Sunday, September 23, 2012

Auf Wiedersehen, Oktoberfest!

The Oktoberfest early in the morning!
After a lot of planning and organizing, Oktoberfest was certainly a success! We arrived in Munich, and wandered for a bit before grabbing something to eat and heading to our (surprisingly nice) hotel. We made our way to the Oktoberfest early in the morning, only to find they wouldn’t serve us beer until noon! Unfortunately, it started raining at about 10:30 a.m., and the majority of us were soaked through and through. I was amazed by the fact that most people simply ignored the rain and kept on enjoying themselves. We attempted to adopt the German attitude of “rain or shine,” and although we found it difficult, we powered through. It was an absolute struggle to get inside one of the world-famous tents, so we settled for the patio, which was equally entertaining. 
Head-size pretzels-YUM!
We drank the massive mugs of delicious beer, had bratwurst and sauerkraut and giant pretzels, and all-around, we did as the Germans did. We definitely met some interesting characters, those we enjoyed and those we just wanted to get away from. It was wet and cold and we were outside the whole time, and we only got to stay for about 24 hours. Alternatively, we encountered some of the warmest individuals who just wanted to have a good time regardless of the conditions. The richness of our Oktoberfest experience was well worth the money and long traveling hours, and it was one of the most memorable events I have been a part of. I only hope I can return, but next time, I’m going all out and wearing traditional garb so I can fit in with the locals! 

The gang's all here

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Fashion Week, Tower of London and Traveling!

London Fashion Week 2012!

Courtney and I decided to be posers earlier this week and check out Somerset House, the venue for London Fashion Week. We arrived thinking we would be stopped at the door, denied entry into the exclusive event, but we got further than we expected! Not that we were able to get into any shows or displays, but we did get to walk amongst some, I guess you could say trendy, individuals. Although we didn’t really see much besides several gatherings of photographers and their subjects, it was still really cool to see at least a piece of the annual event! 
Fashionistas at LFW

The White Tower and surrounding buildings

I have been somewhat stressed out with work this week, so I decided to take a break today to sightsee on my day off. Erin and I went to the Tower of London, and my expectations of just another informational tour were reversed when we were greeted by one of the most cheerful tour guides I have ever encountered. He brought us to several locations on the Tower grounds, joking and storytelling all along. What would have otherwise been a gruesome story (the Tower was used for many executions centuries ago) was made enjoyable by this knowledgable tour guide. We took our photos and went through the Crown Jewels exhibition, which was absolutely stunning, and as we were making our way out of the grounds, we saw a small group of medievally-dressed people who we though were simply enthusiasts of the time of interest. We walked past them until they began insisting we attend their play, just down the walkway. They joined the rest of their cast to perform “Colonel Blood and the Raven,” an hour-long play about the Great Plague and subsequent fire, and the theft of the Crown Jewels. Not only was it a historical re-enactment, but it was interactive with the audience, making it one of the most entertaining performances I have ever seen. I admire the cast’s improvisational and comedic talent, and I’m so glad they intercepted us! 
Me and one of the players-too funny!

The fantastic cast of Colonel Blood and the Raven

Oktoberfest is so close yet so far away! All arrangements have been made to travel to Munich tomorrow afternoon and back to London on Sunday, and I couldn’t be more excited. I will definitely miss London and I almost feel guilty leaving for an entire weekend, but I'm off to have FUN and I'll be back to my new home in no time. I just pray everything will go smoothly with our transportation so we can relax and enjoy the festivities! Traveling always makes me a bit nervous, but I know we will all be safe and sound on this trip. Wish me luck on my travels!

Monday, September 17, 2012

There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.

Classy at the Bluebird Cafe
I had such an amazing first week in London, and this weekend was a great follow-up. My flatmates and I went to a beautiful late lunch at the Bluebird Cafe in Chelsea. We shopped around in the posh borough, and that night we decided to go to a Steve Aoki show at a club relatively close to our residence. We couldn’t wait to see his performance, and then we learned he wouldn’t go on until 2:30 a.m. Thinking we could just be troopers, we waited it out, and then were bombarded by the intense mosh pit, which prompted us to leave immediately!
It's that river again!

I am on my second week of classes here in London, and I still have not figured out how intense this semester will be. During orientation, we were told that this would not be a free pass simply because we were in a foreign country, and in fact we would have to work harder because we would have to adapt to the teaching style of our new professors. I have yet to see a significant difference between my Elon professors and my London professors, which might not be fair to say since I have only attended a few classes thus far. Today, I went with my Traveling Through Time Along the Thames class to walk from London Bridge to the Blackfriars Bridge on a guided tour. I love that my teacher decided to take us out of the classroom and into a setting where we could sightsee around the city, but also learn the rich history behind it. Needless to say, I loved the tour and our informative guide. 
Bus line on London Bridge looking toward St. Paul's Cathedral

When I first saw my class schedule, I was furious because I did not have Friday free, meaning I wouldn’t be able to go off to Europe every weekend. However, I did take something positive out of it. Staying in London on the weekends means I get to truly experience the city by living in it, rather than frequenting it. I would never be able to wander off in the streets of London for an entire day. I would never take the time to find the corner coffee shops and obscure tours such as the Beatles walk because I would be too concerned with trying to see what else was out there. I would love to go into Europe to visit all of the fabulous cities and be the tourist I was born to be, but first I would like to become a resident of London, understanding the city from the inside out before I try to understand whatever else is out there. Every day, I try to go on a walk to some place or some street I’ve never been to just so I cover as much as possible. Even if I am able to find a hidden park bench or a new cafe, I consider it a success. Hopefully going on these little walks will provide me with a good perception of where I am in London. 
But I did manage to book Oktoberfest, and I’ll be leaving this Friday, arriving back here Sunday! I am beyond excited for the pretzels, beer and good company awaiting me in Germany. It will be interesting to be in a non-English-speaking country, and hopefully I don’t get too lost. I am definitely nervous about traveling and making sure everything is in order, so wish me luck on my endeavors! 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Understanding London

Me standing awkwardly in the back of the Palace in the Garden!

Today is a good day. After days of procrastination and several booking cancellations/miscommunications by unreliable “cheap flight” websites, Oktoberfest is booked! This may not seem like a great feat, but for someone who loves planning and organizing well in advance, this was a huge relief for me. I’m sure it was also a relief for my travel-mates, but let’s be real, isn’t my happiness the most important thing here? Kidding, of course, but I am happy that we have a trip set in stone and can explore another part of Europe in an entertaining way. (Note to readers: do NOT use problems for everyone involved).  
To add to the greatest of today, Erin, Allie and I went to Buckingham Palace to enjoy a tour of the State Rooms and the special exhibition, Diamonds: A Jubilee Celebration. In case you found the title hard to read, this was a commemoration of the Queen’s 60th year as monarch and thus, her Diamond Jubilee. The exhibition itself had many beautiful pieces, including brooches, necklaces, swords, crowns and other items used in some manner by past British monarchs. Each piece was breathtaking, and some even looked fake simply because they were so extravagant. I loved walking through the exhibition and seeing how each piece holds an important place in history. I also adored the remainder of the tour, through the many State Rooms in the Palace. Every carpet, every piece of furniture, vase, plate, the wallpaper, chairs and mirrors, among other objects, brought a unique sense of beauty and creativity to the Palace decor. Nothing was present by accident, and every single thing had a deep meaning and value that brought it through the Palace doors. 
I took my time through the self-guided audio tour, allowing myself to take in the entirety and majesty of the State Rooms and exhibition. I tried to read every plaque and label to allow myself to understand each piece and the significance of each room. My favorites were the Picture Gallery, where I spent an extended period of time learning about each masterpiece; the White Drawing Room, which was full of gold and white detail on every wall, chair, couch and molding; and of course, the State Dining Room, which had the most beautiful colors and detail present. I was absolutely taken aback by its beauty. I loved the tour, but the only thing missing was the Queen. I know she’s busy, but I know I’ll meet her someday (or at least see her from a short distance)! The Queen does a lot more than the common American might think, but it is important to respect her and admire her for her dedication to the area she rules. 
Another reason this was a good day is because I am finally starting to feel settled. I mentioned that I am directionally-challenged, and while that still holds true, very true, I am managing it. I forced myself to go on a few walks by myself to familiarize myself with the area and with the Underground, and I feel I’m finally getting the hang of it. My lack of disorientation is allowing me to take the guesswork and stress out of the equation so I can just go and see what I want to see without getting lost in this beautiful, yet intensely complex city.  
    OKAY I know this a long post, but I just had to add one more thing! On our first day of orientation, we received tickets to a play called The 39 Steps at the Criterion Theatre. At first, I thought, "Gee, thanks. Some cheap show to throw on the new kids." But I figured I'd go, it was free, after all. None of my roommates were going to last night's showing, so I jumped in with some other people in my building. Let me just tell you: this was one of the most entertaining and talented casts I have ever witnessed. I've seen a ton of shows on and off-Broadway, and the adaptability and versatility of the four cast members playing dozens of parts was delightful.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

September 11th in London

The attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 were unimaginable, terrifying and completely unnecessary. They changed the way we view the world and how we act toward one another. While the intention of these attacks was perhaps to tear us all apart, instead we were brought together. For the past eleven years, there has always been a sense of dread and gloom present on the 11th, and today is no different. In fact, the dread seems magnified. I am in a foreign country, of course, and the lack of emphasis being placed on remembrance has me feeling guilty. Now, obviously I can’t expect foreigners to take time out of their day to remember something that occurred thousands of miles away, but it doesn’t make it any more understandable. In my new class, British Culture & Visual Media, we spoke about the lack of a British “National Day,” noting the significance and recognition of the Fourth of July in the U.S. While several classmates mentioned the fact that it was because it indicated a monumental event and was an obvious choice for a U.S. “National Day,” I believe it has been so successful and has remained this long simply because as Americans, we adore our country and are generally proud of our nationality. There are so many aspects of the U.K. I love, so many things I wish U.S. citizens would adopt, but then again, I could never imagine myself being anything other than a proud American. With this, I thank all of the heroes involved in 9/11 and all of those who fought to maintain our magnificent freedom. God Bless America!  

Monday, September 10, 2012

Every Nook and Cranny

The beautiful Tower Bridge at night!
Yesterday was one of the best days I have experienced in London thus far. My roommates and I went to the River Thames for the Thames’ Festival and Erin’s birthday, and spent the entire day visiting vendors, taking pictures and finishing off with the Night Carnival and a great fireworks show. It was a magnificent day with great friends, food and entertainment, and I am absolutely delighted that the City of London would provide such an amazing event at a gorgeous locale. It was a fantastic last night before beginning classes today, might I add. I am taking three classes, including one Elon-only general studies course called Traveling Through Time Along the Thames, British Politics, and British Culture and Visual Media. I’ve only been to the Elon GST, which seems unbelievable so far, but the other courses seem extremely interesting and unique and I know I’ll love them. 
As part of the summer-to-fall transition, the sun seems to be receding to make way for that notorious London weather, as there has been a quick turnaround from warm and sunny to cool and cloudy. Not that I am complaining, as this creates optimal walking weather, meaning I can move quickly and comfortably to all of the sights I'd like to see within my local area. I went with a couple of my roommates for a walk through Kensington Gardens, and found beautiful spots that would have remained undiscovered had we not made a few wrong turns in search of the Peter Pan statue located at Hyde Park. We never did find Peter Pan, but we were certainly not disappointed by what we did find. That’s something I have learned about London: you may have a plan to go to one location, but there are countless branches and aspects to that one particular place that are nearly impossible to cover in a single visit. For example, if you decide to go to Buckingham Palace, you would probably expect to simply go through a few rooms and leave satisfied having visited a prestigious and famous venue. However, you may not realize that there are dozens of galleries, exhibits and separate galleries and exhibits within those. You simply need to remember that you will see what you came to see, and if there’s more, you can see it later on. That’s all there is to it! My adviser at Elon told me to go to London and just get lost. At first, I thought, “Are you crazy?! I’ll be in a foreign country!” But now I see what she meant. Getting lost means finding places you would never think about, and stumbling upon cute little cafes, bars, shops and markets allows you to see where the locals like to go to relax and enjoy themselves, and discovering these leads to discovering where the true culture and personality of a city lies. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Tourist Day!

Will and Kate need to move in ASAP!
So yesterday I caught myself thinking “Oh my God! I haven’t seen Buckingham Palace! I haven’t had fish and chips! I am here and getting nothing out of this experience!” Then I realized, I haven’t even been here for 48 hours, there is more than enough time to do all of those things, more than enough opportunities to experience London to the fullest. At our general orientation, I was reminded that we are taking classes and just so happen to be in London, not the other way around. This is meant to be a place for me to study and expand my knowledge academically, and learn about this city along the way. Of course, I do have high expectations for this semester and I want to see every single tourist attraction, go to every pub, restaurant and bar, meeting all kinds of people from all walks of life. However, I need to listen to my initial motto, to take things slow and fully experience one thing before moving onto another. I mean, I haven’t even begun classes yet, how can I expect to have already seen everything London has to offer? 
Well, today I went on two fabulous tours, one walking through Kensington, my local residence, and one driving through the entirety of London. While I must say, these tours did make my heart skip a beat, as I actually got a full view of all of the places I need to go to, but they also gave me a bit of reassurance and peace of mind. I saw how much there was for me to see, but putting it all in perspective, it didn’t seem that overwhelming. Not to say that traveling through London would be a chore, but it is nice to know that London is manageable and that I will be able to tackle each and every thing as long as I organize myself and stay committed to my plans while still staying on top of my schoolwork, my number one priority, and saving money, my number two. Regardless, seeing all of the beautiful and historical pieces of London just reminded me how privileged I am to be living in a foreign city (in one of the poshest areas, mind you!), and studying with an amazing program. I can only imagine what’s in store for me after these busy couple of days, but I’m so excited to get started! 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Cheerio, London! (Nobody says 'Cheerio' anymore...)

The street view from right outside my window!
At last-I am here in beautiful London! After much stress and worry, I somehow managed to get myself organized and ready to travel overseas to work and study. My family put up with my demands so that I could have a smooth trip, and I will be forever grateful to them for making my life that much easier. They sent me on my way, and I met up with the rest of the Elon Londoners taking the group flight, which was definitely a relief when I saw some familiar faces. Post-flight, we boarded a coach bus complete with an informative and entertaining guide that gave us some tips about London life. The absolute BEST part of my arrival was seeing the MASSIVE flat I now share with three awesome people, Courtney, Erin and Allie. We have our own bathroom (thank you God!) and we have access to a full kitchen (DOUBLE THANK YOU)-glorious! 
It’s strange, I’ve been here in London for less than 24 hours, but I feel like I’ve lived here my entire life, of course, minus the whole getting-lost-because-I’m-directionally-challenged-in-unfamiliar-areas part! It is more than I could ever ask for, and it brings a certain comfortability and relaxation to my mind. 
I always dreamed about city life, but with New York as my foundation to what cities are like, I could never see myself actually living that lifestyle. However, London brings a particular sense of class and beauty that removes it completely from my preconceived definition of metropolitan. Everyone moves quickly, yet effortlessly, which brings the perfect balance of efficiency and grace we all strive for. I have only encountered citizens of London in the various shops I have entered since my arrival, as well as several FIE staff members, and each and every individual was so warm and welcoming, as if they were truly happy to see you in their great city, and who doesn’t want someone to be happy to see them? 
The reality has yet to set in that I will be seeing these people regularly for the next four months, that I will be living in a magnificent residence in a magnificent borough, that I will be able to say I have both lived and worked in a foreign country. In this short time, London has already changed my global and local outlooks, as well as my general views on life, and I am eager, rather antsy, in fact, to continue changing. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

I See London!

Today is the day! After months of mental and physical preparation, I am FINALLY moving to London for the fall semester. I feel that I am missing something, since all of my friends have already departed to their respective schools and most other fall study abroad programs have commenced, but I know this will be well worth the wait. I can’t say I’m excited about leaving my family and friends, both at home and at Elon, behind, but let’s face it, deciding to study in London was perhaps the greatest decision I have made in my short life. I’m anxious to see where I’m living, who will be in my classes and how classes will differ from those at Elon. There is no place I would rather be traveling to at this point in my life, and I am so grateful that I am able to participate in such an amazing program. My outfit is carefully selected and laid on my bed, my clothes and other essentials are packed (tightly!) my passport is in hand ready to be presented to Customs. Again, I am feeling that mix of anxiety and elation, but for some reason it is now largely subdued. Of course these feelings haven’t disappeared, I am moving across an ocean, but I feel that I’m in the right place, comfortable with where I am. I have never had so little concern or hesitation about anything I’ve ever done, so I know this will be the most memorable experience of my life. On an informal note, I find myself ruminating on the most trivial pieces of this trip. Instead of thinking, “What if the airline loses my bags?” or “I hope my flight doesn’t get delayed,” I’m thinking, “How much free food will I get on my flight?” I’m just taking this journey one step at a time, and I am sure London will bring nothing but positivity!   

Monday, September 3, 2012

"I haven't been everywhere, but it's on my list," Susan Sontag

It has been several months since I first learned of my acceptance into the Elon Centre Abroad in London, England, and I must say I never dreamed it would ever be this close. I have spent the summer working endless hours lifeguarding and teaching swim lessons, trying to achieve the optimal tan and relaxing with my friends and family. But perhaps the largest amount of time has been devoted to learning about the city of London and delving into its rich, diverse culture, its history and its people. I have never been to Europe, or any other country outside the United States, so it might be safe to say that I have been quite guarded against the vast world I have not had the chance to explore. There no words to describe the gradient of emotions I have experienced, ranging from intense anxiety when I thought I would never receive my U.K. Visa in the mail, to immense happiness and excitement when I started to think about the opportunities that lie ahead in London. I find it overwhelming when I think about all of the sites, museums, cities, people, landmarks, etc. that I absolutely MUST pack in the time period between my arrival in London and my departure at the commencement of the study abroad program. However, I have no doubt that any experience will be a new and exciting one, so while getting everything in would be ideal, I refuse to miss out on something because I am too eager to move on to the next thing on my agenda. With this, I am making it my goal to take everything in, using each new experience, each new obstacle that might come with cultural change, as an opportunity to increase my knowledge and improve myself.