Friday, June 20, 2014

The Metaphorical Resonances of the London Underground

My last day in London was pretty wonderful. I didn't do anything dramatic or expensive or crazy. I just
hit up all the old familiar places. I walked around the city that I'd come to think of as mine. I said goodbye to the wonderful host family that put up with me for several months. I had a last drink at our favorite pub with all my favorite London people. I said a tearful goodbye to my roommate who literally could not have been a more perfect match for me.
On Hampstead Heath

I spent my last day with my friends Katie and Jessica. We did things that we never took the time to do usually, like stand in the incredibly long line at King's Cross to get our picture taken at Platform 9 3/4 (totally worth it). We wandered around our lovely city, enjoying the fact that we knew our way around without a map and that we could navigate the tube with little stress. We looked out over Hampstead Heath at the iconic view of London.

Last selfie with my roommate
The fourteen of us who were part of the program got together at The Junction, our standard meeting
place throughout the semester for one last hurrah. We were minus a few people who had to leave early-I witnessed the saddest goodbye of all, when my friends Jessica and Megan said goodbye in the Harrow on the Hill tubes station. To say there were tears is an understatement. Later, after our night at the Junction in which there were many toasts and an impromptu piano sing along (piano performance by Denae McGaha), the rest of us said goodbye at that same tube station.
Goodbyes at The Junction

To say goodbye at a Tube station was pretty metaphorically resonant of us. Trains taking us to other places. The Metropolitan line-the first train line that we took together and the last. The train line that meant we were headed home.

I know London has been there for hundreds of years and will, in all likelihood, be there for hundreds more. But I won't ever be able to recapture those specific four months spent in a place I loved with people I grew to love. That's okay. I was lucky.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

I'm Alive!

I am, in fact, still alive and home safely! I've been a little lax on the blogging because I had to say goodbye to England, spent some time in Italy, went home very briefly and then started my new job for the summer. So it's been kind of crazy! I have a whole bunch of stuff still to say about Europe and my trip in general, so I'll be doing some blogging about the past from the future.  Keep an eye out for it!
It was just hard to write blog posts when I was chillin' with Mount Vesuvius.  

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Daily Commute

A short photo essay about my daily commute in to school, as it's such an essentially London experience. There are a dozen ways for me to get in to the city, but this is the route I take most often! (note: this was taken on a good day. A bad day involves signal failure, train delays and a lot of really fast walking)

                        8:45 am                                                             8:46 am                                                             8:55 am
      Leaving the house (right on time)                 My street on a rainy day                                The footpath to the station
9:00 am
My home station: Northwick Park
                        9:04 am                                                              9:05 am                                                             9:07 am
Just in time for the all stations to Aldgate           The best line is the Met line                   Free newspaper (learn, America)
9:35 am
King's Cross/St. Pancras station - The majesty of St. Pancras never fails to make me pause

                                              9:40 am                                                                                                  9:42 am
                                Beautiful tree lined street                                                Sometimes on nice days I stroll through the
                                                                                                                                              public park on my way in
                                           9:47 am                                                                                                  9:50 am
       No unsupervised adults allowed in Coram's Fields                                              Best street in London! 
9:51 am
Home, sweet home, with nine minutes to spare!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

All the World's a Stage...

Do not get in the Ophelia boat
…and everything in Stratford-Upon-Avon is named after Shakespeare. Everything. Pubs, shops, these boats, everything. We spent two days there for class and I think I saw every Shakespeare pun ever invented. It's an adorable town, with great countryside a short walk away, but I have to imagine that the residents might find it less so. After all, there's not really much to do, aside from go to the pub or the theater (which is why I am going to retire there in an adorable cottage and do nothing but attend the theater, go to the pub, hike, and work in my garden). Or visit the numerous Shakespeare museums and locations, but then you'd have to join in the swarms of tourists. I'm sure it's a love-hate relationship.
Gorgeous sunshine trail

Burial site of the Bard himself
Of the many Shakespeare-related places we visited (Shakespeare's birthplace, grave, Halls' Croft, Shakespeare's school, ect), Anne Hathaway's cottage was definitely my favorite, if only for the spectacular speech given by our guide, who was wonderfully enthusiastic. It also just has these beautiful gardens that are worth the price of admission. Of course, we had to partake of the theater while we were there. Our play of choice (our teacher's choice, technically) was King Henry IV, Part 1, which featured the COOLEST SWORD FIGHT I've ever seen. Not that I've seen many. But it was spectacular.

The castle itself
On the way home from The Land of Shakespeare we stopped to visit Warwick Castle, which is kind of half theme park, half museum. I'm a sucker for castles regardless of their level of tourism, and Warwick did not disappoint. Apart from the minority terrifying wax figurines, it was great. I wish I could go back in the summer though, because there's jousting and a fireball display with their replica trebuchet. What's not to like about that?

I also wish I had appropriate contrasting photos to show how wonderful the weather was the first day and how terrible it was the second day (way to be typical, England), but this is the best I can come up with:
Day 1

Day 2
We managed to snap a great group shot at Shakespeare's birthplace while the sun was still out, however, so I present to you AHA International Spring Semester 2014, complete with Mary, our assistant director on the right.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Tea-ventures and Abbey Road

Sometimes it's fun to just spend a weekend doing tourist things. I spend so much of my time here actively resisting looking or acting like a tourist that going into the tourist "zones" is sometimes a relief. I can pull my camera out without furtively checking over my shoulder to make sure I'm not ruining my Londoner facade.

Our host mum graciously bought Jordanne and I a voucher for a full afternoon tea in Maida Vale, which was delicious. A full tea, for the uneducated, typically means sandwiches, scones, dessert, and of course, tea. Sometimes the fancier ones have more food, plus alcohol. Our was perfect and delicious and I felt very fancy and proper eating it.

Afterwards we meandered over to Abbey Road, which is one very posh neighborhood away from Maida Vale. Like, seriously, I now have about six different dream houses in that area. It was incredible. I want to go back just to drool over the beautiful architecture. The Brits do fancy houses better than us Americans-they go for history rather than size and newness. The best houses are the old ones, not the McMansions.

Once on Abbey Road Jordanne and I stopped at every zebra crossing (that's crosswalk to you uninitiated) and were like, "Is this it? It can't be it. There has to be more fanfare." Eventually we found it, right outside the famed studios. People have left tributes on the wall outside which were alternately touching and hilarious. The studio is still a work space (we saw a guy with a trombone go in), which makes me happy as I know it's suffered some financial troubles.

And yes, I did the walk.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Spring Breakers 2: Escape From Spain

So my roommate and I had a little adventure trying to get out of Spain after break. I'm going to preface this with the fact that I'm sure y'all have had way worse travel stories than this. This is a mild situation, like Travel War Story Level 3 on a scale of 1 to 10. But still. It was rough at the time.

The sun sets on our last day in Granada
I was somewhat shocked when, on our way into Spain, we descended directly from the plane onto the tarmac at the Madrid airport like some kind of rockstar or diplomat (although I doubt rockstars have to ride crowded buses to the terminal-I think they get limos). I was even more surprised when the Granada airport turned out to be a small building with four gates and minimal security. We could basically walk straight off the plan and cross the tarmac to our bus into town.

This was great coming in and less so leaving, because there were NO OFFICIAL LOOKING PEOPLE around to ask why our plane was mysteriously delayed for 45 minutes. I still don't know. It was like the staff turned up to scan boarding passes when it was time and then apparated back home until the next flight. Needless to say, the delay severely cut into our 55 minute layover at Madrid (booking a flight with only a 55 minute layover was mistake #1). When we touched down (again, straight onto the tarmac), we had about ten minutes to find our gate and catch our flight.
The risen sun was too bright in our losing eyes
 (10 points if you get the reference)

Now, this is the thing about the Madrid airport. I have a deep seated dislike for it based on both my incoming and outgoing experiences, and I know others who share my feelings. Instead of being laid out in some sensible way, it's just stretched, like as long as they could possibly make it, which makes getting from one gate to another (inevitably at the opposite end) just awful. The ceiling rafters are painted in a rainbow and you just spend the walk looking at the ceiling and desperately hoping the colors will shift from orange to yellow soon.

Back to the story. Ten minutes. Terrible airport. Jordanne and I started booking it towards the gate ASAP, with our huge backpacks on our backs. We ran towards our gate until we hit a train, at which point we realized the gate was in the other terminal, a 20 minute train ride and passport check away. At this point we had a minor breakdown on the train, much to the other passenger's enjoyment, I'm sure. We did the only thing we could-trudged to our gate in time to see the plane pulling away. Luckily, the next flight to Heathrow was only an hour away, we had no checked luggage, and they just printed us new boarding passes. Unfortunately, the gate was back in the terminal we'd just sprinted through.

So. We went. Back on the train, back through passport control, back through security (only to realize we'd filled up our water bottles in Granada and had to basically drown ourselves to drink it all in two minutes), and then through passport control again. Judging by my passport, I entered, exited, and reentered Spain all within the space of about twenty minutes. By the time we made it to the new gate, the flight was already boarding and all thoughts of bathroom use or food gathering were lost.

The point here is, of course, that we made it home. Had an adventure, have a story to tell. And that's one of the great reasons for traveling, isn't it? To have stories to tell.

Titanic Tip and Daring Dash, Adventurers Slash Explorers
(It's like a contest to see how many pop culture references I can make in one blog post.
Another 10 points for getting this one)

Monday, March 31, 2014

In Which I Make You Incredibly Jealous

Transcript of a Facebook chat prior to spring break:

Maylen: Do you have a swimsuit?
Me: Um. Yes? Why?
Maylen: I have a surprise for you once you get to Spain. 
But it requires 25 euros. And a swimsuit.
Me: Is it worth 25 euros?
Maylen: It's worth it.

She was right. It was worth it. Maylen had been holding this secret over Jordanne and my heads for over a week. We kept quizzing her about it, "Is it like, active swimming? No?" We figured out that it wasn't a regular swimming pool and it wasn't a water park, but we had no idea what else it could be. Finally, about an hour before we went to whatever it was going to be, she told us. We were going to the baths. Like, traditional Islamic baths. The kind that involves a cycle involving three different kind of bath and a sauna. It was, needless to say, heavenly.

We were greeted at the baths by a handsome Spanish man named Fernando who explained to us that there were three baths: a huge, swimming pool type bath of warm water, a long shallow bath of hot water, and a deep, square pool of cold water. The point was to circulate throughout the three types (with occasional breaks for the sauna or tea), starting with the warm and ending with the cold. Naturally, this meant that when you jump in the cool pool you have about three minutes of complete temperature shock where you're sure you are going to die before your body adjusts. It was perfect. Our 25 euro also covered a ten minute, full body, hot oil massage, which is something I think every student should have a legal right to at least once a month.

 The best thing about the baths (after the massage, obviously) was that it's a really communal experience. Everyone is in the little groups they came in, of course, but we found ourselves going round and round the cycle with the same group of people and doing what communication we could without really sharing a language. Shrieks of surprise at the shock of cold water translate into every language.

Slightly damp but happy