Mistakes, Disappointments, and Not Thinking Things Through (London day 12)

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The last 24 hours have been… difficult. I imagine a bad day was statistically bound to happen at some point during this trip. I’m trying to remain hopeful and optimistic, but sometimes you gotta let the anger, self-deprication, and dejection run their course first.

Saturday morning, Fath, Felicity, and I decided to try our luck getting tickets to Hamlet at the Barbican theater, a production that sold out in record-breaking time last year simply because of Benedict Cumberbatch.

We’d done our research, and the Barbican would release thirty 10 pound tickets every morning for that day’s production. Reports said that eager fans were lining up outside the ticket office in advance, so we got to the theater about 2 1/2 hours before it opened.

Maybe if only the Shakespeare fans were allowed, we'd have a chance...

The people at the front of the line apparently had camped there since the evening before.

The line wasn’t incredibly long, but we weren’t quite close enough to have any luck. We were literally right behind the last person to get a ticket. They had a few returned tickets at full price (upwards of 60 pounds) but we didn’t want to go that badly. We did figure, though, that if we got there an hour or two earlier the next day, that we might have a shot. So we went back to the flat only semi-disappointed with a resolution to get there by 6 am.

Also that morning, I left my map of London on the tube by accident. I loved that thing because it was laminated and sturdy, I’d made marks on all of the well-known locations, and it had a good tube map on the back side that I used pretty much on a daily basis. And… I left it on the seat next to me. That’s exactly how I lost my first iPhone at school not too long ago; you’d think I’d have learned, right?

Anyway, after taking a little nap and doing some laundry, Faith and I then decided to go to the London Dungeons. We’d bought a combo ticket pack through the London Eye to see that, the Dungeons, and Madame Tussaude’s. When we’d gone to the Eye, I had to show my confirmation email to get the ticket voucher for the rest of the attractions.

That I lost, too.

I scoured our room, looking everywhere twice, but to no avail. I’m convinced that it must’ve flown out of my bag at one point. I tried appealing to the London Eye people for a replacement ticket; I had email proof that I bought it, so surely they’d be able to look up my ticket number or something. Nope. So basically I paid 51 pounds to ride the London Eye. I’m still trying to decide if it’s worth it to buy the Dungeons and Tussaude’s tickets separately or not.

Pair the hatred I had for my carelessness and bad luck at that moment with the incredibly frustrating walk back across the Westminster Bridge where everyone and their mothers were either crowded around sleezy street magicians or stopped in the middle of the walkway to take a selfie, and you can imagine how pissed off I was. It took a lot of self-checks and prayers to keep myself from pushing everyone into the road.

We then tried going to Primark, a really cheap British clothing store, to find a nice dress or something to wear to the play the next day (because we were confident we’d get tickets this time!) They were locking the doors right as we got there. Have I ever mentioned that stores and even some restaurants close super early around here? I don’t get it.

How I didn’t melt into a puddle of despair at that moment, the world will never know. We ended up at a nearby H&M and I found a nice dress on sale for 7 pounds. That helped a little. It also helped that Faith and I picked up ciders on the way home and enjoyed them while watching KPop videos.

I’d thought that the next day would be better, especially since we all had a good feeling about these Hamlet tickets. So we woke up 4:30 AM, put on clothes, grabbed our pillows, and set off for the Barbican. We had to use the buses, something we hadn’t yet become comfortable with, because it was too early for the tubes. But Faith had this cool app that guided us, and at about 6 we arrived…

… only to realize, Oh yeah it’s Sunday; there are no shows on Sundays. The doors were locked, there were no people queueing. It’s quite the experience, let me tell you, to realize you didn’t think something through while in a foreign country in the wee hours of the morning in a deserted neighborhood holding a pillow.

And that’s where I’m going to take this. The whole thing was an experience, a learning experience. I know now to not set things on the seat next to me, to keep track of where I place important tickets, and to not let eagerness get in the way of being mindful. I’m still barely an adult. This is only my second time out of the country, the first without my family. So I’m going to have these experiences, but I’m going to learn from them and do better next time.

Plus, I’m in London. I got to see the sunrise in London. And I spent this weekend with two friends I’ve gotten to know so well in just the last two weeks. Faith was great in keeping me calm when I felt like murdering people on the Bridge. Felicity has kept my perspective on the positive side with reminders about how awesome this trip is. And we went through it all together, so now we have like this super special London bond or something that I don’t think three girls could ever replicate anywhere again.

And there you have it, my spectacularly crappy day. It’s already Sunday, so the weekend’s not quite over yet. Fingers crossed that the last plan I have left (hint: it’s Korean related) doesn’t tank, too.

Oh, and PS: We are planning to go back to the Barbican on Friday, our last day. Wish us (better) luck!

This trip's pity party brought to you by delicious cider.

This trip’s pity party brought to you by delicious cider.

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The Importance of Being Earnest, Cambridge, and The V&A (London days 8, 9, & 10)

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So once again I’m thrown off by slow internet. My pictures are taking a million lightyears to upload onto WordPress… and you can’t have a blog without pictures because apparently people have the attention span of a two year old now and mere words aren’t going to cut it…. By the way, did you know London supposedly has the worst wireless connection of any capital in Europe? Not hyperbole; it’s a fact.

But anyway. Tuesday wasn’t too action packed so I can talk about that along with yesterday and today’s happenings. We started the day off with another class period, but this time we went out to Kensington/Hyde Park to read some scenes from The Importance of Being Earnest (since we’d see a production of it later that night). As soon as we gathered, however, it immediately went from pleasantly sunny to chillingly cold and windy. I like cold weather, but I also like to be prepared for it. Simple decisions like what clothes to wear are made stressful by this bipolarness, and no matter what you do you’ll always make the wrong choice. You’ll either heff around a jacket that’s too warm to wear, or wish you’d opted for long pants instead of shorts.

So we only read a few scenes before dispersing. Faith and I ended up finding this little butterfly pavilion next to the Natural History Museum and spent some time playing with butteflies in a warm, humid tent.

We rested some more at our flat before heading out to the West End to see The Importance of Being Earnest. I’d read this play back in high school and watched a live production at Fresno City college. It’s one of my favorites, so I was quite excited to see this one. It’s playing at the Vaudeville theatre, which is one of the many old, expensive venues along the Strand that’s supposed to have the best shows.

hhh

And the best curtain…

Though my seat was a little off center, it provided a great view. The play itself was fantastic. The big talking point was David Suchet cast as Lady Bracknell, the first man to play that part here. But what I loved most was the chemistry between the two main male characters, Algy and Jack. The scene where they argue over muffins almost had me in tears. For class we had to write a response to the play, focusing on an aspect of it that particularly captured our attentions. Here’s what I wrote:

On Tuesday we saw a live performance of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. I remember reading this play in high school and seeing a Fresno City College production, and absolutely loving it. The dialogues are so witty and the characters so ridiculously lovable. I was quite excited to watch a performance here. The Vaudeville’s production was stellar, in my opinion, and there were many things that stood out to me.

Coming from a background in theater, I was immediately drawn to the actors’ use of space. Good performances find a balance between delivering lines sedentary and moving all about while talking. I feel like this production found that balance. Their movements complemented their lines rather than distracting from them. They interacted with props and each other with realistic fluidity. And though each act only had one stationary set, the actors were able to make their space feel dynamic. For example, the actor playing Algernon made his character stand apart by his movements, from laying on the back of the sofa to throwing his cigarettes around. Compare this to Lady Bracknell, who kept her (his?) movements to a minimum, maintained proper posture, and relied more on facial expressions than body language. You could get a sense of what these characters were like simply by the way they interacted with their surroundings, which I felt rounded out the story and made for a quality performance.

Combined with the excellent delivery of lines, the well-designed sets and costumes, and the chemistry between the actors, this production of The Importance of Being Earnest did not disappoint!

Faith and I decided it’d be best to go straight back to our beds right afterward, since we’d be waking up early for the ride to Cambridge the next day (Wednesday). I was a little disappointed the itenerary had been changed from a day trip to Oxford, since I’ve already been to Cambridge. But it was a still a nice day out.

Plus it finally rained!

Plus it finally rained!

As a class we toured a cathedral of one of the colleges. It wasn’t quite on the grand scale as Westminster, but it had its charms.

This ceiling, for instance.

This ceiling, for instance.

For lunch I managed to find Tattie’s again, since I happened to be craving a baked potato. We also explored some other shops for a while, including Hardy’s candy. We hung out under a tree for a bit, then it was time to head back for the evening.

Literally hung

Literally hung

Today, Thursday, Day 10 if you can believe it (I can’t), our plans were reworked due to a tube strike. Apparently those things happen around here, despite the massive inconvenience it causes both locals and tourists. So since the underground was partly non-operational, and the buses were packed as a result, our class went to a museum that was fairly reasonable to walk to. The Victoria & Albert, otherwise known as the V&A.

View from the inner courtyard since the street view involved construction.

View from the inner courtyard since the street view involved construction.

We took the scenic route, which led us through a different part of Hyde Park. We saw the outside of Kensington Palace…

Plain, but still grander than any house I could ever afford.

Plain, but still grander than any house I could ever afford.

Walked through the Kensington Gardens…

Are those hedges in the shape of ducks, or deformed Mickey Mouse heads...?

Are those hedges in the shape of ducks, or deformed Mickey Mouse heads…?

Rested beneath the Albert Memorial…

A bit too gaudy for my tastes.

A bit too gaudy for my tastes.

And walked past Royal Albert Hall.

Royal.

Not to be confused with Peasant Albert Hall.

The V&A museum is another one of those I-could-spend-a-week-living-here-and-still-not-see-everything places. So we went through a few of the more well-known rooms and toured the limited-time exhibits, and then chose something to “focus in on” for our class assignment.

One of the questions we have to explore is “What is British?” In other words, many of the items on display here, as well as in other museums, have come from other parts of the world (whether through trade, gifts, or theft). So how do they symbolize British culture? Why display them in a British museum? Etc. I ran with this into an area I’ve been studying: Asia. There were several Asian rooms; I skimmed through some but really spent some time in Korea (surprise, surprise).

It was a pretty small room, as you can imagine.

Mostly looking at pottery.

There were several floors, so we viewed the “cast” exhibits from a balcony above.

Statue of David

Statue of David

These aren’t the actual statues and columns from Rome, France, etc, but just copies. If my research on England’s trade with Asia doesn’t turn out, I might write about this idea instead. Should the countries of origin have the originals, and other museums have copies or replicas? What is the purpose of displaying items from other parts of the world? If you see a cast of Trajan’s Column in a museum in England, is there incentive to see the original in Rome, too?

Maybe

Answer: probably

I’m glad that this is a study abroad trip, and not just for pleasure. I might have thought of these questions on my own, but being in an educational mindset I think helps me really consider and analyze this City that much more. I’m not just sightseeing, I’m learning. And this is the best time in my life to do that because I’m still young enough to accept most information I receive without first running it through 40+ years of other knowledge and ideas I’ve built up.

Faith and I also briefly went through the Natural History Museum before walking the looooong trek back to our flat. On the way we passed by the hotel I stayed in three years ago.

Does this mean I've come full circle?

Does this mean I’ve come full circle?

We took a nap, cooked dinner, did some homework, and that’s pretty much it. *phew* All caught up now. Tomorrow begins our three-day weekend where we can “make like Burger King and have it our way” (actual quote from our professor, guys). Faith and I (Felicity, too) have some pretty exciting plans, even though we’re the only ones staying in London. The rest of the class is either off to Paris or Amsterdam. Whatever. London still has so much more to offer. I’m excited to experience more of it!

Cat Counter Update: 4. This place just keeps getting better and better.

Cat Counter: 4. This place just keeps getting better and better.

The Tower, Homework, and Random Observations (London day 3)

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We started off today with our first official “class” time, held at a place called Vincent House. We were supposed to have our own conference room-type set up, but they had our reservation mixed up so we just sat in the lounge area for today. We used these few hours to write about yesterday’s tour of the Museum of London. You can read the post I collaborated on here.

The street Vincent House is on has beautiful flats that are very obviously for the wealthier part of society. Their facade had that gorgeous white, cream, and faint yellow coloring, with cute little balconies, trim, and foliage. I’ve decided when I move to London, I’ll live here.

Hey, no one said dreams had to be realistic.

Hey, no one said dreams had to be realistic.

After class we picked up some lunch. I forgot to take a picture of the sandwich I got yesterday from Pret A Manger (pronounced pret-uh-mahn-zhay), a popular pre-made sandwich shop, but it was pretty darn good. Another sandwich shop, Eat, is in competition with Pret, so I tried a sandwich from them today. It was really good, too. Now I’ll have to make my own sandwich and really see which is the best.

We ate lunch once we got to the Tower of London. I’ve toured this one before, too, but it still doesn’t cease to amaze me how there’s this old stone fortress in the middle of a modern business district, and how millions of people from all over the world come to walk around in the same place that British royalty, prisoners, and long-dead soldiers once lived in. Does that not blow your mind?

And people here just walk by it on the way to work like it's no big deal.

And people here just walk by it on the way to work like it’s no big deal.

The moat was drained and filled quite a while ago, and in it today they were preparing for a jousting tourament this weekend, the first one at the Tower in 8 years. I don’t know if it’s possible to go, but I’ll be looking into it tonight.

Once inside, we joined one of the warders for a tour. I couldn’t tell if our guide was the same I had last time or not, but he was pretty funny, too. Yelling at everyone, making fun of the French, making history jokes…. I heard that the warders don’t just protect the Tower, but they actually live there. Wouldn’t that be a great job? Of course, you’d have to serve at least twenty-or-so years in the military in order to qualify, and I’m sure repeating the same stories and jokes to a crowd of unpredictable people might get old. But compared to a boring office job? Yeah, it’d be great.

"The E-R stands for errr, as in, Errr Majesty. Now if you have any other questions, keep them to yourself."

“The E-R stands for errr, as in, ‘Errr Majesty. Now if you have any other questions, keep them to yourself.”

The end part of the tour landed us in St. Peter Church, a small little chapel with quite a history. The remains of Henry VIII’s two executed wives lie buried beneath it, and several other notable people were laid to rest in the adjoining cript. The ceiling had been made for Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, out of wood from Spain so that she could pray to God under trees from her home land.

After the tour, Faith and I ended up doing our own thing again, choosing to first go through the White Tower.

Everything has to be called a tower here at the Tower.

Everything has to be called a tower here at the Tower.

In the past this was used as living quarters for the royal family and other nobility, as well as a prison for traitors to the crown (or people who just said something the king didn’t like). For the past couple hundred years-or-so now, it has housed the “Line of Kings” exhibition. Bascially a display of armor worn by past kings and their horses. It was interesting to see how certain pieces were once mislabeled in order to sound more impressive, or because the records and technology weren’t available to correctly identify them until recently.

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Don’t know how that face coming out of it helps, but at least the horse looks like a badass.

We were also able to go below ground in what used to be wine cellars and dungeons. It’s now a gift shop.

Flags not for sale.

Flags not for sale.

We also looked at the big attraction: the Crown Jewels. There was quite a lot of bling in this exhibit, from golden maces back in Charles II’s time to golden plates used for special feasts to the bedazzled crown of Queen Elizabeth II herself. Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed inside, so you’ll just have to come and see them yourself some day.

If you can make it past the guards.

If you can make it past the guards.

We wandered around the Tower until closing time, learning about how it was once a zoo, spotting the infamous giant ravens, and taking pictures of prisoner graffiti on the walls. By the time we made it back to our flat (after half an hour of searching in vain for a pastry shop), my legs were on fire and my feet about ready to fall off. When exactly am I supposed to be used to this?

Medieval graffiti: taking it to the next level.

Medieval graffiti: taking it to the next level.

Some little cultural things I’ve noticed so far that I feel compelled to mention… First, the fashion. In the touristy areas of the Tower and Trafalger Square it might not be so noticable. But in other areas and districts, you can tell what’s “in” among Londoners. Apart from the business-wear that’s also very common, men tend to wear really tight pants with button-down shirts and nice shoes. Women usually have an all-black look going on with ankle boots or flats. I’ve also noticed this thing with striped shirts; it seems popular among the Asian tourists as well.

Speaking of Asian tourists, I noticed several groups of Korean school kids about. One group had badges over their necks that said something like “Western Culture Trip.” Why is this not a thing in America, I ask you? Why can’t we have Asian Culture Trips, or European Culture Trips for our youth? I’m sorry, but Korea gets more cool points from me on this one.

Final thought: my snot is black. Maybe you didn’t want to hear about that, but I feel like it’s important to know. It’s not something you would expect or think about, but it is what it is. You spend enough time in a city and taking trains underground, your snot is going to be tarnished with smog and soot. And probably second-hand smoke, too, because like the rest of Europe, Brits love to have a smoke. So now you know and won’t be freaked out when it happens to you.

But in case that was too unpleasant for you, enjoy this...

But in case that was too unpleasant for you, enjoy this…

Street Performers, Sore Legs, and Harry Potter (London Day 2)

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Today mostly consisted of walking. Lots and lots of walking. We met up with the class at around 10, and then proceeded to get our Oyster Cards (a convenient pass to get on the trains). I love the Underground here. The map seems confusing and intimidating, but once you do a couple of transfers it’s really easy to get the hang of. While we used the trains quite a bit, we still walked a lot more. Our professor really wanted to get us situated with where the major sites and places were in London.

A lot of it looked familiar, but I didn’t quite remember where it was all situated. I still don’t, to be honest. It’s one thing to look at a map and know where to find everything, it’s another to walk around and figure it out. Especially when you use the underground transportation; that really messes with your sense of direction.

But at least each station gives you a little history lesson.

But at least each station gives you a little history lesson.

So we walked basically from the Holland Park area up to Buckingham Palace, through St. James’s Park, and over to Trafalger Square for lunch. The Palace and Park were strange to walk through because the last time I was here they were decorated for the Olympics. Flags and Rings everywhere… St. James’s is where we’d seen the volleyball matches, but now the stands are gone.

It's still gorgeous.

It’s still gorgeous.

Along this route we passed through Covent Gardens, where the famous flower market from My Fair Lady used to be.

Flowers have been replaced with Chanel.

Flowers have been replaced with Chanel.

We stopped to watch a street act called “Man with Big Balls.” He had several audience members come up to toss him soccer balls, which he juggled while balancing on top of a big circus-like ball. One girl from our class, Tavia, was picked to hold the circus ball while he jumped on it. He made lots of jokes, most of them innuendos, and it was hilarious.

You just had to be there.

You just had to be there.

We stopped a lot for photo ops, so we ended up being a couple hours off schedule. It was around 3 that we got to the main class project for the day: the Museum of London. This was one of the only museums I’d gone to last time, so I guess it worked out that we rushed through. Faith and I had plans to go to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour at 6, but we needed to leave by 4:30. So we quickly toured the section we were assigned to write a class blog posting about and then headed off.

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Not before a quick selfie with this guy.

To get out to the tour, we had to transfer a few times on the underground to Euston station. From there, we then had to buy separate tickets to Watford Junction, since it stop outside of London and our Oyster cards wouldn’t cover that far. After queueing at two ticket stations and being told to go somewhere else for what we wanted, we finally got on the right train. Online it’d said the average journey was 20 min… ours, of course, took more like 40. We then had to take a shuttle to the actual venue, another 15 min, and basically we got there with only 3 minutes to spare. What a crazy mess!

Made it!

But we made it!

The tour was so worth it though. Once we no longer needed to stress out, we could finally get excited and nerdy about the Harry Potter movies. All of the sets, props, and costumes there were the exact onces they used to make the films. You could walk through the Great Hall, go inside the Hogwarts Express, and interact with a few other things too. My phone tells me I took about 300 pictures, so once I get those sorted out I’ll put them in a separate gallery for you to look at and experience vicariously.

Here's a little teaser to hold you over until then...

Here’s a little teaser to hold you over until then…

Getting back to our flat didn’t take as long, but it was still late when we arrived. We picked up dinner (at 10 PM!) from a place called Chicken Shack because we were desperate and that’s all that was open. I’ll also be creating a food gallery for all the meals I have here so you can check that out, too.

Now we sit here tired and sore, wondering what the rest of these three weeks are going to be like. London is a crazy amazing city, with so many layers of history down every street. I can’t wait to experience the rest of it!

Though maybe not the crowds...

Though maybe not the crowds…

Jet Lag, Stairs, and Settling In (London Day 1)

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Guess what Guess what Guess what?! I’m in London you guys! *happy dance*

I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced going to a place like this for the second time. The first time, everything is new and you’re just trying to take as much of it in before it all disappears. Now, there’s still a sense of surrealness (I can’t believe I’m here!) but also mixed with a sense of familiarity (I can’t believe I’m here again!) It’s interesting traveling with a group of people who haven’t been here before, too, apart from the professor. I get to see their first reactions to things and remember how strange and wonderful an experience this all is.

There aren’t many stories to tell yet since the first day was mostly traveling and settling in. Our flight was 9 1/2 hours, direct, and I didn’t sleep at all. I tried. I honestly did. But between back pain and dry eyes, I couldn’t make it happen. This made it pretty difficult to stay awake until nighttime, as we got in at around noon and it doesn’t get dark here until about 8 or 9.

We’re staying in flats called Richmond Court, located near Holland Park and Kensington. I have one roommate, Faith, who I had met a few times in the weeks leading up to this trip to get acquainted. Our room is aaaall the way on the top floor, which is probably the fourth or fifth floor, and is only accessible by… you guessed it: stairs. Hauling up our luggage and groceries was killer. But I expect to have massive stair-climbing thighs by the end of this trip. I will conquer them!

Speaking of our flat, here are some of the only pictures I’ve taken so far…

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The view outside our window. That building down there is actually an old church.

Our kitchen. The open door around the corner there goes to the bathroom.

Our kitchen. The open door around the corner there goes to the bathroom.

Our living/dining area.

Our living/dining area.

Our bedroom area. I slept on the bottom bunk last night, but I might try out the top one just to see.

Our bedroom area. I slept on the bottom bunk last night, but I might try out the top one just to see.

I didn't get a pic of the outside of our building, but here's a map showing our location in London.

Google maps view of where we’re located in London. 

Yesterday my roommate and I did a little grocery shopping since we have a kitchen and don’t have to eat out all the time. We showered, unpacked, and walked around the neighborhood with the rest of the class a little bit. For dinner we got pre-made sandwiches from Tesco, which is like the market Fresh & Easy. And then we did as many creative things as our groggy brains could think of in a futile effort to stay awake. I think we finally crashed at around 7PM. We woke up this morning around 5:30.

And that’s really it so far. Today the class plan is to walk further into the City and tour a museum. Faith and I then plan to go out to the Harry Potter studios tour. So more updates and pictures to come!