Saturday, January 31, 2009

Stourhead + Too Many Girls = Joy

Loved last Wednesday. We woke up early to pack some lunches and eat breakfast in a half-awake state, threw some back packs together and loaded up our coach. Our usual driver, Tony, was waiting in his usual spot, ready to entertain us with random facts even though 98% of us are asleep during the drive. After a long ride through green countryside, straight on past Stonehenge (still standing, still cool) we finally pulled up to Stourhead. This is where Mr. Darcy proposes to Elizabeth (the first time) in the new Pride and Prejudice. You will never find 40 girls more excited to get off of a bus than we were that day -- our professors are finding amusement in watching a highly estrogen-concentrated group of students tour Jane Austen sites. All of us started on the trail into Stourhead and immediately came to the famous bridge Elizabeth runs across. After a big commotion of handing cameras to each other and taking way too many pictures (nothing new), we set off to find the very spot where Mr. Darcy stood. The lake at Stourhead is a triangle, and it is without question the most beautiful place I have ever seen. We ran (yes ran, 40 girls feeding off of each other's excitement can become irrational) along the trail until we finally came to it -- the round columned building from Pride and Prejudice. It was pretty much magical. Just kidding. No but really. It's a good thing no boys decided to come to London this semester because they probably would have been forced to act out the scene with every girl here for each girl's scrapbook. Spring semester will have one boy and a million girls, so we already feel bad for him. After everyone took way too many pictures, we headed back to the coach to make the rest of the drive to Winchester. We toured through the Winchester Cathedral, the longest cathedral in England. This is where Jane Austen is buried, and her memorial was really interesting to see. It makes no reference to her being an accomplished writer, and only refers to what she was like as a person: The benevolence of her heart, the sweetness of her temper, and the extraordinary endowments of her mind obtained the regard of all who knew her. We visited the Great Hall in Winchester as well, then went outside of town to Portchester Castle. It was so much fun, maybe because it kind of felt like a playground. We climbed towers and looked out all the windows, walked through all the courtyards and explored all around the grounds. We sort of saw the closest thing we've seen to an ocean here, which was just an inlet of the British Channel. The view was amazing...the smell, not so much. Props to Melissa for trying to film it, since pictures NEVER look as cool as the real thing.

It was definitely my favorite day in England so far, and we ended it perfectly by watching Pride and Prejudice when we got back to the centre. And yes, we got way too excited when Stourhead came on the screen. Everyone "loved it -- most ardently."

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Good Look at London

Here it is, the London Eye! Right along the River Thames and just across the bridge from Big Ben, it's definitely one of London's most popular attractions. A few of us decided early on that we would ride it on our first clear day with no plans. Here's a little bit of what we saw!

Northeast View of London
At the top!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Stonehenge is Still Standing

Last week's trip to Bath was definitely something I had been looking forward to, for a lot of Jane Austen-related reasons. We left bright and early -- well, as bright as London's January can be -- and went 100 miles West. The coach ride there had me torn between sleeping and staring at England's beautiful green countryside. The window won, and the scenery kept me surprisingly awake. The whole group took a tour of Roman Baths, then we had a few hours to explore the city on our own. The city itself was a perfect kind of old. We took a walk by a rugby field, the Jane Austen Museum, Nicolas Cage's house (I promise), Bath Abbey, and a fudge shop that was insanely good. I could have stayed longer, but we had to hurry off to Stonehenge!

Everyone had heard plenty of warnings about how cold it would be, but our coach driver said it was the most beautiful day he had ever seen there. It was incredible to see Stonehenge in person. It's on every screensaver here at the Centre, in a million textbooks and magazines -- seeing the real thing was definitely something.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Atlantic Seems Smaller...

One of my favorite things about living in a new place is seeing things from a different perspective. I love to see the London headlines, pick up an abandoned paper on the Tube, or even just catch a little bit of some British conversation. America is everywhere here, and I'm getting a better glimpse of the global influence my country has. The Presidential Inauguration was a perfect example of seeing just how closely the world's eyes are watching what's happening in the U.S. With the president changing (no, not our new president's reiterated version of the word--the actual change from Bush to Obama), the British news has been fascinating to follow. The ceremony took place at 5:00 pm here, so all the girls rushed home a little earlier than usual to have pizza and watch the broadcast. There was an interesting feeling in the centre as we all watched our nation's news through a foreign broadcast; I think we all realized there is more we miss in America than just our families and homes. By the end of the ceremony, I realized the significant memory I had just made. Sure, the British announcers kind of talked a lot, and yeah, I voted for the other guy -- but I'll definitely never forget where I watched the 2009 Presidential Inauguration, or how strongly I felt appreciation for the fact that America is my home.

NOTE: That picture wasn't actually taken in the Oval Office...and Obama is made of wax. But he IS sort of indirectly involved with the picture; it's in Madame Tussaud's wax museum, and all Americans were given free admission that day in honor of his inauguration. I guess Obama saved me 25 pounds his first day of being president! So far, so good. We'll see.

Monday, January 19, 2009

London Gets a Little Wild

...and I'm not talking about my sketchy Soho experience. Here it is, the London Zoo! We almost waited until it was warmer, but I couldn't wait that long to see penguins. And yes, don't worry, we got lost on the way there. But it was totally worth it, we just ended up spending a little more time in Regent's Park than was actually necessary (famous for being the place where romance first bloomed in 101 Dalmations). Highlights of the experience: being semi-attacked by butterflies, thinking we were being semi-attacked by a fake gorilla (which is actually really scary until you realize it's fake -- then it's just embarrassing), being at the actual reptile house that Harry Potter set snakes free in, and of course just seeing penguins be penguins. I love those little guys! Definite low points of the experience: Seeing vultures attack mice, being laughed at for running away from the mice-attacking vultures, learning that over-sized jumping rats exist in the rainforest, and feeling judged by small monkeys. Here are some pictures to make you understand how fun it is to impersonate animals:

Being flamingos! They make weird noises.

Penguins! They seem so dang happy.

Blending in.

My favorite sign by far!

Trying to blend in again. Except I need stripes.

Trying to vanish the glass, Harry-style!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Knocking on Britain's oldest door. No one answered.

Wandering in Westminster

Our entire group went to Westminster Abbey today, a place I'll never forget. Not only was it beautiful to look at, but all the history inside was fascinating. There are countless influential people buried there almost everywhere you look, like Darwin, Handel, Kipling...I didn't want to leave until I found every name I could. A cute old man who works at the Abbey became our unofficial tour guide, and he told us story after story about the burials, memorials, and the cathedral itself. When we reached the burial of Charles Dickens he told us how the author never wanted to be buried there, but after he died the Queen decided that Westminster Abbey was where she wanted him. By then he didn't have much say in the matter, being dead and all, so that's where Dickens is buried. Thomas Hardy had an interesting story as well, being one of the last Englishmen to request that his body be buried in different places. He wanted his ashes in Westminster Abbey, but requested that his heart be buried where he felt all his art was from, in Dorset. After his death, his heart was cut out and his body cremated, with the ashes buried in the Abbey. When they returned to Dorset to bury the heart, they opened the container and found it empty -- and a cat licking its paws under the table. So they hurried and strangled the cat, then buried it. The cute old man told that part very abruptly, and I kind of didn't believe him for a second. But I guess if someone is old, with a fun British accent, and works in a church all day, then he can't be a liar, right? Maybe I'll never know. After listening to stories and looking up at the ceiling as much as our necks would let us, Mary and I decided to head home. That's when we realized that Westminster Abbey is a tricky little place, and yes we managed to get lost in it. We tried all sorts of ways to get out, even following a group of 7-year-olds on a field trip, but we ended up deciding they didn't know where they were going either. I was starting to wonder if the way they convert people is keeping them inside their cathedral long enough that they have no choice, but then we finally saw a beautiful exit sign. I'll feel pretty good when I go a whole day without getting lost.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

London to Cambridge, and Everything Between

Every Wednesday we leave the London Centre to see the sights outside of London. This week was Cambridge, with some stops along the way. First was the site of the third-largest ancient city in Roman Britain, Verulamium. St. Alban's Cathedral was nearby, and walking to it was our first time seeing England's famous fog. As we got closer to Cambridge we made another stop at a WWII Cemetery that England gave to the United States. There were over 3,000 crosses placed in honor of those who lost their lives there, yet it is considered one of the smaller WWII cemeteries outside of the United States. Seeing all of the white crosses (with Stars of David scattered throughout it for the Jewish Soldiers) that spread in every direction was a sobering experience. We made it to Cambridge just as the fog cleared up, so the clear sky just added to the great sights around the University. The Fitzwilliam Art Museum was an interesting place to explore, and I loved walking around all the colleges and markets. We ended the day listening to Evensong at King's Chapel. Every night before dinner at the centre we all meet to hear announcements and sing Dr. Durham's own Evensong, so it was definitely fun to let professionals handle it for the day.

A Touristy Tuesday

After a rainy Monday, it felt pretty good to be able to walk around all day Tuesday with a semi-blue sky. We took a walk through lots of tourist spots that were completely worth the crowds -- Chinatown, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, and down around the Parliament building and Big Ben. Trying some moshi in Chinatown was kind of interesting...and by interesting I mean gross. Walking around a new place all day works into a good kind of tired. After dinner a few of us went to Les Miserables, which was definitely the highlight of the day. London has a million things going on all at once!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Going Natural

Today was our first experience with the much anticipated London rain, but probably not our last. We walked through Hyde Park and went to the Natural History Museum, probably not the last time for that either. There was so much to see! Animals I didn't know existed, hands on exhibits that entertained us for hours, plus plenty of cute British kids on school field trips. Accents are just more fun to listen to when they come from little people. We spent hours inside and only saw about a fourth of the museum . . . I'm glad we're not leaving London anytime soon!

Going Natural

Today was a our first experience with the much anticipated London rain, but probably not our last. We walked through Hyde Park and went to the Natural History Museum, probably not the last time for that either. There was so much to see!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

"Waffle As You Walk"

Today we explored all the shops and markets on Portobello road, the world's largest antique market. It was unbelievably busy, and full of unique people, smells and . . . stuff. There was a little waffle stand with a "Waffle As You Walk" sign, which was definitely one of the better smells on the street. We stayed as long as the cold would let us, then decided to head home when we stopped feeling as much of our bodies as you're supposed to. Waiting until that point was a bad idea, though, considering we weren't too sure how to get home! We finally made it back -- probably not in the most efficient way -- and hurried inside to get warm. Then later that night, once we had forgotten just how cold we had felt, we decided to go out again. We passed another waffle stand, and this time we couldn't refuse. Here's some of the group "waffling" as we walk, along with some random British boys who just really wanted to be in our picture.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

27 Palace Court

My new neighborhood! And my new home, 27 Palace Court -- the BYU London Centre ( Just off of Hyde Park, and right by Tube stops that provide endless opportunities and way too much to do. Everyone is just settling in, but it isn't taking us long. The Centre is both school and home, with rooms that fit up to 14 girls. Bunk beds are a necessity; especially since every girl who leaves the center leaves a little piece of advice written on the bottom of the bed. While I'm falling asleep I can learn where to get the best fish and chips in town, or the greatest deal on a calling card, or read plenty of advice about making the most of this experience. And, thanks to jet lag, I can spend probably too much time laying there trying to make sense of a million inside jokes, while the Winter 2009 group starts to make our own.

Living in London, and loving it.

This is my first week in London on a study abroad program with Brigham Young University. I'll be here until April -- I think I'm still waiting for that to hit me. There are 40 girls here living in the BYU London Centre, and 14 of us are in one room. We're losing sleep but gaining a lot of other things, and I'm so excited to be here! This is Mary Pickett and I on our first full day of exploring London. We're loving all the sights and experiences, even when we get lost or start to freeze...I guess I figure I manage to do those things anywhere, so it might as well be in London!