome way to stay in touch with people.

-In my opinion, it’s cheaper to get a cell phone there and pay as you go, but see if your company has an overseas plan.

-If you’re living in a flat or a place where you’ll have to do your own cooking, don’t bring over pots and pans. Instead, use a service like All Unied- besides having a ton of cheap-ish options, they’ll deliver right to your door. They also have packages that include pillows and blankets, and you can buy the packages or just rent them.

-Remember that you WILL accumulate stuff, even if you’re just here for a short time. As hard as it might seem, try to leave a little room in your cases for this inevitable happening. Shipping things back can be expensive.

-Be aware the English cash notes are larger than American notes and may not fit in your wallet. Also, that if you’re American, you’ll have a lot more coins than you’re used to.

Next time, arrival and things to do!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Exam Day!

Today was my history exam. It's one of those things that, though you spend a ton of time preparing for it, you never expect it to actually arrive. On one hand, I was glad to get it over with. On the other, I wanted to study for the rest of my life.

My exam was at 2:30, and I decided to find the test location and study away from any possible distractions for an hour beforehand. I found the room and was told by another girl who happened to be there (who was also American) that I needed to know my seat number. I did not know my seat number. Thankfully, they post these outside the room... except that neither of our class' titles were up there. We found out later that those lists were for the exams that had happened at ten this morning. Finally, the proper lists were posted and we could find our numbers.

Everyone showed up really early, and as there are about one hundred and fifty desks in the exam room, that's a lot of people to have milling around for forty-five minutes. When 2:20 rolled around, we were let into the room, but only after we showed our i.d.s, because people often sneak in just to take a test for fun :p We had to leave our bags on the side of the room before going to our assigned seats. In addition to my history class, there was a German class and one other that I don't know the name of.

The booklets we used look a little like PSSA booklets, but with less annoying bubbles to fill in on the front. The guy running the exam time bears the title of "invigilator" which, to me, sounds like someone who leads you in a really intense workout routine or someone who will kill you with a machine gun if he catches you cheating. (The last page of the test bore the sentence "This is the end of the booklet If you need more paper, please ask the invigilator." My exam-addled mind, however, read it as, "Please ask the alligator.")

The exam room is the sort of thing you would only expect in the movies. Besides the obscene number of desks and people, there was a clock hanging on a big post as well as a chalk board that had the start and end times (written in miliary time) for each individual exam.

When we were finally allowed to start, I turned to the questions page and immediately saw that I shouldn't have studied so much. While I wouldn't have been able to answer all of the questions in essay form, I definitely could have done more than the required two. I was really nervous because it was an essay exam, and the last one I took (back at Arcadia) didn't go so well. However, the last one was also on a subject I didn't like. I liked this one, and once I quickly outlined what I wanted to talk about in each essay and began to write, it was just like all of the other essay exams I've done: tedious and not very enjoyable, but not terrible either. I think I did all right- there was a lot more I wanted to say in my first essay, but I had already used up an hour on it and had to move on.

I used an hour and forty-five minutes of the time, but couldn't leave because everyone has to stay in the room for the last fifteen minutes. So I sat there and listened to the rain pour outside (it's been a terrible rainy day today) and felt the tube roar underneath me (kind of loud and distracting during an exam, especially since it happens every two minutes or so.)

When we were released, I think I heard everyone audibly sigh as they left the room. Those exams are ridiculous- not necessarily because of their level of difficulty, though they are hard, but because they scare you into studying so much that to emerge from the exam alive feels like the sweetest freedom you could ever have.

I am very happy to be completely finished my junior year of college, even if it does mean I have to be a senior in the fall. Now I can just enjoy my last few weeks in London without worry about homework or studying. I got some yummy Indian food on Brick Lane to celebrate and now I am going to... well, do whatever the heck I want because I can!

Monday, May 23, 2011


My absence is again due to studying- I finally finished highlighting the even key-er parts of my key notes tonight and will be reading them over until my exam on Thursday at 2 p.m. But it's also due to the fact that I've been having some fun, too.

I was invited to a picnic in St. James' Park by my flatmate and friend Emmie. Technically, it was a post-exams picnic, but I was still allowed to come with my exams yet to be had :p Adrienne came, too, and we met at one to head off to the park.

We got to the park around two and were ravenous by then. We had all contributed to the food haul and it was a pretty delicious spread.

A fair amount of people were expected to attend, but it ended up being only six of us. This was actually a great number to have- we had some interesting conversations and I made some new friends, which is always good. It was warm enough to ditch my sweater and sunny enough to get a slight tan (or, in other people's case, sunburned.) All in all, it was a wonderful afternoon.

We stayed in the park until about six thirty and then wandered toward the tube. Adrienne and I broke off from the group to do a bit of quick exploring and headed back an hour later. Before we had left the group, Emily, one of my new friends, asked us to come to her flat to watch the new(er) Sherlock series with Benedict Cumberbatch. Besides the fact that I've heard really great things about it, I was interested in seeing Cumberbatch in something else after seeing him in Frankenstein back in February. I loved the episode we watched- it's really funny and the series is set in contemporary times, which surprised me. Another surprise was that Cumberbatch's performance as Sherlock was amazing enough to completely make me forget about his perfect performance as the digusting and hateful Paul Marshall in Atonement. I hate that character so much that I was unsure whether I'd ever be convinced by him in another role. I was. We met again last night to watch the last episode, which was just as awesome.

This morning, I was supposed to have breakfast at Jamie Oliver's restaurant with Arcadia. If you don't know, Jamie Oliver is a very famous cook here who has had a million television shows. Unforunately, while I set my alarm, I neglected to switch on the actual alarm. We were supposed to meet at the restuarant at 9:30 and I woke up at 9:15. If the resturant hadn't been twenty-plus minutes away, I would have attempted to get there, but I hate it when people are late and decided not to be that person. Thankfully, the event was free, so I didn't lose anything but a hearty English breakfast. I was automatically punished for my laziness by the fact that the only thing I could do for breakfast without going shopping was a piece of toast and jelly. Oh, well.

Random but sad: I did my last grocery shopping trip today. Bye bye, Sainbury's. I will miss you, your funny wrappers, and your amazingly low prices.

In addition to my studying, I've been doing a lot of personal writing and I'm pretty happy with what I've done; even though it's just a single scene, it took me a long time to write it. Now I must return to said writing :)

Also- tomorrow, it will be a week until my family gets here!!!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Juvenile Post of Contentment

Despite the constant grey weather and the rain battering my window, things are good around here, for a few reasons.

Reason 1: I have made a studying decision (now, calm down, guys, I know you're excited :p) I know that there's no way I'll be able to read 44 more sources in the next eight days- it'll take me that long just to get through my now thirty-five page-long document. I also didn't want to spend my final weeks in London sitting in my room. I am so, so much calmer after making this decision.

Reason 2: After a good nine months of trying, I finally got a response about this student film I did in March of 2010. I had a great time on the film but didn't get to go to the screening of it. The director finally e-mailed me and sent me a link to the film online and has promised to send me a DVD copy. I'll never watch it, of course, but at least I'll have it for a reel or something.

Reason 3: I finally got back to a script I've been writing for over a year now. It's been "done" since December, but I haven't read it since February, as I was focusing on my schoolwork and then my novel. I opened it back up today and... I don't hate it.

Reason 4: I did get more studying done today, and I'm feeling okay about my chances on the exam. Stay tuned for a freak-out later this week, though.

Reason 5: I taught myself how to make grilled chicken with seasoning. I am the next Top Chef.

Reason 6: I watched two good movies yesterday: Inception and The Social Network. Inception was cool and surprisingly good to write by- it helped me get through a scene I've been stuck on for awhile. The performances were all great, but I especially loved Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Page. My viewing of TSN was my second in two days. It's that good. If you haven't seen it, you should do so. Well- written, well-performed, and just all-around good.

Reason 7: I went to Camden Markets again today, and though I didn't get what I went there for, I did get something else cool for one of my friends :)

Reason 8: My family will be arriving in less than two weeks!!!

Now I must get back to writing!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The London Look

I'm not really a fashionable person, but sometimes I try and one of the best places to experiment (and possibly fail) with your look is London.

Guys pretty much dress the same as they do at home and girls don't exactly dress crazily in London, but they're much less inhibited than Americans. Girls in America tend to stay with the current fashions, and they do this in London,too, but everyone adds their own twist.

For example, one big thing, and my favorite, is tights under shorts.

Many times, the tights are black, but other times, they're patterned.

Still other times, they're bright red. Or yellow. Or turquoise. And the shorts vary, too- I and many others stick with denim, but people go for black, flowered, checkered, shiny gold... you name it, they probably sell it.

Popular shoes for girls, and another trend I love and follow, are Oxford shoes (boys wear these, too, but the ones they wear are more masculine-looking.)
Before I came to London, I wouldn't have bought a pair of these in any color but black. After all, black goes with everything right? Well, in London, everything goes with everything. I bought a pair that's a bit lighter than the middle pair, and have worn them with way more stuff than I would have ever deemed acceptable. People also wear sparkly shoes in gold and silver glitter, bright yellow or red (often with their yellow or red tights), or flowered, among other things.

Dresses are popular but not as much as skirts and blouses/t-shirts. Jeans are in, too, but leggings more so (this is a fashion I refuse to adopt unless I'm wearing a dress/skirt. Leggings are not pants, no matter how skinny you are.) Bangles are big, as are big rings. Many girls tie their hair up with a scarf in a sort of Rosie the Riveter style.

There are many more fashion-y things that I'm over-looking, but really, in London, there are no rules. Once, a girl showed up to an RT class in camo pants and a sports bra (again... no matter how skinny or fit a person is, I consider an actual shirt a requirement to attend class.)
On another note, I got very little studying done today... it's all starting to sound the same and they're all citing each other, but I'm still not even halfway through the reading list- I have to read 45 more sources if I want to do that, which is not going to happen in ten days. It is very possible that I could fail this exam, despite the hours upon hours of studying I've been doing.
But I did do something fun today, which was going to Laura's drama practical rehearsal. They perform on Thursday, but their class is huge and there were never any tickets available, so she invited me to come and see their dress rehearsal today. It was a really cool piece and I'm really glad I got to see it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

What Is Home?

I'm at the point in my stay in England where I forget that I'm somewhere besides home. Just now, I was talking to someone online and they brought up that I am, in fact, here. My reaction was, "Oh, yeah... I am, aren't I?"

I can't decide if this is good or just really really sad, since I leave in less than a month.

It's interesting how people, places, and routines become such a part of your life that you forgot you knew oherwise. It's startling to remember that it's not what you've always known, and even more startling to know that it's going to be gone eventually, and perhaps for good.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Tension All Around

I don't like to study. Actually, maybe the problem is that I don't know how to study. I never had to when I was younger. Then I became old and had to learn more than two-page study guides to ace a test. My major actually requires lots of studying, since we have to memorize a good numbers of scenes and monologues per semester, but the difference, I think, is that memorization has a definitive end point- when you know it by heart, yay, you've done your job (well, part of it.) With regular studying for tests, you don't actually know what information will be useful.

Which means that after reading about nine specific sections in primary sources, I have thirty-one pages of "important quotes," put in quotations because who knows if they're actually important or not... and this is just a fraction of the stuff I need. I don't know what I do.

But whether I know what to do or not, this stupid list of books (to which our teacher wants us to add by ourselves) is staring at me from my wardobe door.

In semi-related news, things are tense here in the flat, because of exams for some people and because of the behavior of other people in the flat for others. Three out of the six remaining people here still refuse to do their own dishes or clean up after themselves, which means that our kitchen is in constant disarray, including a sink clogged by general grossness. When Adrienne wrote a note about this and left it next to said grossness, the offender maturely threw it into the grossness. Then another flatmate thought it was to her and flipped out on Adrienne. It's fun times here.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

In Which I Lazily Discuss Two Shows

I am tired. I am very very tired and I don't know why. Maybe it's because of the weather- it's grey and rainy. Or because I spent about four straight hours last night standing, three of those craning my neck up to see what I'll be talking about later. Maybe it's because yesterday was a day of grieving, as it has been for the past few years for my friends and I. Or because I've been going to the gym every day and living on much fewer calories than I usually do. Perhaps because I've been studying for about five or six hours every day and I'm sick of it. Or it could be a combination of all of those things.
In any case, it's annoying. I am not motivated to do anything. I waffled a long time about if I even wanted to do this. But things need to get done today, and so here I am, trying to kick start myself even though the day is almost half over.

I saw two shows in the past two days, and it was awesome. Thursday night, Adrienne and I went to go see Les Miserables at the Queen's Theatre. When I booked my tickets, my mom said, "But you've seen Les Mis a million times!" It certainly feels like I have, but the fact is that I've only seen one high school production of it; the feel of seeing it a million times comes from when I was in it, rehearsing many times a week for almost four months. And even though I know the show very well, I've never seen or been in a full-length version (there is a student version of the show.) And so I was excited.

We arrived at the theatre with plenty of time to spare and got our souvenir programs as well as our regular programs. We were displeased to discover that we were sitting amidst three rows of pre-teen and teenage boys. These boys all had extreme difficulty in reading their tickets. They stood at the end of our row (we were on the aisle) for a long time, trying to decipher what their tickets said. Finally, they realised that they were sitting on the other side of us and we let them through. But then it seemed they had still misread their tickets- half of them were in the wrong seat. They all got up and musical-chaired around. A older couple arrived and remarked that the two boys sitting next to me were in their seats. More shuffling around. Then came the sudden need for them all to go the bathroom/get snacks or drinks/stretch their legs... and they did it one by one, every twenty seconds or so, meaning that finally, Adrienne and I stopped standing up to let them through and just moved our knees aside. We were fully prepared to smack them with our programs if they talked during the show (to their credit, they didn't.)

The show was incredible. Three main roles, including Eponine and Cosette, were being played by understudies, but you never would have known. Javert was amazing (and the only American in the cast.) Our Cosette was extremely young (because there are multiple understudies and we were kind of far away, we don't know who played her, but they way she acted and moved was in a way that I think can only be done by an actual teenage girl.) Eponine gave me hope for my future because she was quite short in addition to being fantastic. I wanted to adopt Gavroche. The Thenardiers were disgusting and hysterical. All in all, the cast was great (and, even besides Cosette, it was quite a young one.)

With the perfect voices, the great acting, and the awesome sets, there was only one thing I didn't like, and that was the blocking (or, for those of you who don't speak theatre, how the director has the actors moving around the stage.) Especially for the first act, it was really awkward and you could tell that the actors were uncomfortable with it. Perhaps something had gone wrong and they had just restaged it that afternoon, but it looked weird. The worst instance of awkward blocking was when Javert jumped off the bridge. When he hit the "water", the director had him roll all over the stage. This looked so dumb that I actually rolled my eyes. However, if there's only one thing wrong with a show, that's hardly anything to complain about. Overall, it was fantastic!

(Oh, and I was surprised to find out that the edits they make to shorten the student version are not to clean it up- most of the vulgarity is in the student edition. It's mostly the extra narration that they take out.)

Last night, I went to see Hamlet at the Globe (or, as they make sure to say here, Shakespeare's Globe.) Hamlet is my favorite Shakespeare play, and like Les Mis, I'd only seen a shorter version before (not including movies.)

Since I didn't to be late, I left much earlier than I needed to, but my obnoxious earliness worked to my benefit this time- if groundlings (which is what I was) get there early enough, they can get right up against the stage rather than trying to see over the other people. Because I was so early, I got a spot right at the front of the stage.

The show was really great, and very different than I think a lot of productions of Hamlet in that it was very darkly funny. The jokes are in there, of course, but this company underlined them and did it well. They also incorporated music- all of the actors (besides Hamlet, who was a little busy contemplating life and such) could play instruments, be it a drum, guitar, violin, recorder, or tambourine. It was really cool, since they used it to accompany the songs they opened and closed the show with as well as using them to add to the atmosphere of scenes like those involving the king's ghost.

They also cast all of the actors (again, besides Hamlet) in multiple roles- Polonius was one of the players as well as the preacher and the first gravedigger. The king also played the ghost (which was a cool idea, since they're brothers), and a player. Since the show is a traveling show, they were very creative with how they cast everyone. Even with Hamlet, they went against the norm- he was really short for a guy, maybe 5'4" at the tallest (I think he was shorter, but it was kind of hard to tell from where I was standing.) Everyone was taller than him, including Ophelia, and they didn't shy away from pointing this out. I'm glad they didn't decide not to cast him because of his lack of height because he was really great. In fact, the whole cast was and I would have given them a standing ovation if I hadn't been standing the whole time.

(One thing that definitely detracted from the show was the fact that the people around me would not stop talking. I know your ticket was only five pounds, but did you come here to see a show or have a conversation?)

And now I must go try to get some things done. The thought of studying more is saddening :(