Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Deformed Creatures and Star-Cross'd Lovers

Hey all! So, I have quite a bit to talk about, and I'll do my best to make sure I mention all of it.

My weekend (starting on Friday, since I have no classes on Friday's) was pretty uneventful. I wanted to get a lot of reading done, since I was assigned both Romeo and Juliet and Frankenstein to be read by the following week, along with my own books that I haven't really touched since the plane ride over. So, I mostly spent the weekend indoors, reading three books at once, something I haven't done since high school. On Friday, I did go for a bit of a walk from ISH to Charing Cross, a street well known for its bookshops. It was about a 20-25 minute walk, and I went down various busy, popular streets on the way such as Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street. At one point, I was approached by an old man in a battered tan coat with missing teeth, who smiled at me and said, "A min-it of yoor time, luv?" I just shook my head and kept walking. Thank you for those lessons you gave me years ago about walking in big cities, Mom.

Monday was England Through the Middle Ages, and a trip to the famous National Theatre for both a backstage tour and a production of Frankenstein, with Johnny Lee Morris and Benedict Cumberbatch as Victor Frankenstein and his infamous creature. I have a lot to say about the play, but I'm jumping ahead.

In history class, we were each assigned various points in English history that we'll be discussing throughout the semester, to do a fifteen minute presentation on whatever we were assigned. I volunteered myself as one of two people to talk about the Wars of the Roses, a period that I've wanted to read about in detail for awhile. So, I'll be spending the next few weeks reading Alison Weir's book "Lancaster and York: The Wars of the Roses" front to back. For anyone back home interested in picking it up, I believe in the U.S. it's simply called "The Wars of the Roses." Next week, we'll be going to the Tower of London, so I'm definitely excited about that^_^

Half the class, including me, had to be let out thirty minutes early (this was accomplished by my theatre teacher, Susie, promising my history teacher, Keith, to buy him a pint at the end of the semester) so we could have enough time to get to the National Theatre by 5:30 for a backstage tour. We took the bus, the first time on this trip I've been on a double decker. We got there in about 15-20 minutes, being let off at the end of Waterloo Bridge. Here's a picture of the outside of the National, taken right after I got off the bus:

Yes, it tends to be that cloudy and gloomy here on a regular basis. I'm glad my mood isn't dependent on the weather like it is for other people.

The National Theatre is huge, containing three different theatres at various sizes: the Olivier, the Lyttleton, and the Cottesloe. My theatre class is going to see a play in all three, with Frankenstein being performed in the Oliver. The Olivier is the biggest of the three, bigger than the Bingham theater in Actor's, but only by about 100-150 seats. I couldn't take any pictures during the tour, so I'm afraid I don't have more pictures to share.

Frankenstein started at 7:30, lasting two hours with no intermission. And Oh My God, was Benedict Cumberbatch PHENOMENAL. He carried the entire play. He and Johnny Lee Morris, for each performance, switch the roles of Victor and the creature. I got to see Benedict as the Creature, which I am extremely grateful for, because the Creature is definitely the primary focus in this adaptation. One very crucial difference about theatre in Britain versus America, we were warned in class last week by Susie, is that it is not considered improper for actors to be naked on stage, or to have sex. Such was the case here, because for the first ten minutes of the play, Benedict was completely, utterly naked. It was a fascinating thing to see, because, as Susie said, not one person in the audience made a sound during those ten minutes. Benedict was amazing. During those ten minutes, he was crawling and writhing on the stage, learning and adjusting to his body like a newborn, which he technically was. Later in the play, when Victor is making a female for the Creature, a woman came onto the stage, also totally naked.

On the other hand, there was a point near the end of the play where the Creature murders Victor's new wife Elizabeth. He rapes her (which the audience didn't really react to other than a general sense of horror,) but then right afterwards, he snaps her neck. I winced, due more to the sudden, sharp sound that was used to convey the snapping of a neck, but almost the whole audience gasped aloud when that happened. This confirmed another thing Susie told us, which was that the British look at violence the way Americans do nudity.

As I said earlier, Benedict carried the whole play. He looked, acted, and sounded nothing like Sherlock, which is how a lot of the people reading this blog know him from, if they know him at all. He was covered in scars, and his head got the Nero treatment, except it was deliberately only half done, so that you could see his hair beneath the "skin" on his head, making it look more crude and adding to the "hideousness" of his form. He spoke in a slightly higher voice than he does for Sherlock, with guttural, stilted speech, even when the Creature fully learns English. I learned later that the guttural, nonsensical sounds that the Creature makes before he learns English are all scripted, which impressed me even more. It's one thing to memorize lines- it's another to memorize nonsensical sounds.

One last point on the play: the music was gorgeous. It was very techno, which doesn't sound right for a play like Frankenstein, but it worked. It was apparently recorded by a popular techno group in the U.K. called Underworld. You can find numerous CD's of theirs on iTunes. I'm really, really hoping that they'll release the score at one point, because it really was gorgeous to listen to. Hopefully they will, since the group is so popular.

Today was Shakespeare class, and we spent the whole time analyzing/talking about Romeo and Juliet. Ruth, my teacher, likes Romeo and Juliet a lot more than a number of my other English teachers have, which is a refreshing change. I don't love or hate the play, which is a rare opinion to have in regards to Shakespeare's most famous, well-known tragedy, but I do have to say that I appreciate it a little more than I did in high school. There are a lot more signs than I noticed the first time that the two lovers are completely screwed from the start, which made me look more favorably on the play as a whole. My class is going to see the play performed in Stratford-Upon-Avon, Shakespeare's birthplace, next week, along with Antony and Cleopatra.

Aaand that's pretty much what's happened since Thursday! I'm sorry its taken me this long to put up another blog post, but I feel like I only should unless I have interesting things to talk about. The next post will be the long-awaited one on the various portraits that I decided were my favorite from the National Portrait Gallery, so stay tuned.

Until then!


Monday, February 21, 2011

Quick Note

Hey all! I'm afraid I'm too tired tonight to type out a full blog post tonight. However, I promise I will do so tomorrow, with updates on what I did over the weekend (nothing too exciting,) what exactly I'm doing for my England Through the Middle Ages class, and my experience with the National Theatre, both with getting a backstage tour as well as seeing "Frankenstein" with Benedict Cumberbatch as the infamous creature!

Until tomorrow!


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Class, Class, Class!

Hello, all! Since my last post, I've had my other three classes, so that's what this post is going to focus on, along with a number of small, random events that have occurred since Monday.

I had my Shakespeare class on Wednesday. The professor's name is Ruth, and I already feel affectionate towards her, because she really is adorable. Like every other teacher I've had who's taught me Shakespeare, she is very passionate about the Bard and has seen all of his plays performed multiple times. To my shock, I don't have to write a paper, the only class I don't have to. I do have a midterm and final exam, both involving close passage reading (I thought of Julie as that phrase was used,) but the only play we're seeing that I haven't read or seen on stage is King Lear (my mom's favorite Shakespearean play,) so I think I'll do pretty well. We're seeing our first two plays, Romeo and Juliet and Antony and Cleopatra, in one weekend in Stratford-upon-Avon, so that'll be exciting. Here are all the plays we're seeing (along with one we're only reading,) in order:

  • Romeo and Juliet
  • Antony and Cleopatra
  • King Lear
  • As You Like It (read-through only)
  • The Tempest
We're also going to watch the movie Shakespeare in Love at the very end of the semester, a movie that Ruth is apparently obsessed with. I've seen it numerous times, but it'll be enjoyable to watch it again.

Today, I had my London Stage and Contemporary Britain classes, both of which I'm very excited about^_^ London Stage is taught by a woman, Susie Thomas, who is, naturally, very passionate and open minded about the theatre. I'm seeing Frankenstein (WITH BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH, YES!) this Monday, and, to my surprise, she's assigned us the actual Mary Shelley text, to be read by class next week. Hopefully, I'll enjoy it more than I did the first time I read it, when I was a freshman in high school. I have to write four analyses on plays we see (we're seeing eleven total, including the one we saw on Monday,) as well as a final paper on a broad topic that interests me about one or more of the plays we see, or a general aspect of British theatre. We've also each been assigned one of the plays to lead a discussion on, and I ended up with the final play of the semester, a modern take on Electra by Sophocles. I'll definitely talk about each of the plays I see on this blog.

I'm already in love with Contemporary Britain, my political science class. It's taught by an older man, Michael (or Mike,) who makes fun of the French and Irish, is very candid and frank about the numerous differences between the British and the Americans, and thinks Princess Diana is/was overrated. I find him very entertaining. I have to write two papers for the class, a midterm one and a final one. The midterm has to be on my personal (with cited sources to back me up) views on three aspects on British society. The final is more intense,  having to focus on one particular aspect of British life and culture with lots of external sources. The topics themselves are basically up to me. I also have to read British newspapers on a regular basis (I'm planning on focusing on The Guardian,) and at one point will have to present a particular article, my choice, and how it can relate back to things we've talked about in class. Here are the various locations we'll be going to throughout the semester:

  • Westminster walk (Westminster Abbey, Parliament, Big Ben)
  • Imperial War Museum
  • St. Paul's Cathedral
  • Parliament
  • A football match
  • A mosque
We're also going to be having a discussion with a homeless woman who's lived on the streets of London for 17 years, which should be fascinating. According to Mike, she'll also be bringing her "hairy, four-legged creature" with her.

During our break for Contemporary Britain, we had a proper tea time, with hot tea, coffee, and water (milk and sugar included,) with various cakes and treats. I had my first cuppa, and really enjoyed it. One of the treats passed around were these DELICIOUS chocolate caramel squares, with real actual caramel, not the kind of stuff you get from a Milky Way bar. They can easily become addicting- I'm glad I only had access to one small square.

A few small events worth noting: I went to another pub last night, this time to the University of Lodon Union pub. I had a Southern Comfort with cranberry juice for 2.50, a very nice deal. I showed up with one group and ended up staying behind with another, also in the Hollins program, until close to ten. There was a football match going on, so there were a lot of guys in groups yelling and cheering on the team that wasn't Barcelona (I can't remember which specific one it was.) Football (what we call soccer) is taken VERY seriously here. According to my History professor, the way you are regarded as an individual in the U.K. is largely based on what football team you support.

I passed my first protest on my way back to ISH tonight. I'm not entirely certain which building it was in front of, I think it was an HSBC building (a huge banking company,) but the protest was definitely about health care. It was a protest against privatizing health care (boy, isn't that familiar?) and it may have been being held by the employees of the bank, I'm not entirely sure. I didn't stick by too long to find out, since I was warned by Sara at the beginning of orientation to not get involved in any way with protests in London.

Also, yesterday I didn't have class until 3:00, so I left around 12:30 and walked to a nearby chain restaurant/buffet/take-away (I refuse to label it as fast food) called Wasabi, to try out their food. It's a fantastic set-up: you can get individual pieces of sushi, or whole packages of it. You can also get things like teriyaki chicken, fried rice, and grilled salmon in take-away boxes for really cheap prices. I got the teriyaki chicken, and could only eat half of the container they gave me. For the cheap prices, it was pretty good. I'll definitely go back sometime soon.

I have no classes tomorrow, so I'm planning on going down Tottenham Court Road/Oxford Street/Charing Cross Road tomorrow to get a feel for the area. I'm particularly looking forward to going down Charing Cross, a street of nothing but different bookshops, mainly independent ones. My stack of books in my room is already nearing the top of my laptop screen; thank God Mom is coming up in April and taking some of it back with her.

I've promised several people pictures of the portraits I particularly admired in the National Portrait Gallery (God, that's a lot of words that start with "P,") and I will post those, more than likely tomorrow. There will also be pictures soon of the outside of ISH and Connaught Hall, since I realized I hadn't yet taken pictures of either.

Until then, mates!


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Biscuits, Anyone?

Hello, all! So, a good bit has happened between my last post and this one, so I'll try to remember all of it.

I officially started the semester yesterday, with my England Through the Middle Ages class. I'm really looking forward to this class, since I haven't had the chance to have a history class since I graduated from high school. Plus, I have a lot of knowledge and interest in British history, particularly the Tudor period, so I'm looking forward to finally putting that knowledge to good use.

Our teacher's name is Keith, and he is everything I like about the British: witty, dry, and sarcastic. He made me laugh at least five times during class. He also has the perfect Sherlock Holmes nose: long and straight. We're going to have one 2,000 word paper on whatever topic we choose (hello, Thomas Cromwell!) along with a presentation, a midterm test, and a final exam. Admittedly, my very first reaction to reading through the syllabus was: "Only one paper? That's it?" Yes, I am a battle-hardened English major. I've had to produce three to four 1,700-2,000 word papers for one class alone in the past. Throughout the semester, we'll be going to the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, the Museum of London, St. Bart's Church, the Guildhall, and Hampton Court. Sooo excited, for all of it^_^ There will be reports on all visitations, I promise!

After the introduction and run-through of the syllabus, Keith took us to the British Museum, now my second trip there. We only stayed for about an hour, looking through various Anglo-Saxon items on display, then told us we were free to look through the museum at our own pace, or leave if we wanted to. I wanted to stay, but I had to run back to ISH to eat dinner and get ready for the first play I had to see for my theatre class, so I left.

I ended up eating at Pret A Manger again, only this time I decided to extend my boundaries a little bit and bought a toasted ham, cheese, and mustard sandwich, only it wasn't mustard as Americans know it. I can't remember exactly what it was called, but it was some kind of mustard/mayonnaise hybrid. Surprisingly, I ended up really liking it, and would definitely get it again. Be proud of me, Mom, I had a sandwich with mustard in it.

Wendy made fun of me for it, but I was raised to dress nicely when going to the theatre, even if it were in a little, intimate one as the Tricycle Theatre was. I put on a knit dress with black tights, a denim jacket, and Ugg boots. Wendy and I took the Tube to Kilburn, where the theatre was (about a 20-25 minute trip,) and easily found the theatre down the street, which is both a cinema and a theatre. The play we saw, which was a fringe play (a performance with a lot of improv and hardly any props) was called "Water," written in the 1980's. Here's a link to a trailer and synopsis of the play:


I really enjoyed it- it was all done by three actors, who all had an impressive range of accents. It was both a social and political commentary on numerous subjects, including global warming and our growing inability to connect to other human beings on a basic level while becoming more isolated due to technology. I'm making it sound like it was one long lecture, but artistically, it was beautifully done with many levels of emotion involved. For my first play while in London, it was a huge success. I'm looking forward to talking about it in class on Thursday.

I have no classes on Tuesday, so I had today off. I decided I wanted to go see the Waterstone's bookstore (I'm a bibliophile as well as an Anglophile,) on Piccadilly. It really is gigantic, with just as many floors as the one near Connaught Hall, only with a lot more space. I found a book that may or may not be my life saver in regards to the current problems I'm having with my latest creative writing project: The Woman in the Story, by screenwriter Helen Jacey. It helps the writer sort out exactly what kind of female character they want in their piece, as well as why and what you may or may not want to avoid in characterizing said female according to the type of plot you want to tackle. It might also be a good reference for when I (hopefully) do my thesis next year on the evolution and hindrances of the fictional female character of the recent past as well as the present.

But anyway, I'm rambling. Moving on.

After I left Waterstone's (which I was in for close to three hours,) I walked further down Piccadilly to find the famous, elegant department store Fortnum & Mason's. It definitely lived up to its reputation: my parents would have loved to shop there, but my frugal self wanted to cower in a corner when I spied some of the prices. They sell very nice products in many categories, with the whole first floor selling nothing but tea, biscuits, chocolates, and various desserts. I really wanted to buy a tin of chocolate biscuits (cookies, as us Americans would call them,) but of course I didn't. After I left Fortnum & Mason's, I started to make my way back to the Tube station, since it was starting to rain. On the way, however, I ran into Starbucks (le gasp!) and bought a skinny blueberry muffin, which I ate later back in the room. Very good, by the way.

Wendy and I met back in the room, and went out to dinner right next door to a chain restaurant called Pizza Express, an fancier place to get pizza. I had a light margherita pizza, and shared an interesting dessert that I've seen in numerous restaurants around London: banoffee pie. It was delicious, a combination of banana, toffee, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce, with a cookie crumble crust. I only had three bites of it (I wanted a lot more,) but it was wonderful. I would definitely recommend it. The pizza, mineral water, and dessert only cost me around twelve pounds.

Tomorrow, I have my first Shakespeare class. I won't be seeing plays for that until March, when my class goes to Stratford-upon-Avon for a weekend. There, we'll be seeing Anthony and Cleopatra and Romeo and Juliet. Very exciting^_^

Until then, mates!


Saturday, February 12, 2011

National Portrait Gallery

Hello, all^_^ I ended up not doing anything yesterday, spending the day in ISH recovering from running around all week. I woke up with sore muscles in my ankles and calves, so I thought it would be good to take it easy so I could do what I wanted this weekend. I got up this morning around 9:30, and, concerned that it was going to rain in the afternoon, decided to go to the art museum I was interested in seeing the most, the National Portrait Gallery. It ended up not raining today, but I definitely don't regret going- I had an amazing time.

The Hammersmith, Metropolitan, and City lines were all closed (and probably will be tomorrow,) so I had to walk down to Baker Street to get onto the lines I needed to be on in order to get down to Trafalgar, where the museum is. I had no issues, though the Piccadilly line was packed with people while I was going through it. I had written directions with me in case I had troubles finding the building, but it was very easy to spot. Here's a picture I took of the outside:

Unfortunately, just like with Windsor, I couldn't take pictures once I got inside. I spent about 2 1/2 hours inside, and it was just amazing. I'm very passionate about British royalty, and I got to see rooms and rooms of different famous portraits of different monarchs. Any well-known painting that comes into your head that you've seen in books or on handouts, it was here. I wanted to get the full experience, so I spent 3 pounds on an audio guide. It was definitely worth it- I could either get information about different portraits depending on what floor and room I was in, or I could get information on specific portraits that were picked for specific interests that people may have. There were five categories for these themed tours, but I only remember three: Highlights of the Portrait Gallery, Kings and Queens, and Science and Technology. I walked through all three floors, but I went through the Highlights and Kings and Queens tours.

I did the Kings and Queens tour first. It was a phenomenal experience, walking through all those rooms with all those beautiful portraits. Some of them were little miniatures, and some were gigantic, the size of an entire wall. I was proud of myself for being able to identify every portrait in the Tudor room without needing to check the placards next to them. The Victoria ones in particular were all gorgeous, and there was one of Queen Anne which I admired for close to five minutes. Again, I'm sorry for the lack of pictures>_< If people want me to, I'd be happy to look up the different portraits online that were my favorite and post them on here.

After the Kings and Queens tour, I took the Highlights tour, though two of the thirteen portraits that were a part of that tour were out being used in special exhibits in other museums, including the most well-known portrait of William Shakespeare. I read on the placard that it's being used all winter in multiple museums for an exhibit called "Writers of Influence: Shakespeare to J.K. Rowling." God, I'd love to see an exhibit like that. Other portraits that were included in the Highlights tour included one of Elizabeth I, Charles Dickens, and T.S. Eliot.

By the time I had ended the Highlights tour, I was feeling really hungry and a little lightheaded, which was unfortunate because I could have happily spent another hour just walking around the museum. However, I knew I had to get some food, so I dropped off the audio guide and left, walking over to a French deli that has chains all over the city called Pret A Manager, where I got a takeaway lunch of a toasted tomato, cheese, and pesto sandwich with a bag of crisps (yes, I got some crisps,) a small container of seedless grapes, and a bottle of water. I took it with me back to ISH; the sandwich was still a little warm by the time I got back to my room. It was all delicious, and I don't feel guilty at all about eating the crisps. I was starving, and I need to start eating like a person on a normal diet.

On the way back, after I left the Baker Street station, I ran into this lovely statue:

So, that was nice to see^_^ I never get tired of Sherlock Holmes. I still need to take a picture of the inside of the Baker Street station, it has the classic silhouette of Holmes all over the walls. Also, Madame Tussauds is right next to the station, and it was PACKED. There was a line going outside and down the street. So, note to self and anyone else: if you want to go to Madame Toussauds, book ahead.

I don't what the plans for tomorrow are. It's supposed to rain, so I might go spend the afternoon in one of the many large shopping centers in the city. Fortnum and Mason's looks the most interesting to me (other than Harrod's, but I don't want that to be my first shopping experience in the city.) So, we'll see what happens.

Until then!


Thursday, February 10, 2011


Hello, all^_^ Today I spent another day out running around from morning to night. I definitely feel like I'm going out and experiencing everything I can within a twelve hour period. Honestly, I feel proud of myself.

At 9:00, Wendy and I left ISH and got on the tube to get to Waterloo, a major station that is both part of the Underground and has trains that leave the city. We met up as a group and got on the 9:58 train to Windsor and Eton. There were multiple stops on the way, so the ride took about 50 minutes. Here are some pictures of the inside of the train:

I really wish we had trains like these in the U.S.- maybe we would have less car accidents. The Tube and train stations are seriously how the majority of people get around to their jobs and so forth. I see more businessmen traveling around this way than anyone else.

But anyway.

Unfortunately, it was chilly and rainy today, so I couldn't linger outside Windsor like I wanted to, but I still got a number of pictures. Windsor is beautiful, but huge- it's impossible to get a picture that encompasses the whole castle. However, I did my best.

I'm sorry to say that one isn't allowed to take any pictures at all of the inside of either Windsor or St. George's Chapel, but I'll do my best to describe all the things I saw.

Sara, our director, was able to get a great group deal that allowed us to see both the Windsor state apartments and Queen Mary's dolls' house, which I'd been unable to see the last time I was here. My group of friends entered through the Queen Mary entrance, and saw the doll house first. It was huge, at least six feet tall. It was very intricately detailed, containing a miniature version of every room imaginable, including the servant's rooms. It even included the gardens. There was electricity for the lights, and the tiny plates on the tables were made of silver. It was a beautiful piece of work, especially for when it was made: 1924.

In the next room over were dresses, shoes, and gloves for the dolls that were given to then Princess Elizabeth and her younger sister. The doll's names are France and Marianne, and it definitely puts my American Girls dolls to shame. The dresses were made by the leading French designers of the day, and they definitely look like smaller versions of the dresses that I'm sure the princesses themselves wore.

Past that room was the beginning of the state apartments, an absolutely gorgeous display that I can't possibly replicate with words. I found a picture of the biggest room on display, St. George's Hall, for you to get a feel of what all of the rooms looked like as a whole:

This is the room where the Queen has receptions, state banquets, and so on. It's a very long room, 185 feet to be exact, and is covered in miniature versions of all of the royal and noble family crests through English history up to today. It's very impressive. The other rooms that we saw included:

  • The King's Drawing Room
  • The King's Bedchamber
  • The King's Dressing Room
  • The Queen's Drawing Room
  • The Queen's Ballroom
  • The King's Dining Room- This room contained portraits of Henry VII and his three children: Mary I, Edward VI, and Elizabeth I. The Elizabeth I one was the one made when she was fifteen, one of my favorites of hers. It was wonderful to be able to see it in person.
  • The Lantern Lobby, the location of the 1992 fire which destroyed a good portion of Windsor and had to be completely re-built. This room included armor that Henry VIII wore seven years before his death. Even knowing how large Henry was in his older years, the size of the suit of armor really put the whole thing into perspective for me.
After leaving the castle, we walked down to St. George's Chapel, in which over 32 members of English royalty are buried, including Henry VIII, Prince Albert, Charles I, and George VI. It was a very somber, humble time for me- I sat by the marble slab underneath which contained the remains for Henry VIII, his third wife Jane Seymour, Charles I, and an unnamed infant child of Queen Anne's, for close to 20 minutes. Before I left, I rested my hand on the slab and paid my respects. I also lit a candle by the exit. I found a picture online of the slab in question, so here it is:

After leaving the chapel, my friends and I had a pleasant lunch in the Town of Windsor at a place called Ha Ha Bar and Grill. I had a chicken caesar wrap, the first cooked meat I'd had since last last Friday. After we ate, we went back to the train station, caught the next train, and went back to Waterloo station in London.

When we got back, Wendy decided to go back to ISH, while I went with three of my other friends (Sarah S., Emily U., and Robyn) to Connaught so Emily could catch up with people on the internet service there (she's been having issues with her laptop since we arrived.) While Emily was doing that, Sarah, Robyn and I looked online for a good pub we could check out so we could get something to eat. It was a long, boring process that I won't recount, but after picking one and then deciding to find somewhere else to go once we got there and realized how packed it was, we walked down Euston Road and found a bistro pub called The Rocket. As we were warned at orientation, we had to scope out and snag our own seats, and order what we wanted at the bar.

You'll all be proud- I spontaneously ordered a screwdriver. Here's the proof if you want it:

I did not drink through the straw, FYI. The bartender stuck it there, and I took it out later.

Along with the screwdriver, I had a cheeseburger (which I ate half of- I'm still in diet mode.) We hung out for awhile in the pub, and finally left around 8:30. We walked a few blocks over to King's Cross station, where we split off and went our separate directions. I rode back on my own to my station right outside ISH, and now here I am.

I have no definite plans for tomorrow or this weekend, but the possibilities I currently have in mind are: the Sherlock Holmes Walk I mentioned in my previous post, the National Portrait Gallery (different from the National Gallery,) walking around Oxford Street and/or Piccadilly Circus with friends, and/or walking around Kensington Gardens to get some writing inspiration. Or I could just take it easy in the room tomorrow- I have plenty of time to check out all these places.

Oh well, we'll see. Until then!


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Overview of London

And here's the more relevant post for the majority of people reading this blog, which involves the tour I and the rest of the Hollins abroad students took of the general layout of the beautiful city of London. I will include and identify as many pictures as I can.

A view of the Thames:

The London Eye!

Iconic Big Ben:

The outside of the Royal Courts of Justice:

The front of St. Paul's Cathedral, where Diana married Prince Charles:

Tower Bridge!

Big Ben and Parliament:

The memorial Queen Victoria made for her husband, Prince Albert:

The National Gallery, one of the most popular (if not the most) art museums in the city:

Trafalgar Square:

I'm really sorry for not having more pictures: I was on a moving bus (coach) the whole time, so it was hard to take pictures of some of the places we saw. We virtually went to every major section of London, including Kensington, Westminster, Piccadilly, Covent Garden, Buckingham Palace (kind of, we couldn't get too close,) Hyde Park, and more. I'm hoping to go to all these places myself in the future, so there will be more detailed reports about various locations and buildings. Assuming I'll have time once my classes start on Monday.

Tomorrow's schedule: Windsor Castle! And I'll have as much time as I want to explore! Windsor is gorgeous, and I can't wait to go back there. Unfortunately, I won't be able to take pictures of the inside, but I'll be sure to get plenty of the outside and the town of Windsor, which is right next to it.

Until then!


Sherlock Holmes, Part One

TODAY WAS SHERLOCK HOLMES: DAY ONE! (Yes, there will be more than one day, who do you take me for?) So, if you don't care about my #1 passion, don't read this post, because it will probably bore you. There will be a following one (or I guess in this case, above this one) focusing on the bus tour we took this morning.

Still here? Okay, good. Here we go!

So, after the bus tour ended and we were dropped back at Connaught (again, post on that coming later,) I went on my own back to ISH to get some lunch, then I walked down Marylebone Road towards Baker Street. I'm not surprised they couldn't film any "Sherlock" scenes on Baker Street, because damn, there's a lot of stuff going on on that street. I saw more American fast food places there than I've seen anywhere else so far (a KFC and McDonald's were right next to each other,) and there were a ton of little shops. I made my way down to the end of the street, and THERE IT WAS, OMG.

I walked into the souvenir store right next to the flat entrance, where the copper (hehe) was standing, and paid six pounds for a ticket. I took one look around the shop and knew that at least 1/5 of the total amount of money I'm going to spend in London is probably coming from here. However, I'm jumping ahead, which Holmes doesn't like Watson to do, so I won't either. I left the shop and showed my ticket to the copper, who let me in.


God Sarah, I wish you could have been there with me. The whole thing is every Sherlockian's dream. And yes, that is the famous Reichenbach Falls drawing underneath the hats. I'm sorry that the picture's a little dark, I was trying to be respectful and not use flash.

I climbed up the stairs (yes, it is seventeen steps exactly) up to the sitting room and Holmes's bedroom, which was right next to the sitting room, as it should have been.

What I loved about the whole layout was how accurate it was. The Granada series (the one with Jeremy Brett) really followed this layout well. Here are some more pictures of the sitting room:

Yup yup^_^ That's the jackknife holding down the mail, and that's the Persian slipper which Holmes keeps his tobacco in. There was a bit too much stereotypical/Sydney Paget representation in the museum (like with the deerstalker hat,) but there were so many little things they included from the book canon that I thought it was an even trade.

Watson was there too!! Not my Watson, but still, we had a very pleasant conversation about how exasperating Holmes can be with not eating and sleeping most of the time. I double checked with him over what year it was for him (1895,) so I knew that Devil's Foot hadn't happened yet, when Holmes does end up having a physical fall-out. I reassured him that I was sure he would be fine, as long as he kept on him and made sure he took care of himself.

A few more pictures that I think the general readers of my blog would like to see include written documents of both Holmes and Watson's handwriting (the first two are Watson's, the second is Holmes's,) the Hound of Baskerville's head mounted on the wall (it was HUGE, geez,) and a wax bust of Moriarty as he's depicted in the Sydney Paget drawings:

I have TONS more pictures of things that were in the museum but which I'm pretty sure the majority of people reading this blog won't care about. However, other than Sarah Stone and Becca, anyone who wants me to e-mail the other pictures, please comment below or e-mail me^_^ Also, I took several pictures of the letter above Holmes wrote to Watson, which is during the Hound of the Baskerville's case, so I'd also be happy to send those to people who want to read the whole letter. Needless to say, I absolutely loved it from top to bottom.

Then I went back to the gift shop. I wanted to buy out the whole store, and there are definitely a number of items I'm going to go back for later, including a 15 pound pen and a framed oil painting of Holmes and Watson in their sitting room (30 pounds.) I ended up buying two items for my first trip- a t-shirt (which ended up being a lot bigger than I thought it would be, for a medium,) and an awesome booklet called "The Sherlock Holmes Walk," which gives directions on how to get to all of these different locations mentioned throughout the Sherlock Holmes canon. Guess who's doing that this weekend?

After leaving the museum, I walked over to the Baker Street tube station and went to Euston Square, technically a 20 minute walk, but I didn't feel like walking and knew that I would be walking back anyway. At Euston, I walked across to North Gower Street, the location of where the exterior Baker Street scenes were shot in the recent BBC mini-series "Sherlock." For some reason, I was even more excited about this than the Sherlock Holmes museum. More pictures!

Yes, I am a happy fangirl^_^ For anyone wondering why the sign for a restaurant is included here, it's a restaurant that's right next to the flat door that was used as 221b in "Sherlock." I read online a few months ago that their business has skyrocketed thanks to the show, so that's great for them.

After that, I walked back to ISH on Great Portland, and now I'm in my room typing up this post. My next one will be on the two hour bus tour of London, with more pictures attached!


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The British Experience

Day two of orientation! Today, I was out literally all day, from 9:45 a.m. to 8:45 p.m. Again, I slept all the way through the night, but I decided when I went to bed last night that, instead of feeling springs dig into my legs and hip all night, I would sleep on top of the duvet, while sleeping under my Hollins blanket. I also folded my pillow in half to give it more elevation. Both tactics worked, and I think that's what I'm going to do for now on unless/until I come up with a different solution.

We met back at Connaught Hall and took a tour of the University of London Union (ULU, very funny when saying aloud,) which has a lot of resources which we can use, including a cafe, gym, swimming pool, copier and printer, and a gift shop with different office items. There's also several cash points right outside the building (that's what they're called here in the U.K. instead of ATM's,) so it's really nice that ULU is right by our class building. There's also a big chain bookstore called Waterstone's across from ULU, but I'll get back to that in a minute.

After the ULU tour, we went on a two hour two of the British museum highlights, including the Rosetta Stone, the tomb of Ramses II, and a life sized re-creation of the Parthenon. It was fascinating, even for that quick trip. I definitely want to go back by myself sometime in the future, especially since they're having a temporary exhibit featuring the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Here are some of the pictures I took at the museum:

There was this old man who invited himself to join our group for almost the entire tour, which was weird, especially since he was walking at the back of a group of college girls. He never said anything, he just started following us and listening to our tour guide whenever we stopped somewhere. When we took a five minute break near the end, he left. It was odd.

After the British museum tour, we walked back to Connaught and had a meeting with Sara about our various options when traveling outside of London. There are already tentative plans being made for my group of friends going to Oxford this weekend, but I don't know if that's actually going to happen or not. After that meeting, I went with a nice sized group of my friends back towards the ULU building, where we went to that bookstore across the street I mentioned earlier. It is AMAZING. It's five floors, has a whole section of books on the Tudors, has a whole room of Philosophy books, and has an awesome children's section. Deirdra and Bethany were cooing over the Harry Potter books, while Emily was focused on the Diana Wynne Jones books. I myself wanted to buy the entire Artemis Fowl series- the U.K. covers are amazing. There was also a table in the middle of the children's section that seriously made my night:

I think we need a section like this in the young adult's sections back home, don't you?

I ended up spending 9 pounds on a book about the Cecil's, a father and son pair who were both secretary's to Queen Elizabeth I. The father, William Cecil, is a person I've always been fascinated with. I was thrilled to find the book in question, since I know I'll never be able to find something like that in the U.S. I kept thinking the whole time that my mom would love this bookstore (again, it's called Waterstone's,) and I'm definitely going to take her there when she comes up for spring break in April.

After leaving Waterstone's, we went back to Connaught and had a buffet dinner with the various teachers we're going to have for our classes. I got into a discussion with the theater teacher, Susie Thomas (I know, Hollins people, it threw me off too) about Benedict Cumberbatch, so that was nice. I'm looking forward to starting classes next week so we can find out exactly what we're doing and which places we're going to (this is in regards to my political science and history classes- I already know what plays I'm seeing in Shakespeare and theater.) Wendy and I left around 8:15, and got back around 8:45.

Tomorrow, we're taking a bus (coach, to the British,) tour around London, and then we're free for the rest of the day. I'm planning on going to Baker Street and North Gower Street in the afternoon, so expect tomorrow's post to be Sherlock Holmes heavy. What's hilarious is, I still haven't ridden the Tube yet, though my Oyster Card is all set up. I'm so close to everywhere we've been so far, I've just been walking everywhere. Even tomorrow, I have no reason to take the Tube. Frankly, I've been enjoying just walking around and taking in the city.

So, that was my day today^_^ I had a blast, and am already feeling like the next three months are going to fly by. Until tomorrow, chaps!


Monday, February 7, 2011

Day One

Well, there's only been one day of orientation so far, and classes don't start until next week, but I already have a lot to talk about. I'll do my best to go in order.

I've pretty much recovered from my very minor bout of jet-lag- I made myself have various cat naps in the second half of my London flight, and I stayed awake all through the following day, so I fell asleep last night around 12:30 and woke up at 8:15. Surprisingly, I had no problems sleeping, as I have unfortunately discovered that my mattress is as hard as a rock. I was sore all day today. The pillow was a bit flat, but soft, so that wasn't too bad. I'm really hoping my body will adjust soon.

Technically, today's orientation meeting didn't tell me anything too new, mainly since I'm living in ISH instead of a homestay, though we got our finalized schedules and Oyster cards, so that was good. Wendy and I went to the Great Portland tube station (which is right across from ISH) and put 40 pounds on our cards, so that should carry us for awhile. We also got to talk with a woman who moved to London from America in 1970, and shared with us some of her experiences and the changes/stereotypes that London has gone through since the 70's. Apparently, up until recently, hardly any British homes had showers, and that it was an "Americanized" custom that eventually bled through. Also, its apparently become really popular in London (and possibly all throughout England, I can't remember,) to just lay a duvet on a mattress, no other sheets. I'm glad I brought my Hollins blanket with me, hehe. Another note of interest: the building where our meetings and classes are (Connaught Hall,)  is on Tavistock Square, the location of the 2005 bombs which happened the day before my 15th birthday. Tavistock Square is also where there were a lot of protests in the past about the Iraq war which, according to Sara, "upset a lot of American students." My response: all power to them. I would have been happy to protest with them.

After the meeting, I walked down Great Portland Street with Sarah S., Emily U., and Robyn to get a feel for what was near ISH that I could go to in the future. There are tons of restaurants even on that one street, along with two small grocery stores, so as far as food is concerned, I'm pretty much covered. I'm pleased that the British sell almost everything in smaller portions (the smallest size container of milk you can get in London is a pint,) but it looks like there is no such thing as "reduced sugar" items, in regards to both juice and yogurt, so that's unfortunate. On the other hand, both the stores I went to (Tesco's and Sainsbury's) had a good selection of small meals, individual desserts, and already-made sandwiches with fresh ingredients. I had a Tesco's Light Choices ham and cheese one tonight, and it was really good.

One other thing to note for any Hollins friends who are reading this: the restaurant (it's technically a cafeteria, but they call it a restaurant) at ISH? Five times better than Moody. I feel healthy eating there, and you can get eggs whichever way you want along with fresh fruit for breakfast. They also have things like bacon (not crispy enough for my taste,) danishes, and muffins. I haven't been there yet for lunch or dinner.

Here's a picture of my side of the room I'm sharing with Wendy:

You can't see it in this picture, but I really like the view from the window. Here it is, for anyone who's interested:

Tomorrow, we're meeting at Connaught Hall again to get a tour of both the University of London Union building (of which we're members) and highlights of the British Museum^_^ Wednesday, we have a two hour bus tour of London in the morning, and then we're free for the rest of the day, so I think that's the day I'M FINALLY GOING TO BAKER STREET, YES! I'm definitely prepared to spend a shitload of money in the gift shop. I'm also determined to scope out the street where they filmed all of the "Baker Street" scenes in Sherlock (North Gower Street,) which is actually in the way when I'm going to Connaught Hall. I promise lots of pictures, Sarah!

So, day one of London was basically a blast, and I haven't even really gone anywhere yet. I almost keep forgetting that I have to take actual classes while I'm here *snerk*

More pictures and news on the way tomorrow! Cheers, mates!