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!