Monday, September 24, 2007

Text to accompany the photos...

So, here’s some commentary on my trip so far. I’ve been typing it up since Saturday, but now I can actually post it on here, now that I’ve got the internet again.

I landed in London at 6:05, which was 45 minutes ahead of schedule. We had to circle around London for a bit, because according to our pilot, the city has a curfew and you can’t land before 6 am. Even though it was nighttime, you could still see a few things, like the London Eye and the Thames.

When we landed, it took awhile to unload the plane and get to customs—I must’ve looked like I knew where I was going, ‘cause an American guy asked me if this was the way to customs. So, I had a long line at customs and the lady at the desk was rude to me. However, all the bad stuff that has happened on this trip hasn’t fazed me at all. I love it so much that I overlook all the bad details. It’s just like how I feel about UW—when I have an issue with housing or something, I don’t get upset, because I’m just so happy to be there.

After customs I followed signs to the Underground station. I bought my Oyster card with little trouble. It cost £3 and I loaded it up with £12. It was really easy to use and reload later, just like the metro card, but I think the touchscreens here were better. Once actually on the train with my suitcase, I figured out where I needed to transfer to the other line, and picked up the Metro newspaper. British journalism is so biting and fun. I looked over the sports section, with news about footie and cricket—I love it! Then an older couple came in and sat across from me. They asked if the train was going towards London, and I told them I wasn’t sure, ‘cause it was my first time, too. The lady said I seemed very calm, haha. But there are maps posted on both sides of the carriage, and it looked like we were at the end of the line, so we must be going towards London.

The only other people in the car were a group of Asian students, speaking and laughing loudly. Now you can see why I’ve felt right at home, haha.

Right away after leaving the station, you could see the little rowhouses of suburban London. They’re the terraced ones, with little backyards that are basically just patios, they’re that tiny. I got off and switched to the District line, then had to switch again because the District line branches off and I had to go to Bayswater for my hotel. When I got to Bayswater, I had to haul my suitcase up a flight of stairs, ‘cause it’s a small station and doesn’t have an escalator. If there was some other way up, I didn’t see it. Nobody helped me, but it was pretty empty and I don’t expect help, ‘cause nobody would help a stranger with their luggage back home, either. At the exit gate, though, the Tube employee opened the handicapped stall for me to get out, so that was nice.

The hotel was very close to the station, about a block away. It had a nice lobby & the desk employees were nice. They’d overbooked and needed to put me in another hotel, just round the corner and up the street a bit. I didn’t mind. They offered to get me a taxi (and pay for it), but I turned that down. I’d made it from Seattle, I didn’t need a taxi now for the last block of my trip. The new hotel let me check in right away, so that was great. It was about 9 am, and I immediately took a shower & got dressed in clean clothes, ‘cause after that long trip, I needed it.

First off, I went to Tesco Metro to get something to drink. It’s a smallish grocery store, with overpriced other things, like cosmetics. I tried an apple blueberry drink that was really tasty. Then I stopped at a red phonebooth (they’re everywhere!) and called Mom. On my way back to the hotel, an Indian guy basically accosted me, but since I was in England, I didn’t mind. I politely turned him down and kept going. Just to be safe, I didn’t go to my hotel, ‘cause I didn’t want him to see where I was staying. I kept going straight, to Bayswater road so I could cross over to Hyde Park.

Hyde Park is gorgeous. There were locals & tourists, lots of people walking dogs, not that many joggers. It’s less crowded than Central Park or Green Lake. There’s a lot of open wooded areas—it was originally Henry VIII’s hunting grounds, and you can tell, ‘cause it’s not so neatly manicured as you’d expect a city park to be. I chose a path at random, and wound up at Kensington Palace. It’s not very big, but it’s lovely and has a beautiful wrought-iron gate.

I left the park on the wrong side (I’d meant to head towards Piccadilly to meet Cody at noon), got lost but thoroughly enjoyed myself. I caught the tube at Holland Park so I could go to Piccadilly faster, but I still arrived about 20 minutes too late. I waited around for a bit, took photos, but Cody wasn’t there. I felt bad for having missed him, but I toured on my own. I randomly walked down the main road there, just sort of following other tourists. It’s quite easy to find your way around London—there are signs directing you to various sights, or you can just follow the crowds.

That street led me to the National Gallery and Trafalgar Square, which was breathtaking. The architecture is amazing all around. I tried to get a picture of everything, but there’s just too much to fit into one frame. I walked a bit further on, to see the statue of Lord Nelson closer up, and when I turned around, I caught a glimpse of Big Ben. It was the coolest moment. I hadn’t seen it yet, I’d been wandering around, and there it was, just the top bit, peeking through the rest of the skyline & treetops.

I headed towards Big Ben, because I knew the Parliament was just around it, and as I walked on, I passed all sorts of other sights. I saw Downing Street, all blocked off with guards. I saw the Queen’s Guard, with their big hats and surrounded by dozens of tourists. I saw various memorials and statues. I can’t remember them all—I’d have to look at a map.

Parliament is an amazing building. It seems like a palace or castle, and I believe it was at one point. The architecture is unbelievable, and the guards are those adorable Bobbies, with the little black hats, just like in the movies. I find myself constantly thinking things are just like in movies of London, and really it’s the other way around.

My dorm is ok. I think it’s a bit bigger than mine at UW, and it’s definitely bigger than the one at Vandy. The bed is crummy, but the desk, wardrobe, bookcases and sink (“washbasin”) are lovely. The kitchen is much bigger than I expected—it has 2 stoves, 2 fridges, and lots of counterspace & shelves.

They gave us a desk calendar sheet with ads for various campus bars and restaurants. The deals aren’t that bad, really. “Lunch: A baguette, crisps & a bottle of coke £2.95” At UW, the sandwich, chips and pop combo is $5.95, so this is roughly the same price. I got a kick out of this ad for the Blues Café, “Campus’ premier venue to watch sport”—the English are just so formal and adorable!

In the grocery stores, the produce section says “fruit and veg” and I couldn’t for the life of me find normal salt & pepper or other normal spices. They had little bottles of whole peppercorns, and bags of salt, or a box of expensive sea salt. I think I need to go to a bigger grocery store for normal things like that. The fresh herbs were just flat leaf parsley and another one I can’t recall, but it wasn’t normal like basil or rosemary or anything.

We met up for lunch at a pub across the Avon called the Green Park. They had a buffet lunch of Sunday roast. It had 3 kinds of meat: beef, pork or lamb. They carve it for you (they’re not stingy at all! I had 2 nice sized slices) and then you pick up whatever else you want. There was Yorkshire pudding, roast veg (parsnips & carrots), boiled potatoes and fried potatoes, and a weird substance I tried that turned out to be a sort of creamed artichoke. At the end of the line there were 2 big containers of gravy, one vegetarian and one beef. They also had mustard and a weird looking one, sort of green spices in oil. I went without “sauce,” as they were calling the gravy. The meal was good, but very hardy, so I don’t think I’ll be having dinner, which they’re calling “tea.” The guy working at the pub (bartender/barkeep?) explained how it all worked to us, ‘cause we were confused when we first got there. “You order your drink & tell ‘em you want lunch, they give you a ticket, you bring it here to the line, and Bob’s your uncle.” I love these people.

Sunday night we went out to the pubs again, and this time I stayed out later than I did on Saturday. When I was just getting back to my building, I found a few of the Euromasters kids out front, and joined them across the river at the Green Park Tavern (yes, the same place we’d had lunch). The bartender (or barkeep?) was still there, still remembered us, and was so adorable. Katharina and I were the only girls, and we went to get the wine. She made a joke about the girls paying for the drinks, and I said “Is chivalry dead?” and the bartender goes “It’s not, luv, I promise!”

I got chatting to one of the boys about everything—music, movies, our cultural differences, stereotypes, etc. Occasionally the other guys would cut in and ask me a question, but this dude and I were just lost in conversation—it was a lovely moment. He wasn’t even drinking the wine, but he thanked us for paying and turned to me and said “I’ll buy you a drink some other time,” with a cheeky little smile. I absolutely love it here.

This morning I had to be up at school for orientation at 10:15. The bus ride was quite scary, a huge normal-sized bus on these tiny little winding roads. I arrived a little late, along with 3 other girls who were on the same bus, and it was hard to find the building at first, too. It’s a small campus, but complicated. During the break between the intro and the first course lecture, Cody and I got lunch at the gym’s café (“campus’ premier venue to watch sport”) and I got my Ethernet cable and registered online to get resident internet access. While we waited for the next lecture, we got chatting with a lovely guy, and he sat by me at the lecture, and was so sweet. It was like Edward Ferrars, but just slightly less socially awkward. So adorable. I seriously have come to Mecca.

After lecture, we chatted a bit and then Cody and I went down to the city for coffee and to explore a bit. He introduced me to a great coffee place, Café Nero, where the prices are lower than Starbucks (still higher than American Starbucks, though), and the quality is excellent. We spent awhile at Waitrose, the grocery store, after a long walk around the city looking for the bigger Sainsbury’s. I found normal-enough salt, pepper and basil, and went with that.

When I got back to my room, I set up the internet, emailed Mom, posted photos and checked email & facebook & myspace & kel’s blog. It was so good to be back online. Not long later, it was time to meet up with the Seattlites for dinner. We went to Pizza Express, which was delicious and our waiter was absolutely adorable. After dinner, we chatted a bit more, then went home and I went to call Kel but she wasn’t home yet. So, I’ve had a chill night, no going to the pubs, though I wouldn’t mind it with some of these boys.

A few strange notes: without realizing it, I haven’t been biting my nails. I only noticed when typing for the first time. Also, I feel completely at home here. Walking around Hyde Park, I felt like a local. Passing by the countryside on the train, I could’ve been passing Skagit Valley (except it was much prettier & had older farmhouses). Even Bath has immediately felt like home. So far, I haven’t had any problems with culture shock, though it was great to meet up with some Americans at our first Euromasters get-together.

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