Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Mama No Parla Inglese

So I have officially moved into my homestay.  It has been beyond interesting.  My roommate and I headed out yesterday via taxi to reach our new home.  We are staying with Anna Michelin, a single woman who is a school teacher.  She came down and met us and brought us up to her flat. It's a very nice house; we have a nice big room with a huge armoire and so much more space than in London.  Anna was smiling, helpful, and cheery, a genuinely good soul.  Only problem is that she speaks ZERO English. None at all. Zip. Zilch.  Terror and panic quickly set in once Eryn and I realized that we too spoke ZERO Italian.  Yes, I will learn Italian much more quickly this way, but my goodness, this is going to be a challenge.  It gets pretty mentally exhausting to constantly be struggling to understand one another.  We had to guess what she was saying to us all night.  We think her mother goes back to Padua in a month.  Do we really know? Nope.  No clue what the dog's name is (an adorable little brown thing).  Thank goodness I have a partner in this. No internet. Expensive phone use.  Very isolating.  The shower situation is scary.  You have to hold the nozzle above your head and there are no doors so it's very hard not to spray water everywhere.  And it was a really cold shower.  Okay, panic and whining over with.  I swear the experience is certainly not miserable just a major adjustment.

Positives:  Really fantastic dinner of pasta, fruit, salad, potatoes, chicken, bread, wine. YUM.  Anna is very patient with us and eager to help us.  She seems really relaxed and sweet.  I will learn a ton of Italian this way.  We figured out the bus situation with relative ease.  I got a new sim card and my cell phone is up and working.  I might be buying internet.  I think I might have to.  We have plenty of options in the city but it's not all the time and wouldn't be at home.  So, I might drop a chunk of change on that.  It might save my sanity.  Florence is good so far.  I need to do more exploring but we have major class all day long so that might have to wait til the weekend.  GELATTO IS AMAZING! and cheap! and delicious! Yay for Italian food!

Florence is an entirely different experience than London. Worlds different.  But I'm learning and adapting. Slowly but surely.  Heck, I've only been here for 3.5 days.  I'll give it a chance before making final judgement.

Buona sera. (or Buona notte if you're reading this after 11 pm or buon giorna if reading this before 1 pm. Silly Italian rules!)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Overwhelmed in Italy

At the moment, I am sitting in my hotel room in Florence, Italy.  I have the room to myself, as my temporary roommate Hannah, has gone out for the night.  The quiet is amazing given that I was staying in a 13 person hostel room for the past week. So much has gone on since I last blogged that I don't really even know where to begin.  I think I'll update you on my day first since it's so fresh in my mind and then back track a few days.  Today was my first full day in Florence.  While in Florence, I'll be doing a homestay, but we don't move into our homes until tomorrow so we are staying in a hotel until then.  Today was crazy.  I had orientation at 10 am which lasted for a couple of hours.  My professors bombarded me with information, dates, times, locations, requirements, cultural adjustments, rules...etc for nearly two hours.  My head was spinning in so many different directions trying to retain all of the info.  I hadn't been in Italy for 24 hours and was just seriously overwhelmed by the number of things being thrown my way.  After that we grabbed some lunch and headed back into the Linguaviva (a big building where I'll be taking my in-class classes).  I had my first Italian class ever.  The professor spoke mainly in Italian and it was seriously a struggle to keep up.  He kept calling on me and I got progressively more frazzled.  It was hard because I was concentrating on discerning what he was saying in English here and there and kept getting confused.  While I am absolutely thrilled to be taking an Italian course, the first one definitely had me a bit jumbled.  After class we went to pick up bus passes due to the fact that most of the homestays are located outside of the city walls in Florence. So I'll be taking the bus into class most days.  I am pretty lost in the city so far; I tried to walk about and check out the sights for a bit today.  I found an adorable leather purse that I'm probably going to go back and buy tomorrow.  So tempting... People look like me in Florence, or rather I should say that I look a bit like an Italian and when I am not walking with other Americans I'm blending in quite well with my surroundings which is pretty cool.  We had dinner at a delicious restaurant and went out for gelatto afterwards.  I walked around the city at night with a couple of friends and it is pretty beautiful.  There was a woman singing opera with a giant crowd around her and I took some video of the performance which I'll post on facebook.  Right now, I'm pretty tired and am looking forward to moving in with my host family and settling down for the rest of the semester.  Traveling is exhausting I'm beginning to find out, especially when you don't know the language at all.  I'm confident that I'll start to figure everything out in no time and things will come easier.  Just a bit anxious that's all. 

But let me update you on the last couple of days in France.  On Friday, Anna and I went to Grasse, which is where they have lavender fields and perfume factories.  It turned out to be a beautiful day so Anna and I enjoyed walking about the tiny town and then headed into a museum/operating factory for perfume.  It smelled pretty wonderful in the building.  We got a tour of how perfume is made and bought some fantastic smelling soap for pretty cheap.  It was a pretty lovely day in the mountains.  After that we had dinner back at Nice.  It was our only dinner out all week and man, it was delicious.  Red wine, croque madame, frites, sparkling water, YUM. At this point, Anna's friend from Sheffield had joined us and we had a really nice dinner and conversation.  Later that night we went out on the town and wound up in this bar called The Bulldog or something.  We walk in and theres a tiny stage and sitting room.  A guy is playing guitar and singing beautifully.  The ambiance was pretty perfect so we hung out, had a pint, and enjoyed being surrounded by locals.  Pretty awesome. 

On Saturday, we went to Cannes and Antibes.  The weather was supposed to be really warm so we headed straight to the beach in Antibes.  But the wind was pretty cold and we couldn't find the really nice beaches so it turned out to be a bit of a dud.  So we hopped on the bus and headed to Cannes.  Cannes is BEAUTIFUL.  I totally get the appeal and why they have international film festival there every year.  The shoreline was awesome.  We headed over to where they had the festival and took pictures of handprints and had a good time letting the wind blow through our hair.  Really good people watching too.  A stifling 2.5 hour bus ride later, we headed back to Nice and our hostel to pack up our things.  I had a really lovely time in France.  Everyone was genuinely nice and patient with us.  I think the French get a bit of a bad wrap, but then, I'm not one to judge.  I'll just say that we had a wonderful time with the French.  Good food, spectacular views, good friends. 

I love hostels for a number of reasons, but never more so than yesterday when I had 3 trains to catch to make it from Nice to Florence.  I say this because during the week we got to meet so many interesting people.  One of then, Frederick from Sweden, just so happened to be taking the same trains as me until he moved past Florence to Rome.  Frederick was great and made the traveling experience with my giant bag much more doable.  I'd stay and watch our bags while he checked platforms so I didn't have to go up and down the stairs with 70 + pounds of weight dragging behind me.  He showed me how the seats were assigned and showed me where to validate my ticket.  So helpful. I had been pretty nervous about making my connections and traveling alone, so God was seriously looking out for me yesterday.  And then once I got to Milan before boarding my train to Florence, I once again ran into Hannah and Charlie, two kids from my program that had stayed at our hostel in Nice for a couple of days completely randomly.  What are teh chances? So crazy.  But nice since we were able to find our hotel together and Charlie helped me lug my suitcase up two flights of stairs.  We had a group dinner that night and shared spring break stories. 

So now I think we are all caught up.  I seriously can't wait to meet my host family tomorrow.  If you want to send me any snail mail (always appreciated) you can send it to:

Emily Lauten
c/ o Linguaviva Scuola d'Italiano
Via Fume 17
50123 Firenze ITALIA 

As the Italians say:  Buona Notte, Goodnight my friends.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Vive la France

I have a new goal in life: To become an old French woman.  Sound crazy? Unrealistic? Just damn silly?  Probably all of the above, but nonetheless it's true.  I love the old women in France.  They are always very dressed up, high heels and stockings on to go to the grocery store.  Their make up is well done and heavy; their hair some faded shade of dye that no one is buying as natural.  They go about their business walking up and down the massive hills that this part of France has without showing any sign of extra effort.  Meanwhile, we walk by huffing and puffing our way up to our hostel.  The old French women here are pretty fabulous.

So what have I been up to the past couple of days?  On Tuesday, there was a major transportation strike so getting around was made extremely difficult.  So we decided to explore Nice.  We walked down to the Fruit and Flower Market in town, enjoying the smells and variety that the market had to offer.  I really wanted a couple of trinkets that reminded me of people at home, but I reconsidered given the already overly heavy status of my luggage.  After that we walked down to the beach and ate lunch.  It was beautiful out and both Anna and I got some serious color in only about an hour.  The beaches here have stones not sand so that was pretty interesting.  We walked up to this chateau that provides an amazing view of the city.  I am going to have great legs by the end of the week.  We have done nothing but walk stairs and inclines since we got here.  The view proved pretty gorgeous and the warm weather made it pretty perfect.  Anna and I decided that we need to own a yacht though, to truly take advantage of our surroundings. A girl can dream... We then walked through old town which is a really cute area with shops and plazas.  We got some gelatto and settled down in the square and people watched.  Next, we headed over to the Contemporary Art Museum and took a look around.  I don't really get contemporary art. Some is pretty cool, others just plain weird.  There was this one display with pigs that I didn't realize had formerly been alive and were now stuffed that sent me over the edge and booking it in the opposite direction.  We headed back to the hostel, made some dinner, and had a chill night.

Yesterday, we went to Eze Village and Monacco.  Eze Village is this medieval village high up on a hill.  Google it to see some pretty incredible pictures.  It was sooo cool.  This place was straight out of the history books.  There were these tiny little shops everywhere and you could buy coffee and sit on a cliff overlooking the Mediterannean Sea.  We found our way into a little restaurant and got come brown sugars crepes.  Pretty much amazing.  We spent the day with two roommates from Texas who proved to be really fun travel companions.  We caught a bus to Monacco and decided to explore.  Meh, that's how I feel about Monacco.  It was okay.  We couldn't find the beach and settle for a cement platform by the waves.  Super wealthy, super beautiful port but not some place I'll probably find myself again.  We saw the casino but it was too early to go in.  I think that in order to experience Monacco properly you need to stay in a beautiful hotel there, spend some time on a yacht, and shop in a story like Gucci without blinking an eyelash.  Then it would be pretty awesome.  The sights were still lovely, and hey, I still got to get a tan next to the Mediterranean so I'm not complaining.  We went out with some fellow hostel friends for a drink at a place called Wayne's.  It caters to an international crowd and was a really good time. 

Today Anna and I were supposed to go to Marseilles to meet her friend.  But once I found out that the ticket was going to be about 30 euro round trip and realizing that I have some stuff to take care of for school, I bailed on that plan.  Instead, her friend is coming to meet us in Nice tonight so that should be fun.  Anna and I explored the Matisse Museum this morning. I'm a fan of his sculptures, but not so much his sketches.  They also had a temporary display of work by Robert De Niro Sr. because apparently their use of line is similar.  They had some vintage pictures of Robert De Niro Jr and Sr which were pretty cool.  Now, I'm trying to get some work done and we might try to go the beach in a bit so I'm going to get to work.  I think tomorrow will be another beach day and we are trying to go to Cannes and Antibes on Saturday. 

With love from France.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Parle-vous francais?

For the second part of spring break, Anna and I are spending 7 nights in Nice. The idea being that we set up home base at a hostel and travel by train, bus, tram, etc. around the south of France.  So we got into Nice last night around 8:30.  We then took a bus to Terminal 2 where we then took a bus to the middle of town, where we then found a payphone to call the hostel to send the free shuttle that then picked us up and brought us to our final destination, the St. Exupery Hostel.  This hostel is pretty amazing.  It's got a huge common room with a bar, flat screen computers, and a very nice kitchen.  It's a converted monestary.  Not only is it huge but the place is packed with young people from all over.  It's been nice because most speak English which is convenient considering the rest of the country doesn't.  We settled in and met some very nice girls from Texas who live in the same room as us.  It was late at this point so we just settled in.

Today, we got up and tried to decide on a plan.  It was supposed to rain all day so we couldn't quite decide what to do.  Anna and I decided to explore Nice a bit, but we ran into our Texas roommates who (per suggestion by some guy at a hostel) were going to walk around a peninsula nearby.  This sounded like fun and we joined them.  The views were spectacular.  But what was expected to be a 2 hour walk became a 5 hour hike.  It was totally worth it.  We walked right along the coast for miles and miles.  We walked up and down countless hills.  I don't know that I've ever seen anything so beautful.  Stunning.  Pictures to be posted soon although pictures just don't do it justice.  We completely skipped lunch do to the fact that the walk was longer than expected and so around 4 pm we were famished.  We finally found some place to eat and grabbed a bite.  At this point we had been walking around in the rain for a long time and Anna and I decided to head back towards home.  We hopped a bus to the tram station, took a tram into town, and stopped to pick up some groceries for the week.  We get a free breakfast at the hostel and are going to steal bread to make sandwichs for lunches which will majorly help our student sized budgets.  We came back to hang out, I blogged about Belgium, and we settled down in the common room.  We met an Australian and a British guy who made for interesting conversation and just hung out for the rest of the night. 

Oh! And coincidences of coincidencees my roommate in London is staying in the same hostel with another friend from my program.  She didn't book anything til the last minute so we had no idea we were staying in the same place.  It was good to see her and we will probably go out together tomorrow night.  Now, it's off to bed.  Tomorrow there's a transportation strike and so it will be nearl impossible to get around at all.  We wanted to go to Eves and Monacco but that might have to be pushed back.  We think we might go to the Matisse Museum and continue to explore Nice within walking distance.  We'll see what the day brings.

Bonsoir mon amies. 

Spring Break Part 1: Brussels, Belgium

My spring break officially began on Friday and Anna and I boarded our flight to Brussels.  We both fell asleep immediately and therefore were only awake for about 20 min of the ride.  That's my kind of flight. After getting off the plane we hopped a train to the center of town.  Nancy Koeppel met us at the train station and we took a tram over to her flat.  We stayed at the Koeppels for the weekend and they were the best hosts a couple of girls could ask for.  After settling in to our guestroom and getting plane stink off of us we headed out for lunch.  I had the most amazing chocolate truffle thing ever for desert. SO GOOD. And only the start of the amazing culinary experience Brussels would prove to become.  After a lengthy getting-to-know-one-another lunch convo we headed back and with Nancy's help tried to organize our France trip a bit.  Then we headed to a wine bar with Nancy and had a really good glass of Chianti.   Yum.  A girl so so get used to this.  After a drink we headed to a really nice Italian restaurant where Jeff Koeppel, former neighbor of Granny and Pupup's, met us.  We had sparkling water and white beer and red wine again.  So good.  There was a HUGE plate of antipasta and the best tortellini I've ever had in my life.  We were so well taken care of on this trip it's not even funny.  After dinner, Anna and I headed to a jazz bar and the Koeppels called it a night.  The music was great and I've never seen that many white boys with dread locks in my life! We didn't stay long due to very little sleep the night before.  A very good introduction to Brussels.

On Saturday Annna and I had the day to explore. I bought my train tickets from Nice to Florence, which was a big relief to get done.  We walked all over town.  We saw the grand place (plaza), the royal palace, and the inside of countless chocolate shops.  And then Anna and I decided to indulge in some local treats.  For lunch we got Belgium frites (french fries).  Apparently they are cooked twice or something which makes them utterly delicious (and artery clogging).  And for desert we had Belgium waffles which are considered desert here.  I had mine covered with ice cream and choclate syrup.  Anna had one covered in fruit sauce.  Again another culinary success! We then went to the Musical Instrument Museum which was really really cool. They give you headphones and then every time you approach a display of instruments music plays that could have been made by the instruments you are looking at.  A multi-senses experience and totally unique.  After a full day of exploring we headed back to chill.  Then we went in search of dinner.  We found a really cute pizza lace and split a pizza and some red wine.  We had a long and luxurious meal and walked about the neighborhood for a bit.  We called it an early night and headed back to the Koeppel's flat. 

On Sunday we got up and went out to brunch with the whole Koeppel crew at this place called the Milkbar.  iT had this crazy 50s diner feel including bright pink walls and a Marilyn Monroe statue.  I ordered pancakes, real fluffy pancakes! My first in 9 weeks! YUM.  Mr. Koeppel insisted that it was not to early to have a milkshake, so with his encouragement we got milkshakes for brunch.  Again, SO GOOD.  We had a really pleasant time continuing to get to know this generous and lovely family.  After brunch, Anna and I packed and headed to a coffee shop.  I attempted to write a blog but shotty internet killed it.  By the time we got back, we said our goodbyes.  The Koeppels had a car drive us to the airport and we headed off to Nice, where I'm currently sitting in the coolest hostel ever typing this.

Some things to know about Belgium:

1. They speak Flemish and French.  Brussels is considered a bilingual city and have both languages everywhere. It turns out that the little high school French I remember is actually coming in handy big time.  I had no idea I would remember so much.  But it certainly helps when ordering at a restaurant.

2.  They are seriously understaffed everywhere.  If you're looking for a job come to Belgium.  Anna and I witnessed on more than one occasion a very stressed solo worker in a restaurant packed with people.  These guys work hard!

3. There's a definite grunge style going on here.  All of the young people we saw had an early 90s America grunge vibe going on.  I kind of dig it. 

4.  The architecture is beautiful! And totally unlike anything I've seen before. 

I thought of many other things to add to this list over the weekend but now can't seem to remember them.  I'll add them as they come.  Brussels was a great experience.  We had the most wonderful hosts and I cannot thank the Koeppels enough for letting us stay for them, treating us to dinner, and generally letting us encroach on their live for a bit.  So so wonderful. Such a great way to start spring break!

Also, I recieved some wonderful news over the weekend.  My best friend since the third grade, Beth, got engaged to her boyfirend of 6 years Mike! I'm so excited for them and for those who know them you have to get Beth to tell you the proposal story, so cute! So congratulations to Beth! I love you so much!

France updates to come.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Farewell Lovely London

My time in London is officially over.  I'm sitting in Nancy Koeppel's (a family friend) guest room in Brussels, Belgium.  I'm surrounded by books and art and fresh flowers about to begin a day of exploring the city.  Anna is in the shower and I will shortly take her place so this post will be brief and then I'll elaborate on my Belgian adventures later this weekend.

My last 24 hours in London were a bit of a blur.  I studied for finals, woke up early to take my finals (grabbed a Krispy Kreme donut for "energy" along the way), took one easy and one insanely difficult final, and headed back to 270 to pack.  It was once again an insanely beautiful day. So I made lunch and sat in my backyard, soaking up the rays and sadly musing that time here was running short.  I read some of my current book, Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential (which I love because I think Anthony Bourdain is insanely funny, a bit of a jerk, but a funny and honest jerk). And then I started to pack.  This became a 2 hour long process and at many moments I sincerely wished mom was here to help me pack up like she did for the original trip to London.  That seems so long ago! Anyway I survived and went to our farewell dinner at the Pembroke, a local pub.  We said our farewells to professors and to each other.  It's kind of weird that we won't see each other for a week, a long time in our acm bubble of togetherness.  Anna got in around 10ish and we hit the sack.

I have loved my time in London.  I love how easy the Tube system is.  I love that I can get anywhere with ease.  I love that British people read books on public transportation.  I love free museums and wondering around them with my headphones on.  I love staring out onto the Thames river at night from a bridge and seeing London lit up.  I love a pub on every corner.  I love the insane amount of history everywhere.  I love perusing the markets and finding the greatest grilled cheese sandwich ever.  I love the British accent.  I love Hyde Park.  I love the immense amount of theater.  I love the grandeur of the churches.  I love that there is always something to do.  I love that London has left me wanting more. 

I have learned so much during my time in London. More than I could have imagined.  I've learned so much about British culture and history.  I've learned so much about myself.  London was my first real experience being abroad (as I don't think Canada counts).  It was my first real experience being entirely on my own. I cooked for myself and figured out that I can walk around London solo and have a wonderful time.  And I think I've taken advantage of it.  So thanks, London.  You've been a real pal, a real eye-opener.  But now it's time to say goodbye.  I'm off to Belgium and France and finally to Florence. I'm certain to have an entirely different experience there. I'm sure it will be amazing, but parting is always such sweet sorrow. 

Off to start my day. Updates to come.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Ode to Cheese and Carbohydrates

I was attempting to compile a list of things that I will miss about London and a separate list about what I’ve learned about London. And while these lists are still to come, I couldn’t help but notice how much time I spent talking about cheese. And food in general. So in that spirit I thought I’d devote a blog to cheese and carbs. Because that’s basically what I’ve been living on for the past two months. That and a vast array of grocery store bakery items. So, I’m seriously going to miss British cheese when I leave. Yes, bizarre considering I live about 3 minutes away from the Wisconsin border at home and as such missing British cheese might be considered nearly sacrilegious. I’ll also admit that it took me a while to even try cheese that wasn’t labeled mild cheddar. But there is something divine about Gloucester cheese and Leicester cheese. Oh, and I have learned that there is really no need to be cheese in slices or shredded. Apparently this thing called a cheese grater was invented a while back and it does the shredding for you...Also apparently a grilled cheese tastes just as good with cheesed sliced by a butter knife than coming prepackaged. Maybe tastes a little better even. Haha ohhh the discoveries I’ve made on this trip.

Due to the fact that I leave on Friday I decided it would be best to eat what I had left in the cabinets. What I have left in the cabinet: an entire bag of rice, one half eaten bag of shell pasta, two expiring potatoes, and four pieces of bread. So I’ll be mega carbo-loading for the week. It’s a good thing that I walk as much as I do cuz otherwise I would have to be rolled to Belgium. I wish I had some poetic way to extol my devotion to cheese and carbs. I’ll just say this:

Cheese (and chocolate and red wine) can make just about anything better.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Totally Forgot

I should explain the title of my last post.  When I was walking to the bus station yesterday we crossed paths with a family headed in the opposite direction.  I just hear this 6 year old kid yell, "PIGEONNNNN!!!!" It was hilarious and quickly revealed them to be Americans.  The dad just shook his head and said in a southern accent, "Well it's the kid's first pigeon." A very funny way to start the day. :)


So, it's my last Sunday of my last weekend in London.  Sad.  And what does the day have in store? Homework. Mounds and mounds of paper writing.  The sun is shining.  I think it's taunting me.  I would much rather be out exploring in my last couple of days but I suppose it's not to be.  I have two major papers, two major finals, packing to do, letters to send, life to get in order between now and Thursday.  On a positive note, I head to Belgium on Friday. Woot. Woot.  So I'm going to suck it up and get things done. The past couple of days have been very interesting.

On Wednesday night we went to London Assurance at the National Theater.  My roommate Laura and I decided to go early to check out the bookshop.  Once we got there, we discovered we had enough time to grab some cocktails at a restaurant called Giraffe next to the theater.  They had half price drinks for Happy Hour and we devoured some pina coladas. Yum.  Then we headed to the show.  London Assurance was really funny.  It was different from all of the other plays that we had been to so far.  The British audience lovedd it and while some of the jokes went over our American heads it was really enjoyable. 

On Thursday we had a class cancelled due to the professor being sick.  So I decided to make pancakes and eggs. After some trial and error they turned out rather delicious. My first pancakes in two months! After that I headed to Oxford Circus for what turned out to be a particularly frustrating day of shopping.  Let's just put it this way, the British don't have curves like we Italian Americans everything I could find was a skinny jean.  Doesn't work for me.  So I headed home, grabbed some internet time and made some dinner.  Laura and I then decided to take advantage of the cheap drinks at Giraffe again.  Call it a study break.  So we headed back and picked up some drinks and dessert.  Cheescake. YUM.  Good food and a good friend made it a successful night.  By the time we got back I was thoroughly content and sleepy.  Passed out without doing a stitch of homework.  Meh.

Friday we got up and got ready to go to meet our professor. Now, due to poor communication we didn't know she had rescheduled Thursday's class to Friday.  So we waited in the wrong location for a half hour.  We called our program director to ask what was up; Sarah (that day's professor) had not given us her cell number. So frustrating.  When word finally came back we were forced to meet up with her in a different part of town.  So we finally got there an hour later and were perturbed to find her unapologetic and even angry at us (the whole class).  We were in for a very longgg class. 3.5 hours later we made it back to 270.  My roommate Laura, angry about missing a skype date, and I headed to the King's Head for a pint and internet connection.  Frustrating day. We decided to shake it off and have a good night.  We ended up at a club in Earl's Court with a great DJ and no cover. Success!  After grabbing some kebobs on the way home, we crashed. 

Yesterday Laura and I went to Cambridge! We explored the city and the many colleges.  There was a really cool market in the center of town and we just had a really fun time wandering.  It actually looked a lot like Oxford.  We grabbed some dinner at a mexican restaurant satisfying our constant craving for tex mex.  Really good tacos with cheese melted at the bottom of the tortilla.  We still had some time before our return bus and we went in search of a pub.  We got a couple of pints and ordered a dessert to share. (Can you see a trend forming?) We wanted to be adventurous with our selection and picked Banoffee Pie. BEYOND AMAZING. It bananas and carmel and the softest pie crust imaginable.  So sweet and an agreed upon favorite.  I should look it up to find out exactly what we ate. Wonderful wonderful.  We headed back to the bus and headed back to Londontown.  On the way, I'm rather sad to say, I finished my copy of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  I always forget how much I love those books.  There is something so satisfying and yet so sad about finishing a good book.  I guess it's a sentiment that only book lovers will understand.  I hate to the leave the world of Hogwarts behind.  I do have a book I need to read for class so I suppose it's a good thing to be done. 

Thoroughly exhausted from the busy day, we had a girl's night and watched Sex and the City...And now we're back to the present.  I should go make some breakfast and get my busy day started.  Oh, and a shoutout to Granny and Puppup. Thanks for the wonderful St. Patty's Day card.  I found it on my bed when I returned from Cambridge and it was a great surprise.  I love that my little blog has readers and I hope you're able to see a bit of the world from my eyes as I encounter adventure after adventure.

Papers await.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

You Say You Want a Revolution

Ahh Wednesday...Hump Day...I'm currently sitting in a pub called The King's Head mooching their free internet and devouring overpriced (but delicious) nachos with my roommate.  I've been jam packing my days with exploring London in my precious remaining time.  You know the drill by now.  I'll backtrack a bit...

Monday night I went to see Measure for Measure with my class at the Almeida Theater.  It was wonderful and the actors created really dynamic and interesting characters that I didn't expect.  The stage was really interesting and there were two moving walls that created the backdrop of four different settings.  I would give the performance a solid A- (cuz there's always room for improvement).  So it was a nice night at the theater.  Afterwards I headed to McDonald's to mooch off of their free internet until about 1 am.

270 officially does not have internet between now and our departure from London.  Ultimately frustrating and leaving us all scrambling for internet cafes and ambiance a bit nicer than McDonald's. 

Anyways... On Tuesday we had class at the Soane Museum which was pretty interesting.  After that I headed to King's Cross to meet up with my roommate and visit Platform 9 3/4 which was cool.  However, the station was under construction so 9 3/4 is tucked away back in a hard to find corner.  It will be nice when renovations are over with but for now it's kind of a let down.  We took some obligatory photos and went in search of the British Library.  The British Library was pretty cool.  They had this exhibit that held (among other things) some original writings of DaVinci, early copies of Shakespeare, early editions of Alice and Wonderland, hundreds of years old Biblical texts...the list goes on and on.  It was totally totally cool.  A couple of exhibitions had closed the day before so there wasn't much else that we could explore.  So we went to the bookstore, and I picked up some pretty neat postcards.  I've decided to start an elephant postcard collection.  I found a really neat postcard at St. Paul's with elephants on it and bought it for myselft.  And then I saw a really cool elephant postcard at the library and so a collection is born.  Elephants are my fav animal and you'd have to see the postcards to believe me, but they're lovely.  We headed back to 270 and I went to find internet once again.

Last night I went to see Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  OMG! IT WAS FANTASTIC! Excuse the intense use of capitals but it was just that good.  The acting was INCREDIBLE.  LOVE LOVE LOVE the whole thing.  The stage was wonderful.  By far my favorite play I've seen so far.  I had tears in my eyes by the end.  So powerful, so moving.  Yes, I'm gushing.  No, I don't care. You would too if you'd just seen it. Trust me.  I left the theater shaking with enthusiasm.  I'm writing my final paper for my theater class on the production and I'm actually excited to write it.  Woot. Oh, and it was the first time I'd seen American accents on stage since being here and there was something rather comforting about that southern drawl.

Today I had class and got to meet the actor who played Angelo in Measure for Measure.  He was incredibly well spoken and one of my favorite character depictions in the play.  He was absolutely fascinating and provided some very interesting insight into the play.

After class we went in search of Abbey Road (hence the title of the blog).  We took a couple of photos while trying to dodge traffic.  Then we signed the wall and joined thousands of others in our tribute to The Beatles.  What a historic place! And now I will never get Hey Jude out of my head...

Tonight is our last play for class.  We're seeing London Assurance at the National Theater tonight.  It will be so weird not going to plays once we get to Florence.  I bought tickets to Les Miserables next week so at least I'll have one more play to look forward to. I have so much homework to do and I'm steadily checking things off my list.  Only a few more "Must dos" before I leave Londontown left on my list. 


Monday, March 8, 2010

The Great Outdoors

So as I mentioned earlier, the past week or so we have been have the most wonderful sunshine here in London.  As such, I decided that yesterday was the perfect opportunity to take advantage of it.  And I felt the profound need for a day of solitary exploration.  I hopped on the Tube and headed over to Hyde Park.  I had yet to go there and it was absolutely beautiful. And HUGE.  I walked around a bit, watched some rollerbladers with envy (I lovee rollerblading), took some photos, and found a spot on a bench in the sun to sit down.  I read Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and generally enjoyed the sense of spring in the air.  Days like yesterday are the kind of days that restore my faith that spring is coming.  It won't be cold forever and everything seems to spring to life. 

A side note on something I love about London:  Everytime I get on the Tube I see lots of people reading.  And they're not just reading newspapers and magazines; they're reading novels.  And it's usually young people that I see doing this.  Oh, and there is poetry on the tube.  There William Blake quotes and such.  William Blake stands out to me because he happens to be one of my favorites.  I like to scare mom and tell her I'm coming back from Europe with Blake poetry tattooed on my body somewhere.  Who knows? It could happen. 

Back to Sunday...After hanging out a bit in Hyde Park I started to get chilly from sitting still.  I quickly realized how close I was to Buckingham Palace.  Another place to check off my list! So I walked in that direction.  On the way I stopped by the Duke of Wellington memorial and a cluster of other various memorials along the way.  Pictures to come.  I stolled through Green Park and found my way to the palace.  It was really pretty.  I can't imagine what both Hyde Park and Green Park would look like later into the spring and summer.  It was beautiful without many leaves, but I'm willing to bet it would be pretty stunning with everything in bloom.  I'm flying out of London at the end of the program in May so I might come back a day before my flight in order to revisit some places like Hyde Park.

After getting a full look at Buckingham Palace I decided to head over to Covent Garden, only a few stops away on the Tube.  It's a pretty massive shopping area.  There were really fun street performers everywhere.  I went to the Covent Garden Market and enjoyed the general merriment and activity on the street.  Oh, and I found a cupcake shop and treated myself to a red velvet cupcake. YUM. I perused some shops and found the most beautiful scarf and spring jacket (that I swear I need) for about 100 pounds.  After absorbing sticker shock, I decided it was time to head home.  Needed to be away from temptation. I balk over plane tickets that are more than 40 pounds, so I simply couldn't rationalize away that kind of money. Sad but I'll live. I went home, made dinner, talked to Bethy on skype, and settled down with Measure for Measure that I needed to read for class.

Today I had class and then went to explore a local cemetary.  Yes, this sounds incredibly morbid.  And yes, I felt very strange taking photos in a cemetary but it was really beautiful.  I find that the way different cultures handle death and the afterlife is really fascinating.  Now, I'm back in an internet cafe trying to find the cheapest way possible to get from Nice to Florence.  Time's running out to make this purchase so I had better get to it.

I was standing next to a man on the Tube lift yesterday who was at least 7 feet tall, no exaggeration.  And I couldn't help but wonder how life must look from up there.  All of my photos pretty much represent what the world looks like from my 5'3'' frame.  It's kind of interesting to think about.  Totally a random side thought. 

Tonight I'm off to the Almeida Theater to see Measure for Measure.  It's gotten great reviews so I'm rather excited. 

Love me some Shakespeare.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

P.S. Tex Mex

I totally forgot to mention that I finally got my desired Mexican food! Right when Laura and I got off of the bus we were starving so we went in search of food.  Only a block away was a place called The Mission.  It was basically the British equivalent to Chipotle.  We practically ran there out of excitement. Sooo delicious.  I had steak tacos and tortilla chips.  Bliss. Mission accomplished. :)

(Insert Title with Alliteration Here)

Alas it's Sunday once again.  I seriously don't know where the time goes anymore.  I now only have one weekend left until I leave London.  Anna and I fly out bright and early on March 19th for Belgium.  Very excited.  Much to do in the next two weeks.  Two finals. Two final projects. Multiple plays to read.  It's going to be hectic.  Oh yeah, and I still have major exploring to do.  I'm currently eating breakfast and watching Criminal Minds (Thanks for getting me hooked mom).  Off to a bit of a late start.  Let me backtrack a bit and get you all up to speed.

Thursday was a really busy but fun day.  For class we went on the Spitalfields walk.  The area is a big business area.  The architecture was pretty interesting and brand new.  The area almost has a Chicago kind of feeling to it.  I guess the clean lines and colors of the buildings reminded a bit of home.  It was an absolutely beautiful day out.  We then walked towards Brick Lane which has a ton of vintage shops and a very eclectic feel.  Then we went to this place called Dennis Seaver's house.  Apparently an American in the 70s bought a house from the 1700s and decided to restore it to its former glory.  You aren't allowed to speak at all and are supposed to pretend as though you have walked back in time.  The detailing on this home is incredible.  Everything from the floors, to the smells is ridiculously authentic.  It was a very cool and very bizarre at the same time.  Thursday night we went to see a production of Ghosts.  The director was actually one of the lead actors. It was a pretty interesting production.  The lead actress was amazing.  Not my favorite play but certainly very interesting. 

Friday I had class and afterwards I really wanted to go to a bookstore.  I went and picked up a copy of Harry Potter.  A. I'm in London and it's seems utterly appropriate.  B. I really needed a fun book. C. I went to Oxford yesterday and got to see where they filmed parts of the Harry Potter movies. (Incredible!)  Friday night we went out for a bit and called it an early night.

So, OXFORD! Yesterday my roommate Laura and I decided to go see Oxford.  A guy I know from Lake Forest is going there for the semester. We're class friends and I don't know him really outside the classroom. But since I was in the area I gave him a call.  He ended up serving as our tour guide for the rest of the day.  It was spectacularly beautiful.  We explored the area, learned all about the many Oxford colleges, and had a really good time.  We then went to see a rowing competition.  Rowing is hugeee at Oxford.  It was another beautiful day.  Laura and I totally nerded out. It was one of those moments that you have to step back and remember where you are. We were at Oxford on a beautiful day watching the Christ Church rowing team kick ass and take names. Pinch me.  We then went out to dinner with Paul (the LFC kid) and a bunch of his friends to a pub.  It was a really good time. There were serious intellectual debates going on which was really entertaining and refreshing.  Just a seriously awesome night.  We went back to Paul's flat, bought a bottle of wine, met his roommates, and then went out to another pub.  We just sat there for a couple of hours talking and laughing.  Around midnight Laura and I realized that we had a two hour bus ride home so we called it a night.  I seriously need to thank Paul for showing us around and entertaining us all day.  It was simply fantastic. 

Now I think I'm going to go to Hyde Park and perhaps explore the top two floors of the Tate Modern.  We'll see where the day goes.  I have to read Measure for Measure and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof tonight so I'll be plenty busy. 

Two weeks left in London...

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Side Note: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is directed by Debbie Allen NOT Debbie Reynolds.  Very different people. My bad. :)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

From Funk to Fun

Alright, I'll admit it, I've been in a bit of a funk for the past couple of days for a multitude of mundane reasons. I still haven't finished a paper I have due tomorrow (and that I'll be working on post this post (ha!)). But I've received some rather epic advice from John that I am choosing to follow.  He gave me many words of wisdom but here are just a few:  Start small, revel in each victory, indulge in the mundane.  You've got to give it to the kid, he's got a way with words.  So, I'm choosing to follow his advice and go from there. 
Things are certainly looking up.  The sun is shining, the skies are blue, and I'm off to an Ibsen play called Ghosts this evening. Yesterday I went to both the National Gallery and Foundling Hospital Museum for class.  The National Gallery proved once again to be beyond beautiful.  We looked at some Hogarth paintings, noted the satire, and headed out.  Between museums I stopped and had some lunch at this charming little park outside the next museum.  We've had some pretty gorgeous weather here the past couple of days.  Warmth from the sun?  I didn't even remember what it felt like anymore.  (Now I can't wait for suntans to come).  Next it was off to the highly depressing Foundling Hospital Museum.  It memorialized a hospital that took in orphans and children of parents incapable of caring for them.  They had staggering numbers about how many children died before the age of 2, how many children were abandoned each year, and how many died from work related injuries before the age of 5.  Crazy depressing statistics.  Very interesting though I might add.
After that bit of optimism I came back to work on a paper and make dinner.  Last night we saw a production of Off the Endz, which was pretty fantastic.  It's a play written by an black British woman about three characters trying to "get off the Endz," the endz being similar to the American projects/ghetto.  It was an extremely modern, dynamic, and unique play.  Plus, I got to sit in the second row! (And it doesn't hurt that the male leads were not too hard on the eyes).  All in all, a very enjoyable evening at the theater.
Today I've had class and am now restricting myself to the internet cafe down the street from 270.  Oh! And, very exciting news! I just bought a ticket for Cat on the Hot Tin Roof, directed by Debbie Reynolds and featuring an awesome cast.  Let's see...James Earl Jones, Phylicia Rashad, Adrian Lester...just to name a few. The ticket was only 10 pounds so I decided to see it just for fun.  Cuz how could I pass up an opportunity like that? So next week will be a very busy play week for me.
Off to finish this paper.  The sooner I finish, the sooner I can begin celebrating finishing. Ha.
Eyes on the prize.