IC London...I See France

11 May 2007

...Back in the U.S.S.A.

Why hello there! You must think I'd forgotten to wrap up this 4-month-long ramblefest, but never fear, I wouldn't do that to you. Even though evil packing-and-flying-and-traffic-and-unpacking-and-getting-reaquainted-with-home would prefer that I did. Sorry, guys, but the blog wouldn't be complete without a goodbye.

Before leaving London, we did our best to say farewell appropriately. Meaning, we begrudgingly topped up our Oyster cards and painted the town red.

I don't know that I mentioned the End of Term Party on 3 May, but I must. It was fabulous, though the food was not much to sniff at and really was a poor attempt on ISH's part to stuff me full. Aside from the lack of food and nearly cheese-less mozzerella sticks (gasp in horror!), I enjoyed the effort of the London Center to put together such a great event for everyone. There were raffles (I won an orange Bill bag!!!) and prizes and recognitions and a slide show which Bill narrated. Artie K, a fellow student, DJed while we danced the night away; Bill and Maggie even danced with us!

Sunday day, the girls from downstairs and Jessie and Meg and I went up to Hampstead Heath for a picnic in the park. The sun went away once we stepped out of the tube, but even though it was cloudy and windy, we had a fun time anyway. Later that evening we went down to enjoy waffles for the last time at the Waffle House (the original) and splurged on the best combinations we could come up with, paying in change so we wouldn't have to lug coins home in our already too heavy luggage. I got a waffle with strawberries, bananas, Belgian chocolate and whipped cream, if you're wondering. Everyone stayed in our flat for a while and, one by one, we said our goodbyes. But just until Ithaca in August, of course.

Just Jessie and Meg and I remained on Monday as everyone had left early that morning. We packed and brought donations to ICLC and bought last minute souvenirs and spent a lot of time waiting around for the landlord. He finally came and gave back our deposit minus a 40 pound cleaning fee and another 40 pounds to paint our bedroom wall. Here's a tip: Don't ever use blue-tack on your wall. Meg and I looked along Queensway for someone who would cash the check he gave us, but to no avail. We changed the money part, and wow, did US dollars look so new and different.

After the landlord left, we complained a bit over drinks to finish up all the alcohol donated to us by our loving already-gone friends and headed out for our last walk along the Thames for a long long while. We stopped at Young's Founders Arms, where they serve Double Chocolate Stout so Meg could try it, and hung out until last call and we just barely missed the last tube ride home. But, phew!, we made it.

Jessie woke us up at 3am as she headed out to Luton for a flight to Germany, but we really woke up at 6 for our own flight to the States. I'm not a big fan of luggage, especially 100 lbs worth on the tube in two awkwardly large bags and far too many stairs. Thankfully, nice British men took pity on us a few times and lugged them up and down stairs for us. Gatwick was all a twitter with our impending departure - everyone would miss us! - and we ran into a few minor problems with them letting us go. The flight was better than coming, only because Continental had nicer seats and more movies to choose from (even though they weren't new ones) and the food tasted better, but the TVs didn't actually work for the first hour or so because of some issue in the system. Doesn't that make me feel safe flying over the ocean? Anyways, we got into the country without a hitch: Border time = 1 minute, baggage = 5 minutes, and declaring at customs = half a minute. Nice. It felt good to be home. And to have someone to help with my too much luggage.

As I was working yesterday, I found myself taking a little too long to count change and, because the sandwiches there are all named after areas and streets here and in NYC, I kept thinking of tube stops and places in London. I even said something cost pounds today at the store! (Though, thankfully, it was in dollars!) Ah, jolly old London, I'll miss you. Hopefully I'll see you soon. :)

10 May 2007

Before & After

Before London:

After London:

Still a long way to go, but I'm getting there...

06 May 2007

Shakespeare, Brighton, and the Circle

To open this year's season at The Globe, Othello was being shown. Lucky me, it's the only Shakespeare play I actually enjoy, so I was a bit more than excited to get to go see it on opening night. Meg, Jessie, her friend Kat, and I paid just £5 each to stand in the ground and watch like peasants. Yay! After about an hour, the fun of being groundlings and standing the entire time got a little old. Furthermore, somehow May has become colder than February and, in the open air of The Globe, we were freezing. At intermission, we sat and watched people bring out elaborate picnics to eat, wishing we'd thought to do the same. Though mostly we just enjoyed sitting. Intermission lasted for only 15 minutes (we want more sitting!), so we got up and endured the last 2 acts for another almost 2 hours. I honestly loved Othello a lot more before I was made to stand for 4 hours and watch a production of it in the cold; I just don't see how this works for people. The production itself wasn't bad, though it was obvious at some points that it was their first night - Iago had to call out for lines twice and the bed canopy had a heck of a time coming down, which was great comedic relief by the time 3 and a half hours had gone by. I loved the play and the atmosphere and everything about the evening, but I'm just saying that The Globe wouldn't suffer from a couple of space heaters.

Meg, Jessie, and I spent the better part of Saturday in Brighton at the beach. We actually didn't spend much of it on the beach, but Brighton's at the beach and there you go. I have quite a knack for accidentally planning excursions that occur at the same time as fun festivals. Cinco de Mayo happened to be the first day of the Brighton Festival, so we were greeted with a children's parade and lots of festivities. We wandered the streets looking at shops, bought some candy by the kilogram (gummy bears!) as well as amazing milkshakes from Shakaway, and saw all the little kiddies being parade-y. We finally found the boardwalk and the beach and the Brighton Pier. We spent lots of 10p and 2p coins in all the machines that look like you'll win if you just try one more time. We did, I must point out, win a 10p and a 2p, and I won't mention that we chucked them right back in the games to try to win some more. Shh, it's fun. We bought fish and chips (and mushy peas for me - mmmm) and sat on the beach to eat them. The beach is rocky instead of sandy, proving much better for lunch-eating. We strolled along the beach on the side with all the shops and bought some things that broke our rules for money-spending, but those rules were too strict anyway. We also stopped into an old-fashioned penny machine place and got our fortunes told to us and played fun games with Victorian-style pennies (huge!). We struggled to take some Brighton pictures with all 3 of us in them and sort of succeeded, meaning the best one of us doesn't have any of Brighton in it except for the sky. But we tried.

Once back in London, we didn't have too much time but quickly made some pasta and gathered the troops for our randomly organized Circle Line pub crawl. Jessie, Jennie and Megan (from downstairs), Alyssa and Tim, and I started at the Prince Alfred at our stop in Bayswater with shots of Tequila, to honor the Mexicans and everything. On the way to Notting Hill Gate, we began the tube surfing challenges with Alyssa vs. Tim. I forget who won in the end, but Alyssa and I really did the best of everyone, so that's all that counts. We got to Notting Hill and went to a purple pub where we split a pitcher of Pimms. We lost Jennie after Notting Hill (she had to chase Dan Radcliffe down one last time), but picked up Francia at Sloane Square. There we went to the Royal Court Bar - not a pub, I know - and got various beers. At Embankment we went to Queen Mary, a pub on a boat on the Thames that Alyssa knew about. The bartender was crazy, we were on a boat, and it was a great stop. We then walked to Temple and took our faithful friend the Circle, which was actually behaving itself and being relatively punctual that evening, to Tower Hill which yielded no open pubs. We turned around and ran back to the tube to pick up the next coming Circle and rode it to Liverpool St. where we found a traditional pub called, A Traditional Pub, and thought it appropriate. We got a round of snakebites, stayed past last call, and kind of caused a scene just before leaving. Oops. On our way to Baker St., Alyssa and I decided McDonalds was in order, so the whole group of us just stayed on until Bayswater again to spend our last drink's money on cheeseburgers and fries. They were delicious, and we probably didn't need any more drinks anyway. Despite all of the Circle's faults - forgetting where it's going and severe delays all the time and being the one of the slowest lines in London among them - there's not a better line for a pub crawl.

04 May 2007

Europe Loves Me

Proof is everywhere! Example 1: The store right across the street from our flat has my initials! And they think I'm number one! Right? Right.

Example 2: Scotland's most famous cannon ever is the Mons Meg.

Example 3: A French car company, Renault, has a car with my name (almost), the Megane. And it's so cute!

Finally, example 4: As featured in a Maltese appliance store, a whole line of products called Smeg!

Seriously, f that hasn't convinced you, I don't know what will.

03 May 2007

Concluding Classes

You know the semester's over when you feel the sweet relief of completing your last final. For me that was yesterday and, as reality sets in, home is coming in less than a week. I can't say that I wasn't happy to see my classes go. The only one I'll truly miss will be British Pop, but I guess the other ones weren't so so bad.

My first final, thankfully, was British Youth Culture, meaning all the annoyingness that was that class ended a week earlier than all the rest. We took our final, 2 in-class essays, during the last week of classes, something that really helped me enjoy my weekend in Malta.

Next was Sport Marketing, on Monday evening of finals week in the form of presentations on sport-y things (Guinness Premiership Rugby for my group). They took far too long, but Clive made it up to us by taking the lot of us out to dinner at Zizzi's (but not at this one, thank heavens). We enjoyed wine, beer, pasta, bread and olives, and dessert while saying goodbye to our Tuesday mornings at MLB. Except that during our usual class time on Tuesday morning - and, in fact, a little earlier - we were summoned to Times House, home of The Times. We talked to the editor and one of the sports writers before being kicked out of the conference room for their actual conference, and then afterward we went on a tour of the press. The highlight was the robots (which almost ran me over), but it wasn't very useful as far as marketing goes. Ah well, such was the entirety of Sport Marketing.

Modern British History presented the most stress of all of my finals, as I hadn't done much of anything for the class during the semester, to be honest. I studied the best I could though my studying skills aren't up to snuff, and by the time it rolled around, I was freaking out. I did okay, maybe, but I'm mostly just glad it's over. I got back my last essay and did much better than expected, so I could possibly squeeze a good grade out of the class.

And, finally, British Pop. This is a class and professor I will truly miss, the best one I took in all of ICLC. Our final required learning all about the ska movement and talking about our London music experience. Not really super fun, but because it's Emer, I won't complain. Wednesday mornings won't be the same.

Now the only thing left is the End of Term Party this evening for which I am getting fancily dressed and enjoying the buffet for all it's worth. I know I've said this a dozen times, but it's so weird that next week I won't be in London. Semesters just fly by.

02 May 2007

Malta in Beaches and Fireworks

What do you get when you point at a map and land on Malta? A vacation on a whim and an amazing weekend, that's what.

Alyssa, Tim, and I headed to Malta on Friday morning/afternoon on two separate flights from two separate airports because AirMalta has a bit of an issue with their online ticket sales. Still, being that it was my first proper flight since landing in here in January, I was excited about it. And, of course, Malta. We got to watch a not-so-great movie, Rebound, while eating delicious chicken and cake and crackers and rolls and tea. I've decided I love real airlines. Ryanair and their pay-for-everything menu just doesn't cut it. Sometimes I like free pretzels and a drink.

Anyways, Tim and I landed in Malta around 4pm where we were greeted with a terribly happy Alyssa, got some Maltese Lira from the ATM, and hopped into a taxi for our hostel. Our hostel, in fact, was a guest house. A guest house run by the sweetest woman, Sundra, who hugged us all upon arrival, showed us the highlights of Malta, and cooked breakfast for us every morning. Just another one of the pros of Malta. We wandered to the promenade to see the Mediterranean and got snacks for Tim and Alyssa at a little shop and me at McDonalds. (Having finished my McDonalds tour of Europe, my verdict is that Malta has the best food, by the way.) We spent the remainder of the night being lazy and resting up for the next few days.

On Saturday, after a lovely breakfast, we hopped aboard a bus with a very nice driver (whose niceness ended up causing a lot of stress for the remainder of the weekend over our tickets) and headed to Ta'Qali, Malta's craft village. We walked through "hut" after "hut" to look at all of the homemade crafts Malta has to offer, most notably laces, hand-blown glass, and silver. Next stop was Mdina, which used to be the old capital of Malta and is called the "Silent City." It's inside of walls and, because of the narrow streets, there weren't many cars - just horse-drawn buggies. It reminded me of Capri minus the steep hills and Venice minus all the canals. And it was gorgeous. Tim went into a sort of freak-out coma because he's Tim and Mdina is that cool; Alyssa and I made due. Over the walls, you can see an amazing views of Malta (the main reason we came, on recommendation from Sundra) and at a particular restaurant, Fontanella's Tearooms, you can dine overlooking Malta. Again on Sundra's suggestion ("all the locals even go there, on Sunday afternoons"), we popped in to eat and had some of the most amazing cake ever. The restaurant's renowned for their yumminess, enough said.

After Mmmmdina, we found the beach. Golden Bay, to be precise. The bus ride was long, but getting out, it was worth it. The beach wasn't crowded (yay for not going in season!) and the water was so clear you could see right down to the little fishies at the bottom. The few little fishies there were. We spent a grand total of 4 hours lying on the beach and swimming in the not-so-warm Mediterranean. Relaxing and wonderful. After showering off the beach, we headed out into Paceville, the only spot on Malta with any nightlife, so says Sundra. We walked all the way there, thinking it was closer than it actually was, but it still wasn't too bad of a walk. When we finally arrived it was very obvious - there were teenagers everywhere, blocking the entrance to every club, bar, and restaurant and spilling into the streets. Malta, by the way, has a drinking age of 16, which I'd say is going a bit too far and also is very annoying when you're trying to enjoy a night out. We found some dinner at a restaurant with a balcony and watched all the craziness on the street below as we ate. Afterwards, we walked along the street looking for a suitable club and finally settled on one with far too many 16-year-olds in it; we stayed for a shot and a few songs before leaving.

Sunday morning we woke up to more breakfast and the best weather of our whole stay. We went to the Blue Grotto on the Southwest part of Malta (we traveled along almost the entirety of the island during the weekend). From above, it's absolutely gorgeous. Malta is the truly most beautiful place I've visited this semester. We bought tickets for the boats, and with about 5 other people, we explored the Blue Grotto and the other smaller caves. The water was just SO blue. We'd heard something about touching it turning you blue, so I put my hand in, but nothing happened. I was a bit disappointed, but it's probably better to be without blue hands anyway. Blue Grotto = amazing.

A taxi driver talked us into taking his taxi to the fishing village we planned on seeing because he said the bus wouldn't get us there for over an hour. Once in Marsaxlokk, the fish smell was overwhelming. We wandered through the market until it became very flea-market-y and turned around for lunch. Alyssa and I wanted hotdogs, but the place was out. Boo. After lunch, we looked at the map and began the walk to the nearest beach, Pretty Bay (actually the second-nearest beach, but it had a nicer name). Years later, so it seemed, we arrived on the poorly named beach. Somehow it was very industrial and our nicest view was of a shipyard or noisy boys throwing wet sand at each other, but not caring too much, we plopped down on our towels to relax. The water was colder than yesterday, I would swear, so only Tim dared go in while Alyssa and I soaked up the sun. Malta, it seems, is the only place where I'm able to tan without burning much at all and without using sunscreen (because I'm forgetful). I'm not too tan since my skin's pretty resistant to it, but the fact that Malta could achieve something makes me love it even more.

The wind picked up, and we left the beach in preparation for Malta's Food & Fireworks Festival in Valetta. The buses were super crowded as we headed over, but when we got out our job of finding the place was easier because we could simply follow the masses. Malta fails on the knowing when to shut down roads for festivals, but it gets points of having good American food at really cheap prices. Within an hour of getting there, I happily bought and ate 1 sugared donut, a piece of pizza, a hotdog, Pepsi from a glass bottle, popcorn, and 1 chocolate-covered donut with bitsy nuts sprinkled on top. Then we took a break from all the eating for the first set of fireworks, since we found out that this is a competition and competitors 3 and 4 would be participating that night. We sat on the edge of the Grand Harbour, our feet dangling over the water, and watched them go off across the water. They were beautiful. Seeing fireworks twice in as many weekends, I've come to realize I love them. We should have displays of them every night. The next set wouldn't be on until nearly 11, so we grabbed some Chinese food and Sangria and headed back to the Comfort Inn Guesthouse for the last time. Though we fully intended to watch them from the rooftop, we got caught up in packing and our own exhaustion and were falling asleep just as they began to go off.

With a 4:30am wake-up call and a taxi driver picking us up at 5, we left Malta entirely too early in the morning. Tim and Alyssa left on a seven o'clock-ish flight, so I sat in the airport for a total of 5 hours before boarding my 10:00 plane. But I made friends with a very nice couple who made me eat a banana and a granola bar, talked to me for 45 minutes and wished me luck on finals. They were adorable. Getting home from the airport was ever the hassle and being back really made me realize I would no longer be gallavanting all over Europe on the weekends and home was getting oh-so-close. A bit sad really, but Malta made a good last destination and now I can just soak up all the London-ness before Tuesday. Easier said than done.

Pictures of all the pretty and sunny, here.

01 May 2007

On Scene Showing

Back from Malta yesterday, finals all week, and I don't have a lot of time until I finally study for Brit Pop, but...

I just wanted to mention that last Thursday evening ICLC had a scene showing featuring both Stage Acting classes and the Stage Combat class that some lucky students were invited to see. Thankfully, I got a ticket to go support my two flatmates, Jessie and Erin, in their scenes. I was extremely impressed with everyone's scenes that evening; I got really into them and so many of them were so funny. Also, the stage combat was amazing - seeing people fighting so close to you onstage is a bit disconcerting, but absolutely great. I loved every minute of the performances, and I wanted to acknowledge everyone's excellent work and thank them for putting on a really good, entertaining (and free!) show.

26 April 2007

Where Did the Time Go?

Shockingly enough, I will be home in two weeks, hopefully pleasantly stuffed with all of the food I've been missing these past nearly-four months. It doesn't quite seem like that much time has gone by, but it must be true. My newly-filled passport pages can prove it. And how else could I have become so accustomed to the tube that I was able to fall asleep on it last night and, without PA announcements, wake up just in time for my stop? (Some might argue luck, though I quite disagree.)

But, anyways, time has flown by and I barely have enough time to do everything in London that should be done before I go (let's not even talk about the money, Mr. $2 Pound). Jessie, Meg and I have created a quite packed schedule for the next week, and even with finals and Malta, somehow I'll manage to cram in as much of London as possible.

23 April 2007

Bikes Bikes Everywhere and Not a One to Ride

Clearly someone was being too optimistic about the weather in Copenhagen because it was not the spring-like warmth we were expecting. Still, we were only freezing some of the time, so I guess that's not so bad.

We flew into Malmo, Sweden, around 9:30 Friday morning and made it into Copenhagen, Denmark, surprisingly easily. We poked around the tourism/information building for a bit before trying to tackle the public transportation system. With some difficulty, we managed to find an appropriate bus and check in to our hostel, Sleep in Heaven. Oddly enough, the entirety of the hostel had a great atmosphere and was well-decorated, lit, supplied, etc, but the bedrooms left a lot to be desired with their questionable mattresses and 3-high bunkbeds (I got the top because I call things sight-unseen). Go figure.

We walked to the Amalienborg Plads, the four buildings of the Danish palace, which had some snazzy guards that yelled at tourists a lot but didn't actually do much. Though most of Copenhagen has free things-to-do, the palace cost money so we paid up and went inside to learn all about the royal family (related to our very own Queen!). Afterward we went to the Frederik's Church, known as the Marble Church (Marmorkirken), across the street from the palace because Jessie's guidebook said it had the largest dome in Scandanavia. It had all 12 disciples, one each on a section, around the dome. Still without bikes because, according to everyone we asked "they were really obvious" and "not like other bikes" so we would "know immediately" when we were seeing the free tourist bikes as opposed to the owned-by-someone-else bikes, and we had yet to see such obviously commercial bikes, the four of us walked to Christiana. Christiana is an Ithaca-like section of Copenhagen that was organized by hippies around the Seventies. We took a moment to play in the children's park and just wandered around the area for a while. Also, Meg bought some gloves. Not having eaten since McDonalds at lunchtime ($8 for 2 cheeseburgers, fries, and a small drink - whoa!), we stumbled into an Irish pub numbed from the cold and desperately needing nourishment. We ate some more expensive food, mostly on the "cheap" side of the menu aka appetizers, and had some hot drinks. Back at the hostel that evening, we played a game of Euchre and called it a night.

Saturday morning, Jessie, Erin and I woke up bright and early determined to find these free bikes and take a bike tour around Copenhagen before meeting up with Meg at 1. Explaining to our hostel-guy that we had yet to find the bikes and perhaps were not grasping the concept quite so well, he urged us to go ask at the train station as they're usually around there and someone there would be bound to know. We walked to the train station, asked two people who were no help at all, and followed a mysterious sign toward a "Cykelcenter." You could rent bikes there! We didn't want to rent bikes at all, but we were going in the right direction. We wandered towards the rental desk and explained everything to the man who politely told us that those bikes don't appear in the city until sometime in May (everything we read everywhere lied about that) and, even if we wanted to rent bikes from him for $13, he closed in 2 hours at 1. We had wandered so long for nothing. Bike-less and disappointed, we refueled with slurpees from one of the ubiquitous 7-Elevens near the back of the train station. Seriously, 7-Elevens on every single corner.

We three decided to try a museum until meeting Meg, but it was only free on Sundays. Instead, we headed into Tivoli early. Tivoli = an amusement park in the middle of Copenhagen = amazing. We bought admission and the unlimited ride bracelet for 275 kroner, quite the deal. We did every single ride except for the kiddie rides, and we even did a few of those. We rode their best rollercoaster, The Demon, about 5 times (3 in quick succession because there were no lines when it first opened). We rode on Himmelskibet, which was the carnival swing ride plus a few hundred feet, and we could see all of Copenhagen; so we did it during both the day and night. They had a whole China section of the park that was decorated with paper lanterns and the pointed roofs and dragons as well as a Middle Eastern one that looked very much like Aladdin. On a themed ride (for children), we sat in a "flying trunk" that took us through every one of Hans Christian Andersen's stories. They also feature fireworks right before closing every night, Comedia dell Arte shows on their peacock stage, and a water/light show in the evening called Illuminations. For dinner we ate Danish food at a restaurant called The Scarlet Pimpernel (in Danish, obviously), but the restaurant part was full so we had to sit for the buffet. The whole time this wonderful old man sat on a stage and played the keyboard, sometimes the recorder, and sang along. It was great. We didn't waste a moment in Tivoli, lasting from noon to midnight, taking everything in, and enjoying every minute of it.

We slept in a little bit on Sunday before taking advantage of the free museums. We visited the Glyptotek, an art museum featuring Impressionist art, as well as the National Museum, which showed us the history of Denmark (but we mostly stuck to 2 exhibits: toys and "stories of Denmark"). We also toured the Botanic Gardens, a huge park for studying plants in the middle of the city. It had a huge 5-room palm house that was hot and humid and a wonderful refuge from the cold. We walked through the cactus house and sat in the rock garden to eat our lunch. Finally, the thing I most wanted to see - The Little Mermaid statue. The trek was pretty far out of the center of Copenhagen, but luckily, the day had warmed up a bit compared to the two previous. We took plenty of pictures of her, getting our walk's worth. Both Jessie and I hopped out on the rocks to pose with The Little Mermaid, though I was pretty scared (completely unfounded, really) and took quite some time to get out there. For dinner we ate a relatively cheap meal of 7-Eleven hotdogs stuffed in baguettes with much too much ketchup and mustard that could clear your sinuses. The way that the Danes eat hotdogs is quite something. We rested up in the evening with some hostel-provided games, card games, packing, and lots of sleep.

Copenhagen was successful, bikes or not. (Pictures without bikes)

19 April 2007

Only 3 Weeks Left...

Bad news: The dollar has taken a nose-dive in relation to the pound. I was always counting on $2 just to be on the safe side, but I never thought it would actually happen. Yuck. On a related note, having not seen a dollar for, oh, 3 months or so, I was completely surprised when our recent visitors took it out of their wallets. Surely, this isn't money? It's all the same size and color. And where is the Queen? The period of re-adjustment will certainly be fun.

Good news: Our heat got turned down! I don't know how or why (though I complained to the porter and he said he was on it), but I am loving it. I get to sleep with actual blankets again!

Other news: Copenhagen tomorrow morning, 3am sharp. It's gonna be cold there and I've already been complaining a bit. Read: cold = 50s. Don't be mad at me, I don't control the weather.

16 April 2007

Paris Holds the Key to Your Heart (Part Duex)

Saturday morning, exhausted from travelling and walking miles and miles, we all slept in before leisurely making our way over to see the Hunchback at Notre Dame. The thing with Notre Dame is that, like the Eiffel Tower, it's pretty popular, but unlike Feffy, they only let 15 people in once every 15 minutes. At our best spot in line, Meg and I were numbers 98 and 99 (I counted) after already waiting for a half an hour. You do the math - that's not a fun wait. We got bored and rescheduled Quasimodo in for Sunday morning promptly at opening time. We took some pictures of the inside of the cathedral, free and with a much shorter line, and headed over to the Bastille, home of some good old-fashioned revolution.

I, personally, was pretty disappointed to see that the high point of the Bastille was nothing more than a really big column. The little disturbance to which police were called to seemed pretty intriguing, though we left before we could figure out what came of it. Also, everyone was speaking French which isn't too helpful for eavesdropping. Where are you, Berlitz, when I need you? We took the Metro - I rank it second in all of the European tubes I've so far experienced, after the Tube, though it gets much higher points for punctuality - back towards homebase. From there, we found a cafe-thing (brasserie, I think it's called) where everyone had lunch and I had dessert. Yes, amongst all the sandwiches and lunch-y things on our table, sat my wonderfully delicious crepe with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce and whipped cream. When I ordered it, the waiter corrected me and politely said, "But, that's dessert." What a silly man; I knew what I was doing. Mmm.

We visited the Musee d'Orsay and both the Grand and Petit palaces after our afternoon meal. The Grand Palace, which we were lured to by its very fancy glass roof, is now nothing more than a place for exhibitions and our ticket only bought us a walk-through Gupta statue after Gupta statue without any sign of the glass roof. Needless to say, we were pretty disappointed, so we took the Metro back to the hotel for a nap. I napped a little, wrote some postcards, read, and mostly tried to kill 2 hours without eating too many tortilla chips. We met with Meg's parents just before dinner and wandered the Paris streets looking for souvenirs. Then dinner - this time we opted for Italian because it's familiar with little need for translation. It was Italian-y and delicious, but honestly, not as fun as the confusing French meal the night before. Meg and I got McDonalds milkshakes (keeping up my McDonalds in every country goal) and turned in for the evening to play some cards and watch French people dance, sing, and generally be ridiculous on public television. Oh, it's the same in every country.

We greeted Notre Dame exactly 20 minutes before opening time Sunday morning and were exactly 15th and 16th in line. We climbed and climbed and climbed the 422 stairs to the tip-top of the building to see what the gargoyles see. We missed the Great Bell because the sign didn't tell us we could only do the Bell before the top, and after the top we couldn't go back to it. Boo Notre Dame. I bet that's where Quasi was because we never saw the guy. I did see my first French man in a beret though and tactfully took a picture of him. We climbed and climbed and climbed back down the 422 stairs to a dead-end with two doors and a cabinet, none of which opened. Just Meg and I stuck at the bottom of a tower in Notre Dame. Fun. We were joined by two French people and we all kept being exasperated in our own languages and not understanding each other but were clearly not having fun being stuck. The Frenchman finally pushed a button (that Meg pointed out because it looked like an emergency button) and voila! We were free!

To cap off our weekend in Paris, we took a river tour on the Seine. Our attractive guide told us all about everything we'd seen and I got another bajillion shots of everything, especially the Eiffel Tower. I couldn't think of a better way to say goodbye to such a beautiful city. We had lunch in another brasserie near our hotel and headed to the train station around 4. We had a slight kink on the way there because, for some reason or another, there was a parade of every motorcyclist in all of Paris and beyond driving on the road past Nord. I much preferred the runners (the Paris Marathon was also on Sunday - they ran all along the Seine for the majority of the morning) to the loud and in-our-way motorcyclists. Still, we got there and the Eurostar brought us back to London where we were greeted with the news that the predicted Tube strike did not happen. Phew!

[Bonus points for you if you get the title's reference.]

...And pictures of all of Paris, even if you don't get it.

From Nord to Feffy (Paris, Part One)

This weekend was the school-organized trip to Dublin, and though I very much wanted to go to Ireland, I opted out in favor of Paris with Meg and her parents. I was beside myself with the gorgeous weather (70s and 80s, plentiful sunshine), the chunnel (so much easier than travelling RyanAir at the crack of dawn), real food and an actual hotel (see that - without the "s"!).

Meg and I attempted to cram as much French into our vocabulary as possible on the Eurostar over, but didn't get much further than "Bonjour," "Merci (beaucoup)," or my favorite meaning "It's raining, right?" (which I can't spell and since it didn't rain, proved useless). The ride was enjoyable, mostly because it wasn't too long and wasn't a budget airline, though the chunnel was actually only 20 minutes of the trip. We arrived in Gare de Nord at almost 2 Paris-time, waited in an extremely long line for taxis, and went to our hotel. My favorite part of our hotel, to be honest, was the concierge. His name was Edmond and, not only was he a wealth of information, but he was funny and tried to teach us French.

We were about a 5 minute walk from the Louvre, which we made our first stop. The courtyard was beautiful, full of pyramids and fountains (with ducks!). Inside the Louvre, we saw the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and Nike of Samothrace as well as tons of other important pieces of art. From there we walked through the Jardin des Tuileries, which was in full bloom and had a distant view of the Eiffel Tower - amazing. We saw the courtyard where the guillotine was set up during the revolution and both Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were beheaded (which I found out later on a river tour) and where there were some more highly-decorated fountains and an obelisk. Seeing the Arc de Triomphe in the distance, we figured walking couldn't be that hard, but after about a half an hour it was still looming in the distance, and what seemed like 3 or 4 miles later (and probably was, looking at the map) we arrived! Too tired to climb up to the top, we made due with admiring it from the ground and took a taxi back to the hotel for a nap before dinner.

Dinner turned out to be a French restaurant recommended to (and reserved for) us by Edmond, Le Petit Machon. He scolded us for being American and eating dinner much too early, but sent us on our way at 7:30. For the first part of the meal, we had a waiter named Christopher who scolded Meg and I for drinking Coke (later, on his urging, we split a half bottle of rose wine) and watched us toil over a French-English dictionary for nearly 15 minutes before explaining the meals to us. It seems like I'm complaining, but honestly, it was one of the most fun meals I've had in a while; the language barrier definitely helped this. Meg and her mom settled on a meal of scallops and her father and I both ordered Monkfish. They came out in small, dressed-up servings and were absolutely delicious. Somehow, we also got plates of scalloped potatoes, which were again delicious and a pleasant little surprise. A new waiter arrived to clear our plates and offer us dessert because Christopher abandoned us. We stared at the menus, deciding to guess at the food rather than translating as it proved nearly useless. We were sort of on the right track, but luckily, the new waiter came and explained it all to us in a language we understand (including a little charades when he couldn't remember the word for "pear" - I won that one!). We all got something different and French, but I took the biggest leap and tried a goat cheese and cherry dessert. It ended up tasting a lot like yogurt and wasn't half bad (considering I don't like yogurt), but I felt very French and was proud of myself for trying something new.

After dinner, Christopher (he returned!) called us a taxi to take us to the Eiffel Tower and advised Meg and I to "Stop Coca-Cola." Funny guy, that one. We pulled up right in front of the brightly-lit Eiffel Tower, and I immediately began snapping pictures, perhaps a few too many. But I couldn't help myself because she's gorgeous, especially at night. We stood in line for tickets to the top and, to cure my boredom, I began calling her Feffy because clearly we're close friends now and Eiffel Tower is just a bit too formal. She started sparkling (leading to more pictures) and I decided that she was getting pretty for someone special. Then her searchlight went on and I decided she was getting pretty to find a man, which naturally led me to...Big Ben! Oh, Feffy and Ben. They're gonna be perfect for each other. Anyways, soon my boredom was cured because we got tickets and, many long lines and elevator rides later, we were at the top! Paris is really beautiful at night, but unfortunately none of my pictures captured that - just a bunch of blurry, far away lights. It's all about the experience. We left the sparkling Tower behind at midnight, exhausted and more than ready for bed because, as with all other memorable jam-packed weekends, we had two very busy days ahead of us.

10 April 2007

Easter in Essex + Football

Still aching from Friday's cricket match, I sacrificed sleeping in on Saturday to take the train over to Essex, where I spent the weekend with Penny. The weekend was really laid back and not in my flat and I loved every minute of it. It was as close to being home as I can get here.

We didn't do much, which I loved for all the relaxing I got to do. We did, however, watch THE Boat Race (Cambridge vs. Oxford) on television with tea and biscuits, something Penny and her family used to do when she was younger. At first, I'll admit, not too enthused for a rowing match. With all the build-up, though, I ended up rooting for Cambridge and getting quite into the race. By the end of it, I was ecstatic that Cambridge won and watched as they soaked the team in champagne and the president finally got the trophy (after 3 years of losing, this being his last chance) and the cox got thrown into the Thames. It was great.

We also went to Lakeside, this absolutely humungous mall that, were it in America and the prices in dollars, I would have loved and been bankrupt. But, it was in Essex and everything cost pounds, so I held back and bought nothing. Later that evening, we met her sister Chris, brother-in-law Michael, nephew Doug, and his girlfriend for Indian at a buffet, so the inexperienced me could sample everything without real consequence. I tried almost everything, except for what was labeled "hot" and thoroughly enjoyed it all. (I guess four plates and dessert later proves that.) Penny's family was lovely and funny; I really liked them.

On Easter Sunday, we went to Southend (a fun boardwalk area) to spend the day because it was a typical Essex thing to do. I think almost all of Essex had the same idea because it was packed full. We took the train out to the end of the pier, gambled on the slots (I won a pound and then lost two trying to get it back - oops), had fish and chips for lunch, ate Rossi ice cream, wandered up and down the beach, and had the famous hot doughnuts (yummy). The crowds got to be a little much at the end, but I enjoyed it. I would love to see it at night with all the lights, but that's another time.

Other than those small ventures, the weekend was full of low-key, relaxing at Penny's flat. On Monday morning I had to leave Penny because of football with Jessie, so I took the train back from Essex and got stuck at Edgware Road tube stop for an abnormally long time because the tube hates me. Welcome back to London.

The game was Fulham, featuring Sting as goalie, vs. Mancester City, featuring a very girlie set of light blue uniforms. And the highlight was the free banger sticks we got under our chairs. Now, Sting wasn't really the goalie, but he had the same hair and he was too far away to read the name on the back of his jersey, so he's Sting. And the girlie-ness of the uniforms didn't seem to inhibit their game since they eventually won 2-1. I'm really not being fair to my first football match, but it could have been better. I was cold, the hotdogs ran out and then when we found them they weren't as good as I'd imagined in the long line previous, and also I just wasn't invested. And when I'm not invested, I want the team I pick to win. That's where Fulham dropped the ball. Oh, if only it was cricket.

06 April 2007

Not Quite the Cricket World Cup...But Close

What better way to celebrate the beginning of baseball season (Go Tigers!) than by a nice game of cricket in Hyde Park? That's what I thought. So, when Bill proposed a Friday morning cricket game to the London Center in general, I wasted no time signing up. After all, if I can do baseball, I should be able to do cricket.

Except that in cricket, nothing is like baseball. Why not hit the ball anywhere you want to? Behind you, sure. There's no such thing as a foul. Poor luck for the fielders, really. A "four" is the equivalent of a home run in baseball except that it counts for four runs (hence the name, and really would be more like a grand slam, I guess) and you don't need to bother running around to earn it. Just stay put. There are two batters, no bases, some new equipment like stumps and wickets and whole different kind of bat, and pitching is called bowling. Oh, and the fielders don't wear gloves (something I find pretty terrifying as the ball comes wielding towards me) just the batters and the wicket keepers. Wicket keeper = catcher. Bail = a tiny little thingamabob that balances on the stumps (sort of like home plate, but only if you stretch the imagination) and if they fall off, you're automatically out and the bowler gets a wicket. Wickets are a very big deal. If you knock them off yourself because you're too close to the stumps as you bat - something a good amount of us did at least once - it's called a "suicide." Because you only get one out. And two times at bat. And then you're done. And while it's a team sport, it's also got a bit of every man for himself mentality, so that makes it interesting. Cricket's not for sissies.

Now for pictures with a little bit of narration:

Paddy and I are the two batters. I can't remember who, but one of us hit the ball, and we're looking to see if we should run for the points.

We decide it's probably for the best and book it. To earn a run, the batter has to make it to the other batter's stump (the 3 wooden poles). You can run back again to earn more runs.

Alyssa's batting, Jennie's bowling, I'm fixing fallen bails. (They like to spontaneously jump off of the stumps.)

I just swung, full-force, and missed. And now I'm in hysterics. This is during the second half of the game when I lost my focus.

I may not have been fabulous, but of the 7 of us who showed up to play, I came in second place with 15 runs. Not bad, I think. Oh, and I almost forgot - tourists took pictures of us! And, look, there we are. The cricket players, from left to right: Bill, me, Alyssa, Paddy, Jennie, Amy, and Tim. (Megan B. not pictured.) Ta-da!

01 April 2007

I Got Some Culture

Friday night I went to my first ever opera, which was followed on Saturday night by my first ever ballet.

The opera, La Boheme, was performed by the English National Opera at the Coliseum. Jessie and I dressed up extremely fancy for the night and were pretty disappointed to find that the majority of the theatre-goers were simply wearing jeans to the opera. As we were leaving, we did, however, see one lady that was dressed up even more than the two of us in a gown and furs. We were pleased. Though originally in French, the opera was performed in English as all operas by this company are. Thinking I would understand it better, because I knew nothing about opera, I was originally excited by this aspect. I soon learned that opera's always hard to understand, except for when they're saying the most mundane things at which point you wish it was in another language so it didn't ruin the beauty of it all. Furthermore, the performance was subtitled so you were sure to catch everything that was being sung. While I loved the whole of it and am trying to find some more inexpensive opera to go to before leaving London, I think I would much prefer another language.

Jessie and I saw our ballet, Onegin, at the Royal Opera House, this time a little less fancy and accompanied by some of the girls from downstairs, Brittany, Megan, and Amy. Our seats were just a few rows from the very back of the building, in what they referred to as the ampitheatre, but we could still see everything really well. The ballet was absolutely beautiful as was the set. The dancers were obviously amazing and all of us were very much in awe of their ability. Megan and I might try to see a different ballet next month called Mayerling if we can find an available evening.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that I loved both performances, not really expecting to love the opera or ballet, and I can't wait to find more to see before May arrives. I better hurry!

29 March 2007

KFC Doesn't Translate

I'm not ashamed to say that I've had my fair share of American fast food since being in London this semester. I like cheeseburgers, and McDonalds is often the cheapest and easiest place to get that accomplished (especially considering our lack of appropriate cooking tools). But today I wanted some chicken. So, remembering various KFC-sightings, I dragged Meg with me to pay the Colonel a visit, fulling expecting some good ol' American food.

Mashed potatoes and gravy. Biscuits. Cornbread. Creamy coleslaw. Finally some good baked beans. Crispy chicken, not in nugget form. No, this isn't what we got - it's simply what we wanted. Imagine our surprise when, silly us, we expected to find the same KFC-goodness in London. We searched frantically for their signature mashed potatoes. Preferably on the menu, but even a picture would be some proof. Anywhere. Potatoes? Nope. Fries were the only potato on the menu. Oh, but they did have gravy as a side, which I'm assuming is for their poor mashed potato substitute of fries.

We reluctantly ordered what I can only imagine is supposed to be a family-sized meal: 8 chicken breast strips, 2 regular boxes of popcorn chicken, 4 regular fries, 2 large sides, and 1.5 liters of Pepsi. (Don't judge, we were hungry.) Of all that food, the only thing remotely resembling American KFC was the coating on the chicken strips. Seriously disappointing. The "large" sides were about the size of the usual individually-sized side in the US, leaving Meg and I with about 4 bites of each side, one each of baked beans and coleslaw. Surely, though they were small, they would be classic KFC. Not so. The coleslaw was bland as were the beans, which I have no doubt were of the Heinz variety. (It is here that I am going to officially say that Heinz should not make anything other than ketchup. Stick to your strengths, guys.) The popcorn chicken, while tasty, were not American popcorn chicken. Four "regular" french fries - read: smaller than a McDonalds' small fry each - will never ever, no matter how hard they try, take the place of those scrumptious mashed potatoes. Not even with a little gravy. And I'm still missing the biscuits and cornbread.

26 March 2007

The Mons Meg and Other Scottish Phenomenon

Our destination this past weekend was Edinburgh, Scotland's capital. We took a four-hour train ride from King's Cross, home of Harry Potter's Platform 9 and 3/4, with several other Ithacans and Maggie and Bill. After checking into our hostel, the group of us followed Bill blindly, as we always do, for a quick walking tour of the city on which we learned much more information about Edinburgh than my head can remember.

Around dinnertime, we were left on our own to explore and do whatever we liked, and that turned out to be eating dinner. The lot of us, Meg, Jessie, Paddy, the girls from downstairs - Brittany, Megan, Jennie, and Amy, Francia, Amy Cohen, and I, attempted to find food in a city that apparently stops serving food just when you need it. After a few failed possibilities (too expensive, too crowded) and walking past all the humourously-named pubs (Dirty Dick's, Filthy McNasty's, and The Bad Ass) which no longer served meals only drink, we settled on a pub whose name escapes me. This is primarily because it was hard to say. We ordered an abundance of food including several servings of the delicious dessert, Apple Cookie Dough Pie. And, of course, a few of us brave ones sampled the traditional Scottish favorite, Haggis, Neeps & Tatties. (Look here for a description as I don't really like to think about what I've eaten.) Surprisingly, it was good and, vehemently pushing its definition out of my mind, I would definitely eat it again. We spent a great deal of time in the pub before heading back to the hostel for circus tricks galore. I suppose it would help if I explain here that Amy C. is involved in ICircus at school and is interning The Circus Space here in London. She taught handstands and relaxed us all with some circus-y bends in the air - she even got Maggie to try, which Bill took pictures of, of course.

The morning started with a brisk walk up to Edinburgh Castle which, in my opinion, was just another castle. Except that they had a cannon named after me, the Mons Meg!! (And, shh, I know it came first.) I listened to 3 or 4 tales about her on the audio guide and took my fair share of pictures and basically just got very excited about her. I found the prisoners of war exhibit to be interesting, the men wearing kilts entertaining, and the Crown Jewels to be gaudy, but honestly, the Mons Meg was the highlight for me. They had a book on her in the gift shop which I scooped up immediately and read on the train ride home to London. I'll tell you, she was a pretty intimidating piece of artillery.

We walked along The Royal Mile down to Scottish Parliament, our next stop. I was all prepared for boredom because government, Scottish or otherwise, isn't really my thing. I underestimated it, though, because I am in love with it now. Our tour guide was fabulous, and everything she said about the building just made me like it more and more. After the tour, I ate some vegetable soup and bread in the cafe - so cheap! and so so good! - in hopes of gaining some stamina for the hike up to the top of Arthur's Seat soon thereafter.

The group left without us, so we had to do a little speed-walking to catch up, and the climb to the top of yet another super-tall hill was starting again. Arthur's Seat stands 822 feet over Edinburgh, but it felt quite easy compared to the Glastonbury Tor (518 feet). Perhaps it was the sun. At the top, there are all kinds of panoramic views of the city to be had and lots of pictures to be taken. Music from a parade carried up to the Seat so we were able to listen to the bagpipes and watch the procession. We stayed up above Edinburgh until the wind decided it wanted to join us and it got cold, leaving in favor of souvenir shopping and dinner. (Dinner, by the way, was the best jacket potatoes ever.)

Dinner was followed by a quick trip back to the hostel and then back out again to go on a haunted tour called Ghosts and Terror. Our tour guide was a bit cocky and picked on us ("playfully") for being Americans, something that's gotten a little old having already been abroad for two months, and may have had a fake accent. Aside from all of that, the tour wasn't the waste of money is seemed to be in the beginning. We spent 45 minutes above ground, learning about witch-burning and torture devices and such, and we spent another 45 minutes below ground in the underground streets and rooms below Edinburgh. That was the scary part. I clung to Jessie's side for the entirety of the underground section as we went through a series of rooms with increasing paranormal activity from Levels 1 up to 3. At the end, they played a cheap trick and had some stupid man in a dark cape run by and scare us, which made the whole thing a bit easier to deal with but, at the same time, knocked off a load of credibility. A mixed bag, really, that tour.

Sunday was pretty much a free day, with the exception of hostel checkout and a trip to the Palace of Holyrood. The Palace is the Queen's residence in Scotland, which she visits about once a year in July to a whole host of celebrations, parades, and parties, and was once home to Mary Queen of Scots. I most enjoyed the roomful of pictures of the Queen and the Royal Family they had on display to commemorate her 80th birthday. The Queen is fabulous, and Jessie and I are now on a quest to see her before we leave. The gift shop was full of things that I wanted but didn't really need, so I settled on a tin of God Save the Queen mints. We ate a very cheap yet filling lunch at The Castle Arms thanks to our hostel connection and spent the remainder of the day hunting down fried Mars bars and souvenirs. I didn't find the Mars bars, but I did purchase a lovely lambswool tartan blanket made in Scotland and some delightful Scottish shortbread to remember my trip by.

22 March 2007

Poor Pompeii

Now, it's even more ruined.

19 March 2007

España sin español

Barcelona was gorgeous and relaxing and...

(Interjection: I could use a variety of fun Spanish phrases here, ones I thought I'd be using during my weekend-trip, but that would be about as useless as my skills turned out to be. Apparently Barcelona speaks Catalan, which is really nothing like Spanish with all the j's turned into a lovely tg-combo and x's appearing out of nowhere. I'm still pondering how to pronounce so much of what we saw.)

I loved it. The weekend was really fabulous, with the exception of the 3am wake-up call (I've got to stop with the early-early morning flights), and despite the slight language barrier, I enjoyed myself immensely. People pretty much spoke either some English or Spanish (though the signs favored Catalan) so Meg and I handled it all well.

There's not too much detail to go into since our plan was kind of the anti-plan, better known as stumble around blindly until you come across something interesting and get as much relaxation in as possible. I must say, I'm a big fan of siesta time. We had our fair share of paella and sangria and hamberguesas (they're Spanish, I swear!) and wandered a lot. Las Ramblas and the market just off of them was a personal favorite, full of shopping and too much yummy food to pass up. I now have some jewelry to remember Barcelona by from a few of the sellers. On Saturday, the weather was gorgeous so Meg and I got all summer-y, stocked up on food from el mercado - grapes, strawberries, kiwi, melon, cheese, and bread - and went to spend a few hours on the beach. It was sunny and warm and lovely.

Sunday was organized sight-seeing day, since most shopping and restaurants were closed, but we were sure to go about it at a leisurely pace. We went to the Arc de Triomf via the Barcelona Cathedral. From there we gawked at the outside of the stadium where the Spaniards bull-fight, and I was surprised I still retained some information about it from Spanish class. Finally, we visited La Segrada Familia, a hugely fantastic cathedral that has been in the works since 1882 (I know this because we were there for the 125th anniversary) and still isn't finished, but it promises to be an absolute masterpiece one day. Finally, we hiked up a mountain to Park Güell which was designed by the genius Gaudí, who I should probably mention designed La Segrada Familia and another dozen or so amazing buildings throughout Barcelona. It was a fun place to wander around in, especially on such a nice day. I love Gaudí so much.

And now, well I'm back in London and happy to be here since it seems I barely am, considering the past couple of weeks. Bye bye beach. Hello snow?!?!

12 March 2007

Glass, Gondolas, and Our Last Gelato (Last New Entry)

We arrived in Venice just after noon on Friday where the weather couldn't have been any better. Initially, we experienced a lot of problems navigating the bus system and, apart from the half hour or so we spent checking into our hostel, spent a good 2 or 3 hours travelling around the suburbs of Venice. Our hostel was actually a campsite in which we had two two-person cabins with very nice private bathrooms in each. It was obvious they were preparing for their busy season as not too much was open, but in their prime it must be great to stay there. They have a pool, a few hydromassages, a bar, a pub, their own restaurant, ping pong tables, a market and store.

The bus stops right outside the entrance, so once we got it all figured out, getting to Venice wasn't so difficult. We got in around 5 and were starving for dinner. We began lingering at menus outside of restaurants and had more than a few managers/waiters come out to lure us in. When the friendly, enthusiastic man greeted us with menus (in English too!), we couldn't resist eating where he was. We ordered the tourist menu, but don't let that fool you - it was the traditional Italian meal with a first course of pasta, second course of meat, salad, and a fruit course. I got spaghetti with meat sauce, mixed fried fish (calamari, crawfish, and perhaps some other seafood too), a mixed salad, and fruit cocktail. Mmm. The seafood was amazing. We lingered over dinner for an hour and a half as the man doted on us and insisted that "Here anything is possible!" It was a great choice.

By then, it was dusk and rapidly approaching dark, so we wandered very limitedly so as not to get lost without a map. We stopped in this huge, bustling piazza full of restaurants and shops. Everyone else got some gelato, we looked for postcards, and we stopped in a wine and pasta shop before heading back to camp.

In the morning, we checked out, stowed our luggage, booked a shuttle for the airport, and headed back into Venice. We bought a ticket for the waterbus to take us to San Marco along the Grand Canal. Venice is what I naively thought all of Italy was like - full of quaint little streets and flowering windowboxes - so I was in love. The view from the water was magnificent. We de-boarded, but for some reason, couldn't find Saint Marc's Square for our lives. Then, our plan in Venice turned out to be sightseeing by way of shopping.

We became aimless wanderers about Venice, going from shop to shop to shop. We stopped in one glass store and somehow couldn't bring ourselves to pass up any that we came across; we must have visited nearly 20 glass shops by the time we left the island. Murano glass is another of my new obsessions. We happened upon the most picturesque canals and house fronts and windows, particularly, and I took far too many pictures. We ate lunch at a pizzeria just outside The Rialto (Venice's main bridge - beautiful and huge and with shopping in the middle). We got Capriccioso pizza, with ham, pepperoni, artichokes, zucchini, mushrooms, and capers, which was absolutely delicious. Eventually we found our way to St. Mark's, a square full of pigeons and people. We watched a bunch of little kids feed pigeons, inspiring Erin to buy some seed as well. We had a great time taking pictures of the pigeon frenzy she created - two of them were fighting in her hand!

We went back to the piazza from the night before for dinner, some last minute gifts and a final cup of gelato, just soaking up the last of Venice before we had to leave. A bus to camp, a shuttle to Treviso, a plane to London, a shuttle and bus back to the flat. At 3:30am, we were home. Midterm break is over, and finally with some time to rest, I realized Meg and I have a trip to Barcelona next weekend.

All of Italy right here. (How did it fit?! Crazy.)

11 March 2007

Learning Italian Phrases (New Entry #6)

Thursday was our last Rome day, so naturally I used it to catch up on some sleep and didn't wake up until 9:30. Yay! Paddy and I ventured out with a short, leisurely list of necessary things to hit before we left.

We stopped at the Spanish Steps first, having only seen them in the dark before. They were covered in teenagers who seemingly had no school to attend. I was pretty annoyed they were ruining any pretty picture of the Steps that I had in my head, but mostly I find it odd (and am perhaps a bit jealous) that ruins and tourist attractions are popular hang outs in Rome. We walked up and looked at the outside of the Villa Medici since going in didn't seem like an option, took in the view from up there, and walked back down. Well, that's a set of steps for you.

Because of A Roman Holiday, I had to seek out the Mouth of Truth, or in Italian, Bocca della Verita. It was pretty tricky to find, but we managed. The line wasn't too bad, certainly not the longest one I'd encountered. Paddy and I both put our hands in the mouth. And, no, neither of our hands were bitten off. We crossed the nearest bridge to the Isola Tiberina where we sat by a statue amongst pigeons, ate gelato, and I began learning useless Italian phrases. First, my trio of gelato was amazing - kiwi, fruits of the forest, and vanilla. Kiwi! Fabulous. My favorite phrase: "Sono Anna Baldini. Ho una prenotazione a nome Jones." or "I am Anna Baldini. I have a reservation under the name Jones." Runners-up: "Mi piacono le anatre" or "I like ducks"; "Arriverderci a tutti" or "Goodbye everybody!"

After a hike up a mountain (exaggerating a bit there), we came across the prettiest fountain in all of Rome, Fonte Acqua Paola. We took in the view and sat around the fountain. It was quite enjoyable. We planned out a great sight-seeing route from there, but somehow were defeated by the great Via Garibaldi - the road that goes everywhere and nowhere, a torture device. We saw a memorial of I'm not sure what and the Spanish Embassy and a lot of pretty big houses and a park, but not what we planned. Score one for Garibaldi. We lost.

We ate dinner with Meg and Erin just outside of Piazza Navona, enjoyed our last gelato at Old Bridge, and that was the end of Rome. Venice in the morning.

Brits in Florence (New Entry #5)

I honestly didn't get much tourist-ing done in Florence. We waited around the train station to meet Alyssa and Tim at 10:30 as planned before we left London, and once they were there, we split off: I went with them and the other three went to Ponte Vecchio.

Alyssa, Tim and I inquired about tickets for the train back to Rome and made our way toward the Uffizi Gallery, one of the oldest and most famous art museums in the world. We bought paninis at a place called Queen Victoria (such an Italian name) and ate them on the way. We took pictures of the replicas of famous statues outside the Uffizi; my second sighting of The David, though not The David. Fun. We met the girls in the line, which a sign told us would take no more than 2 hours but no less than 1. It was just like an amusement park, but the end wasn't quite as thrilling. We were behind two adorable old women from Britain, one from Manchester and one from "the country," who were there celebrating one of their birthdays. We had a great time talking with them in line about Italy and London and New York City and their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

I'm not too impressed with Medieval art, to me a lot of what we saw in the beginning looked all the same. Sadly, art is lost on me; I only really enjoy looking at pieces by artists I recognize the names of, and that's not very many. I wandered, I learned a bit, I mostly enjoyed the views of Florence from the windows.

Being pressed for time, Alyssa, Tim and I left to walk up the Duomo before we had to catch our train. We were anxious to get the most out of our €6 admission (you know my penchant for climbing hundreds and hundreds of stairs at a time), but we got stuck behind this extremely stupid man who didn't understand how to walk through a turnstyle. The couple made it about two flights up before they had to stop and take a break, so luckily we weren't stuck behind them the entire 423 steps to the top. It got pretty tiring pretty quickly - the fact that most of the way up is also the way down didn't help matters. The views from the windows going up were amazing, but they didn't compare with the views when we stepped out onto the walkway. Florence is absolutely breathtaking. Obviously, lots of pictures were taken. We began to climb down just as the rain drops started to fall on the city to go gather Alyssa and Tim's bags and head to Rome.

We stopped in a wine shop run by the most gracious woman. She happened to own the pizzeria next door, so we ate there after shopping. I didn't see much of Florence as we walked to their hostel nor on the way to the train station as I was trying my best to not get soaked. Rain is fun. The train ride wasn't too bad, mostly because Eurostar books it, and thankfully it wasn't raining when we reached Rome.

According to Alyssa's Rome guidebook, one of the best pizzeria's in Rome was somewhat near their hostel, so after checking them in, we went in search. It took a bit to get there because near is all relative, but it was absolutely worth it. It was full of locals (a good sign) and wasn't too expensive either (another plus). Based on such an accurate recommendation, we walked in the complete opposite direction to what was deemed one of the best gelateria's in Rome, near the Trevi fountain. The gelato wasn't so great - nothing seems to compare to Old Bridge - but the man serving it made me laugh so much. Apparently, I'm Mexican and own a horse.

Isle of Capri (New Entry #4)

We had gorgeous weather on Tuesday for our trip to Capri via Napoli. Luckily, I wore capris. Oh ha ha ha. We barely caught the ferry in time, running to jump on before it pulled away from the dock. The hour-long ride was beautiful; we saw Vesuvius from the other side as well as Naples from a distance.

Once we stepped onto Capri, we wasted no time finding the beach. We climbed up onto some rocks, but getting some cuts and not really being the most comfortable, I shortly thereafter retreated to the sandy beach. Erin actually went swimming while Meg, Paddy, and I sat on a rock in the middle of the sea and dangled our feet in. We hung out on the beach for awhile before catching a bus up into the heart of Capri, which was full of little shops and adorableness. I want to live there. Every street sign or house number is in decorative tile, all of the houses are white or yellow, and the roads are narrow and full of flowers or vines spilling over fences. Love it. Later on, while everyone else bought gelato, I opted for Capri's "Special Drink" - lemonade with fresh squeezed blood orange mixed in - which turned out to be absolutely amazing. I have that drink to thank for my new addiction to blood oranges.

After some souvenir shopping, we took the ferry back to Naples with the idea that we would eat pizza before getting on the train to Rome, since Naples supposedly has the best pizza in Italy. First, a group of creepy Italians followed us all around the ferry and then off of it into the city. Every pizzeria we approached wasn't serving until 7 or later, but the train we were catching was at 6:45. Our plan wasn't working out so well. Furthermore, every time we attempted to cross the street, one or all of us were nearly killed by speeding vespas and cars. Drivers in Naples clearly don't know what a crosswalk is. Meg and I grabbed pizza in the train station, and it was actually quite good but probably not quite what the recommendation meant. By the time we boarded the train to Rome, I was so frustrated and fed up with Naples that I didn't care if I ever went back.

Pompeii: Home of Spirit Guides (New Entry #3)

Apparently, I am the only person in the world that didn't know that Pompeii was a city completely buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and preserved perfectly and then accidently discovered a few hundred years ago. All the same, my lack of knowledge made it all the more exciting when I got there and found out.

Monday, Meg, Erin, Paddy and I took a train through Naples to Pompeii to spend the day. The town was cute, made all the better by the Italian donut I purchased on the way to the ruins. We were greeted with a dog that resembled a young fox, and I dubbed him our spirit guide. We walked along the necropolis to begin where Erin explored the inside of a pitch-black mausoleum. I, on the other hand, stayed safely outside and sent her in with my camera in case there was something cool inside. Turns out, not so much, but most importantly, no dead people. We attempted to use the map we had, but it wasn't the most accurate thing so we just wandered and got lost a lot. Our spirit guide may have been sick and got really tired, so we lost him after about 40 minutes, which in my opinion, contributed to our lack of luck finding things. But perhaps not.

Everything was amazing. Mount Vesuvius loomed in the background ominously as we saw both the little and big theatres, the forum, the ampitheatre, the gymnasium, the brothel, shops and houses, gardens, paintings, statues, what could have been advertisements, and so much more. The crosswalks in Pompeii were raised higher than the road because that is supposed to be where the waste flowed and we pulled an Abbey Road shot on one of them. Pompeii had a lot of larger-than-life aloe plants that could have made comfy chairs if they weren't so pokey. Trying to get out, we got super lost and took a tour of the fields of Pompeii before finding our way again.

We were followed through the town by a small pack of spirit guides, some of which followed us into a pastry shop, all of which were adorable. One in particular led us all the way through the square to the train station and sat with us as we waited for the train. He was cute.

For some reason, our train to Naples took an unexplained break for almost an hour in the middle of nowhere. We got a nice picture of the sunset over the water and had a photo shoot of our range of emotions during the waiting. Otherwise, it wasn't much fun. We finally got back to Rome from Naples around 11:30. Sleep was required for the early wake-up call on Tuesday.

Sono Anna Baldini. (New Entry #2)

Day 2 in Roma brought us to the Colosseum, the Forum, and a lot of the other biggies. We fueled up on free breakfast (yummy cornettos - croissants with cream inside) and walked to the Colosseum where we were supposed to meet Erin and Paddy for the day. We waited and waited and probably should have picked somewhere not as big nor as crowded as the Colosseum to meet because we never found them. We did, however, listen in on several tours, and Katie got picked on by one guide who thought we were a part of his - The Roman numeral for 4, by the way, is IIII and not IV.

We bought tickets to the Colosseum/Palatino for the undiscounted price because Italy discriminates against American students. Boo. I still don't really know what the Palatino was except that it's in ruins now, but it was gorgeous and very fun to walk around in. The Colosseum seemed a lot bigger in my head than it was in reality. Still, it was impressive and the helpful signs taught me a lot of interesting facts about it. For example, it had awnings in case of too much sun that were controlled by men in ships. We walked over to the Forum and picked up the last bit of a tour before looking around. We saw the Vestel Gardens, Caesar's tomb, and walked on the road that ancient Roman armies used to. We lunched at a little restaurant before more ruins and Roman sights - the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Piazza della Repubblica, Trevi Fountain, Quattro Fontane, et cetera.

We went back to Freestyle for naps, showers, and "Pastaaaa!" At 8:30, we met Paddy and Erin on the Spanish Steps for a pub crawl around Rome. We got cute free T-shirts, and to be honest, that was about the best part of the poorly-organized crowded crawling experience. Except for the part where we stumbled upon the Pantheon on the way to another pub and saw a suspected lunar eclipse (found out later it actually was one). Meg, Katie, and I ducked out early (around midnight) to head back for bed.

Sunday morning we had our last free hostel meal, checked out of Freestyle, checked into Ottaviono with Paddy and Erin, and found a spot in St. Peter's square to camp out for the Pope's blessing. Due to a little confusion on the times, we were a lot earlier than expected so we used the time to catch up on our sun-soaking, letter-/postcard-writing, and general laziness. At near noon, the Pope didn't come out of where we expected him, essentially making our prime front-row standing area useless. We quickly relocated to see him as he blessed the waiting crowd in half a dozen languages.

We had pasta for lunch at an adorable restaurant where Katie communicated in Spanish to our waitress. We wandered past the street vendors along the river towards the beautiful Piazza Navona, which was full of artists and fountains (well, just 3 fountains). We got a bit disoriented and searched in vain for a bus to the catacombs, though we did stumble upon the Area Sacra. We didn't have time for much more than dinner and some gelato in St. Peter's square before Katie had to hop aboard the Metro for her flight to London.

Sidenote: The Metro made me love London's Tube, despite all of its stupidity. The Metro goes in a big X across Rome in a most unstrategic way and is a pretty gross, dirty and smelly mode of transportation. Furthermore, for all the costs of the inconvenient Metro, it's much easier to take the free bus. By free, I mean that it costs the same amount as the Metro, but in the bus' case, no one pays. Tourists stick out on Italian buses because they are the ones who take the time and trouble to buy tickets and scan them in on the buses. Once this became obvious to us, we decided to be Italian and take the bus for free too.

Ciao Italia! (New Entry #1)

The group of us finally stumbled into our flat around 3:30 this morning, wearied by the cold temperatures that sprang up in England while we were away and our seemingly endless travel. I'm finally up and loving my own bed and, as promised, here begins the account of my Spring Break in Italy, which I'm splitting up into chapters of sorts so they look less menacing.

I've seen 3am at both ends of our trip, and let me tell you, it looks much better on the optimistic not-yet-exhausted-by-everything side of things. Katie, Meg, Paddy, Erin and I caught a bus to where our coach to Luton was supposed to pick us up, but by 4:05 when it still hadn't arrived, we were forced to hail a cab so that we didn't miss our flight out. I must say, I really miss the convenience of having someone who can drive you to the airport. Saves money, that's for sure.

The flight was quick and painless, though it took a little getting used to Ryanair's constant bombardment of announcements. From the window, I saw us cross the Channel into France and later the Alps! It was pretty exciting. We were greeted with relatively warm weather when we stepped off the plane at Ciampino airport, took a shuttle to the general area of our two hostels and found them without too much consequence (and the help of a postman because piazzas are confusing).

After settling in, we went to Old Bridge Creamery for gelato on the recommendation of someone who works at the hostel. I got arancia (orange), limone, and crema with whipped cream - a TON - all for €2!! Mmm mmm. It was right outside the Vatican wall, so naturally we headed over to St. Peter's Basilica. Everything about Italy is gorgeous and amazing (except Naples, but that's later), so just a warning, those words will probably come up a lot. The Basilica was gorgeous and amazing. We spent a fair amount of time wandering around inside and then down some streets and near the Tiber River and pretty much everywhere, just taking everything in and loving the random ruins strewn about. We went up to the Piazza del Popolo, again on a recommendation, to see the sunset over Rome and it was beautiful. Katie, Meg, and I headed back to our hostel to rest up before free dinner (Salad! Pasta! Wine!), which was delicious, and then taking sometime to stroll around Rome.

Recognizing our love affair with gelato, we stopped into a gelateria near Santa Maria Maggiore. We sat outside and ate our fancy gelato, thinking nothing of its fanciness and enjoying the near hour we spent eating and talking. The bill came and, needless to say, we were surprised to find that the tasty gelato we had just eaten cost us €8.50 each (particularly because our friend Old Bridge gave us more and tasted better). Not hiding our disappointment, the manager quickly discerned that we were Americans and, in a lacking effort to make us feel better about our $4/scoop ice cream, offered us each a free drink at the club next door. We were tired and annoyed and not in any way dressed for a club, so we complained all the way back to our hostel and went to sleep. Oh, gelato.

01 March 2007

In a State of Constant Activity

Our grand 10-day trip to Italy is starting dark and early tomorrow at 3:00am, and I'm having trouble finding enough time in the day to get everything accomplished before it gets here.

Katie and I have been taking in nearly every bit of London non-stop since her arrival on Friday (see previous entry) and even the lack of London Pass on Monday didn't slow us down. We've been to museums, seen two plays, watched the Changing of the Guard, tried more British food, and even pub crawled. I won't go into detail at the moment since the rest of our rapidly-shortening day is packed full of things to do as well - afternoon tea, shopping on Oxford Street, packing and prepping and such for Italy, and watching Daniel Radcliffe in Equus. Thennnn waking up at the ungodly hour of two.

I promise to update a ton when I return from Italy and post pictures, of course, and to do it all in bite-size entries rather than the three-course meal type of the one previous. But for now there is more of London to be seen!

27 February 2007

A Tourist Extravaganza! (A Lengthy Couple of Days)

Friday was pretty much an amazing day, every single part of it. Before that, on Thursday night, I had to go to a pub in Camden Town (Dublin Castle) for Brit Pop class to see some bands with Jessie and Paddy and the girls from downstairs and, well, everyone in both sections of the class. It was all kinds of fun. But, back to Friday:

Katie came in to Gloucester at one-ish, to be exact. I was waiting on the platform at the exact spot where she was on the tube when it stopped. It was fate. I was beyond excited: Katie was in London!! We got her all settled with a weekly tube pass and came back to the flat for the grand tour (approximate length: 2.7 minutes) before heading down the street for some delicious Thai food at Tuk Tuk. A lot of killing time until our 5pm Eye appointment took place, particularly at our lengthy lunch.

We took the tube to Westminster where we alighted for the Abbey and Ben (er, Houses of Parliament). I must say I wasn't too impressed with the Abbey; rather, I found it pretty maze-like and resembling an overstuffed statue shop, but it's a big deal and, despite getting lost, we did enjoy a good chunk of it. I'm not so keen on the lack of picture-taking allowed in a lot of these places, but we took pictures when we could, mostly of Ben outside and of the "green and rainy" in the cloisters. We walked along the bridge to the London Eye, at which we arrived early but no one minded. It was a really nifty experience, but what we got to see was more limited than I expected. Katie said it was a good way to meet London, though, and I tend to agree with her.

Saturday and Sunday were planned in complete detail using our London Pass guidebooks and maps for the remainder of Friday night, and exhausted, we went to sleep early.

The Tower of London was our first stop on Saturday morning (because apparently it gets quite busy on Sundays), and along the way, Katie had her first negative encounter with the Circle line which caused us to be just late enough to miss the guided tour. So we showed ourselves around. It's really amazing inside, nothing at all like what you would think looking in from the outside. We even saw some clothes hanging to dry - from the people who live there! It was exciting. Afterwards, we went to the Tower Bridge to walk on the top, and while it was nice, the views from the bridge left something to be desired. They did have a neat exhibition on Victorian music up there with little wind-up music boxes which were amusing.

We left for The Orangery where we were meeting everyone for afternoon tea at 12:30. Apparently, however, that is lunch time and afternoon tea is around three. So, we bought some desserts instead and got individual teapots and took pictures and enjoyed the general splendor. (Afternoon tea is now rescheduled for Thursday afternoon during proper tea time. We're all about the finger sandwiches.) Katie and I went on to visit Kensington Palace which had exhibitions on fashion and Princess Diana. Luckily, the Palace is much grander on the inside than it looks on the outside.

We rushed over to St. Paul's after the Palace, having readjusted our schedule to accomodate the Circle and the too-much time we spent at the Tower. The lady that let us in wasn't so nice, but the rest of the experience was fantastic. The cathedral is absolutely gorgeous. We walked up the 300-ish stairs to look out over London, then up the 100 or so more to the Whispering Gallery (which we couldn't quite work) and then up about 100 more sprialing ones to the Stone Gallery, or rather the tip-top of St. Paul's and where some of the very best views of the city are. It was breath-taking.

We ventured down the trillions of steps into the crypt for a quick look around and then continued our London Pass Day 1 by going across the Thames to Shakespeare's Globe. I had a lot of fun at the Globe, much more than I expected to since Shakespeare and I don't get along so well, and I think I owe most of that to our fabulous tour guide. Loved her. We poked around in the gift shop (yet another one) and came away with nothing (again), leaving us souvenir-less still.

We ventured past the Golden Hinde for maybe the third time thus far (The Golden Hinde!) to Southwark Cathedral, which was relatively deserted and starting to close, but still pretty. It was around dinner time then, so we walked past the Golden Hinde once more to The Anchor, a pub that's Katie's guidebook pointed out had been visited by Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and Tom Cruise and that was, as a result, quite irresistible. We popped in for some good ol' British fare - Steak and Ale Pie for me and Bangers & Mash for Katie. I think my pie may have been mostly ale but was still quite tasty.

When we arrived back home, we had just a few minutes to take a breath before we had to get ready to go out to a fabulous bar recommended in another of Katie's guidebooks - Atlantis, a maritime-themed bar with children's games and toys to enjoy with your pint. Connect 4 and Jenga! Paddy, Meg, Meg's friend Sarah, and the two of us headed over to Baker Street to see exactly what Atlantis was all about, ready for some fun and games. After wandering past where we thought the bar was supposed to be and still a little further without any luck, Paddy ducked into a shop to ask for directions only to find out the bar closed a few years ago! Disappointed as we were, we sucked it up and went to a bar just outside the tube station, The Metropolitan Bar. Jessie met up with us after her play, and the six of us spent the evening there trying different pitchers of cocktails and Snakebites all around.

London Pass Day 2 started quite early as well, with the first destination being The Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221b Baker Street. We got there just as it opened and luckily were already in before the small crowds that came in just 10 minutes later. What we loved the most about the museum was that it was a far cry from the "Don't touch, don't take pictures" atmosphere of so many of the other places we visited. We sat in the chairs and tried on hats and used magnifying glasses; it was fabulous.

The Bramah Tea and Coffee Museum was next on the list - again over near the South Bank area we're so fond of. We learned all about tea and some about coffee and settled in for our cream tea: cakes, scones with clotted cream and jam, and a pot each of Ceylon and Darjeeling. Katie is now a clotted cream addict.

We then took the boat from right in front of the Globe to Greenwich, an hour long trip with commentary full of amusing British humour. The boat docked just outside of the Royal Naval Academy where we hopped off to go to the end of the world. Up a pretty big hill later, we picked up our ticket to enter the gates behind which they keep the precious Prime Meridian. (The tickets are free, leaving me pretty confused as to all the ticket-needing and gate-requiring, but that's okay.) We exploited all the photo opportunities the line had to offer, wandered around inside the museum for a bit and noted how smart British schoolchildren are, and admired the Prime Meridian line of things the gift shop had for sale. Satisfied with our end of the world experience, and with a few more pictures on the way out, we headed down the hill to the Queen's house and in search of the Greenwich markets.

On the way out of Greenwich, we had the opportunity to ride the DLR line - add another one to the list - which I enjoyed probably more than I should have. We came up at London Bridge for our next stop, a Vinopolis wine tour so that Katie and I could gain some culture. We were undoubtedly the youngest people in the tour and, not particularly enjoying wine, I was a little doubtful in the beginning. I started with a delightful sweet white wine (which I bought later in the shop) and the rest of the tour went just as well. We got to try a total of 5 wines each as well as a Bombay Sapphire Cocktail with the tour package, but we ended up finding some dropped tasting tickets and added another 2 wines and a bit of absinthe to our tastings as well. I had wines from Macedonia, France, Thailand, Australia, and Portugal, a Bombay Berry Cocktail, and shockingly-colored teal absinthe from the Czech Republic. Sufficiently hydrated, it was time for our London Walk - Harry Potter.

We rode the tube to Embankment, met our tour guide Alan, and joined the hoardes of eager tour-takers in a clump near a flower stand. The tour took just over 2 hours and, while enjoyable, wasn't quite as Harry Potter-centered as one might think. We did learn loads of interesting facts about J.K.'s character and name choices, but not much aside from that. It did make us very anxious for Book 7, though, and made me regret not bringing any HP movies or books with me - again.

Our final London Pass activity was ice skating at the Queen's Ice and Bowl, just a couple of doors down from our flat. Apparently, Sunday night is cheaper and more fun than other nights ("Soul Skating - with mood lighting and music - for just £7 including skates!") so it was a bit crowded. I've only ice skated once before, for about ten minutes behind Katie's house, so I didn't quite know what to do. She helped me out a lot and, despite getting distracted and unsteadied by the constantly changing "mood" lights, I only fell once. It was fun, but after all of the walking the last two days brought, we didn't last very long.

We bought some ice cream from the waffle house just outside and our London Pass Days were done.