Thursday, March 28, 2013

Less Miserable in Spamalot

Last Friday we enjoyed an extremely cold outing to Greenwich! I'm not entirely sure who the weather thinks she is, but it's supposed to be spring, right? There's been far too little sunshine and quite enough days of thirty to forty degree weather (75 degrees sounds warm and delightful).

Anyway, we hopped on a boat and sped down the river. Sometimes the watercraft would sound like an airplane about to take off, and we all enjoyed gazing out the cloudy windows at the now familiar sights. Catching a glimpse at St. Paul's was like seeing an old friend; I got excited, looked forward to returning to visit, and it looked lovelier than ever.

Once we arrived, we began a bit of a walking tour with Professor Rumbelow. He poked fun at us, as we are all wimps in the cold and the wind was blowing cold through us where we stood. The town was nice, and we were all delighted to discover that something really incredible happened right where we were standing. See if you notice anything about these two pictures:

 This was taken by my friend Caitlyn in Greenwich.
And this is from Les Miserables (the recent movie)

Needless to say, we all freaked out a little bit.

Another picture from the filming of Les Mis. We were right there!!

This trip was also great because we got to check out the observatory, where they figured out latitude, where the Prime Meridian is, and is the location of the most accurate time.

Although the telescope itself was not real, I did get a glimpse of the planet Uranus!
And there's my feet straddling two hemispheres!!

Since then, it's just been a lot of school shenanigans and Spamalot, which we saw Tuesday night. The show was spectacular, exceeding my already high expectations. If you have ever seen Monty Python or studied about King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, you'll certainly enjoy this show. Almost the entire thing is a joke, with much political incorrectness and even some breaks on the part of the actors (which actually added to the show rather than make for an awkward moment like it would in many other plays!). The costumes were all bright colors and would be straight up tacky if it weren't for the hilarious nature of the show. We laughed almost the entire time and the cast did a splendid job!

I'm really thrilled because Dad and Zeb will be here very soon!!! I can't wait to see them and spend the weekend together! I'm also getting lunch with an old friend who is in London just for today and has been studying this semester in Spain!

Monday, March 25, 2013

London for Dummies: Spark-notes Edition

I'm really thrilled because my dad and brother are coming later this week to visit me!!! Hopefully it'll finally warm up here in time for all of us to have a lovely Easter weekend! As I've been back in the city, I keep noting certain things that used to be completely foreign to me but now have simply become a way of life. Here's a couple last minute travel tips before leaving the country just for fun as well.

As far as getting around in London, getting a tube/underground or bus pass is really the best thing; cabs can be really expensive and if you're hitting up all the major sights of London you can really just walk to a good amount of them as long as you're in decent shape. The city's transportation systems are excellent. (I promise, it's not nearly as complicated as it seems!)

Where to eat: pubs are really a nice atmosphere and they're not super overpriced. This is just something we don't have a ton of at home so take advantage of it while you're visiting! There's one here in Bloomsbury called Shakespeare's Head which has great prices that we all enjoy quite a bit. If you enjoy pub puns, go ahead and try out the Royal Gorge. If you're a One Direction fan (or just like chicken, lots of flavors, and a fun atmosphere) you should definitely check out Nando's! In addition, there's lots of variety here in London, so try new things! Indian, Chinese, Turkish, French, Lebanese, Italian, African, you name it! My friend just introduced me to an inexpensive Chinese restaurant today! So get brave and give your taste buds some culture.

Places to go and things to see:

Buckingham Palace: it's fun to see the changing of the guard or just check out the palace and surrounding gardens, it's all lovely.

Tower of London and Tower Bridge: the bridge is quite beautiful and the tower itself is fun to see. I definitely wouldn't go and pay to get in (unless it's ten pounds or less) unless you just have cash burning a hole in your pocket. Go ahead and stroll across the bridge and enjoy the nice views.

Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey: they're all just right there so definitely go for it! All three are iconic parts of London with photogenic views from any angle.

While you're in the area just meander down and across the river. On the south bank of the Thames there's a ton of street performers on the weekends (look out for the bubble guy-featured here, he's my favorite), but be careful, because once they snag you you may end up paying two pounds (around three dollars) for a simple bracelet made from string. Continue down (to the west) on Sundays and you'll hit a book fair with lots of very cool old books, new books, and even drawings.

The British Museum: this was literally two blocks away from where I lived at the beginning of the semester and within its walls is a wealth of history, including the Rosetta Stone and lots of mummies!
Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens: They're lovely and if it ever gets decently warm it will be gorgeous. While you're there check out the Peter Pan statue!

Covent Garden: this is just a fun area that's my go to when I don't know what to do to myself. There's always some street performers, places to eat, and fun shops! You also have to try Ben's Cookies, they're delicious.

Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square: just go to all of these while you're here. In Leicester Square/Piccadilly Circus area, you've got tons of touristy shops, M&M world, the West End shows (which I highly recommend), and China Town. I love Trafalgar Square because it's a beautiful area with fountains, stone lions, St. Martin in the Fields church and delicious restaurant in the crypt, the National Gallery (a MUST see if you like art at all), and the National Portrait Gallery (which includes the famous new portrait of Princess Kate).

St. Paul's Cathedral: it's gorgeous and I really enjoyed attending the service there one Sunday. The surrounding area is a lot of fun depending on what mood you're in, and it's in the single square mile which is the City of London.

The Victoria and Albert Museum is another excellent way to spend your time. If you have tons of cash burning a hole in your pocket (feel free to give it to me) hit up Harrods, where if you can't afford anything you can at least enjoy gawking at the prices or enjoying all the fun sections.

Go see a show!! I loved Les Miserables and, of course, The Lion King.

If you're into stalking people, go ahead and wait in a crowd to see Will and Kate (a couple of my friends were only a few feet away from the lovely couple) or enjoy lunch at Speedy's (a cafe featured in the wonderful TV series Sherlock, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman!!) and desperately hope that they're filming while you're there. If all else fails, you can go see Macbeth and wait outside after the show to see James McAvoy.

Another thing to note about London: there are unicorns everywhere.

When crossing the street, watch out because it's more your fault than the drivers. Also, jaywalking is not frowned upon in this country. Just make sure you look in the right direction.
When riding escalators, stand on the right hand side and walk on the left.
No free refills! I think I've been to two places (one was advertised as being an American diner) that actually have free refills and know what they are.
Layer up. I know I sound like a mom right now but trust me, if you're planning on being outside at all you won't regret it.
Wanna save some cash? At many cafes and small restaurants you can pay less by ordering "take away". It's the Chinese take out method of eating your food somewhere else which can save you a few pounds (both in currency and by burning some fat having to walk to another location).
You think Texas weather is bipolar? I used to be one of you. Then I came here. In addition, it doesn't always get warmer as the day goes by (like at home). In fact, sometimes it actually gets colder as the day progresses, which is one of the least awesome things to happen to me, ever.

There's probably a million things I've forgotten, but I need to stop not reading for class.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Turkish Delights

Tuesday evening I met up with the lovely Bailey for another food related adventure! Due to some bad planning on my part (between using a new tube station since we just moved and forgetting the insanity which is rush hour on the tube, which may have led to a bit more walking-which is great) I was a bit late. The wonderful thing is that Bailey had slightly overslept during her nap, so it worked out exceptionally well! We set off to find a sushi place that Bailey had recommended and we had both looked up online. We tromped around a bit, and after walking several blocks (on the right street, I might add) we came to the conclusion that we should just go ahead and pick another place because we either missed it or the restaurant relocated. We began meandering back toward Oxford street, stopping at almost every establishment to check the menu, judging each place based on the menu's content, price, ambiance, and the amount of people in the restaurant (because if there's no one in there, the food obviously must not be that good). We finally ended up at an adorable Turkish place filled with excellent ambiance and scrumptious food.

They had all these fun lights hanging up, carpets on the wall, and the coolest utensils.
 We got this fabulous balloon bread!
 There's sweet Bailey with her super awesome spoon and apple tea!
 They made my straw all swirly too!

Last night we went to see a show (Rutherford and Son) which involved a lot of upset people and could be very emotionally exhausting for audience members. Afterward (to add to the emotional exhaustion) we had minor stress getting back, as not everyone had a return ticket since there was much confusion prior to the show (luckily we all made it back no problem).

I enjoyed a relaxing morning today, including a quick jaunt with a friend to Covent Gardens to check out some adventure stores (think Patagonia, Chacos, North Face, Nalgene, etc) and the most upscale hipster store known to man before a nice lunch and scurrying off to my art class. We met at the Royal Academy of Art, where we enjoyed an excellent variety of George Bellows' works. 

Try everything that can be done. Be deliberate. Be spontaneous. 
Be thoughtful and painstaking. Be abandoned and impulsive. 
Learn your own possibilities.
-George Bellows 1920

We had some extra time after the Bellows exhibit, so we walked a couple blocks away to some private art galleries (we were in a fancy part of town, with the Ritz right down the street), which I really enjoyed. Definitely something to go back and see. One of my favorites from those galleries was Marc Chagall, a Russian avant garde artist. After the class ended, Zoe and I looked around at a couple of the other galleries. We walked into one gallery which we both agreed was-without a doubt-our favorite. The pieces all featured lovely girls with everyday items. I can't even begin to describe it, so here's a link to the artist's site and a picture of a couple of his works below (yes, photography was allowed).

Dominoes, like who thinks of that? Awesome artists, that's who.
This picture does not do the paintings any justice at all.

Following class, I joined my lovely friend Renee for a delicious burger, fries, and coke at an American diner outside our tube station. I can't remember, but that may have been my first burger in the past two months, and we were thrilled because we got free refills!!! [In case you weren't aware, free refills is a totally foreign concept to most people here. One of my friends here explained to a server-since he didn't know-what free refills are and he just laughed incredulously.]
Then tonight we enjoyed a couple of movies ( Anastasia and Hercules) in some of my friends living room area! Tomorrow we're off to Greenwich, so that should be exciting!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Spring Break in my Step

Last night I returned from a fantastic journey around England, Scotland, and Wales! I am very glad to be back in London, not living out of a suitcase, out of that bus, and all moved in to my new studio flat with my fabulous roommate Emma. I put together a few little collages of pictures from the trip for your viewing enjoyment.

Disclaimer: I didn't really keep a journal on this trip, so some things may not be a complete hundred percent accurate and full of detail. But you'll get the gist.

We began our adventure by piling on to the bus and meeting our bus driver, Vince. He entertained us with jokes and interesting facts throughout the drive to Stratford-upon-Avon. We stopped at Trinity Church to see Shakespeare's grave. There, we enjoyed a tour of Anne Hathaway's cottage (she was Shakespeare's wife) there in Shakespeare's hometown before savoring a relaxing afternoon before heading over to the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre to see Galileo. The show was very well done and the man acting as Galileo was Ian McDiarmid (who was Emporer Palpatine from the recent Star Wars!), so that was awesome. Afterward we ate at a pub which the actors frequent, and a few girls got to talk with some of the cast members! The next day we headed off to York (at the same time as Zeb was in New York, which I think is just the coolest thing). Our group toured the York Minster after splitting up to find some lunch. Caitlyn, Taylor and I grabbed a couple sandwiches from Sainsbury's, but since it was raining we couldn't eat outside. We wandered around for a bit, and ended up sitting in the doorway of a church on the steps munching and watching people walk by. That night, we enjoyed  some rugby on TV and a freezing and fun ghost tour around town.
The next day we crossed the Scotland border (pictures are on facebook; there was a big rock with the word Scotland on it) and went to Edinburgh. We only had a couple hours of sunlight left when we arrived, so as soon as we dumped our things in the rooms a group of us girls (we dubbed ourselves the Independent Women) set off for a quick adventure to some crags right outside of town. We arrived much quicker than anticipated and proceeded to book it up there as quick as possible. Although we didn't go all the way to the top (that would have taken at least another twenty-five minutes), we did go what we considered to be an impressive percentage of the way up before watching the beginning of the sunset. It began to do some strange rain/snow/hail/light sprinkling combo, so we quickly made our way down and back into the hub of the town. All of us were starving at this point, and accidentally ran into a sports pub with a Manchester United soccer game on, but we wanted to eat so we relocated. The pub we ended up at had some very nice staff, and we all enjoyed a hearty meal and split some haggis! Y'all can go ahead and google what haggis is; I thought it was quite delicious.
 The following morning we woke up to some serious snowfall, which luckily took a bit of a break while we did a coach tour around the city before touring the castle. The Edinburgh Castle was fascinating, very cool, and filled with lots of interesting history, but we were met with snow blown into our faces by ferocious winds on the way down to shop around and get lunch.
That afternoon we stopped by Loch Lomond for a bit. I loved just looking out past the water at the beautiful Scottish Highlands, it was simply gorgeous.
We stayed out in the middle of nowhere at a lovely place called Glencoe (dubbed "Glencoe co" for any of you Mean Girls fans). The views out our door: stunning. A group of us went on a hike up the Devil's Staircase, and we made it up to the summit in pretty good time. We enjoyed tasting some mountain ice, sliding down on the snow, and overall just enjoying the grandeur all around us. The pictures don't even capture half of the beauty. 
After that, we spent the next couple of days back in England in the Lake District, which had nice views but not terribly much to do. Our professors were brilliant, however, and we all had a wonderful time with a murder mystery game/party/thing the second night of our stay. We headed off to Wales next, and stopped at the Beatles museum in Liverpool. I enjoy the Beatles possibly slightly more than the average person, but much less than a true fan probably does, but the exhibits were all very well done. It may even have been too well done, because I couldn't even comprehend all of the mass of information before me. Most of us had an excellent time and even took a little longer than the allotted time to make it through.
We stayed at the cutest little B&B in Wales. The Welsh flag has a dragon on it, which I think is way cool, and they have their own language so that's doubly awesome. I really would love to learn another language. The staff were all super sweet, and Wales itself was lovely.  We toured a bit of the city and enjoyed tromping about Caernafon Castle. Taylor and I explored a bit of the city, and found some inexpensive Iron Bru (a soft drink we were told is only a Scottish thing, but apparently is also available in Wales) before hopping on the bus and heading for London.
Here's a miscellaneous collage just for fun. Feel free to ask what the pictures mean if you're curious.

Well, all of that seems a lot shorter than a week of my life, it just flew by so I hope I didn't leave out a whole day or anything! Once we arrived back in London, Emma and I got all settled into our flat, which we are thoroughly enjoying! It's so so nice (especially after the coach tour) to have some of our own space! 

Just in case you weren't aware: coach means bus in British

Also, if anyone is actually still reading at this point, I have a minor problem. I'd love to dominate the March Madness bracket tournament my family has, but haven't been paying much attention to college basketball in the US lately. Any tips are welcome, just shoot me a message!

Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone! 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Dreams Do Come True

This is my last post (probably) for the next week-ish, so here's a little recap on my week thus far. First off, a big shout out because today (March 6) is Zeb's birthday!!! [If you don't know who Zeb is, then we're probably not very close, so let's get to know each other sometime! But he's my favorite and only brother.]

To recap: here's a cheesy little collage I whipped up featuring some highlights from 
Hampton Court Palace. 
Me as a moose, the lovely detail of a ceiling, King Henry VIII showed up,
we got to do a fantastic maze, the palace itself, a group of us at the center of the maze,
some of the gardens, the magnificent clock, and the gun room
Fun fact about the clock: it's a 24 hour clock, and also tells the phases of the moon, months, and something to do with the tide of the Thames, among other fun things which I can't currently recall.

On Sunday, some of us enjoyed church at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, a few blocks away from our hostel. Because I'm taking a Political Theology class, we met and experienced the hilarity and confusion which is Speakers Corner. Historically, Speakers Corner was a productive place to share publicly and discuss current issues. Now it has become kooks central, with extremists all over the place. I had an absolute blast. There were Muslims explaining why the Bible is untrue, Christians being racist, Christians telling people that they're going to regret everything on judgement day, one guy sharing his views on feminism-which led to a rather overwhelming debate with an unfortunate amount of political incorrectness occurring, and much much more. After discussing free speech both in the political and Christian contexts at a coffee shop, a couple of us returned because we had such a grand time at the first go. Definitely something to hit up in the future.

Our British Life and Culture class, which meets Monday mornings, took us to Westminster Abbey. There, we enjoyed some fun history, the grand Abbey itself, many many graves of royalty and other important figures, and (best of all) Poets Corner.

Tuesday turned out to be the best of all days. For one thing, we discussed the second half of the Fellowship of the Ring (the first of the Lord of the Rings trilogy) in my literature class, so that was fabulous. That afternoon, I got to help out at Bloomsbury Baptist in the kitchen serving lunch and tea to the retirees as they enjoyed their afternoon hanging out together.

Tuesday night has to be one of the best nights in the history of ever. On that night, one of my dreams really did come true! The costumes, stunning. The singing (especially by certain characters), overwhelming. I've always loved The Lion King, and this was my chance to see it on stage! Disney is supposed to be the place where dreams come true (or something along those lines).  The dancing, beautiful. And the sets, exceptionally well done. I can not even say what my favorite part was-I'm honestly still processing it all. If you ever get the chance to see it-do not hesitate. Go. It's wonderful. You (and if not you personally, then probably one of my family members) may be wanting to ask what my favorite part of it was. I'd have to tell you that I'm atrociously incapable of committing to picking favorites 95% of the time (it's true, I don't really have many favorites, just a lot of things that I like a lot). Then I'd have to admit that Rafiki was absolutely phenomenal  as was Zazu. I can't even imagine the skill that each and every member of the cast must have. Even the chorus/dance ensemble/whatever the term may be thoroughly impressed me; each one of them had to be fantastic singers, dancers, and puppeteers to some extent, in addition to navigating and changing in and out of some pretty wild costumes. Mufasa, although without the especially deep voice of Disney's classic movie edition, did very well, as did Simba, Nala, Sirabi, Pumbaa, Timone, and Scar. Scar did an exceptional job, being a crazy bad guy isn't as easy as it looks. And the hyenas and Pumbaa and Timone did very well with their complicated costuming and comic relief. The opening number, the Circle of Life was just so grand, so glorious, it may have been my favorite part...maybe. In addition, there didn't appear to be a bad seat in the house! Taylor (my great friend from UMHB) and I sat on the very last row at the top with our backs to the wall (thankfully we were about dead center!), but still saw everything easily!
I could go on, but I think I'm just going to sleep instead.

I'll leave you with this appallingly low quality picture of the stage and my program from just before the show!

 One more day of class and then I'm off to Scotland, Wales, and other parts of England for a week!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Paper Commentary, My Thoughts, and a Couple Fun Days

I was flipping through the newspaper the other day and found some fun stuff. So here's some fun facts about London intermingled with the latest in Britain. 

 One fun aspect of life in London is the tube. Although Londoners generally don't appear to be massive fans of this form of transit (I'm sure it's an abomination in the summer as the presence of body odor and a complete disregard for personal space heightens), it's certainly not the place for anyone with personal space problems or germaphobes. The low budget film featured in the article above spent nine hours on the Central line trying to film a small scene. It must have been a form of torture for the actors, as being underground that long simply can not be good for anyone's emotional health. The reason this article caught my eye, however, was that I take the Central line on almost an every other day basis. I was so close to accidentally being an extra in some film none of us will probably see!!
I'm going to be honest with y'all for a second and reveal that I actually didn't read more than a few lines of the above article. A picture speaks in the place of thousands of words anyway, right? One thing that several of us on this trip have discussed is why pubs are so fantastic. Londoners have something which Americans direly lack: social skills. On several occasions, one or another of us has looked around, realizing that our group of friends (Americans) are all using our phones instead of interacting with each other. This phone epidemic is simply not a thing. And it's wonderful. People here talk to each other. I know what you're thinking, people in America talk to each other! It's just your generation, Lydia. And I'm sure that you're very right in that statement. This aversion to social interaction remains a massive flaw in my generation. We're so attached to technology, there's like this invisible magnet keeping our eyes focused on our phones and our phones in our hands that does more damage than help to young people. Anyway, back to my point. I love going out to a pub and paying too much for a meal for the simple joy of truly experiencing community with those around me. I've learned not to inhale my food, but instead revel in it's flavor and in the delight of conversing with my friends. We've all dreaded going back to a world without pubs, because we feel like we're going to lose that time of camaraderie (which, really, it's not an issue of place, but of the people-and I'll leave it at that so I don't go on another tangent). But the good news is it appears that cafes are becoming more a place of conversation, not just limited to those needing a caffeinated kick in the mornings, the studious readers, or the student stealing their internet. We have cafes back home and that will make leaving much easier.
So apparently plastic is going to be all the rage. Or something. I think it's silly and won't be terribly popular among normal people and even less so to Texans in the years to come. There's almost nothing more horrific than thinking about wearing a plastic skirt in the hundred plus degree heat; it's disgusting. A nice thing though I've enjoyed here is the freedom to wear literally anything. I mean, I don't wear crazy weird stuff, but I care much less about whether I'm dressed in a particular style. Appearances aren't as much of a priority here because each person has their own version of what's "in". There's definitely trends, but everywhere I go people seem to wear whatever they find comfortable or can afford (name brands are all over the place in some areas, but in others people couldn't seem to care less about the label). [Paris was even worse. I felt like they all went for the grunge/no hygiene look. There were literally two men who weren't American we encountered who were attractive, but the women didn't maintain such an unfortunate ratio. It's amazing how much more attractive people are in Texas than the people I sat next to in the metro in Paris.] How many of the outfits that appear on runways are for real life people anyway?
Caitlyn, Taylor, and I really enjoyed the opera Tuesday night!

Some girls who live across the hall from me lead a Bible study in our common room downstairs here in our hostel. We're going through Galatians and it's just really wonderful to get to bond together, be open with each other, and spend some time discussing God's word to us. I'm so incredibly thankful for all of these amazing people! They are lots of fun and super sweet.

On Friday we went out to the V&A (Victoria and Albert) museum after buying Lion King tickets (literally a dream come true!!!!). The highlights were the fashion through the years exhibit, the jewelry (Everything was so shiny! And we saw coral colored coral.), and costumes (worn in movies, shows, and concerts). We then went out and checked out various shops (including the National Geographic store-very cool, I really want a world map poster) before heading home to do some reading. Since it was Jase's birthday, a couple of us baked him a cake and we had a mini celebration for him up in our room.

Lion King costumes from 2010!!!

Today we enjoyed Hampton Court Palace! Internet is a bit of a problem so I'm too lazy to post pictures now, but we enjoyed the actors walking around, hearing the drama of Henry VIII and all his wives, my first garden/hedge maze, and lots of fun history!!! Check out facebook in the next couple days for pictures of that!