Sunday, 25 April 2010

Leaving London

I meant to update the blog BEFORE leaving London, but between stressing out about a volcano (which I never thought I would in my life) and finishing up with school, work, and sight-seeing I forgot and now I'm in Bahrain! But, to wrap up London, after I got back from Ireland I realized I had less than two weeks left and made a list of everything I wanted to do before I left. I got around to six (I think) museums including: The British Museum, V&A, Museum of Natural History, Tate Britain, The Museum of Film (or Movieum), and the Science Museum. All of the were really cool, although I can see where going to Natural History and Science would be much more fun (and entertaining) with someone under the age of 12. I also got to go to the BBC with a class. We got to view the newsroom (so cool), a game show being recorded, and more behind the scenes things. It was awesome. After going to CAPA's final goodbye dinner (both the formal buffet and the informal night of karaoke at the International Student House aka ISH) it was time to finish packing, do everything you could fit into one day, and start saying goodbye. On my last day I went to a Grace Kelly exhibit at the V&A which included many of her outfits, some jewelry, shoes, purses, etc. which, in general, was just very cool. Next I went to Regent's Park with two roommates, which at this time of the year is beautiful to walk around in, although the Queen's rose garden has not bloomed yet. We walked up Primerose Hill, which I am guessing is the highest point in London, and therefore makes an amazing view of the city. We went onto London bridge and hurried over to the Monument (made for the fire, and has 311 steps - I have a certificate to prove I climbed it) to get to the top as the London bride was opening. We just made it. We then went to the Orangery for afternoon tea (or late/rushed/one last thing to do in London afternoon tea in our case).

View of London Bridge from Monument

And then, being overly cautious just like the airlines, I left London for the airport around 10:30, which meant another night in an airport. I was fine with all of this until the next morning - before my flight was even assigned a gate - I saw a few people from CAPA I had saw when I was leaving and who were planning on leaving the following morning, meaning I probably did not have to stay the night. But I guess if I would have missed my flight I would have been more upset. My baggage has basically doubled. Not really, I might be exaggerating. Any ways I was very lucky to arrive, after I have no idea what the actual time was but I left London at 8:40 am and arrived in Bahrain at about 10:30 pm, to a very excited seven year old and the warmest weather I haven't experienced in a long time. I have only been here a day but I can already tell how much fun this week will be! I cannot imagine a better way to unwind from the most hectic semester in my life. At this point, I try to avoid thinking of my final, and probably most stressful, airport leg of my journey.

I am very excited to see many of you, chaps, and hopefully you can help me return to American life, I hear reverse culture shock is more difficult to go through than initial culture shock and the closer and closer I come to it, the more I think it will be true. I will consider buying internet in Amsterdam on my way back to update, but airport wi-fi is a bit of a rip-off.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Ireland & the Past Two Weeks

As the end of the semester approaches time has been moving faster and faster and I realized that I have not updated my blog in a couple weeks. Over the past two weeks I have visited a Mosque (with our Understanding Britain class), enjoyed the very exciting CAPA pub night, visited the National Gallery, attended Easter mass at Westminster Cathedral, walked along the Themes in common tourist form, AND most recently, I just got back from Ireland!

I felt the overwhelming need to visit Ireland before I left Europe (especially since I am so close). It was a quick trip, but still amazing! We took a few trains to the ferry that goes to Dublin. This was not the amazing part of the trip in any way. But after about 10 hours we arrived in Dublin at about 6 am. We spent little time in the city, taking a bus about 4 hours south to Cork, basically on the cost. Since the weather was so great the hostel suggested we travel a half hour outside of the city to Kinsale, known as the food capital of Ireland. After walker along the water we explored Fort Charles, another ancient structure in Europe! Next, taking advantage of this food situation, I had fish and chips, and they were amazing. The next day we went to Blarney, which is a cute small town known for the Blarney Castle, containing the Blarney stone. At the top of the castle you lay on your back and lower yourself down backwards, almost hanging - upside-down - facing the Blarney stone which you then kiss because it's good luck. While we were in line, there was an American family (Southern, 20-something-year-olds calling the older lady they were with 'Grandmama') and what I remember to be a young British family. These older ladies and gentleman lean back and kissed the stone. The children from the British family were next (about 8-10?) and they both refused to bend over backwards off a stone castle and kiss the stone. But moving on, I did and now I should be lucky. Next we walked to the Blarney Mansion - this castle has been owned by the same family since 1703 (!) and in the mid-1700s they decided they didn't like living in the castle so they did the obvious thing and built a mansion in walking distance from the ancient castle. We toured this mansion and quickly realized that this family still lived here and the tour was a bit strange. I can't imagine living in a house that had to constantly cleaned and have nothing laying around. But I think the tours is how they pay their bills.

We got back to Dublin later that night and quickly fit in St. Patrick's Cathedral and the Bank of Ireland. After having a Guinness and some garlic bread we headed back to the bus station to make our final journey to the airport, where we waited till 6:25 am to catch our plane to London. If you were wondering we were there from about 11pm-6am. And now with about 30 min (the pane ride) of sleep out of about the past 30 hours I am exhausted. I have also realized that I have two weeks left here in London, which I can only imagine will fly by - which means next post will be filled London tourist adventures (and maybe a bit about my upcoming trip to the BBC!) I'm not sure what kind of coverage the US gets but the UK is currently in the middle of electing (or possibly re-electing) and new prime minister and not only do they not have political advertisements (this was the first election EVER to have a debate) but the actually have parodies of what they ads would be like if they followed American format. Politics here can be entertaining, a lot less annoying, but occasionally quite ignorant (both Tony Blair and David Cameron have been quoted saying that the British class system doesn't exist.) Until next time, cheerio loves!

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

How the Scots Came Before the Chicken and the Egg

This past weekend two roommates and myself took off for an adventure in Scotland. After a 4 1/2 hour train ride we walked to our hostel in Edinburgh with the 40 people we would be spending the next two days with and our Scottish kilt-wearing tour guide Willy. We were only able to spend half a day in Edinburgh, but it is a much cooler city then expected. After a walking tour we quickly discovered that the Scottish are obsessed with witches and ghosts. We also attempted to adjust to Willy's accent. In a past tour group Willy talked about the hanging of witches from a church. One of the tourists asked why they hung cheese from the side of a church. Naturally, after learning about the haunted streets of Edinburgh and having a fulfilling (non-traditional) Scottish dinner, we joined a late-night which walking tour. During the tour a wide-eyed Scottish woman told us several legends (?) of mysterious happenings on the streets of Edinburgh then took us to the underground vaults - which are only lit by very few candles - and told us about the ghosts that haunt them. Overall, we did not get to see much of Edinburgh and it is a city I would like to go back to at some point.

The next morning we left for the Highlands on our coach, which gave us all many chances to get to know each other better. We spent about half the day driving through the Highlands and at one point passed by one small, lone, white house between two peaks. Willy told us that a few years ago Bill gates wrote out a blank check to the man who lived in it. The man told Bill Gates he didn't have enough money. Our first stop was at the Stirling Castle. We did not get to spend too much time here but did get to adventure on our own around the grounds. We did learn about Willy's take on Braveheart and William Wallace who is not the real Braveheart (the King Robert the Bruce who just killed people to prove he could be King is). Our next stop was at the
Clansman Centre at the edge Loch Ness in Fort Augustus - supposedly one of the biggest towns in the Highlands (the joke is that it was really small) - and learned about the history of theClansman in the Highlands. Besides the actual traditional house, clothing, and weapon demonstration an interesting part of this specific historical site is the first place people who are making films about Scotland go to for facts. Madonna and Guy Ritchie also had them at their wedding reception doing demonstrations. Next we drove along Loch Ness - this is the one place I really wish we would have spend more time at -leading up to Inverness, the city we stayed at the second night. We ended up - after dealing with the hostel that lost of reservation (for 44 people) - at a pub with live music.

On our last day we went to the Culloden Battlefield where Willy led us off the path and marched us through the march-y, weed-y full-lengh of the battlefield. This would have been fine if he would have warned us. Many people were wearing light tennis shoes and even flats. And
most of us were on our last pair of socks. To sum this up, many people were very unhappy about this part of the weekend. After taking us back onto a path Willy talked about the battle (and added in his family connection) and basically said, at the end, that without this battle - which after a long confusing explanation seems like the Highlanders lost to the Brits and some of their own men (?) - the world would be completely different and we would all be speaking German. At this point in the weekend I decided not to ask questions. Our last stop before heading back to the train station was a bit of a nature walk but there was a path and waterfall involved so I loved it!

In general, I learned the Scottish are very proud of their history. VERY. I'm pretty sure they take credit for things that people do who have Scottish heritage but are not actually from Scotland. It was basically said a few times that without the Scots the world would not be where it is today. We also learned in class yesterday the one of the many delightful classmates we had the pleasure to go on the trip with feel in love with Willy. At the end of the day I solved the riddle, the Scots came first, and they would probably hear the tree fall even if they weren't in the forest. Other then that, the land is amazing and probably even more so in the summer. I have decided not to go on anymore tour groups. Not my thing.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Operation: Spaghetti

A little over a week ago I (along with four roommates and one boyfriend) got up at about 5 am and caught a plane to Venice to kick-off our mid-semester break. After arriving in Venice we had a bit of a journey to our B&B, which must have been difficult from the realization that almost no one speaks english in Italy. But we did learn how to use public transportation (in which paying seemed to be optional) very quickly. After getting to
the B&B, which was a short bus ride away from Venice yet in the middle of the Italy country side, we walked to our first, as well as a very important, Italian experience. Food. Basically, in Italy, every ristorante is like an overly decorated Italian themed restaurant in the US, but there is nothing wrong with the pizza-pasta-gilatto diet we went on for the week. We spent a day in Venice which included a water taxi to Murano - an island known for glass blowing - and Lido which is known for its topless beach, although being late almost March there were few people on the beach - most with jackets on. The next morning we took a train to Florence and almost immediately went to see The David, which was more amazing in person to see then I thought. The next day we decided to take a day trip to Pisa (we had heard something about a tower there that might lean or something) and walked around the college town. We were thinking you could no longer climb the tower but quickly realized this was not true and paid the €15 to do the once-in-a-liftetime Leaning Tower of Pisa climb. Later in the day, back in Florence, we hiked around MichaelAngelo square and back to our hostel - in which we were lucky to meet the owner, Giuseppe, who connected us to a very centrally located hostel in Rome. After arriving in Rome we walked about 10 minutes from our hostel to the Colosseum, where we learned that Romans are constantly trying to make money in anyway possible. Some men dressed as accent Romans started putting helmets on our heads and fake swords in our hands and, being the stereotypical oblivious Americans that we are, just started taking pictures with them. Turned out to be €5 each. The next morning we woke up really early to catch our tour bus to Naples and Pompeii. Naples, as we had been warned by a CAPA teacher and quickly found out on our own, is not really a hot tourist spot. Nor is it the type of place anyone would really want to vacation in. Unless you like dirty port cities run by the mafia. Luckily we did not stay there long and spent a few hours in Pompeii, which was really amazing to see. The next day, our last day, we spent walking around Rome, including a morning at Vatican City. We walked up 512 stairs to the top of the tallest dome in St. Peter's Cathedral and saw an amazing view of Rome. Overall, between the last day in Rome and our day in Pisa/Florence, we had worked off all of the spaghetti, pizza, and gilatto we had been eating all week. Almost. On the day we left it was pouring rain in Rome and when we arrived in London, up until right now, it has been blue skies.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Tragedy, Curry Night, and Amsterdam

First of all, I realize I have not been on for about two weeks now. Part of the reason for the delay is to the extremely upsetting incident that took place about a week and half ago when I was on a city bus. While reading a book I suddenly realized that water was dripping from my purse. I looked inside and half of my water bottle had spilled creating a small pool at the bottom of my bag. I could go every moment of disappointment but that would just amount to a very depressing blog. So, to make a long story short, I lost my phone, camera, and iPod to this sad water bottle accident. But I've moved on.

Next - over the past few weeks I have had some amazin
g food! On Valentines Day, which also happened to be the kick-off for the Chinese New Year week of celebration, I went to China Town with most of my roommates (those of us without a Valentine) and ate at a Chinese restaurant. Although I'm guessing Chinese here is not what it is like in China, it is a lot less grease-y and fried. And the rice is better. Last thursday night we went to Brick Lane in East London, known for it's East Indian population, and had curry night. Because it was a CAPA event we ate our appetizers while listening to a former teacher talk about the poor immigrants of Brick Lane. The curry was really good and so was the rest of the four course meal!

The next day my roommate and I took off for Amsterdam. On saturday we went to a couple small towns not too far away from the city in which we learned about the process of making Gouda (and yes we got to sample about 20 different flavors of Gouda) and saw clogs. A lot of clogs. When we
got back to Amsterdam we took a boat tour to the Ann Frank house, walked around a very boutique filled street and then made our way to some museums. Unfortunately museums cost about €15 in Amsterdam (about $16.50) and they close around 5 on
Saturdays. So we hung out for a while then went to the Red Light district to see what that was all about. Before going on this trip classmates had told me this was a very scary experience and that if you took pictures pimps would come out of dark alleys, grab your camera, and throw it in the canal. Yes, prostitutes in the windows was weird and kind of gross, but it was so busy, so touristy, and had cops hanging out on the corners that I can't imagine being scared. The next morning we left Amsterdam to goto Bruges, in which our tour guide and coach driver constantly made references to the movie In Bruges. I was a very cute place with AMAZING chocolate. We got waffles covered with chocolate and fruit as well as hot chocolate. I mean every other store in this town was a chocolate shop. And the half was lace shops. By the time I got back to London I had been in four countries in one day (the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and the UK).
I leave for spring break on Friday - so yes I will be in Italy for a week (Venice, Florence, Pompei/Naples, and Rome). When I get back my wonderful friend Megan Gilmore is coming to visit me! then the weekend after that I just booked a trip to Scotland! What an exciting month March shall be! My biggest lesson so far - do not keep a water bottle in your purse.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

The city that makes the money, and the city that spends it

This past week I feel as if I did very little when it comes to being a tourist, yet I managed to spent enough for the average tourist. London is actually divided into two cities, the city of London and Westminster. Most tourist attractions, political offices and basically the majority of the fun London activities take place in Westminster. Most of the businesses (including my internship) are in the city of London (at some points these two are divided by the Thames). Any ways, the saying (until the recent economic crisis) is that London makes the money and Westminster spends it. It makes sense until you take the tube over to High street Kensington or Oxford street. Both of these places have store after store and thousands of people crowding the sidewalks with shopping bags. I made it out alive yesterday, somewhat successfully, with a computer cord which will now allow us to watch movies through the TV for those rainy afternoons.

As for my tourist activities, on Friday a few of us went to the London Dungeons, which is a haunted house-like "tour" of London circa 1600-1700s. Actors coughing and sneezing from the plaque taught us about Jack the Ripper and Sweeney Todd. Earlier in the week I joined one of the Harry Potter walking tours (which was a bit difficult to get pictures of since it started at 7 p.m.). The tour was cool and entertaining since the tour guide yelled "IT'S A NORBERT!" every time she saw a statue of a dragon. Today some of us went to the Sherlock Holmes museum, which is located at the fictional character's address on Baker street (about a 10 minute walk from my flat). It was a little strange considering how many old manikins there were in each room, but cute at the same time (including the somewhat hard to understand old man taking on the role of Dr. Watson). We didn't make it to the Tate Modern but that is now at the top of my list for next weekend. Beatles tour is on thursday (although this tour is also starting at 7). This week I learned that the British will never show too much excitement either way about anything. On that note, the past week was not bad.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Football and Celebrities

After a long week of school and work, yesterday afternoon we went to a football match (QPR v. Scunthorpe) which was interesting. QPR, the home team, is not very good but they have very dedicated fans (as a Minnesotan this is not a foreign concept). The difference is that these fans, of all ages, are constantly yelling, chanting, and cussing- which is how we all (quietly therefore obviously Americans) knew what was going on. Today we went to Madame Tussaud's wax museum. Basically a bunch of public figures as wax statues and even more tourists from around the world pushing each other out of the way to get a picture. After the celebrities, classic Hollywood figures, athletes, singers, and politicians there is a haunted house- which seems a bit out of place but was entertaining (only two of the four of us had the guts to go through), next you go on a short "tour" (basically a ride) giving a very brief history of London during which they stopped the ride to yell at us for something we did not do. Lots of fun. The ride then ends at the gift shop. Any ways I currently do not have any exciting plans for this week (besides a field trip to financial district of London) but you never know where you'll end up here!