Monday, March 24, 2014

Wandering through London (Theatre)

Hey guys. So Rachael and I kinda dropped the ball on this whole blog thing. We're very sorry about that and unfortunately we do not have some kind of epic excuse, but hopefully you can forgive us anyway. So we're going to have a really succinct recap of everything from over a month ago...should be fun.

Rachael, Megan and I went to Oxford on February 22nd for a day trip. We caught the train earlier in the morning and spent the day there. We saw the Radcliffe Camera and the University Church of Saint Mary the Virgin which were lovely and unexpected. We turned down a side street and found them. We ate at the Eagle and the Child, an old haunt of the Inklings, including J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, the founders of fantasy! Megan was very excited and inside there was a shrine set to their memory. We found the Botanic Garden, which is the oldest one in the country, or so Rachael's guide book told us and took a turn there. Daffodils and crocuses were blooming like there was no tomorrow, all over the established beds of flowers and herbs. We wandered next to Christ Church, where certain scenes from Harry Potter were filmed, but there was a massive line and the entrance fee was a bit ridiculous, so we contented ourselves with viewing it from the outside and then wandering around the grounds. It was an astonishing day, sunshine all day long with hardly any cloud cover. However the countryside marked the recent flooding, as one of the fields in front of Christ Church had turned into a fully fledged marsh, complete with swimming waterfowl.

We visited the Tower of London with our history class on the 25th, first touring the grounds with a guide and then wandering by ourselves through the towers and the exhibit with the crown jewels.
That same day happened to be Megan's birthday, so we went out to Wagamama and then saw Wicked at the Apollo Theatre, which was absolutely fantastic!! Rachael found some really great seats at an affordable price and it was a magical experience. Both Rachael and Megan had already seen it, but they were delighted to be with me for my first viewing. What a beautiful story it was and so harmoniously woven in with the existing story of The Wizard of Oz. I've never really liked the original or the movie for that matter, so Wicked was a revelation.

On the 26th, Wednesday, Rachael and I went with our Architecture class to Rochester. It was a charming town with clear medieval roots. We saw the Norman castle and the Cathedral, and again we were blessed with fantastic weather. We found lunch at a hotel restaurant where Rachael and Pavithra had a ball with the music--straight out of the 80's and 90's, most of them ballads. We had to do a bit of exploration on our own to find an old building, draw it, and then research it for a mini-class presentation. Rachael found a house now dedicated to Dickens and I did mine on Chertsey's Gate, a sight mentioned in one of Dickens' novel. The whole town of Rochester is pretty much a Dickens shrine for his time spent there.

The next day, our Shakespeare class visited The Globe Theatre, which was unfortunately much less inspiring than one would have expected. It took all of us forever to find our meeting point as it was a bit off course. Then we walked for a bit, over the Millennium Bridge which was featured in the 6th Harry Potter movie, and to the Globe. Went on a tour which lasted about 20 minutes and then wandered a bit more with the Professor....

In the meantime, we had an Architecture paper coming up and the English Honors Thesis Application drawing near. We got everything turned in on time, but things got a bit tense. I was also on another job/intern application kick, nothing of which has yielded any positive results yet. difficult. And it only gets harder, because we have advising coming up for our senior year, but no schedule of classes released, and no word back yet on our Thesis applications....oh, the nerves!

March 2nd, Megan, Rachael, and I went to SeaLife, the big aquarium here in London. We all needed to get out and do something bcause aside from our classes, we hadn't really gone out to do anything fun or adventurous in the city. We got to watch the staff feed the seahorses (still my favorite sea critter) and there was one ray who was a complete show-off and a diva. It was almost like he was doing tricks for the crowd, flipping and rolling and nearly jumping up on the glass. We had a great time, despite the hordes of screaming children and crappy weather. Saw a man in a Shrek costume on the bridge there. Still don't know why he was dressed up...

On the 4th of March, Rachael and I went with our Theatre class to see "Oh, What a Lovely War," a revival play from the 50's I believe. The seats were in the nosebleeds and it was difficult to see the stage. From the beginning I was nervous with how high up we were and when the lights went out, there was still enough illumination for me to see everything around me. When the war scenes played out, some of the effects included strobe lighting and flashes, as well as canon and machine gunfire noises. I lost it about 20 minutes from the end and dashed out through an emergency exit door, with the assistance of an usher. Apparently I was having a panic attack, so that was interesting. The staff got me some water and escorted me around the building so I could find a quiet place to sit. I hid in the bathroom for a bit, and then got a drink at the bar to wait for Rachael and the rest of them to come out. Hoping that I never have one of those again, because it was awful, in the moment and the following repercussions. I didn't sleep that night for a terrible headache even though I was emotionally and physically wrung out from the panic attack. The next day, I felt even worse because I still had the headache and I was exhausted. Eventually I knocked it out with an assortment of pain meds, but that was a rough couple of days.

The following Thursday, the 6th, we had another theatre performance to attend called Happy Days. It was a Samuel Beckett play and exceedingly surrealistic. This one also had a loud noise featured in it, this horrendous, grating buzz. In the first half, it occurred only at the beginning and end, but in the second it was sporadic, and by the end of it, everyone in the audience was tense. Pretty much it boiled down to the character's rituals as a means of maintaining her sanity while she and her husband were stranded together and she was slowly buried alive in sand--a giant metaphor for any number of realities.

My family arrived in London on Saturday the 8th! The next week was a whirlwind, between spending time with them, my classwork, and travelling. We walked along Oxford Street, all the way to the British Museum, which we did not go to, because by the time we finished lunch, everyone looked like they were going to keel over, and I didn't think they'd last in the museum. We met up with them later for dinner at the tapas restaurant near St. Christopher's Place that Rachael and Megan and I discovered earlier in the semester. The following day, we did actually visit the museum and we took lots of fun imitation photos. I also showed them school and we had lunch in Tavistock Square. Afterward, they went back to Oxford St. and did some exploration of the shops there. On Monday, we saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and then an exploration of Crouch End and our homes. Tuesday, my family wandered around and bought some souvenirs. Later that evening, we all saw the Lion King at the Lyceum. The puppetry and stage setting were so complex and intricate, and the music was stunning. On Wednesday, the family journeyed to the Tower of London and did some more wandering. The whole week pretty much was wandering endlessly. As for Rachael and I (and Megan), we had a Shakespeare performance: Comedy of Erros, which turned into a weird Cuban interpretation/slapstick humor kind of play. Rachael and I really enjoyed it at times in its ridiculousness, but Megan was pursed lips the whole time. Thursday, the family went on a bus tour to Windsor, Bath, and Stonehenge and they had a packed day with a fun tour guide. On Friday, their final full day in London we + Rachael went to the London zoo and saw all of the animals!!! Saturday morning, I dashed out early to see my family off, and then waited for Rachael, Megan, Tali, and Deborah to meet me at Oxford Street, where we did some serious shopping. Rachael found like four pairs of sandals and fun dresses, as did the rest of us. Pretty clothes happened and eventually we were exhausted and satisfied.

On the 17th of March, we went to see Blithe Spirit, an interesting play about a man who's previous wife comes back from the dead to haunt him and his current wife. We also had a paper for Shakespeare in which we had to write an alternate ending for Measure for Measure, with an explanation for our choices. That was a bit of a struggle for all of us, because no one knew exactly what our professor really wanted with the assignment.

And at this point I shall leave you, because Rachael promised to discuss our next exciting outing, followed by our weekend of blissful boring. Until then!


Friday, February 21, 2014

Bath and the theatre

Hey folks, its Katie again. I've got a bit to cover and I'll try to be concise.

On Saturday we all met up at the train station to go to Bath. We had a bit of a panic getting there because our normal tube station was closed and we didn't realize it until we walked twenty minutes. We had to execute an alternative plan which involved hiking up a horribly deceitful hill, catching a bus, and switching tube lines to get to Paddington.

Anyway, after all this rush we found out the train had been cancelled. But we did eventually get on a train and arrived in Bath in good timing. We checked into the hotel and dropped bags off before heading into the town center. Sara had arranged for us to visit the Roman baths there for which the town is aptly named. Those were pretty amazing. There was a main central bath fed from the hot spring, as well as several cold plunge pools and cavern pools for swimming or relaxing.

Megan looking charming in front of the central bath.

Overview of the baths as it started to sprinkle.
We were supposed to visit the Abbey afterward, but there was a special service going on, so we did our tour of the city. We went up to the Royal Crescent and the Circus, two areas of historical richly invested development in bath.

One of the inlets from the Circus

Royal Crescent. I thought this view was prettier than the buildings behind us.

We also visited the Abbey. Two things of immediate note: the ceilings are amazing! Almost completely constructed with fan vaults. Secondly, they are undergoing a reconstruction effort to replace the deteriorating foundation work. They're going to insert special panels under the floors to take in the geothermal energy and heat the building, which is so cool! I wish my floors were heated....but I suppose we can't all have hot springs in our back yard.

We had some difficulties with the hotel because we discovered the third bed, my bed, was a cot. But I figured I would deal with it or crawl into bed with Rachael, because lets be honest, when has a twin bed ever stopped us? I finally caught up on Grey's Anatomy, which of course tore my heart out. The end came and I literally threw my hands up in frustration and knocked the glass shade off of the sconce on the wall behind us. I'm surprised I didn't break it. That was actually the second time I knocked into it. The first time I banged my head against it when I was settling down and trying to avoid hitting it. That sconce was in a really inconvenient place.

The following day we had a minibus pick us up so we could explore the Longleat Manor which is still owned and lived in by the family, so there were a lot of family photos on display throughout the house, which I really enjoyed seeing. It made the house actually seem like a home, which is an ambitious goal with those huge, over the top decorated palaces.

There was also a safari park on the property but unfortunately we did not get to go there. We did see some rhino grazing on our way out.

And lastly, for that trip anyway, we went to the town of Wells, which is pretty much a square and some outskirts and a massive cathedral in the center. The fa├žade was dominated by sculptures of the hierarchy of heaven, which was kind of intimidating. The inside I really loved. There was a set of stairs from the main level of the cathedral up to this beautifully lofted circular room with picture windows lighting up the space. The rest was white. It felt more like a private space of worship. (I don't have any pictures here because you had to buy a photo permit) There was also a Cathedral cat named Louis! They actually had merchandise featuring him, which we found charming--this enormously impressive cathedral with its own orange tabby.

It was a long day of voyaging, somewhat reminiscent of our time in Ireland with the bus and the stops. After Wells we were picked up again and went back to Bath to catch the train, which was a narrow thing. We boarded and a few moments later the train departed back to London.

During this past week we've gone to class as usual. Since we've only had two class periods for each, it still feels like we're settling in, though its been two weeks. We have attended quite a few performances at this point. We saw Hamlet for our Shakespeare class and the main actor who played Hamlet came in to talk to our class. A lot of us geeked out at least on the inside. A few on the outside. He mentioned that he loved the soliloquies of Hamlet, but that he hated awkward eye contact with audience members so he tried his best to look between faces. However, during the performance he caught Rachael's eye on three separate occasions. She was quite flustered about it. Then she went off on tangents in her head about how he had pretty eyes and ridiculously long eyelashes which wasn't fair at all.

For our Theatre class, we saw Blurred Lines, a feminist revue (collage of artistic scenes including singing, dancing, poetry, and prose) inspired by the book "The Equality Illusion" by Kat Banyard. The title came from the song by Robin Thicke as a sort of satire.

The other was called Rapture, Blister, Burn which was a more traditional styled play, also on the broad subject of feminism with a sort of Freaky Friday plot, a housewife switching roles with a career woman. I think it had quite a bit to say on the subject of fulfillment, and they discussed quite a bit of feminist theory within the context of the play which I enjoyed. However I think there were quite a few implied ideas which may or may not have been on purpose.

We've been kept in a strange state of business, where we'll have moments all crammed together that we need to rush around to achieve, and other longer periods of drowsy moments where we're not doing much of anything beyond running to the grocery store. Our lives are ruled by food! I've discovered the delight of nutella and pretzels. together. It's like magic. I am also really enjoying reading these Shakespeare plays. Hamlet was more intriguing than I thought it would be, especially his longer expulsions. You just hear so much about it, that it all starts to seem overdone, but it was quite refreshing to actually read the text straight from the source. And as Rachael said, the proposal scene in Henry V is just beyond amusing. I picked up the play text for Rapture, Blister, Burn because certain parts of it really spoke to me, and I wanted to be able to pick up the lines again and savor them at my leisure. And I can share them with others that I think would enjoy it too.

Tomorrow Megan and Rachael and I are bound for Oxford! We're quite excited but we have to wake up early. We tend to abuse trip leaders when they schedule things horrifically early, but having to make plans ourselves helps me realize that honestly, the earlier you start, the better off you usually are with time and money. Sigh...We're also hoping to catch cheap tickets to see Wicked on Monday. A performance just for us instead of class.

A side note for more British quirks: The three of us have noticed that its not uncommon for children, especially older children to call their parents by their first names! We all thought they were doing it to be cheeky, but its happened so frequently and Rachael saw it in a book as well, that we've concluded it must be a relatively normal thing.

Cultural oddities. They'll get you every time.

Love to all back home!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Classes, Jude Law, and Valentine's Day

Hey! So it's Rachael this time. We decided to wait until we had gotten through a full week of classes for the second post. So far we have gone to the grocery store like every other day... We like food. Tuesday was our first class. The History prof seems nice and I think it will help my understanding of the culture and all to get more background. We will be going on some visits to the Tower and other important historical landmarks. I'm looking forward to the mix of class time and walks around London. Then on Wednesday Katie and I had our British architecture class. I'm really excited about it and really like the prof. Katie is a bit more skeptical but it's good to have a balance so it all works out. Yesterday we had our Shakespeare and Theatre courses. I'm super excited about all of the plays we will be seeing between the two courses, but I'm not sure about both profs. I think the theatre prof is a nice gentleman and I'm hoping discussions in that class will be pretty lively and interesting. The Shakespeare teacher on the other hand... Let's just say I will grin and deal with it. She managed to insult me right off the bat and just isn't my kind of personality but I will trudge through and hope for a decent grade. Yea on that note we get an A- if we have 94.99 or below... not happy to say the least but oh well. The plays we get to see for the theatre course seem like a great variety and I like his class set up better so at least half of each Thursday should go well.
Also in more exciting news for the Shakespeare course we got tickets to go see Henry V last night in the West End. Jude Law played Henry and I thought he did an amazing job. I especially adored his version of the proposal scene at the end. I was dying of laughter. Some girls stuck around at the stage door to get his signature on their tickets but I was fairly exhausted after the performance and headed home with Katie and 2 other friends. Mom helped come up with the plan that we will creep on famous people and see where they eat out and such and bother them there so as to not have to wait out in the cold. Probably not a real thing that will happen but you never know... I enjoyed the performance anyway so it all works out.
Today as we all know is Valentine's Day... ugh. Not my favorite day as it just points out how thoroughly single I am but Katie, Megan, and I are getting pizza in tonight and hanging out. So as far as holidays go I could have worse plans and I would take these two beautiful ladies over trying to go out with a man I don't know well just to embrace the "romance" of the day. It's rainy and dreary so staying in and having girl time seems like a great plan to me.
Tomorrow we are off with the rest of the girls in the program to Bath for the weekend. We get to see the main sights and I'm looking forward to it. Next post Katie can let everyone know how the trip goes. As it is it's time for me to get off here and chat and maybe watch movies or something with my valentines! Until next time...

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Tube and English Slang

Hello again! A new blog for a new adventure.

After completing our semester abroad in Paris last fall, we decided that the experience was beneficial enough to repeat. We returned to our families for a short break, with all the joys of Christmas and family time that we could possibly tuck in. Rachael completed an independent study on the poetry of Baudelaire and Katie worked as an intern at the UNC Press in Chapel Hill.

Why the title:
(Because Rachael yelled at me for not putting it up before) So these three ideas are very popular topics in Britain. Privacy (the "I" is pronounced as in "bit." explains their cool demeanor, especially on the Tube or around strangers. Many topics that Americans would view simply as news are private personal aspects of someone's life that are not appropriate to discuss with most people. Weather is a safe topic that they absolutely love to talk about; Sara, both of our homestays, five of the professors we met, the American counselor, and the walking tour guide--literally every British person we have spoken to longer than five seconds--has discussed the fact that this January is the wettest on record in the entire record keeping history of Britain. Apologies are something that is routinely offered, even if the person using it does not actually feel sorrow for their actions. The counselor described a time when a British woman said to her, "I'm so sorry, but you're standing on my foot." So these are aspects of London that stuck out to us as being very typical of this new place we're going to lives; thus the name.

On Saturday, the first of February, we flew out of Dulles together and arrived around 9 in the morning at Heathrow, deteriorated to the mental condition of zombies. Jetlag never gets easier. Customs took us a while, but we made it out with all of our bags and our nerves intact (although Rachael had a close call, they decided to quiz her on her whole life story--she's a suspicious character apparently). We found our taxi man bearing a placard that said Footland, and we figured that was us. He drove us out on a fairly long 40 minute trip to our homestays. They were not expecting us so early, but invited us in warmly and introduced themselves. They have three cats named Lilly who chooses her warm moments and hates her children, Blade who loves everything, and Chubby...who's name is self explanatory but who is also quite beautiful. They also have three people children, one of which continues his residence here at the abode. He's quite friendly and cheerful. He reminds us of a Megan brother. Tony and Sue our homestay parents are warm and receptive to the idea of allowing us space. Tony tried to convince us to stay awake with walks to the tube station of Highgate and down to Crouch End, a little main street area--very charming and English. There's a clock tower. We did nap intermittently although it was not on purpose for the most part. We had dinner with our family where they introduced to jacket potatoes, also known as baked potatoes in 'Merica. Later there were important decisions to be made about the shower and which one we would be choosing. It's quite a strange setup. In the hallway, there is one room with a shower and a sink, and then further along, there is another room with a toilet, and then directly next door is another room with all three. That night we slept in the near comatose way only sleep deprivation and time disorientation can create and it was glorious.

So far, we have successfully secured an Oyster card for the Tube, similar to a Navigo for our Paris folk and we have attended orientation meetings where they gave us lots of information and money and phones, all of which was appreciated. Rachael got a lemon phone, naturally, so we had to take care of that today. We did a walking tour of Bloomsbury and went out to dinner to celebrate Tali's birthday in a nice pub near our school. Tonight we met a few of our professors in a munchy appetizer mixer thing, which they referred to as a buffet. We have since learned that if you hear anyone ever refer to something as a buffet outside of America, it is never how we picture it. Rachael was skeptical from the beginning but Katie was hopeful as we are prone to being.

We are still getting our schedules down, but so far it looks like our classes will include a lot of exploration and cultural exposure, which will be a great and convenient opportunity to get to know the city in a secure environment. We are also starting to plan some affordable trips around the outside of London as well as our destination for Spring Break. Planning early is the key to happiness. Lots of excitement, some trepidation. Oh and Rachael has already managed to break herself. Her hip protests. So do the tube employees. But that's something we'll catch you up on later.

Ta for now!

Some more fun slang

Potato Jackets (n) = baked potato
Pants (n) = panties
Fanny (n) = the front or back of lady bits
*Fanny pack (n)= bumbag...this has greatly perplexed Brits. When they hear it, they think we're talking about tampons.
Diary (n)= planner
Trainers (n) = sneakers (but we were already familiar with this turn)
Bugger (n) = NOT a term of endearment or a word to use lightly. It is used as a naughty swear word.
Bin it (v)=  to throw something away
Duff (adj) = useless, garbage, etc.
banged up for nicking a car =  this phrase is completely different to the English. It means someone was arrested for stealing a car.
Spinning his smalls at the launderette =  washing his underpants at the laundry facilities.